The NFL at the Halfway Point

Through nine weeks of the 2015 NFL Season, one thing is clear, there are three dominant clubs in New England, Carolina, and Cincinnati, and all the rest are hoping that those clubs can somehow falter. As expected, the New England Patriots rule the AFC East with an 8-0 record. Not only are they undefeated, but they have already beaten their three AFC East rivals one time each. While the Patriots have suffered numerous injuries, the machine just keeps right on rolling. Looking at their schedule, there is a very good possibility that the Patriots finish the regular season unbeaten. The only team I see that may prevent that from happening is the Denver Broncos who host the Pats on November 29th. The Patriots will walk away with the AFC East title. The Jets and Bills are still in it for wild card berths. In the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals are also dominating with an 8-0 record. To date, they have a four game lead on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore and Cleveland are just about done when it comes to a chance of making the playoffs. With Ben Roethlisberger injured again, it will be difficult for Pittsburgh to make the playoffs. Indianapolis was supposed to walk away the AFC South, but that hasn’t been the case. They have struggled but are still on top of the Division with a 4-5 record. The only team that has a chance of overtaking the Colts is the Houston Texans who, right now, stand at 3-5. Their game with the Colts in December 20th could end up being for the Division title. I can’t see any wild card teams coming from this division. In the AFC West, Denver, with a 7-1 record, already has a three game lead on Oakland. While the Raiders are much improved, they just don’t have enough quality talent to overtake the Broncos. Kansas City got off to a horrible start but have come on recently, winning their last two games easily. The Chiefs face Denver this week, and it is a must win situation. If they lose, they can just about say goodbye to their playoff hopes. The NFC East was supposed to be a strong division, but through nine weeks, they may be the second weakest division in the NFL after the AFC South. Part of the reason is underachieving teams and part is injury. When Dallas lost Tony Romo, their season went up in smoke. They have to hope he gets back soon to have any chance of making the playoffs. Eli Manning may be having his best season in years, but the Giants don’t have a strong run game and their defense has been suspect. Philadelphia has been up and down all year. With this being the third year of Chip Kelly’s program, a lot more was expected. Still, at 4-4, they are in the thick of the NFC North race. Their next three games are all very winnable (Miami, Tampa Bay, Detroit) so at this point in the season, they are the favorites to win the division. The NFC North is shaping up as a battle between Green Bay and Minnesota. The two teams still have to play each other twice, so it may very well come down to those two games. If recent games mean anything, Minnesota has the arrow going up while Green Bay has been struggling, especially on defense. Last year, the NFC South carried the distinction of being the worst division in the NFL. That is no longer the case as Carolina is now one of the dominant NFL clubs. Despite numerous injuries, they are sitting at 8-0. One thing is certain, they are the best coached team in the NFC and General Manager Dave Gettleman may well become NFL Executive of the Year. Between Head Coach Ron Rivera and Gettleman, they do an outstanding job getting this team ready each week. After a horrendous 2014, Atlanta is one of the more improved teams in the NFL. They currently have a 6-3 record and are in very good shape for a wild card playoff spot. New Orleans and Tampa Bay are in trouble, and if rumors are true, Sean Payton could be out in New Orleans at seasons' end. While the rumors may or may not be true, if he gets dismissed, he won’t be out of work very long. There are clubs that will line up to hire him as head coach. Early in the season, I thought that Arizona would run away with the NFC West. They have come back down to earth recently, but they are still the class of the division. Seattle just hasn’t played up to the level we are used to seeing this year, and right now, they can’t afford to lose more than one or two games. St. Louis is improved, but they are inconsistent. They are not getting the quarterback play they had hoped for from Nick Foles. With rookie running back Todd Gurley coming on, Foles play may get a little better. A strong running game is a quarterback’s best friend. San Francisco is going in the wrong direction and will compete for a top 10 draft choice. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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