Playoff seeding will be set in less than one week, and the 2013 NFL season could hardly be set up for a more exciting finish. A pair of games in Week 17 will decide division winners, as the victors of the Packers-Bears and Cowboys-Eagles matchups will advance to the playoffs. In addition, several teams are still fighting for the NFL's final card spots, and the top seeds in each conference have yet to be determined.
For now, here is how the NFL's 32 teams stack up heading into the season's final, thrilling week.
32. Houston Texans (2-13)
To give the Texans credit, they hung with the Denver Broncos for the majority of the game on Sunday. At one point, they even cut their deficit to 16-13, but a 21-0 fourth-quarter run by Denver effectively ended all hope of an upset.
The Texans' respectable effort against the Broncos should not, however, take away from their dreadful season. 13 consecutive losses, the firing of head coach Gary Kubiak and a 31st-ranked offense (in terms of points scored per game) are just highlights of a complete disaster of a season.
31. Oakland Raiders (4-11)
According to ESPN, Terrelle Pryor will start the Raiders’ Week 17 finale. Whether it will matter or not is another story, as Oakland will face a Broncos team motivated to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs. That means it’s looking like another 4-12 record for the Raiders; they haven’t had a winning record since their 2002 Super Bowl defeat.
A couple of questions still remain for Oakland. They must decide whether to keep Dennis Allen on as the head coach next season. Five consecutive losses won’t do him any favors, but the Raiders would be unwise to punish him for struggling with a team that was doomed from the start.
The Raiders must also decide how they will go about fixing their quarterback situation. Pryor is clearly not the answer, and Matt McGloin, while not playing terribly, hasn’t been anything better than unspectacular.
30. Washington Redskins (3-12)
Back-to-back one-point losses means the Redskins could easily be 5-10. Unfortunately, they aren’t, and their close defeats don't let them off the hook either.
Seven consecutive losses, an uncertain quarterback situation and a dismal defense explain the Redskins' failure this season. After all, it's hard to win when you regularly allow over 30 points per game. Expect big changes this offseason.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11)
Despite back-to-back losses, you have to give the Jaguars some credit; they've won four of their last seven games since starting the season 0-8. Still, the loss on Sunday to the Titans drops Jacksonville to 4-11 on the season.
The loss perfectly highlighted the Jaguars' struggles this season. They rushed for just 63 yards while allowing the Titans to rush for 182. Correspondingly, on the season, they're 30th in the NFL in rushing and 31st in opponent rushing yards. Not pretty.
28. Cleveland Browns (4-11)
Remember when the Browns were 3-2? Neither do I. Six straight losses and nine losses in 10 games mean Cleveland will once again finish with one of the NFL's worst records.
Allowing 208 rushing yards to the Jets in Week 16 didn't do them any favors, nor did Jason Campbell's play at quarterback (37.3 passer rating). The Browns need a new quarterback, and they need one fast.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11)
The Buccaneers appeared as though they were back on track after they won four of their five games following an 0-8 start. A two-game losing streak has since snuffed out the Bucs' winning ways, and Mike Glennon has returned to Earth. He has yet to reach a passer rating of 80 since Tampa Bay's win over the Lions on Nov. 24.
It's hard to imagine Greg Schiano will keep his job after the Bucs' disaster of a season.
26. Atlanta Falcons (4-11)
The Falcons nearly came away with a victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football, and they probably should have. Matt Ryan's late interception in the red zone, which was subsequently returned for a touchdown by NaVorro Bowman, ended the upset hopes, but the Falcons at least made steady progress in the game.
49ers had 33.6% win probability before Ryan’s pick-6, 99.8% win probability after Swing of 66.2% is biggest on defensive play this season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 24, 2013
If Atlanta can acquire a solid defensive player or two this offseason, they can return to relevance next season. Add the return of Julio Jones, and (presumably) healthy seasons from Roddy White and Steven Jackson, and the Falcons should once again have a dynamic offense.
25. Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)
It's hard to find bright spots for the Vikings this year, as they struggled in just about every facet of the game that didn't involve Adrian Peterson. (They're 10th in the NFL in rushing yards.) Most concerning is their secondary, which has allowed an NFL-worst 294.4 passing yards per game.
It did appear as though Matt Cassel might be a viable option for the team at quarterback, but his atrocious performance against the Bengals on Sunday (32.6 passer rating) indicates otherwise. Granted, that was against the best defense in the AFC, and Cassel has a chance to redeem himself against the Lions in Week 17.
