Monday, November 06, 2006

Gauging the Teams at the Half-way Mark

For many teams, the second quarter has been more of the same - and moving into the third quarter of the season, it's likely to remain that way.

Let's take a real brief look -
AFC East -
1. Patriots - Still showing too much inconsistency on offense with Brady occasionally going through periods where he's throwing bad balls. In spite of the points and yardage given up by the defense, they are who gave the team a chance to win against the Colts at the end.
2. Jets - Still have a legitimate shot at the post-season, and could have won against the Browns, had they at least played mistake free football. They don't have the horses to do anything in the playoffs should they get there. They also face stiff competition from the Jaguars, the Chiefs and the loser in the Chargers/Broncos slugfest. The Bengals are also still in the mix.
3. Bills - Looked good against a bad Green Bay team. Could end up getting passed by the Dolphins by the end of the season.
4. Dolphins - Strong showing against what is beginning to look like an overrated Bears team. Even overrated, the Bears should have destroyed this Dolphins team.

AFC South
1. Colts - When a team comes up with five turnovers, the margin of victory shouldn't be one touchdown. That said, the Colts are winning ugly, and often times, just barely, but that's how the Patriots did it in 2001. However, the Patriots had a much better defense in '01 than the Colts currently have, and if that's not straightened out, it could still mean the Colts' ouster in the playoffs.
2. Jaguars - The way this team has lost and to whom has to raise questions as to any chances this team has of walking away with the Lombardi Trophy
3. Texans - I don't even know how to begin gauging how far this team is from being any good. One week they get smoked by an average and inconsistent Dallas team, the next they beat the Jaguars 27-7. Will the real Houston Texans please stand up?
4. Titans - Another work in progress that's hard to gauge with the same Jeckyll and Hyde issues of fellow AFC South cellar-dweller Houston.

AFC North
1. Ravens - Improved on offense since Brian Billick took over the play calling, but I'm still not convinced that this offense is that good. Now that they've been at it for a couple of weeks, we'll see how defensive coordinators around the league adjust. That will be the real litmus test - if they can sustain their new-found success. That being said - unless the Bengals can get their heads out of their collective asses, no one is going to challenge Baltimore for the division title.
2. Bengals - Been looking more like the Bungles of yore lately. And a note for Chad Johnson - shut up and get open. The smack talk in good fun is fine if you're backing it up, but from a career numbers perspective you're in TO land, which means you talk a better game than you play. Worry about playing the game.
3. Browns - Just not very good right now, and no telling when they might figure out how to win a few more games.
4. Steelers - Too many bad mistakes from the quarterback position. Right now the Steelers braintrust needs to ask two very important questions; Did the motorcycle accident and the emergency surgery on Roethlisberger affect him so badly that he's not the player he once was? If so, they need to write off this season, and understand the team will not be going anywhere. And; Without the punishing running game of seasons past, is Big Ben a good enough quarterback to win more games with his arm? I think the answer to that is no. Even allowing for the health problems, The Steelers have struggled to win when the game was put on their young QB's arm (see the playoff game against the Patriots in 2004). When asked to put the ball in the air only about 20 to 25 times per game, he's a different player.

AFC West
1. Broncos - First the loss to the Colts, and then a struggling Pittsburgh squad gives them problems. With a game against the Chiefs and two against the Chargers coming up, the Broncos could feasibly fall to third in their division if they don't fix the weak spot in their secondary.
2. Chargers - The Chargers' season really rests on how they are able to weather the next month of the season with the four game suspension of Shawn Merriman. Additionally, it should be interesting to see if Merriman is the same player in the substance abuse program he was before being caught for steroid use.
3. Chiefs - The way the Chiefs have been playing lately, they don't have a single game in which the other team will be heavily favored. They could feasibly finish with more than ten wins, and have almost as much a shot at the division crown as the two teams ahead of them.
4. Raiders - While showing signs of life lately, this is still not a good team, and it's still a long, long way from being one.

