Sunday, November 13, 2016

NFL Midseason Grades

            The NFL is a little past the halfway point, which means it's time to start thinking about the playoffs. There really aren't many teams that stand out sans Dallas and New England, so it's anybody's game (except for San Francisco and Cleveland).
            Here's how the grading works. Each team will be placed in a grade tier. The best tier (obviously) is the A+ tier, reserved for the best teams in the NFL. The worst tier is the F- tier. Here's how the teams are graded after eight or more games of this NFL season

Dallas Cowboys: How 'Bout Dem Cowboys? The NFC East as a whole has been quite impressive this season, but no team stands out more than the Cowboys do. Anchored by a stout offensive line and Super-Rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas has a fairly firm grip on home-field advantage in the playoffs at the moment.
New England Patriots: When Tom Brady's four-game suspension was reinstated, I thought to myself, "Brady's going to be angrier than a Sun God." Boy, has he been on fire (and pissed)! He's completed 73.1% of his passes this season while throwing for 1,319 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not only that, but he has a rating of 133.9. The scary part? He hasn't thrown a pick yet.
Oakland Raiders: Surprise!! The Raiders are in first place in the AFC West. Aided by a young quarterback in Derek Carr (66.3% comp., 2,505 yards, 17 TD, 3 INT), Oakland is riding high. One thing they must work on is defense. Otherwise, it seems likely that the Black Hole will host one last playoff game. Fun fact: The Raiders, along with the Patriots and the Cowboys, are one of three undefeated teams on the road this year.
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are starting to mold into a nice duo. These two are a big part for why Atlanta's high-flying offense (most points scored in the NFL with 305 and most passing yards in the NFL with 2,835) is soaring. But what should surprise you about this team is Vic Beasley Jr. on the defensive side. The linebacker has 26 tackles, three forced fumbles, and 7.5 sacks this year. 
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have quietly marched their way towards a 7-2 record, mostly because of a stingy secondary. Kansas City leads the NFL in Give/Take ratio with +13. The Chiefs have 20 takeaways on the year with 12 of those being interceptions (highest in the NFL). Marcus Peters (five interceptions) has been a focal point of the Chiefs secondary.
Seattle Seahawks: One surprising facet of the Seahawks that hasn't been effective is the running game (30th in the NFL with 603 rushing yards). However, Russell Wilson has been sacked 16 times this season, compared to the Seahawks getting 29 sacks of their own (Cliff Avril has nine of those). Perhaps it's the offensive line that is having quagmires?
Denver Broncos: The Super Bowl Champions still have a stellar defense. However, they have young, inexperienced quarterbacks in Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian who'll need more experience under their belt. Denver also needs to do a little better at stopping the run; they're allowing 1,157 rushing yards compared to the 871 rushing yards the Broncos are getting.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings have proven that they have an elite defense. The proof is in their give-take ratio (+12) and total defense (2nd in the NFL with 2,391 yards). But can their defense carry their injury-riddled team to the playoffs after a 5-0 start?
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers have one of the more dynamic passing/receiving duos in Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown and will use it immensely. On the other side, Pittsburgh needs to do a better job at getting to the quarterback; they're tied for dead-last in the NFL in sacks with 11.
New York Giants: The Giants aren't doing so hot with regards to creating turnovers (-7 in give/take ratio) and getting sacks (tied for last in the NFL with 11). In fact, New York hasn't had a solid defensive unit since they last won the Super Bowl. However, there is one bright spot in their defense and that's stopping the run. The Giants are 7th in the NFL in stopping the run with 751 rushing yards. 
Houston Texans: Losing J.J. Watt for the season isn't something to smile over. However, the Texans have the league's best secondary. They've only allowed 1,524 yards through the air. Houston's also one of the most disciplined teams in the NFL, amassing only 353 penalty yards. 
Baltimore Ravens: Believe it or not, Baltimore's been one of the more consistent franchises in the NFL in recent memory. A staple of Raven teams is being able to stop opponents from gaining a lot of yards and that's what Baltimore's doing this year (4th in the NFL in total defense with 2,534 total yards). The Ravens are only allowing 71.3 rushing yards per game, tops in the NFL.
San Diego Chargers: Honestly, this is the best team under .500 at the moment. Melvin Gordon has improved significantly from his rookie year (768 rushing yards, nine touchdowns), Philip Rivers is, well, Philip Rivers (2,560 yards, 17 touchdowns, 96.2 rating), and San Diego's stopping the run effectively (eighth-fewest yards allowed in the NFL with 768 yards). The Chargers have also beaten teams like Atlanta and Denver this season.
Philadelphia Eagles: I don't really know what to make of this team. Carson Wentz actually has more passing yards in Eagle losses this year (983 to 907) and a better completion rate as well (65.5% to 63.1%). They're in last place in the NFC East, yet their point differential is +57. It's pretty hard to put a pulse on this team.
Detroit Lions: If you told me that the Lions would be in first place in the NFL North by mid-November, I would've shaken my head and laughed. However, that's where they are thanks to the chemistry between offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and Matthew Stafford, who has 22 career come-from-behind wins (five of them are from this year).
