After four months of fast-paced action, the 2013 NFL regular season is over. And with the end of Week 17 comes the end of the year for 20 teams that didn't qualify for the postseason. Now 12 teams move on in a win-or-go-home bracket that is sure to be exciting over the next month.
But as the season ends, we must look back while also looking forward. Teams like the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals shocked everyone with double-digit-win seasons. On the flip side, the Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings weren't able to duplicate their playoff seasons of a year ago and now find themselves near the bottom of the league in wins.
As the season ends, who is the best team standing? We'll take one last full look at all 32 teams, ranking them from worst to first.
This Week's Rank: 32
Last Week's Rank: 32
The Houston Texans are officially on the clock.
With the NFL's worst record, the Texans are owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Between now and May 8, they'll spend considerable time scouting the incoming rookie class, but first they'll need to hire a head coach.
All signs point to Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien as the favorite heading into Monday morning, and he would be a good hire for a team desperately needing a young quarterback to lead the team's rebuild. O'Brien showed the leadership and vision needed to handle an NFL job during his takeover in Happy Valley after the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky issues. That's the type of head man needed to turn the Texans back into the perennial playoff contenders they were before the 2013 collapse.
This Week's Rank: 31
Last Week's Rank: 31
No change in the rankings for Washington this week as it dropped another game, but do expect changes at head coach there.
Mike Shanahan is not expected to keep his job as the head coach of the team after seeing the franchise go from the playoffs in 2012 to just three wins in 2013. Owner Daniel Snyder has never been known for his patience, and with a chance to make a move for a new head coach, he's expected to completely reshuffle the staff. (UPDATE: Shanahan has been fired.)
Snyder needs to make something happen, and the smart money is on him finding an offensive guru to work with quarterback Robert Griffin III. They'll need to get lucky there, as the team is strapped without a first-round draft pick and with big salary-cap problems moving forward.
This Week's Rank: 30
Last Week's Rank: 30
A big loss to the Denver Broncos isn't how the Oakland Raiders wanted to end the 2013 season. That said, ownership and fans must feel good about the way the team played throughout the year given their overall lack of talent.
That talent is improving, though, as general manager Reggie McKenzie rehabilitates a roster that Al Davis nearly ruined in his final years as team owner. Now Al's son, Mark, is leading the team and wisely showing consistency in allowing McKenzie time to build the roster. And with a good, young coach in Dennis Allen, the Raiders have something they've lacked for years—a clearly defined future.
Now the front office must find a true quarterback to build around. Not Terrelle Pryor. Not Matt McGloin. A true blue-chipper. If McKenzie can do that, Allen will get this team more wins.
This Week's Rank: 29
Last Week's Rank: 29
A 4-12 record might not seem like a win for the Jacksonville Jaguars, but heading into a critical offseason, the fanbase has to feel good about the direction of the franchise.
Owner Shad Khan showed a clear vision for the team when he hired Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley to take over before the season, and the two repaid him with smart roster moves and the type of in-season development you need to see from a young roster. The four wins in the standings might not be where they want to be long-term, but this first step is a big one for the Jaguars.
As the team heads into free agency and the draft, rest easy knowing that Caldwell and Bradley are the right men to handle the team.
This Week's Rank: 28
Last Week's Rank: 27
The Cleveland Browns have far too much talent to be a 12-loss team, but here they are. In a year in which we saw Josh Gordon become one of the best wide receivers in the league and the Cleveland defense play exceptionally well up front, the Browns are once again a double-digit-loss team.
The future will be interesting for this ballclub. Head coach Rob Chudzinski was supposed to be an offensive mastermind, but the Browns were too often stale on offense. Some of that can be attributed to a lack of talent at quarterback, but Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron are top-notch playmakers.
Chudzinski has been fired, according to Tom Withers of the Associated Press, and with the way the Browns played down the stretch, that's not a surprise. You can point to the team's collapse after a solid start as a valid reason for the change.
This Week's Rank: 27
Last Week's Rank: 28
One season after winning the NFC South and taking the top seed in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons will sit home and nurse their wounds after falling to 4-12. Injuries, poor moves in free agency and the rise of other teams within the division caught up with them this season. Now they can focus on getting back to the top of the division with a high draft pick in the first round in 2014.
The Falcons have talent, and they're secure at the most important position on the field with Matt Ryan at quarterback. What they lack is a pass rush and the protection up front to keep Ryan comfortable in the pocket. At the top of Round 1, the Falcons could be looking at Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M), Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina) or even Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA) in an effort to reload for 2014.
