What grade would you give every team in the NFL heading into Week 8? It's not as easy as you might think.
Front-runners like the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans are easy enough to evaluate and assign a letter grade to, but then there are teams like the Indianapolis Colts or New Orleans Saints who have at times exceeded expectations, while at other times they've failed to live up to their preseason hype.
How does every team look heading into midseason?
The Good: Tom Brady
When you have Tom Brady as your quarterback, good things tend to happen. The Patriots sit with a 4-3 record and are in first place in the AFC East, largely thanks to Mr. Brady's play at quarterback.
The offensive line has been very bad at times, but with a future Hall of Famer running the ship, it's tough to bet against New England.
The Bad: The Secondary
The Patriots have allowed 163 points this season—definitely not the worst in the league, but not the best either. Watching them play every week, it's becoming obvious that the secondary is outmanned. The upgrades the team has tried to make through the draft aren't paying off yet.
The Good: Ryan Tannehill
When Ryan Tannehill was made the Dolphins' first-round pick, few people criticized the team more than me. I was wrong. Painfully wrong.
Tannehill has been great so far, helping the Dolphins win three games and showing over the last several weeks that he's the future of this ballclub.
The Bad: Overall Talent
The Dolphins are playing much better than expected, but they are still not as talented as others in the conference and division. Winning on pure heart and desire will get you so far, but at the end of the day, talent matters.
General manager Jeff Ireland looks like a genius for his selection of Ryan Tannehill, but now he'll be tasked with upgrading the skill positions and defense after the 2012 season.
The Good: The Defense
The loss of Darrelle Revis was supposed to cripple this team, but Rex Ryan's Jets have responded well to adversity and are playing their tails off.
Yes, the defense is to blame for the Patriots' comeback in Week 7, but for a group with so few matchups going their way, the Jets defense is playing much better than expected.
The Bad: The Offense
You can blame Mark Sanchez if you want. Or blame the offensive line—they haven't been very good either. It also makes sense to blame the skill players, as they've let the team down often enough.
The Jets have so many issues on offense that it's hard to blame just one guy. The next 10 weeks will determine if Sanchez is brought back, and likely if general manager Mike Tannenbaum is there with him.
The Good: The Running Backs
Even through injury, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have been outstanding for the Buffalo offense. With two backs who can share the load and make big plays, Chan Gailey's offense has something special to work with.
As this team grows, the duo of Spiller and Jackson will be the backbone. When they get rolling, Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't look so bad at quarterback, but when they can't find openings, the Bills offense has been exposed.
The Bad: The Defense
The Buffalo Bills were supposed to have one of the NFL's best defenses this year. That hasn't happened.
Investing in Mario Williams, Mark Anderson and Stephon Gilmore has resulted in a defense that's allowed 227 points through seven games. There's a reason the Bills are 3-4, and that reason is the defense.
Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt may be the next man fired in the 2012 season.
The Good: Dominant When Healthy
A healthy Baltimore Ravens team would likely be a favorite to win the AFC, if not a Super Bowl. When everyone is on the field, this is one of the best teams in football, hands down.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has been the best in the business over the last decade, and he's built a team that can win all three phases of the game. The 2012 Ravens looked like one of his most complete teams—until injuries happened.
The Bad: Injuries
Joe Flacco can be very good when given time to make decisions, and Ray Rice is still Ray Rice, but when injuries start to take guys off the field (both on offense and defense), Flacco isn't the type of quarterback who can win games on his own.
With Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb out for the year and Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata slowed by injuries, the Ravens are officially in trouble.
The Good: Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger is quietly having his best season yet, even if he doesn't want to believe it. Big Ben has been hot though, and the Steelers' success this season is directly tied to the accurate, efficient play of the quarterback.
Pittsburgh faces a second-half climb in the AFC North, and for it to make the playoffs Big Ben has to be more of a factor each week. He's clearly the best player on the team right now. It's time to use him like it.
The Bad: Age
Seven starters on defense are over 30 years old, and while Casey Hampton and Co. may terrorize two rookies on the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line, the defense has been an issue all season.
In Week 7, the Steelers defense did look great, and that's largely because they are finally getting healthy, but trusting the aging starters on defense to last the entire season (and maybe through the playoffs) is tricky.
Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Casey Hampton have all been injured this season, and if the Steelers are to make a run in the postseason, they need their Big Three healthy.
The Good: A.J. Green and Geno Atkins
You could make a solid argument that A.J. Green and Geno Atkins are the top players at their respective positions. I wouldn't argue with you.
