Both New Orleans and Atlanta could push their way into the playoff picture. The Saints need to shore up a weaker than expected secondary, and Atlanta needs to improve both against the rush and pass. The major difference is that the Saints are trying to win now while the Falcons are in their first year of a major rebuilding effort.
The teams outside of the playoff conversation include teams with that started the season with reasonable Super Bowl dreams like the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys and the Seattle Seahawks. All three have been hampered by injuries. And the Vikings suffer from bad quarterbacking.
The true doormats of the conference are the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers. Both are 2-6 and have been spinning their wheels for a while. The Rams look like they are biding their time until a full-scale overhaul starts in the offseason. The 49ers will be an interesting test for their fiery new coach, Mike Singletary. The Detroit Lions are winless, 0-8, but last month they fired longtime and famously incompetent Team President Matt Millen. So even if the Lions fail to win a game this season, the campaign will be a success.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.