Heading into the second half of the season, several NFL teams have vastly outperformed expectations, while others have been severely disappointing. But momentum makes a massive difference, and teams’ fortunes can change drastically over eight weeks.
The balance of power will change across the course of the season, and certain teams that have done extremely well during the regular season will not be able to keep winning in the playoffs.
With so much riding on a single game, anything can happen in the NFL. Here are my power rankings for Week 10 with predictions for how each team will end its season.
1. Atlanta Falcons (8-0)
No. 1 seed in NFC, Losers in Divisional Round
The Falcons have clearly been the best team in the league thus far, but Atlanta has not performed well in the postseason and was blown out in each of the past two years. While they will have a high seed, they will not find success in the playoffs.
2. San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
No. 2 seed in NFC, Losers in NFC Championship
The 49ers have an incredible defense, and this will make them an extremely tough team to beat in the playoffs. But the last nine Super Bowls have been won by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Alex Smith will not be able to put his name on this list.
3. Houston Texans (7-1)
No. 1 seed in AFC, Losers in Super Bowl
The balance Houston has will be enough to push it through the AFC, but the team it will face in the Super Bowl will have a significant psychological edge due to a meeting earlier in the season.
4. Chicago Bears (7-1)
No. 3 seed in NFC, Losers in Divisional Round
The Bears defense has been spectacular this season, but living and dying on turnovers is risky. Chicago will have a successful season, but once in the playoffs against a team that will take care of the ball, it will not get the consistency it needs from its offense to keep winning.
5. Green Bay Packers (6-3)
No. 5 seed in NFC, Super Bowl Champions
The Packers 2012 season is beginning to look more and more like their 2010 campaign. They are coming off postseason disappointment, have faced early-season struggles, a ton of injuries and will likely lose the division to the Bears. Aaron Rodgers will stay hot and propel this team to another championship.
6. New York Giants (6-3)
No. 4 seed in NFC, Losers in Wild Card Round
With an abundance of playmakers on the defensive line and Eli Manning at quarterback, the Giants are certainly capable of making another deep run in the postseason. But the target on their backs after winning last year will be too much to overcome.
7. Denver Broncos (5-3)
No. 4 seed in AFC, Losers in the Divisional Round
Peyton Manning’s play this season has been inspiring, and the Broncos have steadily improved throughout the year. But this team will not be able to win more than one playoff game against the AFC’s top teams.
8. New England Patriots (5-3)
No. 3 seed in AFC, Losers in AFC Championship Game
The Pats’ early-season struggles will be a distant memory by the time the postseason rolls around and they will once again look like a Super Bowl contender. However, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will fall short once again.
9. Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
No. 5 seed in AFC, Losers in Wild Card Round
The Ravens will be lacking leadership in big games this year without Ray Lewis, and while this team will certainly be in the playoffs, it will not be able to count on Joe Flacco and the offense to win games in January.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
No. 2 seed in AFC, Losers in Division Round
The Steelers are still an elite team and will continue to climb up the standings through this season. Ultimately, home-field advantage will not help them in the postseason.
11. Seattle Seahawks (5-4)
2nd in NFC West
The Seahawks have shown that there is plenty to be excited about for the future in Seattle, but they will fall just short of a playoff spot this season.
12. Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
No. 6 Seed in AFC, Losers in Wild Card Round
The Colts will be the most surprising and inspiring story of this season as they sneak into the playoffs. However, talent will trump togetherness once the playoffs roll around, and the Colts will not get past the Wild Card round.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4)
No. 6 Seed in NFC, Losers in Wild Card Round
There are five teams in the NFC that are clearly a cut above the competition. The last playoff spot is wide open, and the Bucs’ ability to run the ball and play solid defense will land them in the postseason.
14. Miami Dolphins (4-4)
2nd in AFC East
The Dolphins are another team that has shown plenty of promise for the future. They can also run the ball and play defense, and Ryan Tannehill has shown that he will be a capable quarterback. These are the building blocks for success, but it will not get them into the playoffs this season.
