NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Playoffs

NFL StaffContributor IDecember 31, 2019

NFL Power Rankings: B/R's Expert Consensus Rank for Every Team Entering Playoffs

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The end is here.

    After 256 games, the 2019 regular season in the NFL is complete. For some teams, it meant business as usual—for better or worse. Others found unexpected success. Others still fell far short of where they thought they would and slogged through a disappointing campaign.

    For 20 of the NFL's teams, this is it—the end of the line. There's nothing to do now but make coaching changes (more than one team already has) and start making plans for free agency and the 2020 draft.

    However, for a dozen of the NFL's best teams, the second season begins this weekend. The rules there are simple. Lose, and you join the league's other teams in the offseason. Win, and it's one step closer to Miami and every team's ultimate goal in 2019…winning Super Bowl LIV.

    In news that should surprise exactly no one, the dozen teams that made the playoffs are also the top-12 squads in the final 32-team edition of the NFL power rankings at Bleacher Report, But whether it's the most successful regular-season team in Baltimore Ravens history or the two-win Cincinnati Bengals team, NFL analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have once again put their heads together to slot the league's teams from worst to first.

    For the final time in 2019, let's get to it.

32. Cincinnati Bengals (2-14)

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    High: 32

    Low: 32

    Last Week: 32

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Cleveland 33-23

    After a season filled with nothing but losing, the Cincinnati Bengals entered Week 17 with nothing to lose. Regardless of what happened against their cross-state rivals, the Bengals had already secured the first overall pick in the 2020 draft.

    Still, in securing a 10-point victory over the Browns in the finale, the Bengals at least gathered a tad of momentum entering what will likely be an eventful offseason.

    Quarterback Andy Dalton played relatively well against Cleveland, but after spending a good portion of the season as a spectator, he may have started his final game in the Queen City. Just about everyone expects the Bengals to use that first pick on LSU signal-caller Joe Burrow. A lost season for veteran receiver A.J. Green could portend a change in scenery as well.

    There's also the matter of the complete overhaul that Cincinnati's putrid defense so desperately needs.

    There's a lot of work to be done over the weeks and months to come, but while the Bengals don't have much to crow about this season, Cincy at least has bragging rights for now in the Buckeye State.

    "Joe Burrow looked absolutely fantastic in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl," Sobleski wrote. "It might have been the best bowl performance of all time with 493 passing yards and SEVEN touchdown passes. His pocket awareness, anticipation and ball placement is the best of any quarterback prospect in recent memory.  Wait...I'm supposed to be talking about the Bengals? Don't worry. Every conversation about Burrow and the Bengals are one in the same until Cincinnati officially drafts the LSU quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft."

31. Detroit Lions (3-12-1)

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    High: 30

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 31

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Green Bay 23-20

    It's been a miserable season in Detroit—again. After starting the year 2-0-1, the Lions finished 1-12 the rest of the way—including nine straight losses to end the season.

    Despite that, Matt Patricia will be back as Detroit's head coach in 2020. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press believes that Week 17 was one of Patricia's better coaching jobs of the season.

    "It doesn’t look good when a team blows a 14-point lead to lose its ninth straight game, but I thought the Lions put forth a commendable effort in what was an almost impossible situation, and Lions coach Matt Patricia deserves credit for that," Birkett said. "Patricia won his only challenge of the game — and first of the season — when he asked for a review on a (Davante) Adams catch, and he had the Lions appropriately amped on an emotional day after Marvin Jones’ infant son passed away. Patricia shouldn’t have put a clearly hobbled (Darius) Slay back in the game, but he was more aggressive than usual on defense with some timely blitz calls. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell did his part, too, emptying the playbook with the trick-play Amendola-to-Blough throwback in the first quarter. In the end, the Lions simply ran out of players."

    After 12 losses and approximately 137 injuries, it's possible that some reaching in the hope of finding a silver lining may be occurring.

30. Washington Redskins (3-13)

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    High: 29

    Low: 30

    Last Week: 30

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Dallas 47-16

    Sunday's beatdown in Big D put the finishing touches on a miserable season in D.C. Heads had already started rolling when head coach Jay Gruden was fired earlier in the season.

    He's not alone.

    Per ESPN, the Redskins are set to do both some hiring and firing. Team president Bruce Allen is on his way out, while it appears the team has already settled on Ron Rivera as the new head coach.

    Rivera will inherit some young talent on offense in quarterback Dwayne Haskins and wide receiver Terry McLaurin. They could be joined by another former Buckeye if edge-rusher Chase Young (as expected) winds up being the second overall draft pick.

