"Every good story needs a good ending. Don't write the beginning of a novel without knowing the end of it." -- A.D.Y. Howle
The same rule does not apply to sport. The ending is always a mystery, often unimportant compared to the journey there.
So here we stand at the final NFL Power Rankings of the regular season, looking back on a season that unfurled more than its fair share of surprises. The 49ers' unraveling; the rapid decline of Jay Cutler's Chicago standing; the Cowboys' defense riding Rolando McClain to an NFC East title; Arizona first threatening to run away with the NFC's top seed, then fading as injuries hit.
After all of that, two of 12 playoff spots remain unclaimed headed into Week 17. And other than the Patriots having locked down the No. 1 seed in the AFC, little else has been settled in terms of the matchups for January.
No one knows the ending. Not yet, anyway.
This is where the story stands for now ...