NFL Midseason Report

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As we find ourselves already at the halfway point of the 2015-16 NFL season, the Back of the Jersey team looks at some of the most disappointing and surprising teams in the NFL this season. 

Rory Goulding

 

Most Disappointing

 

AFC – Miami Dolphins

It has to be the Dolphins, right? This team was a favorite to win the AFC East crown this season, even after Comrade Goodell’s suspension of Tom Brady was overturned, and they’ve been nothing short of a complete disaster. The Phins in their five losses have let up an average of 32 points-per-game, losing each of those games by an average of almost 18 points. Take away the Dolphins 23-20 loss to the Jaguars in Week 3 and their other four losses were by more than 21 points. That’s, you know, kinda fucking bad. To make matters worse, their prize offseason signing, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, didn’t record a sack until Week 5, and is on pace for career lows in both sacks and tackles this season. Great times in Miami.

Their lone bright spot is interim head coach Dan Campbell, who not only had the team doing Oklahoma drills during his first practice, but also one time sat through an entire plane ride after his appendix exploded, and didn’t even tell anyone. Maybe he should throw on some pads and a jersey.

NFC – Detroit Lions

It would’ve been easy to pick the San Francisco 49ers since their current starting quarterback is, by choice, Blaine Gabbert1, but the Niners were expected to be bad this year after they fired the coach that took them to three straight NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl and replaced him with a guy that looks like he should be sleeping on a train wearing a mustard-stained suit.2

Aside from being 1-7 and a complete disaster, let’s take a quick dive into their current offensive coordinator. After firing basically the entire coaching staff minus the actual head coach who hired all of these people, the Lions landed on Jim Bob Cooter, who is a real person and not a character from a Mark Twain novel, as their new offensive coordinator. Cooter seems like a particularly fun guy, one who has been arrested twice – once for DUI in 2006 and then in 2009 he was arrested for aggravated burglary after he reportedly climbed through a woman’s window, stripped down to his underwear and got into bed with her. That’s not a joke, that’s a real thing that happened in the world we currently live in.3

Thankfully, Jim Bob “oh my god that’s seriously his first name” Cooter’s off-the-field past hasn’t affected his played calling, as the Lions in their first game under Cooter saw an improvement on offen-wait they actually lost to the Chiefs 44-10. Splendid. It’s probably for the better; I assume we’re bordering on about 3 months since Lion’s head coach Jim Caldwell’s robot body was re-charged, anyway.

Speaking of , since Matthew Stafford’s career-best year in 2011, when he threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns, his production has seen a steady decline. Check out his stats from 2012-2014:

2012 – 4,967 yds, 20 TDs, 17 INT

2013 – 4,650 yds, 29 TDs, 19 INT

2014 – 4.257 yds, 22 TDs, 12 INT

2015 (projected) – 4,166 yds, 22 TDs, 22 INT

Hey, at least Stafford’s on pace for a career-high in interceptions. That’s something.

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Image courtesy of chicagobearboards.com

 

Surprise Team

 

AFC – Oakland Raiders
NFC – Minnesota Vikings

Grouping these two squads together because of their striking similarities this season. Specifically, the two second-year quarterbacks (Derek Carr & Teddy Bridgewater) that have taken a leap forward, thriving in offenses built around maximizing their skills and putting them in positions to succeed by surrounding them with talent that matches what they do best and allowing them to operate in a system where they aren’t moved too far out of their comfort zone. It’s like what the 49ers did with Colin Kaepernick these last two seasons, except the exact opposite.

The Vikings, currently 6-2, are sitting at the top of the NFC North, tied with the Packers for first place in the division. Teddy Bridgewater has found a favorite target with breakout wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and coupled with a healthy Adrian Peterson (quietly leading the NFL in rushing yards) and an under-the-radar defense, Minnesota’s looking like a formidable team going forward. With both games remaining against a Green Bay team that’s now looking quite beatable, this division could be had by the Vikings for the first time since Brett Favre was at the helm.

