As of right now, all 32 NFL teams have played half of their games this season, so we're officially at the halfway point of the NFL season. At this point, the playoff picture seems to be coming a little clearer, but there is still lots to be decided.
Each team will be analyzed and presented a playoff verdict, based on current performance, and projected improvements, or implosions, and I will put together my projected playoff picture.
The Arizona Cardinals are surprisingly close in their division, despite their horrible play, which just so happens to be the worst in the NFL to date.
However, one thing seems to be obvious. Derek Anderson, at best, is a decent game manager at quarterback. In Week 9, he didn't do anything wrong to screw up the game, but he never took control of his team and the Vikings were able to come from behind and beat the Cardinals. We've also seen the very ugly side of Anderson, where he throws costly interceptions at the worst possible times.
Playoff Verdict: Not this year.
Arizona needs a quarterback, whether they get one through free agency or through the draft, they need a quarterback. The Cardinals sure miss Kurt Warner.
The Atlanta Falcons have looked good in 2010. Unfortunately for them, they are in the midst of one of the tougher division races, with the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the defending Super Bowl Champions, the New Orleans Saints.
Matt Ryan has taken control of his team and led them to victory on numerous occasions, but most of the Falcons success is due to the stellar play of Michael Turner, who is among the league leaders in total rushing yards and rushing yards per game.
The Falcons defense has been less than stellar, but their top 10 rush defense has kept them in games, and allowed the offense to win.
If the Falcons want to be taken seriously this season, their pass defense needs to be improved drastically, and they need to learn to win away from home.
Playoff Verdict: Wild Card Winners.
The Atlanta Falcons would win most NFL divisions, but the defending champion New Orleans Saints are pressing hard, and I think they'll end up in a wild card spot.
The Baltimore Ravens are in a very similar situation as the Atlanta Falcons.
The Ravens have a tough division race with the Pittsburgh Steelers ahead of them.
Baltimore has looked very good this season, with its young offense led by Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Flacco is proving himself as a true NFL quarterback and is shining in the face of adversity.
The Ravens defense has looked pretty good, and has been able to win them games. However, they're getting older, and the Ravens will have to rely heavily on the offense to win a majority of their games.
Baltimore has been able to win games in virtually every way. They have won offensively, defensively, by special teams, and by good coaching.
Playoff Verdict: AFC North Champions.
I think that the Baltimore Ravens will end up beating the Steelers in their division race, and will end up taking a bye as one of the top two teams in the AFC.
The winless Bills are not as bad as their 0-8 record shows.
The Bills have played two of their past three games into overtime, and lost a heartbreaker in Week 9 to the Chicago Bears. For all intensive purposes, they could be 3-5.
And if my grandma had balls, she'd be my grandpa.
On the bright side, Ryan Fitzpatrick has emerged as a potential NFL quarterback, and looks to be the solution to the Bills quarterback woes.
Playoff Verdict: Yeah right.
The season is already over for the Bills, and they should continue to develop Fitzpatrick, and his primary weapons Steve Johnson and Roscoe Parrish for next season.
The Carolina Panthers have been one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL this season. Their dismal 1-7 record shows there is much room to be improved in Carolina, but where to start?
They need an overhaul, or a miracle, at quarterback. Matt Moore just simply isn't getting it done, but neither is the rookie Jimmy Clausen. If the Panthers are sensible, they'll start Clausen for the remainder of the season in hopes for next year, but who knows?
John Fox is on his way out as head coach of the Panthers. In my mind, he should have been gone by now. It's just a matter of time before he joins Wade Phillips in the unemployment line.
Playoff Verdict: Better Luck Next Year.
The Panthers were supposed to be on the way up this year, but it looks like they'll be in the basement for a while yet.
The NFC North is essentially a two horse race, between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers.
The Bears started the season 4-1, but have since dropped two of their past three, with the one win coming against the winless Bills in Week 9. The Bears had better pick up the pace if they want to contend for the division title.
