Well, we have reached the midway point of the season, with each team having played at least 8 games. At this point, we have a pretty good idea of how good each team is, and where we expect them to end up at the end of the year. With us crossing the halfway point for the year, I will be going through each AFC team and see where they stand, then do the same with the NFC on Thursday.
This past week, I went 7-6. It’s not bad, but it is not great. I don’t want to talk about my best eliminator picks for the week, but at least I picked the Bengals and they won. My fantasy teams went 4-2 this week, which is pretty good. Before we get to the review of each team, let’s look at my top 10 teams for the upcoming week.
- Patriots(last week: 1)
- Panthers(last week: 6)
- Broncos(last week: 2)
- Bengals(last week: 4)
- Cardinals(last week: 5)
- Packers(last week: 3)
- St. Louis Rams(last week: 7)
- New York Jets(last week:8)
- Oakland Raiders(last week 10)
- Minnesota Vikings(last week: NR)
Next up(in no order): Steelers, Falcons, Colts, Bills, Giants, Seahawks.
Well, here we are, nine weeks into the NFL season. Can you believe that we are over halfway done with the 2015 NFL season. It always seems like it takes years for the NFL offseason to end, and seconds for the season to finish. Anyway, since the calendar now reads November, we need to start figuring out the contenders, from the pretenders, from the pure awful. Let’s review where each team stands as of the end of Week 9.
New England Patriots(8-0):
The Patriots have been pretty dang good this year, and that should shock no one. Once Brady’s suspension was overturned, as it probably should have, it was clear that this year was going to be a revenge season for Brady and Belichick. Brady has been fantastic this year, and is on pace for 5400 yards and 44 tds. They control their own destiny for the top seed in the AFC, as they have a game against Denver in just under three weeks. If they can win that game, they have a good chance to go undefeated for the entire year. Some things worry me about this Pats team though. They are beat up, especially along the offensive line. Losing Dion Lewis hurts, but the Patriots always seem to get productive out of whomever their RB is. The Patriots will make the playoffs, win the division, and will probably enter the playoffs as the favorites to win the Super Bowl barring any kind of injury.
New York Jets(5-3):
It has been an interesting season for the Jets, starting out with Geno Smith having his jaw broken before the season started. There have been some very strong positives, and some concerning aspects of this team. The positives so far have been their defense, which has been just as good as we thought that it would be. They have the fifth highest defensive DVOA. They have had a decent running game, and have a great duo of receivers. This team has concerns at the quarterback position, at least for me. Look, Fitzpatrick has been decent this year, but is anyone really going to trust him headed into the playoffs. There is nothing that they can do about it, they have to keep riding Fitzpatrick. This team does not have a hard schedule the rest of the way, and it honestly would not shock me if they went 7-1 down the stretch. However, that never happens. I think the Jets can win 10 games, and make it to the playoffs as the 5th seed.
This was a team after the first few weeks that I thought had a great shot at ending the Bulls’ playoff drought. However, I have cooled off on that prediction in the last 5-6 weeks. Injuries have played a role in that, but the Bills have not been as good as I thought they were going to be. Their defense has not been as dominant as we thought they were going to be, ranking just 13th in defensive DVOA. They need to be an elite defense for this team to make it to the playoffs. The running game has been good, and Tyrod Taylor has been better than many had thought he would be. The Bills are in contention for a wild card spot, but don’t have an easy schedule like the Jets do. I think that this time in 8 weeks, Rex Ryan will be having a press conference saying that the team will finally make the playoffs next year.
This team has already had some ups and downs on the season. They won two straight after firing their coach… but the teams they beat were the Titans and the Texans. That’s nothing to write home about. The defense looked rejuvenated after Philbin was fired, but losing Cameron Wake is going to hurt a lot. Tannehill hasn’t really made that next leap some people thought he was going to make before the season. That has hurt this team a lot. The Dolphins are basically out of the playoffs, not mathematically of course, but I just can’t see them getting to 9-10 wins and sneaking into the playoffs. Miami will be watching playoff football from home again this year.
