At this point in the NFL season we have seen enough on teams to actually begin to gather firm opinions on each one. Fans, the media, and even front offices have started to realize what teams actually have a realistic shot at the playoffs and who’ll be playing for Andrew Luck. Being the best team in the NFL doesn’t matter until you’re at least the best team in your conference, so I’ve split the NFL Power Rankings into the AFC and the NFC. The records are what they are, but I’ve become more comfortable with the teams as a whole instead of a particular teams most recent win or loss and that factors heavily into where they are ranked. Hopefully your team makes the cut and is one of the six listed above the fold.
Projected Playoff Teams
1. New England Patriots (6-3) - There’s no elite team in the AFC. New England gets the nod at #1 despite a horrific defense that keeps losing players to injuries. They have one of the easiest remaining schedules and the Texans get knocked down one spot this week due to Matt Schaub’s injury. Tom Brady gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes down to his team against a Matt Leinart led Texans team.
2. Houston Texans (7-3) – I’ll drop them one spot but it isn’t time to fully abandon ship on the Texans. They’re basically the 49ers of the AFC now. They have a great running game and an awesome defense that’s led by a game manager at quarterback. All Matt Leinart has to do is hand off to Hustle (Tate) & Flow (Foster) and then run a couple of bootlegs, playactions, and throw the go route to Andre Johnson to keep the defense honest. Their defense alone should win four of the remaining 6 games.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) – The Steelers and the Texans are probably both on pace for 11-5 this season. Texans get the tie breaker due to head to head play. I’ve been saying all year that the Steelers need to demote Hines Ward and now that they have, this offense can be explosive. Antonio Brown is a weapon and the most complete receiver on the team. If Big Ben doesn’t let his thumb injury affect his play they could repeat as AFC Champs.
4. Baltimore Ravens (6-3) – I would love to list this Ravens team higher up these Power Rankings but if you can’t win on the road in the NFL, you can’t be a #1 or 2 seed. They’ve lost to the Titans, Jags, and Seahawks on the road. They’ll have a few more games on the road before the end of the year and they will need to prove they can consistently win against lesser teams on the road or they’ll have another road game in the playoffs.
5. Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) – All of the talk this week surrounding injuries has been about Matt Schaub of the Texans. The most important and crucial injury belongs to the Bengals. Losing Leon Hall for the season may cost the Bengals the playoffs and they better hope that AJ Green is a 100% for this second half of the season. he Bengals took the hardest hit in injuries this week. They’ll need to get to 10 wins to have a shot at the playoffs and that’s going to be a challenge now.
6. Oakland Raiders (5-4) – This isn’t a ringing endorsement for the Raiders. They win the division by process of elimination. They will probably win it with an 8-8 record. The media was quick to point out how great Carson Palmer played but that’s not what I saw. I saw receivers open by 5 yards continuously and Palmer being a veteran quarterback who can make easy throws. It’s not a shot at Palmer. He’s making the throws that starting quarterbacks should make. It’s just that the Raiders haven’t had a guy to do that in awhile.
Outside Looking In
7. Tennessee Titans (5-4) – You can’t rule out the Titans from making a push for a wild card or the AFC South crown with Matt Schaub out. The Titans best play is probably to keep stride with the Jets and Bengals for a wild card spot. I think this team falls just short due to having a tougher schedule down the stretch and not being great at anything.
8. New York Jets (5-5) – You have to keep in mind that an AFC West team will make the playoffs. With a win against the Broncos the Jets would have been sitting pretty and controlling their own destiny, now things won’t be so easy. While there are no elite teams in the AFC and they still have a shot, another AFC loss means they have little margin for error the rest of the way.
9. Denver Broncos (5-5) – What can you say. It wasn’t pretty and for 55 minutes Tim Tebow looked over matched. But with the game on the line, Tebow did what Tim Tebow does and moved the ball 95-yards for the winning TD. That’s now 4-1 for the kid they say can’t play QB at this level. They’ll have to keep adding more wrinkles to the offense. But, if defense can keep these games close, with Tebow playing street ball at the end of games anything can happen. This team is about winning and they’re not concerned with looking exciting. In a division this bad, a team that’s this unique could surprise people and win just enough to seal a playoff berth.
10. Buffalo Bills (5-4) – A soon as the Jets slowed the Bills rushing attack on the way to a crucial win, I knew then that the ride was over for Buffalo. Fred Jackson is the offensive plan. Teams are finally focusing all efforts on him and they don’t believe the $60 million dollar man, Ryan Fitzpatrick can beat them. They’re right.
11. San Diego Chargers (4-5) – I waited and waited and waited some more. If this was a stock I would be bankrupt. This doesn’t appear to be one of those Chargers teams that get it going during the second half of the season. The players seem to not trust one another and they aren’t playing as if they have any faith in the team. I finally believe that they will continue to plummet. (Now, they’ll probably start winning.)
12. Miami Dolphins (2-7) – A couple of weeks ago I felt as if this team hadn’t given up yet. They were still playing as if they cared and that they wanted to prove to the fans and themselves that they were better than their 0-7 record said. They’ve got some confidence now and they’ll surprise some teams during the next 7 games. They’ll win at least 3 more games.
13. Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) – It’s going to be interesting watching Tyler Palko get the start against the worst pass defense in the NFL on Monday Night football. As noted in my interview with Palko’s former college teammate, Dorin Dickerson, it will take some adjusting for the Chiefs’ receivers to be comfortable with Palko’s throw. Left handed quarterbacks have a different spin and the ball tails off. Dorin also noted that Palko played with Jonathan Baldwin at Pitt and threw 3 touchdown passes to Steve Breaston in a high school all-star game. He’s played well in limited action and it’s not far fetched to think that he can play well but the upcoming schedule is brutal for this team.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) – It’s ashame that the Jaguars spent all of that money turning around the defense only to draft such a bad quarterback. Maurice Jones-Drew has played well and so has the defense but Blaine Gabbert can’t take advantage of the simplest of throws. The loss of Rashean Mathis will hurt this defense and they may only win 2 more games for the rest of this season.
15. Cleveland Browns (3-5) – This is one of the teams that the Jaguars should beat. They have so much young talent but losing Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty for most of the year has set this offense back tremendously. The injury to TJ Ward could devastate the defense in the same manor that the Packers pass defense did when they loss Nick Collins earlier this year. The season is over for the Browns, they might as well start airing it out and see if that can be apart of Colt McCoy’s game next season.
16. Indianapolis Colts (0-10) - What’s the point? They aren’t even trying anymore. They have a two game lead on every other awful team in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes and that’s two more than they need. It’s a bad team and no one gets any joy out of watching them this year…not even their fans.
Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports790.com. You can also catch Jayson on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio with Scott Engel and the morning crew every Thursday at 10:30am ET. You may email Jayson directly @ firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @JaysonBraddock