Halloween has come and passed. The NFL season is rapidly moving toward crunch time. While a few teams have separated themselves from the pack – either through superb records or remaining winless – there are still tight races ahead before the playoff picture gains any clarity. Let’s take a look at FFF’s preseason playoff selections, admit a few gaffes, and predict the results of the next two months.
Consensus Preseason Predictions
The FFF team chose the Patriots as unanimous winners of the AFC East. Although they have shown far less dominance than expected and the Bills look primed to make it a close divisional race, New England is in good position for a 9th consecutive AFC East title. The Steelers, picked by all but one writer, have also shaken off a few “end of an era” losses to reach 6-2. Although the Seahawks are competing with the Rams for their division, they have lived up to the confidence we showed in them before the season started.
The jury is still out on teams like Tennessee, Cincinnati and Carolina making good on preseason expectations. All remain in the running depending on solid second halves.
Yes, the Chiefs received credit as a wildcard team, but only one writer marked them down as division favorites. The winds of change seemed to be taking over Kansas City. That usually equates to a down year. Instead, Kansas City became the league’s last team to lose a game and currently has three more wins than every team in the AFC West.
None of us gave the Rams a second thought given Jared Goff’s performance as a rookie and Sean McVay’s youth. The team is now firmly entrenched in the playoff conversation. FFF’s preseason predictions also placed Atlanta as a division winner. It’s by no means out of the question with half a season left, but the hangover hit harder than expected. The two writers who picked against Atlanta, myself included, selected Tampa Bay as NFC South champions. Oops.
Eight writers made playoff selections. Seven believed the Cowboys would fail to repeat in the NFC East. That looks entirely possible. However, those seven writers predicted that the Giants would be the beneficiary. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Giants are now 1-6 and employ a corps of junior varsity wide receivers. The Eagles did not receive a single vote as a postseason team.
No one could have foreseen the injury that befell Green Bay, but it deserves a spot in the ugly section because of what big time injuries mean for fans. Fans do not get to see Odell Beckham for the rest of the season. J.J. Watt is out for the year once again. Barring a speedy recovery and a Packers’ push for playoff contention, Aaron Rodgers also won’t see the field until 2018. The quality of the game suffers when stars go down.
My Midseason Predictions
- AFC East: Patriots
The Patriots defense has patched itself up. Four straight wins have quieted those looking for a collapse. Currently on a bye, New England faces AFC East opponents in five of their final eight games. They’ll take the division once again, but by no means should this team be outright favorites to emerge from the AFC. New England beat Tampa Bay by five points because Nick Folk missed three field goals. They avoided an overtime game with New York thanks to a questionable fumble call. Travis Benjamin of the Chargers shifted the tone of last Sunday’s game by inexplicably turning a punt return into a safety. You have to avoid mistakes to beat New England. Playoff teams avoid mistakes, and the Patriots will remain vulnerable come January.
- AFC West: Chiefs
Kansas City would have a stranglehold on the division if they didn’t endure an excruciating Thursday Night loss to Oakland. There are tough games ahead, but that’s always true for the AFC West. The Chiefs should find at least four more wins in their remaining eight games. 10 wins will be enough to take the division given the other teams’ records at the midway point. The question remains how they fare in the postseason and what it means for Alex Smith’s future.
- AFC South: Jaguars
This is going against every morsel of football common sense, but the Jackonsville Jaguars are an entertaining pick to win the AFC South. It’s a three-team race that is anyone’s guess. The schedule could play a huge factor. Apart from divisional matchups, Jacksonville currently plays only one more game against a team with a winning record. During a three-week stretch from November 19th to December 3rd, they will see Cleveland, a Carson Palmer-less Arizona, and Indianapolis. The winless 49ers will also host them in week 16 between crucial games against the Texans and Titans. Things set up nicely as long as Blake Bortles’ primary responsibility remains handing the ball to Fournette.
- AFC North: Steelers
Pittsburgh appears to have gotten over their early season speed bump. It’s not easy sledding during the second half of the season, but 11 wins still seems like a modest expectation. The Ravens and Bengals are not good enough to surpass anything more than that. The true test will come in the postseason. Ben Roethlisberger still doesn’t look completely right. His throws have been floating on him. He needs to stay healthy and improve in that regard to keep Le’Veon Bell as dangerous to defenses as possible.
- AFC Wildcards: Bills and Ravens
If Tyrod Taylor isn’t the league’s most underrated player, he’s at least the most underrated quarterback. The Bills’ lack of faith in Taylor was far more insulting than the Redskins’ offseason treatment of Kirk Cousins. No one batted an eye. Taylor more than makes up for his modest passing numbers with turnover efficiency and running ability. He had no one to throw to before Charles Clay went down. He keeps winning anyway. Plus, they just traded for Kelvin Benjamin. The Bills have set themselves apart from other contenders at the present moment. I had the Broncos in the sixth spot before Monday Night Football. Trevor Siemian convinced me otherwise. Baltimore beat Miami so soundly last Thursday that the Dolphins threw in the towel and traded Jay Ajayi. The Ravens still have the offensive tenacity of a newborn golden retriever, but other contenders like the Titans, Texans, and Raiders have fatal flaws as well.
- NFC East: Eagles
The division is well within reach for the Cowboys considering the teams still have two matchups before the season ends. It’s hard to argue against a 7-1 record though. Plus, Dallas now needs to erase a multiple game deficit without Ezekiel Elliott. Philadelphia had proven themselves the more complete team before Elliott’s suspension finally became official. It remains to be seen how Dallas responds. Carson Wentz is in the midst of an even more prolific breakout season than Dak Prescott had during their rookie year. The Eagles are all in after the Jay Ajayi trade.
- NFC West: Seahawks
The Los Angeles Rams are for real. The division could very well come down to a week 15 rematch in Seattle. However, Seattle has won it three of the last four years. They know what it takes to win, and their team has a history of improving as the season goes on. Los Angeles has the look of a postseason team, but Jared Goff was 9 the last time the organization enjoyed a division title. There’s reason to believe they’ll lack the consistency needed to outlast Seattle.
- NFC South: Saints
Drew Brees has always led a playoff-caliber offense. It was the defense that prevented New Orleans from reaching the postseason for three straight years. From 2014-2016, the Saints averaged the 6th ranked offense and the 30th ranked defense. New Orleans has now improved to 13th in points allowed. It is paying dividends for their record. Even if the recent defensive boost turns out to be somewhat of a mirage, all of New Orleans’ divisional opponents are going through major struggles on offense. Cam Newton should have dressed up a Jekyll and Hyde for Halloween, Matt Ryan can’t find a rhythm with his new offensive coordinator, and Jameis Winston’s shoulder is dying a slow death. The Saints are hitting their stride at the right time.
- NFC North: Lions
Detroit has lost three in a row and is suddenly in trouble at 3-4. While the logical choice might be the 6-2 Vikings, Minnesota’s schedule sets up for a regression reminiscent of last year. Detroit plays Green Bay, Cleveland, and Chicago in their next three games. Detroit absolutely has the talent work their way to a 6-4 record. Meanwhile, Minnesota has a bye before playing the Redskins and the Rams. Both games could result in a loss, which would set up a Ford Field showdown with the Vikings holding a one-game lead. If Detroit knocks off Minnesota for the second time this season, they’d enter a tie for the NFC North, hold the tiebreaker, and face an easier schedule during the NFL’s home stretch.
- NFC Wildcards: Rams and Panthers
Jared Goff and Todd Gurley both gained a new lease on life thanks to Sean McVay’s hiring. The Rams suddenly have a complete team after lacking both an offense and defense the previous season. Going from 32nd to 2nd in offensive scoring and 23rd to 12th in defensive scoring should finally be enough to make it unanimous. Jeff Fisher is a bad coach. McVay has changed the culture. The Rams should reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Panthers-Falcons week 9 game could help clear up the wildcard hierarchy. Hopefully the result won’t reflect poorly on this prediction. The Panthers are two games above .500 with Cam Newton playing bad football. If he rights the ship, a run is imminent.
Header Photo: USA Today
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