Peaking at the right time
Seattle Seahawks: Dropping a 50-burger on the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills is one thing. Railroading the 49ers is quite another. I picked the Seahawks to win the NFC West before the season, and they probably will fall half a game short. But no team in the NFL is playing better entering the playoffs. Winning three road games in a row is tough, but Seattle's style of play should travel just fine.
Green Bay Packers:Clay Matthews makes all the difference for the Packers' defense. The team finally has a running game. A potential playoff bye awaits if Green Bay can beat Minnesota, which will allow safety Charles Woodson and wide receiver Jordy Nelson more time to get healthy. The Packers are in perfect position.
Denver Broncos: They barely have been challenged during a 10-game winning streak. Whether they get the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, the Broncos should be seen as slight AFC Super Bowl favorites over the New England Patriots. (The Broncos technically could drop to No. 3, but that would take a home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. That's not happening.)
New England Patriots: I'm used to seeing the Patriots play their very best in December, no matter the opponent. The Patriots have struggled in successive weeks against one of the league's best teams (49ers) and one of the worst (Jacksonville Jaguars). The Patriots might have to win two road games to make the Super Bowl.
Cincinnati Bengals: Yes, the franchise took a major step forward Sunday in Pittsburgh. This season should be viewed as a success for that victory alone. The Bengals no longer are lesser citizens of the AFC North, and their defense is playing outstanding. With all that said, quarterback Andy Dalton isn't playing particularly well. The Bengals rushed for 14 yards in Pittsburgh. This team has one-and-done written all over it, like last year.
San Francisco 49ers:I'm tempted to give the 49ers a pass for losing in Seattle just one week after being on the field for 92 defensive plays in New England. Then again, the 49ers now look unlikely to get a playoff bye. The pattern of "win, win, loss" has plagued them all season. It looks like they'll need three consecutive wins to reach New Orleans.
Heading in wrong direction
Houston Texans: The Texans need to win in Indianapolis or risk falling all the way to the AFC's No. 3 seed. Houston has been steamrolled twice in the last three weeks. The team is struggling to pick up yards in short-yardage situations, and the Vikings blitzed Matt Schaub into submission. The defense hasn't been as dominant. No matter what seed the Texans get, it would be a surprise to see them in New Orleans.