Both Green and Atkins have been dominating each week, even when the opposition knows what's coming. The Bengals have something special in their two young stars, and it's worth remembering that both players are incredibly young.
As the Bengals build into a perennial playoff contender, Green and Atkins are the building blocks.
The Bad: Inconsistency
For as great as Green and Atkins have been, the rest of the Bengals roster has been maddeningly inconsistent. The team is close to taking over the AFC North, but they need another strong draft class and another year of maturing and learning before they can be considered a threat.
The Good: 2012 Rookie Class
General manager Tom Heckert may not survive the ownership change from Randy Lerner to Jimmy Haslam, but if the Browns climb out of the NFL's basement in the next five years, the 2012 draft class will be the reason why.
Heckert's group features starters Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Mitchell Schwartz, Billy Winn and James-Michael Johnson. That's six starters, plus key contributors John Hughes, L.J. Fort and Travis Benjamin. Those nine first-year players are all gaining valuable experience and giving the new owner a look at the future of his team.
The Bad: Lack of Talent, Experience
The Browns' best players are all young, while the majority of the veterans are in line to be replaced due to a lack of talent. Therein lies the conundrum of the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns have built up the talent base on the roster, but this is still a team that is outmanned on a week-to-week basis.
The Good: Everything
The Houston Texans sit at 6-1, well ahead in the AFC South. After seven games, it's tough to imagine anyone else claiming the AFC title.
The Texans basically picked up where they left off last year, but this time around the team is, for the most part, healthy. A healthy roster means a dominant Houston team that has the talent and experience to win its conference and maybe more.
The Bad: Brian Cushing's Injury
The Texans will miss Brian Cushing, especially when they run into AFC foes who can run the ball between the tackles. That's the biggest weakness for this team right now, and it's the only obvious reason why the Texans shouldn't be considered a favorite to win the AFC.
The Good: Rebuilding Faster than Expected
The fact that the Indianapolis Colts are 3-3 after seven weeks is a great thing—they've already bested their 2011 win total. A rebuilding period was expected when new general manager Ryan Grigson replaced Bill Polian, and while the Colts aren't quite there yet, they're ahead of the curve.
Head coach Chuck Pagano has installed the schemes and attitude to turn the Colts back into contenders. They're just a few more talented players away.
The Bad: Missing Parts
As good as the Colts have been, they're still missing the parts to be a contender in the AFC South. Andrew Luck needs more options at wide receiver; the middle of the offensive line needs work; on defense, the team is still loading up for the scheme change to a 3-4 defense.
Grigson and his scouting department have done a wonderful job building up the team, but it will take at least one more offseason to turn things around in Indy.
The Good: Matt Hasselbeck
A rough start to the season leaves little room for happy thoughts, but Matt Hasselbeck's play in relief of Jake Locker has been inspiring.
Hasselbeck has provided a spark for the offense, and in turn given new life to the defense and the Titans roster. While a turnaround of the season may seem unlikely at this point, silver lining can be found in the play of the veteran quarterback.
The Bad: Inconsistency
There hasn't been much good for the Tennessee Titans this year.
Chris Johnson has largely been ineffective. Kenny Britt is an off-field problem waiting to happen (again). The defense has been the picture of inconsistency. A team thought to be a playoff contender before the season now looks like a 6-10 ballclub that is still searching for consistent, reliable threats on both sides of the ball.
The Good: Eugene Monroe
Not much has gone right for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. At all. The best news may be that their 1-5 start will result in a reworking of the front office, coaching staff and depth chart.
One very positive note about the Jaguars' season has been left tackle Eugene Monroe. Playing on an offense that is full of problems, Monroe has been a standout performer.
The Bad: Everything Else
The current front office should start looking for boxes, because they'll be packing up their offices soon. Gene Smith's run as general manager has resulted not in a promising young team or playoff wins, but in a roster that generally lacks NFL talent.
Poor draft choices and misses in free agency are the sole reasons for the state of the Jaguars, and when the season ends it would be a surprise if Smith, head coach Mike Mularkey and quarterback Blaine Gabbert are kept around.
The Good: Peyton Manning
You can see it happening each week: Peyton Manning is getting into a rhythm. That should scare everyone in the NFL.
The Denver Broncos were good enough to make the playoffs last year with Tim Tebow at quarterback, so it shouldn't be a surprise that they're leading the AFC West with a Hall of Famer at the position in 2012. As Manning shakes off the rust from missing the 2011 season, the Broncos continue to pull away from the pack in the division.
The Bad: The Run Game
Manning won't be able to rely on the run game to bail him out in tough spots this season. The Broncos run game is ranked No. 23 overall right now, and until the interior of the offensive line starts playing better, it's unlikely that Willis McGahee and Co. will pick up any running room.
The Denver run game was a strength last year, but without the threat of a running quarterback, defenses are able to focus on the backs and stop the run. That will be a problem when facing teams like the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs.
The Good: Fast Starts
The San Diego Chargers have shown that they have the offensive firepower to build big leads early in games. In Week 6, they did that against the Denver Broncos, quickly running up a 24-0 halftime lead.
The Chargers have been able to shed the old Norv Turner label of being slow starters in 2012, and their three wins have been an indicator of better production so far this year.
The Bad: Bad Endings
The problem in San Diego isn't how the team starts, but how they finish. The Chargers defense allowed the Broncos to erase a 24-point deficit in Week 6. In Week 5, San Diego allowed the New Orleans Saints to score 17 unanswered points to win the game. In their other loss, Week 3 against Atlanta, the Chargers looked asleep at the wheel.
Fans in San Diego who are tired of Norv Turner's ways at least have this glimmer of hope: The team's ineptness this season will likely result in his firing.
The Good: Passing Offense
Carson Palmer and the Oakland Raiders passing attack has been much improved since the 2011 season. Palmer is leading an offense that's putting up 273.2 yards per game. Palmer is finding Brandon Myers, Darren McFadden and Denarius Moore early and often and building a chemistry with his teammates that was lacking after his return from retirement in 2011.
The Bad: Rushing Offense
For as good as the passing game has been, the run game has been a major disappointment.
Darren McFadden is incredibly talented, but the offensive line is failing to open holes. You can't fault McFadden for failing to break away when the defenders are meeting him in the hole. An offensive line that was a strength in 2011 looks like a major weakness in 2012.
The Good: Strong Nucleus in Place
Like him or not, Scott Pioli has built up a very strong nucleus of young players in Kansas City.
Much was made of the fact that this club didn't feature one player over 30 when training camp began, but now that the Chiefs aren't winning games, it's been forgotten that this is a depth chart that's still growing and learning.
The Bad: Matt Cassel and Jon Baldwin
For all the talent, two players' poor play has stood out most. Quarterback Matt Cassel and wide receiver Jon Baldwin have been bad. Very bad.
Cassel has been benched in favor of Brady Quinn, which tells you a lot about how the club views him. Cassel has proved in the past that he can be a winner, but only with elite talent around him. This club doesn't have that right now, and one player who is chiefly responsible for that is Baldwin.
The two developed a chemistry in training camp, but it's been invisible during the season. Here's hoping Quinn and Baldwin can figure things out.
The Good: Eli Manning
Eli Manning has come into his own as an elite NFL quarterback. But we already knew that.
Manning has been very good this regular season, carving up NFL defenses while executing the game plan and playing some of his best football to date. As good as Manning has been this year, and as dominant as the New York defense can be, it's easy to make the Giants a favorite for the NFC side of the Super Bowl.
The Bad: Yards Allowed on Defense
Yards allowed per game can be a meaningless stat, but in the Giants' two losses, their yards allowed have been a huge issue. In each of their two losses, New York allowed the opposing team's leading rusher over 120 yards. That's a problem.
The Good: Winning Ugly
The Philadelphia Eagles are 3-3 and have already fired their defensive coordinator; it's pretty much playoffs or bust for Andy Reid. There's not a whole lot of good for the Eagles right now.
One bright spot is that the team has learned to win ugly. The Eagles' three wins come by a total of four points. Winning ugly still counts as a win, thankfully.
The Bad: Turnovers
Think the Eagles' turnovers aren't a problem? The team is minus-nine in turnover margin so far this year. Only the Kansas City Chiefs have more giveaways.
This leads to a team that can produce yards (No. 7 overall) but not points (No. 30 overall). If you need insight into the Eagles' three losses, there you have it.
The Good: Pass Defense
The Dallas front office spent considerable money on bulking up the secondary this offseason. In came cornerbacks Brandon Carr via free agency and Morris Claiborne with a first-round draft pick. The additions have paid off.
The Dallas secondary, especially at cornerback, has been a nice strength for the defense this year. As Claiborne matures and acclimates to the NFL, the Cowboys have the talent to become one of the best cornerback duos in the game.
The Bad: Lack of Scoring
The Cowboys are a bit of an enigma offensively. Tony Romo's offense has the seventh-most passing yards per game, but they're scoring just 18.8 points per game—good for No. 25 overall.
The Cowboys' inability to close on offense is a big reason the team has three losses and has struggled to pull away from opponents. In fact, Dallas has yet to beat an opponent by more than one touchdown all season.