The Bears offense has been led mostly by the play of Jay Cutler, who is an average quarterback at best, and Matt Forte, who has grossly underachieved this season.
In other words, the Bears defense has won games for them, and in the words of Mike Ditka, "Defense wins championships."
Yeah.. I don't think so, Mike.
Playoff Verdict: Narrowly Miss Playoffs.
The Bears are a good football team that could contend for both a division title and a wild card spot, but in the end, I think they will narrowly miss the playoffs. On the bright side, there is upside to this Bears team, which will only continue to get better.
The Cincinnati Bengals have grossly underachieved this season, but that's fitting, considering they weren't supposed to win anything last year and ended up winning the AFC North. This is a roles of reverse type of season.
The offense hasn't been nearly as good as it was projected to be. Carson Palmer looked average at best, and Terrell Owens is having a nice season, but that's about it in terms of Bengals' offense. Chad Ochocinco has looked dismal, and the rushing offense has underachieved.
Playoff Verdict: Not This Year.
The Bengals need a minor clean up, possibly a new coach and a defense before they can be close to playoff contenders.
The Cleveland Browns have played very good football as of late, and have been one of the many teams that have surprised us this season.
Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy is 2-1 this season, with those two wins coming against the New England Patriots and the defending Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints. He hasn't thrown for a whole ton of yards, but he's been efficient and his 67 percent pass completions and 83 passer rating can prove it. He also has only thrown two interceptions.
Running back Peyton Hillis has also played exceptional this season, coming off of a stellar game against New England, with 184 yards and two touchdowns, for his best game of the season.
Playoff Verdict: Close, but no cigar.
The Cleveland Browns will be a contender soon, but they aren't ready for a playoff run quite yet.
The Dallas Cowboys were projected by many to be the Super Bowl champions this year. Oh what a disappointment they have been. Their 1-7 record is horrifying by any team's standards, and to make matters worse, Tony Romo is out for most of the remainder of the season.
As of today, Wade Phillips is no longer the head coach of the Cowboys, a move that could have been made any time in the past three weeks.
Don't get me wrong, the Cowboys have a ton of talent on their team, but team chemistry is clearly an issue, as is character. When the Cowboys truly become a team, they will again be regarded as contenders, next season.
Playoff Verdict: In Jerry Jones' Dreams.
In other words, not gonna happen this year. How 'bout them Cowboys? Not so much.
Disclaimer: As a Raiders fan, this may be a bit biased. Oh well.
To be a bottom feeder in arguably the worst division in football, you've got to be really bad. The Denver Broncos pass offense has been pretty good, led by quarterback Kyle Orton, but that's about all that's been good.
The Broncos rushing game is rated last in the league and their rush defense is second-to-last, ahead of the winless Buffalo Bills.
Denver has been the victims of a changing of the guard in the AFC West, in the best case scenario, and their meltdown against the Raiders will be running through their minds for a long time.
Playoff Verdict: Next!
The Broncos will probably be bottom feeders for the next few years. Hopefully for them, they'll get some good draft picks.
Too harsh? You tell me.
The Detroit Lions are slowly, but surely, becoming a contender in the NFC North.
Their 2-6 record is worse than it should be. The Lions could easily be a .500 team. They should have beaten the Jets in Week 9, and who could forget the blown call in Week 1 on that apparent "incomplete pass" to Calvin Johnson in the end zone.
Matthew Stafford is a future MVP caliber player, and is the MVP of the Lions by far. They win when he plays, and they lose when he's hurt. That much was evident against the Jets.
The Lions should also take advantage of the changing of the guard in the NFC North, as the Vikings are clearly on their way down.
Playoff Verdict: Not This Year
Look for the Lions to be a contender soon, but not this year. Be patient in the Motor City, your time will come.
Unfortunately, the word to describe the Green Bay Packers this year has been injury.
Virtually every starter on the Packers offense has gone down, with Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley and Donald Driver, just to name a few.
