1. New England Patriots. The Patriots remain #1 after obliterating the Miami Dolphins in a meaningless game 38-7 to finish the season at 14-2 and 8-0 at home, where someone will have to beat them to get to the Super Bowl in the American Football Conference(AFC). The Patriots are the hottest team in the league, having won 8 straight, and quarterback Tom Brady has not thrown an interception 11 games and a National Football League(NFL) record 335 pass attempts. Brady has all but sealed the Most Valuable Player award for the NFL and if he continues to play this well they will be difficult to defeat. The Patriots were the highest scoring team in the regular season, with 518 points. They own quality victories over the Bears, Colts, Jets, Packers, Ravens, and Steelers. The Patriots have a bye week, and will host the lowest-remaining seed in the AFC playoffs in two weeks.
2. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons ended the season in good fashion, taming the Carolina Panthers, 31-10 in Atlanta, to finish the season 13-3. The Falcons have several quality victories this season over the Saints, Ravens, Packers and twice over the Buccaneers, and play extremely well at home, where they were 7-1 this season. The Falcons were one of five teams with a point differential of over 100 (126). Third-year quarterback Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are having another good year, and the veteran leadership of Tony Gonzalez has the Falcons possibly making a deep playoff run, one that could lead to the Super Bowl. The Falcons have a bye this week and will host the lowest-remaining seed in the playoffs in two weeks.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers embarrassed the Browns in Cleveland, 41-9 to finish the season 12-4, and probably aided in the dismissal of Browns head coach Eric Mangini. Troy Polamalu returned and played well, intercepting one pass, and is crucial to the team on defense. The Steelers have given up the fewest points in the NFL, with 232. The leadership of Ben Roethlisberger will have Steelers fans confident that the team can make another run at a Super Bowl championship. The Steelers have a bye week and will host the highest seeded AFC winner from this weekend’s games.
4.Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 13-7, to finish 12-4 and clinch the top Wild Card in the AFC, with a record of 12-4. Joe Flacco has the offense looking at a deep playoff run and possibly a Super Bowl appearance. The Baltimore defense, led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, remains among the best in the AFC, ranking second in points allowed with 270. The Ravens will play the Chiefs in Kansas City Sunday.
5. Chicago Bears. The Bears lost a meaningless road game for them to division rival Green Bay Packers, 10-3, to finish the season 11-5 in a contest that could have eliminated Green Bay from the playoffs. The Bears own the second-stingiest defensive in the National Football Conference(NFC) with 286 points allowed, and, with the cold weather in that area, home-field advantage will be crucial in making a Super Bowl run. Jay Culter appears to have cut down on his turnovers, and a defense lead by Julius Peppers gets a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Bear have a bye week and will host highest seeded NFC winner from this weekend’s games.
6. New York Jets. The Jets defeated the Buffalo Bills at home Sunday 38-7, to finish the season 11-5 in a meaningless game that starting quarterback Mark Sanchez played in, but did not throw a pass in. Mark Sanchez has a shoulder tear, which could impact a playoff run. After having one of the best defenses in the league last year, the Jets have not been able to consistently pressure the opposing quarterback from the defensive line or blitz, a flaw that must be corrected for postseason success.
7. New Orleans Saints. The Saints lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-13 to finish the season at 11-5. The Saints remain a tough team to figure out. The defending champions are led by Drew Brees, who is it at the helm of one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Reggie Bush looked good in this one, rushing for 70 yards on 9 carries and catching 5 passes for 55 yards. The Saints will travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks, the first team ever to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9).
8. Green Bay Packers. The Packers won a must-win game Sunday over division rival Chicago Bears, 10-3, to clinch a playoff berth and finish the season at 10-6. The Packers led the NFC in points allowed, giving up only 240 on the season, and also have the largest point differential. Despite having to overcome a lot of injuries this season, including two concussions to Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have played well, and the coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for it. The Packers travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles, in what on paper looks like the best game of the weekend.
9. The Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles lost to the Dallas Cowboys 14-13, to finish the season at 10-6 and on a two-game losing streak after a spectacular comeback victory against the Giants two weeks ago. Michael Vick has had a storybook season, but has taken a lot of hits and does not appear to be 100%. The Eagles will face a good defense in the Green Bay Packers Sunday that likes to apply lots of pressure to the quarterback, and how the Eagles deal with that pressure may determine the outcome of this game. If Vick stays healthy, the Eagles will have a legitimate run at a Super Bowl appearance with their explosive offensive and underrated defense.
10. Indianapolis Colts. The Colts defeated the Tennessee Titans 23-20 in a must-win game to finish 10-6 and clinch their seventh division title in eight years. The Colts enter the playoffs without a lot of expectations, but, despite injuries, any team led by Peyton Manning will be dangerous in the playoffs. Losing Pro Bowl Tight End Dallas Clark will hurt, but the Colt offense always seems to know how to put points on the board. The Colts will host the New York Jets Saturday night.