Is anybody really surprised the NFL is as open as it is?
You've got a couple of teams at the top, but even they have plenty of question marks. No one team looks to be a runaway favorite for the Super Bowl, and then there's a bunch of teams stuck at 3-2 fighting it out to get into the postseason.
And just when you think a team is starting to roll, it picks up a couple of losses, or a key player goes down with an injury.
We'll do this Gladiator-style. The teams with a genuine shot of making the playoffs will get a "Thumbs Up." Those who should consider their postseason hopes dead in the water earn a "Thumbs Down."
*Note: The three most intriguing teams are underlined.
1. Denver Broncos (5-0): Thumbs Up
The Denver Broncos offense is scary. Peyton Manning has been playing some of his best football ever, and Knowshon Moreno was able to supplement his quarterback with a steady rushing attack. The only question is whether the defense will hold up.
2. New Orleans Saints (5-0): Thumbs Up
Don't we all want another Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees Super Bowl? Both guys are doing their parts to make sure that happens. More impressive, though, has been the New Orleans Saints defense. It's more than holding its own and has grown by leaps and bounds from last year.
3. Seattle Seahawks (4-1): Thumbs Up
The Seattle Seahawks need to figure out how to be the same team at home and on the road. While they're still among the elite in the league, they need to demonstrate an ability to win big games away from Seattle.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-0): Thumbs Up
It wasn't easy against the Tennessee Titans, but the Chiefs got the job done. Kansas City is now one of three remaining unbeaten teams. This is just a well-balanced squad that doesn't do one thing great, but instead it does a lot of things very well.
5. New England Patriots (4-1): Thumbs Up
Some might be dropping the New England Patriots further down the standings. They did look very bad in Week 5. You have to remember, though, that this offense is about as bad as it's gonna get this season. When Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski are both back and fully healthy, Tom Brady isn't going to have any trouble. More importantly, the defense has been much better than it was last year.
6. Indianapolis Colts (4-1): Thumbs Up
Before the season, would you have guessed the Indianapolis Colts would beat the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks in the span of three weeks? The Colts were thought to be a playoff team by most fans. Fewer could have envisioned them being a contender to win the AFC.
The defense has played really well, and Andrew Luck has cut out the interceptions. While he hasn't been prolific, Luck's best asset has been that ability to just make the right decision and move the chains. He's not trying to do too much and instead taking what the defense gives him. The running game has also been chugging along despite Vick Ballard's absence.
7. San Francisco 49ers (3-2): Thumbs Up
Until the 49ers figure out what's wrong with Colin Kaepernick, their postseason potential is limited. Since Week 1, Kaepernick has yet to throw for more than 167 yards. Fair enough if you want to limit his carries. In order to do that and not drop off, Kaepernick has to be able to beat defenses with his arm.
8. Green Bay Packers (2-2): Thumbs Up
The Green Bay Packers showed how much they needed that bye week, as Eddie Lacy returned and nearly eclipsed 100 yards rushing. More encouraging was the way the pass rush was able to get after Matthew Stafford. Green Bay looks like the best team in the NFC North, but its Super Bowl hopes hinge on the defense.
The Packers need to get Clay Matthews back from injury as soon as possible, via ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Packers LB Clay Matthews still is undergoing more testing, but he is expected to miss one month with a broken thumb.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 7, 2013
9. Chicago Bears (3-2): Thumbs Up
The Chicago Bears let one get away on Sunday. They had 2.7 more yards per play than the Saints, but the time of possession was 36:00 to 24:00 in favor of New Orleans. When Chicago needed a defensive stop to get the Saints offense off the field, it couldn't find it. This is a playoff team, and that's about it.
10. Baltimore Ravens (3-2): Thumbs Up
This is what happens when Ray Rice gets more than five carries in a game. He had 74 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Joe Flacco wasn't his best, but he didn't need to be. It looks like it's gonna be between the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North crown. The loser should still get a wild-card spot, but it's going to be important to get home-field advantage for that first game.
11. Cincinnati Bengals (3-2): Thumbs Up
The Bengals need to figure out what team they are. They lose to the Cleveland Browns and follow it up with a win over the Patriots. Cincinnati will play up and down to its competition. This team is way too inconsistent to be considered anything close to a Super Bowl contender.
Andy Dalton could be one of the biggest problems. He's not a prolific passer, nor is he the kind of game manager that Alex Smith is. Giovani Bernard has been great, but that's not going to matter if Dalton doesn't take that next step in his development.
Although the Bengals should make the playoffs, their ceiling is the Wild Card Round until Dalton improves.
12. Miami Dolphins (3-2): Thumbs Up
The bye week couldn't come at a better time for the Miami Dolphins. They've got some time to rest after a tough two-game stretch. The AFC East is up for grabs, and it's important for Miami to win in Week 7 before facing off with New England in Week 8. The Dolphins could well be playing for first place.
13. Detroit Lions (3-2): Thumbs in the Middle
The Detroit Lions had an opportunity to make a major statement on Sunday against the Packers. Not having Calvin Johnson isn't an excuse for an offensive line that was really bad and gave up five sacks to the Green Bay pass rush.
14. Dallas Cowboys (2-3): Thumbs Up
Oh Tony Romo. Will you ever not Romo yourself at the end of the game? He was so good for so long, and then he threw it all away with that interception. It says a lot about the NFC East that the Dallas Cowboys are the class of the division.
15. Tennessee Titans (3-2): Thumbs Down
Before Jake Locker's injury, this looked like a playoff team. Instead, it's Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. There isn't a QB more suited to a 7-9 record than Fitzpatrick. Locker should be able to come back, but by the time he does, the damage will already have been done.
