Heading into Week 7, 11 NFL teams sport a mediocre a 3-3 record, seven of which reside in the AFC.
I like a challenge.
Predicting which of these 11 clubs will finish above .500—yeah, I'd say that's challenging.
I could just give the group of teams I think will end the year 9-7 or better, but I don't want to leave anyone out.
With an overwhelming amount of parity present, why not give every 3-3 a mention?
Sorting the 11 clubs this way makes this challenge a little easier, anyway.
Here I'll list all the 3-3 clubs, then classify them based on the likelihood of them finishing over .500 in 2012.
New England Patriots
The last time New England finished worse than 9-7, the year was 2000 and Drew Bledsoe was the quarterback.
Typically, I detest the use of historic statements to justify a claim made in the present day, but this one—well, it's quite telling.
Brady's never finished with a losing record as a starter.
As long as he's healthy, the Patriots will find a way to get above the .500 mark.
Sure, the secondary is prone to allowing the big play, as we were reminded again in their second-half collapse against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6.
And yes, Rob Gronkowski has been disappointing in relation to his epic 2011 masterpiece.
But Brady is the most integral factor, a guy who'll almost single-handedly win New England games in the second half of the season.
With No. 12 under center, I simply cannot fathom the Patriots finishing the year with fewer than nine wins.
Green Bay Packers
Another elite quarterback, another team currently sitting 3-3 that will finish above .500.
There's a reason why "the NFL is a quarterback-driven league" is an overused cliche.
The teams with good signal-callers almost always rise to the top in December.
Green Bay silenced its critics with a trouncing of the Texans in Houston, and Rodgers put on a vintage performance—more specifically, a 2011-esque performance.
There is far too much talent on offense and in the secondary for the Packers to finish with a worse record than 8-8 this season.
No way. No how.
Is 11 wins out of the question?
I don't think so.
Peyton Manning got a few Tebow-like fortuitous plays from his defense in the second half on Monday Night Football, but the legendary quarterback was the key to a stunning comeback win over the San Diego Chargers.
Much like Brady, the sheer presence of Manning seems to almost magically ensure the Broncos will finish the year with a winning record.
The last time Peyton finished below .500 was in 2001 (another noteworthy and totally acceptable historic statistic).
There really hasn't been a more productive regular season quarterback than Manning ever, and six games into the season, it's easy to see that his arm strength is back.
The AFC West is another division lacking depth, and though Manning's Broncos have their deficiencies, they shouldn't have a problem getting to, at the very least, nine wins.
With Manning and terrorizing edge-rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, Denver will never, ever be out of a football game.
The Most Likelies
San Diego Chargers
Yeah, yeah, everyone's burying the Chargers after the Monday Night Football catastrophe, and rightfully so.
However, let's remember this was one horrendous half against Peyton Manning by San Diego.
Taking their fans on an unadulterated roller-coaster ride is as typical as Manning and Brady finishing above .500.
For the Chargers, it really is.
They either start poorly and finish great or vice versa, but there are always drastic ups and downs throughout the year.
Peeking ahead at the schedule can sometimes get prognosticators in trouble, and as we've seen this season, any team can lose to even the most downtrodden opponent.
But games against the Chiefs, Raiders, Browns, Panthers and Jets wouldn't exactly be characterized as a gauntlet of amazingly difficult matchups.
As usual, San Diego, or, more specifically, Philip Rivers, will rebound and the Broncos and Chargers will be fighting for the AFC West crown in the final weeks of the season.
It won't be pretty, but nine wins is undeniably reasonable—that is, unless Norv Turner's ineptitude continues to hold back the Chargers.
The Ravens are the class of the AFC North. Actually, better make that "were" the class. Certainly, they're a highly skilled club, but the injury issues cannot be ignored.
Ray Lewis wasn't playing the same type of dominating football we'd seen from him in the past, but he'll undoubtedly be missed in the middle of the front seven.
Lardarius Webb is an elite cornerback playing in an otherwise susceptible secondary—losing him will be devastating.
Now, that's not to say that Baltimore will instantly go on a losing streak, but it'll certainly be much harder for them to win football games for the remainder of the season.
What does that have to do with the Bengals?
Well, they play the Ravens in Week 17, in a game that very well could decide the AFC North title.
Coming off consecutive losses, no one is nearly as high on the Bengals as they were two weeks ago.
I get it.
They've dealt with general inconsistency, especially on defense and from quarterback Andy Dalton.
The running game hasn't been steady, either.
However, there is too much young talent on this Bengals club for it to regress from a year ago and finish with a record under .500.