    But the Redskins have multiple holes on both sides of the roster and a long history of both losing and organizational dysfunction—factors that make this a curious decision by Rivera.

    Guess he's a believer that a bird in the hand is so on and so forth.

29. Carolina Panthers (5-11)

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    High: 25

    Low: 31

    Last Week: 26

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. New Orleans 42-10

    There isn't a team in the NFL more glad to see the season end than the Carolina Panthers.

    Last year, the Panthers started the season 6-2, only to fall apart in the second half and finish 7-9. In 2019, the Panthers somehow figured out a way to one-up that disaster—after a 5-3 start the Panthers finished the campaign with eight straight losses.

    The Panthers are without a coach—Ron Rivera was fired weeks ago. If Carolina moves on from Cam Newton in the offseason, it will be a franchise without a quarterback—Kyle Allen and Will Grier aren't the answer.

    As Gagnon wrote, the problem goes deeper than that.

    "This isn't just about the quarterback situation," he said. "The Panthers have been abysmal defensively, so much so that major changes should be coming on that side of the ball. If the front office thinks it can get by with the status quo in terms of defensive personnel, it's in trouble."

    But, hey, running back Christian McCaffrey had a great season, topping 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving.

    So there's that.

28. New York Giants (4-12)

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    High: 27

    Low: 29

    Last Week: 28

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Philadelphia 34-17

    In news that should surprise exactly no one, at the end of a disappointing four-win season, the Giants fired head coach Pat Shurmur after nine wins in two years.

    "Pat has been a successful and highly-respected NFL coach for 21 years and he is not solely responsible for our record," team president John Mara said, via ESPN. "But we came to the conclusion it is best to have a fresh start with the coaching staff. We very much appreciate how much Pat has done for this franchise. He is a man of character and integrity and the team has conducted itself with pride and professionalism."

    At least one of our analysts is surprised that Shurmur didn't have company on his way out.

    "Shurmur's not a good head coach," Davenport said. "But he also inherited a deeply flawed roster that was assembled by general manager Dave Gettleman. There's some young talent on offense, but the other side of the ball is a hot mess. The next head coach of this team will face an uphill climb—and New York-sized expectations for a rapid turnaround that probably isn't coming."

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)

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    James Gilbert/Getty Images

    High: 27

    Low: 28

    Last Week: 29

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Indianapolis 38-20

    By most measurements, it was a miserable season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team's $50 million investment in free-agent quarterback Nick Foles appears to have been a massive boondoggle.

    But there were a few bright spots among the darkness.

    Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. took a big step forward in his second NFL season, surpassing 1,000 receiving yards. Rookie sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew was better under center than anyone expected, winning six of 12 starts in Foles' stead. Fourth-year edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue had another solid season, setting a career high in tackles and posting eight-plus sacks for the fourth time in as many seasons.

    Now it's decision time. What do the Jaguars do at the quarterback position? Can the team afford to bring back Ngakoue, who is set to hit free agency? And what about the future of head coach Doug Marrone?

    Per ESPN's Michael DiRocco, Marrone said he's uneasy about his status moving forward.

    "Am I disappointed? Obviously," Marrone said. "Am I concerned? Yes, you're always concerned when you have a disappointing season, but for this moment, when I leave here after I'm done answering the questions [from the media] ... I might have a little bit more than one beer."

    It's been a multiple-beer kind of season in Duval County.

26. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    High: 23

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 25

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Kansas City 31-21

    The 2019 season ended the same way it started for the Los Angeles Chargers—in disappointing fashion. A Chargers team that went 12-4 last year and was picked by quite a few pundits to unseat the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West wound up 5-11.

    They now face a number of difficult decisions in the offseason. The future of both quarterback Philip Rivers and head coach Anthony Lynn is in doubt, but, per Gavino Borquez of Chargers Wire, the players in Los Angeles want Lynn brought back.

    "He's a guy that we feel makes the moves that we need on this team to win. Whether they work or not, we know that the moves that he makes for this team are in great intentions, and that hasn't always been the case in this organization,” defensive tackle Damion Square said.

    With Los Angeles about to move into a new stadium in 2020, it's going to be interesting to see if the front office thinks the Chargers as currently structured have one more run left in them.

25. Miami Dolphins (5-11)

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    High: 21

    Low: 27

    Last Week: 27

    Week 17 Result: Won at New England 27-24

    It's not that often that a 5-11 team can be called a success. But in the case of the Miami Dolphins, it's rather true.

