Week 16 in the NFL proved there is only a narrow margin between the top teams in playoff contention and those desperately trying to get in. There is no better example than the Arizona Cardinals getting a win over the Seattle Seahawks on the road.
Just one week remains, but five playoff teams have yet to be decided. While five of six teams are locked into the AFC, the seeding in the NFC is still wide open, as no team is set from No. 1 all the way down to No. 6.
Here's a full breakdown of every team ahead of Week 17 in the NFL, which couldn't come soon enough for the first team on this list.
32. Houston Texans
If there's a will, there's a way for these Houston Texans. After keeping the score close through three quarters against the Denver Broncos, Houston was embarrassed in the fourth quarter, giving up three touchdowns in the final frame.
To make matters worse, this team will be remembered not only for its futility but also for the fact that it allowed Peyton Manning to tie and pass the record for touchdowns in a season, as the Broncos pointed out on Instagram:
The one bright spot for this team is that the Texans will secure the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft with just one more loss. Don't blow it now, Houston.
31. Washington Redskins
The only person left rooting for the Houston Texans at this point is St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead. If the Washington Redskins drop their final game of the 2013 season, they could drop to the bottom of the league and give the Rams a prime spot for the 2014 draft.
The only positive for the Redskins is that they now have a bargaining chip with Kirk Cousins heading into the offseason. But with the woes of Robert Griffin III this season and the fact that he's prone to injury, Washington might be better served keeping Cousins. There couldn't be a worse situation for the Redskins, Bravehearts, Warriors, Griffins or whatever their name might be in the future.
30. Oakland Raiders
While the two prior teams at least had recent success, the Oakland Raiders have put their fans through hell for longer than the lifespan of the average fifth-grader. Without a playoff appearance since 2002 and only two 8-8 seasons since that point, the Raiders are destined for yet another top-five pick in the draft and a second straight 4-12 season.
29. Minnesota Vikings
The unfortunate Vikings are now answering more questions about whether their coach should be fired than about games they are playing on the field. When it gets to that point, it's usually because the team is awful. And with no standout quarterback, the Vikes have no chance at making the playoffs.
28. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are bad. But then again, what's new about that? With a stout defense and a few offensive weapons, the Browns could turn things around soon. But in a division with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, the climb will be tough for Cleveland.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Here's the good news: Gus Bradley has done a great job turning around one of the worst teams prior to the season and making them competitive. Here's the bad news: The Jacksonville Jaguars still don't have a quarterback or defense, and they lost their best wide receiver.
The Jaguars are in a good division to turn things around—with the Texans and Titans in the AFC South—but Houston won't finish the same way next year, and the Colts are now the top team in the division.
26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This team has a lot of work left to do, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a bright outlook for the 2014 season. With offensive weapons such as Vincent Jackson and Timothy Wright and a stable of backs that includes Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey and Mike James, all the Bucs need for next season is a stable quarterback.
With Mike Glennon at the helm, Tampa Bay has won four of its last seven games. The rookie didn't have a great performance against the St. Louis Rams in Week 16, but he has thrown for over 2,300 yards and 17 touchdowns and has eight interceptions on the season.
If Glennon continues to improve, so will the Buccaneers. Unfortunately, they are in the same division as the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and a Falcons team that will no doubt return to form in the coming seasons.
25. Atlanta Falcons
If the Atlanta Falcons proved anything on Monday Night Football, it's that, even with a terrible record, this team is still competitive against anyone in the NFL. The Falcons came just a few plays away from beating the San Francisco 49ers, a playoff team many believe has a chance to make the Super Bowl.
In fact, if it wasn't for a huge play by NaVorro Bowman, the Falcons would have pulled off the upset:
With Matt Ryan behind center, Julio Jones returning from injury and a possible top-five pick in the draft, the Falcons are primed for a return next season. But with the emergence of the Panthers and the return of the Saints, the Falcons could be in the same position as the Bucs next season.
24. Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans are 6-9 after a win against the Jaguars. But then again, Jacksonville hasn't been very good this season either. With the return of Jake Locker next year after an injury that ended his season, the Titans might not be terrible next year.
23. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills put up a great effort against the Miami Dolphins and beat a team that is hoping to get into the playoffs. With a team full of youth, the Bills could pull off one more surprising win against the New England Patriots this weekend.
But without a chance to get to the playoffs, this is a team playing with house money. Playing spoiler is a lot different than playing for something meaningful.
22. New York Giants
The New York Giants have six wins with one week remaining in the season. This is certainly not the season Giants fans expected, but the defense has turned around thanks to the acquisition from the Panthers and Eli Manning throwing just one pick in the win against the Detroit Lions, which is good news.
21. Detroit Lions
There are things much worse than losing your chance at the playoffs in Week 16 to a team that had only won five games coming in. But for Detroit Lions fans, it appears the sky is falling.
