We have reached the midpoint in a wild and whacky NFL season. It seems like there are few haves and plenty of have nots, the parity in the NFL residing in the middle of the pack.
Injuries have ravaged the landscape, seemingly more so than in seasons past. Some teams have been severely affected by said injuries, while others have pushed through. The lucky few to have avoided injuries to major stars are, of course, thriving for the most part.
Which teams are looking good as we stare at the second half of the season? And which ones are on the verge of a lost season? Click through to find out.
Well, well, well...what have we here?
The Cardinals climbed back to .500 after their win over Atlanta, a nice change after the horrific finish they had to the 2012 season. They have gotten here with some hard-nosed football.
Though quarterback Carson Palmer has done his best to throw the ball to the other team plenty this season, he has found enough on offense to be competitive. That defense has held its own, to boot, despite the departure of defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
The NFC West is a dangerous place and the Cardinals will be hard-pressed to catch divisional foes Seattle and San Francisco. But a wild-card spot is not totally out of the picture.
The Falcons came into this season with high hopes. Boy did those hopes deflate quickly.
A horrific start to the season was hammered home by a devastating foot injury to receiver Julio Jones. Coupled with Roddy White's continuing injury woes and an offensive line that hasn't performed well overall, and we have a recipe for offensive disaster.
Of course, it doesn't help that the defense isn't playing up to snuff either.
Atlanta was in win-now mode heading into this season, but the Falcons will be lucky to get to .500 by season's end at this rate.
Despite the euphoria of a Super Bowl victory, the offseason wasn't pretty for the Ravens.
Personnel losses on both sides of the ball—from Anquan Boldin to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed—had some questioning Ozzie Newsome's prowess and Baltimore's ability to get back to the playoffs (let alone the Super Bowl).
So far, so-so.
The defense has actually played well after getting shellacked in Denver in Week 1; it's the offense that has been problematic.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has not lived up to his massive contract extension. Losing Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta haven't helped, but Flacco has made too many mistakes of his own volition.
Still, the Ravens are well positioned for a playoff berth if they can play well during the second half. They might not be Super Bowl favorites, but they are just about meeting preseason expectations right now.
Another season, another year of disappointment for Buffalo Bills fans.
It hasn't been as bad as previous ones for the Bills, with plenty of promise just dying to come out. Unfortunately, an injury to quarterback EJ Manuel has been a bit of a drag to this young team.
Head coach Doug Marrone has plenty to work with, however. It seems like a matter of time before the Bills put something good together with the talent. But right now, things are as lackluster as ever in Buffalo.
Quarterback Cam Newton is all smiles after a win streak has gotten the Panthers above .500 for the first time in his career at this stage in a season.
The Panthers have benefited from a lighter schedule since going to 1-3 after losing to the Cardinals, but they have performed rather well during the three-game winning streak. Right now, things are looking up. Will it continue?
If Newton continues to play like he has in recent weeks, they certainly have a shot.
The Marc Trestman Era got off to a fantastic start in Chicago.
The Bears got off to a hot, 3-0 start. But it was clear that the defense wasn't what it once was when linebacker Brian Urlacher roamed the field for former head coach Lovie Smith.
That defense has been mangled by injuries, most notably to D.J. Williams and line stalwart Henry Melton out with a knee injury. Those realities have led to an unrecognizable unit that has suddenly turned to Swiss cheese.
To add injury to injury, Jay Cutler is out for at least a few weeks with a torn groin—something that is painful just to type. He will keep that offense humming when he returns, but will it be able to keep up with Josh McCown under center?
By the time Cutler does return, the NFC North might be too far gone—big divisional matchups against the Packers and Lions are coming up at the most inopportune time for Chicago.
The AFC North was ripe for the picking heading into this season. Baltimore had high-profile turnover, Pittsburgh obviously needed an overhaul, and Cleveland was still Cleveland. But did anyone expect Cincinnati to run away with the division?
Funnily enough, were it not for a bad loss on the road against the Browns, the Bengals might not even see the Ravens in the rearview mirror.
Cincinnati is 6-2, looking stronger each passing week.
Speaking of passing, Andy Dalton has been on fire of late, throwing at least three touchdowns in three consecutive games. He has figured out how to get the ball to players not named A.J. Green with regularity.
The Browns have some good, young talent on the roster. They just need time to fix some of the other "talent."
