After 17 exciting weeks, the postseason is here. All the divisions and seeds have been decided, and the speculation has begun. Seattle and Denver have the top seeds in their conferences, and the teams below them are looking for upsets.
There will be several storylines to follow. Can Peyton Manning add a Super Bowl win to his record-setting season? Will anyone take down the mighty Seahawks in the NFC? In a few weeks, we’ll have all the answers. But until then, enjoy the playoffs — and thanks for following our power rankings all season long!
Tell us where you think your team should be ranked in the comments!
1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3, Last Week: 1)
The Seahawks clinched the top seed in the NFC, and have a one-week break to see who they will host in the divisional round. They lost at home in week 16, which took away much of the fear the league had about playing them in their noisy stadium, but the Seahawks are still built to win a Super Bowl. They score 26 points a game and allow only 14.4. That’s a winning combination.
2. Denver Broncos (13-3, Last Week: 2)
Denver’s defense isn’t quite at an elite level, but there hasn’t been a better offense in league history. In their 34-14 win over Oakland last weekend, the Broncos set a single-season record with 606 points, and Peyton Manning set a record for most passing yards in a season. Manning must still prove he can play in cold weather and put up points in the postseason, but if any team is equipped to take down the league’s best defenses, it’s Denver.
3. San Francisco 49ers (12-4, Last Week: 5)
The 49ers are the No. 5 seed in the NFC, but no one is expecting them to be a one-and-done team this postseason. Winners of six in a row to the end the regular season, the 49ers are on a roll. With a strong running game and defense, and a dynamic quarterback in Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco can get back to the Super Bowl.
4. Carolina Panthers (12-4, Last Week: 4)
Like the 49ers, Carolina has a strong defense and a game-changing quarterback. The only difference is that the Panthers are a higher seed, and can enjoy a bye week to start the playoffs. Cam Newton can make plays with his arm and his legs, and the Panthers can beat any team if he’s playing well.
5. New England Patriots (12-4, Last Week: 7)
No matter what happens, the Patriots are always going to be one of the top teams in the playoffs. This season proved that. Despite injuries to key players, New England is a No. 2 seed. It will be tough for the Pats to get to the Super Bowl, but don’t be surprised if they get to the conference championship.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6, Last Week: 16)
With the NFC East on the line, the Eagles stepped up and won their regular season finale against Dallas. They’re entering the playoffs after going 4-1 in their last five games, and their offense can move the ball through the air and on the ground. Philadelphia can continue winning by taking down No. 6 seed New Orleans on Saturday.
7. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1, Last Week: 17)
With Aaron Rodgers back, the Packers beat Chicago and won the NFC North. Now that they have their leader in the huddle again, Green Bay is much more of a threat to advance in the postseason. The Packers will have to get past San Francisco this weekend, but just getting to the playoffs is a great accomplishment for a team that had to go without its star quarterback for almost half the season.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5, Last Week: 15)
The Bengals are talented and in the playoffs, but we don’t know what to expect from them. In their win over Baltimore last weekend, for example, quarterback Andy Dalton threw two touchdowns and four interceptions. Cincinnati won’t win any playoff games with that many turnovers, so the Bengals must make sure they’re more consistent in the postseason than they were in the regular season.
9. Indianapolis Colts (11-5, Last Week: 11)
The Colts are another team that could be a contender or a first-round loser in the playoffs. Andrew Luck is certainly a good quarterback, but his production hasn’t been at an elite level this year. Indy will also need to improve its running game to have a chance to win in the postseason. Their journey starts against Kansas City on Saturday, a team the Colts have already defeated this season.
10. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, Last Week: 3)
The Chiefs lost their last regular season game and aren’t considered as scary as they were earlier this season. Teams will still fear them, though, because they can defend and score. Kansas City’s defense was its strongest element early in the season, but running back Jamaal Charles is dangerous as a receiver and a runner, and can singlehandedly make his offense a threat to score on every possession.
11. San Diego Chargers (9-7, Last Week: 14)
The Chargers snuck into the playoffs. Now they must show that they belong there.
12. New Orleans Saints (11-5, Last week: 9)
New Orleans has gotten plenty of criticism for not winning on the road. The Saints will have to do just that against Philadelphia to keep their season alive.
13. Arizona Cardinals (10-6, Last week: 10)
Arizona is the best non-playoff team in the league. Look out for them next year.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8, Last week: 18)
The Steelers have a proud tradition, and must figure out how to get back in the playoffs next season.
15. Chicago Bears (8-8, Last week: 12)
This season looked like a promising one for the Bears, but it didn’t end that way after a week 17 loss to Green Bay.
16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8, Last week: 13)
After a heartbreaking loss to the Eagles last weekend, the Cowboys must be wondering what it will take for them to get to the postseason.
17. Baltimore Ravens (8-8, Last week: 16)
The Super Bowl champs won’t get to defend their title after a mediocre year.
18. Miami Dolphins (8-8, Last week: 15)
The Dolphins were one of the league’s better teams, but they’ll have to figure out how to make the playoffs in a competitive AFC East.
19. New York Jets (8-8, Last week: 21)
The Jets should be happy with the way they finished the season. Now they need to focus on building a more consistent team.
20. Tennessee Titans (7-9, Last week: 22)
If the AFC South remains a weak division, the Titans could play for a wild-card spot next year.
21. New York Giants (7-9, Last week: 25)
The Giants have talent. They need to figure out how to use it to make it back to the playoffs. Otherwise, they’ll continue to be a disappointment.
22. Detroit Lions (7-9, Last week: 20)
After a horrible ending to their season, the Lions fired head coach Jim Schwartz. Now they must focus on avoiding late-season losses next year.
23. St. Louis Rams (7-9, Last week: 20)
The NFC West was a very competitive division this season, and the Rams held up well. They should be a solid team next year.
24. Buffalo Bills (6-10, Last week: 23)
The Bills are a young team in a good division. It might be a few more years before they can make the postseason, but Buffalo should show steady improvement.
25. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1, Last week: 24)
After a bad year, the Vikings will have a new head coach for 2014. They also need more talent to help star running back Adrian Peterson.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12, Last week: 31)
Though their record is one of the worst in the league, the Jaguars showed a lot of grit to move past a terrible start to the season.
27. Atlanta Falcons (4-12, Last week: 26)
After losing late to the 49ers, the Falcons had a second-straight competitive game against a contender, losing 21-20 to the Panthers. Those games should provide some hope for next year.
28. Oakland Raiders (4-12, Last week: 28)
The Raiders have a lot of questions to answer. They need a productive offseason before they can even think about getting a winning record.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12, Last week: 30)
Tampa Bay needs 2014 to be a fresh start after a forgettable 2013 season.
30. Washington Redskins(3-13 Last week: 29)
Last year at this time, everyone loved Robert Griffin III. Now, everyone is wondering whether he can be the quarterback of the future for Washington.
31. Cleveland Browns (4-12, Last week: 27)
The Browns need a new coach and a new start.
32. Houston Texans (2-14, Last week: 32)
The Texans carry a 14-game losing streak into the offseason. Their first win of 2014 will be like winning the Super Bowl.
Photo: George Holland/CSM/Landov (Wilson), Daniel Gluskoter/CSM/Landov (Manning)ma