By Kyle Ross (posted by Rick Morris)
1. Green Bay Packers (8-0) - The team that was #1 in our preseason poll is #1 in our mid-season poll and is certainly our favorite to be #1 at the end of the year. It’s virtually indisputable that the Packers are the best team in football right now as it seems the #1 team in the AFC is changing by the week. QB Aaron Rodgers is living up to our advanced billing as the NFL MVP as he is rewriting the record books w/ 24 TD passes through 9 games and a ridiculous 129.1 QB rating. The only weakness is the defense, which ranks 32nd against the pass, and is allowing over 7 PPG and nearly 100 YPG more than last year. Remember that in 2010, they won the Super Bowl with 15 players on IR and the most starts lost to injury in the league. They have already won two of the games we had marked as potential losses before the season (at Atlanta and last week’s win at San Diego), so it looks like the only possible slip up could be back to back road games at Detroit and the Giants coming at the end of the month. The Lions game is a huge Thanksgiving showdown and if they get by that, they have 10 days to prepare for the Giants. They have won 14 straight games and unbelievably are still available at 3.5 to 1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Projected finish: 15-1, Super Bowl Champs
2. Baltimore Ravens (6-2) - The Ravens are the top team in the AFC (for this week anyway) as they have now swept the Steelers, giving them a big leg up in a tough North Division where three teams already have six wins. QB Flacco played perhaps the best game of his career Sunday night, completing 12 of 14 passes on third down and tossing a GW TD pass in the final minute to cap off a 92-yard drive. Projected finish: 11-5/12-4, AFC North Champs, 1st Round Bye.
3. San Francisco 49ers (7-1) – It’s now all in front of the 49ers, who are going to win a lot of games and easily take the terrible NFC West. Jim Harbaugh has already wrapped up Coach of the Year honors, winning more games at the half way point with the same roster Mike Singletary had all last season. Projected Finish: 13-3, NFC West Champs, 1st Round Bye
4. NY Giants (6-2) - The Giants get up to this spot by virtue of a huge road win at New England and the fact they are just 3.5-point road dogs to the team above them on this list. QB Eli Manning is playing the best football of his career. That makes our projected finish seem tough, but here is their remaining schedule: at San Francisco, Philadelphia, at New Orleans, Green Bay, at Dallas, Washington, at NY Jets, Dallas. That equals another late season swoon and this time it will spell the end of Camp Coughlin: Projected Finish: 9-7, Miss Playoffs
5. Detroit (6-2) – The Lions have firmly established themselves as the likely top Wild Card team in the NFC. Matt Stafford has to stay healthy. After dominating the pointspread last year, it will be interesting to see how they perform as consistent favorites down the stretch. Projected Finish: 11-5, Wild Card
6. Houston (6-3) – Things have set up perfectly for the Texans to bag the AFC South and make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Jacksonville and Indianapolis made life very easy with their QB situations and Houston already destroyed the only realistic contender (Tennessee 41-7) on the road. They are 3-0 SU/ATS vs. the division, winning by a combined margin of 99-28. They have their best ever record through nine games. As we expected, DC Wade Phillips has improved the defense immensely. Projected Finish: 11-5, AFC South Champs
7. Pittsburgh (6-3) – Having lost to Houston and being swept by Baltimore, the Steelers can’t be any higher on this list. The win over New England is clearly the highlight of their resume. They’ll still make the playoffs w/ an easy schedule remaining. Projected Finish: 11-5, Wild Card
8. New England (5-3) - We’re starting to see why the Patriots have not won a playoff game since the 2007 AFC Championship. The defense is just awful. Off back to back losses, they now travel to face a surging Jets squad that has yet to lose at home and are a slight underdog. They have only lost three or more games in a row once during the Belichick/Brady era (2002). They also have a road game at the Eagles coming. They will probably lose either there (more likely) or to the Jets, but not both. Then comes the December schedule: Indianapolis, at Washington, at Denver, Miami, Buffalo. They will sweep those games and take the top seed in the AFC. Projected Finish: 12-4, AFC East Champs, Homefield advantage
9. New Orleans (6-3)- We once thought the Saints were the 2nd best team in the league when they only had an opening week loss to Green Bay on the resume, but bad losses to Tampa Bay and previously winless St. Louis almost guarantee they have no shot at a bye. Still, they finish right where we thought they would before the season. Projected finish: 10-6, NFC South Champs
10. NY Jets (5-3)- We have to admit that the Jets have not lived up to our advanced billing, but they are 5-3 and in a first place tie in the AFC East. Two of the losses were at Baltimore and New England. Rex Ryan again showed why he’s maybe the best coach in the league, completely shutting down Buffalo on Sunday. It looks like they’ll have to make another playoff run on the road. Projected finish: 11-5, Wild Card
*11. Philadelphia (3-4) - result pending from Bears game Monday night. I did not have the Lions making the playoffs before the season, so I have to take someone out and I fear (for Philly fans) that the Eagles could be the odd team out as they dug themselves a deep hole and a Week 2 loss to the Falcons could cost them the Wild Card. There will be a 10-win team on the outside looking in for the second straight year in the NFC and this time they can’t blame the NFC West. Projected Finish: 10-6, Miss Playoffs
*12. Chicago (4-3) – result pending from Eagles game Monday night. I just don’t think this team is as good as they’ve looked at times nor are they as bad as they’ve looked at times. They are pretty much who I thought they were before the season. Projected Finish: 9-7, Miss Playoffs
13. Atlanta (5-3) – They started slow, but five of their remaining eight games are at the Georgia Dome, including the next three, and they hold a key tiebreak over the Eagles. Projected Finish: 10-6, Wild Card.
