Placing odds on each team's chance to make the NFL playoffs is a difficult task. Honestly, the odds we're used to seeing just confuse me.
That's why I developed a tier system that paints a clearer picture of each team's playoff chances.
Below is the breakdown:
Playoff Lock: These are your potential No. 1 seeds and the teams that look the strongest thus far.
Playoff Contender: These teams have a lot of talent but have some question marks.
In by a Hair: These teams squeak into the playoffs.
Left Hanging Their Heads: These teams had false hope of making the playoffs and end the season with a ton of disappointment.
Glimmer of Hope: These teams aren't quite ready for the playoffs, but they have a bright future.
Left Asking When the Draft Is: The worst teams are those looking toward the draft midway through the season.
Left with Their Head Hanging
The Dallas Cowboys haven't looked great this preseason. There are real concerns about the offensive line's ability to protect Tony Romo. Doug Free continues to struggle, while the interior of the line is a complete mess. Poor offensive line play is something that can keep a team from reaching the playoffs.
Also hurting Dallas' chances is its presence in the NFC East. As usual, this looks like a tough division with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles primed to make a playoff push. The Washington Redskins also will be improved.
The Cowboys have a talented team that could make the playoffs. However, they haven't looked like a playoff team to this point in the preseason.
The New York Giants have the talent to make another strong run to the Super Bowl. It all starts with Eli Manning, who has developed into one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. Manning has proved to be a very clutch performer. He's someone who can almost single-handedly lead a team on a playoff run.
This year's Giants should feature a more explosive running attack. The addition of rookie David Wilson gives New York someone with the speed to score from anywhere on the field. A more productive running game will only help Manning and the pass offense continue to put up strong numbers.
On defense, Jason Pierre-Paul looks like he's going to be a consistent double-digit sack threat. He's still developing as a pass-rusher, and there's no telling how much better he can get.
In by a Hair
An argument can be made that the Philadelphia Eagles have one of the NFL's most talented rosters. This team has explosive talent on offense and playmakers at every level on defense. However, it won't get very far unless Michael Vick can find a way to remain healthy.
Actually, the Eagles could probably survive a few weeks with Vick out of the lineup. LeSean McCoy is a productive enough running back to carry an offense for a week or two. Improvements on defense also will bolster the team's ability to overcome a Vick injury.
The additions of DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks significantly increase the talent at linebacker. So many of the defensive struggles last season were due to missed tackles and assignments by the linebacker corps.
Glimmer of Hope
The Washington Redskins aren't a playoff team yet, but the addition of Robert Griffin III gives the franchise hope for the future. He has already shown his exceptional talent. Griffin quickly developed a relationship with Pierre Garcon, which will provide a lot of explosive plays this season.
On defense, Washington needs Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan to continue their development. Their ability to create pressure on the quarterback is what gives this unit a chance to be successful.
However, the youth and inexperience of Griffin will keep the Redskins from making a playoff appearance. They just don't have the talent on the rest of the roster to overcome his unavoidable rookie mistakes.
In by a Hair
Last season the Buffalo Bills surprised everyone by getting off to an excellent start. They won't surprise anyone this year, as it's easy to see the talent on this team. The moves they made this offseason to improve the defense are what will make this a more consistent football team.
Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Stephon Gilmore all will make a major impact. The type of pressure the Bills will be able to create from the defensive line will be amazing. A four-man front of Williams, Anderson, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams has the potential to be dominant.
Offensively, Ryan Fitzpatrick has enough weapons at this disposal that he should continue to improve. It'll be interesting to see how Chan Gailey gets both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller involved in the attack.
Left Asking When the Draft Is
The Miami Dolphins have a long way to go before they can make a legitimate playoff push. Their decision to name Ryan Tannehill the starting quarterback shows that this team is rebuilding.
Tannehill has a ton of talent but isn't ready to lead an NFL offense. He needs experience to improve his decision-making ability.
Looking at this roster, it can be argued that the Dolphins are only a top-notch quarterback and playmaking wide receiver away from contending. The defense has talented difference-makers such as Cameron Wake, Vontae Davis and Karlos Dansby.
On offense, I love the makeup of the offensive line. This is a unit that has the potential to develop into one of the better groups in the NFL. They have solid building blocks such as Jake Long, Mike Pouncey and Jonathan Martin.
