We find ourselves at the halfway point of the season, with every team having played half their schedule to this point. This is when it gets real. We are entering the stretch run to determine the playoffs and where teams will begin to separate themselves. To note this, this will be a power ranking based on tiers.
These are the teams to be expected to be there at the end and have the best chance at the Super Bowl.
- New England – Despite suffering their first loss of the season, there is no reason for the Patriots to not be the absolute favorite. Losing to the supernova that is currently Lamar Jackson is nothing to get down on. The offense has been incredibly spotty, but offensive line help will be returning soon. And who wants to bet against Tom Brady? If the game is close and he has the ball, you don’t feel great in that situation. The defense was shocked in a way it had not been all year. Up next for the Pats is the Eagles coming off their bye, so you know they will be prepared and angry.
- New Orleans – The Saints steered their way through a Drew Brees-less month and a half perfectly. Now they get him back. The Saints are excellently coached and have talent all over their roster. The Saints have five of their divisional games left, which is where they will have to make their hay. This team has been playing as well as anyone, and their next huge game is a home date with San Fran in a month.
- San Francisco – The Niners have their biggest test of the season this week, facing off against the rival Seahawks. San Francisco has absolutely rolled teams this season, and they are getting healthier on offense. Their two starting tackles and starting fullback will all be back soon. Depending on how they handle two games against Seattle, their game against the Saints could determine the top NFC seed. This all said, San Fran has played one of the lightest schedules in the league, but from the eye test, look fantastic. The defensive front 7 may be the best in the league.
- Baltimore – This crew beating the Pats is the win of the year in the league. The Ravens revolutionized their offense to fit their quarterback during the offseason, and it has paid off fantastically. Baltimore’s defense has really stepped up as of late as well. They have a huge edge in their divisional race, but need to stay ahead of the Chiefs for a tiebreaker, as well as win against the Texans soon. The best part about Jackson is there’s still plenty of room for improvement, so he can and will get even better.
- Kansas City – The Chiefs have survived a Patrick Mahomes absence and still sit in great position in their division. They do have Oakland once more, but this time it’ll be at home. The real test for them will be against the Patriots. Regardless of getting a bye or not, no Wild Card team would want to head into Arrowhead against this crew. If the Chiefs’ defense can tighten up more, as it has the last few weeks, they will be even more intimidating to play than they already are.
- Green Bay – The Packers’ defense has looked shaky as of late, and the team is coming off its worst overall game of the season against the Chargers. The NFC North does not look as strong as it did a few weeks ago, leaving the Packers in the driver seat for the division. They still have some tough games on deck, notably against the Niners, and still have to face the Vikings in a game that could decide the division. That said, they have Aaron Rodgers. He continues to cover up many of the deficiencies, and they’re in position to possibly steal a bye.
- Seattle – Seattle is somewhat unspectacular, mainly because of the defense. They have scraped together a competent unit, but they have ceded a ton of yards and fail to get stops. But they are competent, and when you have the QB they do, that is what you need. Russell Wilson is having the finest season of his career. He is playing out of his mind, and has raised his offense’s level. Wilson is absolutely incredible and makes Seattle a contender on his own. Pete Carroll makes some questionable decisions at times, but the way the team has evolved to function around Wilson is what sets them apart.
Playoff Contenders, but Fraudulent
This is a group of teams that have looked great, have some nice stats and/or big names, but have severe deficiencies that have not been aptly exposed yet, and will be when it matters.
- Houston – Perfect case child for the above description is Houston. Deshaun Watson has carried this team, and it stops there. Bill O’Brien is one of the most suspect head coaches in the league. The defense as a whole is lacking. And Watson is great, but there are periods of play and games where he is unimpressive and dinks and dunks all over. Houston will make the playoffs and probably host a game, but if that was against Oakland again, or Pittsburgh, it would not be a locked-up victory you would expect. That may be a stretch too, given how the Colts have played.
- Minnesota – Big game Kirk Cousins showed up and wilted against a weak defense. He was unable to out-duel Matt Moore. Something else that doesn’t get scrutiny is the absolutely stupid things Mike Zimmer does, like call a timeout on a play Moore fumbled and save the Chiefs. The Vikings’ schedule and current record should get them to the playoffs, but we have seen what happens to Cousins and this team under pressure.