16. Arizona Cardinals (3-2): Thumbs in the Middle
You don't want to read too much into that win over the Carolina Panthers for the Arizona Cardinals. Carolina was horrendous offensively. This week against the 49ers is a much better gauge of where the Cardinals are in regard to the playoff picture.
17. Oakland Raiders (2-3): Thumbs in the Middle
Have the Oakland Raiders found their quarterback of the future with Terrelle Pryor? On Sunday night, he looked like he was showing some progress. His deep balls were more accurate and more crisp, while his decision-making was very good once again. Pryor isn't over-reliant on his feet, either. He seems to have fallen into that sweet spot where he's got enough experience not to get rattled, but other teams don't have enough tape to figure out how to stop him.
The Raiders won't be able to overtake the Broncos or Chiefs in the West, but they've at least given their fans some enjoyment and hope. The focus should be on next season and improving the defense. Maybe, just maybe, Oakland could be a playoff team in 2014. In the meantime, the Raiders could at least wreck either the Broncos' or Chiefs' season.
18. Cleveland Browns (3-2): Thumbs Down
Before Brian Hoyer's injury, there was some reason for hope in Cleveland. Perhaps the Browns could've been a playoff team. With Brandon Weeden taking over starting duties, it only seems like a matter of time before the bottom drops out.
19. Houston Texans (2-3): Thumbs Down
It's almost like Matt Schaub is in on the joke now. Before, I would have said some of the criticism toward Schaub was unwarranted. But now, the Houston Texans have what is arguably the worst QB situation in the league. Can we just trade Schaub for Matt Ryan?
20. San Diego Chargers (2-3): Thumbs Down
The 2013 San Diego Chargers have been an improvement from last year's version. So they've got that going for them. Otherwise, in what looks like an actually competitive AFC West, the Chargers have an uphill road to the postseason.
21. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3): Thumbs in the Middle
The Philadelphia Eagles get a "Thumbs in the Middle" because they play in the NFC East. It's almost impossible seeing this defense being good enough to get in the playoffs, though. At least Nick Foles could have a chance to prove his worth and unseat Michael Vick.
22. New York Jets (3-2): Thumbs in the Middle
If there's one team in the middle of the pack in the AFC East to make the playoffs, it could very well be the New York Jets. The defense continues playing well enough, while Geno Smith has yet to be ruined by the New York media. The Jets need to strike while the iron's hot, because they might not have this kind of harmony for much longer.
23. St. Louis Rams (2-3): Thumbs Down
The St. Louis Rams can at least take solace in the fact that Sam Bradford is for sure the franchise quarterback. However, until they surround him with weapons in the passing game and a good defense, the team isn't going to take that next step forward.
24. Buffalo Bills (2-3): Thumbs Down
Maybe before the loss to the Browns, the Buffalo Bills could have been a fringe playoff team. Instead, they fell to 2-3, and it looks like 7-9 or 6-10 is about as high as they can go. With the injury to EJ Manuel, you wouldn't expect Buffalo to turn the corner.
25. Atlanta Falcons (1-4): Thumbs Down
You keep expecting the Atlanta Falcons to wake up from whatever slumber they're in. But it's just been one bad performance after another. While injuries have had a major impact on this team, there's no excuse for dropping a home game against the Jets. That loss pretty much doomed the Falcons to the periphery.
26. Carolina Panthers (1-3): Thumbs Down
The Carolina Panthers offense was so bad against the Cardinals. Just when you thought this team turned a corner, it came out of the bye week with its worst performance of the season. There's enough talent on the Panthers for them to genuinely challenge for the playoffs. However, they remain a wildly inconsistent team.
27. Minnesota Vikings (1-3): Thumbs in the Middle
Josh Freeman could very well turn into the X-factor that gets the Minnesota Vikings back in the playoff hunt. The veteran QB has made the deal official, via ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Josh Freeman is signing with Minnesota.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 7, 2013
Matt Cassel has been steady enough, but Freeman's upside is much higher. However, there's plenty of risk with throwing him in the starting role right in the thick of a playoff hunt. Until Freeman has a couple of starts under his belt, you can't really know where the Vikings are going this season.
28. Washington Redskins (1-3): Thumbs Down
Perhaps missing out on the playoffs would be a good thing for Robert Griffin III. That way he'd have a full offseason to rest that knee and prepare for 2014, when the Washington Redskins would be much better positioned for a postseason run. Maybe Mike Shanahan can also figure out how to improve on defense as well.
29. New York Giants (0-5): Thumbs in the Middle
Of all the teams at the bottom of the standings, the New York Giants are the one with which you have that tiny feeling that maybe things will turn around in the second half. Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have been in positions like this so many times, and then the Giants win a bunch of games and make the playoffs. However, their luck finally seems to have caught up with them.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4): Thumbs Down
For the first time in what seems like decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't even going to sniff the postseason. Watching a team so successful for so long hit bottom is always slightly weird to watch. You expect the Steelers to snap out of their funk, only Pittsburgh is just plain bad.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4): Thumbs Down
It's a new quarterback in Tampa but the same issues. Only time will tell if Mike Glennon is the future. In the short term, there's not much to get excited about. The Buccaneers are just plain bad, and it's gotta be a matter of time before Greg Schiano's headed out the door.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5): Thumbs Down
The Jaguars shouldn't really worry too much about making the playoffs. Instead, Jacksonville should be focusing all of its efforts on holding the Broncos to under triple digits this weekend.