This Bengals team essentially has their division locked up, barring something awful happening. Andy Dalton has managed to silence a lot of his critics this year, and AJ Green being healthy helps. Tyler Eifert has emerged as a top young tight end this year. The defense is improved from where it was last year, and currently ranks 12th in defensive DVOA. A big difference this year is that it appears that the Bengals have a better offensive line this year. The Bengals have benefited from the AFC North not being as strong as it was last year, but we should not take away from what the Bengals have done this year. I would like to see the running game improve a little, perhaps by giving the ball to Jeremy Hill a little more. I know that would make thousands of fantasy teams happy. The Bengals could still get a bye, but would need to beat the Broncos later in the season to put themselves in a great position to do that. The Bengals will make the playoffs this year, hopefully this can be the year Andy Dalton finally wins a playoff game.
As of writing this, it looks like Big Ben could be out for a few weeks with his latest injury, a foot sprain. On top of that injury, Le’Veon Bell is out for the year, and that is going to hurt the Steelers… or it isn’t, as DeAngelo Williams may have found the fountain of youth. Make no mistakes, they will miss Bell, who is one of the best back in the league. Their defense ranks 11th in DVOA, but their secondary could be better. The Steelers are really going to miss Ben, but they went 2-2 without him earlier in the season. I think that the Steelers will finish the year 9-7, putting them right on the line for a playoff spot.
This has been a disappointing season for the Ravens, a team that I thought would make it to the AFC title game. The Ravens poor pass defense has been a huge part of their poor season, but so have mistakes and penalties. At this point, I think the Ravens would have to win out in order to make the playoffs, something that won’t happen. I don’t think major changes are in store for Baltimore, as this has really been the first year that the Ravens have struggled under Harbaugh. The Ravens have a rare chance to add an elite piece to this team if they can get a top 5 pick in the NFL draft.
The Browns showed some early season promise, but have lost their last four games. This is typical Browns. Provide hope that they might be decent, then remind everyone that they are the Cleveland Browns. They should play Manziel for the rest of the season, just to make sure if they need to spend another first round draft pick on a qb who will most likely prove not to be the solution long term anyway. It will be interesting to see if the Browns move guys like Joe Thomas this offseason after shopping him at the trade deadline this year. The Browns will be in a good spot to draft a great player again this year.
If I had told you that the Colts would be leading their division after week 9, nearly no football fans would have been shocked. If I had told you that the Colts would be 4-5 and leading the division, most people probably would have been shocked. Andrew Luck was the leader in interceptions before last week, when Peyton Manning overtook him. He will not be winning an MVP this year. I think that at the end of the day, the Colts will end up winning the division and hosting a playoff game. The Colts do not have a very challenging schedule down the stretch(they have a week 10 bye), and could actually end up winning 9/10 games by the end of the year. The rest of their division is just so bad, containing arguably three of the worst teams in the league, that the Colts should be able to win the division based on talent alone. The Colts are going to end up hosting a playoff game, and that will feel weird, especially if they go 7-9 or 8-8.
Man, this Texans team was supposed to be better this year. Having J.J. Watt is a great starting point, but it feels like I have not heard that much about him this year. Losing Arian Foster for the year, took away one of the few actual offensive threats they had this year. DeAndre Hopkins is having a great year, and the timing is great for him as he will be up for a new contract soon. Ryan Mallett was a disaster, but Brian Hoyer has not been much better. But somehow this Texans team is only out one game out of first place. ONE!!!!!! They are 3-6 after playing one of the easier schedules in the league, and have one of the hardest schedule down the stretch. Sorry Texans fans, you won’t be making the playoff this year.
The Jaguars are 2-6 this year, but it feels like they have played better than what their record suggests. They actually rank inside the top 20 in both offensive and defensive DVOA. They also have one of the easiest schedules remaining, so we are going to learn a little bit about the Jaguars coming up. Blake Bortles has shown some signs of life, and Allen Robinson/Allen Hurns have been an excellent receiving duo. The Jaguars will have at least $45 million in cap space to spend on free agents. The Jaguars are getting close, but need another players(like Joey Bosa) before they can really make a push for the playoffs, or at least respectability.
Marcus Mariota has done better than I expected. He has had three pretty good games so far this year. The team around him has not been as good. They are dead last in offensive DVOA, and their rushing attack has left something to be desired. Although, their passing attack is ranked dead last by football outsiders. They have also been awful at stopping the run this year. The lone bright spot is their passing defense, which is ranked 5th by football outsiders. The Titans will compete for another top 5 pick the rest of the way.
