More reliable and less slant than ESPN – here’s the breakdown of the teams marching forward toward the playoffs and next season.

Crème de la Crème – The Meadowlands or Bust

Seattle Seahawks – The Hawks are most definitely for real. The NFC championship will run through the emerald city and CenturyLink’s deafening roar. Aside from Richard Sherman blaming the refs last weekend, nobody in the Pacific Northwest seems phased by the setback last weekend at Candlestick. There is no reason to think the Seahawks will lose another game this year or this season.

Denver Bronocs – This is the year that Peyton Manning takes Denver to where John Elway last took the Broncos. Heard that before? Their path appears to be paved at home for the playoffs, but could another team like the Ravens be their kryptonite? Denver must tighten their defense to legitimately contend for the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati Bengals – Marvin Lewis is one of the best coaches with the longest tenure in the NFL. Why does he never get enough credit for the job he does? Without a household quarterback name, sorry Andy Dalton, the Bengals have all but locked-up the AFC North and appear to be only team capable of shutting down anyone on defense in that conference. They also hold tie-breaker against the Patriots and seem in good shape to nab the #2 seed in the AFC.

San Francisco 49ers – It’s no surprise that the Niners, with their backs against the wall, came out swinging against the Seahawks and won a very close contest. They will be a wild-card team, but will a return trip to Seattle be any different than their last 2 come playoff time?

New Orleans Saints – Saints got crushed by the Seahawks 2 weeks ago and have very slim chance of securing anything more than #2 seed. With a 1st round bye locked up quiet yet, it’s tough to say if they rather face Carolina or 49ers at home again? My bet is Carolina.

Sitting Pretty – But Not Quite Elite

New England Patriots – Without Rob Gronkowski the Patriots title chances take a considerable hit and their stock is sinking fast. Brady gives them a fighting chance but the Pats will need to finish season strong to secure a first round bye. Otherwise they could be one and done.

Kansas City Chiefs – The Andy Reid funky bunch shook off 3 straight defeats with a nation’s capital beat-down at the expense of the Dan Snyder owned Washington team. The Chiefs can hang with just about any team but the Broncos. I suspect that will hold true come playoff time and are legitimate wild-card contenders.

Carolina Panthers – Riverboat Ron and the Cam Newton-led Panthers are the up and comers in the NFC. They’ve still got quite a lot to prove about becoming elite as the Saints’ Drew Brees showed them on Sunday night. However, they’re still better than anything the NFC East or North has to offer.

Indianapolis Colts – Someone has to win the AFC South right? With the Texans implosion and the rest of the division falling apart quickly due to injury, the Colts will need to look at what they’ve done to beat Seattle and the 49ers and not what they’ve done to lose horribly to the Cardinals and Bengals most recently.

Up & Coming – Dreaming the Dream

Philadelphia Eagles – This gimmicky Chip Kelly offense has had success this season. It’s been suspect against solid competition and the rest of the NFC East does not represent a strong sample size. They’ll likely win the division but will be one and done come playoff time.

Baltimore Ravens – They have a difficult stretch coming up in their quest to return to the playoffs. They aren’t bullies, like the Dolphins, so at least they’ve got that going for them. But don’t piss them off; they’ll hit you in the face with snowballs. If they can knock off the Patriots at home in a couple weeks they’ll likely squeak into the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers – With Aaron Rodgers due back soon, the picture should become clearer in the NFC North. The Bears have looked promising, the Lions have the easiest remaining schedule, but it’s the team with the best quarterback that wins out in this league. Anyone who watches those discount double check commercials knows who that is. Don’t sleep on them making a run to close out the season.

Chicago Bears – They are looking more like contenders after Monday night’s beat down against the Cowboys on Ditka’s night. Will they win the division? That’s the only way they make the playoffs, so we’ll see as Cutler makes his way back from injury.

Detroit Lions – They’ve got far too much talent on their team to miss the playoffs right? Losing to Tampa Bay and then the Eagles last week didn’t help the cause much. The schedule down the stretch looks sweet, but even Wayne Fontes couldn’t coach this team to consistency.

Sorry, Maybe Next Season

Arizona Cardinals – If the Niners and Seahawks weren’t elite teams then the Cardinals would be much more relevant. Bruce Arians has proven again that he’s one hell of a coach. The future is bright in the desert.

Miami Dolphins – The Miami Incognitos appear to have rebounded from bully-gate. After an impressive win at Heinz field on Sunday they have a favorable schedule down the stretch, should the Ravens stumble. This week against the Patriots could be very telling.