The Raiders, on the other hand, are fighting for one of the two AFC Wild Card spots thanks to their breakout quarterback, Derek Carr and rookie sensation Amari Cooper. Oakland is with the Jets, Bills and Steelers. After seeing Big Ben go down again, it’s looking like this is now a three-horse race. Then again the Jets are, you know, the Jets, so let’s tentatively pencil in the Raiders and Bills as our AFC Wild Card teams in 2015. A hearty congrats to the lucky team that winds up with the 5-seed in the AFC this season, they get to travel to whatever pile of dog excrement crawls out of the AFC South.

Oh, and as a reminder – Johnny Manziel was taken 10 and 14 spots ahead of these two quarterbacks, respectively.

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Image courtesy of lehighvalleylive.com

Jim Armstrong

Most Disappointing

AFC – Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore’s fall from championship contender to near the bottom of the AFC North has been swift and harsh. Sports Illustrated selected the Ravens and the Packers as the two teams to meet in Super Bowl 50. You can’t blame SI too much, seeing that the Ravens were coming off of a 10-6 campaign in which they lost a hotly contested (and controversial…eligible linemen anyone?)

Steve Smith Sr.

Image courtesy of www.delawareonline.com

divisional game to the New England Patriots. The achilles heel (no pun intended) of the Ravens has been their lack of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. They entered camp with Steve Smith Sr. as the only notable threat on the outside, coupled with Breshad Perriman, who hasn’t played a snap due to a knee injury (and then surgery), that has him out indefinitely. Steve Smith Sr. tore his achilles in week 8, Perriman hasn’t played a snap and Dennis Pitta (their starting tight-end) re-injured his hip in training camp and is on IR.

As a result, Baltimore has sunk to 2-6, and #17 in total offense and #14 passing offense this season. Getting to .500 is the revised goal for a team that had championship aspirations as recently as a month ago.

NFC – Seattle Seahawks

Although the Seahawks have won two in a row, this team just has a bad stench. The stench coming off of those players feels like the ‘disease of more’ (a reference to Bill Simmons’ philosophy of guys on championship teams wanting more time and wanting more money after the ‘ship), which clearly was evident in Kam Chancellor’s hold-out to start the season, that cost him two games.

Another less heralded topic of conversation is the cadre of offensive lineman that the organization has let go via trade or free agency in the last 18 months. They let guard James Carpenter sign with the Jets in the offseason, while they shipped Max Unger to the Saints for tight-end Jimmy Graham, who hasn’t been utilized nearly enough in that offense due in part to the 716 pressures Russell Wilson has endured. Wilson’s scrambling for his life every time I turn on a Seahawks game. Tackle Breno Giacomini also departed via free agency two summers ago. Life in the Seahawks backfield just isn’t the same. Just ask Marshawn Lynch, who is averaging a mere 3.6 yards per carry (2nd worst clip of his career) and Russell Wilson who leads the league in being sacked (31 sacks in just 8 games).

This team is far from a Super Bowl contender and frankly, doesn’t even look like the 2nd best team in its division.

Surprise Team

AFC – Pittsburgh Steelers

If you would have told me in August that Big Ben would miss more than a month while Le’Veon Bell would only suit up for 5 full games…and the Steelers would finish the season with a winning record I wouldn’t have believed you. The Steelers are at 5-4 after 9 injury-plagued weeks and are squarely in the wild card race in the AFC (the division is likely out of hand barring a Cincy collapse in the second half of the season). The Steelers could very easily run the table in the next three weeks. Here’s the slate:

  • Cleveland Browns (2-7) @ Home
  • Seattle Seahawks (4-4) @ Seattle
  • Indianapolis Colts (4-5) @ Home

They also end the season squaring off against the Ravens and Browns, although both games are on the road. Despite the injuries to Bell and Roethlisberger, I expect the Steelers to grab one of the AFC wild card berths.

