The NFL season featured drama all season long and was capped off in fitting fashion as two games decided the fates of divisions, and four teams emerged from 10 contenders for the final playoff spots.
While 20 teams have already packed up their lockers and returned home for the offseason, the top 12 NFL clubs are still kicking in the playoffs. Here's a look at all 32 clubs after 17 weeks of play heading into the first weekend of the postseason, which promises to feature more fireworks.
1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
Peyton Manning started off the year with a memorable seven-touchdown salvo against the Baltimore Ravens and kept up the breakneck pace through Week 17. He finished the year by setting single-season NFL records with 5,477 passing yards, breaking Drew Brees' 2011 record by one yard, along with 55 touchdowns.
The offense averaged a league-high 37.9 points and 457.3 yards per game during the regular season and is the main reason why the Broncos totaled a league-best, plus-207 point differential. The loss of Von Miller (ACL) will hurt the defense, but the club already went 6-0 without him to start the season as he served a suspension. Meanwhile, the team recently welcomed back Wes Welker after he missed three games due to a concussion.
The Broncos have a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so they will get to rest up this weekend. It will take a special defensive effort from an opponent to prevent Denver from reaching New York for Super Bowl XLVIII.
2. Seattle Seahawks (13-3)
The Seahawks muscled their way to the top of the NFC, using their top-ranked defense to become the only 13-win team in the conference.
Seattle ranked first in points allowed (14.4 per game) and yards allowed (273.6 per game) and is positioned well with a first-round bye and home-field advantage. Terry Blount of ESPN.com noted that the Seahawks have been especially stingy lately.
Over the final five regular-season games, the Seahawks defense allowed an average of 10.4 points per game, with a high of 19 at San Francisco. Seattle had 12 interceptions in those five games.
The Seahawks allowed an average of only 230 total yards per game and only 153.6 passing yards per game.
When you play at raucous CenturyLink Field, it's a true benefit to play in front of the 12th man. Even though the Arizona Cardinals were finally able to hand quarterback Russell Wilson his first career home loss in Week 17, no team is looking forward to playing in the Pacific Northwest.
3. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
San Francisco might be a No. 5 seed, but it's the best 12-win team in the league.
The defense is spearheaded by its top-notch linebackers in the 3-4 defense under coordinator Vic Fangio. Inside 'backers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks were named to the Pro Bowl this year, while fellow OLB Aldon Smith is still an elite pass-rusher.
Bowman has made huge strides in his fourth season with the Niners and was particularly disruptive in December, per Randall Liu of the NFC Communications Office.
Colin Kaepernick might not put up the big passing numbers, but he has a 19-6 record as the 49ers quarterback. Michael Crabtree has been a big late-season addition to the San Francisco passing game alongside Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, for a team that's itching to get back to the Super Bowl after last year's loss to the Ravens.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)
If the Bengals and New England Patriots were to face each other this postseason, which could easily happen in the Divisional Round, I think Cincinnati would emerge victorious in a matchup of AFC powerhouses.
Joe Kay of the Associated Press recently detailed the team's approach to the offseason as it tries to secure its first postseason win under coach Marvin Lewis.
The Bengals have reached the playoffs five times in Marvin Lewis' 11 seasons as head coach.
Unlike other places, where coached get fired after one bad season, Lewis has benefited from owner Mike Brown's reluctance to change. He heads into the playoffs with an 0-4 postseason record — two losses at home, two on the road.
"If I can even my record, I'll feel pretty good," Lewis said, referring to the four wins needed to get a Super Bowl title. "That's my goal."
Second-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict, the NFL's leading tackler (171), anchors the AFC's top-ranked defense in terms of points allowed (19.1 per game) and yards allowed (305.5 per game). Quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green lead an offense that is capable of putting up big points on any defense, making the Bengals dangerous this January.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Eagles over the Carolina Panthers? I think so.
The combination of Nick Foles (2,891 passing yards, 27 TDs, two INTs) and LeSean McCoy (1,607 rushing yards, 539 receiving yards, 11 total TDs) has been a historically lethal combination, as noted by Jeff Skversky of ABC 6 in Philadelphia.
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has also earned a lot of praise lately and deservedly so, as his unit gave up 21.4 points in the second half of the year, when the Eagles went 7-1. Philadelphia is peaking at the right time, and coach Chip Kelly is proving he can excel with the NFL's best in his first year with the Eagles.
6. Carolina Panthers (12-4)
It's entirely possible that the Panthers and Eagles could face each other in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. If so, I think Philadelphia would ultimately be able to make enough plays to overtake a rock solid Panthers defense.