So while I say this team is a long way from competing for a playoff spot, it's more about the development of Tannehill than the talent on the rest of the roster.
When your starting quarterback is Tom Brady, you always have a great chance of making the playoffs. This New England Patriots team has the talent to make another run at a Super Bowl title. The main concern is the defense's ability to shut down opponents.
Last year, New England's defense was one of the worst in the league. Its major additions are rookies Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower. Jones will be counted on to play a major role. He's the team's top pass-rusher, as the Patriots decided not to bring back Mark Anderson or Andre Carter.
Luckily for New England, Tom Brady and the offense have enough firepower to overcome another poor season by the defense.
Left Asking When the Draft Is
Things are on the verge of getting ugly for the New York Jets. So far this preseason, the struggles of Mark Sanchez and the offense have put a dark cloud over this team.
Of course, problems are always magnified in New York. Still, this is a team that will struggle to win unless Sanchez starts to show improvement.
The Jets can feel optimistic about the defense, especially rookie Quinton Coples. He's displaying a ton of talent while showing his potential as a pass-rusher. New York needs him to generate pressure on the quarterback, as that was an area of struggle for the team last season.
This has to be Sanchez's last chance to solidify his role as the long-term quarterback. The Jets can't continue heading into each season facing the same issues at quarterback.
Unless Sanchez shows major improvement, the Jets should consider making a move for a quarterback in next year's draft.
Left Asking When the Draft Is
At this point, it's safe to pencil in the Arizona Cardinals as one of the teams in the market for a quarterback in next year's draft. The Kevin Kolb trade has been a disaster, and John Skelton appears to have limited upside.
It's because of this inconsistent quarterback play that the Cardinals won't come close to making a playoff appearance.
Issues along the offensive line only make the quarterback situation worse. Tackle Levi Brown is expected to miss a significant portion of the season, and he was the team's best offensive lineman. Whoever ends up winning the quarterback job is going to have to deal with constant pressure.
The defense might be the lone bright spot. This unit has a ton of young talent, led by Sam Acho, Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson. It's unfortunate that because they'll likely spend so much time on the field, their numbers won't look great.
The San Francisco 49ers have a ton of things working in their favor this season. They play in the weak NFC West, have an elite defense and used the offseason to add playmakers to the passing game.
The formula will remain the same as last year, with the defense leading the charge. However, look for the offense to take more chances down the field.
Randy Moss and Mario Manningham add some explosiveness to the wide receiving corps. These two do a great job stretching the field. This is going to give the 49ers more big plays, while also opening running room for Frank Gore and company.
It's really not a question of if the 49ers can make the playoffs; it's a matter of how far they can go. Quarterback Alex Smith must show that he's capable of leading a talented team to the Super Bowl.
Left Hanging Their Heads
The Seattle Seahawks have been one of the more interesting teams to watch this preseason. It's obvious they have talent on both sides of the football, but it's tough to get a handle on the quarterback situation.
Both Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson have looked impressive, but is either capable of leading a team on a playoff run?
The first step for the Seahawks is to name a starter. It's hard to imagine that Wilson isn't on the verge of winning the job. He shown a knack for making plays while avoiding the typical rookie mistakes.
The one thing that could hurt either quarterback is the uncertainty at the wide receiver position. Seattle needs Sidney Rice to return from injury, Terrell Owens to make an impact and Doug Baldwin to continue to develop if this team hopes to make a playoff appearance.
However, its defense has the ability to overcome a few poor offensive performances. That unit is underrated and could emerge as one of the NFL's best.
That the Seahawks get to play the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams twice this season helps their chances to claim a wild-card spot.
Glimmer of Hope
This was an excellent offseason for the St. Louis Rams, as they added good young talent to the roster. However, that addition doesn't put them much closer to a playoff appearance.
It will increase their competitiveness, but they're still a few years away from really competing.
The biggest improvement we'll see is on defense. The line has impressive talent, with Chris Long, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers leading the charge. This group should do a good job generating pressure on the quarterback.
The addition of defensive backs Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins will also help the pass rush. Their presence will provide the defensive line more time to get after the quarterback. Look for this defense to play significantly better than last season.
On offense, the biggest questions surround Sam Bradford's development. Everybody is wondering if he's the struggling QB we saw last season or the one that impressed as a rookie.
