Oakland: They're no longer the punch line to a joke. The Raiders have beaten San Diego and Kansas City at home, are 5-4 and are doing it with very good offensive line play and an outstanding running back in Darren McFadden. As of late Jason Campbell has playing well behind center, potentially stabilizing the QB position. The defense isn't dominant, but nor is it a sieve. Can they go on the road to KC and San Diego and win down the stretch? That's what it's all about right now and they also have a road game in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Kansas City: I get the sense they're fading. Well, maybe it's not a sense, maybe it's that they lost their last two games, the most recent by twenty points to a last-place team. I like the Chiefs' ability to run the ball and Matt Cassell is efficient enough at quarterback with that kind of support. What I'm concerned about is that their fine pass-rushing linebacker Tamba Hali doesn't get enough help on defense and that's catching up to them after a 3-0 start that's seen them lose four of the last six.
San Diego: Here we go again. For the fourth straight year, Norv Turner looks to have this team peaking down the stretch. After a 2-5 start, the Chargers won clutch games against Tennessee and Houston, they have both KC and Oakland coming to their place down the stretch, they have Vincent Jackson coming back at receiver and they have the man who should be if MVP if we had to vote right now in quarterback Philip Rivers.
Denver: Their 49-29 win over KC on Sunday was the first real sign of life we've seen from this team all year. Kyle Orton is doing a fantastic job throwing the ball, but there's no help in the running game and the defense is atrocious.
Seattle: Their up-and-down, but they really have the potential for there to be a lot of ups. Matt Hasselbeck has to get healthy and they've got to get Marshawn Lynch fully integrated into the offense running the ball. I like their attack defensive strategy and they have the personnel in the secondary to enable them to go after the quarterback. Their weak road performance and an inexcusable no-show at home against the Giants give me pause, but at 5-4 and in first place, they are a team that could really put something together these next seven weeks.
St. Louis: A pleasant surprise and I may have to eat my words in saying Sam Bradford was just another in the long list of quarterbacks who've been drafted first overall busted. The Rams give steady and consistent effort each week. They won't have the talent to get much better than seven or eight wins and it looks like the Seahawks will exceed that. But give the Rams a lot of credit for how far they've come.
Arizona: A rough year after back-to-back NFC West titles and a Super Bowl trip behind Kurt Warner's passing. They've had injuries at receiver and have not been able to get Larry Fitzgerald untracked with big-play catches. The defense was a problem even when they were good. Give Ken Wisenhunt a couple seasons to retool this roster, but for now the Cards are back in obscurity.
San Francisco: Are the 49ers surging? They've won three in a row and after that 0-6 start they could make a push at Seattle for the division. The winning streak coincided with inserting Troy Smith for Alex Smith at quarterback and once that happened, Frank Gore started running the ball better too. I think the hole they dug was too deep, but getting to 8-8 and saving Mike Singletary's job wouldn't surprise me at this point.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.