- Dallas – How in the world did this team lose to the Jets? The Cowboys have sneakily benefited from one of the easiest schedules in the league, inflating some of their metrics. This is another case where coaching will hold a team back. The Cowboys have as much talent as anyone, and yet it just does not always click. Why should we credit them for smacking a bad Giants squad? That’s what’s expected. Their season will be determined by their next Philly game.
- Buffalo – Buffalo has also benefitted from an incredibly light schedule. The defense has carried the weight, and the offense has been fine but is incredibly suspect. That is fine for a young team. There was not much expected of the Bills before the season, so to be in this position is awesome. Regardless, the times they’ve played legit competition, the Eagles and Pats, they weren’t up for it.
In Striking Distance
These are teams that are hot and could take their division or a playoff spot and get an upset.
- Philadelphia – All of a sudden, the Eagles are right back in it. A late scare by the Bears was not enough, as the offense melted out the clock to ice the game. Philly has a huge test upcoming against the Pats, but so do the rival Cowboys. The Eagles will have to get through that and Seattle, but then the schedule lightens up. Chief for the Eagles is beating Dallas. The Eagles have themselves in a position to get hot late and storm into the playoffs. No one would want to go against this team by then. The Eagles main goal immediately needs to be fixing up the broken secondary however they can.
- Los Angeles Rams – The Rams have rebounded as of late, but against poor competition. They have two tough games ahead and need them both if they want to stay on pace with their strong divisional rivals. Even then, they still have to play both again. The Rams may find themselves in a numbers game, where they end up outside the playoffs for the first time in a few years, unless they win 11 or 12 games. But, they still have huge issues, with the offensive line and defensive run game.
- Pittsburgh – The Steelers are quietly one of the hottest teams in the league, and after the Rams this week, their schedule becomes unbelievable. After the Rams, their next real competition is going to be the Ravens in week 17. The Steelers are going to have to rely on the defense and running game, and both of these facets have proven up to the task. Mason Rudolph has to be better, but those prior to areas make his life easier.
- Oakland – No team has shirked expectations like the Raiders. The circus nature of Antonio Brown clouded the perception of this team. This is a strong football team. They’ve been underdogs in all but two games, but sit at 5-4 and have a relatively light schedule ahead. If they can continue this level of play, 9 wins may just be enough to make the AFC playoffs.
- Carolina –
The AFC South
This division is the only one in the league to have all its team with at least 4 wins. They all play poorly to great, with little consistency. Houston just happens to have the best QB of the bunch, getting them out of this cluster.
- Indianapolis – The Colts are the most well coached team in the division. That, however, has not saved them from talent deficiency in some areas. The Colts have lost games they maybe shouldn’t due to kicking woes (Chargers and Steelers), but have also won some they shouldn’t (Denver). After playing the Dolphins, the schedule is about to get a lot harder, so we will see what this team really is. They could easily win the division, given things fall the right way.
- Jacksonville – The Minshew magic ran out just in time for Nick Foles to return. If Foles can come back and offer the steady level of play that he’s capable of, this team could steal not just a Wild Card spot but the division as well. Losing both games to Houston hurts, but they still face Indy twice. They would need some help, but it’s possible.
- Tennessee – the Titans have improved since Ryan Tannehill took the starting QB job, but he has still struggled recently. The defense being ripped by the Panthers did not help either. The Titans are most likely to be an up-and-down team that finishes last in the division, but given the weirdness of the South, they could stumble into winning it at 8-8.
On Life Support
These are the teams that have no margin for error. Early losses or recent stumbles have put these teams into the position where they have to turn it around now, but with how other records are stacked, it may be too late.
- Los Angeles Chargers – A loss to the Raiders was absolutely devastating to this team’s chances. They still have to face the Chiefs twice. Even then, with how inconsistent this team is, they could lose any one of their other games. Derwin James will be back soon, which will help the defense greatly, but the time for reinforcements may have passed.