    This is a Dolphins team in the first year of a ground-up rebuild that may be the most talent-deficient club in the NFL. A Dolphins team that started the season 0-7—including getting blown out 43-0 by the New England Patriots at home in Week 2.

    Now, after stunning those same Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 17, those same Dolphins went 5-4 over their last nine games. This wasn't a Patriots team that had home-field locked up and was resting players. The Patriots needed a win to secure a first-round bye.

    They didn't get it.

    The Dolphins still have a long way to go. But it can't be denied that this bunch of cast-offs and nobodys (for the most part) fought their butts off for first-year head coach Brian Flores in 2019.

    Both players and coach deserve credit for that.

    "Five wins with that dearth of talent is remarkable," Gagnon said. "The 2020 offseason will be really intriguing, and it wouldn't be surprising if the Dolphins landed some intriguing free agents. When we do this exercise again next summer, I think Miami will be ranked in the top half of the league."

24. Cleveland Browns (6-10)

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    High: 21

    Low: 25

    Last Week: 24

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Cincinnati 33-23

    It's rather fitting that the disaster that was the Cleveland Browns in 2019 ended with a lopsided loss to a Cincinnati Bengals team that had one win entering Week 17. It's a game that sums up the 2019 Clowns in 60 sloppy minutes.

    Baker Mayfield had a pair of long touchdown passes, but he also completed less than half of his passes and threw three more picks. That's OK, though—no need for a throwing coach in the offseason.

    Tailback Nick Chubb has been a bright spot among the misery in Cleveland this year. But against one of the worst run defenses in the league, Chubb had just 41 yards on 13 carries.

    It's been a good long while since we saw a team enter the season with so much hype and then do so little. Not only were the Browns not the playoff contender some proclaimed, but the Browns actually took a step backward relative to last year's 7-8-1 record.

    "The 2019 Browns were an undisciplined mess of a team led by a coach who had no idea what he was doing and a quarterback convinced he knows everything," Davenport wrote. "The latter will be back for another year in 2020, but Freddie Kitchens has already been shown the door. The next choice at head coach in Cleveland is a critical decision. The Browns will all but certainly botch it."

    "Did you hear that," Sobleski added? "Every time a bell rings, another Cleveland Browns head coach is fired. Kitchens' one-year tenure with the Browns turned into an unmitigated disaster. The coaching staff lacked leadership and a vision while wasting a talented roster. It's OK to admit a mistake and move on. Unfortunately, Browns faithful are far too accustomed to this process. An inspired hire that creates a true top-down philosophy would once again make Cleveland a chic playoff pick next year."

23. Oakland Raiders (7-9)

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    High: 21

    Low: 26

    Last Week: 23

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Denver 16-15

    The season ended on a sour note, but there's plenty for Raiders fans to like about the 2019 campaign as the Raiders ready their move to Las Vegas.

    The 2019 draft class made a major impact. Running back Josh Jacobs set a franchise record for rushing yards by a rookie, and defensive end Maxx Crosby quietly put together a stellar 10-sack first season.

    Beleaguered quarterback Derek Carr led the AFC in completion percentage, connecting on over 70 percent of his passes without having a No. 1 wide receiver. Tight end Darren Waller erupted for 1,145 receiving yards—good for second in the NFL among tight ends.

    The Raiders made progress in the second season of Jon Gruden's second stint with the team.

    And with a pair of first-round picks in the upcoming draft and in the top 10 in cap space, per Over the Cap, the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders are well-positioned to continue progressing in 2020.

22. New York Jets (7-9)

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    Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

    High: 22

    Low: 23

    Last Week: 22

    Week 17 Result: Won at Buffalo 13-6

    In some respects, Sunday's win in Buffalo by the Jets doesn't mean much. After all, the Bills barely left their starters in the game long enough for their jerseys to get dirty.

    Still, when you consider where these Jets were in early November, getting to 7-9 to finish the season is a pretty substantial accomplishment.

    In Week 9, the Jets gave the Miami Dolphins their first win of the season. New York was 1-7 and looked like arguably the worst team in the NFL.

    Over the second half of the season, though, the Jets quietly went 6-2 and didn't lose a game at home—all while playing with an injury-ravaged defense that was held together with duct tape and happy thoughts.

    That second half doesn't erase a miserable first year in New York for tailback Le'Veon Bell. Or a lost first season in the Big Apple for linebacker C.J. Mosley. Or a Week 13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that made NFL history for all the wrong reasons.

    But there's room for optimism about the future—and that couldn't have been said two months ago.

21. Arizona Cardinals (5-10-1)

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    High: 20

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 21

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Los Angeles Rams 31-24

    At first glance, a 5-10-1 season might not seem reason for much excitement.

