The stretch run of the NFL season is officially at hand, and the playoff races in each conference are starting to heat up. We're starting to find out which teams are contenders and which are pretenders.
While some teams aren't yet playing their best football, recent years have shown that a team just needs to get hot at the right time to ride that run of play all the way to a Lombardi Trophy.
What matters most is what happens over the final six weeks of the regular season. It's officially crunch time.
Here are the updated Super Bowl odds for every NFL team heading into Week 12, courtesy of Bovada:
Odds: None Listed
Remember when the Jacksonville Jaguars were riding high, owners of a one-game winning streak?
Yeah, me neither. The team fell back to Earth in predictable fashion last Sunday, getting blown out by the Cardinals, 27-14.
But things aren't all negative in Jacksonville. Despite the final score, the team is showing signs of life. The Jaguars actually held an early 14-7 lead before succumbing to one of the better teams in football. That represents progress for a squad that was getting embarrassed on a weekly basis.
The Jaguars face only one team (Indianapolis) that currently has a winning record over the last six games of the season, so there is definitely an opportunity to close the season on a positive note.
Jaguars fans are probably hoping that note isn't too positive, as the team is still in line for the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
And as I've previously noted in this space, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater would look phenomenal in black-and-teal.
Next Game: @ Houston
Odds: None Listed
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have suffered through a dismal season, but things are finally looking up, as they ran their win streak to two games with a 41-28 pasting of the Falcons.
Coach Greg Schiano deserves a ton of credit for the team's recent run of success. It would have been easy for the Bucs to quit on their coach, but they clearly haven't done so. Schiano has kept the team focused and continuing to play hard.
Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon continues to be a bright spot, as he's tossed 11 touchdown passes against only four interceptions. He's making a strong push to be Tampa's franchise quarterback, whether for this coaching staff or the next one.
The team's backfield depth is simply ridiculous, as third-stringer Bobby Rainey torched Atlanta for 163 yards and three touchdowns. It's a credit to general manager Mark Dominik, who assembled a talented roster.
It's not outside the realm of possibility that Schiano could keep his job, but in order for that to happen, the team will have to put together a very, very strong finish. An upset win in Detroit would certainly help his cause.
Next Game: @ Detroit
Odds: None Listed
It's hard to believe that the Minnesota Vikings were a playoff team in 2012, because the 2013 iteration is absolutely terrible. They were steamrolled in Seattle, leaving their record at a dreadful 2-8.
The team is a mess. It has three quarterbacks (Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman), and in the NFL, that means you have no quarterback. Ponder was brutal against the Seahawks, throwing an awful pick-six in the second half. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Cassel or Freeman under center this Sunday in Lambeau Field, and that would almost certainly spell the end of Ponder as the team's starter.
It's hard to imagine coach Leslie Frazier surviving this season, although he doesn't have a ton of talent to work with.
The Vikings desperately need to hit the reset button on their franchise. The club will likely have a new head coach and quarterback in Week 1 of 2014, and fans can only hope that won't be another wasted season in the prime of star running back Adrian Peterson's career.
Next Game: @ Green Bay
Odds: None Listed
The Atlanta Falcons were one play away from advancing to Super Bowl XLVII. Entering this season, the Atlanta Falcons were universally recognized as a Super Bowl contender.
Those same Atlanta Falcons are 2-8 and join the Jaguars, Buccaneers and Vikings as teams with no listed Super Bowl odds.
It's been a stunning fall from grace for coach Mike Smith's club. Yes, players have been besieged by injuries, but that happens in the NFL. The Falcons have been playing unacceptable football, and have gotten blown out in each of the last four games.
Quarterback Matt Ryan hasn't had his best season, spearheading a team-wide trend. General manager Thomas Dimitroff must do a better job this offseason of injecting the defense with playmakers.
With no chance of attaining a postseason berth, the Falcons can only hope to play spoiler. Their first opportunity comes this Thursday night when they host division rival New Orleans.
The likeliest scenario, though, has the Falcons being 2-9 come Friday morning.
Next Game: New Orleans (Thursday Night Football)
The St. Louis Rams should be feeling good about themselves coming out of their bye week, having crushed the Colts in Week 10.
But at 4-6, the Rams face zero margin for error as they get set to host the Chicago Bears.
The Rams most likely won't qualify for the postseason, especially not without injured quarterback Sam Bradford, but there is reason for optimism. Defensive end Robert Quinn is a pass-rushing demon, and there is other young talent strewn throughout the roster. Jeff Fisher is a terrific head coach, and general manager Les Snead has done a fantastic job evaluating talent in his time on the job.
