Twenty teams are no longer relevant. The focus now is on the dozen NFL teams still alive as the calendar year 2013 gets underway. Four of those teams will be eliminated this weekend. Well before that happens, here's how the 12 surviving franchises stack up from our point of view...
1. New England Patriots (12-4, 1st last week): It really is a toss-up between the Patriots and the Broncos, but I still favor New England's playoff experience, the return of Rob Gronkowski and the fact that the Pats beat the Broncos handily earlier this season.
2. Denver Broncos (13-3, 2nd last week): They've now won 11 in a row, with all 11 victories coming by at least seven points. That's pretty amazing. A New England-Denver AFC championship game would be glorious.
3. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1, 4th last week): I actually see it being somewhat of a toss-up between San Francisco and Green Bay in the NFC, with Atlanta taking a back seat despite a better record. The Niners are tougher but the Packers have a championship quarterback.
4. Green Bay Packers (11-5, 3rd last week): That's the key for Green Bay. No other quarterback in the NFC playoff picture has had any playoff success.
5. Seattle Seahawks (11-5, 5th last week): Bit of a slip-up in Week 17, but the Seahawks didn't need that one anyway. They'll be back, but it's a shame they won't likely get a home game in January.
6. Washington Redskins (10-6, 7th last week): Russell Wilson vs. Robert Griffin III this week in the wild-card rookie bowl. It'll be close. I'm giving the 'Skins the edge in the game because they're at home, but the Seahawks are still a better all-around team.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 8th last week): Winners of seven of eight with the lone loss coming by a single point against Dallas. They could be the Cinderella of January.
8. Atlanta Falcons (13-3, 6th last week): One meaningless loss to the Bucs doesn't hurt them a lot, but this year doesn't feel any different than previous seasons in which Atlanta were one-and-done in January.
9. Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 12th last week): From 2-14 to 11-5, and for those who say they only beat bad teams, that was an incredibly important victory for the Colts over Houston.
10. Minnesota Vikings (10-6, 10th last week): The odds are stacked against them, but if the right Christian Ponder shows up and Adrian Peterson is able to kill the Green Bay defense again, who knows....
11. Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 9th last week): Hard to see a slumping Ravens team taking down an inspired and hot Colts team on wild-card weekend, but with home-field advantage the Ravens could still turn this thing around.
12. Houston Texans (12-4, 11th last week): Yeah, I'm thinking both home AFC teams might be in trouble on wild-card weekend. The Texans have completely faded away with losses in three of their last four games. They're reminding me of the 2008 Giants.