The NFL is rife with parity or mediocrity this season depending on your viewpoint, but the end result is that more than half of the league’s teams still have a realistic chance at making the playoffs.
The Week 14 slate will be critical. Look for some teams to finally earn themselves a bit of separation from the muddled pack with critical victories.
Here is a glance at what the NFL’s pecking order will look like once Week 14 is in the books.
All records outside of Jacksonville and Houston’s are projected for after Week 14.
32. Houston Texans (2-11)
It looked like Houston was close to bouncing back to its expected form before the season began when it challenged Tom Brady and the Patriots in Week 13, but a loss to the lowly Jaguars Thursday sent it right to the bottom.
Gary Kubiak was fired less than 24 hours after falling to Jacksonville in a game that saw the embattled head coach turn to Matt Schaub once again in the second half. Case Keenum fantasy owners were probably about as pleased as Ben Tate owners with that decision.
31. Washington Redskins (3-10)
Washington’s resurgence behind rookie Robert Griffin III last season seems like decades ago at this point.
RG3 has struggled with health throughout the campaign, and what could be a blowout loss at the hands of the Chiefs Sunday won’t help matters. However, for all the speculation about Griffin’s play and health, it is the Redskins’ defense that has cost them in their quarterback’s second season.
30. Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1)
Poor Adrian Peterson.
The reigning MVP has been saddled with a merry-go-round of poor quarterback play this season, as everyone from Christian Ponder to Matt Cassel to Tampa Bay castoff Josh Freeman has taken snaps this year.
Like Washington, Minnesota has fallen from the ranks of playoff teams to be one of the NFL's worst, in less than a calendar year.
29. Cleveland Browns (4-9)
What could have been.
Cleveland’s defense is arguably among the league’s best, and Josh Gordon is an absolute weapon at wide receiver, but there has been even more turnover at the Browns’ quarterback spot than the Vikings’.
Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell looked capable of keeping Cleveland competitive, but injuries derailed both of their seasons. Brandon Weeden is an opposing defense’s best friend, and now we may get the privilege of watching Caleb Hanie lose to the Patriots in Week 14.
28. Oakland Raiders (4-9)
There have been some positive signs throughout the year in Oakland, but at the end of the day this is still one of the NFL’s worst teams.
Terrelle Pryor looked like the quarterback of the future early in the year, and now Matt McGloin is surpassing expectations. However, these are merely silver linings in a season filled with losses, and another defeat will come Sunday against the mediocre New York Jets.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
The Jacksonville Jaguars were a punchline to almost every NFL joke early in the season, but credit head coach Gus Bradley for righting the ship late in the season. Even Maurice Jones-Drew has provided some value for fantasy owners the past few weeks.
The Week 14 win against the Texans all but eliminated Jacksonville from the race for the No. 1 spot in the draft, but there are some building blocks in place. This team couldn’t win four of five if there weren’t.
26. Buffalo Bills (4-9)
The 2013 NFL season will be a tale of close calls for Buffalo after a number of disappointing losses.
C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson still constitute one of the league’s best rushing attacks, and the defensive line is formidable when rushing the passer. If that had translated into more wins and fewer close losses, the Bills would be higher on the list.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
It’s been a season to forget for Tampa Bay.
Greg Schiano has been criticized frequently. There was a bout with MRSA and whoever took the reins at running back seemed to be bitten by the injury bug.
Mike Glennon looks like he could be a quarterback to build around in the future, and a win Sunday against the Bills lands Tampa a spot ahead of Buffalo on these power rankings. So at least there’s that.
24. Green Bay Packers (5-7-1)
Clearly, if Aaron Rodgers never got hurt Green Bay would be nowhere near the bottom of the power rankings, but that is the reality for the Packers.
After getting embarrassed on national television against the Lions on Thanksgiving, a loss to the lowly Falcons would all but eliminate Green Bay from playoff contention. When that is the case, there will be no need to rush Rodgers back.
