The NFL is widening and separating the cream of the crop from the rest. This group should all plan on a trip to the post-season. However, going cold with an 0-4 finish or someone knocking on the top 10 elite and posting a perfect 4-0 finish could make the playoffs very interesting.
10. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
They’ll be the toughest out in the AFC playoff field. And the pestiest underdog in the playoffs. The Colts enjoyed the advantage of a late bye and now have everything in front of them, with back-to-back matchups against the Patriots and Cardinals. The Colts jumped from ninth in the AFC to sixth Sunday. Not a bad way to spend a bye week. Much has been made about the Colts' poor record against quality opponents, but their last three losses -- to the Ravens, Titans and Bucs -- were all games in which Indy led or was tied in the fourth quarter. If the Colts learn how to close out games, there is no ceiling on their season.
9. Tennessee Titans (8-4)
If they get Derrick Henry back for the playoffs, they’ll be a problem and he’s on track for week 18. Mike Vrabel crushed Urban Meyer’s soul (if he has one) Sunday. That’s the rare Ohio State on Ohio State crime you rarely see. Finally, and most importantly, the Titans won a football game for the first time in nearly a month. The tape from a 20-0 shutout of the lowly Jaguars is unlikely to be shipped to Canton, but the victory was absolutely necessary as Mike Vrabel's team looks to navigate through its injury quagmire to lock up another AFC South title and make a push for the No. 1 seed.
8. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)
If they can get consistent, they can get deep into January. But do they ever?
Justin Herbert is a freakin’ cyborg. Herbert delivered another excellent performance, hooking up on a highlight-reel touchdown connection with Jalen Guyton for the second straight week while becoming the first QB in NFL history to reach 30 touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons. The Chargers welcome the Chiefs to SoFi Stadium on Thursday night with a golden opportunity to make the AFC West very interesting. These Herbert vs Mahomes affairs should get prime-time billing every season. Especially with Wayne Root sitting at 25-10 in Primetime games this years (71%).
7. Dallas Cowboys (9-4)
The Cowboys' defense was a big-play machine in Sunday's win over the Washington Football Team. Defensive end Randy Gregory returned to the lineup and made two huge plays, an acrobatic interception that led to a Dallas touchdown and the strip-sack of Kyle Allen that sealed the win in the fourth quarter. Micah Parsons also continued to build on his outrageous rookie season with a sack-fumble that produced a touchdown. Micah Parsons should win every defensive award this season. Hell, we might need to create a new award for him. Micah Parsons should play offense, too.
6. Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
Desperation always is the difference maker. So much for the talk that Sean McVay's team was "too soft" to hold its own with the NFL elite. It got a little scary at the end, but the Rams were the better group in a 30-23 win over the Cardinals, a game that could swing not just the NFC West but the balance of power in the conference as the playoffs inch closer. Matthew Stafford just got his first ever career win against a team that was five or more games above .500. Playing in Detroit isn't for the faint of heart, kids.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)
They’re back, even if no one wants to accept it. During their six-game winning streak, the Chiefs have scored 89 points against the Raiders and 74 points in the other four wins. The offense played its most efficient game of the season against Las Vegas, winning the battle up front and avoiding its two biggest issues: turnovers and drops. The final score is perhaps a bit misleading for a team that managed a comparatively pedestrian total of 372 yards of offense.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)
Four straight wins and a final stretch with favorable matchups could mean that the road to this year’s Super Bowl will go through the place where last year’s Super Bowl was played. Tom Brady’s 700th touchdown pass of his career was a perfectly placed spiral to a wide-open Breshad Perriman, who motored untouched into the end zone for the 58-yard game-winner. Brady is now 107-1 in games in which his team leads by 21 or more at any point, and the Bucs remain just a step behind the Packers in the race for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Brady is playing his best football at age 44. Just absurd stuff we’re witnessing.
3. New England Patriots (9-4)
New England has the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense (allowing just 15.4 points per game) and the No. 3 total defense (310.0 yards per game allowed). The numbers are even better during the team's seven-game winning streak: Opponents have averaged just over 10 points per game, with the Pats forcing at least one turnover in every one of those contests. This ends in a Bucs-Pats Super Bowl and the world exploding, doesn’t it? The No. 1 seed is within their grasp. It’ll be a disappointment at this point if they don’t get it.
2. Arizona Cardinals (10-3)
Do they have the experience and maturity to win high-stakes games? The Cardinals look like a contender, but the self-inflicted wounds in prime time are a concern. In a game where Los Angeles' best players stepped up to cover for the loss of Jalen Ramsey, several of Arizona's top stars weren't up for the challenge. Kyler Murray made physical and mental errors, DeAndre Hopkins had a crucial fourth-down drop and was largely neutralized in coverage, and no one on the Cardinals' defense stepped up to make any game-changing plays.
1. Green Bay Packers (10-3)
Did you hear that Aaron Rodgers has a broken pinkie toe? Aaron Rodgers is the star, but Matt LaFleur doesn’t get enough credit for his in-game coaching adjustments. The magic he worked Sunday to get Davante Adams open in the second half allowed Rodgers to keep owning the Bears. The reigning MVP delivered a masterful performance on Sunday night against the Bears and has thrown 10 touchdown passes against zero interceptions with a completion percentage just shy of 70 percent since Week 11. When you combine this version of the offense with a top-10 defense, it adds up to the best, most complete team in the NFL.