NFL power rankings: Taking stock of top playoff contenders in NFC, AFC

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We’ve rounded the corner on the first half of the season and are tumbling toward Thanksgiving football, so it’s time to take stock of the NFL playoff race.

In the NFC, there appear to be five playoff locks, and a big mess for the final two postseason spots. The Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals are dueling for the best record in football, while the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hot on their heels.

All five of those teams seem like legitimate Super Bowl contenders, but the drop off to No. 6 is steep.

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is chased by Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) in the second half of the Chiefs' 31-9 loss in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Feb. 7, 2021.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is chased by Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) in the second half of the Chiefs' 31-9 loss in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Feb. 7, 2021.

The New Orleans Saints are the only other NFC team with a winning record through 10 weeks and they are playing with a backup quarterback for the rest of the season. The Carolina Panthers, courtesy of a Cam Newton bump, and the San Francisco 49ers, after Monday night’s blowout of the Rams, are wildcard contenders, but I don’t like either’s chances of going on the road and winning a meaningful game in January.

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In the AFC, there are more teams with realistic playoff aspirations — nine teams currently have winning records — but few who seem capable of winning the whole thing. The Buffalo Bills have a chance. So do the Tennessee Titans, even without Derrick Henry. And it would be foolish to write off the amazingly-now-in-first-place Kansas City Chiefs so long as Patrick Mahomes stays healthy. But that’s about where I draw the line for now.

Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, with four straight wins, are the second-hottest team in football behind the Titans, and Belichick’s playoff genius is unmatched. But the Patriots still are starting a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones and have beaten just one team with a winning record on their way to 6-4.

As for the Detroit Lions, well, players can start making plans for Cabo, if they haven’t already. And as I was unfortunately reminded last week, there’s a good chance the coaching staff will be in Mobile, Alabama, in early February to coach the Senior Bowl.

This week's power rankings

1. Green Bay Packers (8-2)

2. Arizona Cardinals (8-2)

3. Tennessee Titans (8-2)

4. Buffalo Bills (6-3)

5. Dallas Cowboys (7-2)

6. Los Angeles Rams (7-3)

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3)

8. Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

9. Baltimore Ravens (6-3)

10. New England Patriots (6-4)

11. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4)

12. Los Angeles Chargers (5-4)

13. Las Vegas Raiders (5-4)

14. New Orleans Saints (5-4)

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3-1)

San Francisco 49ers running back Eli Mitchell (25) runs against Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) and inside linebacker Troy Reeder (51) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
San Francisco 49ers running back Eli Mitchell (25) runs against Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) and inside linebacker Troy Reeder (51) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

16. San Francisco 49ers (4-5)

17. Indianapolis Colts (5-5)

18. Cleveland Browns (5-5)

19. Denver Broncos (5-5)

20. Minnesota Vikings (4-5)

21. Carolina Panthers (5-5)

22. Seattle Seahawks (3-6)

23. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)

24. Chicago Bears (3-6)

25. Atlanta Falcons (4-5)

26. New York Giants (3-6)

27. Washington Football Team (3-6)

28. Miami Dolphins (3-7)

29. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7)

30. New York Jets (2-7)

31. Houston Texans (1-8)

32. Detroit Lions (0-8-1)

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: NFL power rankings: Taking stock of top playoff contenders