TEN GAMES DOWN

Each team’s NFL season is now ten games old.  There are no more bye weeks; all teams will be involved every week from now to the end of the season as a mad and exciting six-game rush to the finish line begins to decide who gets a place in January’s Playoffs.  A few names look certain to make it, while other places remain wide open.

Here are the divisional standings along with a quick assessment of how well the teams have performed this year and what their chances are of making it to the post-season.

AFC EAST

New England Patriots  10-0

Buffalo Bills                5-5

New York Jets             5-5

Miami Dolphins           4-6

The Patriots unbeaten season puts them as strong favourites to win this division and the entire AFC Conference.  The reigning Champs have been unstoppable at times this year, albeit they had to work hard to overcome the Bills last week and dug even deeper the week before to get a win in New York against the Giants by just one point.  The next game is on the road to the Denver Broncos, which should be their biggest test yet, and if they come through that game with a win they may clinch the number 1 seed in the AFC with at least two games to spare.

The chasing Bills, Jets and Dolphins would all have expected more from this season.  Of the three, the Bills have looked most likely to get nearer the Patriots but haven’t found the required consistency.  Neither have the Jets, despite this year already being an improvement on a terrible 2014, it still looked as though they would be much more of a threat.  The Dolphins have shown flashes of quality but have lost badly at times and replacing the head coach hasn’t worked either as it does not feel like their play has improved.  The Bills host the Jets on the last game of the season, which could be huge in deciding the final overall standings in this division.

AFC NORTH

Cincinnati Bengals      8-2

Pittsburgh Steelers     6-4

Baltimore Ravens       3-7

Cleveland Browns       2-8

The Cincinnati Bengals have controlled the AFC North right from the start by powering to a fantastic 8-0 record to begin the season.  But two defeats on the bounce have made them more vulnerable; the team need to get the winning habit back as soon as they can in order to stay atop the division.  The coaches have got them playing well on all sides of the ball and even with some important games to come, Cincinnati should make it to the playoffs.  The next challenge is winning once they get there.

Pittsburgh are currently in position to get a playoff place in the wildcard round.  The offense has had to overcome injury problems at quarterback and running back but the team is on a winning streak.  The schedule shows some tough games coming up though, so it will be difficult for them to hang on in the playoff race.

The Ravens and the Browns have been disappointing this year.  The Ravens were a playoff team last year but have suffered an uncharacteristic decline in form, partly due to disheartening season-ending injuries to star quarterback Joe Flacco and star wide receiver Steve Smith.  Meanwhile, the Browns main problems have centred around the quarterback position, with Johnny Manziel placed in and out of the team and now just this week seems to have blown any chance of keeping the starting job due to off-the-field issues.

AFC SOUTH

Indianapolis Colts       5-5

Houston Texans          5-5

Jacksonville Jaguars    4-6

Tennessee Titans        2-8

Compared to others this is such a close division and the AFC South looks like it will go right down to the wire.  The Indianapolis Colts were one game away from the Super Bowl last season but are yet another side hit with key injuries that have hindered their play, but they hold the advantage of being unbeaten in the division so far.  The Texans were always expected to mount a challenge this year and have done so mainly due to the play of their strong defense, while the Jaguars have certainly become a team to take more seriously this year.  All three teams are in winning form right now too and will play each other again by the end of the season, so it will be interesting to see which way this division swings.

Unfortunately the only side cut adrift here are the Tennessee Titans.  The defense has greatly improved on last year and I’ve enjoyed watching rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota lead the offense, yet they are still losing and the poor results have already cost head coach Ken Whisenhunt his job.

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos          8-2

Kansas City Chiefs      5-5

Oakland Raiders         4-6

San Diego Chargers    2-8

Denver are the ones inching away in the AFC West, their success primarily built around what is currently the best defense in the league.  Upgrading the defense over the last couple of years is showing and has allowed the likes of linebacker Von Miller to consistently make big plays.  On the other side of the ball, quarterback Peyton Manning has been rested following the recent defeat to the Chiefs, giving backup Brock Osweiler the opportunity to show his mettle in getting them back on track with a win over the Chicago Bears.  The Broncos and their number 1 defense need to be ready for that big game this week as they host the 10-0 Patriots.

The Kansas City Chiefs are now the team chasing the Broncos.  In taking advantage of Manning’s struggles and beating the division leaders, the Chiefs took their winning streak to four matches and overtook the Oakland Raiders in the standings as the Raiders own streak is now a three-game losing one.  Oakland are progressing well under the new coaching line-up but are finding it difficult to get a win at the moment.  The Chiefs and Raiders are still yet to play each other and the games could be vital regarding a playoff place.

