Bill Parcells famously said, "You are what your record says you are," and from a certain vantage point, he was right.
The more games you lose, the harder you make it on yourself to get into the playoffs. Teams that moan and whine about being better than their record don't have much ground to stand on in the actual standings. There's a bottom-line element to a team's record that absolutely can't be dismissed.
But Parcells was also partially wrong, too -- or perhaps there was some context missing. Sometimes teams' records are deceiving. After all, he should know best: Parcells' final two Super Bowl appearances as a coach came when his team did not have the best conference record that season.
There's also far more recent history of teams outperforming their regular-season marks in the playoffs.
Just last season, the 10-7 Bengals beat the 12-5 Titans in Tennessee in the Divisional Round. The 10-7 49ers topped the 12-5 Cowboys in Dallas in the Wild Card Round. The 12-5 Rams beat the 13-4 Bucs in Tampa. And so on ...
What's a team's point differential? Who did they beat and lose to? Which injuries must we factor into earlier losses (or wins)? Which games are left on the schedule? Even those questions don't account for how certain teams might be better matched up vs. specific opponents, including ones with better win percentages.
The overarching idea is this: Records might be a tidy way of determining playoff matchups, but they're not always gospel when it comes to assessing an accurate league hierarchy.
So let's try to sort through the records and look past the surface-level win totals to see who truly belongs in the discussion of the better NFL teams, with the playoffs drawing near -- and which ones are merely cosplaying as contenders.
Three teams better than their record indicates
San Francisco 49ers
Our timing honestly could have been better, given that our pick for the top spot here is coming off a somewhat listless offensive performance against the Saints. But with a defense that has been shutting teams down lately -- San Francisco has posted four straight second-half shutouts and is maintaining an active streak of 94 minutes without a point allowed -- and a collection of elite skill players, this team can hang with anyone.
At 3-3, the product looked tepid. The Chiefs tore up that defense in a second-half smackdown at Levi's Stadium in Week 7, prompting fair questions about the long-term viability of the Niners. But since that point, they've been pretty dominant. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been great during San Francisco's four-game win streak (72.3 percent completion rate and a 7:0 TD-to-INT ratio in that span). The melding of trade acquisition Christian McCaffrey into the offense has been seamless. Potential bad health luck (Elijah Mitchell suffered a sprained MCL on Sunday) is the one concern that still looms for this offense.