The Broncos are a couple of dumb plays away from being 8-0(looking at you Aqib Talib). Either way, we are half of the way through the season, and the Broncos have all but locked up their division. With the way this defense has been playing, there is no way that Oakland could make up three games in eight weeks, especially since they still have to play once. Let’s talk about that defense. It has the chance to be one of the best defenses in the last 20 years. It is that good. They have the top ranked passing defense according to DVOA, and the 9th ranked rushing defense. They have done a phenomenal job at shutting down opposing wide receivers and quarterbacks, such as Aaron Rodgers’ 77 yard performance against them. Peyton Manning has not been great this year, and there should be serious questions about whether this is his last year or not, but the Broncos have not had to lean on him too much so far. If he can just play average, this team could be special. This Broncos team represents the biggest, and probably only threat to New England in the AFC. The Broncos control their own destiny as they have to play both the Bengals and the Patriots before the season ends. Watch out for the Broncos in January.
Arguably one of the most surprising teams of 2015 has to be the Oakland Raiders. Led by guys like Derek Carr, who has made a pretty good leap in his sophomore season, Latavius Murray, and Amari Cooper, who looks very polished coming straight out of college. Their defense has been middle of the pack, although DVOA likes their rushing defense. DVOA loves their offense, ranking it 5th in the league. As of right now, they are in contention for a playoff spot, despite losing a critical game to the Steelers. That loss could come back to bite them in the end. I think that the Raiders end up winning 9 games this year, right on the edge of that playoff bubble.
Kansas City Chiefs(3-5):
In my opinion, the biggest story surrounding the Chiefs has to be the fact that a WR finally caught a touchdown pass for them. Losing Jamaal Charles was also a pretty big story, as that hurt their offensive capabilities big time. DVOA actually likes the Chiefs through the first 8 weeks of the season, but I do not get it. The chiefs have gone 3-5 against a slightly easier than average schedule. Am I supposed to believe that they are going to start playing better when the schedule gets a little harder, and they are down their best offensive player? I think not. The Chiefs are stuck in a weird spot. They really can’t make the playoffs, but it will be hard for them to get a top pick since they already have three wins. The Chiefs are stuck in an odd no man’s land.
San Diego Chargers(2-7):
Poor San Diego. They had a great chance to win that game against the Bears(WOOHOO BEARS WIN!!!), but blew it in the fourth quarter. Their defense hasn’t been good this year, ranking 29th in defensive DVOA, being particularly bad against the run. Their offense has actually been pretty good, but a lot of that has to do with Philip Rivers. He is on pace for over 5,400 yards which would be close to the record for most passing yards in a single season. He has been great for the Chargers this year, but the running game and offensive line have let him down. The line seemed to block well against Chicago, but has not been great all year. The Chargers will not make the playoffs, but their possible removal will dominate the offseason.
My preseason AFC playoff predictions looked like this: Pats, Ravens, Colts, Broncos, Steelers, Dolphins
my updated AFC playoff predictions looks like this: Pats, Bengals, Colts, Broncos, Jets, Steelers. 4/6 ain’t bad.
final NFL thoughts for the week:
- Man, each passing week makes me realize a couple things. First,, I have no idea which team is the best in the NFC. Is it the Panthers, or should I not ignore the Packers, or is it just going to be unpredictable. I am going with the third one. Second, there just don’t seem to be as many good teams in the NFL this year. Is it parity? Perhaps. Injuries seem to have affected more key players than normal, but I feel as if we say that every year. Perhaps the league has just gotten smarter. Whatever it is, the league just does not seem to have many exciting matchups each week.
- The final week of the season won’t have a shortage of excitement as it seems like many playoff races should come down to the last day, as should seeding.
- There are a rash of good movies coming out this holiday season, but I think the one movie I really want to see is Concussion. Looks like it should be a good movie.
Non NFL thoughts for the week:
- that Blackhawks second line with Kane/Panarin/Anisimov looks really good.
- The Warriors are out for blood. It is their world and we are just living in it.
- With MLB free agency starting soon, I want to say thanks again to Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann for everything they gave to the Nats franchise. I hope Zimm goes to the Cubs, and Desi goes anywhere but the Mets. I am going to miss those guys.
- Good for the Missouri football players. Some things are bigger and more important than football. Nothing would have happened if they had not boycotted football activities. They got the president to step down within a day or two. Sports can make a difference.
Check back during my Thursday night preview for my NFC reviews, and more
Ted Van Green(@TVG_5)
Spark Sports NFL Analyst