23. Atlanta Falcons (4-9)
Atlanta was thought to be a Super Bowl contender at the start of the year, but injuries and a string of losses derailed any hopes of that.
A victory over Green Bay won’t do much to salvage the season, but it would give the Falcons two wins in a row. Perhaps there is something to build on heading into the offseason for Matt Ryan and company.
22. New York Giants (5-8)
In the time it took you to read this, Eli Manning threw two more interceptions.
The Giants are still somehow in the race for the NFC East crown, but a loss to the Chargers on Sunday will make that possibility even more remote. This is still a dangerous squad that could give a playoff contender or two trouble down the stretch, but it won’t be making the postseason itself anytime soon.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)
Much like the Giants, the Steelers are a dangerous team that could spoil someone’s season. But the postseason isn’t in the cards for them.
Pittsburgh needs a win against Miami in Week 14 for wild card purposes, but the Dolphins will emerge victorious. Miami’s defense is strong against the pass and will give Ben Roethlisberger trouble Sunday. When paired with the Thanksgiving loss to Baltimore, this will be enough to knock the Steelers out of realistic contention.
20. Tennessee Titans (5-8)
Tennessee is part of the muddled mess that is the race for the last wild card spot in the AFC, but it has the unfortunate luck of running into Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Week 14.
At the end of the year the Titans will look back at winnable games against division rivals Indianapolis and Jacksonville and regret the missed opportunities.
19. New York Jets (6-7)
The Jets have surpassed expectations despite a struggling offense.
Geno Smith was replaced by Matt Simms in Week 13 against the Dolphins, but Smith will be back against the vulnerable Raiders in Week 14. A victory would keep New York in the thick of the playoff race.
18. St. Louis Rams (5-8)
Despite losing Sam Bradford for the season, the Rams have played decent football throughout the year.
The defense, especially the defensive line, has been formidable, and the running attack has thrived at times. The Week 14 game against the division rival Cardinals will be tightly contested, but expect St. Louis to struggle to move the ball against Arizona’s defense.
17. Miami Dolphins (6-7)
Miami faces Pittsburgh in a critical contest as far as the AFC wild card position is concerned, and the Dolphins will come out victorious behind quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Miami have dealt with a number of distractions off the field, but will still be in the thick of the playoff race after Week 14.
16. Baltimore Ravens (6-7)
The defending Super Bowl champions picked up a critical victory on Thanksgiving against Pittsburgh, but it can’t afford a letdown against the lowly Vikings.
Joe Flacco has been inconsistent and Ray Rice has struggled for most of the season, but the Ravens’ proud defense will be set to at least contain Peterson. Look for Baltimore to remain in the playoff race for yet another week.
15. Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
All signs point to the final week’s showdown with Philadelphia, and a loss to Chicago won’t eliminate Dallas’ playoff hopes.
However, a final game against a division foe sounds all-too-familiar for Cowboys fans. This one won’t end well either.
14. Chicago Bears (7-6)
Somehow, some way, the Bears will remain in the thick of the NFC North race with Detroit by knocking off Dallas on Monday Night Football.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey form what is arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the league, and the Cowboys’ secondary will have difficult stopping the Bears’ attack. With the injuries to Chicago's defense, it will need every last point.
13. San Diego Chargers (6-7)
San Diego may just be the best team of the bunch battling for the AFC’s final wild card spot. A critical victory over the Giants in Week 14 will bolster its playoff hopes.
Phillip Rivers has bounced back this year and is one of the more dangerous quarterbacks in the league when he is playing well. Look for him to continue to make plays down the stretch run and grab a playoff position for his team.
12. Arizona Cardinals (8-5)
Carson Palmer may have trouble keeping the ball out of the hands of the opposing secondaries, but the Cardinals’ defense is one of the better units in the league.
It will carry Arizona to a closely contested victory over the Rams in Week 14. Somehow this team will be in prime position for a wild card spot, even though it is in the same division as Seattle and San Francisco, if the Seahawks take care of business against the 49ers.