No matter where they decide to go in free agency and with their draft picks, the Falcons have consistency in the front office and the coaching staff, and that's equally as important.
This Week's Rank: 26
Last Week's Rank: 26
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a rough 2013 season, but even with all of the MRSA infections and Josh Freeman controversy, the team showed heart and toughness under head coach Greg Schiano.
The way the team played, more so than the outcome, might save Schiano's job. And while the move to release Freeman seemed brave at the time, it's proven to be a savvy move. As was the decision to go to rookie quarterback Mike Glennon, as the former North Carolina State passer emerged as a legitimate long-term option under center.
The Buccaneers have issues and are too talented for their poor results, but if the front office believes the players have bought into Schiano's ways, it's a no-brainer to keep him around. (UPDATE: Schiano and GM Mark Dominik have been fired.)
This Week's Rank: 25
Last Week's Rank: 25
Without Adrian Peterson in the lineup, the Minnesota Vikings shut down the Detroit Lions and ended their 2013 season on a high note. Now they begin the difficult task of rebuilding this roster and getting back to their playoff-caliber style of play from 2012.
The first step will be deciding on the future of head coach Leslie Frazier. With a fall from grace this year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Frazier let go by general manager Rick Spielman. Whether Frazier is there or not, Spielman and co. must find a legitimate quarterback to run the offense. (UPDATE: Frazier has been fired.)
The Vikings are a young team with good talent—especially after landing three first-round picks last season. Now they need the quarterback and head coach to lead them.
This Week's Rank: 24
Last Week's Rank: 23
The Buffalo Bills enjoyed a nice jump during the 2013 season as the youth on the roster matured into proven playmakers. That maturation isn't done yet, though, as many young stars still have a ton of room to grow. With Doug Marrone as head coach, the Bills will be known as a team that gets the most out of its players—something that helped them to six wins this season.
All eyes will be on quarterback EJ Manuel in 2014. The lone first-rounder at quarterback in the 2013 draft, Manuel was brilliant at times but struggled to stay healthy. That will be a question mark for the mobile passer moving forward, but if he can stay on the field, the front office has assembled a ton of talent around him.
Looking ahead, the Bills are one of the teams I'm most excited to see in 2014.
This Week's Rank: 23
Last Week's Rank: 24
A second-place finish in the AFC South isn't the way the Tennessee Titans wanted to end this season, but it's impressive that they were able to win seven games despite injuries to quarterback Jake Locker. Head coach Mike Munchak may not have done enough to impress ownership, but from an outside perspective, this team is headed in the right direction.
The offseason will revolve around the question mark at quarterback, regardless of who the head coach is. Locker has been inconsistent, and even though he showed promise when healthy this year, he's due for a major contract bump and could be let go in a cap-saving move. Locker isn't the only contract decision, though, as top-tier cornerback Alterraun Verner will be entering free agency and can command a big contract after his 2013 season.
A lot of question marks exist in Tennessee, but we'll have answers soon enough.
This Week's Rank: 22
Last Week's Rank: 22
The Detroit Lions continue to disappoint. Eight weeks ago, this looked like a playoff team, but as has become their calling card, penalties and inconsistencies cost them a lead in the NFC North. A four-game losing streak and 1-6 record over the last seven weeks of the year sealed their fate and likely cost head coach Jim Schwartz his job.
I'm rarely a fan of firing a head coach, but in this instance, it's warranted. Schwartz has presided over a team with loads of talent, and yet it consistently underperforms. Given the raw talent at his disposal, Schwartz should have the Lions in the playoffs every year—even in a good NFC North. (UPDATE: Schwartz has been fired.)
The team's collapse down the stretch and the undisciplined, careless way they played each week is an indictment of the head coach.
This Week's Rank: 21
Last Week's Rank: 21
The New York Jets do not look like an 8-8 team, and yet the team rallied to a strong finish. That's a credit to coach Rex Ryan—and it's why he should remain the head coach of the team in 2014.
Ryan has continually coached his teams to performances that exceed their talent levels. Need I remind you, he took the Jets to two AFC Championship Games with Mark Sanchez at quarterback and has since proven that his game-planning and in-game coaching are sorely underrated.
The Jets are an exciting young team, and the best move owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik can make is to keep Ryan as the head coach. Their announcement following the team's win over Miami is the right one.
This Week's Rank: 20
Last Week's Rank: 20
The 2013 season has been one to forget in New York, but the result of this bad season is the No. 12 overall pick in the draft and good positioning to continue a youth movement on both sides of the ball.