San Diego Chargers – Initially I had the Cowboys plugged in here but they lost to the Chargers earlier this season and San Diego appears to be a more complete football team. There is still a lot to play for and they play in the best division in football this season too.

Dallas Cowboys – Yet another season in Dallas that’s driving fans and Jerry Jones insane. Too much potential to not make the playoffs, but yet again that’s where the season is headed. The Bears proved much mightier on Monday and the Cowboy’s defense misses Rob Ryan.

This Ship has Sailed – Playing for Pride

New York Jets – The Jets are the most interesting team in football and just like Forrest Gump would say, “you never what you’re going to get.” Each week is different and while they could lose by 35, they could also beat the Patriots? I’m done trying to figure this team out.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Headed to a below .500 finish and fresh off a hefty suspension, Mike Tomlin’s team needs to rebuild and retool in what is becoming an extremely competitive division year-in and year-out.

Saint Louis Rams – Sam Bradford’s injury pushes them down and again they are factor of a very good division. The 2014 Rams could be playoff bound and with the #2 pick coming courtesy of the Redskins. Coach Fisher has this team headed in the right direction.

New York Giants – Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin have helped turn this season around after a 0-5 start. It was too big of a hole to climb out of completely and they will need to gain better depth on defense to compete for a 2014 NFC East division title.

Tennessee Titans – Who will quarterback and where will Chris Johnson go next year? Locker has been often injured, but is considered a franchise player. CJ2K appears to have fallen out of favor too. What about the coach? Is he gone too? Many questions in Nashville.

Cleveland Browns – Looking more respectable week-by-week. When Brandon Weeden isn’t out there trying to flip the ball around sideways and with Josh Gordon putting up big numbers things are looking better. Jordan Cameron’s maturation, drafting another quarterback and finding some depth around Joe Haden on defense are offseason stories.

Minnesota Vikings – Of the teams in the 3rd tier of these rankings, they are the nearest away from making the biggest jump next season. They need a quarterback, case and point when they brought in Brett Favre a few seasons ago that resulted in the NFC Championship game. Shut AD down for the rest of this season; bring in a proven quarterback and adding depth to the defense is a recipe to competing in 2014.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Their head coach might have saved himself from getting fired with this recent stretch of victories. Injuries, especially to Doug Martin and Mike Williams were difficult to overcome as was the Freeman exodus for this year’s Bucs.

Buffalo Bills – Buffalo deserves a winner. EJ Manuel had his positive moments – see the Panthers game earlier this season, but he’s had horrible rookie moments like last weekend against Tampa Bay. The defense needs more depth but there is a core nucleus to build around now.

Playing for a Draft Pick

Atlanta Falcons – Coach Mike Smith might be nearing the end of the line with this team. They appear to have quit on him and Matt Ryan has regressed this season and appears to be a shadow of his All-Pro talent. Julio Jones and Steven Jackson were big disappointments this season too.

Oakland Raiders – The Raiders are the only team that mars the most talented division in football, the AFC West. Lots of needs on this team and many questions surround the 2014 draft and thought of drafting Johnny Manziel.

Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jaguars have been a pathetic team for 2/3rd of this season. However, the last 4 weeks have seen them turn the corner and looking to finish strong under first year coach Gus Bradley. Will they finally bring in fan favorite Tim Tebow to get some fans in the seats? Probably not, but they are continuing to fight every week.

Houston Texans – The Texans hit rock bottom after suffering their franchise-record 11th straight loss last week to the Jaguars. This resulted in the abrupt firing of Coach Gary Kubiak. At least the #1 draft pick for 2014 appears to be Houston’s to make.

Playing for a Roster Spot – We wish we had draft picks

Washington Redskins – It’s clear after the thrashing suffered on Sunday, courtesy of the Chiefs, that ownership, management, coaches and players are to blame. With reports of Snyder’s relationship with RGIII and Shanahan’s future up in the air, coupled with the news that Kirk Cousins will steer the offense while RGIII sits the rest of the season, there are more questions now than answers. Oh and that #2 draft pick they would have coming their way for such a poor overall record, that’ll be going to the Rams. If that wasn’t bad enough, the protesters outside of FedEx might still be standing in the parking lot demanding a name change. That team just needs a hug for the holidays.

Tip of the Week

Stop getting cute with your roster, play the matchups and your work-horses for your playoff games. Keep riding the ones who got you this far and if you have any questions then take to FST forums for advanced advice.