There's a clear Mendoza Line in the NFL right now, with just 12 teams sitting above .500 after eight weeks, but they aren't the only teams whose stock is rising.
You can look at the Cleveland Browns or Indianapolis Colts and see a team on the rise. On the other hand, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars are on the decline. Somewhere in between is the rest of the NFL.
Which teams stock is rising, and which are seeing their stock plummet?
The hope and excitement following the 2011 season seem like distant memories. The Carolina Panthers are struggling, and much of the blame is falling (fairly or not) on the shoulders of second-year quarterback Cam Newton.
When a general manager is fired before Week 8, it's clear that things aren't going well. Owner Jerry Richardson will be evaluating the franchise (again) after the season, and it won't be a surprise if head coach Ron Rivera is let go by the new head man in the front office.
Optimism was high in the preseason, with a strong defense in place to support a young offense ready to take flight. Instead, the Jacksonville Jaguars have suffered through a season of injuries, disappointments and losses.
The talent is in place for the Jaguars to be better than their 1-6 record, but the struggles of quarterback Blaine Gabbert and wide receiver Justin Blackmon have grounded an offense without Maurice Jones-Drew. On defense, the team has failed to find a pass rush and are desperately missing Daryl Smith's presence at outside linebacker.
Folks in Jacksonville are playing for their jobs, and a complete turnover in the offseason wouldn't be a surprise.
Well, this is disappointing, to say the least.
I was one of many people who picked the Kansas City Chiefs to win the AFC West, and they've failed to deliver on those expectations. From the top down, the Chiefs are struggling. General manager Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback Matt Cassel are all facing an offseason of uncertainty.
The team is trending down—failing to hold a lead once in seven games will do that—but I still see a talented team with poor discipline that's a good coach and a good quarterback away from contending for the AFC West.
Why is a 2-6 team trending up? Because the Cleveland Browns are better than their record indicates.
That may not mean much at the end of the year when the Browns are once again watching the playoffs and preparing for a top-10 draft pick, but this is a team that's close to contending in the loaded AFC North. Seriously.
Once a healthy Phil Taylor is back, once the team can shore up their issues at guard, and once a little more help is added at receiver and cornerback, the Browns will be contending for a long time.
Yes, that seems like a long list of needs, but this is also a team who has drafted incredibly well over the last two years. If new owner Jimmy Haslam can entice a key free agent (or two) to town, the Browns will be winning close games in 2013, instead of almost winning.
The New Orleans Saints looked like they were back. And then they ran into the Denver Broncos. At 2-5, New Orleans is roughly one loss away from guaranteeing a playoff-less year. And that means watching another NFC team playing for the Super Bowl in their home stadium.
Not everything that's gone wrong with the Saints' 2012 season can be blamed on the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton, but much of it can be. Payton was clearly the glue that held the offense together, and without him they've been able to produce yards but rarely the points or big plays needed to win.
The defense is another problem altogether. Steve Spagnuolo's scheme is so wildly different from the one that Gregg Williams ran, and the team lacks the players needed to effectively pressure the quarterback with only a four-man rush.
Until the Saints can improve the talent level on defense, and until Payton is back on the sidelines, the future looks bleak in New Orleans.
Injuries and poor play are adding up for the New York Jets. That has their stock crashing.
The loss of Darrelle Revis was huge for the Jets' chances in 2012. Add to that a Week 8 throttling by the Miami Dolphins and you have a rapid decline of a season. Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum have to be worried about their futures with the organization as things stand today.
The St. Louis Rams have only won three games, but they already look much-improved from the 2011 version. Thanks to Jeff Fisher and Les Snead, the Rams are headed in the right direction.
Quarterback Sam Bradford isn't beloved by fans yet, but he's shown remarkable improvement with Brian Schottenheimer running the offense. Consider that Bradford is playing with castoffs Wayne Hunter and Barry Richardson as his offensive tackles before you jump on his play too hard.
With two first-round picks in the 2013 draft thanks to the Washington Redskins' trade up for RGIII, the Rams are in a great position to improve in a hurry.
Despite a 3-5 record and their star running back's struggles, the Tennessee Titans are clearly an improving football team.