It'll be hard to get a good gauge on his development because of the lack of weapons at wide receiver. At this point, the Rams lack a No. 1 receiver, which will make it tougher on the young quarterback.
Peyton Manning might need to shake off a little more rust, but there's little doubt he'll get himself straightened out. Once he's completely comfortable in his new surroundings, Manning will give the Denver Broncos one of the more explosive passing games in the league.
To think this team won a playoff game last year despite being led by Tim Tebow.
The Broncos return a productive defense and established running game. Both of these pieces will help Manning lead this team to the playoffs. It'll be interesting to see how Manning reacts to having such a productive running game. He hasn't had that since the days of Edgerrin James in Indianapolis.
Defensively, Denver needs Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil to continue generating pressure on the quarterback. It's their pass-rush ability that makes this such a dangerous defense.
Offensively, the Chiefs have explosive playmakers like Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe and Jon Baldwin and a potentially elite offensive line. The truth is Kansas City doesn't need Cassel to play at an elite level to make a playoff appearance, but it will need Cassel to be at his best if it wants a chance at the Super Bowl.
One the most underrated factors in the NFL is roster depth. The Chiefs have great depth, especially on defense. This is a team that has players in backup roles who perform if someone is lost to an injury. Injuries happen throughout the course of an NFL season; that's why the teams with depth tend to have strong years.
It'll be a tough road, but the Chiefs are more stable than the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos. Don't be surprised if this is the team that wins the AFC West.
Left Asking When the Draft Is
When the Oakland Raiders made the trade for Carson Palmer, they were hoping he could lead them to a playoff appearance. However, they didn't factor in how long it would take him to get in the swing of things after missing all of the offseason and much of the regular season.
That trade cost the Raiders a high price and now forces them to move forward with Palmer as their quarterback.
The Raiders aren't a team that's ascending. They're getting older and less talented. This franchise should be focusing on rebuilding instead of trying to plug pieces in around Palmer. Unfortunately, even that strategy won't result in a playoff appearance.
Oakland's only hope is for Darren McFadden to avoid another injury-riddled season. A healthy McFadden could help the Raiders surprise people.
However, history isn't on McFadden's side.
The San Diego Chargers are one of the NFL's most unpredictable teams. It's too hard to predict if or when this team will fall apart.
There's no doubting the talent on the roster, but it seems every year something keeps them from succeeding. So far this year, it appears that the injury bug might be what holds this team back.
Vincent Brown, Ryan Mathews and Jared Gaither have all been dealing with injuries. Each of these three was expected to play a major role this season.
Despite the injuries, the Chargers still have enough talent to have an excellent season. Philip Rivers is capable of leading a team to the playoffs, and the defense looks very dangerous. The additions of Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes and Jarret Johnson strengthen an already talented group.
Look for this team to generate a lot of pressure on the quarterback. An aggressive defense could overcome the injuries on offense.
It's also important to note that quarterback Jay Cutler looked sharp. I'm sure he's pleased that he finally has legitimate weapons.
This could be the year that the Bears offense finally outperforms the defense. All the additions to the offensive side of the ball have raised expectations. However, they'll need the offensive line to hold up if they hope to reach the playoffs.
Despite management saying all the right things, there are real issues on the offensive line. J'Marcus Webb has been unable to solidify his hold on the left tackle job, and it looks like Cutler is in store for another season of pressure.
The offensive line has the potential to completely crush the Bears' playoff hopes.
Left Hanging Their Heads
It's going to be a battle for the Detroit Lions to earn another playoff berth. There are a ton of talented teams in the NFC, especially the NFC North.
Both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have the potential to surpass Detroit in the standings. The biggest concern facing the Lions is in the secondary.
In the NFC North alone, Lions cornerbacks will have to deal with the likes of Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson and Percy Harvin. Chris Houston, Alphonso Smith and Dwight Bentley have struggled this preseason. They'll need to make major improvement if the Lions hope to return to the playoffs.
The only thing that could potentially save the Lions is their explosive offense. This is a group that is more than capable of out-dueling any other offense in the league.
With the secondary issues, they might have to.
There are only a handful of truly elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Green Bay Packers have one in Aaron Rodgers. He's proven that he's one of the most dangerous players in the league.
