The 2012 NFL regular season has come to a close and what a season it was. Three rookie quarterbacks led their teams to the playoffs. Calvin Johnson broke the single-season record for receiving yards and Adrian Peterson came just nine yards shy of the all-time single-season rushing record. The Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings each made the playoffs after winning a combined five games in 2011.
The Falcons, 49ers, Broncos and Patriots will all receive first-round byes. The Packers and Vikings played the most entertaining game of Week 17 and will get to do it again as they square off in the Wild Card Round. Elsewhere, the Seahawks will travel to Washington to take on the Redskins.
In the AFC, the Colts and Ravens will meet in one Wild Card matchup while the Bengals and Texans battle in the other.
Unlike most years, all 12 playoff teams finished the season in the top 12 in the power rankings. Back in 2010, the Seahawks reached the playoffs despite finishing 26th in the power rankings.
Of my top 12 teams from the preseason rankings, only six finished the season at that threshold.
With that, here are the rankings as we head into 2013 and the NFL playoffs.
Teams’ previous ranking in parentheses.
1. Denver Broncos (2): Denver may not be the best team in the NFL, but they are undoubtedly the hottest heading into the playoffs. Peyton Manning likely locked up yet another MVP award.
2. Atlanta Falcons (1): It’s finally time to see what Matt Ryan and the Falcons are really made of.
3. New England Patriots (3): Just another ho-hum season for Tom Brady and Co. Things appear to be set up for yet another Brady vs. Manning AFC title.
4. San Francisco 49ers (7): The 49ers finished with a win and grabbed a first-round bye. Will they stick with Colin Kaepernick even though he has no playoff experience?
5. Green Bay Packers (4): You just knew that debacle by the replacement refs in Week 3 would somehow affect the Packers. As it turns out, it cost them a first-round bye that would have given them time to heal some of their injured key players.
6. Seattle Seahawks (6): Seattle exceeded all expectations this season and look to be a force for years to come.
7. Indianapolis Colts (8): Is there a better story this year than Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts? How can you not root for that team?
8. Houston Texans (5): The Texans looked like a Super Bowl favorite for most of the season and have really fallen flat lately. So flat that they choked away their first-round bye. Will they be able to fix things in January?
9. Baltimore Ravens (9): As usual, Baltimore will go as far as Joe Flacco takes them. That’s probably not an overly comfortable feeling if you’re a Ravens fan.
10. Washington Redskins (10): Mike Shanahan basically said the season was over after a 3-6 start. I guess we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and call that one of the better motivation tools out there.
11. Minnesota Vikings (11): Is Adrian Peterson the greatest running back of all time? What a season for him and for the Vikings. It will take another perfect game for them to beat Green Bay again, however.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (12): The Bengals reach the playoffs for a second straight year and with the way the Texans have been playing lately, don’t bet against the Bengals.
13. Chicago Bears (13): The Bears started the season 7-1 and failed to make the playoffs. If that wasn’t bad enough, they have to sit at home while two of their divisional foes will keep playing.
14. New York Giants (14): The defending champs ended the season in style, but it wasn’t quite enough to give them a chance to repeat.
15. Dallas Cowboys (15): Another disappointing season for the Cowboys. Will Jason Garrett get another shot next year?
16. New Orleans Saints (16): If the Saints can somehow get themselves a respectable, even mediocre, defense, they would be an instant Super Bowl favorite. I expect them to be much better next year assuming, you know, they don’t have another jaw-dropping scandal break out.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (17): Considering how 2011 went for Tampa, 2012 has to be considered a step forward. Now they need to continue to improve and be a playoff team next year.
18. St. Louis Rams (17): The St. Louis Rams were competitive all season long and that is a direct result of the hiring of Jeff Fisher. They just need more playmakers on offense and they can be a threat in the NFC West.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers (18): It looks like it might be the end of that vaunted Steelers defense. They are simply getting old. Injuries on offense did not help matters. Regardless, I expect Mike Tomlin to have them back in contention next season.
20. Carolina Panthers (22): After a miserable start, Cam Newton and the Panthers finished the season strong. Look for them to bounce back next season.
21. San Diego Chargers (23): Major changes are needed, and likely coming, in San Diego. It might be time to clean house and start from scratch.
22. Detroit Lions (20): The Lions simply came up just short in most of their games this year. They have a lot of the pieces they need though. I expect their 2013 season to look more like 2011 than 2012.
23. Miami Dolphins (21): The Miami Dolphins have to be pleased with their 7-9 season and the play of Ryan Tannehill. Drafting Tannehill drew a lot of skepticism but considering the talent around him, he had a solid season.
24. Tennessee Titans (25): The Titans scored four touchdowns in five minutes on Sunday and did not run a single offensive play during that span. Think about that for a minute.
25. Buffalo Bills (26): The Bills will likely need to find a quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick simply has not worked out quite how they had hoped. He’s had his chance and it’s time to go in a new direction.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (24): For a team that must have known it was likely their head coach’s final game, the Eagles did not play with any heart. Regardless, Andy Reid will likely not be unemployed for long.
27. New York Jets (27): Will you remember anything else from the Jets’ 2012 season other than the butt fumble? I know I won’t.
28. Arizona Cardinals (28): Hard to believe the Cardinals actually started the season 4-0. No, really, they did! Not only that, but they also beat the Patriots and Seahawks. The NFL is like a woman: impossible to figure out, so don’t bother trying.
29. Cleveland Browns (29): The Browns were competitive in almost all of their games but without question need some help on offense, specifically at the receiver and tight end positions.
30. Oakland Raiders (30): The Raiders need help on defense, a lot of help. Come to think of it, their offense isn’t exactly top-notch either.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (31): The Jaguars have a lot of work to do in the offseason. However, Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts appear as if they could be a nice duo at the wide receiver position.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (32): Outside of running back and maybe kicker, the Chiefs need help at every position on the field.