The goal for the Rams over the final six games should be getting the most out of their young players, most notably rookie receiver Tavon Austin, and ending the season on a high note.
Next Game: vs. Chicago
While their Super Bowl odds remain astronomical at 500/1, 2013 has been a very successful season for the Oakland Raiders and their coach, Dennis Allen.
A win last Sunday in Houston pushed their record to 4-6 and also featured an exceptional debut for undrafted rookie quarterback Matt McGloin. McGloin threw three touchdown passes and looked cool, calm and composed throughout, and he should receive an opportunity to supplant Terrelle Pryor as the team's full-time starter.
Allen said of McGloin after the game, "You know, some of these guys just have it. You know what I mean? Some of them, there’s something deep down inside of them that they don’t pay any attention to the fact that people say they can’t do it," per Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.
The run game and defense also showed up in a major way. Running back Rashad Jennings has outperformed battery-mate Darren McFadden. At this point, it's hard to imagine McFadden, a free agent this offseason, returning to the Silver and Black. Defensive lineman Lamarr Houston is an absolute stud.
Oakland is far from a playoff team, but it's been mightily impressive this year. Allen has worked wonders with a sub-par 53-man roster and deserves a chance to come back in 2014.
Finding out if McGloin or Pryor can be "The Guy" moving forward needs to be the team's top priority.
Next Game: vs. Tennessee
One might say that the Houston Texans hit rock-bottom with their eighth consecutive loss, this one a home defeat to the Raiders, but honestly, where they're at right now is about fifty levels below rock bottom. They are a full-on dumpster fire, and man, is it burning bright, and man, does it stink.
What the heck was coach Gary Kubiak thinking when he benched quarterback Case Keenum in favor of Matt Schaub, who is currently the bane of every Houston fan's existence? It was an insane decision that is literally indefensible. The crowd turned on Schaub in obvious fashion, and the offense had to go to a silent count because of the booing—in their own stadium!
Keenum will rightly start this Sunday against Jacksonville, and hopefully Kubiak will have the sense to leave him in.
The team's problems run deeper than their issues at quarterback. The defense has been decidedly mediocre and has way too much talent to be giving up three touchdown passes at home to an undrafted rookie quarterback like Matt McGloin. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has had a poor season.
And consider this: If the 2-8 Texans lose on Sunday to 1-9 Jacksonville, they'll be in pole position for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.
For a team that entered the year firmly in "Super Bowl or bust" status, that means Kubiak and his staff are likely on their way out the door.
Next Game: vs. Jacksonville
Coach Doug Marrone's Buffalo Bills were extremely impressive in blowing out the rival Jets in Week 11, leaving their record at 4-7 and keeping them in the AFC wild-card hunt.
Rookie quarterback EJ Manuel played well against an excellent Jets defense, especially when you consider he was without his two starting receivers, Stevie Johnson and rookie Robert Woods. The team's other neophyte receiver, speedster Marquise Goodwin, stepped up in their absence, hauling in a 43-yard touchdown pass from Manuel.
Buffalo's upcoming schedule isn't difficult, as its next three opponents (Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville) have a combined five wins. The team must get running back C.J. Spiller healthy over the bye week if they want to seriously contend for a postseason berth.
But whether or not the team makes the playoffs this year is immaterial. Marrone and general manager Doug Whaley have put together an electric young roster, and the future looks bright in western New York.
Next Game: vs. Atlanta (Week 13)
After the first quarter of Week 11's game in Cincinnati, it looked as if the Cleveland Browns were ready to announce themselves to the world as a playoff contender, but a disastrous next 15 minutes made sure that wouldn't happen, and the team fell to 4-6 with a 41-20 loss to their division rivals.
Quarterback Jason Campbell was dreadful, completing less than 50 percent of his passes and tossing three interceptions. While he's been decent in his run as the starter, he's clearly not a long-term answer and likely isn't capable of leading a playoff run.
Despite that, the team is stocked with young talent and is a franchise quarterback away from being a perennial contender in the AFC. They'll almost certainly spend one of their two first-round picks in the 2014 draft on a signal-caller.
Sunday's matchup with the 4-6 Steelers is a critical one, and not just in terms of the standings. Pittsburgh has tormented Cleveland since it returned to the league in 1999, and the Browns surely want to move up in the playoff hunt at the expense of their hated rivals.
