by Chris Boyle
If history tells us anything, the following midseason grades will mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of the NFL season. However, with every team having played at least eight games, it’s time to reflect on the first half.
Who has passed the initial eye test, and who has flat-out failed through the opening two months?
Let’s find out, shall we.
New England Patriots: A+
It’s New England, and then everybody else right now. The Pats went 3-1 with the combination of Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett, then smashed their next four foes by a combined score of 136-71 upon Tom Brady’s return.
Atlanta Falcons: A
This doesn’t feel like the same old, fading Falcons. Matt Ryan leads the NFL with 2,980 passing yards and 23 touchdowns, completing 69.6 percent of his throws. Rookies Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Keanu Neal and Brian Poole have vastly improved the defense, even if the numbers don’t show it. Atlanta is trending in the right direction and scoring just an absurd amount of points.
Dallas Cowboys: A
Anchored by exceptional rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys have turned into an efficient offensive machine. The defense, ranked No. 9 in total yards allowed, is better than you think, too.
Oakland Raiders: A
Perhaps the league’s most watchable team, Oakland ranks in the top five in total offense (401.1 yards per game) and scoring (27.2 points per game). Derek Carr, as pointed out last week, could win the MVP. And after a slow start, Khalil Mack has tormented quarterbacks the last two games to the tune of 21 pressures and four sacks.
Seattle Seahawks: A-
Frankly, the Seahawks should feel a bit charmed to be in this position. Missing defensive stalwarts Kam Chancellor and Michael Bennett, the Legion of Boom still ranks No. 8 in total defense. However, the line simply cannot keep Russell Wilson upright, and the Seahawks have produced a mere two runs of 20 yards or more.
Detroit Lions: B+
Give Matthew Stafford a lot of credit. Losing Calvin Johnson to retirement, and with no running game of which to speak, he’s posted a career-high passer rating of 101.6. Stafford’s never thrown more than a dozen picks in any full season; currently, he’s tossed only five. Winners of four of their last five, the Lions can make another playoff push if the defense tightens up.
Kansas City Chiefs: B+
Despite a recent rash of injuries to their offensive skill players, the Chiefs still sit at 6-2, riding a four-game winning streak. Second-year cornerback Marcus Peters created seven takeaways, including five interceptions, and Spencer Ware is on pace for 1,000 yards on the ground. Kansas City has won 16 of its last 18 regular season games.
Denver Broncos: B
Denver’s defense, when fully healthy of course, is still Super Bowl good. But it got manhandled up front on Sunday night by the Raiders’ offensive line. After a hot start, Trevor Siemian has posted four straight games with a passer rating of less than 90.0. That’s not good enough, especially with the running game averaging only 3.8 yards per carry.
Green Bay Packers: B
This may seem lenient, but even with Aaron Rodgers struggling, it’s almost impossible to count out the Pack. Yes, there’s no semblance of a running game, but have you seen the protection Rodgers is getting? And the Packers still rank No. 1 in run defense. The next three weeks – road games against Tennessee, Washington and Philadelphia – could define the season.
Minnesota Vikings: B
Vikings fans had Super Bowl visions after starting the year 5-0, but the team has suffered through complete ineptitude along the offensive line. Ranking 25th or worse in rushing, passing and scoring offense, Minnesota has dropped its last three games. However, the Vikings are plus-12 in turnover differential, giving the ball away only five times.
New York Giants: B
Jerry Reese’s $200 million defensive investment paid off in Sunday’s win over the Eagles, but Landon Collins’ rapid improvement (63 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 interceptions) has been the biggest difference for Big Blue. The Giants needed Eli Manning’s four-touchdown outburst, especially since they still can’t run the ball out of the bye week.
Miami Dolphins: B-
Boy, it looked ugly for about a month. Then, the Dolphins turned the backfield over to Jay Ajayi and perhaps saved their season. Ajayi’s 529 rushing yards are the most for a Dolphin over a three-game stretch since Ricky Williams in 2002.
Pittsburgh Steelers: B-
It’s not panic time in the Steel City just yet. With Ben Roethlisberger back only two weeks after suffering a torn meniscus, he’ll shake off the rust and play through the pain. Perhaps their fourth-quarter resurgence in Baltimore is a sign of things to come, aside from Chris Boswell’s flubbed onside kick of course.
San Diego Chargers: B-
Chalk up some of San Diego’s 4-5 start to bad luck, but this is probably the best under-.500 team in football. ESPN ranks the Chargers 10th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Melvin Gordon is third in the NFL in rushing with 768 yards and nine touchdowns. San Diego’s two remaining division games (Oakland on Dec. 18, Kansas City on Jan. 1) are at home.
Washington Redskins: B-
Red-zone inefficiency and turnovers have plagued an otherwise decent start for Washington, highlighted by a four-game winning streak. With its back against the wall, Washington rallied for a crucial win in the Meadowlands. Josh Norman’s been really good, but the defense has its holes – ranking 22nd in total yards, 29th on third down and 31st against the run.
Buffalo Bills: C+
This grade would have been markedly better had the Bills managed to stun Seattle on Monday night. Buffalo leads the league in rushing and has gotten respectable QB play from Tyrod Taylor, yet it’s lost three in a row including two within the AFC East.
