So we’re about half way through the NFL regular season, with all teams having played eight games and some having played nine. Every year there a number of surprises in the NFL that nobody seen coming, and this year has been no different. The play-off picture is much clearer now and predictions are easier to make on how the post season is going to turn out. You can see my pre-season predictions by clicking this link. So let’s get a goin!
Prior to the season starting I had the Patriots winning the AFC East at a canter, due to the inabilities of the other teams in the division rather than their own qualities. Surprisingly enough, the AFC East has actually turned into a quite competitive division, with only one team sup .500. The Pats haven’t been good, with their young receivers struggling to play to the level of the players they replaced and their defence being slaughtered by injuries, yet still find themselves sitting at 7-2 (go figure). It is typical Patriots; every so often they show weakness yet are still the class of the division. I don’t expect them to miss out this season either.
However the Pats poor record but good performance isn’t the biggest surprise, but rather the fact that the lowly Jets and their lame duck head coach are sitting at 5-4. Being a Jets fan I wrote about the team prior to the season starting (here) and thought they would go about 6-10 and that would be a good season. I also said that because of the weak schedule the Jets could possibly go 10-6, but it was highly unlikely. Now there is a vast possibility that this may happen, with four of the six games I thought they would win still to come, which would give them a 9-7 record, probably good enough to earn a wild card spot in a weak AFC. However this is the Jets, a team that has not been able to string to wins together all season.
I had the Dolphins going 5-11 and the Bills going 3-13, I think both will do better than that but neither will challenge for the play-off slots for differing reasons. The Bills won’t challenge because of quarterback uncertainties, which will leave Bills fans questioning what could have been if EJ Manuel hadn’t got hurt. The Dolphins won’t make it because the organisation is a total mess and Ryan Tannehill is not getting any help from the offensive line.
I had the Bengals winning the AFC North pre-season (plus winning the Super Bowl) and I have seen nothing that would change my mind so far. The only concern about the Bengals is that they have a tendency to blow hot and cold on offence and have had some killer season ending injuries on defence. They do however play in what has turned out to be a surprisingly weak AFC North.
The Browns are like many teams in the AFC an absolute anomaly. Some weeks they look like they could beat anyone, yet in other weeks they are totally incompetent. It is never a good sign when you have started three different quarterbacks in the space of nine games, yet the Browns find themselves at 4-5, just one game out of a wild card spot. I had them going 2-14 at the start of the season and they have far surpassed my expectations, but I think play-offs are a step too far.
Joe Flacco is not an elite quarterback and this season has shown him up as the average quarterback that he is. He can’t carry his team on his shoulders, and that is hurting the Ravens who are hurting for skill players outside of Torrey Smith. Their chances of the play-offs are very limited, but you never know when a record of 8-8 may be good enough to get a wild card spot. I had them finishing 7-9 and that still seems about right to me.
Quite frankly the worst Steelers team I have ever seen. What makes the Steelers 2-6 record even worse is the fact that their schedule hasn’t been that hard, and they should be at worst 4-4. I had them making the play-offs with a 9-7 record, which clearly isn’t going to happen in what is going to be a dud of a season. They should look to try and get a new franchise quarterback for the future and try and trade Big Ben away, because there is a lot of rebuilding to do in their roster.
The Colts have been excellent so far in the season and have shown how much the young team has matured from the prior season. They will win the AFC South, but with the loss of Reggie Wayne it is unlikely that they will do much in the play-offs because of an average receiving corps (TY Hilton excluded) and no running game.
I had the Titans going 4-12 at the start of the season, and they’re already 4-4….hm. I did say that I thought that the roster was stacked with talent but the quarterback would cost them, but Jake Locker has made great strides and although he missed a couple of games through injury the Titans still look like a potential play-off team. The Titans losses have come against the Chiefs, the 49ers, the Seahawks and the Texans; three Super Bowl contenders and the Texans, so a 4-4 record is better than it looks. A further positive for the Titans play-off hopes is that they have already beaten other AFC play-off contenders the Jets and the Chargers, which could be crucial by the end of the season.
