Week 13 is upon us; however, the playoff races are still as tight as ever.
With 18 teams alive for 12 spots, there is still a lot to be determined and with this year full of parity; any of those teams could claim those spots.
What do each of those teams need to do to make the trip to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV?
Who do you think makes it to Dallas in the end?
Current Record: 6-6 second in AFC South
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 9 @ Tennessee, Dec. 19 Jacksonville, Dec. 26 @ Oakland, Jan. 2 Tennessee
How They Make It To Dallas: Indianapolis is in full blown free-fall. They have lost three in a row and four out of five. The good news for the Colts is they get last place Tennessee twice before the end of the season.
However, the bad news for the Colts is that Peyton Manning is in the middle of one of the worst stretches of his career. He has back-to-back four interception games, but he is still Peyton Manning. For the Colts to make it to Dallas, Peyton needs to get back to doing Peyton things. Find the open man, move the offense, and score points.
Current Record: 6-6 T-first in NFC West
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @ San Francisco, Dec. 19 Atlanta, Dec. 26 @ Tampa Bay, Jan. 2 St. Louis
How They Make It To Dallas: It really is a shame the NFL has to take teams from each division into the playoffs, because the NFC West does not deserve a playoff berth. Seattle wins at home most of the time which means if they do win the division, they could actually win a playoff game.
However, Seattle's remaining schedule is pretty brutal with Atlanta and Tampa Bay looming. I doubt they make it to eight wins.
The only way they make it to Dallas is an act of God.
Current Record: 6-6 T-first in NFC West
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @ New Orleans, Dec. 19 Kansas City, Dec. 26 San Francisco, Jan. 2 @ Seattle
How They Make It To Dallas: St. Louis has to be one of the surprises of the NFL season. The Rams have won six games for the first time since 2006 when they won eight. It just goes to prove how good Sam Bradford has been this year.
Now, I know the Rams remaining schedule is tough, but I think they win two and earn a playoff berth win a win in week 17 over Seattle.
Now, St. Louis is another team that needs divine intervention to make it to Dallas, but I think they have a better chance than Seattle.
Current Record: 6-6T-second in AFC West
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 Kansas City, Dec. 16 San Francisco, Dec. 26 @ Cincinnati, Jan. 2 @ Denver
How They Make It To Dallas: San Diego is such a fickle team. The Chargers could finish the season 4-0 against a relatively easy schedule, or they could go 0-4 because of how poorly they have played at times this year.
San Diego tends to play very well in December, so I do see them advancing to the playoffs, but making it to Dallas is another story. The Chargers have not played well in the playoffs recently, and a lot of things will have to come together for them to end up in Dallas.
Special teams and the running game come to mind.
Current Record: 6-6 T-second in AFC West
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @ Jacksonville, Dec. 19 Denver, Dec. 26 Indianapolis, Jan. 2 @ Kansas City
How They Make It To Dallas: How about the coaching job Tom Cable has done? He needs to be in the conversation for Coach of the Year, right? He has taken a Raiders team that has lost 10 or more games every year since 2002.
This year, the Raiders have a good chance of making the playoffs. They are undefeated in the division, but the one thing standing in their way is a tough schedule remaining.
If the Raiders do make the playoffs, they seem like a team that could do well in the playoffs. Darren McFadden is a good running back, and the Raiders have a great pass defense.
Current Record: 7-5 3rd in NFC South
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @ Washington, Dec. 19 Detroit, Dec. 26 Seattle, Jan. 2 @ New Orleans
How They Make It To Dallas: Tampa Bay could also be in the conversation for biggest surprise this season. Josh Freeman has proven himself as a great young quarterback in the NFL.
Tampa Bay is third in a great NFC South, but their remaining schedule is ridiculously easy. Aside from week 17 against New Orleans, the Bucs will probably be favored in all their remaining games.
If the Bucs do make the playoffs, they make the run to Dallas if their young offense gels and they get a nice path through the playoffs. Meaning, this isn't their year, but they are going to be a force in the NFC for the next few years at least.
Current Record: 9-3 second in NFC South
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 St. Louis, Dec. 19 @ Baltimore, Dec. 27 @ Atlanta, Jan. 2 Tampa Bay
How They Make It To Dallas: New Orleans is the reigning Super Bowl Champs. For that reason, along with a tough remaining schedule, they likely won't make it to Dallas, but they are still a dangerous team.
The Saints are getting healthy, but they need their running game to step up in time for a playoff run.
For the Saints to advance to Dallas, they need to replicate their playoff success last year by forcing turnovers and making big plays.
Current Record: 7-5 first in AFC South
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 Oakland, Dec. 19 @ Indianapolis, Dec. 26 Washington, Jan. 2 @ Houston
How They Make It To Dallas: Maurice Jones-Drew has inserted himself into the MVP conversation with five straight 100-yard rushing games. He isn't getting in the endzone as much as the Jags would like, but he is keying a ball control offense for a team that is in first place.
For the Jags to make it to Dallas, Jones-Drew needs to keep up his pace, and the Jags need to keep from turning the ball over.