The Dalton-A.J. Green connection is among the best in the NFL.
The defense will improve under Mike Zimmer.
Predicting 10 wins may be too much, but much like the Chargers, nine wins is reasonable, and that is where I think the Bengals will finish the year.
Sensing a theme here?
Good quarterback, good chance to finish 9-7 or better.
Sure, Robert Griffin III is only a rookie, but he's been borderline elite in terms of overall productivity thus far.
The Redskins defense needs work, but can you honestly say that Washington is worse than the Philadelphia Eagles or Dallas Cowboys right now?
The schedule isn't a cinch, but with Griffin III's heroics and uncanny ability to make huge plays both through the air and on the ground, who says they can't win six more games?
No, the Redskins aren't an elite club, but Griffin III and overlooked running back Alfred Morris, a guy who's fourth in the NFL in rushing yardage, are the keys to what has become a dynamic offense in Washington.
Their over-.500 bid will be decided in the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys at home.
The Hey, It Could Happens
Could Ryan Tannehill finish his rookie campaign with a record above .500?
The Miami defense has faced the likes of Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford, Kevin Kolb and Mark Sanchez to start the year, but you can't fault them for playing stingy against the league's weaker quarterbacks.
If Tannehill continues to play efficient football and the defense continues to surprise the masses, there's a real chance Miami can finish at 9-7 or better.
Their lack of receiving talent could ultimately doom their chances at a winning record, but as we see on a weekly basis in the NFL, sound play from an accurate quarterback oftentimes masks receiving deficiencies.
Pulling out a close game like they did in Week 6 against the Rams is huge for the team's psyche after losing consecutive overtime games by a field goal.
You know the adage: "Good teams find a way to win the close ones."
The verdict is still out on how "good" the Dolphins really are, but they appear to be headed in the right direction.
To me, 8-8 seems the most realistic, but a bounce here or there and Miami could end 9-7.
Chan Gailey's group pulled out a big win on the road against a previously 4-1 Cardinals team that hadn't lost in Arizona in eight games.
That means something.
Sure, it wasn't the prettiest win, and the Cardinals are visibly flawed, as are the Bills, but old Buffalo clubs would have found a way to lose that Week 6 thriller.
Now, that doesn't mean this Bills team is definitely better than the previous 12 teams that failed to make the postseason, but after such a futile decade, any win, especially a close one on the road, should be deemed extremely valuable.
Road tests against the Patriots and Texans will most likely prove to be too daunting for a club with a handful of shortcomings, but playing the final five of seven at home against the Rams, Seahawks, Jaguars, Dolphins and Jets isn't an overly formidable task.
As long as C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are the focal points of the offense and the defensive line can build momentum and continue to gel, Buffalo has a shot at finishing the year over .500.
New York Jets
Everyone was ready to entomb the Jets' 2012 season after consecutive losses in Weeks 4 and 5. Then, they stuck it to a resilient Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts team.
The defense was outstanding, and Shonn Greene—yes, 2.8 yards per carry Shonn Greene—carried the ball 32 times for 161 yards and three scores in the victory.
Much like the Dolphins, the skill-position talent is insufficient, but there's no telling how far a strong defense can take this team.
If the ground-and-pound offense works wonders, Mark Sanchez is kept out of precarious situations and the defense continues to improve, Rex Ryan may very well pull off the best coaching job of his career—getting Gang Green above .500.
The Sorry, Ain't Happenin's
There is always one surprising team that underwhelms and finishes a campaign with eight wins or fewer.
What do you know?
That was the Eagles in 2011.
It could be them again in 2012.
LeSean McCoy is a monster on the ground, but he almost always fails to get enough carries. Michael Vick can be fun to watch and has incredible playmaking ability, but the bottom line in the NFL is production, and Vick's hurting his team more than he's helping it this season.
He has accounted for 13 turnovers (eight INTs, five fumbles), and his QB rating is 77.7.
With defensive coordinator Juan Castillo being fired, the team is in trouble.
Sure, many could see the firing as a positive alteration, but was it really warranted?
The Eagles have the talent.
But I'm really tired of writing that sentence without seeing results.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams are better than they've been in years. The defense is stout—especially the secondary led by the stingy duo of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins—but the offense is far behind today's NFL standards.
Sam Bradford hasn't displayed the kind of consistency we all expected from him after winning the Rookie of the Year in 2010, and the offensive line is shaky.
They could scrape out a few more wins, but will they win six more games to end the year?
Can't see it happening.
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