The bye weeks are over and Thanksgiving is here, which means it’s time for the contenders to begin to separate themselves from the pretenders in the National Football League.
While the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have separated themselves from the pack, there are 18 teams with records of 5-5 or better jostling for the 12 available playoff berths.
The New England Patriots, who faced questions about their awful defense before putting up back-to-back solid efforts in wins over the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, are now two games clear of the Jets and Buffalo Bills in the AFC East.
The AFC North is still very much a three-team race, with the 7-3 Baltimore Ravens ahead of the 7-3 Pittsburgh Steelers thanks to their season sweep and the Cincinnati Bengals still just a game back, but with losses to both of the teams ahead of them.
The Houston Texans were waltzing away with the AFC South and may still do so, but they’ll do it the rest of the way with backup quarterback Matt Leinart at the helm. The Cowheads still lead the Tennessee Titans by two games.
The Oakland Raiders may be starting to pull away from the AFC West pack. At 6-4, the Silver and Black are a game up on the Denver Fighting Tebows and two clear of the Chiefs and fading San Diego Chargers.
The NFC is more clearly defined. Green Bay and San Francisco are running away with the NFC North and West, respectively, while the New Orleans Saints lead the Atlanta Falcons by a game in the NFC South.
The much-ballyhooed Philadelphia Eagles, meanwhile, kept themselves in the NFC East discussion with their win at the Meadowlands on Sunday night. While the Eagles still trail the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants by two games, they have a 3-1 record in the division and still have games remaining with the Cowboys and lowly Washington Redskins.
The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, meanwhile, lead the wild-card pack while trailing the actual Pack by three games in the NFC North. Chicago, however, lost quarterback Jay Cutler on Sunday to a broken thumb, so if there is a playoff berth to be had, it will come with Caleb Hanie calling the signals.
These rankings reflect a team’s body of work to this point in the season and do not reflect future projections or busted-up quarterbacks.