Current Record: 8-4 first in AFC West
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @San Diego, Dec. 19 @ St. Louis, Dec. 26 Tennessee, Jan. 2 Oakland
How They Make It To Dallas: I am starting to come around on the Chiefs. Matt Cassel has really matured this year as a legit NFL quarterback. He has finally realized that Dwayne Bowe is a real weapon in the passing game, and the rushing duo of Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones has been very fruitful for KC this year.
For the Chiefs to get to Dallas, the defense needs to figure out how to slow down opponents' passing games.
Current Record: 9-3 first in NFC North
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 New England, Dec. 20 @ Minnesota, Dec. 26 NY Jets, Jan. 2 @ Green Bay
How They Make It To Dallas: The Bears are still not a team I am completely sold on. I know, I know, Bears fans are going to defend this team to the death, but their offense is still not good enough for me to be convinced they make it to Dallas.
However, if Jay Cutler can maintain a Passer Rating over 100 for the playoffs, the Bears will make it to Dallas.
Current Record: 8-4 T-first in NFC East
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @ Minnesota, Dec. 19 Philadelphia, Dec. 26 @ Green Bay, Jan. 2 @ Washington
How They Make It To Dallas: The Giants are in the same phylum as the Bears for me. Great defense, offensive struggles at times. Injuries haven't helped the Giants offensive woes.
The Giants will make it to Dallas if they get healthy enough before the playoffs and if Eli Manning can avoid costly interceptions.
Current Record: 8-4 second in AFC North
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 13 @ Houston, Dec. 19 New Orleans, Dec. 26 @ Cleveland, Jan. 2 Cincinnati
How They Make It To Dallas: Baltimore won their last Super Bowl by relying on a good running game and a historically good defense. This year, the Ravens can advance through the playoffs the same way.
Play dangerous defense that forces turnovers and can put points up on its own and play ball control offense. Sunday night's game against Pittsburgh proved how important ball security is in big games.
Current Record: 8-4 second in NFC North
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @ Detroit, Dec. 19 @ New England, Dec. 26 NY Giants, Jan. 2 Chicago
How They Make It To Dallas: I know the Bears are in first place in the division, but I think the Packers are better built for a playoff run.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has enough weapons around him that any pass could go for a score and really anytime.
Yes injuries have hit the Packers harder than most teams, but Green Bay still has more weapons than most other teams.
If the Pack can avoid any more costly injuries, I think they have a chance to make it to Dallas.
Current Record: 9-3 first AFC North
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 Cincinnati, Dec. 19 NY Jets, Dec. 23 Carolina, Jan. 2 @ Cleveland
How They Make It To Dallas: The Steelers have proven that they can win really any type of game. They can score a lot if need be, or they can win ugly, as they proved Sunday night against the Ravens.
The Steelers do get lucky with an easy remaining schedule, but with Roethlisberger banged up, if the Steelers lock up a playoff berth early, I would expect him to get some rest.
If the Steelers remain healthy, especially Roethlisberger and Troy Polomalu, they could make a run to Dallas.
Current Record: 8-4 T-first NFC East
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @ Dallas, Dec. 19 @ NY Giants, Dec. 26 Minnesota, Jan. 2 Dallas
How They Make It To Dallas: Michael Vick has emerged as the MVP favorite. He has led an Eagles team that has looked, at times, like a Super Bowl team.
In the playoffs, if Vick and the Eagles get their big plays working and force turnovers on defense, the Eagles will be in Dallas for the Super Bowl.
Current Record: 9-2 T-first in AFC East
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 6 @ New England, Dec. 12 Miami, Dec. 19 @ Pittsburgh, Dec. 26 @ Chicago, Jan. 2 Buffalo
How They Make It To Dallas: The Jets are another team that has looked like a Super Bowl team during stretches this year. Mark Sanchez has made strides as an NFL quarterback this year, and LaDainian Tomlinson has been revitalized moving to New York.
If Sanchez doesn't turn the ball over, and if the Jets can reproduce some of their lucky moments in the playoffs, they will be in Dallas.
We will know more about this team in a few short hours when they take on division rival New England.
Current Record: 9-2 T-first AFC East
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 6 NY Jets, Dec. 12 @ Chicago, Dec. 19 Green Bay, Dec. 26 @ Buffalo, Jan. 2 Miami
How They Make It To Dallas: It might seem a little premature to put the Pats here before their match up with the Jets tonight, but with the way Tom Brady is playing right now, I think they have to be here.
If the Pats defense matures quickly and Tom Brady plays with the passion he has shown the past few weeks, I don't see how they aren't in Dallas for the Super Bowl.
Current Record: 10-2 first in NFC South
Remaining Schedule: Dec. 12 @ Carolina, Dec. 19 @ Seattle, Dec. 26 New Orleans, Jan. 2 Carolina
How They Make It To Dallas: First off, it has to be mentioned, how lucky are the Falcons that they get Carolina twice in their last four weeks this season? If the Falcons don't win at least 13 games, it is a failure.
That being said, the Falcons appear to be poised for a playoff run. The thing that would hold them back is their passing defense. The Falcons can throw the ball on anyone, they have a fantastic rushing offense, a top-10 rush defense, but their passing defense is questionable.
If Atlanta can control the clock against opposing teams and can somehow slow down opposing passing offenses, the Falcons will represent the NFC in Dallas.