NFC – Carolina Panthers

This selection was a toss up between the Panthers (8-0) and the upstart Vikings (6-2). Ultimately, I selected the Panthers for the following reasons:

  • Beat the Seahawks at Seattle in Week 4, which put this team on the map
  • Handled the Packers at home, 39-27 in Week 9
  • Cam Newton is a man-child, ranking as the #3 fantasy QB through 9 weeks. Ok, ok I’m the only one that cares about this because I made an early decision to ditch Russell Wilson and his leaky line for the dual-threat and rapidly maturing Newton. Let’s just say I’m very pleased with my decision to pull the trigger on this trade.

Tyler Michels

Most Disappointing

NFC – Philadelphia Eagles – Entering this season, I truly believed Philly made a mistake in trading away Nick Foles for Sam Bradford. Despite this, Bradford is a solid talent, and with so many weapons, I did have high expectations for the Eagles.

Playing .500 ball midway through the season can be described as nothing less than a disappointment for Chip Kelly’s club. First and foremost, the Eagles are playing in a really bad NFC East. I can’t remember this division this volatile at the midway point. Honestly, I wouldn’t count the Redskins out just yet. The Giants are wildly inconsistent, and are capable of having a poor second half of the season. The Cowboys have clearly been decimated by injuries, as fans have quickly realized how great of a quarterback Tony Romo truly is.

The Eagles have struggled on both sides of the ball at times, but their offense has been the most disappointing aspect. I was never a big Chip Kelly fan. With that said, I am really shocked at how truly average this team is. There is still plenty of time left in the season, and it’s possible the Eagles emerge as division champs. Ultimately, though, the way this season has gone, it wouldn’t surprise me if they finished under .500, either.

AFC – San Diego Chargers

Much like the Eagles, the Chargers are loaded with offensive talent and an offensive minded coach. Whenever Philip Rivers is your quarterback, and Keenan Allen is split out wide, it has to be disappointing to be 2-7 through the midway point of the season. San Diego is in the midst of a five-game losing streak – their longest since 2011. All of this despite the fact that Rivers has had a pretty darn good season. He’s the only quarterback to have thrown for 3,000 yards so far this year. The former NC State standout is also leading the league in completion percentage.

So, what has gone wrong in Cali? To be totally honest, I have’t watched a whole lot of San Diego this season. Quickly scanning their division, there isn’t much there. Denver is not as good as they were in years past. Oakland is improved, but they’re still the Raiders. And, the Kansas City Chiefs are mediocre – at best. It seems the defense has clearly been the Achilles heel, as they give up nearly 28 points per game.

It’s plausible to believe that the Chargers could make a late run, and go on some type of winning streak. Rivers led teams have done it before.

Surprise Team

AFC – Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Dalton.

Image courtesy of www.zimbio.com

Who would have ever thought midway through the season the Bengals would be 8-0? The Steelers and Ravens have dominated this division for the last decade. Well, that’s not the case this season. Mired in mediocrity for the entire tenure of Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati is knocking on the door as a real Super Bowl contender.

Andy Dalton is having a terrific season, as he has a career high 68% completion percentage, and has thrown 18 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. Dalton is usually a bit wild and inaccurate, plagued by high interception numbers his entire career (last three seasons: 17, 20, 16 ints). All is well in Cincinnati, but then again, it’s November.

Let’s judge them come January.

NFC – Atlanta Falcons

After starting the season off with a 6-0 start, the Falcons have lost three out of their last four. Rookie head coach Dan Quinn has been impressive, as the Falcons boast one of the better defenses in the league.

Offensively, Atlanta is rock-solid with Matt Ryan behind center for yet another season, and arguably the best wide receiver in the league in Julio Jones split out wide. Not a single team has had an answer for Jones – through 9 games, he has 80 receptions for 1,029 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Perhaps this is the year the Falcons are finally able to make a run. Only time will tell.

But, one thing is for sure, they are an improved team, in one of the most underrated divisions in football. Look out for the “dirty birds” come January.

About Rory Goulding

Rory is a Long Island native working in sports production, spending his time between New York and Connecticut. Rory is an avid football fan, and lover of all things basketball not named LeBron James. He spends his free time competing in professional hopscotch tournaments.
Twitter: @DoogieSchrat

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