Now that the season has passed the halfway point, it’s time to check in on how the division races are shaping up and who looks like they might be capable of making a playoff run come January.
1. Chicago Bears 7-1; 2. Green Bay Packers 6-3; 3. Minnesota Vikings 5-4; 4. Detroit Lions 4-4
Last Sunday, the Bears racked up 51 points – including 28 in the first quarter alone – in their demolition of the Titans in Tennessee and improved their record to a division-best, 7-1. Chicago’s only defeat of the season came against the Packers, who have recovered from a slow start to win 4 consecutive games, last week beating the Cardinals at home, 31-17. Going in the opposite direction is the Minnesota Vikings, who have lost two straight, after falling 30-20 in Seattle on Sunday; while the Detroit Lions moved back to .500
for the year, with a 31-14 win in Jacksonville, thanks in part to three 2nd quarter touchdowns from their running back, Mikel Leshoure. This weekend, the Vikings and Lions meet in Minnesota with third place in the North up for grabs; Chicago have a tough home game against the Houston Texans, who are also 7-1; while Green Bay have their bye week, something they are in need of with several players – including Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Clay Matthews – struggling with injuries.
1. NY Giants 6-3; Philadelphia Eagles 3-5; Dallas Cowboys 3-5; Washington Redskins 3-6
Following their opening day defeat against the Cowboys, the Giants won 6 of their next 7 games to take a commanding lead in the NFC East, but last Sunday their form left them as they were beaten at home by the Steelers. The Eagles started the year 3-1, but those three victories were by a total of four points and there were signs that their record was inflated, which has proven to be the case over the last month, as they have lost four consecutive games, most recently in New Orleans on Monday night. Although Dallas have struggled thus far, their schedule has been tough – their five defeats have been against the Bears and Giants at home; and away at Baltimore, Seattle and last Sunday in Atlanta – but going forward it gets slightly easier for them, so they cannot be ruled out of a playoff place just yet. Robert Griffin III has given the Redskins hope for the future, but he cannot help this season’s defence, which has given up more than 20 points in every game thus far and ranks 31st against the pass. Washington lost their home contest against the Panthers last Sunday – a result that was supposed to be ominous for President Obama’s chance of re-election, but the rule was disproved – and now have their bye week, while the Giants are in Cincinnati, and the Eagles and Cowboys meet in Philadelphia.
1. Atlanta Falcons 8-0; 2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-4; 3. New Orleans Saints 3-5; 4. Carolina Panthers 2-6
Atlanta are the league’s only unbeaten team and although their home victories over the Panthers and Raiders were not convincing, their win over the Cowboys last week solidified their position as the probable number 1 seed in the NFC. This Sunday they face the Saints, who are playing this season under the cloud of the bounty scandal and without their suspended head coach, Sean Payton. New Orleans started slowly – losing all of their first four encounters – but have bounced back to take three out of four, mainly thanks to their QB, Drew Brees, who has helped the offence rack up at least 24 points all but once this year. With consecutive wins in Minnesota and Oakland, Tampa Bay have leveled their record at 4-4, though they have had to deal with a Jekyll and Hyde defence that is ranked first against the run, but last in passing yards allowed. At the bottom of the division, Carolina have struggled thus far and Cam Newton has been less impressive in his second year, but they did gain their second win of the season in Washington last time out. This Sunday they host the Denver Broncos, while the Buccaneers face the Chargers in Tampa Bay.
1. San Francisco 49ers 6-2; Seattle Seahawks 5-4; Arizona Cardinals 4-5; St. Louis Rams 3-5
The Seahawks improved to 4-0 at home this season with their victory over the Vikings last Sunday and have another game in Seattle this week against the Jets. Defeat in Green Bay in Week 9 means that the Cardinals have lost 5 straight games – after winning their first four – and their bye week has come a fortuitous time. Neither the 49ers nor the Rams – top and bottom of the division – had a fixture last weekend and the two teams face off in San Francisco this Sunday.