On the other hand, look at the bright side. Aaron Rodgers is playing pretty good football, despite all of aforementioned injuries. Also, the injuries have allowed the Packers to discover players such as Brandon Jackson, who has played very well this season.
Clay Matthews has emerged as arguably the best defensive player in the NFL this season. He is leading the league in sacks, and even scored a touchdown in last week's game against the Cowboys.
The Packers are competing for the NFC North title with the Chicago Bears. The Bears are good, but I think the Packers are that much better.
Playoff Verdict: NFC North Champions.
The Green Bay Packers will be playoff bound, and look for Aaron Rodgers to step up big time in the second half of the season.
The Houston Texans are another one of those more prominent up-and-coming teams in the NFL. They have been playing very good football this season, but lost an important game against the San Diego Chargers in Week 9, which takes their record to 4-4.
The Texans offense has been led undoubtedly by the fantasy stud, running back Arian Foster. Foster leads the league in rushing yards, and is second in the NFL in rushing yards per game behind Raiders running back Darren McFadden.
Virtually every team in the AFC South is in the race for the division, with the Colts and Titans at 5-3, and the Texans and Jaguars at 4-4.
Playoff Verdict: Narrowly Miss The Playoffs:
The Texans will be in the race until the end, but I think they will fall just short of a wild card spot. Look for them to be legitimate contenders in the coming years.
The Indianapolis Colts of 2010 have looked nothing like the Colts of recent memory. There are two big factors that contribute directly towards that.
The first, injuries. As it is, Dallas Clark is out for the season, Joseph Addai is out, Bob Sanders is out (what else is new?) along with many starters on the defense. Add Austin Collie to that list. Collie was victim of an unfortunate hit against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 9 and suffered a concussion. He will be out indefinitely. Peyton Manning has had difficulty directing the offense without many of his weapons.
The second factor, the AFC South division. As I earlier stated, every team in the AFC South is very much in the division race, with the Colts and Titans at 5-3, and the Texans and Jaguars at 4-4. The Colts are another victim of the changing of the guard in the NFL, but they're still the Colts, right?
Playoff Verdict: AFC South Champions.
I predict that the Colts still come up with the division, despite their injuries.
It's starting to sound redundant already.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are part of the four-team race in the AFC South. Although they are perceived by many to be the bottom of the division, they are certainly playing better than that.
The Jaguars have a 4-4 record, which leaves them in a pretty decent spot as far as their division race. However, the Jags have a few glaring issues to work out.
Jacksonville is inconsistent, very inconsistent, especially the defense. They either win narrowly, or get destroyed. This is of fault to the defense, who needs to keep them in the games and let David Garrard lead the offense to victory.
Playoff Verdict: Not happening.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, I see a very good possibility in them blowing the rest of the season and finishing with a sub-.500 record.
Disclaimer: I am a Raiders fan, so this may be a bit biased.
The Kansas City Chiefs are one of the biggest surprises thus far in the NFL. However, they dropped a crucial game against Oakland in Week 9.
The Chiefs are very one-dimensional. Don't get me wrong, their running game is stellar. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones are arguably the best tandem in football, and their numbers show it. However, they need to improve their passing game, and that was evident against Oakland. The Raiders held the Chiefs to under 100 yards rushing in regulation, and they lost. It's not a huge coincidence.
The Chiefs are still technically leading the AFC West, but the Raiders are breathing down their necks. Both teams have tough tests ahead of them.
Playoff Verdict: Narrowly Miss The Playoffs.
The Chiefs will miss the playoffs this season, but look for them to be serious contenders in the coming years.
The Miami Dolphins are road warriors, to say the least. They are 4-1 on the road, but they are still winless in Miami, dropping them to 4-4.
The Dolphins are another rush dependent team, with a passing game that leaves much to be desired. What else is new for the 'phins?
Their rushing game is very good with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. They are a top tandem in the NFL, but they don't get enough help from the passing game.
The Dolphins are in a tough batt;e for their division race this season, and will face challenging tests in the Jets and Patriots. In the end, I believe that the Dolphins will need to sweep their division to have any chance in the playoffs.
