Hail Mary Time: The Mid-Season NFL Team Rankings

By: Chris Dagonas

With the end of Week 8, and the beginning of November, we have reached a sort of unofficial halfway point in the NFL season. That precise timing inspired these power rankings.

Think of these rankings as a “Who Would Win?” ranking. The first place team would beat everyone else, the second place team would beat everyone but the first place team, and so on down the list.

With half the season complete, there is enough sample size to look at each team’s strengths and weaknesses, and to plot out the possibilities for the second half of the season looking at each team’s schedules.

32. Detroit Lions (1-7, -96)

Wow, this is a terrible way to start. The Lions were a playoff team at 11-5 as recently as last season. That was even without star receiver Calvin Johnson, who missed half the season. This season, however, the Lions are just plain awful. Most awful is the defense, which has given up a league-worst 245 points. By comparison, the Lions only surrendered 282 points in the entire 2014 regular season. After injuring his hip in the season opener, leading tackler and defensive captain DeAndre Levy will likely be out the remainder of the season, so even though the Lions have already bottomed out, things can still get worse.

31. San Francisco 49ers (2-6, -98)

Yuck. The 49ers offense is horrendous. They have scored only 107 points in 8 games, and have the largest margin of defeat in the NFL. The firing of head coach Jim Harbaugh last season might go down as one of the dumbest personnel decisions in recent history. Harbaugh had worked miracles with an otherwise underwhelming roster. It also did not help to lose running back Frank Gore, receiver Michael Crabtree, and guard Mike Iupati to free agency, as quarterback Colin Kaepernick has struggled to make plays or find trustworthy receiving targets. The 49ers have a long way to go to get back to their steady consistent winning ways of previous years. It won’t happen any time soon.

30. Baltimore Ravens (2-6, -24)

Having just lost receiver Steve Smith for the season, the Ravens occupy this spot based mostly on their win expectancy for the second half of the year. Already struggling despite a top-1o offensive output, removing Smith from the equation places a lot of pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco and receiver Kamar Aiken. If the offense slouches, expect the Ravens to hit a huge slump.

29. Tennessee Titans (1-6, -34)

This was supposed to happen, but that doesn’t mean it feels good. Rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota started hot, but then the real world caught up to him and the Titans have looked pretty woeful. With Mariota sidelined the past two weeks, backup Zach Mettenberger has done little other than provide a warm body. At least the defense has played respectably well, which is a more stable foundation than many teams can claim. Everyone knew the Titans would be bad, but at least fans of the Titans can rest assured that things are on the way up.

28. Cleveland Browns (2-6, -49)

Another team with good things on the horizon, the Browns can gloat about owning Johnny Football, quarterback Johnny Manziel, and tight end extraordinaire Gary Barnidge. With a young squad and the pending return of suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon next season, 2016 could be a good year in Cleveland. Until then, the Browns are one of the worst teams in the NFL, albeit one that can score its fair share of points.

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5, -60)

The Jaguars need TJ Yeldon to stay healthy to develop into a playoff contender next season

The Jaguars need TJ Yeldon to stay healthy to develop into a playoff contender next season

The Jags have been entertaining and frisky all season, and despite a subpar defense, have actually played close in a couple of losses against much tougher teams. The Jaguars should be a better team as quarterback Blake Bortles gets another season under his belt, although the coaches will have to find a way to protect him and open space for rookie running back TJ Yeldon, and use talented receiver duo Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. The future is not now, but it’s soon, in Jacksonville.

26. San Diego Chargers (2-6, -36)

The Chargers have played it close with far superior teams like the Bengals, Packers, and Steelers, thanks in large part to a strong offensive game, buoyed by Philip Rivers and his best season to date. Rivers is on pace for over 5,400 passing yards, which would surpass his highest total by about 700 yards. He already has 6 games this season with over 300 yards passing, which ties his career high. He might have 10 or 12 by the time the season ends. Everything on the Chargers besides the passing game is quite terrible, from the non existent running game to the Swiss cheese defense. Don’t let the point differential fool you; The Chargers are just the Jaguars with a superior quarterback.

25. Chicago Bears (2-5, -62)

The Bears are a tough team to figure out; They have not really been fully healthy until the past couple of weeks, but they lost both of those games, and one of those losses came to the team ranked last in these power rankings, the Lions. On the other hand, they have defeated the Raiders and Chiefs, teams that are not top-10, but certainly respectable. Losing that Lions game hurts the pride more than anything else, and even if they were sitting at 3-4 right now, they would still be looking at an outside shot at the playoffs after a stretch of games against the Rams, Broncos, and Packers to round out November. With Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffrey back, the Bears lost running back Matt Forte this past Sunday, so maybe their biggest defeat was not to the Lions, but to the injury bug. The truth is this was always going to be a tough year in a division against the Packers and emerging Vikings, but the Bears have also had luck against them. Time to start thinking about 2016, Bears fans.

