By Jeremy Blumberg
The NFL season is just over halfway done but several teams are struggling to find their mojo. The Green Bay Packers are certainly not one of those teams as they look to become just the third team in NFL history to get through an entire season undefeated. However, just about half the league is still searching for consistency, answers, and most importantly, wins. The NFC West applies to just about all three. While the San Francisco 49ers can clinch the division with a pair of wins, the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Rams are a combined 5-19, the worst trio record in any conference. All three teams have issues at the QB position and defense. With 8 games to go for all three teams, they need to figure out if they will play for pride or give themselves more favorable odds in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes.
The AFC North and NFC North are emerging as the two toughest divisions in their respective conferences. The NFC North should be considered the toughest division in the NFL right now. No one looks like they can beat the Packers, although San Diego came close this past Sunday. The Detroit Lions are an impressive 6-2 but they must show that they are a real threat and not the 2007 Lions who ran out of steam at this point in the year with the same record. That 2007 Lions squad finished 8-8 after starting 6-2. The Chicago Bears have surprised all the “experts” with their 5-3 start and have won 3 straight games. They face a critical point on Sunday as they host Detroit. If the playoffs started today, the Packers, Bears, and Lions would be there which shows the divisions depth and those teams are a combined 14-3 outside of their division (best in NFL).
The AFC North is likewise in a similar position in the AFC but the Steelers and Bengals still have to show some more if they truly want to be the best. The Steelers are an impressive 6-2, but their wins are against teams that are a combined 16-32 and the Bengals (6-2) have beaten teams that are a combined 15-33. The Ravens lead the division as well at 6-2 due to tiebreakers over Pittsburgh but they have two bad losses in Tennessee and Jacksonville. Yet Baltimore still has a terrifying defense and they will go as far as Joe Flacco will take them.
The highly overrated NFC East is once again living up to their overhyped mantra that they are the deepest conference in football. Only the New York Giants (6-2) have a winning record in the division which speaks ill for Dallas, Philadelphia, and Washington. The Redskins started 3-0, but after a bad loss by Rex Grossman, John Beck took over at QB to satisfy the fans and media and is 0-4 this year. In his NFL career, Beck has never started and won a game. Coach Mike Shanahan’s decision at QB proves that he remains an overrated head coach as he is 108-96 with QBs not named John Elway with zero playoff wins. The Dream Team Eagles have also failed to live up to expectations as they sit at 3-5 with critical losses to New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. If the Eagles are to make the playoffs, they must go at least 7-1 due to tiebreaking losses to all three aforementioned teams. A team that has so much talent after a Madden-like offseason has not worked out and will likely get Andy Reid fired at season’s end. To New York’s credit, they are proving that they can run with anyone as they had a thrilling comeback against the New England Patriots. Eli Manning is have a decent season and must prove himself that he belongs at the helm of the Giants’ offense. After missing the postseason last year after finishing 10-6, winning key games against tough opponents will have to be the staple of Manning’s tenure. The Giants face the Packers in a couple of weeks and that will be Manning’s biggest challenge of the season.
As the NFL unfolds over the next few weeks, more answers will be provided and the contenders will be separated from the pretenders. Some division races are likely over like the NFC West and what appears to be the AFC South as Houston looks poised to make their first-ever postseason appearance. Some playoff races will come down to the end of the season—especially in the AFC East and AFC West—but with so much more at stake for the rest of November, winning at all costs has never been greater. How many times can teams afford to lose potential tiebreaker games and still have playoff aspirations? For a lot of teams, especially those in the NFC South, winning now will stack wins in your favor and put so much pressure on the competition that they will likely crack. Week 9 in the NFL is in the books and the rest of the season cannot come fast enough.