The San Diego Chargers have fallen well short this season after a good 2014.  In a disappointing campaign, the rushing game that needed improving has, if anything, got worse and with an unfavourable schedule ahead the team may fall even further behind.

NFC EAST

New York Giants          5-5

Washington Redskins   4-6

Philadelphia Eagles      4-6

Dallas Cowboys           3-7

Perhaps the closest division in the NFL is the NFC East.  It was such a brilliant division last year but the standard has slipped in 2015 and allowed the New York Giants to sit at the top.  I wrote in my blog entry when I reviewed last season that the Giants were distinctly average and the current 5-5 record shows they are still playing at a similar rate, but it has been enough so far.

With the standings so tight the others are still well in touch.  Both the Redskins and the underachieving Eagles have had erratic years and have been unable to build a winning run at any point.  The Dallas Cowboys are now the danger team in the division as, like so many others, their squad has been affected by injuries as a poor seven-game losing streak shows.  Quarterback Tony Romo returned to earn them a win last week and Dallas will hope to build on that momentum.  The NFC East is always a battle and any of the four teams can win it from here.

NFC NORTH

Green Bay Packers     7-3

Minnesota Vikings      7-3

Chicago Bears           4-6

Detroit Lions             3-7

The Story of the NFC North is the race between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings for top spot.  Green Bay halted a three-game losing streak with a win over the Vikings to take back control of the division.  Both teams need a little refining all over the field to become real threats in the playoffs and they play each other on the last day, which could be a division decider.

It feels like the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are already in rebuilding mode.  Both have fallen short in 2015, with the Bears winless in the division and lacking inspiration on the field.  Especially surprising is the dip from the talented roster of the Lions.  Key players have either left Detroit in free agency or struggled with injury and when a reshuffle of the offensive staff was announced, it showed the franchise has decided something needs to be done.  It will not be clear until the end of the season whether the new staff line-up has had an effect.

NFC SOUTH

Carolina Panthers             10-0

Atlanta Falcons                 6-4

Tampa Bay Buccaneers     5-5

New Orleans Saints           4-6

The title in the NFC’s South division is already not far away from being claimed by the Carolina Panthers, who’s 10-0 season has been, well, perfect.  Ron Rivera’s men have been strong on offense, defense and special teams, putting plenty of points on the scoreboard and going nearly a whole calendar year without a regular season defeat.  Their schedule has not been easy either; they’ve beaten some big teams.

With the division win heading to Carolina, it seems the Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints can only fight to get a wildcard spot.  The Falcons look the likeliest to achieve this but a real dip in form has allowed the Buccaneers to close on them.  Tampa are a squad building in confidence and appear to be playing better as the season goes on, enjoying a winning streak.  Conversely, the Saints cannot find enough consistency as they try to make plays regularly with new faces having lost some important players in the off-season.  They’re still in it, but it will be tough.

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals         8-2

Seattle Seahawks         5-5

St. Louis Rams             4-6

San Francisco 49ers     3-7

In recent years the NFC West has had real strength in depth, but this season the results have shown a reduction.  Not in Arizona though, as the Cardinals have set the pace and have an offense that is difficult to stop.  They took control of the division with a fine 39-32 victory on the road to the Seahawks that helped move them away from the rest of the West.  The aim will be to maintain the great form and earn the division title.

The Seattle Seahawks have set the bar high by going to back-to-back Super Bowls, which makes their 5-5 record a little disappointing.  First the offense then the defense was sighted as the reason behind this slide in fortunes but this set of players have proved over the last couple of years that they can rise to a challenge and they need to in order to stay in playoff contention.  Seattle will also need to keep in front of the St. Louis Rams, who are just a game behind but in poor form.  If the Rams can turn that around they are capable of adding themselves to the playoff mix, boasting an unbeaten record within the division.  Benching starting quarterback Nick Foles though shows that maybe not all is well.

One of the real disappointments of last season was the San Francisco 49ers and in 2015 they have not been much better.  Like the Rams they have decided to send their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, to the bench as he was finding it hard to make plays.  The 49ers offense is now the worst in the league and has scored the least amount of points by a long way.  It feels like the coaches in San Francisco may have decided to start building for next year.

It has been another entertaining NFL season and with the majority of the divisions looking like they may not be decided until the very last game, it’s sure to be a thrilling end.  So many teams will fancy their chances of either winning their respective division or achieving a wildcard spot and I cannot wait to see how it all plays out.

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