The Lions didn't make the playoffs, but fans did receive playoff tickets on Monday afternoon for a game that won't be happening, according to USA Today:
Oops! The Lions sent playoff tickets to some fans: http://t.co/heHqCGqgOv— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) December 24, 2013
Matthew Stafford has thrown for just one touchdown in his last three games and has five interceptions over the last two. And despite the fact that Jim Schwartz won't admit this season has been a failure, according to Michael David Smith of NBC Sports, it could end up costing him his job in Detroit.
20. New York Jets
The New York Jets won their seventh game of the season over the lowly Browns. Though the Jets could close out the season at .500, it looks like it could be the last one for Rex Ryan, who told his players before the game that he would be fired at the end of the season, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports:
Rex Ryan told his players in team meeting last night that word on street is that he's getting fired and ... http://t.co/sLNbTFS4X2— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) December 22, 2013
If the "word on the street" is correct, the change might be best for the Jets. But with instability at quarterback and a lack of talent at nearly every other position, the Jets will need much more than a new coach to overtake the Patriots in the AFC East.
19. St. Louis Rams
The only reason the Rams aren't higher is because they can't make the playoffs. With a good defense and an emerging star in Zac Stacy, the Rams have all the tools to compete in the NFC next season.
At 7-8, the Rams will still be looking up at the 49ers and Seahawks next season. But if Sam Bradford is given the keys to the offense once again, it'll be the best offense he's had during his tenure with a defense that can support it. Add the fact that they have the Redskins' draft pick for 2014, and the Rams could easily be one of the surprise teams in the NFL next season.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Back Breaker. That was the print headline for The Dallas Morning News following the report of a season-ending injury to Tony Romo. The news was initially reported by Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN:
Cowboys QB Tony Romo has been ruled out the rest of the season due to his back injury, per league source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 23, 2013
Tony Romo diagnosed with herniated disc. Surgery necessary, per sources— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 23, 2013
Jerry Jones: Tony Romo could be cleared to play http://t.co/xyiCTnRzD8— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 24, 2013
While ESPN is reporting that Romo will be out, Jerry Jones told David Moore of The Dallas Morning News that the franchise quarterback might be cleared to play for the final game of the season.
Regardless of who starts under center, the defense for the Dallas Cowboys is the real issue. Ranking last in the league in total yards allowed per game and getting picked apart by backup quarterbacks on a consistent basis doesn't bode well for a team going against Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson.
17. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears were awful against the Eagles. They were run off the field—literally—and couldn't do anything on either side of the ball to prove they're worthy of being a playoff team. And that's putting it lightly.
With the worst rushing defense in the NFL by an average of over 20 more yards than the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago is lucky the Lions were awful down the stretch and allowed it even a chance to make the playoffs.
16. Green Bay Packers
How this team has remained in playoff contention is one of the biggest questions in the NFL. But with just one week remaining, the Green Bay Packers have a winner-take-all game against the Bears for the division crown.
With or without Aaron Rodgers under center, this team is in good hands for the future with Eddie Lacy at running back and a plethora of receivers who have emerged as leaders, including Jarrett Boykin and the experienced Jordy Nelson, carrying the team.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have emerged from the doldrums of the AFC North and can make the playoffs. That entire statement is true, but with Pittsburgh needing losses from the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens, the likelihood of the Steelers making the postseason is still extremely slim.
14. San Diego Chargers
This is a team even Arnold Schwarzenegger would be proud of. After knocking off both the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers look like a playoff team. The only problem is that, with one week remaining, they need help just to get to the postseason.
Behind Philip Rivers and Rookie of the Year candidate Keenan Allen, San Diego is a team that could do damage in the playoffs. If not this year, the Chargers could certainly see another run next year with the same pieces leading the team.
13. Baltimore Ravens
After taking one of their worst whoopings of the season against the Patriots in Week 16, the Ravens will have to travel to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in the final week of the season. Baltimore has the talent to pull it off and could make the playoffs, but the defending champions might be sitting at home this January.
12. Miami Dolphins
The situation for the Dolphins was perfect after Week 15. They needed to win their last two games against the Bills and Jets to secure a playoff spot. Easy, right?
Well, the Dolphins went down to Buffalo and got curb stomped to the tune of 19-0 and now could miss out on the playoffs. As Ross Tucker of NBC Sports point out, there are several scenarios, but the Dolphins must win to even hope for a playoff berth:
16 scenarios for AFC 6th seed. Ravens make it in 7/Dolphins = 6/Chargers = 2/Steelers = 1— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) December 23, 2013
With a Jets team coming to town that will be looking to play spoiler in what could be Rex Ryan's final game as coach, there is certainly reason to believe the Dolphins could finish the season 0-2 in their final contests.
11. Kansas City Chiefs
How does a team at 11-4 not make the top 10? Continuing to lay eggs against the only decent competition they play makes the Kansas City Chiefs the worst team guaranteed to make the playoffs this season.
