NFL midseason report
Week nine is in the books. This means every team in the NFL is now at least halfway done with their season. This is a great time to take a good hard look at the league and evaluate what we’ve seen so far. There is no more “it’s still early” or “they just aren’t in their rhythm yet.” All 32 teams have given us a healthy sample size of football to examine. Here we go!
There are no winless teams left and nobody has surpassed seven losses. Mathematically everybody still has a shot at finishing at least 9-7, but for many teams that’s just not realistic. If you root for one of these teams I would recommend you start paying more attention to football on Saturdays, maybe even search for some way-too-early mock drafts as well.
NFC: 49ers, Lions, Bears Cowboys and Buccaneers
These teams are all a mess. The Niners took down the Falcons this weekend with Blaine Gabbert running the show, but that says far more about the Falcons than the middling 49ers. The Lions and Bears have been horrendous since day one and they share a combined record of 3-12. Things don’t get any easier going forward either as both squads have games left at Lambeau along with a heap of other toughies. The Cowboys should get Tony Romo back in the next few weeks, but Romo’s return does not guarantee the undefeated finish they may very well need. Games against the Packers and Panthers still remain and they won’t have a chance to steal games from their division title rivals as they have already played the Giants and Eagles twice. There have been few, if any, bright spots all season for these teams. The Buccaneers are the best of the bunch here and they would still have a shot in the AFC, but the NFC competition ahead of them is a bit too stiff. Jameis Winston has only had one terrible week and the defense has had lengthy stretches of competence, but this team is at least another year away from making a playoff push.
AFC: Chargers, Browns and Ravens
There are a few more teams that should be in this mix but the impotence of one division makes that impossible, don’t worry, we’ll get to that later. Not only are the Chargers just plain bad, they may actually run out of players this season. Phillip Rivers has been great again but losing Keenan Allen will slow his production down the stretch too. Changes are coming in Southern California. The Browns have been, well, the Browns. In what looked to be a tough division there was never much hope for this team but their attempts at relevance have once again proven to be feeble. If you’re going to be terrible, at least be more fun please. What happened to the Ravens? Some considered them to be a dark horse for a Super Bowl run this season but absolutely nothing is working for them and arguably their most productive player, Steve Smith, is out for the season. The Ravens may be the worst team in the NFL.
Divisional races over
It seems silly to call a divisional race just eight or nine games in, but half the divisions in the league are essentially sealed.
AFC East: The New England Patriots have a three game lead and they look an awful lot like a team that won’t lose a game in 2015. The Jets have been strong all season and gave the Pats a good run, but they probably won’t exceed 10 wins and that wouldn’t sniff the Patriots. The best teams left on their schedule this season are: Broncos, Bills, Jets and Giants.
AFC West: Three game leads are not insurmountable with eight games left but be honest with yourself, are the Raiders going to make up three games on the Broncos over the next eight weeks? No way.
AFC North: The Bengals are amazing and the next best team in the division lost Le’Veon Bell for the season and their star QB is our for at least 2-4 more weeks. This three game lead is going to grow substantially in the second half of the season.
NFC South: I wasn’t ready to call this division a lock until this week when the Falcons locked in their status as frauds. Cam Newton is a superhero and Ron Rivera’s defense is always better than the sum of its parts. This team has had two chances to prove themselves this season and they came through strong on both occasions. They are clearly the team to beat in the NFC.
Every year one division makes you wonder whether a divisional title is worthy of a playoff spot. This season is no different. These two divisions will only be sending one team to the playoffs; you can take that to the bank.
NFC East: Nobody in this division looks like they want to be in the playoffs. The Giants looked better in their first four games, where they went just 2-2, than they have in the last five. The Eagles are lucky to be .500. The Redskins have a few things going for them but there’s no way they crack eight wins. And we already covered the sorry Cowboys. The Eagles and Redskins can stop checking the wild card standings and work on catching up to the Odell Beckham Show.
AFC South: Where should we start? The division leaders are a measly 1-5 outside of the division and they just lost their star QB for 2-6 weeks. The Titans and Jaguars are both 2-6 and they’re just a game and a half out of first place. The Texans are an atrocity and they might be the best team in this heap of garbage. These four teams are a combined 6-17 outside of the division, good for a winning percentage of…. 26%. Remember when the Colts were the trendy Super Bowl pick? Do you? Because that time feels like it was a millennium ago. This division can best be described in two words, in all caps: DUMPSTER FIRE.