The Minnesota Vikings have scored more touchdowns this season than the Seattle Seahawks.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) December 23, 2013
24. New York Giants (6-9)
The Giants face the Redskins in Week 17, and they have a good chance to end their season with a 7-9 record. After an 0-6 start, that's not bad, but there are still problems abound on the Giants.
It all starts with Eli Manning, whose total of 26 interceptions this year is inexcusable. New York is also second-to-last in the NFL in rushing yards. They are perhaps an offensive weapon or two away from having a solid team, and if Manning can turn it around even a bit next year, the Giants are a (somewhat) legitimate playoff threat.
23. Tennessee Titans (6-9)
The Titans also have an excellent chance to finish the season with seven wins, as they face the 2-13 Texans in Week 17. A tough schedule and the loss of Jake Locker to injury means this is somewhat of a positive result for Tennessee, but they are still far from being a playoff-caliber team.
22. Buffalo Bills (6-9)
One has to wonder if the Bills could have contended for the playoffs had E.J. Manuel and C.J. Spiller been healthy and productive for the season’s entirety.
Even so, this team really isn't quite of playoff caliber. If the team's dynamic young players can take a step forward in the coming seasons, however, that could certainly change.
21. New York Jets (7-8)
The Jets have somehow won seven games this season, yet Rex Ryan may still lose his job. It would be a mistake for the Jets to let their coach go, as he has helped guide the team to a record that well exceeds preseason expectations.
The seven wins come as a surprise, especially because of the struggles by quarterback Geno Smith. Despite throwing nearly twice as many interceptions (21) as touchdowns (12), Smith can finish the season with a .500 record in his rookie season.
20. St. Louis Rams (7-8)
The Rams achieved what was expected of them in Week 16, beating the Buccaneers at home. They have a tough matchup (a severe understatement) in Week 17 against the Seahawks in Seattle, but a win would give them a .500 record on the season. Perhaps more importantly, at least in the NFL playoff picture, a win over Seattle would give the 49ers first place in the NFC West, assuming they beat the Cardinals in Week 17.
To even reach seven wins, as the Rams did in their win over the Bucs, is a tremendous accomplishment, especially with the absence of Sam Bradford due to injury. It’s a true testament to the coaching genius of Jeff Fisher.
"We haven't had inconsistency in effort any time this year." - Jeff Fisher— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) December 20, 2013
19. Detroit Lions (7-8)
Few teams are capable of collapsing to the degree that the Lions did this season. Losses in five of the past six games have eliminated Detroit from the playoffs, as well as Jim Schwartz’s prospect of returning as the coach next season.
If the Lions must point to one factor that led to their demise this season, they need look no further than their offense’s turnover susceptibility. With such dynamic players across the board (i.e. Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush), turnovers would be the only thing that could hold the Lions back; and they did just that.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8)
Somehow, the Steelers are still alive in the playoff race. While their chance is minuscule, it is still a chance. The Chargers, Dolphins and Ravens must all lose, while Pittsburgh must win.
The Steelers' 0-4 start may have doomed their season, but five wins in their last seven games makes next season rather promising for Pittsburgh. For now, however, they must focus on the only thing currently in their power: beating Cleveland at home in Week 17.
17. Chicago Bears (8-7)
The Bears defense allowed 40 points for the fourth time this season on Sunday. Per ESPN Stats & Info, they allowed 40 points four times in their past nine seasons coming into 2013. Bottom line: The Bears defense completely fell apart this season.
This is ironic, as the team known for its prolific defense finally has the offensive firepower to compete. Unfortunately, the deadly wide receiver duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey means nothing if the D can’t make stops. The defensive unit can make up for its mishaps by holding the Packers down in what is essentially the NFC North Championship in Week 17.
16. Green Bay Packers (7-7-1)
The Packers have yet to make a decision on Aaron Rodgers' status for Week 17, but coach Mike McCarthy wants to make a decision "sooner than later," according to the Associated Press (via sportingnews.com).
In Rodgers' absence, it has been the Eddie Lacy show in Green Bay, at least for the past few weeks. The rookie running back has piled up four rushing touchdowns in the last three games while amassing 225 yards on just 36 carries in the past two games.
Incredibly, the Packers can still win the NFC North if they beat the Bears in Week 17. Given their loss to the Steelers on Sunday and Aaron Rodgers’ absence for the entire second half, this is a dream scenario for Green Bay. If Rodgers does indeed return to to face an ailing Bears defense (54 points allowed vs. Eagles), the Packers have an excellent shot at making the playoffs and making a run if they get there.
