4. Seahawks (11-5) — Forget the ‘‘Fail Mary’’ touchdown/touchback ending that gave Seattle a disputed win over the Packers in Week 3 and hastened the return of the regular officials. The real robbery was the selection of QB Russell Wilson in the third round of the draft. He’s guided them to five straight wins.
5. Bengals (10-6) — Cincinnati matched the best finish in club history, winning seven of its last eight games behind Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, who will now try to secure the Bengals’ first playoff win since 1990.
6. Colts (11-5) — Indy won nine of its last 11 despite a soft defense, rallying around assistant coach Bruce Arians, who took over while coach Chuck Pagano was treated for leukemia. Pagano is back and the Colts have gotten over their breakup with Manning and moved on with rookie Andrew Luck.
7. Packers (11-5) — Green Bay won nine of its last 11 but couldn’t close out the season with a win at Minnesota that would have ensured them a first-round bye. Maybe that’s a good thing for a team that won it all as a wild card two years ago.
8. Vikings (10-6) — Although Adrian Peterson came up just short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record, he carried the Vikings into the playoffs with wins in their last four games.
9. 49ers (11-4-1) — San Francisco lost to division rivals St. Louis and Seattle in December, but Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree put the 49ers into the playoffs with some much-needed momentum with dazzling performances in a win over Arizona on Sunday.
10. Falcons (13-3) — Atlanta lost two of its last four, but they didn’t rest their regulars Sunday, when they lost to the Buccaneers and also lost two key defensive players to injuries in pass-rusher John Abraham and cornerback Dunta Robinson.
11. Ravens (10-6) — Baltimore lost four of its last five and changed offensive coordinators in December. The Ravens used their regular-season finale at Cincy to rest their regulars, sitting banged-up playmakers Anquan Boldin, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs while pulling Joe Flacco and Ray Rice after only two series.
12. Texans (12-4) — For much of the year, they were the NFL’s darlings behind J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, but they caved in December, losing three of their last four and falling from the top seed in the AFC to the third. Instead of a bye week to rest up, they get a short week to play Cincinnati.
All of this isn’t to say the hottest team will be crowed champion or the coolest one has no shot.
‘‘I think there are a lot of formulas,’’ Fox said. ‘‘If you look at history, there are plenty of different scenarios. At the end of the day, you want to be playing your best football in January so you can get to February. That’s really the only formula I know that’s 100 percent.’’
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Follow Arnie Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton