There are a few pretenders who will, or may, make the playoffs.
The Packers? A pretender. Sure, Aaron Rodgers could get hot at any time. But Green Bay fans have been waiting for that all season and it hasn't happened. At this point, it can't be instilling any confidence in the fans or the team that we are going into week 17 and the Packers' allegedly explosive offense has, far more often than not, imploded in 2015. Yes, they were playing a top NFC team, but a playoff-bound team losing by 32 points? That's really, really bad.
One of those pretenders will not be Houston, though.
The Texans showed their recent string of decent play has not been a fluke. It seems the team just needed to jell, and they have done just that. The fact that they did it with Brandon Weeden, who seemed like a completely lost cause trying to get the Cowboys' potentially powerful offense to do anything more than sputter, speaks volumes to how much these guys are playing for one another right now. Yes, they just beat one of the worst teams in the league, but to put up a 28-point win on the road is still a big deal. If you want to know what the Steelers/Ravens game should have looked like, this was it. None of that is to say the Texans will win much of anything in the playoffs, but at this point they could, which makes them dangerous.
The Chiefs are getting harder to read.
Kansas City won by four over the Cleveland Browns -- whose quarterback, Johnny Manziel, managed to go just 13 of 32 -- and they did it at home. A team that was supposed to be one of the most dangerous playoff teams may still be just that, but they nearly lad an egg against a terrible team, in their own stadium. It can't be much of a vote of confidence for them as they eye their slimming chance to win the AFC West. Thy need a win and a Broncos loss to steal a division which Denver seemed to have a strangle-hold on just four weeks ago.
Pittsburgh wasn't the only top team to lose to a bottom-feeder on Sunday.
The Panthers' chances at a perfect season crashed and burned Sunday when they lost to the Falcons, who had managed to win just two games since starting 5-0 prior to their division showdown. The potent Panthers managed just 13 points in a mistake-riddled game. Likewise, the Rams defeated the Seahawks, who had become one of the NFL's hottest teams in recent weeks. Russell Wilson was making defenses look like they weren't even there, but then managed just 17 points against St. Louis.
For those questioning Mike Tomlin going for it on an early fourth down, don't forget Bill Belichick chose to kick off in overtime.
Sure, the Steelers could have used those three points they left on the field, but it was their first drive and they wanted to set the tone. It's a risk, but that early in the game, it's a calculated one -- and no one could have known just how important those three points would have been in a game that should never have been close in the first place. Belichick, on the other hand, opted to kick off in overtime, and his team never even touched the ball before it was over. It's possible the team captain simply said the wrong thing during the coin toss, given his reaction afterward. But I choose to believe that it was planned by Belichick. Don't forget, this is the guy who had a late lead, on the road, with the ball in their own territory, against a then-Peyton Manning-led offense, and chose to go for it on fourth and short. Simply kicking would have left Manning about a minute to move the length of the field. Instead, he was gifted great field position, and the Colts went on to steal the win. Sometimes, even the smarted coaches outsmart themselves.
College Football Bonus! Pitt gave it a valiant -- but late -- effort against the Midshipmen.
Against a ranked opponent in their own stadium? That's a tough draw in a bowl game. Pitt struck first, with a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown, but then gave up 31 straight points. They would claw back to within 10, but from there they traded touchdowns to lose by a final score of 44-28. It's tough for coach Pat Narduzzi to lose a bowl game in his first season, but it's not the end of the world. In fact, his recruiting efforts are already off to a fast start, so this Panthers team that found themselves ranked for a few weeks in 2015 could end up being a true competitor in the next season or two.
And finally...there is still a legitimate shot for the Steelers to make the playoffs.
Granted, I'm not confident in this team being a huge challenge considering their best hope at this point is to spend the entire playoffs on the road, where they have struggled this season. But they can still make the playoffs and maybe surprise us all. Entering week 15, they had complete control over their playoff hopes, but now they are leaving it in the hands of Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, who are the Steelers' last hope. A Bills win over the Jets combined with a Steelers' win over the Browns would still put Pittsburgh into the playoffs. Playing in Pittsburgh's favor is the simple fact that the only team Ryan may want to beat more than the Patriots is the Jets, who fired Ryan after a few down seasons. Taking it to them is probably at the top of Ryan's list. Also helping the Steelers is that Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel may be embroiled in yet another controversy after yet another video of him partying showed up on social media. Last time, he was demoted for a week to third-string. The chance may be a little slim, and our confidence in the team may be at rock-bottom after being swept by a very bad Ravens team, but there is still one more week to play out before we know the final fate of this team's regular season.