The draft has been kind to Tennessee, and through the last two years it has added key playmakers on both sides of the ball. Players like Colin McCarthy, Akeem Ayers, Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin and Kendall Wright are all major building blocks to the future success of this team, and all five are making big impacts early in their careers.
If the Titans can keep Jake Locker healthy and improve their offensive line play, this is a playoff team in the making.
When you have found the face of the franchise and the quarterback of the future, it's tough to feel down about the state of the franchise. That's the position the Washington Redskins find themselves halfway through the 2012 season.
Robert Griffin III has been absolutely phenomenal, and he'll likely win the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award for his play. For a franchise that's been looking for a reliable quarterback since Mark Rypien's last game, this is pretty sweet.
RGIII isn't the only bright spot. Alfred Morris, Trent Williams, Fred Davis, Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo form a solid nucleus for the team to build around.
There was so much optimism heading into the season for the Buffalo Bills. An already decent defense was supposed to be bolstered by the signings of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, giving Buffalo one of the most dominant defensive lines in football. The secondary added first-rounder Stephon Gilmore and the offense was finally healthy.
All of those things are true, but the Bills haven't seen instant success from their new additions. Instead, Mario Williams has struggled and the healthy offense has been inconsistent. The fact that the Bills are 3-4 is quite remarkable, because on any given week this doesn't look like a three-win team through eight weeks.
My preseason pick of the Cincinnati Bengals as AFC North champions isn't looking so hot heading into Week 9, but there is solid reason for optimism in southern Ohio.
First off, any team that has two of the best players in the NFL on its roster should be dancing in the streets. The Bengals have that with wide receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins. In fact—and I've said this before—they're the best at their positions, not just two of the best.
The Bengals have a solid young supporting cast mixed with smart veterans, and should the youngsters develop quickly, a second-half turnaround won't be a surprise.
While you were reading this, Tony Romo threw another interception.
Sure, the criticisms of Romo have been harsh this year while the critics fail to look at his offensive line or wide receivers' failures, but a lot of it is justified. As Romo underperforms, so do the Cowboys. And if that sounds familiar, well, it should.
The Cowboys with Romo at quarterback are becoming a perennial paper champion. The talent assembled each offseason gives pundits hope, but the product on the field rarely delivers. And for that, the Cowboys' stock is down. Way down.
A surprise playoff run in 2011 left many expecting a repeat performance from the Detroit Lions this year. While a 3-4 start isn't terrible, the Lions are in fourth place in the NFC North and look like a shell of the team that won 10 games last season.
Many of the problems stem from the team's inability to build up the talent in the secondary. Outside of safety Louis Delmas, the Lions have very few players who should be starting in the NFL. On offense things haven't been much better. Matthew Stafford has been up and down, and his chemistry with superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson has been non-existent. The two have produced not one touchdown in seven games.
It's tough to have faith in the Lions after their first seven games, and that's why their stock is down.
The Oakland Raiders have quietly put together a nice season. And they've done it with an almost complete absence of a 2012 draft class, thanks to Al Davis' trading addictions.
New general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen have started the process of building a winner. Their free agency and draft moves were subtle but solid, and looking ahead to 2013 the team has a solid foundation to build on.
The Raiders may not be a playoff team right now—although they're dangerously close to the Denver Broncos within the division—but the future is bright here.
That's the first thing that comes to mind with the Philadelphia Eagles. The preseason teases tricked us two years in a row, and we may very well be seeing the end of Andy Reid's run in Philadelphia, the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL.
Reid can't feel good about his job security, and neither can quarterback Michael Vick. Owner Jeffrey Lurie has some tough decisions ahead of him, especially if the team's three-game losing streak continues.
There is a lot of talent here, but the team needs an attitude adjustment. Reid hasn't proven to be the guy to do that.
Oh, Norv Turner. You do this to us every year. The on-paper talent of your San Diego Chargers is always among the best in the NFL, but the on-field performance is annually one of the worst.
Norv is coaching for his job right now, and even general manager A.J. Smith's future is in doubt. While that may be a temporary setback, the Chargers would ultimately be better off with a fresh start in the front office.
