One week gone, two more remaining.
With the NFL playoff picture now becoming visibly clear, Week 15 has provided us with a handful of opportunities to sniff out who the true contenders are heading into January, along with which teams may be a little shaky in three weeks' time.
New England is winning, the Jets are back on the right track, and after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the New York Giants now find themselves slipping out of the conversation.
Quite unpredictable, right?
But with two meaningful weeks in store, if the season were to come to a complete halt right here and now, many serious contenders would be eliminated from contention; meanwhile, the top dogs of both the AFC and NFC would continue to walk the straight line.
To describe the playoff scenario right now in one simple word—tough.
Here's a look at who would play who if the season were to end today, along with a brief summary of each individual game.
AFC Teams Eliminated From Contention:
-Miami Dolphins (7-7)
-Houston Texans (5-9)
-Cleveland Browns (5-9)
-Buffalo Bills (4-10)
-Denver Broncos (3-11)
-Cincinnati Bengals (3-11)
NFC Teams Eliminated From Contention:
-Minnesota Vikings (5-8)
-Washington Redskins (5-9)
-Dallas Cowboys (5-9)
-Detroit Lions (4-10)
-Arizona Cardinals (4-10)
-Carolina Panthers (2-12)
AFC Teams Still in the Hunt:
-San Diego Chargers (8-6)
-Jacksonville Jaguars (8-6)
-Oakland Raiders (7-7)
-Tennessee Titans (6-8)
NFC Teams Still In the Hunt:
-Green Bay Packers (8-6)
-Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6)
-Seattle Seahawks (6-8)
-San Francisco 49ers (5-9)
Current Records: New York (10-4) - Kansas City (9-5)
Both Kansas City and New York experienced big-time wins in Week 15, that continue to boost their chances at a possible playoff campaign with two critical weeks remaining.
If the season were to come to a standstill right now, though, both the Chiefs and Jets would meet up in one of the AFC's Wild Card fixtures, due to Kansas City's record and the Jets second-place seeding in the AFC East.
In terms of the game at hand, New York versus Kansas City could act as a mere repeat for the Jets. Last season Rex Ryan's team took total control of the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round, and even though Todd Haley's team is confident heading in, the Chiefs aren't exactly experienced when it comes to recent playoff berths.
Nonetheless, this fixture would feature two of the league's youngest quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez and Matt Cassel. Both players have had their fair share of ups and downs this season, but at the end of the day have been one of many reasons for a possible playoff stint.
Current Records: Baltimore (10-4) - Indianapolis (8-6)
The Baltimore Ravens once again find themselves in a Wild Card position this year, which is, strangely enough, similar to last season, as the Ravens took on a soft and uncharacteristic New England Patriots side.
This time around the track, though, the Ravens may not have such a cakewalk in the Wild Card round. If the season were to end today, Baltimore would take on the rejuvenated Indianapolis Colts, who managed to take over the AFC South once again following a big-time win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15.
If you're looking for keys to this game, make sure you take a strong look as the passing aspect.
Peyton Manning has seemingly shaken off his November rust that saw him thrown an unusual amount of interceptions, while at the same time Joe Flacco's 3,395 yards and 23 touchdowns continue to accumulate in his third year under center.
Last time around, the Ravens dominated the Patriots defense strictly thanks to Ray Rice's antics. Up against the Colts however, the run game may have to go untouched if these two are to meet, as each team possesses a strong rush defense in 2010.
Current Records: New York (9-5) - Chicago (9-4)
The NFC's first Wild Card round is shaping up to be a potential blockbuster, as the 9-5 New York Giants look likely to take on the 9-4 Chicago Bears.
Putting the Giants' ugly Week 15 woes behind them, Big Blue still have a legitimate shot at the postseason. With two weeks remaining in the year, currently the Giants are one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, although Tom Coughlin's crew do stand a realistic chance at making the Wild Card round.
As for Chicago, the Bears simply need to keep winning. The Green Bay Packers shot themselves in the foot once again at New England this past weekend, and if Chicago can withhold the green and gold during their trip to Lambeau Field, everything should be golden.
So what will unfold if the Bears and Giants meet?
Pending home-field advantage, this game could go one way or another. Chicago have experienced the best of both worlds this season, either dominating opponents or falling under the thumb of teams like New England.
Fortunately, the same can also be said for New York, as the Giants roller-coaster season continues to highlight many problems.
A mistake-filled game? Maybe, but this is perhaps one of the more intriguing NFC clashes.
Current Records: New Orleans (10-4) - St. Louis (6-8)
If you thought the St. Louis Rams making it into the playoffs was unimaginable, think again, because if the season were to end right here and now, Steve Spagnuolo's side would make the playoffs in their first year under rookie quarterback Sam Bradford.
What a story, right?
Amongst all of the surprise that continues to plague this potential playoff matchup however, the fact that the Rams would be the only below .500 team in the postseason is quite a scary thought for most St. Louis fans.
