The majority of teams that qualify for the NFL playoffs every season enter the postseason with a certain amount of momentum.
While momentum in its truest football sense is mostly unquantifiable, and its effect on any one game is mostly unknown, there are ways we can define which teams currently possess it and which don't.
Winning streaks, margin of wins, style, opponents—all these factor into the perception of momentum.
In the following slides, we'll power rank the teams in the playoff picture based on who has the most momentum heading into the postseason.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Even with an overtime loss to New Orleans, the Cowboys have won five of seven games and remain in control of their playoff destiny. A win over the Washington Redskins Sunday clinches a playoff berth.
2. Chicago Bears
The Bears need a win over the Detroit Lions Sunday and some help to make the postseason. Remember, this team started the season 7-1.
3. New York Giants
It's almost hard to believe this same Giants team that beat down the 49ers and Packers is now all but eliminated from the postseason.
The Texans may still enter the postseason as the AFC's No. 1 seed, but this is a team limping towards the finish.
Uninspiring losses to New England and Minnesota hide the fact that Houston nearly lost overtime games to both Detroit and Jacksonville, who have a combined six wins. The Texans need to get things turned around, and fast.
The Colts haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Week 5, when Indianapolis came back to beat Green Bay in the first game without head coach Chuck Pagano.
The schedule had a lot to say about that, but games against Houston and New England weren't pretty. While clearly the season's feel-good story, the Colts aren't taking much momentum into the postseason.
Baltimore stopped a three-game slide with possibly its most important win of the season Sunday.
A loss to the Giants could have really made things difficult for the Ravens come playoff time. But a comprehensive win over the reigning Super Bowl champions—one that was never in doubt—could help springboard Baltimore back to where it wants to be.
The 49ers have big wins over New England, Chicago and New Orleans over the last two months of the season, but a 42-13 beatdown in Seattle Sunday night seemed to suck a lot of the momentum out of this team.
San Francisco can get back on track with a big win at home over the Arizona Cardinals. A strong performance from Colin Kaepernick would take some of the doubt out of the equation.
Losing their first December home game in ages and then following up that loss with a lackluster effort in Jacksonville throws the Patriots further down this list than maybe some would expect.
New England has still won eight of nine games, which includes a 42-14 slaughter of Houston in early December. The Patriots can get to 12 wins with a win at home over the seven-win Dolphins on Sunday.
Most still doubt the Falcons, despite their 13 wins and them clinching home-field advantage Saturday against the Detroit Lions.
Some will point to losses to Carolina and New Orleans and close calls against Carolina, Oakland, Arizona and Tampa Bay as the reason for doubt. But the harsh and simple reality here is that Atlanta won't warrant any kind of trust in the national eye until this team wins a playoff game.
Is Cincinnati too high on this list? Maybe. But the Bengals have won six of seven games, including a convincing win over the Giants to start it and a satisfying, clinching-win over the Steelers to cap it off.
Beating the Ravens in Week 17—while meaningless in the seeding of the playoffs—could really make the Bengals a dangerous team in the AFC playoffs.
After losing four of five games to drop to 6-6, most were comfortable writing off the Vikings. Not so fast. Minnesota has won three straight games, including road wins in St. Louis and Houston and a home win over the Bears.
Now, the Vikings can beat the Packers at home in Week 17 and clinch a playoff berth—with no other help needed. Minnesota might also have the playoff's most unstoppable offensive weapon in Adrian Peterson, who needs 208 yards Sunday to break Eric Dickerson's rushing record.
Quietly, the Packers have won nine of 10 games and are now on the doorstep of clinching a first-round bye. All the pieces seem to be coming together.
The run game has finally come to life (averaging almost 130 rushing yards a game over the last seven), and the defense held Chicago and Tennessee to under 400 combined yards. Aaron Rodgers, the reigning MVP, is also leading the NFL in passer rating (106.2). Even a banged-up roster is starting to get healthy.
Remember when the Redskins were 3-6 and nothing more than an RG3 story? That's no longer the case after six straight wins, and a win over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday clinches the NFC East and the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Washington can also clinch a playoff spot with losses from Minnesota (vs. Green Bay) and Chicago (vs. Detroit). Robert Griffin III, who has 3,852 total yards and 26 total touchdowns, would rather get it done the old fashioned way.
The Broncos have won 10 straight games—the longest winning streak in the NFL this season. With a win over Kansas City and a Texans loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Denver clinches home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
However, we'd be remiss not to mention that the Broncos beat just two playoff teams during the 10-game winning streak (Baltimore, Cincinnati), and both the Texans and Patriots handled Denver earlier in the season. But clearly, there's no team in the AFC playing better than the Broncos right now.
The top spot has to go to the Seahawks, who have won their last three games by a combined 120 points. Overall, Seattle has won six of seven games after falling to 4-4.
What isn't going right for this team? Russell Wilson has thrown 15 touchdowns against just two interceptions over his last seven games. Marshawn Lynch has three straight 100-yard games. And the defense has forced 17 turnovers since the start of this 6-1 streak.
Seattle can still win the NFC West with a win over the Rams and a 49ers loss to the Cardinals. And if the Packers also lose to the Vikings, the Seahawks can actually secure a first-round bye. Riding the momentum train might just make Seattle the most dangerous team heading into the 2012 playoffs.