Buying or Selling the NFL Division Leaders at the Midpoint of the 2011 Season
Like there is every year in the NFL, there are some big surprises in the standings at the midpoint of the season, with sub-.500 teams of 2010 like Cincinnati and San Francisco currently leading their division.
However, there is still a lot of time left in this season, and while some teams look like they are poised to win their division and earn a playoff berth, there is still enough time for teams who are currently behind to jump ahead and for teams who are ahead of the pack to fall back.
Here are the eight current division leaders in the NFL and whether or not football fans should buy their success or sell it for more talented teams whose best games are still to come.
New England Patriots (5-3): Buy
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While the Patriots have certainly had their struggles, particularly in the last two weeks, they still have one of the best offenses in the league led by Tom Brady, and he will give them a chance to win every game. However, the biggest problem is the division they are in, as the Jets and Bills are both hot on their tail, both with 5-3 records as well.
However, despite the Patriots defensive struggles, I see the Jets as more flawed than the Pats, especially on offense, where they have yet to find a running game, and their passing game struggles at times under quarterback Mark Sanchez. And while they are certainly stronger on defense, they have struggled at times on that side of the ball as well.
While I will fully admit that the Bills have improved, they have a very difficult schedule ahead of them, having to play both the Jets and Patriots on the road, as well as Dallas, Tennessee and San Diego, all formidable opponents. While I do feel that the Bills will have a record over .500, and might even get a wildcard, I don't see them winning the division.
The Patriots will win the AFC East despite a tough race with New York and Buffalo, but because of their struggles on defense, I don't see them going very far in the playoffs.
Cincinnatti Bengals (6-2): Sell
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The Bengals have surprised many critics with a 6-2 record so far this year, and are actually leading the division despite strong play from division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore. However, I do not see this success lasting, as the Bengals haven't even played once against either one of those teams that will be major hurdles to get them into the playoffs.
The Ravens have swept the Steelers, and in my opinion, will win the AFC North because of it. Both the Ravens and Steelers have a fairly easy schedule as the season winds down, and I see them both with 12-4 records by the end of the year.
While the Bengals have improved, I do not see them continuing their success. They are a young team who have played a reasonably soft schedule, and they still have four very difficult games against the Ravens and the Steelers. The Bengals may finish with a record over .500, but I don't see them winning the division.
Houston Texans (6-3): Buy
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The Houston Texans are enjoying a season without Peyton Manning, as his Indianapolis Colts have struggled greatly without him, and consequently, the division is Houston's for the taking.
After it was clear that Peyton Manning would be out for a while, many pegged the Texans to win the AFC South, and so far, they are poised to do so, with Indianapolis and Jacksonville struggling, and the only real threat to them being the 4-4 Titans, who are playing better than many expected, but are still two games behind a talented Houston team.
Offensively, the Texans have been strong for a long time, and this may finally be their year, especially since their defense has been stepping up this year as well. While I do think the Titans will give them a bit of a run, the Texans will win the AFC South fairly easily this year.
San Diego Chargers (4-4): Buy
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Many people are selling the Chargers, but I'm still buying them. While the Chargers have lost three straight and haven't looked that great this year, I still think they are the most talented team in their division.
Both Kansas City and Oakland appear to be the biggest competition for the Chargers, but both teams have major questions. The Chiefs started 0-3, and while they came back to win four in a row, they lost this past week to Miami, one of the worst teams in the league.
Oakland lost its quarterback Jason Campbell for the year, and the Carson Palmer experiment has begun. So far, Palmer has not panned out, throwing for six interceptions in two games. I think that while Palmer may work out for the Raiders in the future, he is going to struggle this year, being in a new system and not having played for almost a year.
The Chargers have talent on both sides of the ball, and while quarterback Philip Rivers hasn't played his best, I do think that he will turn it around, especially considering that they always seem to play their best football at the end of the season.
New York Giants (6-2): Sell
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The Giants are almost the anti-Chargers of the NFL. While the Chargers start out struggling and end the season hot, the Giants start hot and fizzle out by the end of the year. Which is why the Giants sitting at the top of the NFC East at 6-2 shouldn't be a shock to anyone, but that also shouldn't be an indicator that they will keep this success up.
Also consider that they have one of the toughest schedules in the league in the second half of the season, where they have to play New Orleans, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Dallas, the New York Jets and the 7-1 San Francisco 49ers.
The only thing going for the Giants is that they are in a fairly weak division, where the 4-4 Cowboys look different every week, and the 3-5 Eagles have been a major disappointment. Still, I don't buy the Giants down the stretch and wouldn't be surprised to see Dallas or even Philadelphia catch up and win the weak NFC East.
Green Bay Packers (8-0): Buy
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It's hard not to buy the Green Bay Packers; they are the defending Super Bowl champs who are the only undefeated team in the NFL. They are led by Aaron Rodgers on offense, who is playing like the best quarterback in the NFL right now, and they have one of the most deep wide receiving corps in the league.
They also have a great defense despite their struggles against the pass this year. While the 8-0 Packers may not be perfect, they are certainly winning games, and at this point, are the best team in the NFL.
However, the NFC North is a tough division, with the Lions sitting at 6-2 and the Bears sitting at 5-3, two teams that are currently poised for a wildcard spot. The NFC North is a division that should not be taken lightly, and while the Packers are dominant in that division, the Bears and the Lions can certainly give them a run any day of the week.
New Orleans Saints (5-3): Buy
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The Saints were seen as the second-best team in the NFC before losing to the Rams in Week 8, but I still think that they are the second-best team in the conference. Despite the Giants, Lions and 49ers having better records, I still believe the Saints are a true contender, with an explosive offense that proved that it could keep up with Green Bay in the season opener and a defense that knows how to force turnovers.
The Saints are also in a tough division, as the Falcons and Buccaneers are closely behind them in the division race, and likely will be for the remainder of the year. However, I believe the Saints are the most well-rounded team in that division, and will not only win the NFC South this year, but will also find themselves in the NFC Championship game in a rematch of the season opener against the Green Bay Packers.
San Francisco 49ers (7-1): Sell
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To make this clear, I am buying that the 49ers will win the putrid NFC West this year. However, their 7-1 record is inflated due to the extremely soft schedule they have played so far, and it continues to get easier, as they continue to match up against NFC West opponents, as well as NFC East opponents, another division that has been weak this year.
The 49ers have certainly improved under Jim Harbaugh, and I do think that in the long run, they are on their way up. However, I just don't think they are ready yet. While they can certainly beat up on weak teams, they will have to play much stronger opponents going into the playoffs.
The 49ers will win the division, and may even grab a wildcard bye because of their weak schedule, but I just don't see them going very far in the playoffs this year, especially with Alex Smith as their quarterback.