    But when you're the Arizona Cardinals coming off the 3-13 nightmare that was the 2018 campaign, you learn quickly to take progress where you can get it.

    For the Redbirds, much of that progress came courtesy of rookie quarterback Kyler Murray. Playing the season finale on a bad hamstring, Murray became just the sixth quarterback to pass for 3,500 yards and run for 500 yards in the same season. Only one other rookie accomplished the feat—Cam Newton in 2011.

    Per ESPN's Josh Weinfuss, Murray called playing hurt a learning experience.

    "For me, honestly, I think it helped me out, just standing there, going through reads, going through progressions," Murray said. "I think it's a teaching lesson, a learning lesson for me. I'm kind of glad. Everything happens for a reason. I thought we played well today, despite two turnovers that kind of cost us."

    The NFL is a quarterback-driven league. And while it didn't show up in terms of wins in 2019, it appears that the Cardinals have found their franchise quarterback in Murray.

20. Indianapolis Colts (7-9)

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    Harry Aaron/Getty Images

    High: 16

    Low: 24

    Last Week: 17

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Jacksonville 38-20

    The 2019 season was, um, eventful for the Indianapolis Colts at quarterback.

    Six months ago, the team expected to be rolling into the season with Andrew Luck under center. But then Luck's sudden retirement changed everything.

    The Colts quickly anointed backup Jacoby Brissett the starter, inking him to a two-year, $30 million extension. For a while, that looked like the right move—seven games into the season, the Colts were 5-2.

    But Indy won only twice more the rest of the season, and Brissett's level of play free-fell. Still, per Stephen Holder of The Athletic, head coach Frank Reich believes that Brissett has been unfairly singled out as the cause of the Colts slide.

    "Absolutely, I think there's some unfair criticism," Reich said. "But that's just playing the position. You're always going to get unfair criticism. He knows that. We all know that. You guys [in the media] know that, too. We all have a job to do. And he's got a job to do. As a quarterback, you take that. And he gets too much credit. When we were doing great, at 5-2, it was like Andrew who? He was playing that good. So, yeah, he's going to get unfair criticism."

    Brissett may not be the team's only problem, but completing less than half his passes against a bad Jaguars defense for just 162 yards isn't a good look—especially when Brissett had a passer rating of 80-plus just once in a game after Week 9.

19. Chicago Bears (8-8)

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    High: 18

    Low: 19

    Last Week: 19

    Week 17 Result: Won at Minnesota 21-19

    The Chicago Bears got a win Sunday over the rival Minnesota Vikings to close out the 2019 season at .500.

    The very first part of that sentence is the only part that offers much solace to Bears fans—and even it comes with the caveat that the Vikings didn't play many of their starters in what was a meaningless game for them.

    It was essentially a meaningless game for the Bears, too. One year after winning 12 games and going from worst to first in the NFC North, the Bears spent most of the 2019 season looking just like their record—mediocre.

    The defense was good but not the dominant unit of a season ago. The offense was mostly a mess—largely due to the inconsistent play of young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

    The Bears aren't a bad team. But for most of this season, Chicago wasn't a good team, either.

    In some respects, there's no worse place to be in the NFL than stuck in the middle.

18. Denver Broncos (7-9)

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    High: 17

    Low: 19

    Last Week: 20

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Oakland 16-15

    Not that long ago, the Denver Broncos appeared headed toward a third consecutive 10-loss season—something that hadn't happened in Denver since a four-year stretch in the mid-'60s.

    But then Drew Lock happened.

    Granted, the rookie quarterback isn't the only reason that the Broncos won four of five to close the season after a 3-8 start. But in throwing for just over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, Lock offered the Broncos a glimmer of hope and set himself up as the team's starter under center in 2020.

    Star edge-rusher Von Miller was certainly feeling optimistic after Denver closed out the season with a win over the rival Raiders.

    "I can tell you one thing right now, we've got a good team," Miller said, via ESPN's Jeff Legwold. "We've got a great quarterback, running back, receiver, [tight end] Noah Fant is going to be in his second year, [linebacker Bradley] Chubb will be back. ... We done with this losing s--t. Next year is going to be our year; we're going to be ready to go."

    With over $60 million in cap space (per Legwold) and an apparent answer at the game's most important position, the Broncos have momentum entering the offseason.

17. Atlanta Falcons (7-9)

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    High: 14

    Low: 20

    Last Week: 18

    Week 17 Result: Won at Tampa 28-22 (OT)

    On Friday, the Atlanta Falcons announced that head coach Dan Quinn would return to the team in 2020. It was announcement that surprised some—the Falcons missed the postseason for the second straight year thanks to an atrocious 1-7 start.

