The final week of the wild 2013 NFL season is in the books.
While it certainly did not lack for entertainment, the league now takes a forward-looking approach. For a select few, eyes are on the playoffs and a chance at the Lombardi Trophy.
For the rest, the focus shifts to the 2014 NFL draft, where talented prospects with the potential to change the fortunes of a franchise await.
Here is how the league stacks up now that the playoffs are set to begin.
1. Carolina Panthers (12-4)
The Carolina Panthers ended the season on a bit of a sour note thanks to a shock by the Atlanta Falcons.
Cam Newton and the Panthers escaped with a one-point victory, which gave them the NFC South crown, as the team's Twitter account illustrates:
That is three in a row to close the season, which makes the Panthers the NFL's best heading into the playoffs.
2. Denver Broncos (13-3)
The Denver Broncos moved to 13-3 after absolutely destroying the Oakland Raiders in Week 17, 34-14.
In the process, quarterback Peyton Manning rewrote record books, as the team's Twitter account illustrates:
Not a bad way to gain plenty of momentum before the playoffs.
3. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
After a loss in Week 16, the Seattle Seahawks did much in Week 17 to re-enter the minds of fans as one of the NFL's most dominant teams with a blowout win over the St. Louis Rams.
Sure, the win came at home, but it was a typical Seahawks affair in which they controlled the clock and imposed their will on defense—limiting the Rams to 158 total yards of offense.
Seattle remains one of the top teams to fear in the postseason.
4. New England Patriots (12-4)
The New England Patriots took care of business against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 by a 34-20 margin in horrid weather conditions.
In other words, the team wrapped up its fourth straight postseason bye, as its Twitter account details:
#Patriots win a wet one in Foxboro & top the Bills, 34-20, to earn their 4th straight playoff bye.— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 30, 2013
Who wants to doubt Tom Brady in the postseason?
5. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
The San Francisco 49ers survived a scare against the Arizona Cardinals, a team that had learned in the middle of the contest its playoffs hopes were over.
Phil Dawson hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired to get the win, but the 49ers have little time to bask in the victory with a trip to Lambeau Field in the cards for a showdown with the Green Bay Packers.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
The Cincinnati Bengals took care of business against the Baltimore Ravens to close the season with an 8-0 mark at Paul Brown Stadium.
While no team should want to play the Bengals at home, no team may want to play them at all—quarterback Andy Dalton threw four interceptions, and they still beat the Baltimore Ravens 34-17.
Head coach Marvin Lewis, by way of the Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy, put it best:
Marvin on Dalton: “You are evaluating a performance and we won a football game by three scores and I feel good about that.” #Bengals— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) December 29, 2013
The Bengals welcome the San Diego Chargers to town to kick off the Wild Card Round.
7. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
The New Orleans Saints destroyed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to close the season, which only further reinforced the notion that they are an unstoppable home team, but mediocre on the road.
Alas, the Saints will have to take to the road in the playoffs and prove they are good enough to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
For right now, the Saints remain in the top 10.
8. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
The Arizona Cardinals are the 10-win team unfortunate enough to miss the postseason. As hinted above, the Cardinals knew the hunt was over before their game against the 49ers had concluded.
Despite this, the Cardinals remained tough to the bitter end.
Arizona is the perfect example of all that is wrong with the NFL playoff format, as it is better than several teams making the trip to the postseason.
9. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts closed the 2013 regular season on a three-game win streak and did much to nullify the notion they play down to competition with a 30-10 win over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 17.
As ESPN illustrates, Luck had a big day, as did receiver T.Y. Hilton:
FINAL: IND 30 JAC 10 -T.Y. Hilton 11 Rec 155 yds -Andrew Luck 282 yds TD -Colts finish 11-5, Jags finish 4-12 pic.twitter.com/8V0P99vtDL— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 29, 2013
That is the type of momentum any team would want entering the playoffs. Indianapolis faces the next team on the list to get its postseason started.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
The Chiefs played in a meaningless game in Week 17 against the Chargers and almost pulled off the win despite mostly fielding backups.
