What an exciting mess the NFL playoff races have become.
Just when it looked like a rare drama-free finish, the teams on the right side of the bubble started losing and teams left for dead started winning.
The reeling Titans have lost five straight games, one more than the slumping Dolphins. The Commanders are winless in their past three. The Seahawks (1-5 in their past six games) and Patriots (1-4 in their past five games) are nearly as cold.
Suddenly, the door is open in the AFC for the Jaguars and Steelers, both of whom are 4-1 in their past five games. And in the NFC for the Packers (three-game winning streak) and Panthers (3-1 in their past four games).
Will any of those trends change over the last two games? It happens fast. Ask the Lions, who started 1-6, went 6-1 over their seven games, and then blew a golden opportunity to move into the playoff picture by losing as favorites to the Panthers.
Here are The Post’s NFL power rankings for Week 17:
1. Buffalo Bills 12-3 (2)
Remember when the Patriots were kings of the AFC East, winning 11 straight division titles? Well, the Bills just clinched their third straight with a 35-13 win over the Bears and there’s no reason to assume the streak will end soon. Josh Allen, Devin Singletary and James Cook all rushed for touchdowns as part of a 254-yard day on the ground.
2. Philadelphia Eagles 13-2 (1)
Sound some alarms because the Eagles were torched by the best opposing quarterback they faced this season in a 40-34 loss to the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott. Don’t sound all the alarms, because MVP candidate Jalen Hurts didn’t play and the offense was still explosive enough for three touchdown drives of 75 yards or more. The NFC East is still not clinched.
3. Cincinnati Bengals 11-4 (3)
Eight years after his infamous “We’re on to Cincinnati” press conference, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is trying to move on from Cincinnati after the Bengals won, 22-18. Joe Burrow threw three touchdown passes for an offense that rang up nearly 500 yards, but Vonn Bell’s forced fumble at the 5-yard line with about one minute left is what sealed a seventh straight win.
4. Kansas City Chiefs 12-3 (4)
In an effort to hold up its end of the bargain for Patrick Mahomes — whose latest jaw-dropping play was one-hand-balanced touchdown dive — the defense stepped up with two fourth-down stops and an interception in the end zone, holding the Seahawks without a touchdown until the fourth quarter of a 24-10 victory. The Chiefs have won 16 straight regular-season games against the NFC.
5. San Francisco 49ers 11-4 (5)
No team is hotter than the 49ers, who won their eighth straight by beating the Commanders, 37-20. George Kittle has rediscovered his peak catch-and-run ability, with back-to-back two-touchdown games. Brock Purdy joined Kurt Warner as the only quarterbacks since 1950 to start careers 3-0 with multiple touchdown passes in each game. Nick Bosa boasts an NFL-high 17.5 sacks.
6. Dallas Cowboys (6) 11-4
Prescott led the Cowboys back from separate 10-point deficits in both halves of the win. He overcame a first-quarter pick-six — his NFL-high 11th interception since returning from an injury in Week 7 — to throw for 347 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys made a late red-zone stand against the Eagles.
7. Minnesota Vikings 12-3 (7)
Greg Joseph’s franchise-record 61-yard field as time expired completed a 17-point fourth-quarter scoring outburst and finished off the Giants, 27-24, in a back-and-forth game. The Vikings improved to an NFL-record 11-0 in one-score games, with three game-winners from Joseph in the final minute plus two field goals in overtime. T.J. Hockenson and Justin Jefferson combined for 242 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
8. Los Angeles Chargers 9-6 (8)
After a playoff spot slipped away on the final play of the NFL’s regular season in 2021, the Chargers clinched their second berth since 2014 with two weeks to go by beating the Colts. It will be a wider introduction to quarterback Justin Herbert’s brilliance, but head coach Brandon Staley’s defensive background made the biggest difference down the stretch.
9. Baltimore Ravens 10-5 (10)
Playing a third straight game without Lamar Jackson, the Ravens clinched a return to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus and stayed alive in the race for the AFC North title. Tyler Huntley threw a touchdown pass and ran for the ensuing two-point conversion, Gus Edwards ran for 99 yards and Justin Tucker kicked three field goals.
10. New York Giants 8-6-1 (12)
Toss away the script the Giants used all season. Conservative on offense? Not with Daniel Jones throwing for 334 yards. Smart, don’t-beat-yourself football? Not with two turnovers, a dropped interception, a blocked punt and seven penalties. It all added up to a missed opportunity to clinch a playoff spot (but the feel of a moral victory) in the loss to the Vikings.
11. Miami Dolphins 8-7 (9)
12. Detroit Lions 7-8 (11)
13. Jacksonville Jaguars 7-8 (18)
14. Pittsburgh Steelers 7-8 (19)
15. Green Bay Packers 7-8 (23)
16. Washington Commanders 7-7-1 (14)
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-8 (20)
18. Tennessee Titans 7-8 (13)
19. Seattle Seahawks 7-8 (15)
20. New England Patriots 7-8 (16)
21. New York Jets 7-8 (17)
It felt like the end of the disastrous Zach Wilson Era when the No. 2 pick of the 2021 draft was booed through a rainstorm and benched for a second time this season — for practice-squad call-up Chris Streveler, no less — in a 19-3 loss to the Jaguars. Remarkably, after four straight losses, a reasonable path to the playoffs still exists.
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