We have reached the three-quarters mark of the NFL season, and playoff contention is wide open.
The Green Bay Packers have run away with the NFC North crown, while the New England Patriots have all but clinched the AFC East. With a schedule back-loaded with divisional games, the rest of the postseason spots are there for the taking.
It is time for the true Super Bowl contenders to step up.
With four games left to play, here are six teams that will screw it up when the going gets tough.
From day one, I did not think the Carson Palmer trade would work out for Oakland Raiders. Not this year, at least. But for a few weeks there, I was ready to admit I was wrong and move on.
Now, Oakland is giving validation to my pessimistic predictions.
I am not a "Raider Hater." I just think it is impossible to take a quarterback off the couch and throw him into a playoff race, no matter the QB.
Predictably, the Raiders have spun their tires since the trade for Palmer, going 3-3. Even if you take out Palmer's three-interception debut (it was simply unfair to throw Palmer into that game), he still has six interceptions in five games.
The embarrassing 20-point loss to the Miami Dolphins does not bode well for a team facing the Green Bay Packers next Sunday. After the Packers, the Detroit Lions come for a visit and will be playing with their backs against the wall.
The Raiders finish with two division games against the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. That could easily be a 1-3 stretch to finish the season, and they have already lost their AFC West lead to the Denver Broncos.
On top of trying to throw Palmer into the fire, this team is the most penalized in the NFL. Lack of discipline does not bode well for any potential playoff squad.
Does anyone else feel like the Detroit Lions' season is spiraling out of control?
After posing as Super Bowl contenders for the first half of the season, the Lions just got spanked by true contenders the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers.
In their current 1-3 stretch, Matthew Stafford has 10 interceptions. After a record-setting pace, teams have figured out how to contain Calvin Johnson and make other Lions step up, which no one has done consistently.
Instead of coming together as a team, the Lions are unraveling at the seams.
The team leads the NFL in personal fouls with 26—three against the Saints last week. One of them took the Lions from 3rd-and-1 inside the Saints' 10-yard line to 3rd-and-16.
Nate Burleson had three offensive pass interference penalties, which has to be an NFL record. Ndamukong Suh is out of control.
Due to the Chicago Bears' injures and the inconsistent play coming out of the NFC East, I do think the Lions will squeak into the playoffs, but that is where it ends. The future is bright in Detroit, but this team needs to learn some self-control.
The Falcons were a trendy pick to make the Super Bowl. Instead, Atlanta is one of the most frustrating teams in the NFL.
The Falcons have talent all over the field, but they haven't been able to turn it into consistent production. Just when they seem poised for a strong playoff push, they get beat by a Houston Texans team starting a third-string rookie at quarterback.
Atlanta does not have an inspiring postseason track record either.
Matt Ryan is 0-2 with four interceptions in the playoffs. Last year, they blew the NFC's top seed with an embarrassing home loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Even if they make it in, this will not end well for the Falcons.
For many weeks, the Baltimore Ravens have looked like the best team in the AFC. However, their three losses against teams outside of the playoffs point to some serious inconsistencies with this roster.
The only reason Joe Flacco is not public enemy No. 1 in Baltimore is that the team is winning. In what was expected to be a breakout year, Flacco is producing career worsts across the board.
With the way the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing, the Ravens are one loss from losing the AFC North, the AFC's top seed, home-field advantage and the first-round bye. Between the San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens will drop a game.
To lose everything after finally sweeping the nemesis Steelers could lead to some confidence issues heading into the playoffs. The Ravens will have ugly losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars to thank for wasting the sweep.
We all know about the Dallas Cowboys' struggles in December. Opening the month with an upset loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals is not a good start.
This time, even the biggest hater could not blame Tony Romo, who accounted for 300 yards of offense and zero turnovers. Jason Garrett has to take the blame for this one.
After seeing the replay over and over, I still do not know what Garrett was thinking with that timeout.
As it stands, the first 12 games of the season will be deemed moot for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. The rivals, who have both become known for late-season collapses in recent years, play two of the final four games against one another.
If one team can sweep, it will take the division and likely leave the other one out of the wild-card chase.
The New York Giants have already choked away a great start to the season. At least they finally played well for the first time in a month in their last-minute loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Was that game the start of a postseason run or a last gasp of a fallen playoff team?
For all the talk about Tony Romo's December struggles, Eli Manning is 5-8 in the month since the Giants' Super Bowl run in 2006.
The Giants can erase all the bad memories with a win on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, which would put them back on top of the NFC East. The division will likely still be up in the air when the rivals close the season against each other.