As we enter the second half of the 2011 NFL regular season, the playoff picture begins to become much clearer.
However, like many year,s there are still plenty of teams in the race that may not have put on their best performances during the first half of the year. These teams are much more talented and a much bigger threat than their record may suggest.
While this is a yearly occurrence, it always makes for an interesting finish to the season when a team hits a hot streak and finally plays to their potential.
Just as there are those teams that haven't quite met their potential yet, you have the pretenders who may have already exceeded their actual ability.
The challenge then becomes sorting which teams fall where.
Here are four teams who haven't met their potential yet.
The Carolina Panthers have to be the best 2-6 team in the NFL.
Rookie quarterback Cam Newton is the driving force behind Carolina's improvement this year. He has made an instant impact and is looking like a lock for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The Panthers are ranked fifth in the league in passing and seventh in in rushing yards. They have put up fantastic offensive performances on some quality defenses this year. They have only scored less than 20 points twice this season and one of those games they won.
What is really telling about the Panthers season is how close they are to being a winning team.
Five of Carolina's six losses were by less than one score.
The Panthers aren't very far off from being a team that could easily be sitting at 6-2 or 5-3 instead of their dismal 2-6.
They still have plenty of flaws including a defense that will need to improve before they become a real contender.
However, there is no doubt that the Panthers are much better than their record suggests.
The San Diego Chargers are annually one of the toughest teams to figure out.
They appear to be incredibly streaky. The Chargers are known for putting together incredible hot streaks in November and December to get themselves into the playoffs.
This year has been a huge disappoint, as Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers has been a huge disappointment. Some suggest that he may be playing injured, but he denies it.
Still the Chargers passing game is ranked in the top ten of the league. Their passing defense is also ranked in the top ten.
They have plenty of talent, it just seems that they are struggling to put it all together.
The AFC West is currently wide open. Three teams, including the Chargers, are sitting at 4-4 and the Denver Broncos are 3-5.
There is plenty of room for the Chargers to hit another hot streak late in the year and capture the division. Even though he threw three interceptions Sunday against the Packers, Rivers appeared to find some of the magic he has had the past few seasons.
Only time will tell if the Chargers can once again rally late in the year, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn't count them out.
The expectations on the Dallas Cowboys are always high coming into every year.
When you are labeled as "America's Team" and put in the spotlight games every week, it is easy for people to expect that you are going to be good year in and year out.
Dallas is currently sitting at a 4-4 record.
They do have the challenge of playing in one of the toughest divisions in football. However, most of their losses have been their own doing.
There have been several games this year that Dallas could have come out on top on, but they gave it away through turnovers or poor defensive play.
Statistically, the Cowboys are one of the better teams in the league. They have plenty of talent and playmakers. What they are missing is the discipline.
If the Cowboys can play to their skill level and not make the game breaking mistakes they have been, they will continue to win football games.
They are more talented than a .500 team, they just need to play like it.
Another NFC East team that has disappointed to start the season.
The Eagles will be taking on the Chicago Bears on Monday Night Football looking to improve their record to .500. However, talent wise it is clear that the they are much better than that.
They came in to the 2011 season with higher expectations than any other team in the league. A slew of big offseason acquisitions and back up quarterback Vince Young's claim that they were a "super team" had plenty to do with it.
The season started well with a victory over the Rams, but the Eagles went on to drop their next four games.
It appears that they are beginning to bounce back as they have picked up two consecutive divisional wins over the Cowboys and Redskins. The Eagles still have a tough schedule ahead of them, but it appears that all that talent they claimed to have is starting to shine.
The NFC East will be a close race right to the finish, but have no doubt that the Eagles will be in the mix come season's end.