By Don Banks | December 26, 2017 2 pm PT
With one week remaining in the 2017 NFL regular season, 15 teams remain alive in the quest to win Super Bowl LII. Nine clubs have already cliched playoff berths, leaving six teams to fight for the remaining three slots. Here’s an up-to-the-minute power ranking of the fine 15, as they head for Week 17’s finish line:
1. New England (12-3) — The Patriots are a win over the Jets away from being the AFC’s No. 1 seed, and that has meant a Super Bowl trip for New England in five of the six instances they’ve secured the top spot, including the past three instances (2016, 2014 and 2011). Tom Brady’s recent spate of interceptions is concerning — he has thrown picks in five straight games for the first time since 2002 — but all that postseason experience is still a huge check mark in the Patriots’ favor.
2. Philadelphia (13-2) — There are no flawless teams in the NFL this season, so the Eagles have every reason to say “Why not us?’’ The sloppy showing by Nick Foles against the Raiders Monday night will shake the confidence of some of the Philly faithful, but it shouldn’t send anyone into an all-out panic. Locking up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage should be huge for the Birds come January.
3. Minnesota (12-3) — The Vikings’ dream of being the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own stadium is still very much alive, even if it might require a one-week road trip to Philadelphia. Mike Zimmer’s team is a resilient bunch, but home games in the playoffs are the proven path to success.
4. Pittsburgh (12-3) — The first-round bye the Steelers earned with Monday’s blowout win at Houston was crucial, because it buys needed time for Antonio Brown’s calf injury to heal. Pittsburgh still looks headed for that rematch with New England — in Foxboro this time — and everything before that showdown feels like mere prologue.
5. Los Angeles (11-4) — The Rams have lost to both the Eagles and Vikings, the teams that likely will be seeded ahead of them. But Sean McVay’s club still feels like a dangerous opponent that will be playing with house money in January, given how far and how fast they’ve come on.
6. New Orleans (11-4) — The Saints aren’t assured of a home playoff game yet, but they’re a win at Tampa Bay away from heading into the postseason with legitimate dreams of doing what the last two NFC South champions did the past two years: Reach the Super Bowl. If the Panthers and Falcons could do it, the Saints have to believe they can make it three straight.
7. Jacksonville (10-5) — That wasn’t a confidence-inspiring performance at San Francisco on Sunday, but the Jaguars are still a young team trying to figure out this winning-season stuff. Jacksonville is locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC, but it’s pretty important how the Jags play this week at Tennessee, because another shaky performance might make everyone presume they’re one-and-done material.
8. Carolina (11-4) — They don’t make it easy on themselves, but the Panthers have been getting the job done from a bottom-line perspective. Carolina’s past four wins have been by 8, 7, 7 and 3 points, and they can still win the NFC South and even clinch a first-round bye if the Saints, Vikings and Rams all lose.
9. Baltimore (9-6) — The Ravens’ strong finish has been marred by only a one-point loss at Pittsburgh in the past six games, so they have a rightful claim to being as hot as almost any in the league. As with past John Harbaugh playoff teams, Baltimore is tough-minded and not intimidated by either the Patriots or Steelers.
10. Kansas City (9-6) — Three wins in a row when they absolutely had to have them have gotten the Chiefs back to a good place. But No. 4-seeded Kansas City is a streaky team and the Chiefs enter the postseason with that inconsistency as their trademark.
11. Atlanta (9-6) — In their post-Super Bowl season, the Falcons have had to struggle for everything they’ve gotten. Why should it be any different in Week 17, when a win over the visiting 11-4 Carolina Panthers (or a Seattle home loss against Arizona) is the key to a second consecutive playoff trip? Falcons fans now know the hangover effect is real.
12. Seattle (9-6) — A week after getting embarrassed at home by the Rams, the Seahawks showed me a little something with that win at Dallas in Week 16. But it might still wind up being too little, too late if they don’t win this week and get Panthers to knock off the Falcons in Atlanta. Are we watching the end of an era in Seattle this week?
13. L.A. Chargers (8-7) — The Chargers have won five of six to finish strong, but the one they lost still might wind up being the one they absolutely had to win to advance. Beating the Raiders at home is doable, but then Los Angeles needs help in the to reach the postseason after its galling 0-4 start.
14. Buffalo (8-7) — The Bills have playoff implications to contend with in Week 17 for the first time since 2004, so that’s progress in and of itself in the debut year of the Sean McDermott coaching era. But if Buffalo comes up a game short of the postseason, and sits out the Super Bowl tournament for the 18th staight year, you know that Nathan Peterman start in Los Angeles in Week 11 is going to come back to haunt the already haunted Bills fans.
15. Tennessee (8-7) — Staggering to the finish line in what was supposed to be their break-through season, the Titans have lost three in a row and their identity. It’s man up and beat AFC South champ Jacksonville at home on Sunday, or be remembered as a team that choked away what would have been its first playoff berth in nine years.