Has your team clinched a playoff spot, leaving you wondering what to pay attention to with a month to go in the NFL regular season? In an unusually top-heavy and familiar season — it is possible that only two of the 12 playoff teams will be different from last season — you have plenty of company. Three divisions have been settled and two more could be this weekend, but the playoff picture is still spectacularly scintillating. Colts-Broncos in the Peyton Bowl? Sign us up. But subplots — and no shortage of firings, benchings and questionable decisions — abound to tide us over until January. Put down the holiday catalogs and keep this guide handy.
Sit back and enjoy what may be the greatest performances by rookie quarterbacks in NFL history. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson might all lead their teams to the playoffs.
Luck: His numbers do not look great: a 55.5 completion percentage, 17 touchdowns, 16 interceptions. But last Sunday, Luck led his fifth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, the second of two touchdown drives in the final three minutes as the Indianapolis Colts came back from a 12-point deficit. With eight victories and ranking fourth in yards passing, Luck is doing more with less (the 18th-ranked running game and 21st-ranked defense) than Griffin or Wilson.
Griffin: The Washington Redskins quarterback is completing 67.1 percent of his passes, with 17 touchdowns and four interceptions, and has run — quickly — for 714 yards. He is giving everyone a tutorial in the pistol offense and is already the most dazzling player in the game.
Wilson: The most unlikely success of all, having not been drafted until the third round. With the help of one of the league’s best defenses, Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have been a revelation. He is completing 63.4 percent of his passes, for 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also has 298 yards rushing.
The few races to watch
There are not as many as usual, but the most intriguing will be the race in the NFC East, in which the New York Giants could be in a dogfight until the final weekend with the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys; the NFC North, in which the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears are tied, with a date in Chicago next Sunday; and the two AFC wild cards, which the Colts, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals will fight for.
Pertinent scheduling tidbits:
• Drew Brees, who faces the Giants today, is 4-0 in his career against them. After playing the New Orleans Saints, the Giants face the Atlanta Falcons and the Baltimore Ravens, who are a combined 11-1 at home this season.
• The Colts play the Houston Texans twice in the last four weeks.
• The Steelers and the Bengals meet Dec. 23.
At the top of the heap
They are probably going to be the playoffs’ top seeds. Can Atlanta and Houston earn a little respect, too? Houston plays the New England Patriots on Monday night, and then has the upstart Colts twice in the final three weeks. Atlanta gets the Giants at home, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season finale. Those are all good tests considering the Texans and the Falcons, both 11-1, have beaten teams with winning records only three times each.
Needing to stay home
The Ravens (9-3) are almost certainly going to make the playoffs. But no team may need home-field advantage more. The Ravens average twice as many points at home (34) as on the road (16.5).
The difference may not be so stark after a brutal final month, in which the Ravens will play four playoff contenders. Keep an eye on the road games: at Washington, which has the 23rd-ranked scoring defense, and on the final day of the season at Cincinnati, which has the 14th-ranked defense in points allowed.
Excellence by the sack
This is the most competitive race for defensive player of the year in a while, and it portends many more. All three contenders — J.J. Watt, Von Miller and Aldon Smith — are in their second seasons. Bill Belichick called Watt the most disruptive player in the league and said he looked like the defensive player of the year to him.
Watch Adrian Peterson run
Because nobody has approached 2,000 yards rushing less than a year after blowing out his knee.
The Kaepernick experiment
Any coach who has made a cameo on “Saved By the Bell" receives a lot of leeway, and Jim Harbaugh may need it if Colin Kaepernick’s play slides, as it did last week. Would Harbaugh go back to Alex Smith, benched after suffering a concussion, despite completing 70 percent of his passes and going 6-2-1 as a starter? Kaepernick is the quarterback of San Francisco’s future and Smith will be gone, but only the outcome of this season will determine if Harbaugh was correct to make the change when he did.
A lack at quarterback
After last Sunday, one would think there could be no debate about which team has the worst quarterback situation. By a point, the Arizona Cardinals lost (won?) the race to the bottom, losing to the New York Jets, 7-6, in as abominable a quarterback showdown as is possible while still throwing the ball forward. But hey, there are still four more weeks to consider. After that, there will not be many great options available to the Cardinals, the Jets and anybody else desperate to improve at the game’s most important position. (We are looking at you, Jacksonville.) The coming draft holds no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, and can any team count on striking mid-round gold the way Seattle did with Russell Wilson? The free-agent pool is going to be thin, too. The race will be on for Alex Smith and Michael Vick, assuming both are released. To the loser go the spoils.