It is always the way of things that you aren’t going to get everything right, and my prediction of the Texans winning the AFC South clearly isn’t going to happen. Everything that could have went wrong for the Texans pretty much has and they will now look to build to the future with their aging roster (similar to the Steelers, in both my prediction failure and their aging roster). Whereas the Jags are of course an embarrassment to the league and are well on course to meeting my pre-season prediction of 1-15, if not 0-16.
I expected the Broncos to be really good but the Chiefs being 9-0 is very surprising. I thought they could maybe be a surprise and could possibly get an outside chance of a wild card, but I didn’t expect this. I do think that they aren’t as good as their record shows, and the Broncos will still win the division, but both teams are going to the play-offs.
The Chargers are one of the many up and down teams in the AFC; one week they will beat the Colts and the next they will lose to the Redskins, there is absolutely no consistency. At 4-4 they are very much in the play-off hunt, but I don’t think they are in reality because they still have to play the Chiefs and Broncos twice and also the Bengals, which is a very hard second half of the season, but you never know they are certainly capable of beating these teams if they show up.
The Raiders find themselves as the worst team in a strong division, so despite the magic that Terrelle Pryor can work up they are going to be very lucky to go much better than 5-11, which would be better than the 3-13 I gave them at the start of the season.
The AFC play-off picture is quite unusual in the sense that five of the positions seem already sewed up. It is hard (if not impossible) to look past the Patriots, Bengals, Colts, Chiefs and Broncos for the play-offs, leaving one position left up for grabs for the gaggle of mediocre teams. The teams that could realistically go for that final spot based on their record are the Jets, Dolphins, Browns, Ravens, Titans, Raiders and Chargers; however it is unlikely that so many teams will be in there by the end of the season. For that reason I think that my two favourites for the final spot are the Titans and the Jets, simply because they are in my opinion the two best teams and the two with the weakest schedules. I think both teams will finish 9-7 giving the Titans the place due to their head to head record against the Jets, although it is really a toss-up and I personally hope I’m wrong and it is the Jets that take the place.
The NFC East is so unpredictable that when you think you know what is going on, it turns out that the opposite is actually happening. Oddly enough all four teams are still in contention (even the Giants with their woeful 0-6 start) for the division, but it looks like the Eagles are the cream of the crop. I had the Skins, Eagles and Giants going 10-6 at the start of the season and the Cowboys going 8-8, and although I doubt any of these are going to be right, you just never know in this division.
The Eagles are very hot and cold, but when they are hot they look unstoppable, the Skins are heavily reliant on RGIII to the extent that they are willing to play him at well under 100%, the Cowboys can’t be relied upon to do it when the pressure is on and the Giants had a shockingly bad start. Toss a coin, throw a dart or pick your favourite because your guess is as good as mine.
I had the Giants winning the division and the Eagles getting a wild card, now I’m leaning towards the Eagles winning the division at about a 9-7 in some sort of crazy four way tie.
I started writing this prior to MNF and naturally left the NFC North slot blank. I was however very much of the belief that the Packers were the class of the division. Then the unthinkable happened, Aaron Rodgers went down injured with a broken collarbone and looks like he could be out for at least three weeks. In certain divisions you could get away with this, but the NFC North is not one of those, with three teams currently sitting on 5-3. Wild card spots are so tight in the NFC that 10-6 might not be good enough, so this injury may be fatal for the Packers hope of the post season.
On the contrary the Lions and the Bears are on the up, especially the Bears who look like they are about to get Jay Cutler back from injury which would be a huge boost to their now brighter play-off hopes. I thought the Bears would go 9-7 because I was unsure of how well the O-line would hold up, those fears however have been unfound and I think they are heading towards the play-offs as division champs. The Lions will put in a serious challenge for the final play-off spot and will do much better than the 7-9 I predicted pre-season.
