The 2016 NFL Season is about to enter the “home stretch”

The final five weeks of the 2016 NFL Season loom ahead for football fans across America. This wildly entertaining campaign, filled with excitement, drama and controversy, is about to get even more interesting. Contending teams are jockeying for playoff positions. The holiday season is closing in. Regular season football is almost over. Here are five things to think about as we enter the “home stretch.”

The Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders should be the current Superbowl favorites.

The Cowboys and Raiders are the two best teams in the NFL right now. Dallas leads the NFC in offensive production; the Raiders lead the AFC. Dallas owns the NFC’s best record at 10-1. Oakland’s 9-2 record is the best in the AFC.

Quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Derek Carr are making their cases for the league MVP award. Running back Ezekiel Elliot and wide receiver Amari Cooper are providing protection and additional offensive firepower [Elliot is also an MVP candidate].

Defense is the main concern for both teams. The Cowboys’ defensive unit was finally tested by rival Washington on Thanksgiving; they did not play well. The Raiders’ defense is inconsistent and has been all season. The offenses are playing double duty. It has been working, so far.

Dallas and Oakland are positioned to receive their respective league’s number one seed. They would earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if they keep winning. One thing is for sure: the Cowboys and Raiders should be the Superbowl favorites right now.

The Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs need to be watched closely.

The Seahawks and Chiefs are one in the same: a team with a great defense but a suspect offense. Seattle leads the NFC West with a 7-3-1 record. The offense is inconsistent up front but quarterback Russell Wilson appears to be close to full strength. The defense leads the league in points allowed. The running game is improving. The Seahawks are undefeated at Centurylink Field. This team knows when to crank it up; it is that time of the year again.

Kansas City is second in the AFC West with an 8-3 record. Their recent victory against the Denver Broncos adds more confidence to an already motivated group. The defense is one of the league’s best in forced turnovers. The offense is inconsistent but continues to find ways to score enough points to win. The Chiefs aren’t pretty, but winning is the only thing that matters.

Both of these teams got hot at the right time last season. They look to be doing the same thing this time around. Seattle and Kansas City are two teams that the rest of the NFL needs to keep a close eye on.

The Packers, Cardinals and Panthers disappointed in 2016.

Green Bay is problematic on the defensive side of the ball. The Packers’ offense cannot save the season by themselves. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ recent media criticism has added more fuel to this already blazing inferno. The Detroit Lions are two games ahead and Minnesota already defeated Green Bay this season. Third place in the NFC North is surprising. The Packers might already be in a hole too deep to climb out of.

Arizona fell apart offensively this season. Quarterback Carson Palmer’s performance has been mediocre to say the least. A solid running game is keeping the Cardinals’ offense afloat but everything else is lackluster. The defense is beginning to decline from its early season dominance. 4-6-1 is tough for Arizona to overcome, especially when Seattle is the team they are chasing. The playoffs might not be in the cards this season.

Carolina is the worst of the three. The defending NFC Champions are 4-7 and realistically out of the playoff race. Quarterback Cam Newton regressed from his 2015 MVP season. The offense is inconsistent both in the air and on the ground. The defense took several steps backward. The Panthers are an absolute mess. Factor in the 1-3 record against division opponents, Carolina’s season is over. This was easily the most disappointing team in 2016.

The Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos are tough to figure out.

The Falcons display a spectacular offense. The quarterback/wide receiver duo of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones is the best in the NFL. Their ability to score points should not be questioned. Atlanta is still a tough team to figure out. The defense is very suspect and pressure situations have never been kind to this franchise. One almost has to see it before they can believe it, when it comes to this team.

The Broncos are the defending Superbowl champions. Their defense is still one of the league’s best. The offense continues to regress as quarterback Trevor Siemian has been figured out. Denver sits behind Oakland and Kansas City in the AFC West. Third place is a tough spot to be in despite being 7-4. The Broncos already lost to the Raiders and Chiefs this season. This is a good team but the AFC might be too strong for them to sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card.

The Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions are pushing for postseason appearances.

The Dolphins began the season with a 1-4 record. Things were looking bad as the offense and defense underwhelmed. Six straight wins later, Miami is pushing for an AFC Wild Card spot. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is playing his best football. The running game is consistently performing. The defense elevated its performance to another level. The Dolphins will be interesting to watch over these final five weeks.

The Lions are the NFL’s “Comeback Kids” in 2016. Detroit consistently overcame fourth quarter deficits to sit at the top of the NFC North. The offense and defense are performing at a consistently solid level. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is quietly having one of his best seasons. The 7-4 record has Lions fans excited about a potential division championship. It would be the first NFC North championship since 1993 if Detroit can stay ahead.

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