    But the Falcons have been a completely different team since returning from the bye week. After a Deion Jones pick-six in overtime gave Atlanta a six-point win, Atlanta polished off a 6-2 second half that included victories in New Orleans and San Francisco.

    There wasn't a team in the NFL that was nearly as Jekyll and Hyde as the Falcons. Over the first two months of the season, the Falcons were a pitching, lurching mess that couldn't get out of their own way. The Falcons that returned from the off week looked like a playoff contender.

    The second-half Falcons look like a team that's not far away from a return to contention. But it's fair to wonder where that team was over the first eight weeks of the 2019 campaign.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)

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    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    High: 14

    Low: 17

    Last Week: 14

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Atlanta 28-22 (OT)

    Sunday's season finale against the Atlanta Falcons was a microcosm for Jameis Winston's 2019 season and career.

    There was plenty of good. With two touchdown throws against Atlanta, Winston set a new career high with 33 on the year. But there were also two more interceptions (including a pick-six that ended the game in overtime) and a pair of NFL records.

    He became the first player in NFL history to throw 30 or more touchdown passes and 30 or more interceptions in the same season. He also set a new high-water mark for lowlights with a seventh interception returned for a score.

    As Lorenzo Reyes reported for USA Today, Winston's up-and-down act doesn't make it especially easy to make a decision about his future with the team.

    "It doesn't help," head coach Bruce Arians said. "There's so much good and so much outright terrible."

    "Jameis Winston did it. He really did it," Sobleski noted. "He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 or more touchdowns and interceptions in the same season. He also led the NFL with 5,109 passing yards during the team's 7-9 campaign. All this did was muddy the Buccaneers' future even more than it already was. Good luck trying to figure out what to do at the game's most important position, Tampa."

    "I don't know that Winston is the long-term answer in Tampa," Davenport added. "Turnovers are the absolute kiss of death in the NFL. But Winston also showed enough this year that the Buccaneers probably won't be able to bring themselves to move on in 2020. Franchise tag, anyone?" 

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    High: 15

    Low: 18

    Last Week: 15

    Week 17 Result: Lost at Baltimore 28-10

    Given everything that happened in Pittsburgh this year, just being in playoff contention in Week 17 is quite an achievement. The Steelers were without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for most of the season. Top wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and No. 1 running back James Conner missed big chunks of the campaign.

    And yet, had Pittsburgh beaten Baltimore and Tennessee lost to Houston in Week 17, the Steelers would have scratched and clawed their way into the postseason.

    Neither of those things happened. The Titans pounded the Texans in Houston, and the Steelers were embarrassed by the Ravens' backups. But Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin deserves credit for keeping an injury-ravaged Steelers team that started the season 1-4 from coming completely off the rails.

    The question now is what happens next.

    The NFL is a results-driven league, and injuries or no, the Steelers have now missed the postseason in back-to-back seasons. With Roethlisberger nearing the end of his career and no clear plan of succession behind him (and no first-round pick in 2020), the pressure is going to be on Pittsburgh to engineer a rapid turnaround next year.

14. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 16

    Last Week: 16

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Washington 47-16

    That Dallas pummeled the Washington Redskins in the season finale is likely the most Cowboys thing about the roller-coaster ride that was the team's 2019 campaign because the game wound up meaning nothing.

    Given the expectations with which the Cowboys entered the season and how miserably short of meeting them they wound up, most assumed it was a foregone conclusion that Jason Garrett's time as head coach was over. It was even reported Monday that the entire Dallas coaching staff was fired.

    However, per ESPN's Todd Archer, while Garrett and team owner Jerry Jones met Monday, no decision has been made about his future with the team. He and Cowboys ownership will continue their discussion on Tuesday.

    This isn't to say Garrett won't be let go, just that he hasn't been yet.

    Even if the head coach somehow manages to save his job, that's hardly the Cowboys' only issue. With the contracts of both quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper set to expire (among others), there are some whoppers on Jones' to-do list in the weeks and months to come.

    Things are rarely boring with this franchise.

13. Los Angeles Rams (9-7)

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    High: 13

    Low: 14

    Last Week: 13

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Arizona 31-24

    Getting a win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 guaranteed the team a third straight winning season. But finishing 9-7 is little solace to a franchise that entered the season with much loftier expectations after losing Super Bowl LIII to the New England Patriots.

