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NFL Mid-Season Report
by Hollywood Sports - 11/05/2011
We are already halfway through the NFL regular season which offers a nice opportunity to examine how teams are beginning to shake themselves out. Some team struggled out of the gate with the lack of OTAs given the lockout. Other clubs benefited from the continuity they enjoyed from a year ago but are falling behind now. Some of the best teams from last year are once again challenging to make a deep run in the playoffs. And some teams already appear to be jockeying for the right to draft Andrew Luck. Dividing teams up into five levels of competitiveness, here are 32 thoughts on 32 NFL teams.
1. Green Bay: they raised their level of play late last season before winning three straight road games in the playoffs before winning the Super Bowl against a quarterback that already had two rings. Their 8-0 start puts them a cut above everyone else. Their pass defense may be a relative weakness but the Packers have the luxury of playing aggressive since no can stop Aaron Rodgers right now who is redefining excellence at the quarterback position.
THE ELITE (defined by having a quarterback that can orchestrate game-winning drives on the road)
2. Pittsburgh: despite being riddled with injuries, they are right on track for another deep playoff run. Big Ben has stepped up his play this season. When they get healthy again, this highly successful organization will once again be right there.
3. Baltimore: two impressive wins against their arch-rival Steelers highlights their season. But is Pittsburgh their Moby Dick? Will the Joe Flacco who floundered against Jacksonville show up again? Does the defense really trust Flacco in the playoffs?
4. New Orleans: juggernauts at home but they can be listless on the road. Questions on defense but this team is just one season removed from their Super Bowl championship.
5. New England: they appear more and more vulnerable against defenses with potent defensive lines that can pressure Tom Brady along with linebackers that can cover their tight ends. But do you want to count out Brady and Bill Belichick in a one-game situation? The young defense will continue to improve.
6. NY Jets: after struggling early at both sides of the line of scrimmage, their commitment to the run has re-established Rex Ryan's team. Mark Sanchez's four victories on the road in the playoffs means his team should never be counted out.
7. NY Giants: Eli Manning's last minute drive in Foxboro last week helps the Giants make the cut here. Eli owns a Super Bowl ring and this club still has a deep defensive line with the potential of a potent ground game.
PLAYOFF CONTENDERS WHO COULD BE DANGEROUS
8. Atlanta: they seemed to have recovered from being shell-shocked from their playoff loss to the Packers by rededicating themselves to running the football. While not as good as their 14-2 record last year suggested, they have playoff experience now with something to prove this season.
9. Detroit: while woefully lacking in playoff experience, they have so much talent on both sides of the ball that they are a threat to defeat anyone. Their lack of a running game hurts their long-term chances.
10. Chicago: last year's NFC runner-up should not be discounted. They dominated Philadelphia in their stadium on Monday (despite the final score). Mike Martz may be their worse enemy. If they run the ball and let their defense keep them in the game, they become very dangerous. Offensive line is improving.
11. San Francisco: super 7-1 start by playing fundamental football. They are built like the Bears but lack their playoff experience. They may have peaked too soon.
12. Houston: losing Andre Johnson may have been a blessing in disguise since it forced them to get back to running the football. Defense is improving but they really miss Mario Williams. Lack of playoff experience hurts.
13. Buffalo: Ryan Fitzpatrick can keep this feisty club in most games. The Jets exposed them last week by forcing their offense outside the hash marks.
14. Philadelphia: they have probably played themselves out of the playoff hunt but if they limit their turnovers, they can defeat anyone.
15. Dallas: plenty of talent on the field that has no shortage of self-confidence, but I have seen the movie before and it ends with Tony Romo making a mistake. After watching the Godfather II a dozen times, I realized Michael was going to still kill Fredo.
16. San Diego: plenty of talent on the field that has not shortage of self-confidence, but I have seen the movie before and it ends with someone on either side of the ball or on special teams making a mistake. After watching Godfather III a dozen times, I realized Sophia Coppola was never going to improve her acting.
17. Tampa Bay: Josh Freeman has proven himself clutch in the 4th quarter but this team seems not quite as efficient as they were in their 10-6 campaign last season.
18. Cincinnati: their stout defense along with Cedric Benson on the ground makes them dangerous. Andy Dalton has been better than what could have been expected out the rookie at this stage of his career.
19. Kansas City: still very much alive in the AFC West, they have to have their running game going. But if they do, that is a formula for success.
20. Tennessee: solid defense, solid offensive line and a veteran quarterback with Super Bowl experience in Matt Hasselbeck. The apparent demise of Chris Johnson really hurts this team as a playoff contender.
21. Oakland: when Darren McFadden is healthy, he can control the game. Carson Palmer should get better as the season moves on. But this franchise looks to be lost as they enter the post-Al Davis era.
22. Carolina: Cam Newton has been very impressive and added to a roster that was 8-8 two seasons ago. If this team learns how to win the close games they are always in, then watch out.
23. St. Louis: having survived a brutal opening to their schedule, they now get to engage the brunt of their NFC West schedule. Sam Bradford needs help at wide receiver but Steven Jackson is always a threat. Front seven on defense is starting to emerge.
24. Seattle: Tarvaris Jackson is underrated after his stint as the unworthy understudy of Brett Favre. Pete Carroll is underrated as a game planner and he is developing this team by prioritizing the offensive line.
25. Minnesota: Christian Ponder has looked good behind center and his presence has energized superstars Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen. Still plenty of talent on this team.
26. Denver: if teams remain fooled into thinking that they have a credible passing attack, then the middle of the field is left open for Tim Tebow run wild (ask the Oakland Raiders). Tebow operates best in a no-huddle offense where chaos reigns supreme. Anything can happen once chaos is allowed to flourish.
ANDREW LUCK SWEEPSTAKES
27. Jacksonville: their defense is tough as they proved in their Monday night game against the Ravens. And with Maurice Jones-Drew, they have a true threat at running back. But rookie QB Blaine Gabbert so far has not looked the part … at all.
28. Washington: the continuity of Mike Shanahan's system from last year to this season may have helped their strong start. Decimated by injuries now and with major question marks at quarterback.
29. Arizona: Kevin Kolb has struggled in the adjustment from the West Coast offense to the Mike Martz-styled offense of Ken Whisenhunt that looks for deeper drop-backs and longer routes. But Kolb is probably the best quarterback in this group.
30. Miami: there is talent on this team particularly on defense. But coach Tony Sparano has been a lame duck all season.
31. Cleveland: a weak offense without legitimate wide receivers has now been decimated with injuries. Need a job? Browns accepting applications for all offensive skill positions.
32. Indianapolis: if this roster had what it takes to conjure up some institutional pride, they would have showed it after their embarrassing 62-7 loss to New Orleans on national television. Instead, the Colts laid another egg at Tennessee. Jim Caldwell is the wrong man for this situation as the veterans play out the string.
Of course, the beauty of the NFL is that anything can happen on
any given Sunday. Point spreads and situational factors always come into play when handicapping week-to-week. And teams continue to improve as Green Bay proved once again last season. In the meantime, best of luck for us -- Frank.