Namely, the quarterback position is in dire need of an upgrade. Brian Hoyer breathed some life into the team earlier this season, but his devastating knee injury short-circuited any momentum the team might have gained from his unexpected success.
Brandon Weeden—that second-year quarterback who just turned 30—couldn't cut it after he got his job back by attrition, so the Browns have attempted to retread that twice-bald tire named Jason Campbell.
Still, few expected the Browns to be any good this season, and they were tied for first place at some point after the first couple of weeks. It's going to be another year or two before Cleveland is truly competitive.
The good news: Dallas is in first place in the NFC East, having played a tough schedule for the most part.
The bad news: the Cowboys aren't running away with the awful division.
In truth, it is easy to see the Cowboys finish another season at 8-8. The difference, this year, is that might be good enough to win the division.
The problem, again, lies in a defense that has not been able to turn things around under new 73-year-old defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The switch to a 4-3 Tampa 2 has not been a good fit for the personnel.
Tony Romo might be playing well—despite what snark ensues if he throws a late-game interception—but he doesn't play cornerback.
The Broncos are a fun team to watch. Unfortunately, part of the reason for that has become a porous defense.
Peyton Manning has looked Father Time in the eye and failed to blink, still on pace for record-shattering numbers as the season wears on. The Broncos have outscored their opponents by an astounding 343-218 margin.
Despite a loss in Indianapolis, Denver remains one of the best teams in the league. But are there cracks in that armor? After all, those 218 points allowed are among the worst in the league.
Injuries have plagued Denver like any other team, but those to Manning's would-be protectors—Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin—have caused him to get hit a lot more than ideal.
If that defense doesn't eventually stiffen up, Denver could be in trouble come playoff time. After all, were it not for Rahim Moore's blunder, we might have seen the Broncos hoisting that Lombardi Trophy last February.
Don't look now, but the Lions are just a half game behind the mighty Packers in the NFC North.
Detroit has had a nice turnaround after falling flat last season (after having a nice turnaround the previous season).
With much of the offseason and on-field drama exorcised, Detroit can focus on the task at hand—winning. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson lead that charge on offense, buoying a defense that continues to sag despite a frightful defensive line.
A playoff berth is on the horizon for the Lions at this rate. Hopefully Megatron can stay fully functional, because those postseason hopes rest largely on his shoulders.
Why is the Packers stock even? Because this is about where most expected them to be.
Green Bay sits atop the NFC North. What else is new?
Not even a rash of injuries on the offensive side can slow Aaron Rodgers, apparently, who put up a 130.6 quarterback rating without the likes of Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley or James Jones Sunday night in Minnesota.
The issue, as has been in recent seasons, is a defense that needs improving. The unit is giving up 22.6 points per game, which is in the middle of the NFL pack. If Green Bay can shore up that side of the ball with some consistency, the Packers will be a force to reckon with come January.
What else to describe Houston's season thus far? Matt Schaub has turned into the demon spawn of Mark Sanchez and Rick Mirer. The defense has been a far cry from its 2012 self. The team's fans have turned on its players.
But could Houston have hit rock bottom?
The Texans caught a bye at just about the right time and the roster isn't far off from where it was in 2012, when they took the division.
Things could start to go their way soon. Whether they can catch the Colts or a wild-card spot will be interesting to see.
Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano are wizards.
Aside from the good fortune that brought them Andrew Luck last season, the Colts have been rather good in all facets of the game. The most surprising aspect of Indy's success has been a defense that has turned back the likes of San Francisco and Seattle.
The Colts look like they might run away with the AFC South, given the woes down in Texas. Of course, anything could happen—they need to keep their foot on the gas.
The Nightmare on EverBank Drive continues for the Jaguars. They did finally score their first home touchdown of the season in Week 8. In London.
There is really little to say about Jacksonville. This was a team that was not going to compete in 2013, though their dearth of competitiveness whatsoever has been a bit startling.
It's going to take head coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell a few years to build this thing.
The Chiefs are this season's biggest surprise.
True, improvement was to be expected with new additions at head coach and quarterback. But could this have been expected?
Buoyed by a dominant defense, the Chiefs are the last undefeated team standing. Yes, they have had the benefit of one of the NFL's easiest schedules—including a flailing Texans team starting Case Keenum that they barely beat at home—but 8-0 is hard to knock.
How's that for a backhanded compliment?
Two matchups against the juggernaut Broncos are looming in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see if the Kansas City D can stop the Denver offense.