Likely division winners - Patriots, Colts, Ravens, Chiefs
Wild Cards - Chargers, Broncos the AFC West the toughest division in the AFC right now?

NFC East
1. Giants - So far dominating the division dubbed by many sports-writers the "toughest division in the NFL" (not by me) at the beginning of the season in spite of some erratic play in the first quarter of the season.
2. Eagles - With the way the Eagles have played and with their remaining schedule, they could feasibly win a total of ten games, or win a total of 7. Nothing is a gimme right now for this team that seems unable to put together 60 minutes of solid football on any given Sunday.
3. Cowboys - Right now? Too much like the Eagles. They have to get rid of the stupid mistakes that are killing them.
4. Redskins - Too many holes and too many problems. Would have been better for them in the future to have lost over the weekend and forced Gibbs's hand in playing Jason Campbell.

NFC South
1. Saints - Unless they fall apart in the second half, this team should finish with at least ten wins, and possibly as many as twelve. Talk about reversing a culture of losing.
2. Falcons - At least three more losses on their schedule, and maybe more depending on how well other teams can attack Atlanta's offense. A loss to Detroit should be setting off alarms in the heads of Falcons fans right now.
3. Panthers - Unless they get on a roll now, they will be fighting with four other 4-4 teams for that last playoff spot. Right now they're too erratic, but, given John Fox's history, it's too early to count this team out.
4. Buccaneers - This team could potentially loose the string of remaining games. At least they're not the Cardinals.

NFC North
1. Bears - Still a very good team, but when an undefeated team's offense can't put points on the board against the Cardinals, and then gets waxed by a bad Dolphins team, you have to assume that the team isn't really the creme-de-la-creme of the NFC. With their recent play against the Dolphins, I wouldn't be surprised to see this team suffer a four game slide by losing all three games on the upcoming three-game road trip to the Northeast.
2. Vikings - Also struggling, also not as good as advertised. With a glaring hole in their defense exposed by the Patriots, are the Vikings going to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs? Hard to say. They're playing in the NFL's JV division and a lot of teams are jockeying for that last spot. With losses already to both Buffalo and New England, they could feasibly lose both upcoming games against Miami and the Jets, both of which have tough defenses. Couple that with games against Chicago, St. Louis and two games against an erratic Green Bay team, the Vikings could easily end up no better than .500 and possibly with a losing record on the season.
3. Packers - This is not a good team. They might go 8-8, they might go 6-10, but if Brett Favre thinks this team has a legitimate shot at the playoffs, then it will only be if an 8-8 team from the NFC gets in, and I don't think that's going to happen.
4. Lions - In a win now league Matt Millen's picks, after five years, are finally showing signs of coming around. That's not the formula to win in a salary-capped league. However, the success that is beginning to show on the field might be enough for the Fords to keep him around in spite of the fact that he should have been gone at least two years ago.

NFC West
1. Seahawks - They're not the same team without Hutchinson. They can't win without Alexander (and beating the Raiders doesn't count). And, like their main competition in the division, they are struggling to put distance between themselves and their rival in the division when the opportunity presents itself. If they had beaten either Minnesota or Kansas City, they would have at least a two game cushion going into the second half.
2. Rams - Playing better than a year ago, but flawed enough that only one of their wins is against a team with a winning record (Denver) and that happened in week one before teams had records. With three of their four losses to teams with winning records, they still have a shot at the playoffs with a schedule that only pits them against two winning teams in the second half.
3. 49ers - Improved, but they still have a draft or two to go before they're going to make any real noise. They could play spoiler late in the season with an upset, possibly against Seattle or Denver, to build on for next year.
4. Cardinals - Simply put, the worst team in football right now. That's saying a lot considering the state of the Raiders. The Cards might be the most talented one-win team around, but they're still a only a one-win team.

Likely division winners (I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong); Giants, Saints, Bears, and, going out on a limb, Rams.
Wildcards - Seahawks, Falcons

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