15. Miami Dolphins (8-7)
The offense was an unmitigated disaster on Sunday against the Bills. Seven sacks allowed and 14 rushing yards contributed to the Dolphins getting shut out, but they can still make the playoffs.
A win at home against the Jets in Week 17 and a Baltimore loss would mean the Dolphins sneak into the playoffs as the AFC's sixth seed.
14. Baltimore Ravens (8-7)
The Ravens got pummeled by the Patriots on Sunday, but they still have the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win in Week 17 and a loss by Miami or San Diego.
Even if they do make the playoffs, the Ravens have a multitude of concerns. Ray Rice has been stagnant all season, along with the rushing attack as a whole, as he has averaged a measly 3.1 yards per carry.
Additionally, only four teams in the AFC have a worse turnover differential than the Ravens. If these two trends continue (turnovers and poor rushing), the Ravens will not be going far in January.
13. Dallas Cowboys (8-7)
The loss of Tony Romo for the season certainly stings. However, for the Cowboys to even be in a position to win the NFC East after all their problems this season is rather impressive.
Can Kyle Orton pull off a miracle on Sunday? To have a chance, the defense will have to at least make a couple of stops against the dynamic Eagles offense, which put up 54 points against the Bears on Sunday night.
12. San Diego Chargers (8-7)
The Chargers needed losses from the Dolphins and Ravens to keep their playoff hopes alive, in addition to winning themselves. All three of those things happened, but now they must all happen again in Week 17.
Even if Philip Rivers and the Bolts fail to make the playoffs, they can be proud of how they exceeded just about everyone’s expectations this season. The Chargers are a couple of solid defensive additions away from being a serious threat in the AFC. That is, assuming Rivers does not revert to his interception-prone play of 2011 and 2012.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)
The Eagles came through with an impressive victory over the Bears' lackluster defense, but they still must beat the Cowboys in Week 17 to ensure a playoff berth.
With Tony Romo likely out for that game, the Eagles are in great shape. However, their defense remains a major concern. The win against the Bears does not mean we should forget that the Eagles allowed 48 points to an Adrian Peterson-less Vikings the previous week.
Even so, the Eagles have won six of their last seven games, and Nick Foles is red hot. With such a dynamic offense, the defense likely will only have to be average for the Eagles to make a playoff run.
One of the main knocks on the Eagles is that they have yet to face many of the NFC's top teams, who they will be facing in the playoffs if they beat the Cowboys in the season finale. They have not played Seattle, San Francisco, Carolina or New Orleans this season. (If New Orleans makes the playoffs, those are four of the NFC playoff teams.)
How the Eagles will match up against these top teams (assuming they win in Week 17) will be very interesting. Foles and NFL rushing leader LeSean McCoy give them plenty of reason to be optimistic.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)
To say the least, Week 16 was not pretty for the Chiefs. They scored a total of zero points in the final three quarters of the game while allowing all 23 of the Colts' points in the second and third quarters. Alex Smith had 153 passing yards and a 41.3 rating, and the Chiefs committed an uncharacteristic four turnovers.
Those who pointed at the Chiefs' early-season ease of schedule as a reason for their success might have had a point. Kansas City has yet to beat an AFC team with a winning record, falling to the Broncos (twice), the Chargers and, most recently, the Colts.
The Chiefs still have Jamaal Charles, whose 19 touchdowns are one of the primary reasons (along with the defense allowing the fourth-fewest points in the NFL) that Kansas City is currently 11-4.
9. Indianapolis Colts (10-5)
You could argue whether the Colts are a better team than the Chiefs or not, but they beat them fair and square in a 23-7 domination in Week 16.
At first glance, the Colts seem as though they shouldn't be 10-5. They rank 16th in the NFL in total yards and 19th in yards allowed.
Yet, coach Chuck Pagano has done an excellent job in making sure the Colts are arguably the most fundamentally sound team in the NFL. They have committed the fewest penalties in the NFL, and their 14 turnovers are also tops in the league.
If Indianapolis can continue to play disciplined football, that could take them a long way in the playoffs.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (10-5)
The Bengals have the best defense in the AFC, and four wins in their last five games is a testament to that. The Bengals, who are 10-5, lost a pair of overtime games this year and fell to the Bears on opening day by three points. They could easily be 13-2, and if Andy Dalton continues to put up big numbers, the Bengals could be a dark-horse Super Bowl candidate.
