After sweeping the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular season, the Ravens sit on their roost above the rest of the AFC. Baltimore has arguably the number one defence in the league, led by veteran linebacker Ray Lewis. The defence is playing with the same passion that their defensive captain embodies. The Ravens’ offence had looked lost at times early in the year, but quarterback Joe Flacco is finally finding his young receivers open downfield, and running back Ray Rice is grinding games out when he has to. The Steelers have knocked Baltimore out of the playoffs twice since John Harbaugh took over. If this team can get around Pittsburgh, a Super Bowl berth may not be far off.
Having never made the playoffs — let alone posting a record higher than one game over .500 — Houston fans should finally have something to cheer for this January. The Texans boast a long proven formula that can take a team deep into the playoffs: play great defence and run the ball effectively. Former Dallas Cowboys’ coach Wade Phillips has taken the reigns of the Texan’s defence and has turned around a unit that has always found itself in the league’s gutter. The tandem of running backs, Arian Foster and Ben Tate, are both on pace for a 1,000-yard season under head coach Gary Kubiak’s very effective zone-blocking scheme. With a healthy Andre Johnson coming back from injury soon, the potential only grows for what could be a breakout season in Houston.
Honorable mentions : New England Patriots, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers.
Green Bay Packers
The defending Super Bowl champs still wear the championship belt. The Pack have not lost a game since late December last year and don’t look like they are ready to slow down anytime soon. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is making MVP voting easy for the Associated Press as he and the Packer’s offence have put on a clinic for opposing defences in the first half of the season. With only a handful of games — including two divisional games against the resurgent Lions — threatening to post a blemish on their record, the Packers should cruise into the top seed and may only have themselves to stop them from going 16-0.
San Francisco 49ers
Perhaps nobody but head coach Jim Harbaugh would have predicted how the 49ers have dominated thus far this season. The rookie head coach has his team playing some of the toughest ball in the league; running back Frank Gore has been crashing through opposing defences with great success while their strong defence smothers opposing offences. The 49ers have put themselves in position to clinch the NFC West within weeks, and it looks like San Francisco will have something to say about how the NFC playoffs shake out.
Honorable mentions : Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants.