Well, folks, we’ve hit the midway point of the 2017 NFL season. It’s been a bumpy ride thus far, but the playoff picture is slowly putting itself together. There’ll be plenty of competition down the stretch, so let’s take a look at where things currently stand across the NFL.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2)
Their wins haven’t always been pretty, but the Steelers could certainly be argued as the best all-around team in the AFC. Ben Roethlisberger has a vast amount of offensive weapons at his disposal, and the defense is finally starting to play like the Black-and-Gold of old. Minimizing mistakes will be the team’s top priority in the second half of the regular season.
2. New England Patriots (7-2)
It’s hard to bet against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Patriots offense will always be deadly with that duo at the helm. The problem is on the other side of the ball. Free agent departures and injuries have catapulted the unit to dead last in the league in total defense. While the Patriots may be able to make their way to the conference title game via their aerial assault, their defense is simply not capable of slowing down the Steelers or the next team on the list.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (6-3)
The Chiefs were looking like the best team in football through the first five games of this year. However, it seems like other teams have figured out the best way to score against their defense, which is struggling against the pass. Andy Reid will have the offense clicking as usual, but the Chiefs will be in the same boat as the Patriots until their stop unit gets better.
4. Tennessee Titans (6-3)
Many talking heads pegged the Titans as a breakout candidate for 2017, and so far, they’ve lived up to expectations. Marcus Mariota hasn’t quite taken the leap a lot of people expected him to, but he’s been productive, and the defense has improved considerably from last season. The Titans have a nice mix of veterans and young talent, which could be enough for an upset or two in the playoffs.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3)
Who predicted that the Jags of all teams would be sitting with a playoff slot at midseason? Well, the defense has played outstanding so far, enough to carry the inconsistent offense. Their starting secondary, comprised of A.J. Bouye, Jalen Ramsey, Tashaun Gipson and Barry Church, is arguably the best in the NFL. But can a team with Blake Bortles as its signal caller advance beyond the first round of the playoffs? I have my doubts.
6. Buffalo Bills (5-4)
A few weeks ago, the Bills were looking like a true threat. The defense was playing well, and Tyrod Taylor was proving management wrong with his solid play at QB. But they’ve suffered two bad losses in a row, and it feels like whatever mojo they had is gradually slipping away. It might be enough for one of the next few squads to jump past them.
7. Baltimore Ravens (4-5)
The Ravens defense has been fairly stout through nine games, in spite of numerous injuries, but their offense is just not strong enough for them to compete against the higher tier teams in the league. Joe Flacco doesn’t have the weapons and offensive line to succeed, though he needs to correct his decision making as well.
8. Oakland Raiders (4-5)
There’s been enough Raiders coverage on Salute (from yours truly), so I’ll keep this brief: this team won’t be able to win games if Derek Carr doesn’t play well. The defense also needs to pull itself together.
The Wednesday Update is back tomorrow, by the way. Get excited.
9. Miami Dolphins (4-5)
The Dolphins were 4-2 not long ago. The defense looked surprisingly decent, and the offense was making enough plays to win games. Then they suffered three straight primetime losses (no wonder NFL ratings are in trouble), two of them in embarrassing fashion. Trading Jay Ajayi to the best team in the league was akin to Rocky trying to throw in the towel during the Creed-Drago match.
10. New York Jets (4-6)
All things considered, the Jets should be happy to be where they’re at. Sure, winning too many games might hurt them during draft season, but it’s better than lying down and dying like some other teams are doing. Who knows? Maybe they can sneak their way into the postseason.
11. Houston Texans (3-6)
DeShaun Watson‘s torn ACL killed any chance of the Texans finding a path to the playoffs, which, to be honest, really sucks. He had the offense playing well, and the defense was finding its footing again after losing so many stars to injury. No team’s making the playoffs with Tom Savage as their QB.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (3-6)
Man, the Bengals are mediocre. The only truly bad thing about the team is the offensive line. Every other position is in decent shape, enough for them to normally get to the playoffs. But there’s no energy here. It might be time for them to finally move on from Marvin Lewis, and perhaps Andy Dalton as well.
13. San Diego Chargers (3-6)
The Chargers are better than this. They always are. Every single game they’ve played this year has been close. But it seems as if they’re doomed to continual injuries and Philip Rivers trying to tie the game with under two minutes left. In a soccer stadium.
14. Denver Broncos (3-6)
What a waste of a talented defense. The Broncos have the tools to be a threat. But their QB situation is dire. Trevor Siemian looks like nothing more than a career backup, Paxton Lynch can’t get on the field and Brock Osweiler is damaged goods. The QB class for this year’s draft looks nice, though.
15. Indianapolis Colts (3-7)
The Colts deserve this. Well, not the players anyway. Their management has been lousy, especially when it comes to handling injuries. Poor Andrew Luck. At least he’s got a hefty contract to fall back on.