The Vikings are a Super Bowl team in every department except the most important one, and that is why they are sitting at 1-7. To the coaches, you have easily the best running back in the league and maybe the league’s best player, GIVE THE GUY THE BALL!!!
I thought the Saints would come back with a massive chip on their shoulder after last season, and I wasn’t wrong. They currently sit at 6-2 and look like they are very much Super Bowl contenders. The Saints defence has improved dramatically from last year under Rob Ryan, and if you add that to their explosive offence it is a scary thing. They should be the NFC South winners.
Credit has to go out to Cam Newton, who has made great strides so far this season and that has reflected on the Panthers record of 5-3. I honestly didn’t think he would play so well and although I thought the Panthers had a talented roster, I thought they would struggle and post a 5-11 record which now seems highly unlikely. It will be very tough for them to make the play-offs though with the Saints ahead of them in the South and the competition from the NFC West and North being very strong for a wild card spot.
Who knows what happened to the Falcons, so much talent yet a 2-6 record. I know that they have had a large number of key injuries, but the sign of a great team is how well you cope with adversity, and the Falcons have just lied down. At least they’re better than the awful Bucs, who are quite awful.
Both the Seahawks (my NFC pick for the Super Bowl) and the 49ers look like they are heading for the play-offs, the only question is who will win the division? At the start of the season I thought it would just be the 49ers but I think the Seahawks are starting to look like they are the better team. Imagine the Seahawks getting the top seed in the NFC and a team having to go to Qwest Field to have a chance at the Super Bowl, certainly no easy task.
The Cardinals have done sneakily well and are sitting at a surprising 4-4 (doesn’t feel like they’ve been that good) after having successfully flown under the radar. I still don’t see them as play-off contenders because they aren’t going to challenge for their division and the competition for the wild card spots are quite ferocious. They would have a chance if they were in the AFC but alas they are not.
The Rams have a talented roster but as soon as Sam Bradford went down so did their slim chances of the play-offs.
The NFC is clearly the stronger of the two conferences in the NFL and a number of good teams will miss out on the play-offs because of that. Unlike the AFC, the NFC’s division are all up for grabs (maybe with the exception of the NFC South) and the play-off slots are very competitive as well. I think the division champions are going to be the Eagles, Bears, Saints and Seahawks, with the 49ers taking one of the wild card spots, although all spots are very up for grabs (although whoever comes second in the NFC West will take a wildcard spot). The other wild card spot will be very interesting with the Lions, Cowboys, Panthers, Cardinals and most interestingly the Packers all vying for that spot. The Packers are the real anomaly because the loss of Rodgers is a killer, and their play-off challenge will really depend on how long he is out for. If it is two weeks then they will be well in the mix but if it is more than that the Packers will begin to struggle to put up a real challenge. I believe that it is more likely to be the latter and it is for that reason that I think the Lions will take the last spot.
I feel a lot more comfortable about my picks now than at the start of the season, which is only natural. I’m pretty confident with my AFC picks (with the exception of maybe the Titans), but the NFC picks have been much harder. It is a much more open conference and because of that the fight for the divisions as well as the fight for a wild card berth is much more competitive. The Packers are the biggest unknown and it is hard not to over exaggerate the effect of losing Aaron Rodgers, as I have already said if he isn’t out for long then I would change my picks for the NFC North, but I think he will be and the Packers aren’t good enough to make the play-offs without him.
Here are the teams I now have making the play-offs:
If you’re counting that is two changes in the AFC (Steelers & Texans out, Chiefs & Titans in) and two changes in the NFC (Packers & Giants out, Bears & Lions in).
I still think a Seahawks-Bengals Super Bowl is on the cards although I am currently edging towards the Seahwaks to win it due to the injuries that the Bengals have suffered on defence.
So leave a comment and tell me what you have thought of the season so far and what you think is going to happen in the second half of the season. Plus like BM23reviews on Facebook and follow BM23reviews on Twitter by clicking the links, thanks for reading.