11. Detroit Lions (7-6)
Philadelphia is going to beat Detroit, and Chicago is going to beat Dallas. That will create a virtual tie atop the NFC North, although the Lions hold two critical victories over the Bears.
Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford are important cogs in one of the NFL’s most explosive offensive attacks. Unfortunately for Detroit, its secondary gives up too many yards and points, which will be an issue against the Eagles Sunday.
10. Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
The Colts have struggled as of late, but there is no way they aren’t winning the AFC South this season. Even a loss against the Bengals in Week 14 won’t derail Indianapolis’ playoff hopes.
The surprising thing about the Colts inconsistent play is the fact they have wins over the Seahawks, Broncos and 49ers. Yes, losing Reggie Wayne to injury was a tough blow, but there is still enough talent in place to make a postseason run.
9. San Francisco 49ers (8-5)
Seattle looked nearly unbeatable against the Saints in Week 13, and that is what San Francisco will have to deal with in Week 14.
It is a home game for the 49ers, but that won’t stop Seattle from winning. The defending NFC champions are going to find themselves in a battle for the final NFC wild card with the likes of the Cardinals down the stretch.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4)
The Bengals and Colts face off in one of Week 14’s most important games as far as playoff positioning is concerned.
Cincinnati has injury issues, but it will defend its home field against Andrew Luck and company. With A.J. Green and a formidable defense, the Bengals are a dangerous team going forward that seems to be getting overlooked right now.
7. Philadelphia Eagles (8-5)
Ever since Nick Foles took over the starting quarterback slot for the Eagles, things have taken a turn for the better.
Philadelphia will be in the driver’s seat of the NFC East when it beats Detroit in Week 14, especially if Chicago can defend home field against Dallas. The main concern is the secondary, which will certainly come into play against Calvin Johnson and the Lions.
6. New England Patriots (10-3)
New England needs to come to play in the first half if it wants to win a Super Bowl title.
The Patriots looked terrible before intermission against the Broncos (even though they ultimately won the game in dramatic fashion), and struggled against the Texans in Week 13. Fortunately for Tom Brady and company, the Browns won’t put up much of a fight in Week 14.
5. Carolina Panthers (9-4)
Cam Newton and the Panthers are one of the better storylines of the season, and a playoff spot will only improve the plot.
This dominant defense and Newton’s playmaking ability won’t be enough against the Saints in a crucial division showdown, but it will be enough to crack the NFC playoff picture.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)
The Chiefs have one of the best defenses in the league, a dominant rushing game and a quarterback who doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
That may not be a formula to beat some of the league’s best teams, as we saw against Denver, but it is a formula to make the playoffs. What will happen when Kansas City gets there remains to be seen.
3. New Orleans Saints (10-3)
Don’t read too much into the Saints’ loss to the Seahawks. That said more about Seattle than New Orleans.
Drew Brees and company will bounce back in a big way against division rival Carolina this week.
2. Denver Broncos (11-2)
It was almost time to ring the alarm bells in Denver when the Broncos fell behind the Chiefs by multiple scores in Week 14, but then Peyton Manning and Eric Decker reminded everyone just how dangerous this offense can be.
The comeback put the Broncos in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s No. 1 seed, even with their loss to the Patriots in Week 12. If Manning gets to play at home all postseason, a trip to the Super Bowl may not be far off.
Who wins a hypothetical Super Bowl?
1. Seattle Seahawks (12-1)
If there was any doubt remaining that Seattle is the NFL’s best team following its dismantling of the Saints in Week 13, there won’t be any after the Seahawks knock off the 49ers in Week 14.
Seattle is nearly unbeatable at home, which it showed against San Francisco once this season, but will have to win on the road this week. Russell Wilson will put up another dominating performance, and the daunting defense will shut down the 49ers. The road to the Super Bowl will go through Seattle in January.