By Erik Helmle
With the close of Week 10 of the National Football League’s regular season, we tend to reflect upon our preseason predictions for the season. Some of the then-realistic predictions included the Patriots falling to one of the completely loaded AFC East teams, the Colts going 15-1, the Steelers dominating the entire NFL, the Redskins earning the first overall draft pick, the Panthers falling back to Earth, and a possible Eagles Super Bowl win. What we know now would completely stun our past selves- the Patriots, Bengals, and Panthers are all without a loss, the Colts are 4-5 under an uninspiring Andrew Luck, the Steelers are at 6-4 and in the thick of the wild card race along with the Jets, Bills, Chiefs, Dolphins, and even the Raiders. Yes, you read that correctly: the Raiders have a good chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The disparity between good and bad teams is sligtly strange this season. In the NFC, only five of 16 teams have winning records. Three of those teams, the Packers, Falcons, and Panthers, were undefeated in their first five games. In the AFC, six of 16 teams possess winning records. Three of these teams, the Bengals, Patriots, and Broncos, were undefeated through their first seven games. This plethora of undefeated and extremely dominant teams has led to extreme competition in middle tier teams. As of Week 10, eleven teams have 4-5 records. Four of these teams reside in the AFC, while the other seven exist in the NFC. With so many middling and exceptional teams, this means that there are few teams with two or fewer wins. Currently, there are only six teams that have two wins. Some of the teams that unexpectedly fit in this category are the Ravens, Lions, and Cowboys because they all made the playoffs last season, but are now facing abysmal records on their season.
In terms of divisions, half of the teams are essentially spoken for at this point. The Patriots, Panthers, and Bengals, are firmly in control of their divisions, while the Broncos seem like the only ones likely to yield to another team. This is mostly because of the much-publicized decline of Peyton Manning as well as an injury-riddled defense. The next tier features the Cardinals alone as a decent team capable of holding onto the division if they get a little help from other teams by eliminating the competition for them. The Cardinals are threatened primarily by the Seahawks and possibly the Rams, although the latter seems a bit far-fetched right now. The third tier features teams that will likely duke it out for the division title every week for the rest of the season due to heavy competition within the division and outside of it. The Vikings, Giants, and Colts are all in divisions that fit this description. The Giants and Colts are especially threatened week in and week out by virtually all other teams in their division. The Vikings remain top contenders in their divisions as more of an aberration than anything else, with the Packers falling into an atypical three-game losing streak and the Bears showing signs of life in that division as well.
The Colts and Giants’ divisions are the poorest in the league. The Colts headline the AFC South at 4-5 with the Texans (3-6), Jaguars (3-6), and Titans (2-7) tailing them. The Giants lead the NFC East at 5-5 with the Redskins (4-5), Eagles (4-5), and Cowboys (2-7) in tow. Between these two, the NFC East will likely end up being the closest to see who wins it. This is because the coming weeks will bring the return of Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo, who is most likely capable of leading his team to enough wins to keep them in the division race. The Redskins, after a disappointing start, are surprisingly competitive in the division despite starting backup Kirk Cousins and a lack of talent in various sectors. The Eagles’ “Dream Team” of Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, and Kiko Alonso has proven to mostly be a bust but are lucky to be in a division that is the most likely to yield an 8-8 divisional winner. The Giants are, well, the Giants. An underwhelming defense that is mostly covered up by an offense led by the electric Odell Beckham Jr. has paid dividends so far for the team, but it finds itself unable to finish close games with a win.
All in all, the season has been quite disappointing for many teams. The 49ers and Lions are heavy favorites for Top-5 draft picks, and the Ravens might as well just declare the season over. The Chargers and Ravens, both 2-7, find themselves absolutely decimated by injuries, and sitting their starters for the remainder of the season doesn’t seem like the craziest idea at this point. However, if it makes you feel any better, you can always count on the Browns (2-8) to count themselves out. Consistency such as this is often comforting.