Philadelphia Eagles: C+
Let’s start with the good. Carson Wentz has exceeded expectations, for the most part. Jim Schwartz’s defense wrecks shop. And the special teams unit is always a strength. Now, the bad news – Philly is 0-3 against its division, albeit all games on the road. They need to sweep the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins at home to have a chance.
Baltimore Ravens: C
Baltimore’s defensive identity has been restored, ranking No. 2 in the league in yards allowed. Mike Wallace has been a revelation even if the Ravens offense has stumbled. Justin Tucker is a perfect 20 of 20 in field goal attempts this year. He’s a legitimate weapon.
Cincinnati Bengals: C
The Bengals currently sit half a game under .500, but the schedule gets much easier after the bye. A.J. Green already has 59 receptions for 896 yards, and Tyler Eifert returned from injury. But Cincy’s normally reliable defense ranks 24thoverall.
New Orleans Saints: C
Great offense, bad defense, average team. At 4-4 and with a C in the gradebook, the Saints are, to quote the late, great Dennis Green, exactly who we thought they were. Michael Thomas has developed into a trusted target for Drew Brees from the outset, earning at least five targets in every game this year. One positive note on the defense – they’ve forced a league-high nine fumbles.
Tennessee Titans: C
Oddly enough, the third-place Titans get the AFC South’s highest grade. They have the best offensive line, defense and balance of any team in the division. If Marcus Mariota plays consistent ball and they win a few at home, Tennessee’s got a real chance to make the playoffs. No, I’m serious. They do.
Arizona Cardinals: C-
One of the preseason favorites in the NFC, the Cardinals have dropped back into the middle of the pack. Carson Palmer’s touchdowns are down, and turnovers have ticked up. He hasn’t looked the same since last year’s NFC Championship debacle. On the other hand, David Johnson might be the best running back in football right now, accumulating 37.1 percent of Arizona’s offense and scoring eight of its 21 touchdowns.
Carolina Panthers: C-
Dave Gettleman’s decision to part ways with the aforementioned Norman will be disputed for years. Carolina’s defense dropped off a cliff with his exit, ranking 29th against the pass. The Panthers appeared dead in the water after three consecutive division losses, but Cam Newton and crew has a chance to turn things around.
Houston Texans: C-
Houston’s 5-3 record is nothing but a mirage. The Texans boast a minus-30 point differential, and Brock Osweiler averages a league-worst 5.79 yards per attempt. He’s been borderline atrocious, save for a fourth-quarter comeback against the Colts. In spite of all the negativity, Houston remains the favorite in the AFC South.
Indianapolis Colts: C-
It’s hard to tell if the Colts can contend or not. Andrew Luck (2,565 yards, 17 TD, 7 INT) has bounced back nicely after a dismal 2015 campaign, and Frank Gore’s still awfully effective at age 33. But the Colts’ offensive line woes are well-documented, allowing a league-high 33 sacks. And the defense ranks 29th, allowing 402.8 yards per game.
Chicago Bears: D
It was pretty clear the Bears would be in rebuilding mode this year with no commitment to any quarterback on the roster, particularly incumbent starter Jay Cutler. However, Chicago may just have something in running back Jordan Howard. The rookie from UTEP averages 5.1 yards per carry, adding 18 receptions out of the backfield.
Los Angeles Rams: D
Not only are the Rams fading from the playoff picture, they’re borderline unwatchable these days. Todd Gurley, the team’s lone offensive star, is averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry behind a porous offensive line. Certainly, Case Keenum (77.2 passer rating, 9 TDs, 11 INT) draws his share of the blame, not all of it. But it’s time to give Jared Goff a look before L.A. tunes out on the newcomers.
New York Jets: D
Ryan Fitzpatrick ranks dead last among qualified passers in passer rating (67.6) while tossing a league-high 13 picks. And yet that might not be the worst part of the Jets’ season. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson were suspended last week after no-showing a defensive meeting, which celebrated Richardon’s birthday, no less.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: D-
Tampa’s already lost four running backs (Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith) to debilitating injuries. Not to mention, the Bucs allow 29 points per game, better than only three other teams, and have yet to win at home. Jameis Winston seems to have taken positive steps, and Mike Evans is an elite receiver, but the pirate ship is taking on too much water.
Cleveland Browns: F
Six different players have attempted passes, including leading wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and Clipboard Jesus himself, the recently released Charlie Whitehurst. Pryor and Corey Coleman look like offensive building blocks, and acquiring Jamie Collins is a step in the right direction. The Browns won’t go winless.
Jacksonville Jaguars: F
What a colossal disappointment. All the positive energy has run dry in Jacksonville, slowly turning to the realization of another lost season and another potential regime change. Gus Bradley is as good as gone, regardless how the Jags finish. More importantly, can Blake Bortles’ mechanics be fixed in time for 2017, suddenly a make-or-break year for the young QB?
San Francisco 49ers: F
The quarterbacking inadequacies of Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick are not even the biggest problem by the bay. Opponents embarrass the Niners week in and week out on the ground, a staggering average of 193 yards per game – nearly 47 yards more than 31st-ranked Cleveland. If not for the Browns, San Francisco would likely be the frontrunner for the No. 1 overall pick.
Buccaneers admit mistake, boot Aguayo
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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Did Bucs put too much pressure on Aguayo?
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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Broncos holding their breath on Derek Wolfe
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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