Next Game: vs. Pittsburgh
It's been a season of turmoil for the Washington Redskins, and Week 11's loss in Philadelphia only served to add more fuel to the fire. The Redskins are now 3-7 and look like the worst team in a pathetic NFC East.
Last year, the Redskins started 3-6 before rattling off seven consecutive wins to claim the NFC East title. While it's not outside the realm of possibility that they could rip off six straight to close the season—and 9-7 will likely be good enough to win the division—it's almost impossible to envision a scenario where that occurs. The team is just way too inconsistent from a week-to-week, series-to-series basis.
Coach Mike Shanahan needs to come under fire for how this season has played out. He's now 10 games under .500 in Washington. It's not unfair to wonder if replacing him is the right move. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will need a miracle finish from his unit to keep his job, as the defense has been awful all season.
And then, there's quarterback Robert Griffin III, who has epitomized the Redskins' inconsistency this year. After the loss in Philadelphia, Griffin put the blame for a critical interception he threw on the play-call, saying of the Eagles, "They kind of knew what was coming before it was coming," per Will Brinson of CBSSports.com.
That is just wholly unacceptable conduct from a supposed "franchise" quarterback. Griffin needs to accept responsibility, even it was a poor play-call from Mike and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Statements like that only serve to promulgate the thought that Griffin needs to mature as a leader.
Monday night's tilt with the 49ers won't be easy, with San Francisco coming off two straight losses. The Redskins must match San Francisco's desperation and put together a complete 60-minute game if they want to keep their season alive.
Next Game: vs. San Francisco (Monday Night Football)
The Tennessee Titans' 3-1 start to the season feels like eons ago, as the team dropped to 4-6 with a tough Thursday night loss to division rival Indianapolis.
The various injuries suffered by quarterback Jake Locker (first a hip, then a season-ending Lisfranc) crippled their ability to compete with the better teams in the league. Locker went 4-3 as the team's starter this season, while backup Ryan Fitzpatrick is now 0-3. Fitzpatrick is a capable backup, but not someone you want starting a number of games.
Despite the team's deficiencies, Tennessee isn't out of the postseason hunt, but time is now of the essence. Winning on Sunday in Oakland is a must, as the three games that follow are against the Colts, Broncos and Cardinals.
Next Game: @ Oakland
Week 11's disappointing defeat at Miami was a classic Norv Turner and A.J. Smith loss for the Chargers, except, you know, Turner and Smith are no longer in San Diego.
The Chargers had absolutely no business losing to a distracted Dolphins team, and the team is now riding a three-game losing streak that has left them at 4-6. Coach Mike McCoy needed a stronger effort from his club, and he didn't get it last Sunday.
Still, McCoy and general manager Tom Telesco deserve credit for how the season has played out. While the Chargers don't possess one of the most talented rosters in football, they're still in the hunt and have mostly played good football.
But the type of loss they suffered in Miami needs to be eradicated. It's happened far too often in San Diego over the past five years, where the Chargers lose a game they're expected to win. The team must learn to deal with prosperity.
They are in very real danger of falling to 4-7 when they play at 9-1 Kansas City this Sunday.
Next Game: @ Kansas City
Win one, lose one. Win one, lose one. That's been the trend this season for the New York Jets, who have alternated wins and losses through their first 10 games, leaving their record at 5-5.
Week 11's defeat in Buffalo was an embarrassing one for coach Rex Ryan's club, which entered the game harboring visions of a 6-4 record and a stranglehold on the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Instead, they had their doors blown off by a desperate Bills team.
Rookie quarterback Geno Smith was atrocious, tossing three interceptions and generally looking like he didn't belong on an NFL field. But Smith deserves to be "The Guy" for the remainder of the season.
Sunday's game in Baltimore will go a long way towards determining Gang Green's playoff fate. If the season-long trend holds up, the Jets will follow their blowout loss in Buffalo with a win against the Ravens.
Their fans can only hope that happens.
Next Game: @ Baltimore
Coach Joe Philbin and the Miami Dolphins deserve a ton of credit for putting all the off-field distractions behind them and earning a big win over the Chargers. The victory keeps Miami squarely in the playoff hunt at 5-5.
The Dolphins won despite not having three of their starters on the offensive line (Mike Pouncey, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin), which is a credit to the toughness of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was sacked four times but still put enough points on the board to lead his team to victory.
The defense played well and stepped up late, allowing the team to secure a much-needed win.
The result can finally put the focus in South Beach back on football, and away from the Incognito/Martin scandal. And focus is a good thing, especially as the team gets set to welcome the red-hot Panthers to town this Sunday.
