By Will Zhang
With 9 weeks in the books, playoff spots and divisional titles are still up for grab in the NFL. This season has been extremely competitive with most teams at or above .500.
There are currently 4 tiers of teams in the NFL right now: Top tier that consists of Super Bowl Contenders, 2 middle tiers one with a likely chance to make the playoffs and make a run and another that could potentially make the playoffs and bottom tier that has little to no shot to make the playoffs and are just bad teams.
These teams include: Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.
These 8 teams all possess the necessary components to have a deep run into the playoffs and have a chance to win a superbowl for their respective cities.
Starting with the Denver Broncos, this team lead by Quarterback Peyton Manning, has one of the best offenses in the NFL. On the defensive side, they have improved greatly after last years embarrassing defeat in the Super Bowl, spending most of free agency signing big name players on defense.
The Patriots have exploded on offense this last month averaging 40 points a game. Quarterback Tom Brady amazing play has allowed the Patriots to have blowout wins over the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals. Thier defense, who held Peyton Manning and the Broncos to just 21 points in their game last week, should not be underestimated either. Don’t be surprised to see another Broncos Patriots game deciding the AFC Championship.
The Seattle Seahawks were nearly everyones favorite to win the Superbowl before the start of the season and still should be a favorite to win it all. Unfortunately, the Seahawks are in a very competitive division with 4-4 49ers and NFL leading 7-1 Cardinals. These two teams hope to spoil the reigning champions hope of even making the playoffs let alone winning a Superbowl. With 2 games left to play against each of these teams, don’t be surprised if the Seahawks enter the playoffs as a Wildcard.
The best team based on their record is the 7-1 Cardinals. The Cardinals are playing solid football in all phases of the game especially on defense who have held all teams with the exception of the Broncos to under 20 points.
The Colts and Packers have found success throwing the football this year, both in the top 10 in Passing Yards and Touchdowns. These teams know their offense is capable to put up big numbers but have to hope their defense will improve come playoff time.
These teams include: San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles
These teams are legitimate contenders for playoff spots. They are not as good as the elite playoff contenders but have a chance to make a push.
The most noteable team on this list is the 6-3 Dallas Cowboys. Despite their strong 6-1 start, I can see the Dallas Cowboys missing the playoff once again. This team has had a recent history of struggles late in the season. With Starting QB Tony Romo injured, this team could face difficulties passing the ball if his injuries becomes more severe. Running Back Demarco Murray has carried this team on offense thus far, by having 8 straight 100 yard games to start the season. He has a chance to break the single season rushing record.
The Philadelphia Eagles at 6-2, find themselves as a second tier team after starting QB NIck Foles suffered a broken collarbone and is out for a month. This forces the Eagles to play former Jets QB Mark Sanchez. This team could fall apart after the injury to Foles and Foles health will be a question for the rest of the season. This should be interesting to see how the Eagles will fare for the next month and if Mark Sanchez can help this team enough to make a playoff push
In the AFC East, both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins sit at 5-3 have a big week 11 matchup that could end up deciding who makes and who misses the playoffs. The change at QB for the Bills from Manuel to Orton have given them a 3-1 record after a 2-2 start. I expect Orton to start for the remainder of the season and the Bills will give Manuel one last shot next season. The Dolphins are hot off a 37-0 win over the Chargers. This statement win should be scary for the teams that are remaining on the Dolphins schedule and shows what this team is capable of.
In the AFC North, has currently the most competitive division in the league with all teams having a winning record. Of the 4 teams in the division the Steelers and Bengals are the true contenders. Both teams have very powerful offenses, both running and passing and both have the tools and leaders to make a push for the playoffs. Both the Ravens and the Browns have good football teams but I see constituency as an issue for both. The Browns are in an interesting situation, Week 12 their star receiver Josh Gordon returns from suspension and if they can keep a consistent record to that point I could see the Browns making an impact in how this season shapes up.
The NFC South has definitely been the weakest division so far this season. With the New Orleans Saints leading the division with at 4-4 record, this division is still wide open for the other 3 teams. The two contenders in this division are the Panthers and the Saints. Both teams advanced to the playoffs last year and both teams are capable of doing so this year. The Saints, who have played very good football have lost 3 games by 3 points or less. They could be 7-1 if things play out differently. I have the Saints winning this division because the Panthers have had inconsistent play from 4th year QB Cam Newton.
Heading out west, the Chargers and Chiefs of the AFC West and the 49ers of the NFC West face a tough road to the playoffs. These 3 teams play in divisions with very strong teams all capable of winning and preventing them from making the playoffs.
These teams include: Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons,
These teams are sitting in spots to have a chance to make the playoffs but are unlikely to make the playoffs due to their records or remaining schedules
After the Atlanta Falcons fast 2-1 start at the beginning of the season, they find themselves at 2-6 and struggling offensively and defensively. We saw early on in the season how potent their passing game, with QB Matt Ryan throwing bombs to receiver Julio Jones. Thier inconsistent running game has hurt them offensively this season.
The NFC East New York Giants and Washington Redskins find themselves at the bottom of their division with 3 win each. Both teams do have a shot to win their division. With the Cowboys late season struggles and the injury to Nick Foles, if these teams start winning they could have a shot to steal the division and make the playoffs.
One of the most surprising teams this year has been the 5-3 Cleveland Browns. After a preseason filled with drama on witheer, Johnny “Football” Manziel or Brian Hoyer would be their starter. It looks like Hoyer has secured the job for the remainder of the season. Hoyer has shown consistency with throwing the ball and the Browns are in a position to fight for a playoff spot. Thier defense has stepped up lead by Tashawn Gipson’s league leading 6 interceptions. This teams has quietly been playing well and should not be underestimated.
The Vikings, Bears, Ravens, Texans and Rams all have one thing in common, good teams playing in tough divisions. all these teams sit at or below .500, and will have to fight hard to make the playoffs this year.
These teams include: New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers
These five teams have experiences a season to forget and can’t wait for the offseason in hopes to rebuild for next year.
The New York Jets… What a mess it has been this year. After winning their first game of the season to 0-8 Oakland Raiders, the Jets have lost 8 straight games and don’t look capable of winning any more. This team hit rock bottom in their game against the Bills after 4 turnovers (3 ints and 1 fumble) conceded by 2nd year QB Geno Smith in the FIRST Quarter. This team is just bad. They can’t get anything going on offense and their defensive secondary, one of worst in the league.
Two teams that may be worst than the Jets may be the Oakland Raiders and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Things aren’t looking good for either team right now. The Raiders, lead by rookie QB Derek Carr, face one of the toughest schedule in the NFL. Being in a division with the Broncos, Chiefs and Chargers, don’t be surprised if this team finishes with 1 or even no wins. The Jaguars and their Rookie QB Blake Bortles have been struggling finding a starting quarterback. Thier first QB Chad Henne could not throw the ball with a mere 500 yards in 3 games. Blake Bortle can throw the ball but need to work on his decision making after throwing 13 interceptions already this season.
The remainder of this season will be exciting, with so many teams finding success early this season, it will be interesting to see how can handle the pressure and who will break.