Playoff Verdict: Not This Time.
The Dolphins will be contenders soon, but they aren't ready to overtake the Patriots or the Jets.
The Minnesota Vikings are another huge disappointment in the NFL this season. Brett Favre is not the Brett Favre of yesterday, and Brad Childress has disappointed his team with his awful coaching.
I will not touch on the Favre situation, other than saying that I respect the hell out of him for still playing, despite various injuries. He's the toughest SOB in sports, and he'll bounce back.
Childress has taken the Vikings on a roller coaster ride as of late. He's been putting down his players, he was the mastermind in the whole Randy Moss situation, and he's setting a bad attitude towards his team. He needs to be fired. Yesterday.
Playoff Verdict: Not gonna happen.
The Vikings' season is virtually over, and the clock might have struck midnight on Favre's historic career. But who knows?
The New England Patriots are still arguably the best team in the AFC. They hit a rough patch against Cleveland in Week 9, but they will bounce back. As Tom Brady always does.
The Patriots offense has been great, as it always has been. Brady has been a force, with weapons new and old, with the likes of Brandon Tate and Deion Branch. It's the defense that needs to improve, but as of late, they have been keeping the Patriots in games, and allowed the offense to win them.
One thing's for sure after their Week 9 loss to Cleveland. Bill Belicheck is pissed, and rightfully so.
The Patriots are in a two-horse race for the AFC East with the defensive-minded New York Jets. They still have one meeting, but they both have pretty difficult schedules.
Playoff Verdict: AFC East Champions.
The Patriots will win the AFC East, possibly picking up a bye into the second round.
The defending Super Bowl champions, the New Orleans Saints, have not been the same Saints as last year. However, they are playing better than their record shows.
Drew Brees is a great quarterback, and has carried the Saints offense on his back. He is second in the NFL in pass yards, fourth in pass yards per game, second in touchdown passes and top-10 in passer rating. The only surprising statistic is his unusually high number of interceptions, second in the NFL, only behind Brett Favre. That's never good. Brees will need to reduce the number of interceptions he throws if the Saints want to be taken seriously in the playoff race.
The Saints defense has stepped up big this season, and if they want a chance to win the NFC South, they will need to keep it that way.
The Saints could really use Reggie Bush back.
New Orleans is in a three-horse race for the NFC South with the Atlanta Falcons and the overachieving Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Playoff Verdict: NFC South Champions.
The Saints will improve vastly in the second half and win the NFC South, and possibly take a bye into the second round.
The New York Giants have taken advantage of the Dallas Cowboys falters and have all but run away with the NFC East. They are the powerhouse of the NFL, and are coming off of a massacre of the Seattle Seahawks, 41-7.
The Giants are top-5 in five of the six major offensive and defensive categories, and are seventh in the sixth category. The Giants have arguably the top offense in the league, led by Eli Manning and Ahmad Bradshaw, who is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game. If the Giants are to remain on top of the NFC, they will need Eli to step up and really deliver, and Bradshaw to continue his stellar play.
The New York Giants defense is also among the top in the NFL, where they have really dominated their opponents and not allowed a lot of close games.
The Giants are only contested by the Philadelphia Eagles, but seem to be running away with the NFC East, barring a disaster.
Playoff Verdict: NFC East Champions.
The Giants will win the NFC East and earn a bye into the second round as one of the top-two seeds in the NFC.
The New York Jets are one of the top teams in the AFC, and are currently leading the AFC East. However, the Jets record is better than they are playing.
At 6-2, the Jets offense has been characteristically dismal. Mark Sanchez is not living up to expectations in New York, and LT is cooling off.
Luckily for the Jets, the defense is stellar. The defense keeps the Jets in virtually every game, and allows the Jets a chance to win. Revis Island has been relatively unscathed, and the Jets characteristically own the sixth best defense in the NFL.
However, if the Jets want to win, the offense will need to step up.