Next Game: vs. Carolina
Week 11's loss in Chicago was a bitterly disappointing one for coach John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens, as they wasted a golden opportunity to make major headway in the AFC wild-card chase.
Running back Ray Rice finally got going, rushing for 131 yards (the first time all season he's cracked the century mark in a game) and a touchdown, but it wasn't enough to secure the victory. The defense allowed the Bears to tie the game late, and Baltimore lost in overtime.
While the season hasn't gone the way the defending Super Bowl champions thought it would, the bottom line is that at 4-6, they're still in the race, and they still have quarterback Joe Flacco, who has been money throughout his career in big spots.
Sunday's game against the Jets is likely make-or-break for Baltimore's season. It cannot afford another loss, especially not to a team they trail in the wild-card standings.
Next Game: vs. NY Jets
How about the 6-4 Arizona Cardinals, quietly flying under the radar as a legitimate playoff candidate in the NFC?
The Cardinals took care of business against Jacksonville, and the major story of the game was the spectacular play of quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for 419 yards and two touchdowns. He is playing some of the best football of his career, as noted here by NFL.com's Chris Wesseling. Palmer is a major reason why the Cardinals have the same record as the more-ballyhooed 49ers.
Coach Bruce Arians has done a phenomenal job in his first season and deserves a lot of credit, as does defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. The defense has been humming all season.
It's important to note that Arizona holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over both Detroit and Carolina. That will likely be an important factor in determining whether or not it qualifies for the postseason.
Sunday's game against Andrew Luck and the Colts should be a fascinating one and serve as a barometer for whether or not the Cardinals are truly a playoff-caliber squad.
Next Game: vs. Indianapolis
It's hard to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers started the season 0-4, as they've played themselves back into the AFC postseason race with four wins in their last six games, the last of which coming in ultra-impressive fashion over the Lions.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is quietly having a marvelous season, and the players around him are finally starting to step up. Receiver Antonio Brown has been a major bright spot, and while the defense isn't playing up to its past levels of success, it's finally starting to make plays in big spots.
At 4-6, the Steelers aren't out of the hunt. A win on Sunday in Cleveland would put them in position to make a stretch run towards the tournament.
Next Game: @ Cleveland
The New York Giants, left for dead by many (including yours truly) after their heinous 0-6 start, have now won four consecutive games to improve their record to 4-6, and they loom as a potentially dangerous squad in the putrid NFC East.
While quarterback Eli Manning is no longer playing hot potato with the football in an egregious manner, the main reason for the team's marked improvement has been the play of the defense. Ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck have stepped up, and linebacker Jon Beason has been a revelation since the team traded for him in early October. Big Blue hasn't allowed more than 20 points in their win streak.
In the Manning and coach Tom Coughlin era, the Giants have proven that they play their best football with their backs against the wall, and they've done so again this season. It's crazy to think that they can tie the Cowboys in the NFC East with a win at home this Sunday.
Don't discount the Giants as a candidate to win the division.
Next Game: vs. Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys endured a miserable bye week, watching division rivals Philadelphia and New York both win, setting up what's sure to be a frantic finish down the stretch in the NFC East.
They went into their bye with a bad taste in their mouth after getting blown out in New Orleans, but they are clearly the most talented team in the division. If coach Jason Garrett can't guide the team to a division title, this will likely be his last season in Dallas.
Quarterback Tony Romo and company have a tough test in front of them this week as they travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants. A win would make the statement that Dallas is the team to beat in the division.
Next Game: @ NY Giants
The Chicago Bears just keep on keeping on, winning despite a cavalcade of injuries to key players, the latest victory coming in Week 11 against the Ravens.
Backup quarterback Josh McCown has been excellent in relief of an injured Jay Cutler and has kept the Bears in contention for both a wild-card spot and the NFC North title. Of course, it helps when you have a ridiculously talented group of pass-catchers, led by receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett.
Coach Marc Trestman has done a fabulous job, and the best could be yet to come for his team, which should be getting a number of players back for the stretch run, including Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs.
Winning Sunday's game in St. Louis would push Chicago's record to 7-4 and leave it feeling good about its postseason chances.
Next Game: @ St. Louis
The Philadelphia Eagles are playing like a team that wants to win the NFC East, as they've now claimed victory in three consecutive games, swelling their record to 6-5. It's been an outstanding run for coach Chip Kelly's group.