Remember when the Dolphins were a surprising 3-0 and Jeff Ireland's offseason contract extension was mysteriously "leaked" to the press? Perhaps Stephen Ross would like to retract that public relations faux pas.
The Dolphins spent like a shopoholic on Black Friday this offseason, bringing in free agency's most expensive prize: receiver Mike Wallace, at a $60 million cost.
Granted, if he keeps playing the way he has been this season, he will never see all of that money. Wallace has simply been average, and Ireland's moves have quit paying off during a four-game losing streak.
The Dolphins have shown they can compete with any team—they did beat the Colts on the road, after all—but have faltered quite a bit since that hot start. Right now, things aren't looking up for a team that was supposed to give New England a run for its money.
The Vikings are a mess.
The whack-a-mole approach at quarterback is a curious one, and it is clearly not the way to go. Whether Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel or Josh Freeman, Minnesota has just been terrible.
Of course, quarterback issues aren't the only problem; that defensive unit has turned into one of the worst in the league, allowing an astounding 32.1 points per game.
Even Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning would have trouble overcoming that kind of defensive deficit.
For a 6-2 team well ahead in their division, the Patriots aren't garnering a lot of respect.
A big reason for that has been Tom Brady's apparent descent into football senility. At 36, Brady is out of his prime and approaching mortality.
He has had to deal with major turnover on the offense, whether it be due to free agency or injuries. His favorite targets were either gone or injured through the first half of the season.
It's going to be an interesting ride for head coach Bill Belichick and the Pats in the second half. Devastating injuries to Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo have softened up a defense that started out strong.
But the Brady Bunch keeps finding ways to win.
What a difference a head coach makes. And the lack of offseason scandal.
The Saints put Bountygate out of sight and out of mind as Sean Payton returned to the helm. And it shows, as the Saints have taken a stranglehold on the NFC South.
Drew Brees and that offense are as dangerous as ever, but the secret to success in New Orleans lies on defense, where defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has made his mark.
The Saints defense has seen a remarkable improvement in 2013. It ranks in the top 10 in total and scoring defense, a stunning turn from last season, when it ranked worst and second-worst, respectively.
Having lost their first six games in often embarrassing fashion, it seemed that head coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning had lost their touch. But have the Giants righted the ship?
New York suddenly finds itself on a two-game win streak. Normally a 2-6 record is nothing to write home about, but the NFC East tells a different, sad story.
The Giants are just two games out of first place thanks to the hapless exploits of Washington and Philadelphia to go along with the perpetual mediocrity in Dallas.
The defense has improved dramatically in recent weeks, allowing just 14 points to the Vikings and Eagles combined. True, that wasn't the best competition, but improvement is improvement. Could the Giants pull off the improbable and win the East?
It is an intriguing time in the Meadowlands. Pegged by many to be one of the worst teams in the league, that has been far from true thus far in 2013.
Granted, the point differential isn't pretty—New York has been outscored by 68 despite the .500 record. Geno Smith and the offense has put on a nice Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde show this season, sparkling one week only to fall into a ditch the next.
Rex Ryan has done a great job in a difficult situation, being forced to make lemonade out of over-ripe grapefruit on the roster. A relatively easy schedule has helped matters, but the Jets are no pushovers.
Even after the whooping at the hands of Andy Dalton and the Bengals, the Jets are in second place in the AFC East halfway through the season. That is something most would not have predicted in August.
Like the Jets, the Raiders were supposed to be among the bottom of the barrel. They, too, have been surprising, even if the "success" is a 3-4 record.
Terrelle Pryor has been a breath of fresh air for an organization that has been quarterback-starved since Rich Gannon manned the offense. Pryor isn't a terribly good passer, but his overall talent, combined with some timely defense and a favorable schedule, have coalesced into unexpected mediocrity in Oakland.
Philadelphia is going to take some time to rebuild, but the Eagles are just not very good right now.
While Chip Kelly's mythological offense stormed the NFL with its frenetic pace at the beginning of the season, the Eagles haven't been able to keep up that pace.
The defense has seen little to no improvement from a year ago, either. Philadelphia is falling fast, and Kelly needs some time to turn that ship around.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The Steelers, owners of the most Super Bowl championships in NFL history, have become cellar-dwellers in the NFL. The roster is in tatters thanks to salary cap woes and injuries alike.
It will be interesting to see how much pain Pittsburgh can take before jettisoning head coach Mike Tomlin. The man who coached the Steelers to a Super Bowl victory not too long ago could find his seat warmer by the week depending on how bad the team looks in its losses.