The Good: Robert Griffin III
The rookie has been as good as advertised.
Griffin has been every bit the leader the Redskins needed. He's also been one hell of a quarterback, showing the pass-run ability that opens up the Washington offense. Thanks to Griffin—and fellow rookie Alfred Morris at running back—the Redskins offense has been stout early on.
The Bad: The Secondary
Mike Shanahan's team is playing much better overall ball than expected, but one area of concern it'll need to address in the offseason is the secondary. Especially at safety.
DeAngelo Hall continues to be a strong turnover machine, but when it comes to coverage, both Hall and Josh Wilson are less than stellar. Getting better at cornerback is a huge first step for the Redskins' playoff hopes.
The Good: Winning at All Costs
The Chicago Bears have won five games, losing just one. They've done it a few ways. They can win with tough defense, they can win with all-out offense. Lovie Smith's team is winning at all costs.
As the season progresses, you can see the defense getting better. The cornerback play of Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings has been elite. Safety Chris Conte is quickly becoming one of my favorites.
The Bears have a defense that can win a Super Bowl.
The Bad: Divisional Competition
As good as the Chicago Bears have been, the competition within their own division is the best in the NFL.
In other divisions, the Bears would be a clear favorite to win a playoff spot, but in the NFC North the Bears have to worry about the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. Even the division's worst team—the Detroit Lions—are capable of being dangerous on a weekly basis.
The Good: Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin
Adrian Peterson wasn't supposed to be this good so soon after an ACL injury. Percy Harvin was labeled as talented, but not productive. That's so 2011.
Peterson and Harvin have been the strength of this team, allowing the Vikings offense to take off and excel this season. With an improved offensive line, Peterson and Harvin have the goods to make the Vikings a dangerous competitor.
The Bad: Inconsistent Christian Ponder
Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder has been surprising this year, playing improved football and showing enough promise to be the team's franchise quarterback. That said, he's still going through his growing pains.
While some weeks the Vikings have won because of Ponder, they've also managed to win in spite of him. For Minnesota to move from a surprise team to a playoff contender, Ponder has to continue to improve.
The Good: Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers has been the NFL's best quarterback for a while now, at least since the 2011 season began. If you looked at his last two games, you could argue he's playing better than any quarterback ever.
Rodgers has been on his game since the Packers lost to the Indianapolis Colts, leading the offense to huge production and throwing nine touchdowns and zero interceptions along the way.
The Bad: A Slow Start
The Packers have found their rhythm, but it may be too late for the team to win a top seed in the playoffs. That may be OK, since the last time the Packers won a Super Bowl they were a wild-card team, but home-field advantage at Lambeau Field would certainly help.
The Good: Tons of Talent
Matthew Stafford. Calvin Johnson. Ndamukong Suh. Cliff Avril. The Detroit Lions are loaded with star players.
The cupboard is far from bare in Detroit. Thanks to a few very bad years, the front office was able to load up the roster with early draft picks. Those players are reaching their prime now, and the Lions should have a roster good enough to compete with any in the league.
The Bad: Lack of Production from Stars
The problem in Detroit isn't a lack of talent, it's a lack of production.
Stafford and Johnson have combined for a total of zero touchdowns. Jahvid Best is out indefinitely with concussion problems. Suh is having a very good year, but he's still plagued with lapses of judgement—on and off the field.
The Lions have talent; what they need is the leadership in place to maximize that talent.
The Good: Undefeated
You can't argue with their record. At all.
The Atlanta Falcons haven't lost yet. Some will surely complain about their strength of schedule, but you can only beat those teams you play. The Falcons will be tested—in fact, a tough one is coming this week against the Philadelphia Eagles—but they have a four-game lead over the rest of their division right now.
Barring a catastrophic collapse, the Falcons will be in the playoffs, and likely as a top seed.
The Bad: Lack of a Challenge
The fact that the Eagles represent the best challenge the Falcons have faced so far this year tells you something.
It doesn't dilute the fact that the Falcons are undefeated at all, but it does bring up a valid argument that the team hasn't been game-tested yet. When the playoffs come, the Falcons need to be confident in their ability to win tough games.
The Good: Momentum
Over the last two weeks, few teams have played better than the New Orleans Saints.
Drew Brees and his team have found their momentum over the last two weeks, showing that they are still the talented bunch many considered a Super Bowl contender before the season began. With the offense taking off and Joe Vitt back as interim head coach, the Saints are getting hot as the midseason mark approaches.
The Bad: 0-4 Start
The Saints could be the best team in football right now, but they're still 2-4. That 0-4 start may be a stumbling block in the team's hopes for a comeback over the last 10 games of the season.
To realistically make the playoffs in the NFC this year, the Saints need at least 10 wins. That means going 8-2 the rest of the season.
The Good: Young Talent
With a cast of young stars like Doug Martin, Mark Barron, Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Mason Foster and Lavonte David, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a strong group of talented, young players ready to be the building blocks for this franchise's comeback.
The Bad: Poor Coaching
The Buccaneers have a loaded crop of young talent, but to date they haven't been fully developed. Some of that goes back to Raheem Morris' tenure, but the Greg Schiano regime has been too conservative at times and too focused on jumping the snap on victory formations.
It's too early to tell if Schiano can or will turn this franchise around, but there's no doubt that the talent to win is there.
The Good: A Fresh Start
The firing of general manager Marty Hurney is easily the best news to come this season for the Carolina Panthers.
Don't get me wrong, a man losing his job isn't something to be happy about, but fans of the Panthers should be thrilled that the team will see a fresh start. A much-needed fresh start.
Hurney didn't leave the cupboard bare, but the Panthers have exhibited questionable draft picks and handed money to players (cough, DeAngelo Williams, cough) who didn't deserve it. A new general manager means a bit of hope is coming to the Carolinas.
The Bad: Everything
Cam Newton is struggling. The run game is invisible, despite three capable running backs in place. The defense can't stop the run.
The Panthers' outlook this season is bleak, at best. Their most talented players are either struggling mightily (Newton) or injured (Chris Gamble). The best news may be that the Panthers are in a position to add a marquee defensive tackle early in the first round of the 2013 draft.
The Good: Balanced, Dominant
There are times when the San Francisco 49ers look like the best team in football. In their five wins, the 49ers have been focused, balanced and dominant. They look like world-beaters.
A top defense finally has the offense to balance it out, and on special teams the 49ers are one of the best kicking and punting teams in the game. Whether it's a 13-6 bloody battle or a 45-3 beatdown of the Buffalo Bills, the 49ers have proved they can win no matter the circumstance.
The Bad: Focus
In their two losses, the 49ers didn't look like the 49ers. Both the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants beat the 49ers at their own game, playing a hard-hitting run game early and setting a tempo that shut down the San Francisco momentum. That's classic Jim Harbaugh.
When the 49ers aren't focused, bad things happen. They can't afford too many more of these games if they hope to be a top seed in the NFC.
The Good: 4-0 Start
The Arizona Cardinals were the story of the first quarter of the season with their red-hot 4-0 start. Ken Whisenhunt's team was playing amazing defense and getting enough offensive production from Kevin Kolb to win decisively.
A 4-0 start had many pointing at the Arizona Cardinals as a potential Cinderella story.
The Bad: 0-3 Since
The Cardinals' weaknesses have been exposed since their four wins. The offensive line has broken down, and that led to Kevin Kolb's injury, which opened the door for John Skelton to come in. Skelton has been terrible, putting a good defense in a position to defend short fields.
The Good: The Defense
The Seattle Seahawks may have the NFL's best defense. They do have the NFL's best secondary. Bar none.
The defense in Seattle has been outstanding, from the front to the back. The young talent Pete Carroll and Co. have brought into town has given the Seahawks the backbone to a franchise that's being built to play tough, hard-nosed football.
The Bad: The Offense
Marshawn Lynch is one of the top 50 players in the NFL right now, and he's one hell of a force to bring down with one or two players. He's elite.
The rest of the offense, not so much.
Rookie Russell Wilson has been up and down so far this year, showing glimpses of brilliance while learning on the job. The offensive line has some highlights (Russell Okung has been very solid) and a lot of lowlights (Breno Giacomini).
Until the Seattle offense can carry its weight, this is a team destined to top out at 9-7.
The Good: Playing Above Expectations
The St. Louis Rams are currently in last place in the NFC West, but this isn't the same team that finished last year with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
Jeff Fisher's impact on this team has been tremendous. Same for new general manager Les Snead. The duo of Snead and Fisher have brought a new look, a new attitude and enough new players to have the St. Louis Rams playing well above where anyone hoped they would be so soon after rebuilding the front office.
The Bad: Lack of Talent
Les Snead was hired to fix a bad team. Period. The St. Louis Rams were talent deficient when Snead came onto the scene. Now, things are better, but the job is far from done.
Snead will spend the offseason trying to add talent at both tackle spots, getting better at safety and wide receiver and trying to up the quality of players filling out the 53-man roster. If his first offseason is any indication, Snead can get the job done.