1. Baltimore Ravens 6-2; 2. Pittsburgh Steelers 5-3; 3. Cincinnati Bengals 3-5; 4. Cleveland Browns 2-7
Despite their record, Baltimore have not been impressive so far this season – in particular in their 9-6 home win against the NFL worst Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5 and their 43-13 in Houston a fortnight later. Last week’s 25-15 win in Cleveland gave them their 11th consecutive win against divisional opponents, a record they will need to continue if they are to keep the Steelers at bay. Pittsburgh’s win against the Giants was their third straight success and they will be confident going into this weekend’s encounter with the Chiefs. The Ravens face the Raiders in Baltimore on Sunday, but then they have two games in three weeks against the Steelers, matchups that will likely determine who finishes top of the division. The Bengals have lost four in a row – most recently at home against the Broncos – and they have another tough fixture in Cincinnati on Sunday against the New York Giants; while the Browns have recorded just two victories so far and are idle this weekend.
1. New England Patriots 5-3; 2. Miami Dolphins 4-4; 3. NY Jets 3-5; 4. Buffalo Bills 3-5
Although their most recent game was a 45-7 victory over the Rams at Wembley Stadium, the New England Patriots have not lived up to pre-season expectations and a weak secondary looks likely to prohibit any lengthy playoff run in January. They do sit clear on top of
the East however, thanks to Miami’s defeat in Indianapolis last week while New England had their bye. Despite that defeat, the Dolphins have had a relatively good start, especially on defence, where they have kept their opponents to 14 points or fewer in all four of their wins. By contrast, the Jets have performed far below the standard they have set for themselves in recent seasons, with the poor performance of QB Mark Sanchez resulting in some fans calling for Tim Tebow to be given the starting job. Buffalo’s record of 3-5 does not look too bad and their 21-9 defeat in Houston last Sunday was to be expected, but their three wins came against the Chiefs, Browns and the slumping Cardinals. This weekend the Bills are at New England, the Jets have a difficult trip to Seattle, and the Dolphins host Tennessee.
1. Houston Texans 7-1; 2. Indianapolis Colts 5-3; 3. Tennessee Titans 3-6; 4. Jacksonville Jaguars 1-7
The Texans are currently the AFC’s top team, with their sole defeat coming against the Packers in Week 6 when Aaron Rodgers looked unplayable and threw for 6 touchdowns. Houston took care of business against the Bills last week, but will need to put in a better performance in Chicago this Sunday night if they are to beat a Bears team that shares the same record as them. Much of the talk about the Colts has centred around head coach, Chuck Pagano’s fight against leukemia, but their success on the field has not simply been about the inspiration his fight has provided, but also the play of number 1 draft pick, Andrew Luck, who set a record for rookies with 433 passing yards in Indianapolis’s 23-20 win over the Dolphins last Sunday. Tennessee’s 51-20 defeat by the Bears in Week 9 may have been against a good opponent, but it also marked the sixth time in nine games the Titans had given up more than 30 points, with their defence struggling to make any stops. After their 31-14 defeat to Detroit left them at 1-7, the Jaguars will be pleased to face the Colts – the only team they have beaten thus far – on Thursday night; while Tennessee travel to Miami on Sunday.
While the fitness of Peyton Manning, returning from four neck surgeries, was questioned prior to the season, nobody has had any doubts about his performances so far this year. A 31-23 victory over the Bengals in Cincinnati – once again featuring a 4th quarter comeback from Manning – moved the Broncos to 5-3, with those three defeats all coming against quality opposition: the Ravens; Texans; and Patriots. Even though the Chargers currently sit at 4-4, two of their victories came against the Chiefs – including last Sunday’s 31-13 win in San Diego – and they have not looked like a playoff team this season, with their worst performance coming in a 7-6 defeat against the Browns in Week 8. Oakland’s 42-32 defeat at home against Tampa Bay included a typically enigmatic performance by their quarterback, Carson Palmer, who threw four touchdown passes, but also three interceptions; while the Chiefs have still not led in regulation this year, their only victory coming in overtime against the Saints. This weekend all four AFC west teams are on the road: the Broncos face the Panthers; the Raiders are in Baltimore; the Chargers take on the Buccaneers; and the Chiefs play the Steelers on Monday Night Football.
Last week, 8-6; Season, 69-62
Home teams in bold
Jaguars +3.5 over Colts
Giants -4.5 over Bengals
Dolphins -6.5 over Titans
Vikings +2.5 over Lions
Patriots -11.5 over Bills
Falcons -2.5 over Saints
Buccaneers -3.5 over Chargers
Panthers +3.5 over Broncos
Ravens -7.5 over Raiders
Jets +6.5 over Seahawks
Cowboys +1.5 over Eagles
49ers -11.5 over Rams
Texans +1.5 over Bears
Steelers -12.5 over Chiefs