NFC West: 2013 NFL Week 18 Power Rankings

A weekly examination of the Cardinals' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 26 | Last Week: 9 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Which one of these teams does not belong? Despite losing to the San Francisco 49ers, the Arizona Cardinals remained in the top 10 of the ESPN.com Power Rankings. More importantly, they’re the only squad among the top 13 that is not in the playoffs -- and they’ve beaten three teams ahead of them. Finishing at 10-6, Arizona tied the franchise’s best turnaround, a testament to the new leadership of general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians. It's also a reflection of the commitment to a new culture around the Cardinals.

Arizona’s jump of 17 spots in the Power Rankings from the preseason to Week 18 was the largest gain this season, and warranted. Despite starting out slow, they finished 6-2, a true representation of what Arians’ offense can accomplish. Even though there are significant areas to improve in the offseason -- the offensive line could use an upgrade and the running game needs to get better -- Arizona finished the year in a good place to build on in 2014. But no matter how well they’ve been playing, their season-ending loss to San Francisco was a perfect representation of who this team is: start slow and then finish fast on the shoulders of its defense.

Power Rankings: No. 1 Seattle Seahawks

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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A weekly examination of the Seahawks' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 1 | Last Week: 1 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Seahawks retained their top spot in the final ESPN.com power rankings of the season. Now we find out if they deserve it.

Seattle ended the regular season 13-3 with the convincing 27-9 victory over the St. Louis Rams Sunday. The Seahawks earned the NFC West title, along with a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage.

That’s the good news. The bad news is two of the three possible playoff opponents for Seattle next week rank in the top six in the power rankings. The San Francisco 49ers (12-4) are fourth and the New Orleans Saints (11-5) rank sixth.

Green Bay, the other possible opponent for the Seahawks, ranks 13th with an 8-7-1 record. The Packers play host to the 49ers in a first-round playoff game Sunday.

Power Rankings: No. 20 St. Louis Rams

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
2:00
PM ET
A weekly examination of the Rams' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 15 | Last Week: 19 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

Maybe the Rams flew too close to the sun by moving up a spot to No. 19 last week after spending the previous three weeks at No. 20. A blowout loss at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks immediately bumped the Rams back to No. 20, a place that apparently feels more like home for them.

The voters didn't react too harshly to the Rams' loss, but half of the six-member panel pegged St. Louis right at No. 20. Dan Graziano had the lowest number on the Rams, putting them at No. 21 while Mike Sando offered the most love for them in placing them 18th in his rankings.

After finishing 7-9 on the season, the Rams fell five spots short of their preseason Power Ranking expectation. That won't mean much to them in the grand scheme of things, but the biggest worry for them might come in the form of the final position of the rest of the NFC West division.

Seattle (No. 1), San Francisco (No. 4) and Arizona (No. 9) all finished in the top 10. I do believe the Rams are a better team now than they were a year ago at this time, but it's quite clear that the rest of the division is at a level or two above them right now. If the Rams want to climb to a higher place next year, they're going to have to make the most of the coming offseason.

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