We have just one week remaining in the 2015 regular season, but the gap between the NFL's best team and the ninth- or 10th-best team is arguably smaller than it has been all season.
Teams that were at the top just one month ago have taken a nosedive, while other teams that were below .500 midway through the season are peaking at the right time.
So, who's the best of the best right now? Here's one man's attempt to sort things out and rank the NFL's five best teams through 16 weeks of play.
(Note: These rankings are based on teams most likely to win the Super Bowl as of today, not on overall record or the results of last weekend's games.)
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Remember when the 2008 Arizona Cardinals were called the worst playoff team in NFL history (before they went to the Super Bowl)? Well, this year's Steelers may be one of the all-time best teams to miss the postseason.
Yes, the Steelers fell to the injury-depleted Ravens on Sunday (rivalry games, am I right?), but they're still one of the most fearsome teams in the league. After the Patriots, no AFC team in playoff contention has a QB nearly as talented as Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers have a stellar receiving corps that rivals the Cardinals' unit. If Pittsburgh is shut out of postseason play, the AFC will breathe a collective sigh of relief.
4. New England Patriots
The injury-plagued Pats still have the AFC's best record, they're still the conference's top team despite Sunday's overtime loss (and puzzling coin-toss decision) at the Jets, and they're the most likely to come out of the AFC this season.
Why? Consider the starting QBs for the AFC's other playoff teams as of today: Alex Smith, A.J. McCarron, Brock Osweiler, Brandon Weeden and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Would you really pick any of these men to upstage Tom Brady in the postseason?
3. Seattle Seahawks
"What?!? Didn't you watch the Seahawks lose to the Rams at home on Sunday?"
I did. I also remember what happened during Week 16 of the 2013 season: The Seahawks laid an egg at home and fell 17-10 to the Arizona Cardinals. Six weeks later, the Hawks dismantled Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seahawks do have serious concerns in the rushing department minus Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls. But they still have MVP candidate Russell Wilson, the Legion of Boom, and a confidence/swagger that few NFL teams have enjoyed. Be honest: Do you really want any piece of this team in the postseason?
2. Arizona Cardinals
The Cards are probably the NFL's most complete team. They're the only team that ranks in the top five in points per game (first), total offense (first), points allowed (fourth) and total defense (fifth). Carson Palmer is having his best-ever NFL season, rookie David Johnson is the league's hottest running back, and against the Packers on Sunday, the Cards' defensive proved it's still a formidable unit without Tyrann Mathieu.
So... why aren't the Cards No. 1 on this list? See below.
1. Carolina Panthers
Three reasons why the Panthers are still a notch above the Cards despite Sunday's loss at the Falcons:
1. The most telling stat in nearly NFL game is the turnover battle. The Panthers are by far the NFL's best team in that category, boasting a plus-19 margin this season.
2. Cam Newton is this year's league MVP. He has made stars out of guys like Ted Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery -- receivers who would be MIA on the Cardinals' depth chart -- and his ability to crush the souls of defenses by picking up first downs with his feet is invaluable.
3. Carolina has the NFL's best passer rating defense (74.1). The Cardinals are fourth (78.6), but without Mathieu, that stat has to be taken with a grain of salt. (Keep in mind: Arizona's defense on Sunday was aided by the Packers missing three starting offensive linemen.)
At University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cardinals might be favored to edge Carolina. But on a neutral field -- let alone in Charlotte -- Newton and the Panthers remain the team to beat.