The Jets are in a tough race with the Patriots, and have a tough schedule coming up. However, it may be easier than that of the Patriots.
Playoff Verdict: Wild Card Winner.
The Jets will win the AFC wild card, narrowly missing out on a division title.
Disclaimer: I am a Raiders fan, so this may be a bit biased. Oh well.
The Oakland Raiders are a huge surprise in the NFL this year, and going into the bye week, they are 5-4, and have won three games in a row. They are 3-0 in the division,
The Raiders offense has been rush heavy, and they own one of the the best rushing tandems in football, in Darren McFadden, who leads the league in rushing yards per game, and Michael Bush. The Raiders offense has scored 115 points in the past three games.
The Raiders defense has also looked good as of late, and have given up the low sum of 37 points in the past three games.
The Raiders are in a three-horse race for the AFC West, with the Chiefs and the Chargers, which I will get into more later.
Playoff Verdict: AFC West Champions.
The Raiders will hold off the Chiefs and Chargers to win the AFC West.
The Philadelphia Eagles are taking advantage of a changing of the guard in the NFC East, er, sort of. The Dallas Cowboys are stinking up the joint, and the Eagles are loving it.
The Eagles offense has been resurrected, thanks in large part to Michael Vick. He has ignited the Eagles with stellar passing and vintage Vick style rushing. Vick has been able to use his weapons, including his feet, allowing the Eagles to have a chance in most games.
The Eagles defense has been average at best, but has kept the Eagles in games and has allowed them to have a chance to win.
The Eagles appear to be the only team in contention with the Giants for the NFC East, but they might not have as great of a shot at the division as their record shows.
Playoff Verdict: Wild Card Champion.
The Eagles will win a wild card spot, missing out on the division title by a few games.
As I write this, the Steelers have just defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, moving up to 6-2, and a tie of the division lead with the Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers defense, led by Troy Polamalu has been arguably the best in the NFL this season. They have not allowed a single team to run for over 80 yards, and an average of 59 yards per game. Simply stellar.
The Steelers offense has been very good, especially on the ground, led by Rashard Mendenhall, who is in the top-10 in virtually every rushing category.
Pittsburgh is in a two-man race for the AFC North, and it will go down to the wire. I'm going to thoroughly enjoy this race.
Playoff Verdict: AFC Wild Card Winners.
The Steelers will fall to the Ravens, and take a wild card spot instead.
The San Diego Chargers are vastly underachieving this season. They are 4-5, and are very inconsistent. They started off slow, and they won't have enough in the tank to recover.
Don't get me wrong, the Chargers offense is stellar. Philip Rivers is an elite quarterback in the NFL, and he and Antonio Gates are an amazing tandem. The Chargers turn the ball over way too much, and give up far too many points for even Rivers to rebound against.
The defense isn't horrible in terms of yards, they just give up a lot of points, which in the end, is what costs them football games.
The Chargers are looming in the AFC West, but don't look too much into it.
Playoff Verdict: Not This Time.
The Chargers will miss the playoffs this year, as they will fall back into mediocrity.
The San Francisco 49ers were supposed to run away with the NFC West this season. So much for that. The 49ers started off 0-5, and any playoff hopes were quickly erased.
This is in part because of the quarterback controversy, with Alex Smith and Mike Singletary. Smith has played awful this entire season, with a few rare bright spots. Singletary has called out Smith multiple times, yet leaves him in as the starter? Bring in Troy Smith! There's nothing to lose now!
The 49ers are ironically the only team out of the NFC West race, which is sad to say the least.
Playoff Verdict: Next!
The 49ers need to go back to the drawing board and come back strong next year.
The Seattle Seahawks were looking good, then weeks eight and nine happened. In Week 8, they were slaughtered by the Raiders, 33-3, and in Week 9, they were massacred by the Giants, 41-7. Even after those games, they are still technically tied for the lead of the NFC West.
The offense has completely shut down, and the injury to Matt Hasselbeck won't help. Until the Seahawks offense comes around, they will not win football games.
