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By Thomas Nielsen

So far eight glorious weeks of football have been completed. We’ve seen great catches, surprising outcomes, and even some painful celebrations (Stephen Tulloch and Lamarr Houston both tore their ACLs after celebrating a sack). Many players have been disappointments, while others have exceeded expectations. So now let’s look back at the first half of the year.

 

The AFC:

AFC East: The Patriots are currently in first place at 6-2. This was after a brutal defeat at the hands of the Chiefs that looked like the end of the Brady/Belichick era. The Bills (5-3) and Dolphins (4-3) have both played better than expected.  Buffalo benched last year’s first round pick E.J. Manuel in exchange for veteran Kyle Orton. With Orton behind center, the team is 3-1 with that only loss being to the Pats. Ryan Tannehill has finally stepped up into the quarterback the Dolphins hoped he would be. Then there are the Jets. It’s just become sad. They won their first game but have lost seven straight.

 

 

AFC North: As many analysts predicted, the Cincinnati Bengals are in first place in the division (4-2-1). Bengals will get better as the season moves along when wide receiver A.J. Green gets back. Two of Cincy’s wins have come against divisional foe, the Baltimore Ravens (5-3). The Ravens started the season with more off the field news than on. But, the team has looked good.  The Pittsburgh Steelers have the same record as the Ravens but have been streaky and confusing to understand. They lost to the Tampa Bay Bucs (and that’s their only win). But this weekend they beat the Colts 51-34.  The Cleveland Browns are currently residing in the basement of the division (shocking!) at 4-3 (actually a surprise). The Browns, led by QB Brian Hoyer, have beaten good teams like the Steelers and Saints.

 

 

AFC South: The Indianapolis Colts are currently in first place in the AFC South Division. Andrew Luck is leading the team and also the league in passing yards and is tied for touchdown passes. The combined backfield of Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson has worked very well and receiver T.Y. Hilton has played at a high level. The Houston Texans are currently sitting in second place, a game behind, with a record of 4-4. They have already doubled their win total from a year ago. Running back Arian Foster has regained his form from a couple of years ago. He missed one game and played limited snaps in another, but in every other game he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark. But, only one of their wins has come against a team with a winning record. The Titans and Jaguars are in the final two spots. They haven’t done anything and won’t.

 

AFC West: Of course the Denver Broncos are in first place. Peyton manning has not been playing up to his record setting season last year. Yet, he’s been amazing so far. Manning has thrown 22 touchdown passes and only 3 interceptions. Since their bye week, the Broncos are 4-0 and have an average margin of victory of 18.5. The San Diego Chargers are currently in second place (5-3). They had won five consecutive games, followed by a two game losing streak to divisional foes the Chiefs and Broncos. The Chiefs are currently in third place one game back in the win column to the Chargers. The only winless team remaining in the NFL, the Oakland Raiders sit in the bottom of the division. Realistically the Raiders won’t go 0-16, but it’s difficult to figure out where a win will come from.

Predictions:
AFC East Winner: New England Patriots, record 12-4
AFC North Winner: Cincinnati Bengals, record 10-5-1
AFC South Winner: Indianapolis Colts, record 11-5
AFC West Winner: Denver Broncos. record 14-2
AFC Wild Card: San Diego Chargers, record 10-6
AFC Wild Card: Baltimore Ravens, record 10-6
AFC Championship Game: Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
AFC Championship winner: Denver Broncos

   

The NFC:

NFC East: The Cowboys currently lead the NFC East. Most analysts predicted Dallas to finish in last place, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. But, they did lose on Monday Night Football to the Redskins. Like recent years, expect the Cowboys to choke down the line, but they’ll still make the playoffs. The Eagles currently sit in second place with a 5-2 record. The Eagles have been playing with a mangled offensive line, and without special weapon Darren Sproles. Both are getting healthier. Right guard Todd Herremans is the only lineman for the team to have started all seven games, yet he recently injured his bicep. If the line gets healthy, expect the team to get even better, and LeSean McCoy’s stats to inflate. The Giants began hot, but have cooled off significantly in recent weeks. Nothing has gone the Redskins have hoped. First, RGIII went down. Kirk Cousins was expected to step up but he was benched for veteran Colt McCoy.

 

   NFC North: The Detroit Lions currently have a record of 6-2 after beating the Atlanta Falcons in England this weekend. Detroit’s defense has been playing extremely well. They have exceeded expectations and are without a doubt in the top five. The team has played extremely well even without the best receiver in the league, Calvin Johnson. The Green Bay Packers are residing in second place, one game behind Detroit. Green Bay started the year off sluggish, but Aaron Rodgers started picking up his game. He has thrown 19 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. The Chicago Bears are currently tied for third place in 3-5. The Bears have been one of the biggest disappointments so far. The offense has more weapons than pretty much every other team (ie Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Matt Forte). TheMinnesota Vikings are also 3-5 this season. They are led by first round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.

 

NFC South: Half way through the season and it seems like no one actually wants to win this division. Last year two NFC South teams made it to the playoffs and based solely on record, none would this year. This is the only division in the league where the divisional leader is under .500. The Carolina Panthers are in first place with a record of 3-4-1. Cam Newton has not played up to his usual self, however the bright side may be the play of rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin. The New Orleans Saints were a common Super Bowl pick before the season began after signing safety Jairus Byrd. They are currently 3-4, Byrd is done for the season and Jimmy Graham has been playing through a number of injuries. This team does not look like it should be only half a game out of first place. Beneath them in the divisional standings, rests the Falcons. Atlanta was also a fairly common pick, but they have been subpar. Head coach Mike Smith is on the hot seat. Below them is the lowly Tampa Bay Bucs.

       NFC West: Last year the Seattle Seahawks won the division. The 49ers got a wildcard spot. The Arizona Cardinals finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs. This year, the Cards have continued to play at a high level and are currently 7-1. The Niners are in second and are getting injured/suspended players back in the coming weeks. In third place is the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Seahawks have not been the same team they were last year. They have found out how difficult it is to repeat. The St. Louis Rams currently are in the basement.

Predictions:
NFC East winner: Philadelphia Eagles, record 11-5
NFC North winner: Green Bay Packers, record 11-5
NFC South winner: New Orleans Saints, record 9-7
NFC West winner: San Francisco 49ers, record 12-4
NFC Wild Card: Arizona Cardinals, record 11-5
NFC Wild Card: Dallas Cowboys, record 10-6
NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
NFC Championship Game winner: Philadelphia Eagles
Super Bowl: Denver Broncos vs. Philadelphia Eagles
No contest, Super Bowl winners: Denver Broncos


 

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