And then there were 12.
Five of the 12 entrants weren't in the conversation this time last year. New faces include the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints -- teams that went a combined 27-43 in 2012.
But a year is ancient history in the NFL. A case can be made for any of these teams, and if recent history is any indication, someone could sneak up on us. We may even be shocked.
Buckle up. We're just getting started.
Some takeaways from Week 17:
1. Aaron Rodgers didn't need long to remind us why he's so special. The quarterback's 48-yard strike to Randall Cobb with less than a minute to play devastated the Bears and lifted the Packers to their third consecutive NFC North crown. The Packers had it both ways: They held out their franchise star until he was completely healthy and made the playoffs anyway. Good things happen to well-run organizations.
2. What a weird and ultimately empty season for the Miami Dolphins. Two three-game winning streaks, a four-game losing streak, a bizarre bullying scandal, then finally the collapse on the final two Sundays, capped by an ugly home loss to the New York Jets. General manager Jeff Ireland's uncanny survival skills will be tested again.
3. More turnover in Cleveland. Rob Chudzinski was fired on Sunday night, ending his tenure after one 4-12 season. Browns players aren't happy and the organization continues to appear adrift. Maybe the next coach will finally stick, but Browns fans have every right to be pessimistic. It's the same sad echo.
4. They say it's better to be lucky than good. The Chargers can relate (whether they'll admit it or not). San Diego needed overtime -- and a belated Christmas gift in the form of a missed field-goal late in regulation -- to get by a Kansas City Chiefs team resting 20 of 22 starters. San Diego deserves plenty of credit for winning four straight to snag the No. 6 seed, but it's hard to get excited about the team's January chances.
5. New quarterback, same result in Big D. Kyle Orton's interception late in the fourth quarter doomed the Cowboys in a 22-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night. The Cowboys have now lost NFC East play-in games in three consecutive seasons, all in front of a huge national audience. NBC cameras caught what appeared to be a furious Jerry Jones stomping away from his luxury suite perch following the season-sealing pick. The building is only five years old, but there are already a lot of ghosts swirling around Jerrah World.
6. A team hasn't repeated as Super Bowl champion since the 2005 New England Patriots. That streak will continue after the Baltimore Ravens were bounced out of playoff contention with a decisive loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore never seemed to get its feet under itself this season, starting with Peyton Manning's touchdown bonanza in the season opener. Would the Ravens' fate have played out differently if Joe Flacco wasn't dragging one leg around these past two weeks?
7. Rex Ryan won't win NFL Coach of the Year honors. He might not even finish in the top five in voting. But he never did a better job than leading a roster of D+ talent to an 8-8 season. Jets owner Woody Johnson announced shortly after Sunday's 20-7 win over the Dolphins that Ryan would be back in 2014. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported there's still work to be done between both sides and Ryan is looking for a "long extension." Does Rex suddenly have the leverage?
8. The Patriots went 12-4. Again. Bill Belichick's team has now earned a first-round bye in four consecutive years. This has all come to be expected by now ... but it shouldn't be. This is a flawed team ravaged by injuries on both sides of the ball. They won't be a popular Super Bowl pick, but that doesn't mean we should sleep on them. This team finds a way.
9. Peyton Manning needed just two quarters to throw four more touchdowns and eclipse Drew Brees' single-season yardage mark. Denver also became the first team to ever score 600 points in a season, eclipsing the 589 points put up by the 2007 Patriots. Speaking of the '07 Pats, has any team since that Tom Brady-led squad faced more pressure to advance to the Super Bowl than these Broncos? Anything less will be considered monumental failure.The "Around The League Podcast" is now available on iTunes! Click here to listen and subscribe.