The Giants have a starting-caliber quarterback—despite Eli Manning's league-leading 27 interceptions this year—and alongside him they have a true go-to wide receiver in Victor Cruz. The rest of the offense is in flux with Hakeem Nicks entering free agency, but second-year man Rueben Randle came on nicely at times this year and gives them a big body on the edge.
The defense needs help, but general manager Jerry Reese has done a good job of stocking the cupboard there through the draft. If the Giants can hit on a defensive end early in Round 1 to pair with Jason Pierre-Paul, they could be back challenging for the NFC East next season.
This Week's Rank: 19
Last Week's Rank: 19
Expectations in Miami gained steam this season as fans realized the team had a legitimate shot at the No. 6 seed in the playoffs. The fact that the Dolphins will miss the postseason has led to some backlash against head coach Joe Philbin. But remember what expectations looked like before the season and you'll see that Philbin did an exceptional job developing this team on the go.
Philbin's job should be safe, at least in my estimation, thanks to his ability to hold the team together through the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin mess and thanks to his development of the roster. Finding stars like Charles Clay is a credit to Philbin, and the strides made by Ryan Tannehill were impressive enough to feel like the right guys are handling his development.
Philbin may need to make changes to his coaching staff to keep management happy, but the overall report on his second season should be favorable.
This Week's Rank: 18
Last Week's Rank: 18
The St. Louis Rams finish the 2013 season in much the same way they finished the 2012 campaign—as a talented team on the rise, but with question marks on offense that must be addressed.
Last year it was the offensive line, and general manager Les Snead aggressively filled a hole by signing left tackle Jake Long. But now Long is out for the summer with a torn ACL, putting his availability for early 2014 in question. The team also lost quarterback Sam Bradford for much of the season—and the jury is still out on whether he is a viable long-term solution at quarterback.
The Rams have talent, but the 2014 season has the potential to be a disappointment if Long isn't ready and Bradford struggles. On the other hand, the Rams could easily be a playoff team if all of the pieces come together. And because they have the No. 2 and No. 13 picks in the first round, they're once again in position to make big changes to the depth chart.
This Week's Rank: 17
Last Week's Rank: 17
The Dallas Cowboys' season ends without a playoff berth, but Jason Garrett's team gave it one hell of a try. Without quarterback Tony Romo, the team nearly pulled off the upset of the Philadelphia Eagles. But as has been the case in Dallas for some time now, it was too little too late.
Now the Cowboys must regroup again and focus on taking the next step in the offseason. Owner/general manager Jerry Jones has to identify weaknesses and make tough decisions on whom to re-sign and whom to let go.
The nucleus is in place for the Cowboys to be a very good team, but their inconsistency is becoming habitual. Breaking that trend won't be easy, but with their talent on both sides of the ball, it's possible.
This Week's Rank: 16
Last Week's Rank: 12
The defending Super Bowl champions will watch the playoffs from home after falling to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17.
The Ravens knew the 2013 season would be a difficult one thanks to the age of their roster last year and the salary-cap moves that had to be made this past offseason. The fact that they were able to battle back to an 8-8 record and a shot at the playoffs into Week 17 is a credit to general manager Ozzie Newsome and his staff, as well as head coach John Harbaugh's ability to manage and lead the team through adversity.
The Ravens will be back in the playoffs because the coaching and talent are too good for them to be out of the postseason for long, but the 2014 offseason will be a critical one as they look to improve the speed and youth of the roster.
This Week's Rank: 15
Last Week's Rank: 15
The Chicago Bears were one defensive stop away from a playoff berth in Marc Trestman's first season as head coach. That this team won eight games and nearly an NFC North title despite injuries to Jay Cutler, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman and so many others is a huge testament to Trestman and the resolve of his players.
The Bears head into the 2014 offseason with major question marks surrounding Cutler, Melton and Tillman as all three enter free agency. Cutler especially will be the key for the franchise. Do they keep the veteran or start over at the position? They do hold the No. 14 overall pick in Round 1, and general manager Phil Emery could decide to go younger and cheaper at the position.
The offseason figures to be an interesting one in Chicago, but the smart money is on Emery and Trestman improving this team.
This Week's Rank: 14
Last Week's Rank: 14
The San Diego Chargers are playoff bound.
Thanks to an overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17, Mike McCoy's team is headed to the postseason in his first year as a head coach. That's quite an accomplishment given the team's schedule and the competition within its own division.
McCoy should be praised for the work he did not only in rehabilitating Philip Rivers—along with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt—but also in developing rookies Keenan Allen and D.J. Fluker on offense. McCoy made smart hires on his staff, and those paid off as the team improved down the stretch.
And now they're headed to the playoffs—doing what Norv Turner couldn't in his final three seasons as Chargers head coach.
This Week's Rank: 13
Last Week's Rank: 13
The Pittsburgh Steelers did their job in Week 17, easily putting away the Cleveland Browns. But due to their slow start on the year, they needed help from the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins to enter the playoffs. Thanks to the Chargers' overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs' B-team, the Steelers' run ended in Week 17.
The good news is that the team proved it could rebound and fight for head coach Mike Tomlin. Along the way, stars were born, as Antonio Brown became one of the league's best wide receivers and rookie Le'Veon Bell emerged as a go-to running back.
Heading into 2014, the Steelers have the No. 15 overall pick in the draft and clear needs to address. But if history has taught us anything, it's that this franchise is one of the league's best. Pittsburgh will be back in the playoff hunt again next season.
This Week's Rank: 12
Last Week's Rank: 16
It wasn't always easy or pretty, but the Green Bay Packers pulled off another NFC North championship. Thanks to a nail-biting win over the Chicago Bears in Week 17, not only did the Packers win the North, but they guaranteed themselves a home playoff game with a healthy Aaron Rodgers back on the field.
That's the good news.
The bad news? The Packers host the San Francisco 49ers this week. The same 49ers that knocked them out of the playoffs last year. That same team that beat them in Week 1. The Packers are in the postseason, but the road ahead is tough.
This Week's Rank: 11
Last Week's Rank: 11
Just one season after finishing with the NFL's worst record—an embarrassing 2-14—the Kansas City Chiefs are back in the playoffs. If that doesn't get Andy Reid serious Coach of the Year consideration, I don't know what will.
The Chiefs will start the playoffs by traveling to Indianapolis, where they'll take on a Colts team that beat them in Week 16. That 23-7 beating at Arrowhead should give fans concern, but Reid is a smart coach who knew that resting his stars in Week 17 would be key heading into the Colts' stadium to start the playoffs.
With everything on the line, expect to see plenty of Jamaal Charles and an unleashed pass rush from the Chiefs. On paper, this team has the talent to go right at the Colts and pull off the upset on the road.
This Week's Rank: 10
Last Week's Rank: 10
The 2013 AFC North champions reside in Cincinnati.
After two straight seasons of entering the playoffs as a wild-card team, the Bengals took the division from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Now they're looking at a home playoff game coming off of a momentum-building win over the rival Ravens in Week 17.
The Bengals are an obvious contender, but their playoff potential all rests on quarterback Andy Dalton. The team won in spite of him at times this year, and even in the regular-season finale he struggled with turnovers. For the Bengals to make it to the second round of the playoffs, Dalton has to be the player we saw when he was the AFC Offensive Player of the Month in October and not the inconsistent passer who showed up too often this year.
This Week's Rank: 9
Last Week's Rank: 9
The Indianapolis Colts secured their second straight playoff season without Peyton Manning, a good sign for the young roster. Now they'll look to do something they didn't last year: win a playoff game. They'll get that chance at home against the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.
The Colts have a chance each week thanks to Andrew Luck on offense and the exceptional pass rush of Robert Mathis and friends on defense. While they weren't often a dominant team, the Colts did beat the 49ers, Broncos, Chiefs and Seahawks this year. You don't beat those four teams without some talent and game-planning skill.
You can't count the Colts out in any game, and with a game at Lucas Oil Field to begin their playoff journey, this young team has a chance to make serious noise.
This Week's Rank: 8
Last Week's Rank: 8
A 10-6 record isn't the most impressive, but no one wants to see this Philadelphia Eagles offense on its playoff schedule.
First-year head coach Chip Kelly has done a great job applying his spread-out, uptempo offense to the NFL, and his players are thriving in it. Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and Riley Cooper have all been stars behind an offensive line that's protected and opened holes with consistency all season. The Eagles can score points, but they're also learning to stop opposing offenses.
As the front seven in Philly develops, the team's playoff hopes become more solid. The play of Connor Barwin and Fletcher Cox has been eye-opening down the stretch, and anyone sleeping on the Eagles defense will be in for a rude awakening this weekend when it plays the New Orleans Saints.
This Week's Rank: 7
Last Week's Rank: 5
The Arizona Cardinals are easily one of the NFL's 12 best teams, but thanks to the science of divisions, conferences and seedings, they're sitting at home during the playoffs. A shame, yes, but the Cardinals should be very proud of their 2013 season.