Kansas City is the No. 5 seed in the AFC and must travel to Indianapolis in the opening round of the playoffs.
There, the Chiefs will have plenty of questions to answer, as Week 16 was a 23-7 loss to the Colts.
11. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
The Green Bay Packers escaped Soldier Field in Week 17 with a 33-28 win over the Chicago Bears in a game that doubled as the NFC North Championship.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was back to being his usual self with 318 yards for a pair of touchdowns and interceptions.
Want to know something even scarier? The Packers have won three of their last four and are firmly one of the league's most feared teams entering postseason play.
12. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
The Philadelphia Eagles notched a thrilling win over the Dallas Cowboys on the Week 17 edition of Sunday Night Football to close the season.
With the win, the Eagles take the NFC East crown and welcome the Saints to town to open the playoffs. The Eagles have won seven of eight, so expect an epic matchup when the two sides meet.
13. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
The San Diego Chargers notched a thrilling 27-24 overtime win in Week 17 against Kansas City to secure their playoff berth, as ESPN's Adam Schefter details:
Opening AFC wild-card round: San Diego at Cincinnati, Kansas City at Indianapolis.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 30, 2013
San Diego must now hit the road to take on the Bengals, a team that is undefeated at home in 2013.
While a daunting task, the Chargers are on quite the roll and should not be slept on at this point.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Talk about getting hot at the right time and showing a model example of resiliency.
The Pittsburgh Steelers won three straight to close the season, capped off by a 20-7 win over the Cleveland Browns to keep themselves in contention for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the stars did not properly align for the Steelers. Instead, Pittsburgh must watch from home as San Diego acts as the No. 6 seed to open the playoffs.
15. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
The Miami Dolphins are arguably the biggest disappointment of all when it comes to failed playoff opportunities.
Miami entered Week 16 with a grip on the No. 6 seed in the AFC. Granted, the team needed a win and help to get in, the Dolphins failed to uphold their end of the bargain with a 20-7 loss at the hands of the New York Jets.
It is going to be a long offseason in Miami.
16. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
What a disappointing end for the defending champions. The Baltimore Ravens made the trip to Cincinnati in Week 17 and lost by a 34-17 margin, making it two straight losses to close the season before missing the playoffs.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley has a quote from quarterback Joe Flacco that surely stings for fans, but puts it best:
#Ravens QB Joe Flacco sums it up: "We're an 8-8 football team -- we don't deserve to be there (the playoffs)."— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) December 29, 2013
17. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
Mediocrity is the name of the game in Dallas, and as per the usual, the team finished the 2013 season with a .500 record.
Sure, the team was without Tony Romo in the loss to the Eagles. But Kyle Orton made sure to throw a pretty Romo-esque late interception to ruin the team's chances at an NFC East crown and playoff bid.
18. Chicago Bears (8-8)
Chicago simply could not get it done in Week 17 against Green Bay. The Bears watched helplessly as Randall Cobb sprinted into the end zone for a 48-yard touchdown reception from Rodgers with 38 seconds remaining.
As Cobb entered the promised land, so did the Packers. Meanwhile, the Bears saw their postseason hopes go up in flames.
Now the Bears must turn their attention to the quarterback situation, where Jay Cutler is not a sure thing to return.
19. New York Jets (8-8)
The New York Jets scored a major victory over the Miami Dolphins to close the season, which put the team at .500 and saved coach Rex Ryan's job.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the news right after the big win:
Jets owner Woody Johnson announced his team will retain HC Rex Ryan.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 29, 2013
Ryan gets one more year, where he will have to continue to build around quarterback Geno Smith.
20. St. Louis Rams (7-9)
St. Louis showed plenty of fight in its Week 17 loss to Seattle, but the season was already in hand entering the contest.
Looking at the stat sheet, fans would not know the Rams even showed up. They managed just 158 total yards in the ugly affair, a good chunk of which came in garbage time.
The good news is simple: There is plenty of talent in St. Louis when the team gets healthy over the offseason and adds the No. 2 pick of the 2014 draft to the mix.
21. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
Major kudos to the Tennessee Titans, a team that finished the year on a two-game winning streak—with victories over Jacksonville and Houston.
