NFL Teams Poised for a Surge in 2nd Half of 2019 Season

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2019

NFL Teams Poised for a Surge in 2nd Half of 2019 Season

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    In NFL games, a team's halftime adjustments, along with a host of other factors, can create a surge in the second half.

    The same principles apply to a season-wide outlook. Teams that have flopped or put up middling performances over the first six weeks can utilize personnel changes, adjustments to scheme and a softer schedule to emerge as big winners in the season's second half.

    The following teams look poised for strong finishes over the back half of the 2019 schedule. Some may be rallying around a returning player, while others are making big splashes as they prepare for postseason runs.

         

New York Jets

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    A "run" doesn't have to mean a sprint to the playoffs, but it's clear the New York Jets are about to rattle off a notable number of wins the rest of the way.

    Quarterback Sam Darnold returned to the lineup in Week 6 after recovering from mononucleosis, and the result was a smooth, unexpected upset of the Dallas Cowboys, 24-22. The offense looked dramatically different as the rising star posted a 23-of-32 line with 338 yards and two touchdowns. His presence opened things up for Le'Veon Bell, who ran for 50 yards and a score.

    The Jets needed their franchise passer back. The defense is still permitting just 12.6 points per game. Offensive balance and production will mean the unit isn't overexposed by staying on the field too long.

    The schedule opens up too after a Week 7 clash with New England at home. Darnold gets to pick on teams like Jacksonville, Miami (twice), the New York Giants, Washington, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. While playoff hopes might be slashed thanks to the 1-4 start, the Jets should be climbing power rankings and providing plenty of hope for next year.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    As expected, things haven't been terribly smooth for the Indianapolis Colts since Andrew Luck hung up his cleats.

    But the Colts are still hanging in there at 3-2 in an AFC South where the leader (Houston) boasts four wins. The two meet in a critical Week 7 matchup, but after that, things open up for Indianapolis. It faces a soft slate with games against Denver, Pittsburgh, Miami, Tampa Bay, Tennessee and Jacksonville (twice).

    The Colts' record makes it easy to overlook the fact that they won in Kansas City in Week 5. Jacoby Brissett isn't Luck, but he is completing 64.7 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Six different players have caught touchdowns, the ground game averages 4.5 yards per carry, and the defense boasts 13 sacks and permits just 23.0 points per game.

    These Colts have seemed a little dormant, if not erratic, through five games, but the numbers combined with the schedule hint at a chance to make a serious playoff run.

Carolina Panthers

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    Tim Ireland/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers are 4-2—yet things can still get better.

    Carolina has won four games in a row with Kyle Allen, not Cam Newton, under center. That's caused some whispers about what the team should do once the starter is healthy. Looking at it pragmatically, the Panthers aren't going to keep a former MVP and Super Bowl quarterback on the bench if he's healthy.

    Allen's performance has registered high on the "fun" scale, though. He's thrown seven scores with no picks while completing 65.6 percent of his passes. But the opposition has been mostly soft thanks to games against Arizona, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, with an outlier of Houston.

    What Allen's string of wins shows is how talented the Panthers are all-around. Christian McCaffrey (900-plus total yards, 4.9 rushing average, nine total scores) is in the MVP conversation, the defense has 27 sacks and the team boasts a plus-33 point differential.

    If Newton gets truly healthy (and the Panthers have reason to be patient now), he gets back in the fray with a loaded team around him. If he doesn't, Allen can keep managing games as Carolina faces a schedule with notably winnable matchups against Tennessee, Atlanta (twice) and Washington, all after a 4-2 start.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The volume of negativity that surrounds the Dallas Cowboys always seems louder than necessary when the team hits a speed bump because, well, it's the Cowboys.

    But that's what a 3-3 start is—a speed bump.

    The Cowboys seemed ripe for a letdown after a soft start against hapless New York Giants, Washington and Miami teams. They then went to New Orleans and got stunned, lost to Green Bay and fell victim to another member of this list, the New York Jets.

    But the Cowboys are too talented to not turn things around. Dak Prescott has completed 69.7 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Ezekiel Elliott is up to a 4.3 average with 491 yards and five scores. The biggest hurdle is a defense that coughs up 331.8 yards per game, yet the point differential sits at plus-39.

    Remember, these Cowboys felt similarly last year with a 3-4 start before a Week 8 bye. They won seven of nine the rest of the way. Maybe they don't make an Amari Cooper-type splash this year, but a remaining schedule that features the Giants and Redskins—as well as underperforming teams like Philadelphia (3-3) and the Los Angeles Rams (3-3)—is a manageable workload for an offense that should keep getting in gear.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Even before the Jalen Ramsey trade, Sean McVay's Los Angeles Rams made sense on this list.

    After? Even more so.

    It's easy to sit on the narrative that the NFL has figured out McVay given the 3-3 start. There are some big negatives: a 55-40 loss to Tampa Bay and a defeat to San Francisco that is easy to position as a passing of the torch in the NFC West.

    But it's never that simple. The Rams have some ugly losses, yes, but they have also won two of their three road games and beaten Carolina (with Cam Newton) and New Orleans. The defense has been a disappointment in coughing up 25.7 points per game, yet the season's point differential is merely minus-1.

    Adding a top-flight corner to a defense that already boasts Aaron Donald is a win-now move that slides the needle in a positive direction, regardless of the assets surrendered to make it happen. The reality of the Rams' performance so far is a loss to the undefeated 49ers and a 5-1 Seattle team, aside from the anomaly against Tampa Bay.

    The Rams get winnable games against struggling Atlanta, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh teams the rest of the way, as well as Arizona twice. A strong second half after a .500 start is a clear possibility.