First-year head coach Bruce Arians proved his worth to the team, and as the season progressed, the Cardinals improved each week. That's a credit to Arians' teaching ability and the intelligence of his play-calling and game-planning.
Now the Cardinals look to next season as they hope to take a roster with a few older parts—Carson Palmer, John Abraham and Eric Winston, to name three—and keep the machine running for a playoff push in 2014.
This Week's Rank: 6
Last Week's Rank: 7
The New Orleans Saints needed a win in Week 17 to secure a playoff spot. They got the job done with a decisive victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now they'll hit the road to start the playoffs away from the Superdome, something that's been an issue for them in the past.
The Saints are a talented team, but the holes on defense and the edges of the offensive line are troubling. Without enforcer Kenny Vaccaro at safety (broken ankle), the defense lacks its hitter in the backfield. With matchups against high-profile offenses sure to come in the postseason, the Saints' issues on defense are tough to overlook.
Getting back to the postseason after sitting at home last year is a win for this team; I'm just not sure how long the Saints will last in the postseason.
This Week's Rank: 5
Last Week's Rank: 6
Another year, another 12-win season for the New England Patriots. But this time around, it may be the best job Bill Belichick has done with the team.
Given the injuries, incarcerations and overall lack of talent on the roster, the fact that the Patriots won 12 games and secured the No. 2 seed in the AFC is remarkable. Belichick won't get many Coach of the Year votes, though, as too many expect greatness from the Patriots every season. Only in New England could a 12-win season with this roster not result in nonstop praise, but that's the hand Belichick has asked for with the media.
All the awards will mean nothing to Belichick and Tom Brady if they're not playing for a Super Bowl in a little over a month. And of all the AFC teams right now, this is the one on which I'd feel most confident in betting.
This Week's Rank: 4
Last Week's Rank: 1
A one-point win over the Atlanta Falcons clinched the NFC South title for the Carolina Panthers as Week 17 ended. Now the Panthers will have a first-round bye and a home playoff game to look forward to. And as you look around the league, I'm no longer convinced they're the best team out there.
The 2013 season has been a crazy one for head coach Ron Rivera and the entire Panthers franchise. After a slow start, the team caught fire and dominated down the stretch—especially at home. With Cam Newton stepping up and becoming a top-tier quarterback in his first season under offensive coordinator Mike Shula, the team looks like a viable Super Bowl threat heading into the postseason.
The Panthers have talent on both sides of the ball, and when they're playing at home, there isn't a team in the NFL that wants to face them.
This Week's Rank: 3
Last Week's Rank: 4
The most likely of all the wild-card teams to make a serious Super Bowl run, the San Francisco 49ers ended the season with a six-game winning streak. That the road to the big game will be away from Candlestick Park shouldn't affect Jim Harbaugh's club.
The 49ers aren't quite hitting on all cylinders, but the blueprint is there. Now that Michael Crabtree is back, the offense is more explosive and more capable of playing well in a shootout. That's been missing all year and will come in handy against Green Bay in the opening round of the playoffs. Traveling to face the Packers won't be easy, but the 49ers should be a favorite, even on the road.
If you wanted to put your money on a wild-card team to win the Super Bowl again this year, I'd suggest betting on the 49ers.
This Week's Rank: 2
Last Week's Rank: 3
It's hard not to appreciate what the Denver Broncos have accomplished this season. Through injuries to key players like Von Miller and Ryan Clady and the loss of their head coach for a spell, they've rolled to the AFC's best record while watching quarterback Peyton Manning dominate the record books.
It's no surprise that the Broncos are the AFC's No. 1 seed. The big question is, what will they do now that they're in?
The Broncos look dominant, but they did last season too. Proving their worth in the playoffs will be more difficult, but they'll have a week of rest and home-field advantage throughout to help their cause.
This Week's Rank: 1
Last Week's Rank: 2
If the road to the Super Bowl runs through Seattle in the NFC, you have to like Pete Carroll's chances of getting his Seahawks into the big game.
The Seahawks were the NFL's best team from start to finish this year. Even through minor setbacks like losses at San Francisco and Indianapolis, they were able to rebound weekly to re-establish themselves as a clearly superior team.
The playoffs will be a different test, but on paper it's easy to love this team. The Seahawks have a smart, efficient quarterback in Russell Wilson, a dominant running attack with Marshawn Lynch and what seems like a never-ending line of defenders ready to make big plays.
If you had to pick a Super Bowl favorite today, Seattle is a smart choice.