7. New Orleans Saints (10-5)
The Saints nearly beat a red-hot Panthers team, which is why they should not be penalized too greatly in the power rankings. However, the team has a couple of problems. The main concern remains protecting Drew Brees. The New Orleans quarterback was sacked six times, which comes after he was sacked four times in a Week 15 loss to the Rams.
Also, turnovers remain a serious concern for the Saints. They rank dead last in the NFC in takeaways, with their overall differential putting them 10th out of 16 teams. Improving on this statistic is a must for the Saints heading into the playoffs.
6. Arizona Cardinals (10-5)
It wasn’t pretty, but the Cardinals somehow beat the Seahawks in Seattle. Jay Feely was perhaps the MVP of the game, with his three field goals proving to be the difference in a 17-10 win.
Here's how good DC Todd Bowles' defense is in Arizona: Carson Palmer threw four picks Sunday and the Cardinals still won in Seattle.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
The Cardinals must beat the 49ers in Week 17, while the Saints must lose in order for Arizona to make the playoffs. However, the Cards' misfortune of playing in one of the NFL's strongest conferences should not take away from their brilliant season.
They showed this year they are a playoff-caliber team, and if Carson Palmer can perform next year at a caliber similar to his second-half performance (his four picks against Seattle notwithstanding), Arizona will be a tough matchup for any team in 2014.
5. New England Patriots (11-4)
The Patriots made a strong statement after their disappointing defeat to the Dolphins in Week 15 by clobbering the Ravens, 41-7, on Sunday.
The win was especially promising for the Pats because the defense really stepped up. They recorded four sacks, five tackles for a loss, 10 pass deflections, three interceptions and two touchdowns. The Patriots' Achilles' heel this season has been their defense, as they've allowed the eighth-most yards per game in the NFL, so a performance like that is huge.
If Sunday's destruction was a sign of things to come for the D, Tom Brady will take care of the rest. Don't sleep on the Patriots in the playoffs.
4. San Francisco 49ers (11-4)
The 49ers’ victory on Monday Night Football was a tale of two halves. The Niners trailed 10-3 at halftime, and talk on the television broadcast turned to San Francisco’s Week 17 game against the Cardinals. However, the Niners scored 17 unanswered points to start the second half and held on to make sure their Week 17 matchup would not decide their playoff fate.
The Niners have to be considered a serious Super Bowl threat if Colin Kaepernick continues to play like he did in 2012. Based on his recent performances (passer ratings of over 108 in four of his last five games), combined with the defense's dominance (minus a slight disappointment against the Falcons), San Francisco is in an excellent position.
The Niners do, however, still have plenty to work on. Their inability to close out the Falcons was concerning, as a NaVorro Bowman pick-six saved the day. Yet, a win is a win, and the 49ers are headed to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
If they can pick up a win over the Cardinals in Week 17, they should jump into a top-three spot in the power rankings.
3. Carolina Panthers (11-4)
The Panthers are officially the hottest team in the NFL, an assertion firmly backed up by their gritty, come-from-behind victory over the Saints on Sunday. They've won 10 of their past 11 games, and they avenged their only loss in that span by beating the Saints.
A win in Week 17 would give Carolina an improbable first-place finish in the NFC South, despite being a game behind the Saints following their Week 14 defeat. If Cam Newton can consistently perform in the playoffs, the Panthers are a serious threat to make a deep run in January.
Cam Newton: 4th game-winning drive in 4th quarter/OT this season (2 combined in 1st 2 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2013
2. Seattle Seahawks (12-3)
The Seahawks struggled again offensively, a trend that has to be a bit of a concern for them going into the playoffs. In fact, they have struggled so much lately that a loss in Week 17 would put them in jeopardy of losing the top spot in the NFC West. (And thus their first-round bye as well.) If Russell Wilson and the offense can step it up, the defense will take care of the rest.
1. Denver Broncos (12-3)
The Broncos jump into the top spot thanks to the Seahawks’ defeat, but give them some credit too. The Broncos reached 35 points for the 10th time in 15 games this season. They may reach their victories in exactly the opposite way as Seattle, through sheer offensive dominance instead of defensive prowess.
Yet, when a team scores points with incredible consistency, while its quarterback sets the single-season record for touchdown passes (congratulations Peyton Manning), denying them the top spot would simply be a travesty.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.