The struggles of Turner, quarterback Philip Rivers and the lack of talent assembled by Smith are all clear reasons for this team's falling stock.
Greg Schiano didn't have many believers when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the season 1-3, but they've rebounded nicely and recovered to a respectable 3-4 at the midseason point. Schiano's troops are improving each week, and for that their stock has to be pointing up.
The Bucs are an incredibly young squad; almost every starter on this team worth mentioning is under 30 (only Ronde Barber stands out as a post-30 stud). Because of that, the Bucs can be exciting and also maddening from week to week.
The good news is that players like Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Mason Foster, Mark Barron and Gerald McCoy all look like Pro Bowl-caliber starters. There's a great group to build around, and Schiano is the man to do it.
The Arizona Cardinals are a team of two different stories.
Their stock was unbelievably high after the season's first quarter. The Cardinals were unbeatable, running up a surprising 4-0 record while dominating on defense and getting efficient play from quarterback Kevin Kolb.
Then the second quarter began. Kolb went out with injury. The offensive line was exposed as the weakness many predicted. The team lost four straight games.
With the second half of the season starting, it would be a surprise at this point if the Cardinals won another game.
At home, the Seattle Seahawks are unbeatable. On the road, they can't find a way to win. If you're thinking an 8-8 record is likely, you'd be right.
The Seahawks are 3-0 at home and 1-4 on the road—a pretty telling sign about this team. The good news is that they're just getting better, and Pete Carroll's team is loaded with young studs on both sides of the ball.
If you aren't aware, Seattle has one of the NFL's best defenses and undoubtedly the best secondary. Once the offense catches up, this will be one of the toughest teams—at home and on the road—in all the NFL.
Peyton Manning is back to doing Peyton Manning things and the Denver Broncos are back to winning. Stock up.
The Broncos weren't just Tim Tebow in 2011, and they aren't just Peyton Manning this year. While the quarterbacks in the Mile High City tend to claim the spotlight, this is an underrated team. Left tackle Ryan Clady is playing lights out. Pass-rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are tearing up offensive lines.
The Broncos are winning thanks to Manning, but not only because of him. The entire team effort is a major reason the Broncos' stock is up.
The Indianapolis Colts managed to double their 2011 win total in just seven games. It's safe to say the changes owner Jim Irsay put in place are working out.
The first overall pick in the 2012 draft was used to replace Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck looks more than capable in his first season. The team is getting major production from 33-year-old Reggie Wayne at wide receiver. A defense built on Chuck Pagano's hard-nosed mentality is playing above expectations.
The optimism surrounding the Colts—for this season and beyond—is at a high point since the announcement that Manning wouldn't start the 2011 season. And for good reason.
The Miami Dolphins are one of the most pleasant surprises in the NFL this season. It's like buying stock in a friend's company and then realizing Google is interested in buying them.
Miami is succeeding against all odds, and a big part of that is the early production from rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman have worked wonders with Tannehill, and his improvement on a weekly basis is encouraging.
Also encouraging is the fact that in a weak AFC, the Dolphins are very much alive for a wild-card berth.
A season that was supposed to end in a letdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers has actually been more of the same for the always steady franchise. At the midseason mark, Pittsburgh is playing the best football of any team in the AFC North.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is having a great season and doing so behind an offensive line that's been patched together after injuries and poor play early in the year. With a receiving corps as good as any in the league, the Steelers' offense is poised to carry this team.
They may need to if the defense can't get healthy, but even that side of the ball is looking better with Casey Hampton and James Harrison back on the field.
Stock up on the Steelers; stock down on those hideous throwback uniforms.
It was just three weeks ago that the football world was shocked by the 2-3 Green Bay Packers. Losses to the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts (yes, the Colts!!!) had the Packers looking like pretenders.
Three weeks later, the Packers are riding a three-game winning streak and are once again atop the NFL's hierarchy. Aaron Rodgers is back in MVP form, Clay Matthews is terrorizing offenses and the Packers are back where they belong—as Super Bowl contenders.
Why stock down for the surprising Minnesota Vikings? Because their season is about to get much, much harder.
