By December, it becomes easy to separate the contenders (top six) from the pretenders (next 10), also-rans and just bad teams (bottom six).
Hot streaks and struggles usually give way to teams making a run for either the playoffs or a top 10 pick in the draft.
There are always those teams that cannot quite put on a run for either, but hang around at the outside of the playoff picture. But only a few teams (Minnesota, San Francisco, Oakland and Dallas come to mind) start off as either good or bad and head the other way.
As Bill Parcells famously said, "You are what your record says you are." Still, there are 6-5 teams that are better than 7-4 teams, etc.
Here is what each team's record says they should be ranked:
1. New England Patriots
Statistically unimpressive. They just find ways to win.
2. New York Jets
Most victories close games vs. inferior competition and just one signature win.
3. Baltimore Ravens
Have played tough schedule and recorded big road wins.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last victory over seven-win team was Week 1.
5. Atlanta Falcons
9-1 since Week 1 loss in Pittsburgh. Wins over Packers, Saints and Bucs.
6. New Orleans Saints
Getting healthy and back on track.
7. Chicago Bears
Adjustments have helped protection and Jay Cutler's turnovers.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Have teams finally adjusted to Michael Vick?
9. Green Bay Packers
Can this team overcome its Achilles Heels (running game, special teams)?
10. New York Giants
If not for turnover differential, this team might still be on top of the NFC.
11. San Diego Chargers
Stop calling it their annual run. The scheduling has turned favorable.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They may not make the playoffs, but they are for real.
13. Kansas City Chiefs
Struggling now that they are not catching opponents off-guard.
14. Indianapolis Colts
Packers fans do not want to hear the injury excuse given to (not by) the Colts.
15. Miami Dolphins
Lost ground while playing third-string quarterback.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
Bad team on paper; their success has to be a credit to coach Jack Del Rio.
17. Houston Texans
When teams are one play away in so many losses, the difference is mental.
18. Tennessee Titans
Heard of two QBs means none? So does no QBs...
19. Washington Offensively-Named Ones
Coach Shanahan should bench defense in two-minute drill.
20. St. Louis Rams
They would be a year away in any other division.
21. Cleveland Browns
Looks like a good move that Mike Holmgren did not replace Eric Mangini.
22. Oakland Raiders
After a brief flash of competitiveness, they are who we thought they were.
23. Minnesota Vikings
Team is through hardest part of schedule, player-coach conflicts.
24. Seattle Seahawks
Injuries hurt teams that are already lacking, like Seattle.
25. Dallas Cowboys
Still not the team they were supposed to be, but now playing hard.
26. San Francisco Forty-Niners
After 0-5 start, 4-2 and just one game out of first place!
27. Buffalo Bills
Better than you think. They have played a lot of great teams close.
28. Denver Broncos
You read it here first—Josh McDaniels will remain the coach for 2011.
29. Detroit Lions
Run of getting top-five pick should extend to third year.
30. Cincinnati Bengals
If talk won titles, Chad 8-5 and TO would have more rings than fingers.
31. Arizona Cardinals
Someone make Derek Anderson admit he laughed during Monday's blowout.
32. Carolina Panthers
Lame-duck coach guiding lame-team talent = top pick in draft.