NFL Midpoint: Who Needs to Panic and Who Doesn't
As the season passes its halfway point many teams are getting an idea of where they will be at. Unlike other sports with 80 or more games, the NFL, with only 16 regular season games, has the capacity for a season to turn on a dime. Some teams looking at performance lulls can develop unwarranted concern that makes them press when they need not. Other teams however seemed to have hit the wall where one really should worry. Here’s a look at some of those teams and where they stand
Don’t Panic Just Yet
Houston: After dropping a game to the Colts and falling to 5-4, the division title looks like a no-go. Their wild card chances still look solid. They have games against the Rams and Seahawks late in the year, winnable games against the Jaguars and Dolphins to go, and a few tough games against the Colts and Patriots. They should be able to pull 10-6 and snag the second wild card.
When to Worry: Two big games will be deciding factors. The surging Titans next week could be an upset and the Jaguars, who have already defeated Houston once. A loss in either of those two games could force Houston to 9-7, which probably won't make the playoffs.
Jacksonville: This is probably a week late in coming as their 3-4 record after a loss to the then winless Titans was the big moment of concern. Sitting at 4-4 they are circling the outside of the wild card race, but have the luxury of a very winnable second half schedule. They have one game against the half dozen truly bad teams (Browns), but very winnable matches against the sliding Jets, Bills, Dolphins, 49ers, and Texans (who they have already defeated once) As long as they can hold up in winnable games they will reach 10-6 and would hold a tiebreaker over Houston.
When to Worry: They have very little margin for error, and essentially dropping one game against the teams listed above would make a wild card berth very difficult.
Baltimore: Considered by most the best .500 team in the NFL, they are being slammed hard by playing in the monstrous AFC North where two losses to the resurgent Bengals paired with losses to New England and Minnesota have had a dramatic effect on their current record. The second half has a few reprieves with matches against the Browns, Lions, Raiders, as well as the slipping Packers and Bears.
When to Worry: They need to take at least one game between the two Steelers matches or defeat the Colts. If they only drop these three then they will go 9-7 and probably miss out on the playoffs.
Denver Broncos: No 6-2 team has as many people suddenly concerned as the Broncos. Kyle Orton is starting to come back to earth, they have dropped two straight, and people are rapidly remembering the collapse in the second half of last year. The reality is they had a great run and beat some good teams but ran into the AFC North, facing the Super Bowl champs and the tough Ravens.
When to Worry: They have the luxury of a .500 record probably getting a wild card berth, but what they want is the division. The biggest roadblock will be Week 11 against San Diego. If San Diego can go into Denver with momentum and take a victory, the divisional race will probably go down to the last game. If they can defeat the Chargers then they are in the driver’s seat for the AFC West.
Atlanta Falcons: Like Jacksonville this one is probably a week after the fact. Also, like Houston, they are essentially out of the divisional race due to phenomenal seasons by the Colts and Saints. Coming into the second half they are in a great position facing only three opponents over .500, one of those being the tail-spinning Giants.
When to Worry: Week 11 should be a big match for both teams, the Giants have a Bye this coming week and look to regroup and rebound against the Falcons. Atlanta technically has the record and matchup where they can afford to drop the game, but it would be a morale blow that could hurt considerably.
New York Giants: They are still over .500, but they have taken themselves out of the prime track for the playoffs with a massive four-game skid. With their front four, a quarterback capable of big games, and a solid running tandem, they have sufficient pieces to make a run should they figure out how to patch up a sieve-like secondary. They are a good team with issues; this is more fixable then just being a flat-out bad team.
When to Worry: They also had the luxury of a 5-0 start to grant them a nice buffer. The schedule does them no favors, but an upcoming four-game run against the Falcons, Broncos, Cowboys, and Eagles will either give them a big momentum swing should they take three of those or sign a death warrant should they not win at least two. The first match against the Falcons will be especially important from a psychological standpoint.
Go Ahead and Panic
Jets: Panic is too strong a word, but it will take a lot to put this team in the playoffs. At 4-4 it will likely take a 6-2 second half to gain a wild card, and with matchups against the Patriots, Falcons, Colts, and Bengals they will need more then one upset to reach the postseason.
Can they turn it around: They still have that win over the Pats to fuel confidence, and will need it. Should they win the four games they will be favored or just behind in (Bills, Jags, Panthers, Bucs), it sets up momentum for the last three games against the Colts,Bengals, and Falcons. Should they take two of those three they can edge into the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins: The team that has played everyone tough but suffered all the wrong bounces that went right for them last year. At 3-5 they have a more lenient second half schedule but the damage may already be done. It would probably take 7-1 to eke out a playoff spot, and they face the Texans, Steelers, and Pats (as well as the Jags, Panthers, and Titans). They have played teams tough,, but the Pats' game probably put the playoffs out of reach.
Can they turn it around: It is technically possible to go on a run; they have kept every game close and played the Patriots and Saints tough. Unfortunately, they are a solid team not a powerhouse, and don’t look primed for a monster run. Something around 7-9 or 8-8 seems likely.
Green Bay Packers: Well 4-4 is not out of it, however the Tampa Bay game was a brutal blow to more than just the overall record. Aaron Rodgers is on pace for 74 sacks, a lambasting that could keep him black and blue until next season's opener. With six teams fighting over two wild cards, it should take a 6-2 run to get in. That’s a tall order with upcoming games against the Cowboys, Steelers, Ravens, Cardinals (and no pushovers in the Bears and 49ers).
Can they turn it around: With a lot of teams crowding for the wild card a few lucky bounces could put a 9-7 team in. This would still require a 5-3 run, requiring at least one upset (to go with winning every favored matchup). As a team that just lost to Tampa, this is not likely. 6-10 or 7-9 seems more likely.
Chicago: They were nearing this status after the Cardinals game. Tonight’s 49ers match cemented it. At 4-5 they need a 7-1 run to snag a wild card berth. This is a bleeding team. Matches against the Eagles, Packers, Vikings twice, and Ravens figure to put this at long odds. 8-8 seems a best case scenario, 7-9 more likely.
Can they turn it around: I’d give them the longest odds of any team still fighting for a playoff spot. They have a dynamic quarterback but not a lot of other pieces to make a run and a tough schedule. By the end of Week 12 their current slim chances should likely be done.
49ers: Despite the optimism from the Chicago game, they are still on the outside looking in. They still lack an elite arm, which is one of the pieces usually needed for a big run, and at 4-5 they still need a big run to have a shot. Mike Singletary has made strides, but this still looks like a 7-9/8-8 kind of team.
Can they turn it around: They don’t play any of the real powerhouse teams, the two toughest matches are against teams that can fail to show up some Sundays (Arizona and Philly). Beyond this they face the Packers, Jaguars, Seahawks, Lions, and Rams. Should they perform like the first four weeks of the season they have a genuine shot at 7-1, the biggest issue is no margin for error with some inconsistent play, especially at the quarterback position. The Packers' game will be a key matchup for both, whichever loses should see their chances pretty much vaporized.
Carolina Panthers: A win against Arizona and a well-fought loss to the Saints should be cause for optimism, but with Jake Delhomme still under center and a 3-5 record it is likely a case of too little too late. The match against the Saints could be construed as a moral victory for how well they played them for three quarters, but is still probably one loss too many. Realistically once they hit 2-4 the playoffs were out of the question.
Can they turn it around: They have been playing better as of late, but a lagging start effectively took away all opportunity to jump back in the race. They will likely turn an upset or two, but they still face the Vikings, Saints, Patriots, Giants, Falcons, Jets, and Dolphins. I would be surprised to see 8-8 let alone 6-10.
No Point Worrying Anymore
Detroit: Well they have a win, that’s something. hat having been said, they only have one and the optimism after the Washington game that a 5-11/6-10 type record might be possible has rapidly faded. Now Detroit’s mission is to prove they are no longer the league’s worst. A beast of a second half schedule will make this tough. The Week 11 matchup with Cleveland is the only one really marked winnable
Tampa Bay: They finally have a win. That’s something, and it isn’t even against one of the one-win lot. Freeman looked to be a player Tampa can build upon, but that is about all to take away from this first half. 1-15 is a distinct possibility with the most winnable matchup being against the Seahawks. Anything beyond 3-13 would be a considerable shock.
Cleveland Browns: Regardless of whether they might eke out a win more than Detroit or Tampa somewhere along the line, they still win the league’s most disappointing award. They do face the Lions, Chiefs, and Raiders, so another win or two is a distinct possibility, but doesn’t mean they still aren’t the NFL’s worst team.
Kansas City Chiefs: Coming off a horrible season with a complete team reboot (coach, GM, huge roster turnover). Unfortunately they have not progressed as rapidly as they had hoped, and thoughts of respectability have rapidly faded. Facing the Raiders, Bills, and Browns they can manage 3-13 and have some pieces for next year, which is a little more than some teams can say.
Oakland: Every year the collection of talent seems like they may manage a bump in the standings, and every year they manage to falter. They will likely have the best record among the cellar dwellers, games against the Chiefs, Redskins, and Browns should put them between 4-12 and 5-11. They do have the most solid building blocks of any poor team, so a management reset and a halfway decent quarterback could net them respectability. But the team still refuses to match up to the sum of its parts, and those parts are still middle of the road.
Washington: Perhaps Cleveland is not the most disappointing. No one really expected all that much once Eric Mangini’s name was attached. Washington on the other hand had playoff aspirations and fell flat. With a soft early schedule that should have set them at 4-2 or 5-1, they instead clunked off the line and are now in the midst of a four-game losing streak. They now have a monster schedule in the second half where all but one team (Raiders) are over .500 and all but one at least two games over. With injuries mounting this team will end no better then 4-12, and I’d give good odds they stay at two wins.
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