By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
It’s a total crapshoot in the AFC.The two teams with the best records are Pittsburgh and Houston and both have some big chips stacked against them. The Ravens and Patriots are severely flawed. The Bengals, while a nice story, are probably not there yet. The Titans, after a good start, are swimming in inconsistency and mediocrity. And anyone who truly believes in a single AFC West team might well not be playing with a full deck.

Let’s start with the Texans. They are 7-3 and seemed poised to make their first ever postseason appearance. They still may well, but will have to do it without QB Matt Schaub, who broke his foot in last week’s win over Tampa and is out for the year. Houston has won games without its two best offensive players not named Schaub, running back Arian Foster and receiver Andre Johnson, as well as it’s best defensive player, Mario Williams. But without their QB? And with career disappointment Matt Leinart taking over? We’ll see.

The Pats obviously have major issues on defense, regardless of last week’s monster effort against the Jets. Baltimore beats good teams (Houston, Pittsburgh twice) but follows up wins like that with inexplicable duds against the likes of Jacksonville and Seattle (last week, on the heels of a huge, comeback win over the Steelers, the Ravens chose to give star back Ray Rice five carries while letting massively inconsistent QB Joe Flacco throw 52 passes against the Seahawks. Um, what?). The Jets (5-5) are no more than trick-or-treaters and if their 21-point home loss to the Pats didn’t tell you that, their hideous loss to the Broncos last night should. And the West is a carousel of confusion, with division leading Oakland following up a blowout loss at home to Denver with a blowout win on the road against the perpetually disappointing Chargers just four days later.

At the end of the day, there will be six playoff teams from the AFC (likely Pittsburgh, the Pats, Houston, Oakland, Baltimore and either the Jets or Bengals, in that order), just like in every other year. And naturally, one of those six teams will go to the Super Bowl. But given the way the first 10 weeks of this season have played out, it’s hard to have much faith in any of them.

This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Green Bay: Granted, the competition was weak (Minnesota), but the Packers made their 45-7 win on Monday night look so easy, it was borderline effortless. The production on offense, which comes from everywhere, continues to amaze. This is the best team in the NFL since the 2007 Patriots.
2. San Francisco: The most impressive aspect of the Niners 27-20 win over the Giants? The fact that stud running back Frank Gore carried six times for zero yards yet QB Alex Smith still managed to lead the offense to over 300 total yards and the victory. San Francisco keeps passing every test it takes and after Thanksgiving night at Baltimore, has just one more game on the schedule against a team with a winning record.
3. Pittsburgh: The Steelers bounced back from their brutal loss to the Ravens with a gutty, division win on the road over the upstart Bengals. Now they can enjoy a much needed bye week, which will give Ben Roethlisberger’s bad thumb a little extra time to heal.
4. New Orleans: The Saints hit the bye on a good note, having beaten the Falcons despite a blown, late lead thanks to Atlanta coach Mike Smith failed gamble on fourth-and-1 from his own 30 in overtime. Their next two games after the week off will be very tough (Giants, Lions) but they get em both at the Superdome.
5. (tie) Giants/Bears: The G-men were nine yards from another rousing, late-game comeback at San Francisco while the Bears annihilated the Lions at home and are looking as good as if not better than they did at any point during their NFC Championship game run from last season. Both of these teams will make the playoffs and both will likely be factors.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Indianapolis: 0-10 and more lunatic statements from team president Bill Polian (this week, he said that coach Jim Caldwell is doing a better job this season than at any other point during his tenure, a stretch that includes a Super Bowl trip two years ago) but at least their fans don’t have to watch them play this week. The Colts have been outscored 137-27 in their last four games.
2. Minnesota: There are a host of teams at 2-7 but the Vikings probably have the most talent of any of them. They were vaporized in Green Bay on Monday night in a game that was over eight minutes into the first quarter. At one point, ESPN broadcaster Mike Tirico noted that coach Leslie Frazier had the job because of how well he handled various controversies last season after being named interim head man. Because who cares if he can actually, you know, coach.
3. Carolina: The Panthers had the look of a team that was on the cusp but were just too young and inexperienced to make that leap yet for weeks. Then they got absolutely rolled by Tennessee, a team that pretty much defines mediocrity. There’s a bright future for Carolina but it’s nowhere near coming to fruition.
4. Cleveland: Folks have been writing/saying the the Denver Broncos offense is setting pro football back by decades. What about the Browns? They have no chance to score. As a team, they’ve scored one TD in their last four games. Yuck.
5. (tie) St. Louis/Washington: The Rams were the beneficiary of Cleveland’s ineptitude on offense last week, riding out a dull 13-12 win to move to 2-7. As for the Redskins, they put Rex Grossman back in at QB in their most recent loss and surprise! They had two more turnovers, gave up three more sacks and failed to score more than 13 points for the fourth time in five games. Washington has now lost five in a row and looking at its schedule, one more win this year would be a stunner. Which will probably earn “genius,” “elite,” “offensive mastermind” coach Mike Shanahan a contract extension.