Following the Week 16 loss to the Colts, Dunta Robinson said the Chiefs can't beat better teams in the NFL, according to Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star:
We gotta look in the mirror and we gotta decide what kind of team we want to be moving forward. Yeah, OK. You dominate Oakland. Yeah, you dominate (Washington). But what are we going to do when we face other powerhouses?
This is the best team I've ever been on. I played in Atlanta last year... and we were a pretty good football team. But if we don't get focused, then we're going to be sitting right back here (in a few weeks).
Here are the teams the Chiefs have beaten this season: Jaguars, Cowboys, Eagles (pre-Nick Foles), Giants, Titans, Raiders (twice), Texans (by one point), Browns, Bills and Redskins. Teams Kansas City has lost to: Broncos (twice), Chargers and Colts.
For a team to win in the playoffs, it has to beat good competition. The Chiefs haven't proved they can do that.
10. Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia put a whooping on the Bears and could be one of the scariest teams in the NFC playoffs. First, they'll have to beat a Romo-less (maybe) Cowboys team to get to that point.
9. Indianapolis Colts
It's difficult to tell whether the Colts proved they are still a good team in Week 16 or the Chiefs proved just how mediocre they are. Regardless, Indianapolis looks like a team that is getting on track at the right time and might just be able to make some noise in the playoffs behind Andrew Luck.
8. Arizona Cardinals
Hello, Cardinals. Bruce Arians' squad has proved all season that it is a good team, but handing Russell Wilson his first loss at home took things to a whole new level.
Teams simply do not go on the road in Seattle and win unless they are top-10 teams. If the Cardinals can find a way to sneak into the playoffs at 11-5—a far cry from the Seahawks winning the division at 7-9 in 2010—teams certainly won't be lining up to play them in January.
But with the Saints still clinging to the No. 6 seed and just needing a win over Tampa Bay to clinch, the odds look stacked against a team that could easily win six other divisions in the NFL.
7. Cincinnati Bengals
Year after year, the Bengals make football fans believe that they are for real. While they have already clinched the NFC North and go into the playoffs with a first-round home playoff game guaranteed, it's still tough to have any faith in a team that continues to disappoint when the bright lights are shining.
6. New Orleans Saints
The Saints needed to have home-field advantage to make the Super Bowl. But after a loss to the Panthers, they might not even make the playoff field. A team led by Drew Brees and a stout passing defense is never counted out in the playoffs, but if the Saints fail to show up on the road again in January, it will mean an early exit for a midseason Super Bowl favorite.
5. New England Patriots
Tom Brady proved once again in Week 16 that a team under his leadership can do just about anything. While the Patriots still have questions in the receiving corps and defense due to injuries, Brady could very well will this team to a playoff victory.
4. Carolina Panthers
Earlier this week, this question was posed by a fellow Bleacher Report writer: If you had to choose one quarterback to win a playoff game, would you take Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick? My answer, sort of, was asking which receiving corps my quarterback has.
While Newton has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season, the receivers around him were already thin and got even thinner with Steve Smith's injury, which has him listed as week to week.
But as Paul Finebaum of ESPN pointed out, this isn't the first time Newton has done more with a team than what was expected, and Auburn is doing the same again this year under offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn:
Who had Cam Newton with a shot at the Super Bowl and Auburn playing for the BCS in the preseason office pool?— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) December 22, 2013
The defense is statistically the second-best behind only Seattle, and it is led by a front seven that includes Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. But with one of its best offensive stars possibly missing an undisclosed amount of time, the Panthers might be missing one spoke in their offensive wheel that's gotten them to this point.
3. San Francisco 49ers
In a division in which three teams could theoretically get into the playoffs, the 49ers have dominated. And to answer that question posed in the Panthers breakdown, I would take Kaepernick due to the receiving options he has around him at this point.
The 49ers defense has never been questioned this season and is now ranked No. 3 in the league behind the Seahawks and Panthers. With a healthy Michael Crabtree added to Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis at receiver and Frank Gore in the backfield, Kaep could once again lead this team to the Super Bowl.
2. Denver Broncos
It's hard to bet against a team that has Peyton Manning at the helm. Despite questions about his play in cold weather, his age and injuries around him, Manning has persevered.
He has also put together the best statistical season ever for a quarterback, with 51 touchdown passes. To top that all off, he has also been the most clutch quarterback since the 2006 season, according to ESPN:
Most game-winning drives 4th quarter/OT since 2006: Peyton Manning 25 Tony Romo 23 Matt Ryan 23 Drew Brees 23— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 23, 2013
While that stat was clearly trying to point out that Romo is more clutch than people might think, it also proved that Manning is the best quarterback in the league. Even with Von Miller out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury, the Broncos are still the team to beat in the AFC thanks to their offense.
1. Seattle Seahawks
After a shocking loss to the Cardinals, the Seahawks are still the best team in the NFL. Why? Well, mostly because there is really no shame in losing to the Cardinals this season. Seattle is still one of the best teams at home in the NFL.
With one more win, Seattle would clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC—clearly the best conference this season—and win the NFC West—clearly the best division in the NFL this season.