What to watch in the second half

1. The race for the final wild-card spot. Unlike the NFC, the AFC is well structured among the elite. Four of the top playoff spots are reasonably secure unless the Chiefs, Colts, Titans and Patriots blow it in the second half. The Chiefs lead by 3½ games with a concluding schedule of teams with a combined record of 25-40. The Patriots lead by 2½ games with a 28-28 closing schedule, and they have the benefit of playing the Dolphins at home in the second half. The Colts and Titans will battle it out for the AFC South title, but they have distanced themselves to a point in which they should have a No. 1 or No. 2 seed for the division winner and the top wild-card spot with the fifth seed. The Colts' closing schedule is easy and so is the Titans'. Someone will win the AFC North, with Baltimore in front with a two-game lead. That division winner should end up being the fourth seed. That leaves the Dolphins, Broncos and Bills battling for the last wild card.

2. It will be fascinating to see if the emphasis on the run will continue the way it is in the AFC. Except for the Steelers, Bengals and Patriots, 13 AFC teams have a chance to have 1,000-yard runners. Corey Dillon could still get hot in the second half, but he'd have to average 100 yards a game to reach his usual 1,000-yard standard. Jamal Lewis of the Ravens has a chance for 2,000 yards. It's been interesting watching the AFC becoming more of the running conference. Marvin Harrison of the Colts, Hines Ward of the Steelers and maybe Derrick Mason of the Titans are the only receivers with a shot at getting 100 catches. The AFC is loaded with young quarterbacks, so the coaches aren't putting as much pressure on the signal-callers to win games.

3. Dec. 7 is decision day in the AFC. That's when all the big games will be played to determine if division races are set or if the races will continue through the end of the month. On Dec. 7, the Colts visit the Titans, the Patriots host the Dolphins, the Chiefs go to Denver and the Bengals travel to Baltimore. Obviously, the North and South have the closest races, but in the East and West, it's not out of the question for the Patriots and Chiefs to clinch their divisions by then. The toughest challenge for the Dolphins is their closing schedule.

4. A great battle is shaping up for the MVP. Steve McNair nipped Peyton Manning for the first-half honors, but their stats are close. They have quarterback ratings in the 100s. They are completing better than 65 percent of their passes. They each should throw close to 30 touchdown passes. Don't count out Priest Holmes, who is a touchdown machine in Kansas City. With the Chiefs having such a big lead, Dick Vermeil might be able to save Holmes some for the playoffs. Dante Hall deserves honorable mention for his unbelievable string of returns. And don't leave out halfback Jamal Lewis. If he gets 2,000 yards, he might press McNair, Manning and Holmes.

5. The finish could be uncomfortable in the head coaching watch department. Gregg Williams of the Bills, Dave Wannstedt of the Dolphins and Marty Schottenheimer of the Chargers are under the gun. Williams and Wannstedt probably need to make the playoffs to keep their jobs. Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga really doesn't want to let Wannstedt go, so if the Dolphins clinch at least a wild-card spot, he should be safe. Williams is in the last year of his contract, so he's obviously in trouble. Schottenheimer needs a big second-half turnaround to get to his third season in San Diego. Dick Vermeil earned the right to get another contract in Kansas City if he wants to return next year. In New York, Woody Johnson probably won't put undo pressure on Herman Edwards after two trips to the playoffs and the injury that knocked out Chad Pennington for six games.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.