Mind you, this may not be a problem for the Rams. All year long St. Louis have displayed a certain quality that has almost made them playoff-bound, and if Sam Bradford can find his usual rut and maintain stability, the Rams do stand a mild shot at pulling off an upset.
What is a problem, though, is the New Orleans Saints. Defending Super Bowl champions, the Saints slipped up in Week 15 against the Baltimore Ravens, but are still a huge threat behind Drew Brees' 4,122 yards and 31 touchdowns on the season.
It's a game that most folks would look at and call a "snorefest." Still, more often than not these mistmatch NFL games turn out to be rather interesting, so if this game winds up in the history books, who knows what the outcome will be.
Current Record: New England (12-2)
Barely knocking off the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football, the New England Patriots find themselves a lock for the playoffs after Week 15, after stunning the socks off of Mike McCarthy's men late in the fourth quarter.
For the most part, if it hasn't been the Patriots offense, it has been the defense. Tom Brady is still the frontrunner for the MVP award this year, and if the Steelers' Troy Polamalu doesn't take home the honors on defense, surely Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty will.
While the Patriots sit back and wait to face their divisional round opponent in a month's time, the Patriots may be wise to pull a 2009 Indianapolis Colts move, and bench a few players during their Week 17 clash with the Miami Dolphins.
In the meantime, if the season came to a standstill today the Patriots would be faced with either the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts or New York Jets for opponents.
None of these teams is a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination, so the Patriots must utilize their week off to the best of their ability.
Current Record: Pittsburgh (10-4)
The New York Jets got the best of the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15, but not even a home loss at Heinz Field could deny the Steelers a playoff spot in the AFC North this season.
Much to the Baltimore Ravens' dismay, the Steelers are now in prime shape heading into January. Ben Roethlisberger endured several crucial sacks on Sunday afternoon, but the brilliance of Rashard Mendenhall continues to please the Steel City.
Aside from silly statistics and in-game facts though, the simple fact remains the same—the Pittsburgh Steelers are a force in the playoffs.
With two Super Bowl rings to his name, Ben Roethlisberger seems to zone out when the Divisional Round kicks off. No. 7's passing becomes more precise, Hines Ward is always a huge deep threat, and with the Steelers ranked first in defensive rush yards, everything is even Steven right about now.
So who would the Steelers face when the time comes?
Like the New England Patriots, either the Ravens, Colts, Chiefs or Jets await. All four of these teams have the ability to give the Steelers a serious run for their money, but from a fan perspective, a rematch between Baltimore and Pittsburgh is almost too good to imagine.
The Steelers look to set the path for Roethlisberger's third Super Bowl ring. A small "x" was placed to their name anointing them a lock for the playoffs, and once again the colors black and yellow will be a main feature of the next few months.
Current Record: Atlanta (12-2)
Almost forgotten about during the weekend's storylines, the Atlanta Falcons were one of three teams to clinch a playoff birth in Week 15, following Mike Smith's 31-18 victory over the struggling Seattle Seahawks.
Perhaps the reason for the Falcons forgotten ways is due to their association with the state of Atlanta. It may be that, or the fact that the Falcons aren't being labeled "Super Bowl favorites" just yet, unlike the 12-2 New England Patriots.
In the Falcons' honest opinion though, none of this matters. Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown for 3,321 yards and 25 touchdowns, and while the MVP discussion heats up, No. 2 continues to assert himself into the conversation.
The Falcons' opponent in the divisional round would be either the New York Giants, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints or St. Louis Rams.
Thinking of a Rams vs. Falcons match up is almost unfathomable right now, but the realism of an NFC South showdown between Atlanta and New Orleans is extremely favorable.
Current Record: Philadelphia (10-4)
DeSean Jackson was the magic man in Week 15, returning a last-minute punt return for a touchdown to hand the Eagles a meaningful NFC East victory over rivals the New York Giants.
If you can look past Jackson's monumental footwork though, the most important facet of the Eagles win on Sunday afternoon was the fact that they went "one up" on the Giants out East.
What does this mean for the postseason?
As if Michael Vick's MVP-type season has given the Eagles enough momentum, Andy Reid's team is oozing with confidence as the next two weeks progress, and more importantly contain a bundle of team chemistry that is fitting for a big-time playoff push.
If the Eagles are lucky and manage to hold onto the one-game lead over New York, the division will be theirs. Better yet, the Eagles will also skip the Wild Card round and move straight onto the Divisional Round, that would feature a matchup against Chicago, New York, New Orleans or St. Louis.
All of Philadelphia may be wishing to face the Rams if this scenario plays out, due to the seemingly easy circumstances. If that fate isn't to be however, the Eagles can at least feel confident that they have beaten the Giants twice this year, although the Bears managed to take care of the Eagles back in Week 12.
The Saints are unknown territory for Philadelphia this season, but Michael Vick's 2,755 yards and 20 touchdowns this year are a huge asset to have.
Philadelphia has some work to do in the next two weeks, but if the season ended today, the Eagles would be in control of the NFC East.