There are 12 teams that get into the postseason tournament every year, but usually, only about half of them are built for the rigors of playoff football.
So, what defines a true playoff dynamo?
Teams that are geared to winning in December and beyond must have a dominant defense, an offense that can keep the chains moving and score points and coaches that can be counted on to produce excellent game plans on a weekly basis.
Elite quarterbacks can overcome a lack of defense, to a certain extent. But the truth is that every team that has won the Super Bowl over the past decade has fielded an opportunistic defense that came together in the second half of the season.
Here are the six teams—three from each conference—that are most ready to make a strong push into the playoffs in 2012.
So much for limited arm strength.
Peyton Manning is on pace to have his best year as a pro since 2004, when he set the all-time touchdown record for a single season and won his second MVP.
Manning's Denver Broncos are one of the three elite teams in the AFC, because in addition to an offense that's never out of a game, this team features a burgeoning young defense that can wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
Von Miller, Wesley Woodyard, Elvis Dumervil, Derek Wolfe, Chris Harris and company pack quite a wallop, as the New Orleans Saints discovered firsthand in Week 8.
This team has lost three games to playoff contenders already, so there's still work to be done. But given the improvement we've seen on defense the past five weeks, it's well on its way.
The scariest thing about this year's Giants team is its defense, but then again, that's been the case both times this team won a Super Bowl since Manning came into town.
The Giants defense has created an incredible 26 turnovers and has tallied 25 sacks so far this season. Even when Manning's been off this season, this defense has kept the Giants in the winners' column.
Combined with a rushing attack led by Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown that has produced almost 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns, the Giants are a team to be feared.
Don't let the three losses fool you—the Pittsburgh Steelers are the second-strongest team in the AFC right now.
Ben Roethlisberger is the most underrated quarterback of his generation, and after a rough start in Todd Haley's system, he's beginning to heat up. Combined with a resurgent running game that seems to thrive no matter who's behind Big Ben, this offense is primed to be a force in the second half of the season and beyond.
The Baltimore Ravens currently occupy the No. 1 seed in the AFC North, but that won't last much longer. By the time the regular season is finished, the Steelers will be the top team in their division and a dangerous team in the playoffs.
The Chicago Bears have turned back the clock and have the most fearsome defense in the NFL.
The Bears lead the NFL with 28 takeaways, as Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Tim Jennings and company have ratcheted up their games to an ethereal level in 2012.
Better still (at least for the purposes of this list), Jay Cutler has settled down after a poor start to the season and has only thrown two interceptions in his last five games. He's really started clicking with his old pal from Denver, Brandon Marshall, as the two have combined for six touchdowns in their last five games.
Throw in a healthy Matt Forte, and the Bears offense has the look of a complete unit capable of putting up points and keeping the clock moving at the end of games.
As long as this team doesn't get bitten by the injury bug, the Bears will be a scary team at the end of the season.
This team has taken its lumps in the first half, losing games to the Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks, but the losses haven't been in vain. Bill Belichick's squad is learning every game, and his young players are stepping up in a big way.
Besides Brady's stellar statistics, he's been blessed with the most potent rushing attack since he's been the Patriots starting quarterback. This offense leads the NFL in total yardage and in points, which is all the more dangerous considering the way the defense has emerged.
Whether it's through the air or on the ground, Brady's bunch can dominate, and given the fact that the defense is among the best in the NFL at stopping the run, this team is built to dominate in December and beyond.
The San Francisco 49ers are built to win when the going gets tough, which is what one can expect at the end of the season and into the playoffs.
The front seven is comprised of some of the best players at their positions. Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks are all elite players, and opposing offenses don't often have an answer for the problems they present.
Better yet, Chris Culliver has emerged as one of the NFL's top cover corners, and Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner are still as dangerous as ever.
Then, there's the offense.
Though not as explosive from week to week as some of the other top teams, this team leads the NFL in rushing yards per game and yards per attempt. The two games the 49ers lost earlier in the year were the only games where they didn't pound the rock with Frank Gore (for reasons I still can't fathom).
Alex Smith had a couple of rough outings, but his performance on Monday Night Football put the haters on hold for a while. He went 18-of-19 for 232 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions, and the lone incompletion was a drop by Delanie Walker that hit him right in the hands.
The 49ers have as good a shot as any NFC team to make it to Super Bowl XLVII.