- Chicago – No one actually thought the Bears would beat the Eagles. Then they did that Bears thing where they inspire hope, and steal it away in an instant. Chicago is not as bad as a whole as many other teams, but the black hole that is quarterback has collapsed this team. They are not dead yet, but if they lose to the Lions, in an embarrassing way, it may finally get ugly. Matt Nagy has held the locker room together admirably, but the excuses for Mitchell Trubisky are about to run out.
- Detroit – Detroit has collapsed as of late, primarily due to a defense that has trouble stopping anyone. And this is a team coached by a supposed defensive guru in Matt Patricia. The same guy who allowed the team’s two best receivers to be off the field on a game deciding play. If not for Matthew Stafford, this team would be all the way at the bottom. Getting a Wild Card in the stacked NFC is going to be near impossible, and they would need a ton of help to win the division.
Building for the Future
This group is teams that do not have a real shot this season but have things in place to inspire hope for the future.
- Arizona – The Cardinals have found something with Kyler Murray. That alone is great. Kliff Kingbury has made some highly questionable decisions this year, but he has put a structure in place to turn Arizona into a competitive team, sooner than later. Next on the list for Arizona is fixing the defense and building a better offensive line.
- Miami – Miami got its first win of the season, hurting their tank plan! They now need to lose out to secure the number one pick. Regardless of that, they still sit in a position for a top 5 pick. And despite that, they have appeared a functional NFL team as of late. This is a team that is actively trying to lose, but still fights every game and gives its best. They also have a plan, which is more than can be said for the likes below them.
- New York Giants – The Giants have a coaching problem. Pat Shurmur’s “meh” was covered up with the Eli Manning excuse, but that is gone. That said, Dan Jones has showed flashes, and they have the incredible Saquon Barkley. There are pieces on the defense, and they have a really solid offensive line. With how weird the NFC East can be, the Giants could be in position to steal it possibly next year.
The Dreg Heap
These are a bunch of teams that look directionless, and have big questions to answer. They are all in intense varying forms of disarray.
- New York Jets – Adam Gase needs to be fired. After one year. That is not great. The offensive line needs to be addressed. There is a lot of talent on this team, and there were some solid preseason expectations, but they look like one of the worst units in the league. Sam Darnold has regressed horribly since returning against Dallas. The Jets tried to have a fire sale at the trade deadline, which cannot be good for building faith in its players.
- Tampa Bay – Tampa may not be as bad as some of the teams above it, but they are still 2-6. Jameis Winston has played up-and-down. He still has some horrific turnovers, but makes lots of great throws. He’s helped by having two stud receivers. The defense has improved, mainly in the run game, but the pass defense is still a sieve. The question for Tampa is, what happens to Winston after this year?
- Cleveland – All of that preseason hype is just up in smoke. How much longer before it starts to get ugly internally? This team is loaded talent wise, but has no cohesion. Is Freddie Kitchens going to be back next year? Not at this rate. The hope for Cleveland is that it is a young team, with players who could still easily turn it around.
- Denver – Denver got an impressive win with a QB who had never taken snaps in the NFL. That’s great. But still, this is a team with a murky future. The problems really start with John Elway and bad decisions he has made recently. Not moving a player like Chris Harris at the deadline is an example. Thinking you could revive Joe Flacco is another. Taking a career coordinator and thinking he was a head coach compounds it. Denver has many issues to address, but how much faith is there in Elway?
- Atlanta – The Falcons have one of, if not the, most horrifying cap situations in the league. They’re already over for next year. They are likely going to lose head coach Dan Quinn in the offseason and will have to hit a soft reset. With the way the Saints are constructed and the upswing the Panthers are in, things could get even worse for Atlanta. It will take a lot of work to rebuild a team that has fallen hard the last few years.
- Cincinnati – The lone winless team in the league. Their long time QB benched, even though he is the least of the problem. The Bengals have some assets, but made no moves at the trade deadline to gain picks. The future direction of this team is unclear, especially with a cheap owner like Mike Brown.
- Washington – Incompetent ownership and team management. This team has one win and is over the cap. They totally mismanaged the Trent Williams situation and are mismanaging their first-round rookie QB. Nothing is going to change here until something serious happens with leadership.
Picks for Sunday 11/10
New York Giants