Green Bay's offenses have been extremely explosive with Rodgers under center.
The Packers are in a similar situation as the Detroit Lions. They have concerns on defense that could derail their season. Based on last year, Green Bay must find a way to increase the pressure it generates on the quarterback. The hope is that rookie Nick Perry can team with Clay Matthews to get the job done.
Even if the defense isn't improved, Rodgers and the offense are productive enough to help the Packers make a playoff appearance. However, they'll have a hard time advancing to the Super Bowl.
Glimmer of Hope
The Minnesota Vikings won't make the playoffs this season, but the future looks extremely bright. Christian Ponder has shown tremendous improvement this preseason.
His development is the key to how quickly the Vikings can get back to being a playoff contender. It's also important to the usefulness of Adrian Peterson.
Peterson remains one of the game's top running backs, but the short shelf life of NFL running backs means he's due for a drop in production at some point. The Vikings are hoping that Ponder can more fully develop before Peterson begins his inevitable decline.
Defense is the Vikings' biggest concern. Most of the issues involve the secondary. Players like Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield and Chris Carr just haven't played at a very high level.
The Baltimore Ravens are dealing with major injury problems, but this team is still extremely talented.
Quarterback Joe Flacco gained a lot of confidence from his performance in the playoffs last season. That could help him take the next step in his development.
Because of the injury to linebacker Terrell Suggs and the aging of other members of the defense, the Ravens need Flacco to increase the offensive production.
Expect to see more production from the passing game, but that doesn't mean Ray Rice will have a lesser role. This is still a run-first offense that wants to control the clock and field position. The emergence of Flacco only means there's another part of the offense that can produce.
The AFC North could have three teams make the playoffs again this season. However, it'll be tough because all the top contenders will beat each other up during the course of the season.
The only thing that can keep the Cincinnati Bengals from reaching the playoffs again this year is if Andy Dalton has a sophomore slump.
From what he's shown this preseason, a step forward seems more likely than a step backward. The combination of Dalton and A.J. Green is going to do excellent things this season, including leading the Bengals to another playoff appearance.
While Dalton and Green get all the credit, it's the defense that is the catalyst for this team's success. It has talent across all levels and a ton of depth. They go two or three players deep at each position. I'm not sure there's a defensive line in the NFL that can rotate as many impact players into the game as the Bengals.
Having to deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will be tough, but Cincinnati is ready to knock those perennial powers from the top of the division.
Left Asking When the Draft Is
The Cleveland Browns have too many holes in their roster to make a playoff run.
Their biggest issue is at quarterback, where they are breaking in rookie Brandon Weeden, who has shown signs of promise this preseason. But he's going to have his share of rookie mistakes, and the rest of the roster just isn't talented enough to overcome those mistakes.
I'm not completely sold that Weeden has a bright future. If the Browns are picking in the top five of the 2013 draft, it'll be because Weeden had a poor rookie season.
This upcoming draft looks to have several top-notch quarterback prospects, and Cleveland might have to consider moving on from Weeden after just one season.
That's looking far into the future, but for this season it doesn't look like the Browns are going to improve on last year.
Expect another long and painful season in Cleveland.
Things haven't been great for the Pittsburgh Steelers since their shocking loss to the Denver Broncos in last year's playoffs.
The biggest issue is the holdout by Mike Wallace, who is Ben Roethlisberger's top playmaker. Because of injuries at running back, Pittsburgh must lean on the passing game more than usual.
Concerns about the running game, aging stars on defense and Wallace's holdout have the Steelers primed to take a step back. It's also worth mentioning that the experiment of starting rookie tackle Mike Adams hasn't worked out so far.
It's going to be hard for the Steelers to have an explosive passing attack with issues along the offensive line.
Despite all the negatives, the Steelers still have the talent needed to make a playoff run. Roethlisberger does a good job moving the chains and ensuring the offense scores just enough points to win.
While some of the defensive stars are aging, they are still capable of putting together another playoff run.
In by a Hair
The Atlanta Falcons need Matt Ryan to take the next step in his development. He has explosive weapons such as Julio Jones and Roddy White at his disposal. Ryan and Atlanta's passing game must fulfill their potential if this franchise hopes to keep pace with the other teams in the NFC South.