    A return trip to football's biggest game wasn't meant to be, though, because the Rams backslid in just about every facet of the game. Both quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley II struggled mightily at times in 2019, largely because of a substantial drop-off from the offensive line in front of them. The Rams were still a good defensive team, though not as consistently dominant as during their Super Bowl run.

    The Rams now find themselves in a precarious position. They have a great deal of salary-cap resources tied up in a handful of players. The trade that brought cornerback Jalen Ramsey to town cost them their first-round pick in 2020.

    Improving the roster won't be easy. But it's necessary for a team that suddenly finds itself third in the pecking order of the NFL's toughest division.

12. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    High: 11

    Low: 12

    Last Week: 12

    Week 17 Result: Won at Houston 35-14

    The edict for the Tennessee Titans was simple in Week 17: Beat the Texans in Houston, and the team would grab the final spot in the AFC playoffs.

    The Titans got a bit of an assist from the Texans, who didn't play many of their starters in what was, for them, a meaningless game. But Tennessee won in emphatic fashion, setting up an interesting wild-card matchup at Gillette Stadium.

    This is a Titans team that has won five of its last seven games, including a victory over the second-seeded Kansas City Chiefs. Since taking over as the starter at quarterback, Ryan Tannehill has played the best football of his career. Rookie wideout A.J. Brown has been a second-half revelation. After gashing the Texans for 211 yards, running back Derrick Henry brought home the NFL rushing title.

    Add in a solid defense and Gagnon believes the Titans could be a tough out in the second season.

    "Tennessee finishes the season with the league's highest-rated passer and leading rusher," he said. "The rest of the offense is strong, and the defense is by no means a liability. I'm not convinced this is a Super Bowl team, but it belongs in the playoffs at the very least."

11. Buffalo Bills (10-6)

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    High: 10

    Low: 11

    Last Week: 10

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. New York 13-6

    Let's get this out of the way: Sunday's loss to the New York Jets didn't matter even a little. The Bills were already locked into the AFC's No. 5 seed and had nothing to play for. Buffalo will still head to Houston next week to face the Texans.

    Therein lies the rub for a Bills team that won 10 games and made the postseason for the second time in three years. You see, the Bills haven't really beaten anyone this year.

    They played five games this season against teams that will play on next week, including two in the division against the rival New England Patriots. Buffalo was 1-4 in those games, with the only victory a 14-7 win over the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans in early October.

    "In theory, the Bills have what it takes to succeed in the playoffs. They can run the ball, play defense and dictate tempo," Davenport said. "But at some point in the postseason, it comes down to quarterbacks making plays. And while Josh Allen has made strides in his second season, there isn't a signal-caller in the AFC bracket in whom I have less confidence."

10. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)

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    Steven Ryan/Getty Images

    High: 7

    Low: 12

    Last Week: 11

    Week 17 Result: Won at New York Giants 34-17

    The slogan for the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles should probably be something like "never say die."

    The corporate sponsor, on the other hand, should be Band-Aid. Or maybe Advil.

    The injuries that have decimated Philly's roster kept coming in Week 17. Starting guard Brandon Brooks left with a dislocated shoulder. Rookie running back Miles Sanders, who had become a focal point for the offense in recent weeks, was felled by a sprained ankle.

    However, as has been the case over the last month, when one player went down, another stepped up. Against the Giants, it was running back Boston Scott, who amassed well over 100 total yards and scored three times in a 17-point win that gave the Eagles the NFC East.

    The victory was Philadelphia's fourth in a row, and it sets up a rematch of a Week 12 meeting between the Eagles and Seattle Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field. That game came in the middle of a three-game skid for the Eagles and was won by the visitors 17-9.

    This second go-round carries significantly higher stakes for a pair of postseason regulars.

    "Nick Foles who? Carson Wentz's play during a crucial playoff stretch was nothing short of awe-inspiring," Sobleski said. "Despite playing with only three healthy backup receivers over the last month, Wentz performed like a legit MVP candidate. The Eagles won their last four games to clinch an NFC East title. During that stretch, Wentz completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 1,199 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. A quarterback playing that well can carry any team through the playoffs."

9. Houston Texans (10-6)

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    Tim Warner/Getty Images

    High: 8

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 9

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Tennessee 35-14

    The Houston Texans are another team that isn't going to get dinged for a Week 17 loss. By the time their matchup with the Titans kicked off, Houston was locked into the AFC's No. 4 seed. With nothing to gain (or lose), players like quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins took the day off.

    Those players will be on the field this week against the Buffalo Bills. But at least one of the NFL analysts here at Bleacher Report doesn't see the Texans as a serious contender in the AFC.

