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While the NFL's 12 playoff teams gear up for the second season, the league's other 20 franchises begin the long offseason path of reconstruction and redemption. The year 2013 was unkind to many an NFL franchise, with other clubs seizing the opportunities given from the misfortune of heated rivals.

The year's most successful teams managed to stand strong in the face of adversity, winning in spite of what seemed like insurmountable challenges presented at the start of the season.

New England had one of the most bizarre and tumultuous offseasons in recent memory, but 2013 was another stellar year for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, who are clearly still at the top of their (and the) game.

The Denver Broncos lost what felt like its entire offensive line, and all Peyton Manning did was destroy every single-season passing record he could. Green Bay, thanks to a lot of help from the failures of its division rivals, weathered the storm of losing Aaron Rodgers for far too long during the season to get back to the playoffs, inexplicably, again.

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USA Today/Cary Edmonson

Reseed the NFL playoffs.

This is an argument we make every year, and every year, those who make the argument are right: The NFL playoffs need to be reseeded—not just after each round, but before the start of the postseason tournament altogether.

If the playoffs are a true test to find the best team in football, then the league's owners owe it to their fans and everyone involved with the league to structure the playoffs properly, once and for all.

When I asked the league this week about plans to reseed, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told me, "This is a topic that the Competition Committee discusses every offseason and will review again this year. A number of clubs have expressed the importance of winning their division. This results in hosting a playoff game and reinforces the divisional rivalries during the regular season." 

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"We're from Philadelphia and we fight."

If Chip Kelly doesn't lead the Eagles to the playoffs, he can always fall back on an obviously lucrative T-shirt slogan career.

Kelly told reporters after Sunday's game that his team lines up and plays the opponent it is asked to play, no matter what. This Sunday it was the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears, who Kelly's Eagles waxed to the tune of 54-11 on Sunday Night Football

Next Sunday, the Eagles get NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys, in Dallas, also on Sunday Night Football. Kelly is ready for another fight.

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As 2013 comes to a close, well, it certainly was an odd year.

Every year has a tone. It seems like the most memorable stories of 2013 happened off the field, in board rooms and, sadly, court rooms. Even the biggest stories to take place during actual games had as much to do with players getting hurt, choking, being accused of cheating, biting or walking out as successes we've grown accustomed to remembering.

Just by the nature of the way our industry is constructed—where in most competitions there is a winner and a loser, and at the end of every campaign, someone is crowned a champion—there are positive moments, but were there that many among the most memorable of the year? A few.

With 2013 shoehorned between a year that boasted the Summer Olympics and Euro 2012 and one that will feature the Winter Olympics and World Cup 2014, the opportunity for positive stories worth remembering seems far slimmer by comparison. This year in sports had an empire-striking-back vibe. And no...I’m not suggesting that Alex Rodriguez is a modern-day Skywalker.

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Last week, NFL legend John Madden said resting a team's top players in a league with only 16 regular-season contests "affects the integrity of the game."

Madden was talking on the NFL's channel on SiriusXM this past Wednesday, specifically in response to the Washington Redskins' decision to bench Robert Griffin III for the remainder of the regular season for what head coach Mike Shanahan has led the public to believe is the quarterback's own protection.

Madden's longer quote, via NFL.com, was not just about the Redskins, but a forewarning to any NFL team that takes its foot off the regular-season pedal at the end of the year: 

As much as I love Madden and—like many gridiron fans—long for the simpler days of smash-mouth football, this is not the 1970s anymore. Madden's logic is antiquated, outdated and old school for all the wrong reasons.

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The Heisman Trophy finalists were announced on Monday, and the players invited to the ceremony in New York on Saturday are a star-studded list of college football's best, including Jameis Winston of Florida State and five other guys who have no chance to win.

For weeks, the trophy seemed to be Winston's to lose, and the only way he could have possibly lost it was if his recent legal issues kept him off the field. Morality—sorry, they use the word integrity—is apparently a big part of the Heisman Trophy process. (More on that in a bit.)

Winston was publicly cleared of all impropriety before torching ACC foe Duke in the conference title game, making the road to the Downtown Athletic Club an expectedly fruitful one.

The other finalists—Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois, Tre Mason of Auburn, AJ McCarron of Alabama, Andre Williams of Boston College and defending champion Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M—will take the trip to New York City for ostensibly nothing but a few handshakes, bus tours and a free dinner or two.

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There are 32 teams in the 2014 World Cup final. For now, the United States only has to worry about three of them. And worry they should.

For the next six months, it's all about escaping Group G.

Germany, Ghana, Portugal or death.

"I kind of had it in my stomach that we were going to get Germany," U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap during the World Cup draw televised coverage. "Obviously it's one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw…it couldn't get any more difficult or any bigger.

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The object of a referee in any sport is to make sure a game is played fairly, safely and within the rules. That's it. 

Sports can exist without referees. Players have been calling their own fouls on the playground for years. But things are different in organized sports. There are stakes—a reason to win other than simple schoolyard pride—and the higher the stakes, the better the chance someone might break the rules in order to win. 

The bigger the stage, the more important the referees become.

A few weeks ago in a recreation soccer game between a bunch of six-year-olds, the referee—a monetarily compensated high school student—didn't call an obvious handball.

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Jacoby Ellsbury never looked right with a beard.

While the rest of the Boston Red Sox were scraggily avoiding razors during their 2013 run to another World Series title, Ellsbury maintained a quaffed goatee, perfectly manicured and trimmed at all times.

Now, after signing for seven years and $153 million, according to Yahoo's Jeff Passan among others, Ellsbury is going to have to break out the blade before his Yankees press conference. 

Maybe the Yankees just really, really hate beards.

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We were all wrong about the NFC East. Well, most of us were. Especially those of us—thankfully not me—who joked that the winner of the NFL's worst division would make the playoffs with a 7-9 record. 

After victories this week, the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles both have seven wins through just 12 games, and with one game between the two left to play in the season's final week, 7-9 is officially off the table. (Note: 7-8-1 is still in play.)

The thing is, Dallas and Philadelphia have not looked like the losers we expected them to be this year. Both teams look like bona fide NFL winners right now, and a lot of that is thanks to two players at quarterback. 

Through 12 games, Tony Romo has thrown for more than 3,140 yards and 24 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, and while his completion percentage of 64.8 is a dip below his career average, he is still ranked seventh in the league in that category. His passer rating is 97.3, which is better than that of Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Tom Brady and all but seven quarterbacks who have thrown more than a dozen passes this season.