Carolina is littered with talent up and down its defense, highlighted by Pro Bowlers linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive end Greg Hardy. The Panthers finished the season ranked second in scoring defense (15.1 PPG) and total defense (301.3 YPG) but didn't face many elite offenses this year, so it will be interesting to see how they hold up in the postseason.
Cam Newton has been hit-or-miss for the offense but has shown a penchant for performing in the clutch, which is huge going into the playoffs.
7. New England Patriots (12-4)
The team's chances of winning the Super Bowl have been hurt greatly with the loss of Rob Gronkowski to a knee injury, but the Patriots remain a force to be reckoned with.
New England has a first-round bye, but hosting playoff games hasn't automatically translated into success for Tom Brady and the Pats in recent years, as three of their past four postseason trips have ended with losses in Foxboro.
The club enters the postseason with five wins in its final six regular-season contests and a 10th-ranked defense (21.1 points allowed per game) to complement the offense, which has benefited from an improved running game in recent weeks.
8. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
The Colts are a dark horse to make a deep postseason run with some impressive wins on their resume. Indianapolis enters the postseason as the only team this season to defeat both No. 1 seeds, the Broncos and Seahawks, but it also suffered a couple of head-scratching losses to the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals.
At least the team enters its Wild Card Round matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs with some momentum, as the Colts have outscored their past three opponents 78-20 combined, including a 23-7 win over the Chiefs in Week 16. Andrew Luck and NFL sack leader Robert Mathis (19.5) give this team some major playmakers on both sides of the ball.
9. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1)
Aaron Rodgers may have reached mythical figure status in Green Bay.
The quarterback returned from a collarbone injury in Week 17 to captain the Packers to a comeback 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears to win the NFC North. Rodgers saved his best for last, improvising before throwing a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to win the game.
Even though they have four fewer wins than the 49ers, the Packers will host San Francisco as a division winner at Lambeau Field on Saturday in the fourth meeting between these two clubs since the start of 2012.
10. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Defense reigns supreme in New Orleans for the first time in a long time, thanks to new coordinator Rob Ryan. He's also become a fan favorite at bars around town, via Fletcher Mackel of NBC New Orleans.
The Saints rank fourth in scoring defense (19 PPG), which is considerably better than their 10th-place ranking in scoring offense (25.9). That's not something you expect to see with Drew Brees under center, but the offense has been handcuffed by a subpar running game, a factor that could severely limit the team in the playoffs and needs to be addressed immediately.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
The Chiefs haven't looked like the same team since going on an eye-opening 9-0 tear to start the season. In the seven games since, Kansas City only has wins over the lowly Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders, while the defense has given up an alarming 27.7 points per game in that span.
Coach Andy Reid sat some of his starters in Week 17, so they should be well-rested heading into the Wild Card Game with the Colts. The defense is concerning and so are Alex Smith's limitations in the passing game, but any offense with Jamaal Charles is a potent one.
12. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
The Chargers survived the final weekend of the regular season with a 30-27 overtime victory over the second-string Kansas City Chiefs, propelling them into the playoffs over three other teams in contention.
Like other San Diego teams in recent years, this year's squad is a mercurial one. While the Chargers have won five of six entering the postseason, they also have losses to the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders on their resume.
13. Arizona Cardinals (10-6)
The Cardinals fell victim to playing in the rough-and-tumble NFC West, as their 10 wins weren't enough to get them into the playoffs. Arizona proved to be a tough customer in the second half of the season, but Seattle and San Francisco were impossible to keep up with.
14. Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
The defending Super Bowl champs didn't even make it to January after two losses to end the season knocked them from the postseason picture. A 41-7 loss to the Patriots in Week 16 made Sunday's matchup in Cincinnati a must-win, but the Ravens lost 34-17 and bowed out of the playoff race.
15. Chicago Bears (8-8)
Jay Cutler couldn't outduel Rodgers when it mattered most in Week 17, as the Bears fell short 33-28 in a game that decided the NFC North. The Bears might be talented on offense with Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but the faulty defense ultimately led to the team's demise and kept it out of the postseason.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
The Cowboys have to be left wondering how things would have been different if Tony Romo had been healthy and available for the Week 17 showdown against the Eagles. It was a tough spot for backup Kyle Orton, who threw a late interception to seal his team's fate in the 24-22 loss and keep Dallas out of the playoffs.
Even though Jason Garrett has yet to guide the Cowboys to the playoffs in his three-plus seasons as head coach, it appears owner Jerry Jones is preaching patience.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Pittsburgh made a strong playoff push by going 6-2 in the second half but was ultimately doomed by its 0-4 start to the season. Steelers fans also have a bone to pick with the Chiefs, who rested their starters in Week 17 in a 30-27 loss to the Chargers, where a Kansas City win would have sent Pittsburgh to the postseason.