Atlanta's road to the playoffs has become increasingly hard with the emergence of Cam Newton in Carolina and offseason additions by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Top to bottom, the NFC South might be the toughest division in all of football. Each team has a legitimate shot at winning the division.
I expect the Falcons to ride Ryan and their two explosive wide receivers to another playoff appearance.
Glimmer of Hope
Despite the fast development of Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers are still a year or so away from becoming a playoff contender.
They have too many holes on defense to keep pace with the NFL's elite. The biggest issues are along the defensive line, especially at defensive tackle. This is a team that's going to struggle shutting down the run.
The only thing that could help is if both Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason play at an All-Pro level. This combined with another top-notch season by Newton could result in the Panthers surprising a few teams.
No matter what the Panthers do this season, the arrow for this franchise is pointing up.
In By a Hair
The New Orleans Saints are without their head coach this season, but that shouldn't keep them from making another playoff run.
Drew Brees is still under center and enough of a leader to overcome the obstacles facing the Saints. Plus, the Saints have made significant additions on defense.
One of those is new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who didn't have much success as a head coach but is a terrific defensive coach. The major player additions are Brodrick Bunkley, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton.
Improved play by the defense and Brees are enough for the Saints to make another playoff push.
Glimmer of Hope/Left Hanging Their Heads
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a unique position. They are rebuilding while also in the playoff hunt.
Their offseason additions increased the talent on the roster and helped them get younger in certain areas. Newcomers Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Doug Martin give the offense a chance to put up some impressive numbers.
However, Tampa Bay's shot at the playoffs rests on the arm of quarterback Josh Freeman. The pieces he needs to succeed are in place, but he now must take the next step in his development. A poor season by Freeman could result in the Buccaneers considering adding another quarterback to the mix.
The defense should be much improved but could still have some struggles. They need tackle Gerald McCoy to finally live up to his potential.
This team doesn't have a ton of talent along the defensive line. It especially lacks a consistent pass-rush threat.
McCoy has the potential to develop into a player who can generate consistent pressure.
For years the Houston Texans offense was forced to overcome the poor play of the defense. However, now the defense is the superior unit and has the talent that could single-handledly lead a team to the playoffs.
Luckily for the Texans, their offense is elite. The strength is Arian Foster and the running game. Foster is hoping that quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson can remain healthy. Those two have the type of talent to produce a ton of explosive plays.
Houston is one of the teams that appears a lock to make the playoffs. The Texans are such a dangerous team because of the balance on both sides of the ball.
Glimmer of Hope
The Indianapolis Colts will be one of the surprise teams in the NFL. However, they aren't quite ready to make a playoff run.
That's because they have a rookie starting quarterback and lack of talent on defense. Andrew Luck isn't going to be a liability, but he also isn't at the level where he can overcome the issues on defense.
Indianapolis made some nice additions on defense, but there still are major question marks on all levels of the defense. This unit will be improved from last season, but not enough for this team to make a playoff appearance.
Luck's development is the biggest key to the Colts' season. He's already shown that he has a very bright future.
Glimmer of Hope
Blaine Gabbert may never develop into an elite quarterback, but he has the talent to become a starter on a winning team.
So far this preseason, Gabbert has shown that he has worked to improve on his subpar rookie season. A lot of this has to do with the additions of wide receivers Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon and head coach Mike Mularkey.
The Jacksonville Jaguars only need to see some improvement on offense to become a playoff threat. Last season, the defense proved that it deserves to be in the discussion as one of the top units in the league.
It is absolutely capable of playing at a high enough level for the Jaguars to approach the eight-win mark.
Left Hanging Their Heads
While Jake Locker is a second-year player, he still has some characteristics of a rookie quarterback.
He doesn't have much playing time under his belt, and when on the field he shows a lot of inconsistency. The Tennessee Titans' decision to start him over Matt Hasselbeck appears to be motivated by a desire to get the most talent on the field.
I'm sure the Titans see themselves as a playoff contender, but Locker is going to make his share of mistakes. Those mistakes are going to cost this team several games.
If Tennessee truly wanted to make a playoff push, it should've opened the season with Hasselbeck as the starter. This would've allowed it to turn to Locker later in the season.
On paper, the competition in the AFC South appears weak. However, both the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars are underrated. It's not out of the question that both of those teams could surpass Tennessee in the standings.