The NFL season is half over, and as the weather gets colder, fans and teams alike turn their attention towards the playoffs. With that in mind, here are four teams who could make a surprising run and end up as one of the final 12 teams in January.
Buffalo Bills: It's barely November, and the Bills have already matched their win total from all of 2018. Quarterback Josh Allen keeps improving week over week, giving the NFL's fourth-best defense (by yards per play) enough room to take control. Granted, part of the Bills' 6-2 start is down to their relatively weak schedule, ranked 24th in the NFL in strength by 2018 record. Still, it is the team's best start since 1993, the team's last Super Bowl appearance, so that has to count for something.
Indianapolis Colts: Like the Raiders, the odds were stacked against Indianapolis from training camp, when veteran quarterback Andrew Luck surprisingly retired. Jacoby Brissett has risen to the challenge and kept the Colts in the playoff hunt, but the true key to their 5-2 record has been rookie running back Marlon Mack, who is in the top-10 in rushing yards. Brissett's knee injury last week may be a roadblock to the team's progress, depending on whether he starts Sunday's game against the Dolphins.
Oakland Raiders: Give Jon Gruden all the credit in the world for pulling this team through what seemed like the most hopeless situation imaginable. After a disappointing first season in charge, an absolute circus of an off-season featuring the antics of Antonio Brown, and with the shadow of an impending move to Las Vegas over their heads, the Raiders have performed above and beyond all expectations. With their win last night on Thursday Night Football, they are one game behind Kansas City in the AFC West and in the thick of the conference playoff picture.
Carolina Panthers: Like the Colts, the Panthers have dealt admirably in the absence of their star quarterback. Carolina has been trending downwards since their loss in Super Bowl 50, but they straight-up looked like a dead team walking when they were forced to press Kyle Allen into service after Cam Newton suffered an ankle injury in Week 2. Today, the Panthers sit at 5-3, a half-game short of a wild card spot, with Allen playing well enough for pundits to float the unthinkable idea that the Newton era in Charlotte may be over.