What’s Trendy
Tim Tebow, Broncos: Speaking of the Broncos, who cares if Tebow completes just two passes in a game (out of just eight attempts) like last week at Kansas City? Or that they are the only team in 20 years to win a game when its QB completes so few? Tebow’s a winner, for god’s sake. Look what he did against the Jets last night. 12 plays in 95 yards in the last three minutes (five Tebow runs, three complete Tebow passes, a game-winning, 20-yard TD jaunt). The modern game be damned! And if you’re offended that the Broncos have now won four of five and are firmly entrenched in the muddled AFC playoff picture even though it’s been done basically running a college offense? Get over yourself. Wins are what matters, not aesthetics. Tebow for life!
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks: In Seattle’s last two games, Lynch has run the ball 55 times for 244 yards and two TDs. For a team as limited at quarterback (Tarvaris Jackson?!?!) as the Seahawks, that’s pretty important.
John Skelton, Cardinals: The Cards traded for Kevin Kolb to fix their unsettled QB situation but it looks like the possible answer was right under their noses. Kolb went 1-6 before getting hurt and Skelton is 2-0 since, including a massive, road win over the Eagles last week. Kolb is still not healthy enough to play but if Skelton can engineer another victory this week – on the road against the Niners – he has to keep the job.

What’s Not
The Bucs: This season was supposed to be the next step for Tampa, which won 10 games last year and looked like one of the league’s best up-and-comers. But there’s been a major step back as they’ve now lost four of five, including a 37-9 shellacking at home to the Texans last week. NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi wrote this week that, “there’s nothing the Bucs do well.” Ouch.
The Bills: Another great start looks to going down in flames for the star-crossed, Western New York franchise. Buffalo was 3-0 and 4-1 but is now 5-4 and have road games against the Jets and Patriots still on the docket. Bills fans deserve something better than just a good Septmeber. It looks like they may have to wait another year for it.
The Eagles: Another loss, again at home and again with a fourth quarter lead against a team with nowhere near the talent level they have. It’s the same old song for poor Eagles fans, who must be thrilled that owner Jeff Lurie has once again given them the metaphorical finger but continuing to back woeful head coach Andy Reid. The culture in Philly, as has been mentioned here ad nauseum, is to collect players, have Reid completely mismanage them and do just enough to never, ever win anything of note with zero repercussions. Even if the Eagles bounce back from this most recent mess they find themselves in and go from 3-6 to something like 8-8, Reid has got to go. At what point does underachieving every single year become grounds for some kind of negative consequences? It would seem in Philly that the answer is never.

And finally…
In the interest of giving every team (even the shitty ones) a fair shake here at PD, let’s take a quick look at the upstart Miami Dolphins, who have gone from being a laughingstock on the level of the Colts to a legitimate threat on the in the span of four games. Sure, they’re just 2-7 and they not only have no chance of making the playoffs but their coach, Tony Sparano, will surely be fired after the season even if they run the table (note: they won’t). But during their two-game win streak, they’ve outscored their opponents (Kansas City and Washington) 51-12. And in their previous two games, both losses, they fell by a combined six points and led each game into the fourth quarter. This week, they get the reeling Buffalo Bills at home, where they just won their first game since late in the 2009 season. And after that, they play the Cowboys on Thanksgiving and anyone who’s watched a football game over the past 15 years knows that Dallas is fully capable of losing to anyone at any time. At 0-7, the Dolphins could have packed it in and staggered to the finish line in the hopes of getting the first pick in the 2012 Draft and selecting Stanford star QB Andrew Luck. But they kept working, kept fighting and now, although they are more than likely out of the Luck sweepstakes, at least have a modicum of self-respect. It’s an impressive feat. Miami is the best lousy team in the NFL.