Intriguing wild card races
Both conferences have wide-open wild card races but the dominance of the AFC’s top teams means their wild card teams only have one way in to the playoffs while the NFC still has teams that could rise above the mêlée and swipe a division title.
AFC: There are four teams jostling for position that are hard to separate at this point. Three of those teams sit at 5-4. The Jets are one of those teams, but their best win comes against the Dolphins. Pittsburgh has more adversity to overcome than any of their wild card rivals but they too have five wins. Buffalo looks like a genuine playoff team with Tyrod Taylor slinging the pigskin but the Rex Ryan Show has been pathetic far too often in its first nine games. Health has been an issue in Buffalo as well but they should turn the corner soon. Oakland is a legitimate wild card contender too with Derek Carr’s strong play. The Raiders have a chance to join those three teams this weekend with a win, but for now they sit a half game behind at 4-4. They’re probably still a year away because of their defense but this good run of play is no fluke.
The Chiefs and Dolphins are hanging on for dear life at 3-5 and both teams are one loss away from checking the draft order. The Texans are 3-5 as well but two of their three wins came in the division and it would take a miraculous about-face to save the season and enter the wild card fray.
NFC: This wild card race has the division title variable that really shakes things up. The NFC North has two wild card contenders but one of those teams has to win the division, thus eliminating them from the wild card fight. The NFC West has three teams separated by just two games and they too will have one team exit the wild card race to claim the division title. This means that the wild card race is between the loser of NFC North’s title race, the two losers of the NFC West’s and the Falcons. To simplify, there are six teams competing for two wild card spots, but two more of those teams will make the playoffs by winning their division.
The Packers and Vikings share the same record and have yet to face off this season. Green Bay remains the division favorite but their defense has looked mighty soft recently. The Vikings have been exactly the opposite with great defense and a solid running game despite a lackluster, at best, passing attack.
Arizona has been the best team in the NFC West all season and they remain in pole position to earn the divisional crown. They have a balanced team with few holes and even if they don’t win the division they should still be a playoff lock. The Seahawks have failed to get the train rolling all season but are a sleeping giant at 4-4. This team looks and feels much different from the squad that won consecutive NFC titles, but part of me still feels like Seattle is a legit Super Bowl contender. The Rams bear a ridiculous resemblance to the Vikings but have a slightly better defense and less imposing offense. If Todd Gurley keeps tearing up defenses this Rams team will be a tough draw on wild card weekend.
The Falcons were the surprise of the season after their 5-0 start. Now they’ve come down to earth in a pretty shocking manner. Losing three out of four is bad but losing to the team the 49ers put on the field this weekend is appalling. As bad as things seem their hot start keeps them square in the playoff race. 6-3 is not a bad record, but when you look past the numbers it makes you wonder just how good this team is.
The Saints are on the outside of the playoff race looking in. Drew Brees has bounced back from what looked to be his slide into mediocrity but Rob Ryan’s defense is nonexistent. One more loss for this team should put them out of their misery and let them focus on next season. I’m not officially counting the Saints out… yet.
Biggest remaining games
If we take a look forward we see a heap of conference and division games that promise to shape the playoff race over the final weeks of the season. Here are the biggest games of each week for the rest of the season.
Week 10: Arizona at Seattle
Week 11: Green Bay at Minnesota
Week 12: Buffalo at Kansas City, Minnesota at Atlanta and New England at Denver
Week 13: Arizona at St. Louis, Seattle at Minnesota and Kansas City at Oakland
Week 14: Minnesota at Arizona (Thursday night) and Atlanta at Carolina
Week 15: Houston at Indianapolis
Week 16: Washington at Philadelphia (Saturday Night), Carolina at Atlanta, St. Louis at Seattle, Green Bay at Arizona and Cincinnati at Denver
Week 17: New York Jets at Buffalo, Oakland at Kansas City, Minnesota at Green Bay and Seattle at Arizona
Over the next few weeks some of these teams could fall out of the playoff race and make these matchups worthless, but most of these games will be pivotal, all the way down to week 17.
The first half of the season has been intense, entertaining, surprising and confusing. The second half will provide more of the same while offering answers to many of our biggest questions. Here’s to the second half of the season.