18. St. Louis Rams (7-9)
In the World Cup, there is the group of death. In the NFL, there is the NFC West.
St. Louis finished last in football's toughest division but still showed a lot of grit along the way. What makes this team even better going forward is that it holds the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft via the Robert Griffin III trade of 2012.
19. New York Jets (8-8)
Rex Ryan's seat was hotter than ever after the Jets missed the postseason for the third straight year, but owner Woody Johnson announced he would be retaining Ryan shortly after the 20-7 win over the Miami Dolphins in the season finale.
New York's 8-8 finish is fitting for a see-saw season for the Jets. Even though his year didn't end as desired, Ryan remains confident about his team's future prospects.
20. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
Miami was in the driver's seat for the AFC's sixth and final seed heading into the final two weeks. The only thing separating the Dolphins from a playoff bid were victories over the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, but they went 0-2 in a bad finish to the season. Without Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, the offensive line collapsed down the stretch en route to giving up a league-worst 58 sacks.
21. New York Giants (7-9)
There's no shame in finishing the season 7-3, but Big Blue's dismal 0-6 start was insurmountable. Quarterback Eli Manning had a year to forget in 2013 with 3,818 passing yards, 18 TDs and an NFL-high 27 INTs.
This franchise is clearly at a crossroads, and Ian Rapoport of NFL Media recently reported that New York's brass will meet on Thursday to discuss the plan going forward.
22. Detroit Lions (7-9)
Jim Schwartz was one of five NFL head coaches canned on "Black Monday" Dec. 30, after the Lions went 1-6 down the stretch to miss the postseason despite having one of the most talented rosters in football.
Detroit instantly becomes an attractive head coaching opening with a strong nucleus of Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Reggie Bush to build around.
23. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
For now, Mike Munchak is still the head coach of the Titans. According to Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, Munchak's future is still undetermined after he has guided the team to a 22-26 record in the past three years, none of which resulted in a postseason run.
24. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
The Bills went out with a fight in 2013, going 2-1 in their final three games with the only loss being a 34-20 defeat at the hands of the Patriots. But Buffalo's quarterback carousel never helped the cause during the season, with the team's 57 sacks highlighting the defense.
25. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1)
Minnesota fell flat in 2013 after its scintillating postseason run in 2012, and it cost Leslie Frazier his head coaching job. Now that Frazier has been fired, the focus will turn to the coaching search and the future of Jared Allen, who is set to command top dollar on the free-agent market this offseason.
26. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Even with Julio Jones in the lineup to start the year, the Falcons went 1-4 in a season that was doomed from the beginning. It's a shame that the career of future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez ended with such a disappointing season after the NFC Championship run of 2012.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)
Coach Gus Bradley did a good job of rallying his team in the second half after an abysmal 0-8 start to the season. Jacksonville went 4-4 to wrap up the year, but don't expect Maurice Jones-Drew to stick around as a free agent.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)
Embattled coach Greg Schiano was fired on "Black Monday," and it didn't take long for the Bucs to find their replacement. On Wednesday, former Bears coach Lovie Smith was named Schiano's successor, inheriting a talented defense in the process.
The move was met with a warm reception throughout the league, as Smith is known as a player-friendly coach with a bright defensive mind. Former Tampa Bay coach and current NFL analyst Tony Dungy weighed in on the hiring.
Tampa Bay also fired general manager Mark Dominik, meaning Smith will have a heavy influence on personnel decisions heading into April's draft.
29. Oakland Raiders (4-12)
It looks like coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie are safe for one more year despite another dismal finish in Oakland. The Raiders haven't had a winning season since 2002, marking a dim end to the Hall of Fame career of Charles Woodson.
30. Cleveland Browns (4-12)
Wide receiver Josh Gordon's monster season (87 catches, 1,646 yards, nine TDs) was one of the few bright spots for another bad season in Cleveland. Coach Rob Chudzinski is gone following one season, meaning the Browns are starting from scratch again and seeking their first playoff appearance since 2002.
31. Washington Redskins (3-13)
Mike Shanahan is finally out the door after a contentious tenure in the Nation's Capital, ending a tumultuous season for the coach, quarterback Robert Griffin III and the entire franchise. What makes things worse is the Redskins have forfeited their No. 2 overall pick to the St. Louis Rams as part of the 2012 draft-day deal to acquire Griffin, who isn't the same player since injuring his knee late last season.
32. Houston Texans (2-14)
Gary Kubiak was the only coach fired during the regular season, and he has since been replaced by former Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. Fourteen straight losses to end 2013 ensured the No. 1 overall pick in next year's draft.
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