Many experts nationally last week were doing midseason awards and recaps but in my opinion, the midway point is after week nine. At this point every team has played at least eight games and is halfway through their season giving us a very good indication of where they stand.
1. Green Bay Packers (8-0): The defending Super Bowl champs look even stronger this year as they are healthier and Aaron Rodgers has had one of the greatest eight game runs a quarterback has had in league history. If there’s one flaw it’s that they are 31st in the league in terms of defending the pass.
2. San Francisco 49ers (7-1): While this year in the NFL has been all about passing, the 49ers have won by running the ball effectively, limiting mistakes and playing good defense. Their true tests are coming up in the next few weeks as they play the Giants at home this Sunday and travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens Thanksgiving night.
3. Baltimore Ravens (6-2): The Ravens whole season depends on the right arm of Joe Flacco. Is he the quarterback who led the game winning drive in a hostile environment this past Sunday? Or is he the quarterback that showed up a few weeks ago on Monday Night in Jacksonville? If the answer is the first one, the Ravens could very well be Super Bowl bound.
4. New Orleans Saints (6-3): With over 3,000 yards through nine games, Drew Brees is on pace to shatter the record for most passing yards in a season. That’s in large part due to the emergence of tight end Jimmy Graham and a rushing attack that is ranked ninth in the league.
5. New York Giants (6-2): After a stunning loss at home to the Seahawks, the Giants have won their last three and are now in the driver’s seat in the tough NFC East. While there are lots of reasons to jump on the bandwagon, proceed with caution. The Giants had the same record at this point last year and went on to miss the playoffs completely.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3): Before their loss at home against the Ravens, the Steelers were riding a four game winning streak. With four division games remaining, they are still in the hunt for a division title and possibly home field advantage.
7. Detroit Lions (6-2): The Lions have been the talk of the league this whole season. For the first five weeks it was all about how the team was undefeated. Then they lost the next two games and their sportsmanship (Harbaugh/Schwartz handshake, possible taunting of an injured Matt Ryan) followed by all the talk following their 45-10 smackdown of the Broncos leading to another week of “Is Tim Tebow going to ever become an NFL caliber quarterback?” talk.
Now the team can show in the second half that they have what it takes to be a contender with two games against the Packers and games on the road against the Bears and Saints.
8. New England Patriots (5-3): I am giving them the benefit of the doubt here. Not many teams have the personnel like the Giants and Steelers to get to Tom Brady. The pass defense has been a major flaw but even if they lose this week to the Jets, a division title is still a very realistic possibility. Their final five games are all very winnable.
9. Chicago Bears (5-3): The Bears have looked very impressive of late and if Jay Cutler continues to keep up the way he has played along with the other pieces in place, the Bears could be dangerous come January.
10. Atlanta Falcons (5-3): This past Sunday we all saw why the Falcons were willing to trade what they did for Julio Jones. The Falcons have won their past three games and with two games against the Saints remaining, they have a shot at winning the division.
11. Houston Texans (6-3): The Texans rushing attack has been excellent up to this point as Arian Foster and Ben Tate both have over 600 yards. The defense has been much improved as well recording 24 sacks through nine games. While the Steelers have been the only team they have beaten with a record over .500, you can only play who is on your schedule and the Texans are making the most out of it.
12. New York Jets (5-3): With three straight wins, it appears that the Jets have gotten their swagger back and it couldn’t have come at a better time. This Sunday they play the Patriots at home in a game that could have a huge impact on how the AFC East shapes up.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2): The Bengals have exceeded everyone’s expectations this season. Andy Dalton would be the talk of the league if it wasn’t for Cam Newton and the defense has been excellent. The second half of the season is the true indicator for the Bengals as they play four of their games against the Steelers and Ravens.
14. Buffalo Bills (5-3): With four of their next five games on the road, there is a chance that the Bills fairytale run could be coming to an end. If they have any chance of it continuing, Ryan Fitzpatrick (did you know he went to Harvard?) will have to play a lot better than he did this past Sunday against the Jets.
15. Dallas Cowboys (4-4): The Cowboys could be 7-1 right now but instead they are .500 and second in the NFC East. They have done a good job beating the teams they are supposed to beat but other than the 49ers (before anyone knew what they were capable of) the team is lacking a quality win. The next four games are all very winnable and could push the Cowboys back in the hunt.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5): Just look at how fickle the NFL is. Last week after pounding the Cowboys 34-7 at home, everyone was claiming the Eagles were back. Now they are coming off a rough loss at home to the Bears and many are saying the Eagles are done. Improving in any offseason the way the Eagles picked up players is tough let alone a shortened one. Look for them to bounce back in the second half.