24. Houston Texans (3-5, -31)

This is a team two games below .500 that could actually win their division. They are on par with the Indianapolis Colts, and their quarterback isn’t nursing rib injuries. Losing to the Colts in Houston in Week 5 might end up being their biggest regret, and the Texans have some tough matchups ahead of them, but stealing one against the Saints or Bills and closing the season 3-0 against their division might be enough for the Texans to squeeze into the division lead. It’s hard to root against a team with JJ Watt on the roster, and I’ve given the Colts more than enough time to sort through their issues. I’m all in on the Houston Texans making the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4, -36)

Jameis Winston has a long way to go, but will be a solid NFL pro, soon.

Jameis Winston has a long way to go, but will be a solid NFL pro, soon.

The Bucs have looked better than a lot of rebuilding teams with rookie quarterbacks. Consider that the 1998 Colts, with a rookie Peyton Manning under centre, finished the season 3-13 with a -134 point differential. Winston is already set to eclipse that win total, and whereas Manning threw 28 interceptions in his first season, Winston has 7 currently, which puts him on pace for 14 (versus 20 touchdowns). Their defense has been respectable, allowing the 11th-fewest total yards thus far. Their offensive weapons are all solid, with running back Doug Martin returning to prominence, and receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are great targets for the young Winston. Tampa Bay likely won’t win their division, and they have a tough stretch of games coming up through the murky NFC East. But I have been impressed with Winston and the Buccaneers.

22. Dallas Cowboys (2-5, -38)

Playing without wideout Dez Bryant and quarterback Tony Romo for a large part of the season, the Cowboys have reeled off five straight losses after starting the season 2-0, with wins against two division rivals. Bryant returned to the field this past week, and Romo won’t be too much longer, so the Cowboys should be able to right their ship in juicy match-ups against the Eagles, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and two against the Washingtons in the second half. It would not shock me to see them emerge with their record sitting at least around 8-8 when all is said and done. In the crazy NFC East, that could be good for a division title.

21. Kansas City Chiefs (3-5, +13)

I really though the Chiefs would crumble after the loss of running back Jamaal Charles. Far from it, the Chiefs have actually played their best football in the past four weeks, with close losses to the Bears and Vikings, before checking off two wins in a row against the Steelers and Lions. The Chiefs don’t really defend all that well, but they can score points among the best of them, with quarterback Alex Smith stepping up in the absence of a strong running game and using short passes, screens, and tight end safety valve Travis Kelce, to move the ball efficiently. They’re in a tough battle for second place in the division with the Oakland Raiders, but an easier second half schedule means they could make a late playoff push.

20. Washington Football Team (3-4, -20)

Under the leadership of quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Washingtons have emerged this season as a completely mediocre team. Their wins have been less than impressive, with a week 2 defeat of the St. Louis Rams as the only game where they have outscored their opponents by more than single digits. As mentioned earlier with the Dallas Cowboys, Washington plays in the NFC East, a division so wide open, there are no scenarios that would be surprising at this point. With games still to come against the undefeated Patriots and Panthers, this may be nothing more than a .500 team at the end of the regular season.

19. Miami Dolphins (3-4, -19)

After two weeks of great football against weak AFC South opponents, the Dan Campbell Dolphins suffered their first loss last Thursday at the hands of AFC East rival, the New England Patriots. While that was a bit of a letdown, the Dolphins have a pretty soft schedule in front of them, and with the offense looking a little more alive in those victories over the Texans and Titans, there is still hope for an unlikely playoff run. To get there, the Dolphins would HAVE TO beat the Bills in Buffalo, something that has never been easy for them, and the Jets in New York, as well as knock off teams like the Chargers, Ravens, and Colts. Considering the Dolphins are 0-3 against their own division so far this year, it is a long shot. But at least they look alive again.

18. Buffalo Bills (3-4, +3)

The Rex Ryan era in Buffalo has gotten off to a slow start, and the loss to the Jaguars in London two weeks ago may have more weight than expected at the end of the year. But this is still a strong football team with a great running game, which should include Karlos Williams again this week and possibly LeSean McCoy in another week or two. With the healthy returns of quarterback Tyrod Taylor and receiver Sammy Watkins, the offense could be back at full strength at just the right time. The first few weeks showed what the Bills offense can do, scoring 27, 32, and 41 points respectively in weeks 1 to 3. If they can regain that form, the Bills could be playing some meaningful games come December.

17. Indianapolis Colts (3-5, -30)

Andrew Luck looks worried. He should be.

Andrew Luck looks worried. He should be.

I’m not sure if the Colts are too high here. I’m worried that I am basing this more on the past than on this season. I mean, they still have a top-5 quarterback in Andrew Luck, but with three straight losses, including one late last night to the undefeated Panthers, the Colts are reeling and there is talk of coach Chuck Pagano maybe being relieved of his duties. If that happens, the AFC South could open up for a new division champion for the first time since 2012.

16. New Orleans Saints (4-4, -21)

If this team had even an average defense, they might be sitting at 5-3. Of course, they still would be third in their division with that record. Even still, at 4-4 and with softball match-ups coming up against the Titans, Texans, Buccaneers, Lions and Jaguars, there is a chance that these Saints overtake the Falcons and win a wild card spot in the NFC. From there, anything is possible.

15. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4, +23)

Who even knows with this team? Every week seems like a mystery. Here is what we know; They don’t score a lot, Sam Bradford has not been the quarterback Chip Kelly had hoped he would be, and DeMarco Murray might just be exhausted from over usage last season. We also know they are surprisingly tough to score against, which could help them take the lead in the NFC East. They will have to do better on their second trip through their division, and win games against the Bucs and Lions, to stand a chance at winning their division.

 14. New York Giants (4-4, +7)

The highest-ranked of our NFC East teams, the Giants are wildly inconsistent and can never seem to close out victories. At their best, they are probably a top-10 team in the league. At their worst, they are incapable of slowing down even the most pedestrian of offenses. Eli Manning might be having his most productive season of his career, and Odell Beckham Jr. has proven worthy of the hype, in most games. Where the Giants struggle is stopping opposing offenses, and they will be meeting some tough ones in the next few weeks. If they are not able to slow down opposition scoring, they might miss out on the playoffs in a very tight divisional race.

13. Oakland Raiders (4-3, +5)

I’m happy to see the Raiders this high. They have been so bad for so long, and a team with that cool logo and colour scheme deserves to be in the top half of the league. Quarterback Derek Carr has fired up a long-dormant offense to a top-15 position halfway through the season. With a talented offensive group including rookie wideout Amari Cooper and running back Latavius Murray, the Raiders might be able to fend off the Chiefs and secure a second place spot in the AFC West, and a potential Wild Card as well.

12. St. Louis Rams (4-3, +10)

NFL Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Gurley adds an explosive dimension to the Rams' offense

NFL Rookie of the Year candidate Todd Gurley adds an explosive dimension to the Rams’ offense

Another team I am glad to see this high after many seasons of drought, the Rams have been sparked by rookie sensation Todd Gurley and the addition of Nick Foles at quarterback. Even more impressive has been the Rams’ defense, having given up the third-fewest points in the league so far. The last time the Rams were making people take notice, they were the greatest show on turf with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. This time around, these Rams are built on defense first, run the ball second, and only throw when necessary. With the personnel around them, it might just be a recipe for success. But they will have a lot of competition from the next NFC West team.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4, +21)

OK, this may need to be adjusted following the season-ending injury to running back LeVeon Bell, but the Steelers survived without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a few weeks, even defeating the Arizona Cardinals in the process. New starter De’Angelo Williams is a ten-year veteran and more than capable of carrying the load, but he is not on Bell’s talent level. The Steelers will likely switch to a more pass-friendly attack, allowing Roethlisberger to air it out 40-50 times a game, as he likes to do. Receiving duo Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant will need more secure hands than they showed against the Bengals to give the Steelers any hope of keeping pace in this division. They also have the most difficult remaining schedule of any team in football, according to Pro Football Reference. They will always be a tough opponent, but the Steelers might have to start planning their January vacations.

10. Seattle Seahawks (4-4, +27)

After two consecutive trips to the Super Bowl, the Seahawks may be suffering a bit of a postseason hangover. It’s to be expected, after all. But they haven’t lost to anyone they should not have. Their four losses came at the Rams, at the Packers, at the Bengals, and home, by 4 points, against the Panthers. So, yes, while they might be a step below those teams, and probably not really below the Rams at all, they are still a well coached and talented squad. They still get to meet the 49ers, Browns, and Ravens, plus the Rams in Seattle in late December. Between the Rams and Seahawks, I’d take the latter to come out in a Wild Card place after Week 17.

9. New York Jets (4-3, +33)

New York’s other team has gotten off to a fine start, but have not beaten any team that would be considered “tough competition” yet. They get the Bills on Thursday night in Week 10, then end the season on a 3-game run against the Cowboys, Patriots, and Bills. If they want to claim an AFC wild card spot, they will have to win at least one, possibly two, of those tough games, and cruise past easier matchups against the Texans, Dolphins, and Titans. Their defense, as it always seems to be, is fierce, especially against the run. Removing half of their opponents’ offensive options can create play calling issues, and having Darrelle Revis covering top receivers creates problems for opposing quarterbacks. While their offense won’t terrify anyone, it is good enough to control the clock and score 17-21 points, which is usually enough for a win.

8. Minnesota Vikings (5-2, +25)

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs dives for a touchdown

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs dives for a touchdown

From out of nowhere, the Vikings have been an NFC North beast. The emergence of wide receiver Stefon Diggs has given Teddy Bridgewater a reliable target, the first for a long time in Minnesota. Diggs has Odell Beckham-ish hype and has not disappointed so far. In fact, the Vikings have been very impressive as a team. Other than a strange Week 1 loss to the 49ers, they have won every other game besides a 3-point loss to the excellent Denver Broncos. The Vikings defense has quietly been outstanding as well, allowing only 18.6 points per game. Standing in their way is the NFC’s toughest schedule, with absolutely zero easy wins on the horizon. To keep pace with the Packers, the Vikings have to get through a slew of top-15 teams; the Rams, Raiders, Packers, Falcons, Seahawks, and Cardinals. Finally, a week 17 match against division rival Green Bay could be a division-title clinching game for either team.

7. Atlanta Falcons (6-2, +40)

The Falcons really should be sitting at 7-1, but an unlikely loss to Tampa Bay last week dropped them to 6-2, and to seventh in these rankings. One of the most important facets of being a playoff team is beating the teams you’re supposed to beat, and Atlanta has been a good team recently, they should know that. Second-year revelation Devonta Freeman has been the most explosive and productive running back this season, and Matt Ryan has connected nicely with Julio Jones for a real passing threat. The Falcons defense, historically a weakness, has actually been good enough in most games, although with this offense, good enough doesn’t even have to be that good. The Falcons also have an easy second half schedule, and should easily coast to at least a 10-6 record and an NFC Wild Card.

6. Arizona Cardinals (6-2, +110)

I think this would be the team I would fear the most as an opposing coach. Their passing game is pretty unstoppable, or at least no coach yet has figured out how to stop it. With both Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald healthy, and the second coming of Chris Johnson, there is no shortage of ways for this offense to completely and totally demoralize opposing defenses. Their defense, especially against the pass, has been a nice surprise, and the combination of a high-octane offense with stout defense has allowed them to open up the second-largest point differential in the NFL. They do, however, have a tough schedule coming up, and will need Palmer and Fitzgerald to stay healthy, and Chris Johnson to stay hot, to secure the NFC West Title, with the Rams and Seahawks hot on their tails.

5. Carolina Panthers (7-0, +55)

Has there even been another 7-0 team that so few people believed in? The Panthers are rock solid throughout their lineup, yet here they are at number 5 on this list. Monday night’s win against the Colts was a big step to league-wide respect, and their average margin of victory is 7.9, second only to the Cardinals in the NFC. It seems clear that the Panthers are in the elite category of teams, but a Sunday afternoon match against the Packers will tell the tale if the Panthers are ready to compete with the class of the NFC.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (7-0, +66)

OK, this might be the other 7-0 team that nobody believes in. The Bengals are notorious for having strong regular seasons, only to wither and die come playoff time. But this regular season, the Bengals seem different somehow. Maybe it’s the impressive play of quarterback Andy Dalton, who has racked up 15 touchdown passes and only 4 interceptions. Maybe it’s the defense, the second stingiest in the AFC behind the Broncos. But the second half of the season brings games against the Cardinals and Broncos, the types of games that will decide if the Bengals are contenders or pretenders. They should easily run away with the AFC North, and even have the potential to earn a first-round bye, if all goes as planned.

3. Green Bay Packers (6-1, +44)

I’ll admit, I had Green Bay at number 2 and Denver at number 3. Then the Broncos washed the Packers on Sunday night, and I had to flip their spots. Without Jordy Nelson, the Packers passing game has looked pretty pedestrian, and no one has really stepped up to fill Nelson’s spot. Eddie Lacy has hit some struggles in his third season, but the play of the defense has helped buoy the Packers and keep them as one of the league’s top teams. Only the Rams and Vikings have given up fewer points in the NFC, and as long as they can keep that up, and maybe my “sleeper” pick Davante Adams shows up to play some football in the next few weeks, the Packers are good enough to fend off the charging Vikings and win the NFC North and a first-round bye.

2. Denver Broncos (7-0, +56)

Peyton Manning’s arm has recovered. They found a running back (two, actually) and their defense gives opposing quarterbacks nightmares. Why aren’t they the number one team?

1. New England Patriots (7-0, +116)

Still the best

Still the best

Oh, right. Far and away the best team in the NFL this season.

The second half of the season kicks off tomorrow night, with the Cincinnati Bengals taking on the Cleveland Browns. With some teams getting healthy now, and others hard bitten by the injury bug, there will be a few changes to this order. But for the first half of the season, your NFL teams have just been power ranked.

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