Ten games down for everyone. The AFC race has turned into a gigantic game of hot potato for the last wildcard spot. The Jets looked like they needed to make a run a few weeks ago, but are still alive. Buffalo has gone in the tank. Cincinnati is somehow in good position after two losses, while Tennessee and Denver are lurking. Even San Diego isn’t out of it at this point, though they look pretty lifeless.
The beneficiaries have been the top of the AFC. New England, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Baltimore all look like they are in great shape, two games clear of missing the playoffs with six to go.
Over in the NFC, Green Bay and San Francisco are battling for the top seed, while several teams can lay claim to a potential berth. The tiers are more pronounced in the NFC, as half the teams look to have very little chance.
THE TACKLING OPTIONAL TIER
Green Bay Packers (10-0): Someday, half the receivers in college football will be compared to Jordy Nelson instead of Wes Welker.
THE RINGSSSS TIER
New England Patriots (7-3): If Rob Gronkowski is going to catch 50 yard touchdowns too, that’s just not fair.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3): Even with only Lawrence Timmons, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark starting every game, the Steelers are #1 in net yards allowed per pass.
San Francisco 49ers (9-1): San Francisco squandered opportunities and were only 3 for 6 on field goals, and still won easily.
THE “RAVENS WANT TO KNOW WHY THEIR QB CAN’T INJURE A THUMB OR A FOOT” TIER
Houston Texans (7-3): Matt Leinart time in Houston. He’s matured on will not do any more beer bongs within 12 hours of game time.
Baltimore Ravens (7-3): The brawl during the post-game handshake this week will be epic. My problem with Baltimore is their consistency. They can clearly play with any of the others in the AFC, it’s just a matter of showing up if they go on the road.
New Orleans Saints (7-3): Jimmy Graham, the best hope this season, sat quietly at home while the U’s touchdown streak ended.
Chicago Bears (7-3): Maurice Jones-Drew was too busy not scoring a touchdown at the end of a game to comment on Cutler’s injury this time.
Dallas Cowboys (6-4): Tony Romo probably thought Dallas had to go for two if they scored in overtime.
Detroit Lions (7-3): I was wondering when Kevin Smith was going to do something new. Clerks was so long ago.
THE JETS-GIANTS GAME WILL BE FUN TIER
Atlanta Falcons (6-4): My man Tony Gonzalez is still going strong, about to make it 13 straight years with 60+ catches. Only Witten, Gates, and Sharpe have even managed to do that more than 3 years in a row during the same span.
New York Giants (6-4): That loss to Seattle is going to start looking really big in a few weeks.
New York Jets (5-5): I know TBL wants to bury his Jets, but it’s not exactly a quality fight for the #6 seed. 9-7 may do it.
THESE ARE POTENTIAL AFC PLAYOFF TEAMS TIER
Cincinnati Bengals (6-4): Even though he has thrown some interceptions and they’ve lost two in a row, my opinion on Dalton has improved. Seen some nice throws.
Oakland Raiders (6-4): No contending team has a collection of worse losses than the Raiders at this point, but they’ve also played better against some good teams.
Tennessee Titans (5-5): The old new Chris Johnson was back this week after managing to be just as awesome as a guy who hadn’t played in a few years against the worst team in football at defending running backs (Carolina).
Philadelphia Eagles (4-6): Your move, Tebow.
THE MVP CANDIDATES TIER
Miami Dolphins (3-7): Miami would wait until they were eliminated and after they made my Miami as wildcard team pick look ridiculous before they start playing like a playoff team.
Buffalo Bills (5-5): Buffalo is learning that turnovers, when not supported by other good defensive play, won’t last, and that Ryan Fitzpatrick is inconsistent. Injuries on the offensive line are not going to help going forward.
Denver Broncos (5-5): Von Miller, Von Miller, Von Miller, Von Miller, Von Miller.
San Diego Chargers (4-6): The Chargers’ best win this year is either against Denver or Miami. Norval is in the final phase as a coach.
Seattle Seahawks (4-6): Seattle can win the division if they win all the remaining games and San Francisco loses every one. There’s hope.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6): LeGarrette Blount has the highest highlight run to career yards ratio in the league.
THE OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS CALL THE PLAYS TIER
Arizona Cardinals (3-7): It’s a crime that John Skelton wasn’t allowed to stay in the game and lead a comeback after starting 6 for 19 with 3 interceptions. Dude’s clutch.
Carolina Panthers (2-8): Carolina has now lost 7 games where it was close in the last quarter of the game.
Cleveland Browns (4-6): Peyton Hillis to the Browns– “why don’t we call this next road trip what it really is. A nice long break.”
Washington Redskins (3-7): Mike Shanahan’s freezing the kicker timeouts have negative value.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7): I think the more interesting question is whether Jacksonville should have run it on the previous play, trying to catch Cleveland anticipating pass.
THE “AT LEAST WE HAVE NICE WINTERS TO LOOK FORWARD TO” TIER
Kansas City Chiefs (4-6): After opponent adjustments, Tyler Palko’s passer rating was -6.5.
Minnesota Vikings (2-8): Donovan McNabb’s yards per attempt: 6.6. Christian Ponder’s yards per attempt: 6.6. Probably bigger problems there, and now Adrian Peterson is out for a while.
St. Louis Rams (2-8): Sam Bradford’s yards per attempt in 2010: 6.0. Sam Bradford’s yards per attempt in 2011: 6.0.
THE “DON’T GEL TO LOSE CALDWELL” TIER
Indianapolis Colts (0-10): A week without the Colts is a week without cold, gray skies.
[photo via Getty]