Despite clearly not being as talented as other playoff contenders in the NFC, especially on defense, the Eagles are getting the job done by playing mistake-free football. Quarterback Nick Foles has still yet to throw an interception on the season, and his outstanding run of form is a major reason why the Eagles are in first place.
All in all, Philadelphia fans should feel excellent as their team heads into the bye week. Kelly has shown that he's a legitimate NFL coach, and Foles has been terrific. And most importantly, the Eagles look like the true definition of a team, getting it done across the board.
Right now, they're the prohibitive favorites to win the NFC East.
Next Game: vs. Arizona (Week 13)
It's been a miserable three weeks for the Green Bay Packers, as they not only lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a shoulder injury, but they have now dropped three consecutive games, leaving their record at 5-5.
Simply put: The Packers have zero chance at contending without Rodgers. While backup Scott Tolzien isn't horrendous, he's obviously not in the same stratosphere as Rodgers. Without a healthy Rodgers, the Packers offense isn't operating at close to the same level and therefore isn't able to mask deficiencies on defense.
Green Bay catches a break as it gets the Vikings at home this week in a game that even Tolzien could win. But the team absolutely needs Rodgers back as soon as possible or risk missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The flip side, of course, is getting Rodgers back and the team catching fire down the stretch, like they did in their Super Bowl-winning season in 2010.
Next Game: vs. Minnesota
When the Detroit Lions dropped 27 points in the second quarter of Sunday's game in Pittsburgh, they truly looked like a team ready to contend for a Super Bowl berth. But the wheels came off in the second half, and they suffered a horrendous loss that should raise serious questions about the team's viability to win in January.
Coach Jim Schwartz blew it with his asinine decision to run a fake field goal in the fourth quarter, on the road, on 4th-and-5, with his team up by four. This isn't a game of Madden. You take the points on the road, extend your lead to a touchdown, and go from there. The Lions predictably failed on the attempt, and the shell-shocked team proceeded to give up 14 consecutive points to end the game on a losing note.
Yes, the defense didn't play well, and yes, the offense was shut down in the second half, but the decision to go for a fake field goal will likely come back to haunt the Lions, who would have been sitting pretty at 7-3 with a win.
Detroit must get back on track with a win on Sunday against the Bucs. Anything less would be totally unacceptable for a team with designs on the postseason.
Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay
This past Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals looked like they were on their way to a third consecutive defeat, as they trailed the Browns 13-0 after the first quarter. But a 31-point outburst in the second quarter ensured that wouldn't happen, and the 7-4 Bengals are now three games up on Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland in the AFC North.
Still, things aren't totally rosy in the Queen City. Quarterback Andy Dalton continued to struggle, throwing for only 93 yards and two interceptions, albeit with three touchdown passes as well. The Bengals needs better and more consistent play from Dalton if they hope to advance deep into January.
But it looks like they'll qualify for the tournament for the third consecutive year. Coach Marvin Lewis' team should feel good heading into the bye week.
Next Game: @ San Diego (Week 13)
The Kansas City Chiefs suffered their first loss of the 2013 season last Sunday night in Denver, but contrary to popular belief, they are still very much a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
There's no shame in losing on the road to a team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. It's concerning that the defense couldn't sack a hobbled Manning one time, but the Chiefs hung around and didn't get blown out. They actually played pretty well, given the circumstances.
Plus, they get Denver again in Week 13, and this time, the game will be played in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium, which could provide a significantly different result.
The key for Kansas City is clearly to not fall behind, thus putting the onus on quarterback Alex Smith to pass the ball all over the field. The Chiefs cannot and will not win in January if that becomes the scenario.
But they are still a well-coached team that can run the ball and play excellent defense. Despite the loss in Denver, Kansas City remains a threat to advance to the Super Bowl.
Next Game: vs. San Diego
I need to be honest: I never felt that the Indianapolis Colts were going to lose last Thursday night in Tennessee, even when they faced an early 14-0 deficit.
Why? Because of the greatness of quarterback Andrew Luck. He's the difference-maker for Indianapolis and is already one of the best quarterbacks in football in only his second season.
The win over the Titans pushed the Colts' record to 7-3 and all but wrapped up an AFC South title, short of an epic collapse. That means Luck and company will be hosting at least one playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
While the team's overall talent level isn't as strong as the other elite teams in the AFC, the Colts have Luck, and he makes all the difference. They are a Super Bowl contender because of their star quarterback.
Next Game: @ Arizona
The San Francisco 49ers suffered through a miserable loss in Week 11, dropping a last-second nail-biter in New Orleans. The defeat was their second in a row and raises major question marks about the team's chances to return to the Super Bowl.