The defense has been equally awful. They have given up 74 points in the past two games. Before that, they were looking decent on defense, now, it's just sad.
The Seahawks are in a two-horse race for the NFC West with the St. Louis Rams, but will need a major overhaul if they want to contend.
Playoff Verdict: Not happening.
The Seahawks are in the middle of a meltdown, and I don't see it ending any time soon. Maybe next year.
The St. Louis Rams are finally back. The Rams are taking advantage of the meltdowns of the 49ers and Seahawks and are quietly taking the lead in the NFC West.
The Rams offense has improved drastically, thanks in part to the stellar play of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford's stats may not be the greatest, but when your team wins, that's more important than individual stats. He has heart, and he's been able to use his weapons, and having Steven Jackson never hurts.
The Rams defense has been average at best.
But then again, that's what the Rams are this season, average. It just so happens that that's what you need to be to win the NFC West. Average.
On a serious note, the Rams will need to improve their offense and defense in order to be taken seriously outside of the NFC West.
Playoff Verdict: NFC West Champions
The Rams will go on a hot streak and win the NFC West.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a surprise in the NFL this year, to say the absolute least. No one saw this coming. They are now 5-3, but dropped a crucial game against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Bucs' offense has been very good. Josh Freeman has surprised the NFL and has emerged as a future quarterback in this league. However, possibly an even bigger threat to the opponents defense has been LeGarrette Blount, who has emerged as a very useful running back as of late, with a massive 120-yard performance against Arizona in Week 8.
Tampa's defense has unfortunately been its downfall. They give up too many yards and too many points, and they don't give the Bucs enough of a chance to win football games, as it was evident against Atlanta in Week 9.
The Buccaneers are in a three-horse race for the NFC South division title with the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. They will definitely make it interesting, but how long will this Cinderella story really last?
Playoff Verdict: Narrowly Miss The Playoffs.
The Bucs will barely fall short of the wild card this season, but they are emerging as future contenders.
The Tennessee Titans are 5-3, and have added Randy Moss to their offense. Now, the question remains, will he help, or hinder?
The Titans offense has been dependent on Chris Johnson and the running game, which doesn't seem like a bad strategy, considering Chris Johnson is a top-5 running back. Now, the Titans have added Moss. This could go either way.
Either Moss distracts the defense, allowing Johnson to get more yards and more touches, or Moss ignites the sloppy passing game of the Tennessee Titans.
Or, Moss distracts the entire team and they lose it all.
The Titans are in a four-horse race for the AFC South. Tennessee and Indianapolis are 5-3, and Houston and Jacksonville are 4-4.
Playoff Verdict: Narrowly Miss The Playoffs.
The Titans will be the runner up for the AFC wild card, but that's the same as not being close.
The Washington Redskins are a very interesting team this year, and not for reasons that they want to be. The Redskins are 4-4, but they are playing far worse than their record shows.
The quarterback controversy has taken center stage in Washington. First, McNabb starts to turn around a woeful Redskins offense. Then, out of nowhere, Mike Shanahan takes out McNabb with two minutes left, in favour of Rex Grossman? Soon after that, the Redskins announce that they are granting JaMarcus Russell a tryout. Something smells fishy in Washington.
Nothing good can possibly come out of this. In fact, I'm going to blame it for the soon-to-be downfall of the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins defense has been awful, and the offense will suffer greatly.
Playoff Verdict: Not Happening.
The Washington Redskins will be denied entry into the playoffs this year, and they will be shopping for a new quarterback next season, for no apparent reason.
So, if the playoffs plays of like I predicted, then the playoff picture will look something like this.
1. Baltimore Ravens
2. New England Patriots
3. Indianapolis Colts
4. Oakland Raiders
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
6. New York Jets
1. New York Giants
2. Green Bay Packers
3. New Orleans Saints
4. St. Louis Rams
5. Atlanta Falcons
6. Philadelphia Eagles
You heard it here first.