Despite the fact that we're midway through yet another unpredictable NFL season, much of the cream has risen to the top. But there are still some contenders lurking in the shadows of a disappointing start to the season.
While the best (Atlanta, Houston and Chicago) and the worst (Jacksonville and Kansas City) have separated themselves from the rest of the league, there's still a huge number of teams stuck in the middle of the pack who can go in one of two directions moving forward.
Finishing way out of playoff contention isn't out of grasp for any of these teams. But then again, neither is the likelihood of going on a late-season run toward Super Bowl XLVII.
Let's run through the teams most likely to stay in contention for the playoffs despite less-than-stellar starts to the 2012 season.
At 4-4, the pass-happy Detroit Lions aren't exactly dazzling to the degree that they did during their playoff season of 2011. But while they've shown a plethora of weaknesses so far, they've also shown the potential to improve and get back to their winning ways.
The Lions have been one of the most competitive teams in the NFL this season, as only one of their games have been decided by more than one possession. The only game that wasn't was their most recent one, a 31-14 drubbing of the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road.
The lack of a running game has hurt Detroit this season, but that seems to be a dying trend as Mikel Leshoure broke through in Week 9 with three rushing touchdowns. Leshoure has carried the ball an average of 15 times in each of the last six games, and his recent ability to find the end zone will help the Lions edge out some of these close games.
Winners of two straight and three of their last four contests, Matthew Stafford and company are on the upward slope.
New Orleans Saints
Despite the treacherous offseason suffered by the New Orleans Saints and the fallout that followed, nobody could've expected Drew Brees' aerial offense to start out 0-4. As of late, though, they've started to show the style of play that won them a Super Bowl in the recent past.
The defense that couldn't seem to stop a nosebleed early on in the season just held Mike Vick's potent—albeit struggling—offense to just 13 points on Monday Night Football. Even though star linebacker Jonathan Vilma's past year has been as up and down as any human being's, he showed Monday that he's getting healthy and is finally back to wreaking havoc in the pass rush.
All the Saints were missing was a playmaker in their front seven, and they've got it back with Vilma. His fingerprints will be all over New Orleans games from here on out.
Winners of three of their last four games, the 3-5 New Orleans Saints and their electrifying offense aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Anytime a Dallas Cowboys team reaches the season's midway point with a record of under .500, it's nothing short of a huge disappointment.
But Jerry Jones and his 'Boys now enjoy an incredibly lighter upcoming schedule, having to face the struggling Philadelphia Eagles twice in the next month, as well as Cleveland and Washington at home. This could very well put the Cowboys at 7-5 heading into a road match against the very beatable Cincinnati Bengals.
Only one Dallas opponent for the rest of the season—the Pittsburgh Steelers—maintain a record of .500 or above.
While they possess one of the most up-and-down quarterbacks in the league in Tony Romo and many unpredictable parts, you would like the Cowboys to take care of business with this cupcake of an upcoming schedule.
Week 10 NFL Power Rankings