17. San Diego Chargers (4-4): On paper the Chargers are easily the most talented team in a wide open AFC West. However have they have shown over the years, that doesn’t win games. They have three more games within the division including a home game against the Raiders this Thursday on a short week.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4): The Buccaneers have had a brutal schedule up to this point with their losses coming against the Lions, 49ers, Bears and Saints. After a year where he threw just six interceptions, most thought that Josh Freeman would regress but what has happened to Mike Williams? In his rookie season he had almost 1000 yards to go along with 11 touchdowns. Now midway through his second season, he is averaging less than ten yards a catch and only one touchdown.
19. Kansas City Chiefs (4-4): Credit the Chiefs after season ending injuries to Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles for climbing back into the division race. It might not last long though as the team has games against the Patriots, Steelers, Jets, Bears and Packers still on the schedule.
20. Tennessee Titans (4-4): It’s hard to believe that the main thing that has been holding the team back up to this point is Chris Johnson. Matt Hasselbeck has played very well considering the early season ending injury to his top weapon Kenny Britt. Right now Johnson is averaging three yards a carry and hasn’t shown his unmatchable burst that we have been accustomed to seeing throughout his career. All it takes is one run for Johnson to get back to form so while it will be tough to win the division, they could make some noise in the AFC.
21. Oakland Raiders (4-4): The Carson Palmer acquisition has looked far from a great one up to this point but with the team’s best playmaker Darren McFadden out along with limited practice time the odds were stacked up from the start. This week’s game against the Chargers is a huge one for them.
22. Minnesota Vikings (2-6): The Vikings got very unlucky to start the year but got to rest this past week after their first win with Christian Ponder as the starter. Ponder’s numbers may not be impressive but he has played very well in his two games as a starter. With a 0-4 start in a very tough division, the Vikings aren’t going to make the playoffs but they are a team to watch down the stretch.
23. Cleveland Browns (3-5): Like the Bengals, the Browns schedule was very easy the first half of the year. However unlike their division/state rival, they were unable to take advantage. Four of their eight remaining games are also against the Ravens and Steelers. Colt McCoy has this time to prove to the organization he is the quarterback of the future.
24. Carolina Panthers (2-6): Cam Newton and Steve Smith’s resurgence have been awfully fun to watch but that hasn’t lead to wins. Both games the Panthers have won the team has relied more on the running game then in weeks past.
25. Denver Broncos (3-5): After an embarrassing loss to the Lions at home, the Broncos had a huge win this past weekend in Oakland. It’s hard to believe but they are only one game back in the division race.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6): The Jaguars defense has played well this season ranking top five in the league for total yards allowed per game. However, the passing game has really struggled as rookie Blaine Gabbert doesn’t have many weapons and needs to improve his pocket presence. If Gabbert was able to learn some adjustments over the bye week, the Jaguars have the potential to play spoiler in the AFC.
27. Washington Redskins (3-5): The Redskins started off the year 3-1 but have lost their past four games and have looked like one of the league’s worst teams in the process. The Redskins should use these remaining games to examine their younger players to see who will be key pieces next season. On the bright side, they have a great pass rushing tandem in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
28. Seattle Seahawks (2-6): While the Seahawks haven’t been great, they at least deserve credit for being competitive. They lost two games by three or less and also managed to stun the Giants on the road. They have some winnable games on the schedule so there is a very realistic chance they could win six games and play a second place schedule next year.
29. Arizona Cardinals (2-6): Many had high hopes for the Cardinals this preseason, but they still have reason to be optimistic. Beanie Wells has played this year, Larry Fitzgerald is averaging a career high 17 yards a catch and the defense is very young. If the team finishes strong along with a full offseason for Kevin Kolb, we will probably all talk ourselves into the Cardinals again for what seems like the eighth year in a row.
30. Miami Dolphins (1-7): The record may not show it, but the Dolphins have been very competitive this year and could very easily have three or four wins. This past Sunday the team was clicking on all cylinders in a blowout win on the road against the Chiefs showing they haven’t quit on Tony Sparano.
31. St. Louis Rams (1-7): The lockout and the schedule haven’t done the Rams any favors this year. Sam Bradford was expected to build of his award winning rookie season but didn’t have a full offseason to learn Josh McDaniels’ complicated offense. Schedule wise, five of their losses were to the Eagles, Giants, Ravens, Packers and Cowboys. On the bright side, Steven Jackson has played fantastic the past few weeks and the team has a few winnable division games coming up.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-9): Even if Peyton Manning was healthy, it looked like the Colts would be heading downhill. Without him, the results are just ugly. Curtis Painter played well in his first two games as a starter but has been awful in his past three outings. At this point, the Colts have a few winnable games left on their schedule but if they do go 0-16, they deserve an asterisk by the mark.
The 2008 Lions didn’t lose a future hall of fame quarterback for the season or have nearly the amount of talent the Colts do. Most importantly, there wasn’t a quarterback prospect as highly regarded as Andrew Luck in the 2009 draft to possibly tank for. If they get to 0-12, the nation needs a member of the ’08 Lions (Roy Williams?) to step up and enter Mercury Morris ’72 Dolphins mode.