While the two losses came to NFC powerhouses Carolina and New Orleans, you just get the feeling that last year's 49ers would have found a way to win. That's not the case with this year's iteration.
San Francisco is now 6-4 and shares the same record as the Arizona Cardinals. They are not a lock to make the postseason, which would have sounded like a ludicrous statement before the season.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick continued his struggles against the Saints, and the team's passing offense is ranked dead-last in the league. It's true that Kaepernick has yet to play one game with his full complement of weapons, but he needs to play better.
Still, it's hard to imagine the 49ers missing the postseason, but if they do get there, they'll have to win games on the road, with Seattle looking likely to claim the NFC West.
Expect San Francisco to get back on track with a win on Monday night in Washington.
Next Game: @ Washington (Monday Night Football)
Yes, the New England Patriots got jobbed by the officials at the end of Monday night's loss in Carolina, but if they had played better throughout, they wouldn't have been in that situation to begin with. The Panthers played better, period, end of story.
The loss dropped New England to 7-3, but the team is still in the driver's seat to win the AFC East and has to be considered the favorite over Cincinnati and Indianapolis to claim a first-round bye in the postseason.
There's no shame in losing on the road to a red-hot Panthers team. The Patriots still have quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, which means they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
And that fact will remain the same regardless of whether or not the team beats Denver this Sunday night.
Next Game: vs. Denver (Sunday Night Football)
As the song goes, the Carolina Panthers are bringin' the pain. For the first time since John Fox roamed the sideline and Jake Delhomme was under center, the Panthers have the look of a Super Bowl contender.
Monday night's 24-20 win over the Patriots was extremely impressive and showcased a team firing on all cylinders. Quarterback Cam Newton was ridiculously clutch and played his best football when it mattered most. It was the kind of performance that buoys a player a team toward bigger and better things.
Coach Ron Rivera is pushing all the right buttons, and the defense, led by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, is absolutely ferocious.
General manager Dave Gettleman also deserves a ton of credit for not only keeping Rivera, but for shrewd offseason signings and a productive draft.
Carolina should be able to improve to 8-3 with a win on Sunday in Miami. It is absolutely a threat to win the NFC and advance to the Super Bowl.
Next Game: @ Miami
The New Orleans Saints remained a game ahead of Carolina in the NFC South with a huge 23-20 win over the 49ers, and they now sit at 8-2.
Coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have done outstanding jobs this season, and New Orleans is one of the best teams in football as a result. And oh yeah, quarterback Drew Brees is pretty damn good, too.
The Saints' top priority needs to be claiming home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. That means they must down Seattle in Week 13 on Monday Night Football and find a way to hold off the surging Panthers in the NFC South.
Expect the Saints to crush Atlanta on Thursday night to improve to 9-2.
Next Game: @ Atlanta (Thursday Night Football)
The Seattle Seahawks became the first team in the NFL to reach double-digit victories with their pasting of the Vikings last Sunday and have the look and feel of a team primed to play in February at MetLife Stadium.
The fact of the matter is that the Seahawks navigated through a stretch of the season without both starting offensive tackles and receiver Percy Harvin and came out of with a 10-1 record. They're now healthy and heading into the bye for an extra week of rest, making them even more dangerous.
If the Seahawks are able to claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (and quarterback Russell Wilson has never lost at CenturyLink Field), the NFL might as well cancel the NFC portion of the postseason and just send Seattle to the Super Bowl.
Week 13's Monday night affair with the Saints will go a long way towards determining playoff positioning. It's shaping up as one of the biggest games remaining in the season.
Next Game: New Orleans (Week 13, Monday Night Football)
As Ric Flair has often said, "To be the man, you gotta beat the man," and that means the Denver Broncos are officially "The Man," having defeated the previously unbeaten Chiefs by double-digits.
It was a fantastic team effort by the Broncos, particularly by their offensive line, which didn't allow one sack to quarterback Peyton Manning. Keeping the Chiefs ferocious pass-rush off the board is a monumental achievement, and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.
Manning is the clear-cut favorite to win league MVP, and the offense is stocked with weapons. The defense is good enough to help them win games, especially when the offense is going to put up a ton of points.
Right now, the Broncos are the best team in football and would be favored against anyone on a neutral field. They have the opportunity to further that notion by beating the rival Patriots on Sunday night in Foxborough.
Next Game: @ New England (Sunday Night Football)