Week 17 was a 16-10 victory over the two-win Texans, as Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Titans made sure Houston wound up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Things are not as simple for Tennessee, although running back Chris Johnson made his case for sticking around with 127 rushing yards and a score in the win.
22. New York Giants (7-9)
Eli Manning and the New York Giants finished the season on a high note with a 20-6 win over the Washington Redskins—if it can even be classified as such.
Manning was his usual self, throwing for only 152 yards with a touchdown and interception.
New York has a lot of questions to answer in the offseason.
23. Detroit Lions (7-9)
Talk about a typical ending for the Detroit Lions under head coach Jim Schwartz.
The Lions looked like a lock to win the NFC North and proceeded to lose their last four games of the season to miss the postseason entirely.
The horrible season was capped off with a 14-13 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. ESPN's Kevin Seifert later reported Schwartz wants to return to Detroit next season:
Jim Schwartz said he wants to come back to #Lions because of "unfinished business." Declined to make public pitch for his job.— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) December 29, 2013
Let the speculation begin.
24. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
The 2013 season ended on a sour note for the Bills in Foxborough via a 34-20 loss to the Patriots.
Even worse, the team lost three of five to close the season. The rebuild continues—and it can be called that despite the competitiveness shown at times.
25. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1)
The Minnesota Vikings finished on a strong note with wins in three of their last five, including an upset win over the Lions in Week 17.
It was not Adrian Peterson, but Matt Asiata who led the Vikings over the Lions with his 14 carries for 115 yards.
Kudos to the Vikings for finishing the year strong, but there is plenty to do in the upcoming offseason as it pertains to roster upgrades.
26. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
As expected, the Atlanta Falcons lost their final two games of the year. Week 16 was a 34-24 loss to the 49ers, while Week 17 saw the Panthers win by one point.
Fans can take solace in the fact that the team is still plenty talented, but simply needs to get healthy over the offseason. As an added bonus, the team gets a top prospect in the draft. Not bad.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quit on head coach Greg Schiano, which may have something to do with some of the rumors flying around him and the Penn State job at the collegiate level.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport has the scoop:
Regardless, the Buccaneers came out flat and lost in New Orleans by way of a 42-17 blowout—a fitting end to a miserable season.
28. Cleveland Browns (4-12)
That will do it for the Rob Chudzinski era in Cleveland. ESPN's Chris Mortensen has the report:
Rob Chudzinski will be fired by the #Browns, per league sources.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 29, 2013
The Browns finished 4-12, with the final game being a 20-7 loss to the Steelers. There is plenty to like in Cleveland such as receiver Josh Gordon, but four wins simply doesn't get it done at the professional level.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
Jacksonville did a good job of playing its way out of a top selection in the 2014 draft via four wins in five weeks starting in Week 10.
The Jaguars attempted to right the ship with three straight losses to close the season, but to no avail.
Week 17 was a 30-10 loss to the Colts. In other words, a fitting end for one of the NFL's worst franchises.
30. Oakland Raiders (4-12)
The Raiders came out flat in their final game of the season, losing 34-14 to the Broncos.
The team simply quit on coach Dennis Allen, whose future is cloudy at best. The franchise has a lot of things to figure out, including the future of quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor.
31. Washington Redskins (3-13)
The Washington Redskins lost their eighth straight game in Week 17 with the No. 1 seed in the 2014 draft still a possibility.
It was an embarrassing loss at that, as quarterback Kirk Cousins threw for only 169 yards and two interceptions.
The speculation surrounding Cousins and Robert Griffin III is only just beginning, so act accordingly (translation—turn off the television).
32. Houston Texans (2-14)
The string of 14 straight losses is complete for Houston, a team that now has a firm grip on the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
As John McClain of the Houston Chronicle illustrates, the Texans are the first team in NFL history to pull off such a feat:
Texans R first team N NFL history to start 2-0 and finish 2-14. They tied 1994 Oilers (12-4 to 2-14) for biggest 1-season plunge N history.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) December 29, 2013
Hopefully the No. 1 prospect turns out to be worth the woeful season.