16. Cleveland Browns (0-9)
GO WINLESS, IT’S PART OF THE PROCESS.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)
While most fans expected the Eagles to improve from last season, nobody expected them to turn into the best team in football. Carson Wentz looks like an elite player after just 1.5 seasons, and the defense will get a huge boost when Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones return from injury. The offensive line will sorely miss Jason Peters, however.
2. Minnesota Vikings (7-2)
While I don’t want to knock the Vikings for the way they’ve played in spite of the QB situation, let’s pump the brakes a bit. Their schedule is about to get super tough, so it’s not out of the question for them to slip a bit. Still, the defense might have the most overall talent in the league.
3. New Orleans Saints (7-2)
This might be Drew Brees‘ swan song, so the Saints need to lay it all on the line down the stretch. Their defense has been surprisingly great, mostly due to the elite play of rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who should win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
4. Los Angeles Rams (7-2)
Much has been made about the fact that the top four teams in the NFC all missed the playoffs last year. However, the Eagles were expected to improve, and most people recognized the talent that the Vikings and Saints had.
But the Rams at 7-2? That’s shocking, especially with a first-year head coach in command. Sean McVay looks like a genius. He knew the defense was sitting in pretty good shape to begin the season, so he focused on revamping the offensive gameplan to fit Jared Goff. It has paid off big time. Like the Vikings, the Rams have a tough end to the season schedule-wise, but it’s going to take a lot to slow their momentum down.
5. Carolina Panthers (7-3)
Cam Newton takes too much crap. Well, at least for his on-the-field activity. He’s working with a largely mediocre offense, and yet the Panthers have 7 wins. The defense should be commended for stepping up when Luke Kuechly went down. With him back, they’ve already shown a lot of promise.
6. Seattle Seahawks (6-3)
The Seahawks should feel lucky to be the 6th seed. Their offensive line might be the worst in the league, and acquiring Duane Brown might not be enough to fix it. Russell Wilson hasn’t been affected by it, however. He’s played lights out thus far. The defense will miss Richard Sherman, though.
7. Atlanta Falcons (5-4)
Sometimes, losing a coordinator can be enough to derail a team’s season. Filling the spot vacated by Kyle Shanahan with Steve Sarkisian has not worked out for the Falcons offense, which is a shame since their defense has been fairly solid. Still, the former looked a lot better on Sunday.
8. Detroit Lions (5-4)
I’m not sure what to make of the Lions. They’ve been up-and-down on both sides of the ball this year, partly due to injuries, but also because of inconsistent play. Pairing Matthew Stafford with a better running back should be a priority during the offseason.
9. Green Bay Packers (5-4)
Aaron Rodgers‘ injury looked to have doomed the Packers, but Brett Hundley is gradually improving as a signal caller, though he still has a long way to go. The offensive line’s health hasn’t helped matters. The Pack could certainly take a step up in the second half of the season, but Hundley is the determining factor there.
10. Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
Tyron Smith needs to get more appreciation. Without him at left tackle, the Cowboys offense was in utter disarray on Sunday. Dak Prescott looked like he had to scramble on nearly every play. Until Smith returns, the Cowboys playoff chances are in major jeopardy.
11. Washington Redskins (4-5)
Washington is in a similar spot to the Chargers. They’ve been competitive in most of their games this year, but injuries of the offensive line have held them back. That unit looked a lot healthier on Sunday, so maybe they’ll start winning more games down the stretch.
12. Arizona Cardinals (4-5)
The Cardinals will be competitive in most of their games, but having Drew Stanton at QB is going to limit their success time and time again. Carson Palmer looks to be at the end of the road, which might result in a new QB when the draft rolls around.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)
Maybe the most disappointing team in football. The Bucs have an endless supply of young talent, but that inexperience has led to them making the same mistakes over and over. Jameis Winston hasn’t corrected his weaknesses either. It might take one more season for them to take the next step.
14. Chicago Bears (3-6)
The Bears defense is playoff caliber, but the team has next to nothing on offense outside of Jordan Howard. Mitch Trubisky hasn’t been a lost cause, however, so management should feel safe with their investment in him. He just needs more experience and better receivers.
15. New York Giants (1-8)
While injuries played a huge part in the Giants falling flat on their faces this season, Bob McAdoo‘s inability to connect with his locker room may be the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s a given that he’ll be out the door when 2018 begins. Losing on Sunday was big for their draft chances, however. Also, they should sit Eli Manning before something bad happens to him.
16. San Francisco 49ers (1-9)
This was to be expected, but the Niners look like they’re on the right track. John Lynch has been strong as a GM, making a number of smart moves, which cumulated in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. Now that they have a prospective QB, they can focus on filling in the holes around him.