    "The Texans might be able to get past the Bills in the wild-card round, but they aren't going any further than that," Davenport wrote. "Assuming the Patriots don't lose two straight at home for the first time in a long time, the Texans would head to Baltimore to face the Ravens in the divisional round. We've already seen that movie and know how it ends after a so-so Texans defense was embarrassed by Lamar Jackson in a 41-7 thrashing during Week 11."

    Can we interest you in a nice participation trophy?

8. Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

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    Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

    High: 6

    Low: 9

    Last Week: 8

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Chicago 21-19

    Minnesota's Week 17 loss to the rival Bears meant nothing. After last week's home loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings were locked into the NFC's No. 6 seed and knew they would be hitting the road in the wild-card round.

    The larger question is whether the Vikings will be able to do anything in the postseason. And frankly, the odds aren't good.

    This season, the Vikings have played three games on the road against teams that will still be playing next weekend: the Green Bay Packers in Week 2, the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9 and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 13.

    Minnesota lost all three games.

    "The Vikings have no shortage of talent, whether it's Dalvin Cook and Stefon Diggs on offense or Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith on defense," Davenport said. "But Minnesota just doesn't seem to be able to get over the hump on the road against good teams. Kirk Cousins is a convenient scapegoat for those struggles, but it goes beyond just one player. Minnesota's season will end this weekend."

7. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    High: 6

    Low: 8

    Last Week: 7

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. San Francisco 26-21

    A few inches. That's all that separated the Seattle Seahawks from a last-second win over the rival 49ers that would have landed Seattle the NFC West championship and a home playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings.

    Instead, when tight end Jacob Hollister came up just short of the end zone on fourth down, the Seahawks dropped to the fifth seed in the NFC and earned a road date with the Eagles on wild-card weekend.

    That could mean trouble. The Eagles, for all their injuries, are as hot as any team in the NFC—winners of four straight to get into the postseason. The Seahawks, on the other hand, have injury concerns of their own (especially in the backfield) and have lost three of four, including two by at least 14 points.

    If the postseason is about momentum, then there isn't a team in the NFC bracket with less right now than the Seahawks.

    But they do have Russell Wilson. And we hear that's a good thing to have.

6. New England Patriots (12-4)

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 10

    Last Week: 5

    Week 17 Result: Lost vs. Miami 27-24

    The New England Patriots of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era are arguably the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sports. But during all that success, they have never won the Super Bowl during a year in which the team played on wild-card weekend.

    After choking at home against the Dolphins in Week 17, the Pats will have to re-write that history if the team is going to win a record seventh Lombardi trophy.

    "Choking" might sound harsh, but there's really no other way to describe it. This was a Dolphins team the Patriots smoked 43-0 in Miami during Week 2. The Patriots were playing for a week off, while all the Dolphins were playing for was pride.

    And Miami flat-out outplayed the defending champions.

    "I keep telling myself you just cannot count out the Patriots in the playoffs," Davenport said. "But New England's offense is hit-or-miss, and the defense just got gashed at home by the Dolphins. The Pats will win at home next week, but this team is just too flawed to beat Kansas City or Baltimore on the road."

    Gagnon echoed those sentiments.

    "I'll never count out the Patriots," he said. "But I'm not even sure they'll beat the Titans. This team just doesn't seem to have it, and even that remarkable defense can be lightly exposed with a death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach."

5. Green Bay Packers (13-3)

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 7

    Last Week: 6

    Week 17 Result: Won at Detroit 23-20

    For much of Sunday's game in Motown, the Green Bay Packers appeared to be hell-bent on squandering a first-round playoff bye.

    But that's rather been the theme for the 2019 Packers. The team might be second in the NFC in terms of record, but it ain't No. 2 in style points.

    Still, just as they have all season long, the Packers found a way to get the win. In doing so, Green Bay guaranteed itself both a week off to get healthy and that at least one postseason game will be played at Lambeau.

    That's huge for the Packers. Over his career, Aaron Rodgers is 53 games over .500 at home with a 107.3 passer rating. Away from home, he has actually lost more games than he's won.

    "The Packers don't look as good as a 49ers team that blew them out earlier this year," Davenport said. "Or the New Orleans Saints. Or maybe even the Seattle Seahawks. But Green Bay keeps winning games, and whoever faces them in the divisional round will be a decided underdog. Aaron Rodgers just doesn't lose at home." 

4. New Orleans Saints (13-3)

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    High: 4

    Low: 4

    Last Week: 4

    Week 17 Result: Won at Carolina 42-10

    It's understandable if the New Orleans Saints are a little cheesed right now. On Sunday, they stomped a mudhole you could drive a bus through into the Carolina Panthers for their 13th win of the season.