What a difference a coach makes. That seems like a common theme here.
The Chargers finally got rid of the pestilence that was Norv Turner—and general manager A.J. Smith for that matter—but few expected a quick turnaround like this.
After all, Philip Rivers looked like he was just about finished as a top-tier quarterback after the last couple of seasons, and the roster looked like it needed some serious work. Apparently, head coach Mike McCoy didn't buy that whatsoever.
The Tebow Whisperer worked his magic with Rivers, who has captured lightning in a bottle to become one of the top quarterbacks in the leagues again. The defense is playing well enough, too.
Is the AFC West the best division in football?
For a minute there, it seemed like the 49ers were going to come apart at the seams. What a funny moment that was.
San Francisco flew into 2013 by throttling the Packers—again—and establishing itself as a Super Bowl favorite. Then the 49ers went to Seattle and got knocked out by a couple of haymakers.
The hangover lasted a week, it seems; after that zombie-like performance against the Colts, it was back to high gear for San Francisco.
The 49ers have ripped off four straight wins since, getting their swag back and reestablishing themselves as NFC favorites. They will have a real fight on their hands against the Seahawks, Saints and the always-dangerous Packers come January, but this is where we expected them to be.
The Seahawks are riding high thanks to an incredible defense and a fantastic quarterback.
Russell Wilson has reprised his role as rookie sensation in his sophomore year, even if he is not putting up outlandish statistics on a consistent basis. Pete Carroll doesn't care—the Seahawks are winning, and that's all that matters.
*Pending Monday Night Football results.
In some ways, this season is a blessing in disguise for the Rams.
It was going to take Jeff Fisher some time to truly turn the franchise around, and part of that involved figuring out what to do with Sam Bradford. The fourth-year quarterback was unfortunately knocked out for the year, but he hadn't shown Fisher he could be the QB of the future over the past couple of seasons.
So St. Louis will likely finish in the bottom 10 in the NFL at this point. Combined with the likelihood that Washington and that first-round pick St. Louis acquired for the rights to draft Robert Griffin III will also be there, and we could be looking at another big infusion of young talent in 2014.
Combined with the development of the other young guys on the team, the Rams could see a quick rise next season. But their stock isn't looking good for this year.
*Pending Monday Night Football results.
Jacksonville may be terrible, but everyone expected that. The Jaguars have the worst team in the league talent-wise, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers easily have the worst franchise right now.
The bad omens began with a MRSA outbreak of sorts, the bacteria attacking kicker Lawrence Tynes and guard Carl Nicks before the season began. It reared its ugly head again recently when rookie Johnthan Banks got it and Nicks was reacquainted with the infection.
But the sanitary issues aren't the worst of Tampa Bay's problems. Head Coach Greg Schiano is.
Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg was prescient in his written castigation of the Buccaneers' hire back in 2012:
Discipline and organization are nice, but they won't last if Schiano is as poor of a game coach as he was at Rutgers. NFL players understand the game much better than college players. They are older. They have played in more games, and more importantly, they have played for more coaches. They know bad coaching when they receive it.
It's a surprise Schiano hasn't been fired. Perhaps the Buccaneers are keeping him around long enough to ensure a good draft position. Or maybe they just believe there is little reason to fire him before the season is out.
The Titans are the AFC's dirty little secret. At 3-4 with a relatively favorable schedule in the second half, Tennessee is a playoff contender nobody is talking about.
Few expected Tennessee to contend, not with Jake Locker at the helm. Yet the third-year quarterback far surpassed expectations, leading the Titans to a 3-1 record before an injury knocked him (and the team) out for a few games.
Locker returned in a loss to San Francisco, but the schedule gets easier, starting with a game in St. Louis. It will be interesting if the Titans can get some momentum going in the second half and inch toward an unexpected playoff berth.
Robert Griffin III swept into the NFL like a whirlwind out of Baylor. His exploits as a rookie led Washington to an unexpected playoff berth and spawned high hopes for the future of the franchise.
A devastating knee injury in Griffin's first playoff game changed all that, the 2013 season all but lost in the stumble of a budding star.
Griffin made it back for the season opener, but he hasn't been himself. Tentative and inaccurate, he has simply been unable to rekindle the magic of his previous year.
Of course, it doesn't help that Washington's defense has reverted to horrific levels. Head coach Mike Shanahan might be on his last legs in Washington, and things aren't looking good.