We'll grade each team using a scale of 1-10, with 10 representing a full head of steam as the playoffs approach. First in the AFC (including the three teams competing for the final two berths), then in the NFC:
Pittsburgh (12-3): With an NFL-best seven-game winning streak before last Sunday, the Steelers would have been tops on anyone's peaking-at-the-right-time list. Then Cincinnati happened. The loss didn't cost the Steelers the AFC's home-field advantage, but it did do considerable damage to their aura of invincibility. Momentum reading: 8.5.
New England (10-5): Guess who's tied with St. Louis for the league's longest current winning streak at five games? That's right, Mr. Bill's boys, those plucky Patriots. And you can expect that number to grow to six after Sunday's finale at Carolina. The Pats are a team nobody wants to face about now. Momentum reading: 9.5.
Oakland (10-5): With three losses and two ugly wins in their past five games, the Raiders are like an Indy car running out of gas two laps from the finish line. It's painful to watch and has to be tormenting Jon Gruden. Remarkably, a No. 2 seed is still within reach and that could make up for some of the recent self-inflicted wounds. Momentum reading: 6.0.
Miami (10-5): The Dolphins are 4-3 in the season's second half, with a pair of shutout losses and a disappointing showing at New England in their game of the year. Anybody see any reason to believe Miami is primed for a deep playoff run? We don't either. Momentum reading: 6.5.
Baltimore (9-6): Speaking of teams headed in reverse at the wrong time of the year, we give you the defending Super Bowl champions. Last year at this time they were working on a six-game winning streak that would grow to 11. But these Ravens have been handled in three of their past six games, and twice in three weeks. Momentum reading: 5.5.
N.Y. Jets (9-6): If they even make the playoffs, that would be momentum enough after the debacle against Buffalo. Oh, and nice clock management guys. Momentum reading: 5.0.
Seattle (8-7): The Seahawks have gone win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win in their last seven games. Their momentum has been only momentary. Momentum reading: 4.5.
St. Louis (13-2): The Rams have won their past five games by an average margin of 17.2 points. They've scored under 34 points just once in that span, and that was in their 27-14 conquest of San Francisco. And if they keep winning, they stay inside until August. Momentum reading: 10.0.
Chicago (12-3): The Bears are 6-1 in the second half and have lost only to Green Bay since opening day. Even more encouraging, their offense has started to pick it up as the playoffs approach. Momentum reading: 8.5.
Philadelphia (10-5): They've won seven out of nine after a 3-3 start, but it somehow doesn't feel like it. Their huge win over the Giants on Sunday should stoke things up, but how do you factor in this weird doubleheader of sorts with Tampa Bay? Momentum reading: 7.5.
Green Bay (11-4): The Packers have shown a tendency to play down to their opponent in the season's second half, but the flip side of that is that they get up for the big games. Guess what? All playoff games are big games. Momentum reading: 8.5.
San Francisco (11-4): Losing at St. Louis in December is forgivable. Losing at Dallas is not. The 49ers likely cost themselves a first-round home game, and that spells a cold trip to Green Bay or Chicago -- and an early playoff exit. Momentum reading: 6.5.
Tampa Bay (9-6): If it's late in the season, the Bucs must be rolling. By now it has become a rite of winter. A five-out-of-six run delivered another playoff berth, and now it's just a matter of how much hay Tampa Bay can make on the road as the No. 6 seed. Momentum reading: 8.0.