    Their reward for that? The Saints have to play at home against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend. If you don't think that's important, consider this: In the 17 years of the present playoff format, 26 of the 34 Super Bowl teams had a bye on wild-card weekend.

    Still, while the Saints may have to play an extra game, they remain a team more than capable of representing a stacked NFC in Miami. They have Michael Thomas, the most prolific receiver in terms of single-season catches in NFL history. After sitting on one rushing touchdown for much of the season, Alvin Kamara has four over the past two weeks.

    We also hear Drew Brees is pretty good.

    The talent isn't confined to the offense, either. Defensive end Cameron Jordan, linebacker Demario Davis and cornerback Marshon Lattimore are all difference-makers.

    The Saints are talented, balanced, well-coached and quite possibly angry about having to play in the wild-card round.

    They certainly looked mad against the Panthers.

3. San Francisco 49ers (13-3)

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    High: 2

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 3

    Week 17 Result: Won at Seattle 26-21

    Two things can be said about the San Francisco 49ers after a 13-win regular season.

    The first is that after they downed the Seahawks in Seattle during the final game of the 2019 regular season, the Niners are the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The road to Miami travels through Levi's Stadium.

    The second is that as they head into the postseason, the 49ers are battle-tested. They played the Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints on the road during the second half of the year, winning two of three. The Seahawks and Green Bay Packers visited Santa Clara in 2019, and only the former notched a win.

    In other words, the NFC's heavyweights have already been introduced.

    "It's hard not to view the Niners as the favorites in the NFC after they locked up home-field," Davenport said. "The 49ers are stacked with talent on both sides of the ball and have shown they're a tough out at the Field of Jeans. With an extra week to get players like edge-rusher Dee Ford healthy, the Niners are well-positioned to represent the conference in Miami."

2. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    High: 2

    Low: 3

    Last Week: 2

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Los Angeles Chargers 31-21

    It was quite the week for the Kansas City Chiefs.

    In order to secure a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, the Chiefs needed two things to happen. The first appeared likely enough: a win at Arrowhead over the Los Angeles Chargers. The second one, however, was not. The Chiefs also needed the Miami Dolphins to shock the New England Patriots in Foxborough.

    Wouldn't you know it? Both happened.

    The Chiefs will now enter the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the AFC. The most likely outcome of next week's wild-card round would send the Pats to Arrowhead for the second straight postseason.

    Last year, Kansas City's defense let the team down in the AFC Championship Game. That defense has been much improved of late, and combined with their explosive offense, the Chiefs have the look of one of the more dangerous teams in the playoffs.

    "It feels like the stars are aligning for the Chiefs, who are healthy and smoking-hot on both sides of the ball entering the playoffs with a bye," Gagnon wrote. "Is this finally Andy Reid's time? The guy has earned it, and you can really see a road for Kansas City. I'd argue that this team is actually in a better position entering the playoffs than last year's top-seeded squad."

    "Anything's possible in the postseason," Davenport added. "But given how the Chiefs and Ravens are playing, those squads appear to be on a collision course for a meeting in Baltimore in a few weeks with a trip to Miami on the line."

1. Baltimore Ravens (14-2)

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 1

    Last Week: 1

    Week 17 Result: Won vs. Pittsburgh 28-10

    You know it's been a good season when your second-stringers go out in Week 17 and drop a piano on a rival fighting for its postseason life.

    That's exactly what happened with the Ravens in Week 17. Led by a big day on the ground from running back Gus Edwards and a smothering defense that held the Steelers to just 168 total yards, the Ravens hammered Pittsburgh to put the finishing touches on a 14-2 season that set a new high-water mark for regular-season wins by the franchise.

    That's a nice little accomplishment. So is a 12-game winning streak to close out the year. It will also be cool when Lamar Jackson is named the NFL's Most Valuable Player the day before Super Bowl LIV.

    That's going to happen, folks, You can take it to the bank.

    But given everything the Ravens have accomplished this year, including wins over the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, there's only one satisfactory climax to the 2019 season in Charm City.

    A victory in Miami on Feb. 2.

    "One statistic defines how dominant the Ravens were this season: Baltimore set an NFL team record with 3,296 rushing yards," Sobleski said. "Think about that for a second. For 80 years, NFL offenses were defined by how they ran the football. As the game changed, it made sense that teams would smash passing records. But the Ravens lined up every week, bludgeoned their opponents and physically dominated their way to the league's best record. That's so damn impressive."