In any given week, a team at the bottom of the standings can pull off an upset, but a few squads that struggled early could make a push for a playoff berth in January.
As we head into the second half of the season, top contenders should beware some sub-.500 teams capable of putting together strong performances around Thanksgiving.
Several games into the term, a new coaching staff may have found its team's winning formula, a star player could provide a boost after recovering from an injury or a squad that lost some nail-biters might change its late-game fortunes with better execution in critical moments.
With a focus on borderline playoff hopefuls, let's take a look at the most dangerous teams to watch through the remaining nine weeks of the campaign.
Indianapolis Colts (4-5)
The Indianapolis Colts don't have a victory against a team with a winning record. Yet, they've won three of their last four games and went into overtime with the top two AFC squads in the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens.
The Colts had double-digit leads on the Titans and Ravens, so they can compete with the best in their conference, but a defense that ranked top 10 in points and yards allowed last year must find its way.
Earlier in the season, All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard talked about feeling the effects of an offseason ankle surgery. Still, he leads the league in forced fumbles (four) and may slowly get back to 100 percent, which would be a boost for the defense. Along with All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and cornerback Kenny Moore II, Leonard could help turn things around on that side of the ball.
Aside from a middling defense that's high on talent but short on results, the Colts need oft-injured quarterback Carson Wentz to stay healthy. If he's on the field, Indianapolis has a chance to win any game. Despite a couple of costly turnovers in a Week 8 loss to the Titans, the sixth-year signal-caller has bounced back from an awful 2020 campaign (16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions) with 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
While running back Jonathan Taylor handles a heavy workload on the ground, Wentz's connection with budding second-year wideout Michael Pittman Jr. carries the passing attack. If wideout T.Y. Hilton can shake off the injury bug, he would provide a much-needed deep-threat component to the offense.
With health on their side and better close-out performances on defense, the Colts could move up from 12th in the AFC to the sixth or seventh seed. They have matchups against the New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders, which may come with wild-card seeding implications.