Washington Redskins: The fifth-best pass attack in the NFL (2,390 yards) has also done a good job converting first downs (186). The 'Skins are also doing well in punt returns (best punt return average in the NFL with 17.6 yards per return). However, the Redskins will need to do better at stopping their opponents from getting first downs (185).
Green Bay Packers: What the hell's going on in Lambeauland? The Packers are stumbling around at the .500 mark and could possibly miss out on some playoff mingling. So, what's the problem? For one, the ground game has been ineffective. The Packers are only gaining 853 yards on the ground this season and should be getting more from the likes of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Also, take the play-calling duties away from Mike McCarthy. The man has a hard time getting out of his own way.
New Orleans Saints: It's been business as usual for Drew Brees; he's been racking up yards for the 2nd-best pass attack in the NFL (2,611). New Orleans is also playing better after their 0-3 start because they're converting on third downs (best in the NFL with 53% conversion rate). If the Saints can cut back on giving up points, they'll be a serious contender.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills were a pleasant surprise early on, but ran into a tough stretch of the schedule as of late. Their defense, led by linebackers Lorenzo Alexander (10 sacks, 39 total tackles, three forced fumbles) and Zach Brown (89 total tackles, two forced fumbles, three sacks) has kept the Bills in contention. Buffalo has also gotten some offense, leading the NFL in total rushing yards with 1,395 and rushing yards per attempt with 5.3.
Miami Dolphins: Running back Jay Ajayi has been white-hot for the Dolphins, running for 200 yards in back-to-back games. However, head coach Adam Gase hasn't been able to turn Ryan Tannehill into a competent quarterback (eight touchdowns, seven interceptions). The Fins are also having a hard time converting third downs (tied for 30th in the NFL with 33). 
Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson (156 carries, 705 yards, eight touchdowns) has been a pleasant surprise for a Cardinals team that has surprisingly been disappointing. Injuries have hampered this team for a lot of the season and the schedule doesn't appear to be getting any easier, so the Cardinals need to turn the turbos on immediately.
Tennessee Titans: Tennessee's offensive line has actually been surprising, giving DeMarco Murray a lot of room to run and Marcus Mariota a lot of time in the pocket. However, the Titans can get more out of their passing game. Defensively, the Titans are doing well at getting to the quarterback (23 sacks). 
Indianapolis Colts: Remember all the hype surrounding the Colts being Super Bowl contenders from last year? What a difference a year makes. Bogged down by injuries defensively, the Colts have been a car wreck to watch. One positive is that they're leading the NFL in kickoff return yards (545).
Carolina Panthers: What a Super Bowl hangover Carolina's having. The Panthers are 3-6 and Cam Newton isn't having the best of seasons (57.7% completion, nine touchdowns, six interceptions, 1,733 passing yards). However, Newton's been sacked 21 times this season. If Cam wants to direct his anger at someone for all the dirty hits he's received, he should aim it at his porous offensive line who's done a poor job protecting him.
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green has proven to be a formidable weapon for the Bengals once again. But the rest of the team has been pedestrian this season. Cincinnati has to be better than average in order to get back into the playoff race.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It's interesting that it took the Bucs their fifth home game to finally get their first home win of the season. Doug Martin has been out for a good portion of the season, but Tampa Bay has gotten good production from Mike Evans, who has 745 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Tampa Bay has also been sneaky-good on third downs, only yielding conversions 36.5% of the time. The Bucs will need to work on their secondary and stopping the run, though.
Los Angeles Rams: Todd Gurley's been a disappointment so far. There are calls for Jared Goff to start. Los Angeles just gave "Mr. 8-8" Jeff Fisher a contract extension. Yet, here are the Rams at 4-5 and in the thick of the playoff race. 
New York Jets: If there's one thing that's going right for the Jets, it's stopping the game in the trenches. Gang Green's fifth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed with 729 and fourth in yards allowed per game with 3.5. Sadly, that's the only thing aside from the run game that has been a positive for the Jets.
Chicago Bears: John Fox's seat keeps getting hotter as the Bears are looking at another lackluster season. Unable to convert third downs (33 conversions, tied for 30th in the NFL), the Bears have a myriad of problems to deal with before they ever become relevant again. At least the Blackhawks are doing well.
San Francisco 49ers: Chin up, Niner fans. Your team doesn't get called for a lot of penalties (fewest penalty yards in the NFL with 322). You might have a team that doesn't have a lot of talent and a head coach that should be coaching at the collegiate level. But hey, at least you aren't the Browns.
Jacksonville Jaguars: This was supposed to be the year that Jacksonville took that next step. Unfortunately, those plans have stalled as the Jaguars have limped to a 2-7 record. Jacksonville has had limited success getting first downs (21st in the NFL with 168) and converting third downs (worst in the NFL with 31.4%). Luckily, the AFC South is putrid. Every team, the Jaguars included, has a chance to take the division crown.
Cleveland Browns: Again, this is one season that Browns fans will want to forget. Will they make it to 0-16?

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