15. San Diego Chargers (4-4)
2nd in AFC West
The Chargers will once again fail to meet expectations and miss out on the playoffs. This may prove to the final straw for Norv Turner and A.J. Smith.
16. Minnesota Vikings (5-4)
3rd in NFC North
The Vikings will be exposed as they finish out their season with an extremely difficult schedule. This is a decent team, but they are not good enough to make the postseason.
17. Detroit Lions (4-4)
4th in NFC North
The NFC North is one of the toughest divisions in football, and the last-place finish will not reflect accurately on the Lions. Still, Detroit has taken significant steps backwards from last season and will need to make adjustments in the offseason.
18. Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
3rd in NFC West
The Cardinals defense looks set to be a productive unit for many years. This team needs to spend most of its draft picks and resources in free agency on fixing the offensive line, as this is the flaw that will lead to another disappointing season.
19. Dallas Cowboys (3-5)
2nd place in NFC East
Finishing second in this division will not be much of an accomplishment as the NFC East is made up of the Giants and everybody else. The Cowboys may be making headlines in January, but it will be for firing people, not winning football games.
20. Washington Redskins (3-6)
3rd in NFC East
Few franchises in the NFL have higher expectations for the future after Robert Griffin III’s start to his career, but the Redskins are destined to be another sub-par NFC East team in 2012.
21. Cincinnati Bengals (3-5)
3rd in AFC North
Andy Dalton will have to find a way to be more careful with the football going forward, as this will likely be a forgettable season for the Bengals and their young quarterback.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)
4th in NFC East
Even the best coaches sometimes stay in one place too long and their message gets lost. That appears to be happening with Andy Reid in Philadelphia, and this may finally be the offseason in which the Eagles make drastic changes.
23. New Orleans Saints (3-5)
3rd in NFC South
The Saints still have a championship-caliber offense, but major adjustments are needed on the other side of the ball. Fresh faces on defense and Sean Payton’s return will put this team back among the NFC’s elite teams in 2013, but 2012 appears to be a lost cause.
24. St. Louis Rams (3-5)
4th in NFC West
The NFC West may be the best division in football in a couple years as Jeff Fisher has already made vast improvements in St. Louis. This trend will continue, but Fisher’s impact will not be enough to keep the Rams out of last place in the division this year.
25. Buffalo Bills (3-5)
3rd in AFC East
The Bills needed to make bold offseason moves in order to compete in the AFC East. They made the necessary moves, but are still failing to compete. The future does not appear to be all that bright in Buffalo.
26. Carolina Panthers (2-6)
4th in NFC South
Cam Newton is still one of the most talented quarterbacks in football, but the Panthers' season has gone completely off the tracks. When the list of fired coaches comes out after the regular season, don’t be surprised to see Ron Rivera’s name on it.
27. New York Jets (3-5)
4th in AFC East
The Jets were hurt badly by injuries this season, and they will benefit greatly by getting their stars back next year. But they still must figure out their quarterback situation for the future.
28. Oakland Raiders (3-5)
3rd in AFC West
There have been times this season that Dennis Allen has been able to make the Raiders look impressive, but those moments have been fleeting. There is little reason for optimism in Oakland these days.
29. Tennessee Titans (3-6)
3rd in AFC South
The Titans defense is in need of serious improvements, and the offense is lacking playmakers with Chris Johnson failing to return to superstar form. Tennessee may be only a few pieces away from being a successful team, but those pieces will not be easy to find.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7)
4th in AFC North
The Browns have exciting young players spread across their roster, but this team is still desperately in need of more talent. Fortunately, the team will likely be able to add quality players with a high draft pick.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7)
4th in AFC South
Jacksonville may be the most hopeless franchise in the NFL. With huge holes all over the roster and little hope for completing a rebuilding process in the near future, it is a difficult time to be a Jaguars fan.
32. Kansas City Chiefs (1-7)
4th in AFC West
While the Jaguars may have the least hope for its long-term plans, there is no doubt that the Chiefs are playing like the worst team in the league this season. At least a new quarterback appears to be on the horizon as Kansas City looks headed for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft.