1. Denver Broncos (6-1)
They are coming off a big primetime win versus their main challenger in the division, Peyton Manning has a 22-3 TD-INT ratio, Ronnie Hillman is running like a mad man, every single Denver receiver is loving their career moves that ended them up in Denver (cough cough Emannuelle Sanders), and the defense looks fantastic. Anything I missed?
As it stands, nobody in the league, not even (especially) Seattle, can challenge this team. At the halfway point, as many expected, they are the Super Bowl favorites.
2. Arizona Cardinals (6-1)
Nobody saw this coming before the season. Despite one of the best and deepest defenses in the league, the losses of Karlos Dansby to Cleveland and Daryl Washington to suspension had this defense looking scarily different than last year. But newly signed Antonio Cromartie has made an instant impact alongside Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, creating a scary secondary.
The defense isn’t the only part of the team headed in the right direction. The emergence of John Brown as the slot receiver as well as amazing play from whoever is playing the quarterback position makes this team a two-way contender.
Carson Palmer looks great, but the entire state of Arizona is in debt to Drew Stanton for his early season heroics. Andre Ellington has accounted for 738 yards from scrimmage, and teams just cannot find a way to beat these guys.
3. New England Patriots (6-2)
The Patriots are on fire, perhaps the hottest team in the NFL.
Tom Brady threw for 14 TDs and zero picks in October,winning all four games and turning his struggling Pats into an AFC favorite.
This squad has dealt with injuries (Jerod Mayo, Stevan Ridley, Chandler Jones) but still kept up their winning spirits and put out week after week solid performances. These guys are for real.
4. Dallas Cowboys (6-2)
Dallas looked impenetrable, undefeated since a week one loss to the Niners, until their demise on Monday Night Football.
still, DeMarco Murray is the best running back in the game by far, and Dez Bryant is starting to look like the best receiver in the game as well.
Tony Romo is far from king of the quarterbacks, but has performed admirably in what has been an amazing year for his Cowboys team.
Dallas’ win streak has been snapped, but it won’t affect their longterm success that much. A loss from Philly also helps soften the blow of this recent loss.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (5-2)
The Eagles suffered a crippling loss to the Arizona Cardinals in week 8, but that doesn’t drop them too far down the ladder. With Arizona being a top 2 team in the league right now and very few 6-2 teams looking as impressive as Philly, the Eagles maintain a top 5 position.
And can we just recognize Jeremy Maclin’s season up to this point? 39 receptions for 632 yards and six scores. Definitely the MVP of this contender so far.
6. Detroit Lions (6-2)
These guys find ways to win. This past week in London, we saw just how determined these guys are.
The Lions climbed back from a 21-0 deficit to win at the last second on a field goal that involved Matt Prater doing what Matt Prater does.
Matt Stafford is getting the job done, and Golden Tate is looking very Notre Dame-y right now. These guys have a great connection that is only helped by the return of Calvin Johnson in the next few games.
These guys are for real and in the driver’s seat now that Green Bay lost to the Saints, falling to 5-3 behind Detroit’s 6-2.
7. Baltimore Ravens (5-3)
The Ravens may not be leading their division, but they definitely stand superior to their division rivals when it comes to overall rank.
The Bengals were 50 seconds away from a loss to these Ravens, and that would have changed the scope of the playoff picture. These Ravens still have more talent, more depth, and a better quarterback than Cincy, so these guys get ranked way ahead of their Bengal counterparts.
8. San Diego Chargers (5-3)
These Chargers are hard to read. One minute they look unstoppable, the next they lose to the Chiefs.
Now after two straight losses to division rivals, the Chargers look a little shaky. Nevertheless, the Chargers have enough talent and heart to carry them to the playoffs this year. They have their hands firmly on one of the wild card spots in the AFC.
9.Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
If I am a coach in the AFC and I am worried about one team, it isn’t the Broncos, or the Patriots, it is the Steelers.
You know what you are getting from the Broncos or Pats and you can gameplan for it. But you never know with the Steelers. They can go for 50+ points like they did in week 8 vs. Indy where Big Ben tosses for over 500 yards and 6 TDs, or they can go with two one hundred yard performances from tailbacks LeGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell.
These guys are winners and competitors, and they are my sleeper pick to make a deep playoff run.
10. Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
The Colts struggle with identity problems and defense, but their offense is very hard to contain.
It is so hard to contain, in fact, that it nets them a top 10 spot in the rankings. Andrew Luck has looked like if Peyton Manning had a little brother, it would be him.
Oh, Manning does have a little brother? Oh, him. Yeah but he’s awful, so it doesn’t count.
The Colts are a lock for their division title and an easy way into the playoffs.
11. Green Bay Packers (5-3)
The Pack are also struggling with identity, but they have everything else covered.
An ugly loss to New Orleans drops them out of the top ten, but these guys need to be watched out for in the NFC.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1)
I already ranted about their faults in the Ravens’ section, so I’ll save you some time and not repeat.
These guys find ways to win, but still have a lot to figure out on both sides of the ball. They need to worry about winning their division and winning in primetime before anyone can declare them a true contender.
13. Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
Despite a recent victory over the Carolina Panthers, the Seahawks are dysfunctional and in a scary decline.
The reigning Super Bowl champs are relying too much on Russell Wilson’s playmaking ability and are not surrounding him with enough weapons. These guys, like the Bengals, who experienced wonderful success early in the season, have a lot to figure out.
14. Buffalo Bills (5-3)
These guys are real competitors. No matter who they throw in at quarterback or what injuries hit them hard, they have found creative ways to win.
Sammy Watkins is looking worth the very early first round pick they spent on him and may compete with the likes of DeMaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, and Dez Bryant for top wide receiver honors in the years to come.
15. Cleveland Browns (4-3)
The Browns are a team that nobody wants to face. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball and a real toughness about them that makes them an unattractive team to look at on the team schedule.
Brian Hoyer has been a winner so far, but let’s let his season play out before we declare him a star. Ben Tate has been the guy they wanted him to be, and Josh Gordon is only a few weeks away from his return.
These guys are looking at a wild card spot, and it isn’t crazy to think they can grab it.
16. Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)
Another team that has been persistent and has their eyes on the AFC wild card spot, the Chiefs have been impressive up to this midway point.
Alex Smith has his Chiefs in a better position than Colin Kaepernick has his 49ers, and I am sure he loves that.
17. San Francisco 49ers (4-3)
Kap and crew have been on and off all year. I believe it is unlikely they make the playoffs, being in the same division as Seattle and Arizona.
It will take a big second half push for San Fran to declare their right to a playoff spot.
18. Washington Redskins (3-5)
A huge win on Monday Night over their arch rival Dallas, Washington is in a better position than many think. Colt McCoy has been a season saver in just one and a half games, and the baby faced quarterback has done enough to win the starting job as I am concerned.
He hasn’t, though, because RGIII is on the mend and should be ready for their next matchup. Things are looking up for the 3-5 Redskins, who are a small win streak away from being in the hunt.
19. Carolina Panthers (3-4-1)
You never know what team you are going to get when these guys play on Sunday.
Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad. But even their good team has its flaws, such as its abhorrent defense, and they can’t win against any good teams with that problem. Big Losses to Baltimore, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh destroyed most of their early season confidence of this team, and some late game Russell Wilson heroics shattered whatever was left of that confidence this past Sunday.
These guys have proved to not be a playoff contender early in the 2014-2015 season. However, the awful divisional competition may just get them in to the postseason.
20. Miami Dolphins (4-3)
Ryan Tannehill has been on and off, but when he is on, he is really on. The defense has been a nice surprise as well.
Despite a better record than Washington and Carolina, they still haven’t proven that they can compete against top tier talent.
This team has the potential for a real late season push that could see them in the postseason.
21. Houston Texans (4-4)
The Texans have shown huge amounts of progression and potential for the future, but they aren’t a real contender for the postseason this season.
Who knows, though, maybe Jadaveon Clowney can go on a record breaking tear alongside J.J. Watt and lead this team to the playoffs?
22. New York Giants (3-4)
The loss of Victor Cruz severely dents this team’s potential for a playoff berth, but statistically, it is very possible.
If Eli can put his Super Bowl hat on and lead a late season charge, that would give football fans of New York at least something to cheer for.
23. New Orleans Saints (3-4)
The Saints have been the biggest disappointment of the 2014 season so far. There are just so many weapons on offense and solid players on defense that is hard to believe they stand at just 3-5.
They still have a legit shot at the playoffs, though, as a shootout between them and Carolina for the pathetic NFC South crown is inevitable.
24. St. Louis Rams (2-5)
Say goodbye to Sam Bradford, Austin Davis is a future star that gives some real hope to the Rams.
A big win over Seattle is definitely the highlight of the year so far, and the Rams have played a lot better than anyone though they would.
A playoff berth is still statistically possible, but extremely unlikely for this hobbled Rams squad.
25. Chicago Bears (3-5)
The ever-so disappointing Bears keep finding ways to lose. Coming off a loss to New England where they surrendered over 50 points, the Bears are in a rapid decline that will end disastrously.
Jay Cutler looks like the worst contract in history, and the Bears have more problems than they have players right now.
26. Atlanta Falcons (2-6)
This team is full of talent but cannot win a game to save their life.
Example one: They blew a 21 point lead to Detroit in London and watched as the seconds ticked off the clock as Matt Prater shattered their dreams in what was, officially, a home game.
This squad is too far gone to turn it around and their 6 game losing streak will likely continue until a coaching change is made.
27. Minnesota Vikings (3-5)
The Vikings have been what many expected them to be after losing their franchise star Adrian Peterson.
Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t look like a future Hall of Famer, but he’ll do the trick for this season.
Some new guys have shone through as good pieces, though, such as Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon.
28. Tennessee Titans (2-6)
Even THE Zach Mettenberger can’t win these guys a game. Enough said.
At the halfway point, the Titans have been disappointing to say the least.
29. New York Jets (1-7)
The addition of Percy Harvin didn’t help out any of the Jets quarterbacks, with Geno Smith and Michael Vick both turning it over 3 times against the Bills.
The season is shot and Rex Ryan’s job is up for grabs, but the team has lots of talent that can still prove something in the second half of the season.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6)
The hype around this team was sadly mistaken before the season, and the addition of Josh McCown has been nearly unnoticeable due to a broken thumb that has kept him out since week 3.
It isn’t all bad in Tampa, though. The defense isn’t that bad, they have some good young pieces on defense, and the NFC South is wide open.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7)
They go into the midseason with just one win under Blake Bortles belt, but there’s no turning back now.
To be fair, Peyton Manning had just as many wins after 8 weeks in his rookie season.
The Jags aren’t as bad off as many think. This season is a growth year, and that is exactly how Jags fans should look at it.
32. Oakland Raiders (0-7)
Winless and coachless, the Raiders haven’t had a fun year.
Derek Carr has impressed enough to have fans excited about the future, though. That is all the positives to be found in this, what could end up being, historically bad year.
Featured photo via hamptonroads.com.
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