Richard Lipski/Associated Press
DIE ANOTHER DAY The Washington Redskins
First Mike Shanahan said the season was over, and then he said it wasn't. Hey, Rex Ryan went to the AFC Title game three years ago after thinking his team was officially eliminated from contention. But the Redskins aren't as talented as the 2009 Jets. If their season isn't dead now, it will be after the bye when they have their Eagles/Cowboys/Giants gauntlet. RG3 has slowed the last couple of weeks, and I think you'll see a similarity to Cam Newton's 2011 where he fell off a bit as the season got long. Will Shanahan be around in 2013? Probably, because RG3 is a star. If he had sputtered, we'd have said a big D.C. hello to Jon Gruden in early January.
James Lang/US Presswire
A VIEW TO A KILL The Dallas Cowboys
Like Christopher Walken overlooking the world in that tricked-out helium contraption, Jerry Jones has had a great view (when he can get into the Cowboys locker room) of an underachieving team for years, and this year is no different. How are you 3-5 with an offense ranked third in passing and a defense ranked fifth defending it? The Cowboys are the opposite of that old cliche: The whole is so much worse than its individual parts. They don't have that one player, or core group of players, who can lead through the madness that goes along with being America's Team. When they had The Triplets to steady the team, they survived Jerry Jones' shenanigans. They don't have that now. At least Walken had Grace Jones and a cool Duran Duran theme song.
Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE The New Orleans Saints
They were cooked after an 0-4 start, but have caught fire since and are back to being the machine they were expected to be before the bounty scandal. For as loaded as everyone thinks the NFC is, the Saints are only one game back in the loss column from a playoff spot. Who do you have more confidence in the rest of the way to pile up wins and make the postseason: Minnesota? Detroit? Tampa Bay? Seattle? Anyone from the NFC East? New Orleans will be a wild-card team.
AJ Mast/Associated Press
QUANTUM OF SOLACE The Indianapolis Colts
I've seen this movie twice and have no idea what the title means. I also have no idea how the Colts are 6-3 with a rookie QB (albeit a pretty terrific one), no running game, no defense, and having to replace their head coach who took leave to battle leukemia. This is one of the great 'teams' in the league, one that has banded together among so much uncertainty to win games. They still have too many tough games left to expect a playoff spot, but everyone's rooting for them to get there.
Ron Chenoy/US Presswire
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN The Denver Broncos
OK, raise your hands all you pundits who thought Peyton Manning was finished and couldn't stay healthy. Right now, he's the MVP of the NFL. Other players are having great seasons, but does anyone mean more to his team than Peyton? It's not even close. Mark Sanchez could put up numbers in Atlanta's offense, and for all his recent heroics, I can't vote for Doug Martin for MVP on general principle until people stop calling him The Muscle Hamster. Sure, Beast Hamster would be an improvement, but let's focus on losing the 'hamster' part of it. Then we can talk.
Rich Barnes/Associated Press
TOMORROW NEVER DIES The Buffalo Bills
ow many years do we have to say in preseason "Boy, the Bills are really improved" only to see them float away like Wilson at the end of "Castaway"? Yet we keep coming back to them as an upstart team every season. The reality is Ryan Fitzpatrick has reached his ceiling as a QB, which by itself is terrific: For an undrafted guy out of Harvard to reach this level is awesome. But he's not winning games for Buffalo anymore and they're not reaching their potential despite two HUGE talents in the backfield in Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. And yes, there's a small part of me that really believes the beard is what's holding Fitzpatrick back.
Jon Ferrey/Associated Press
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER The Philadelphia Eagles
After George Lazenby left the franchise, United Artists (the Eagles) paid Sean Connery (Michael Vick, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, etc.) a record amount of money to get him back aboard the franchise. Instead of your basic Bond thriller (a good season), it was filled with campiness and humor (losses) and was widely panned by critics and moviegoers (sportswriters and fans). What was meant to be a triumph for Connery (Andy Reid) turned out to be his last role as Bond (Eagles head coach) until he resurfaced in 1983 (in San Diego).
Aaron M. Sprecher/Associated Press
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN The Houston Texan
Finally, it's here. The year where everything comes together and they make a Super Bowl run. They have everything you need to get to New Orleans: a top defense, a punishing running game, the ability to throw the football when they have to, and most likely two home playoff games to tilt the field in their favor. Right now, it's looking like a Broncos-Texans AFC Championship Game, and I'll take Houston over longtime nemesis Peyton Manning in a nailbiter. But if they don't do it this year? Watch out in 2013, where Andre Johnson's decline will continue, and Arian Foster will be coming off a 400-carry season. You don't just bounce back from that like you're 21.
Seth Wenig/Associated Press
MOONRAKER The Miami Dolphins
This film was when the Bond franchise temporarily jumped the shark. Roger Moore in outer space? Jason Voorhees in outer space made more sense. And the Dolphins in the thick of playoff contention is just as tough to explain. They have a rookie QB in Ryan Tannehill. They have no real playmakers outside of Reggie Bush, whose carries are diminishing. Their defense is 30th against the pass. Joe Philbin is good at keeping the field clean, but you have a hard time finding him on the sideline. Still, at 4-4 they're right there. Miami is greater than their individual parts (the Bizarro Cowboys). Watch them play and you can tell they believe in each other and in the game plan. They'll stay on the fringes of the playoff chase for a while.
More Photo Essays:
- 16 for '16: College football QBs we'd want with game on line
- 16 for '16: College football's most freakish athletes
- Mind-blowing stats for the Top 100 Players of 2016: 70-61
- 16 for '16: Offensive players who will be NFL stars
- All-X-Men Team
- 16 for '16: Defenders who will be NFL stars
- Top 30 undrafted players in NFL history
- 16 for '16: Impact transfers
- Mind-blowing stats for the Top 100 Players of 2016: 71-80