As one of the surprises of the first eight weeks, the Vikings would be considered "up" by most, but a combination of Christian Ponder's struggles and their own schedule is about to bring disappointment to the Twin Cities.
The Vikings' next eight games are as follows:
Even if they can survive with three wins, they'd still be 8-8 and likely on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
Why do we ever doubt the New England Patriots?
Sure, you can bet against them in the Super Bowl (especially if they're playing the Giants), but doubting them in the AFC East is a waste of time. They're going to win this year and will again next year if Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still active. End of story.
Why would their stock being anything but up? The Patriots dominated the St. Louis Rams in London, giving the rest of the NFL a preview of what an angry New England team looks like. And these aren't the lowly Rams of last year, these are the "we'll hit you in the mouth" Rams featuring Jeff Fisher and Cortland Finnegan.
So, yes, the Patriots' stock is up. And there are few teams who can stop that.
The winningest team to have a "Stock Down" stamp award goes to the Baltimore Ravens. Or more accurately, the injured members of the Baltimore Ravens.
If healthy, the Ravens would be my Super Bowl favorite from the AFC. But they're not healthy—at all—and for that reason it's impossible to put much faith in this team through the rest of the season. Not without Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis, and definitely not with Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata banged up.
There's always next year, Baltimore.
No team should scare opposing teams more than the New York Giants. Not the 6-1 Houston Texans. Not the 7-0 Atlanta Falcons. No one.
The Giants are road-tested, battle-hardened and one of the toughest, most physical teams in the league. And that's not just flowery prose—the Giants have the quarterback to win shootouts and the defense to play dirty. They also have a head coach who apparently is immune to pressure.
It all adds up to the New York Giants making another run through the playoffs. The only hope opposing teams have is that somehow, some way, they catch the Giants sleeping.
While the New York Giants may be the scariest team in the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers are the league's most complete team.
That may not have been the case four weeks ago, but injuries in Baltimore and Houston have tipped the scale in the 49ers' favor. With the league's best offensive line and a front seven on defense that's as good as any out there, San Francisco has an old-school look in today's game. The Niners will run the ball and stop the run, and do so in a way that sucks the momentum out of opponents.
There have been bumps in the road—the Vikings and Giants popped San Francisco in the mouth before the Niners could get a word out—but looking at the big picture, there is no team more complete than these 49ers.
At the end of the season it doesn't matter how you've won, only that you won more than you lost. The Chicago Bears are winning a lot more than they lose.
You can see the momentum building on the field. The Bears are clicking on offense—Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are recreating their production from some of their Denver Broncos' days—and on defense the entire team is as nasty as ever.
All three phases of the game are coming together for the Bears, and while you might not pick the Bears to beat San Francisco or New York, you have to admit that they'd put up one hell of a fight.
Teams like Chicago find a way to survive in the postseason. With a strong running game, a dominant defense that can play the run and pass, and a quarterback who can create big plays, the Bears have to be respected.
If you had to pick one team to run the table and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, you'd be wise to bet on the Houston Texans.
The Texans have two legitimate MVP candidates in their locker room—J.J. Watt and Arian Foster—plus a strong team behind and beside them. The Texans have managed to become a team that can play any style of football needed to win. And if you can stop their run game (doubtful), Matt Schaub is good enough to beat most teams. That is, if you can manage to score on Wade Phillips' defense.
If the Texans have a weakness, it's in their run defense minus Brian Cushing and in Gary Kubiak's conservative play-calling anytime Houston gets a lead. If those two issues are enough for someone to unseat the Texans, we haven't seen it happen yet.
There may be teams who are more exciting in a given week, but no team has been as consistent as the Atlanta Falcons during the 2012 NFL season. And that shows in their 7-0 record.
Winning hasn't always been easy, or pretty, but it's all the Falcons know at this point. Where other teams have the highs and lows of a season, the Falcons just have the confidence built from winning in any situation. That confidence is a deadly weapon.
The talent on this roster is Super Bowl-worthy, and the coaching has been up there too. People can (and are) doubting the Falcons, but you'd be foolish to overlook this team as a serious Super Bowl favorite.