14. Dallas (4-4) – Here’s the remaining November schedule, Cowboy haters: Buffalo, at Washington, Miami, at Arizona. Compare that to the Giants remaining schedule and it’s going to come down to a tight race between Dallas and the Eagles. Projected Finish: 10-6, NFC East Champs
15. San Diego (4-4)- The Chargers are going to wind up winning the AFC West simply by default. They have lost three straight, but the Raiders are headed straight for the tank, Denver will be inconsistent with Tebow and Kansas City was fortunate to win that Monday night game. They’ll probably be one and done in the playoffs, costing Norv Turner his job Projected finish: 9-7, AFC West Champs.
16. Cincinnati (6-2) - People thought we were crazy when we projected this team to win at least five games before the season and shockingly they have already won six through eight games. The worst kept secret in Cincinnati is that Carson Palmer was done and they made huge upgrades through the draft with Andy Dalton and AJ Green. The public failed to grasp this in picking them to be the worst team in football. We knew some team had to come from nowhere and challenge the status quo in the AFC and it appears as it will be this team. Here’s the problem though. Six wins have come against Cleveland, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle and Tennessee. They still must play the Steelers and Ravens four times. They could be 6-6 after 12 games. On the bright side, they ripped off Oakland in the Carson Palmer trade. Projected finish: 9-7, Miss playoffs
17. Buffalo (5-3) - This was shaping up as a really nice story after we took the Bills at home against the Patriots in Week 3 and they won the game outright. However, with five road games left, including the Jets and New England, I don’t see them making it. Projected finish: 9-7, Miss Playoffs
18. Tampa Bay (4-4) – Exactly what we thought before the season as they would not match last year’s surprising 10-6 record, which again we actually projected. Projected Finish: 8-8
19. Kansas City (4-4) – We did not buy the team’s four game win streak and our suspicions were confirmed with a 31-3 home loss to Miami. Projected finish: 7-9.
20. Minnesota (2-6) - We have to admit that we thought this team would have a better record at this point and the inevitable move to Christian Ponder would not take place as quickly. However, Donovan McNabb was terrible and his career is effectively over. They did blow multiple double digit leads early in the year, which is why the record is where it is. Projected Finish: 5-11
21. Tennessee (4-4) – Never bought the Titans during the 3-1 start even with a win over Baltimore. They lost to a Tebow-less Denver team and the other wins were against Cleveland and Jacksonville. Since that time, they’ve only beaten Indianapolis. Who loses their starting gig first: Matt Hasselbeck or Chris Johnson? Projected finish: 7-9
22. Carolina (2-6) – We are buyers on every NFC South team for the foreseeable future. Last place teams have a history of turning things around the following year in the NFC South, and while the Panthers will certainly not live up to the lofty standards of this historical trend, there is no doubt Cam Newton is the real deal and this is one of the most improved teams in the league. Projected finish: 5-11
23. Denver (3-5) - It took them longer than it should have to move to Tim Tebow at QB, but the Broncos are where I figured they’d be at this point. It took Kyle Orton losing 21 of 26 starts to precipitate the move. Tebow has won 2 of 3 games to move to 3-3 as a career starter, so why are people like Merrill Hoge so quick to write him off? I think we all agree this is a bad team. Why then not go with the unknown commodity over the guy you know (Orton) won’t lead you anywhere? Again, the only other options are Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn! Projected Finish: 5-11
24. Oakland (4-4) - Not only is the Carson Palmer trade not the best ever, it may go down on being the worst ever. Whoever could have thought Jason Campbell would mean so much? Palmer is headed for Donovan McNabb territory. Projected finish: 5-11
25. Washington (3-5) - We were ready to apologize to Mike Shanahan following a 3-1 start, but since that time the Skins have resembled the team we all thought they’d be as terrible QB play has ruled the day. Projected finish: 6-10
26. Miami (1-7) - The Dolphins are not as bad as their record indicates and lame duck coach Tony Sparano will not let them quit. In other words, they can kiss Andrew Luck good-bye! Maybe Landry Jones can be the next Dan Marino instead? Projected finish: 3-13
27. Arizona (2-6) - The Cards have been one of the biggest disappointments in the league. They just won for only the second time and did so without Kevin Kolb at QB. The schedule gets much easier down the stretch: Projected finish: 6-10
28. Seattle (2-6) - Quite frankly, we’re shocked that the Seahawks record is this good. Our pick for Seattle to be the worst team in the league will not come to fruition. Maybe “Coach ‘em up Pete” can reunite with Matt Barkley? Projected finish: 4-12
29. Cleveland (3-5) - Browns fans might be angry with us to see their team down this far, below a pair of teams they’ve already beaten. But those wins over Miami and Seattle came by a combined four points at home and they only managed to basically match the oddsmakers margin in those contests. Seattle was saddled with Charlie Whitehurst in that game. They are barely favored over St. Louis this week at home. They have the third fewest points scored in the league and take the skill out of the term “skill position.” Projected finish: 6-10.
30. St. Louis (1-7) - This is arguably the biggest disappointment in football as the bottom dropped out due to injury. This goes to prove that jumping from one to seven wins is a leap too difficult to sustain the following year. The Rams will be better next year: Projected finish: 4-12
31. Jacksonville (2-6) - The Jaguars have scored 98 points in eight games. That’s atrocious. Yet they are not even the worst team in their division. It will be interesting to see what they do in the draft. Projected finish: 3-13
32. Indianapolis (0-8) = How bad are the Colts? They are three-point home dogs this week to the 31st ranked team. This is, by far and away, the worst team in the league. Let the Andrew Luck/Peyton Manning drama officially begin. Projected finish: 1-15
* = Play Monday Night