Projecting NFL playoff teams at halfway point

Typically at the halfway point of the NFL season, I look back at all of the best performances, biggest surprises, and hot topics from the year’s first eight weeks. But instead of looking back, today I’m looking forward and projecting the teams that will challenge for the coveted 12 playoff berths.

 

AFC Current Playoff Picture

AFC East Leader: New England Patriots (6-2)

Projected AFC East Winner: New England Patriots

AFC North Leader: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)

Projected AFC North Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers

AFC South Leader: Tennessee Titans (4-3)

Projected AFC South Winner: Houston Texans

AFC West Leader: Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)

Projected AFC West Winner: Kansas City Chiefs

AFC Wild Card 1: Buffalo Bills

AFC Wild Card 2: Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected AFC Wild Cards: Titans, Broncos

As we expected going into the season, the Patriots and Steelers are the powers in the AFC. Much was made of the porous Patriots’ defensive play early in the season, but their performance has risen the last couple games and no longer ranks among the league’s worst unit. Similarly, Pittsburgh started out with a couple puzzling defeats but are now on a three-game win streak against three quality opponents… Kansas City has slumped a bit and Houston doesn’t lead its division, but those two teams are also considered challengers for the AFC throne…With Oakland and Los Angeles disappointing with losing records, it will take a lot for either to turn things around and rise above the competitive AFC field. Neither the Bengals nor Ravens look the part of playoff teams, while New York, Miami, Indianapolis and Cleveland can be definitively counted out. Three teams with long playoff droughts, the Titans, Bills, and Jags, have snuck into the playoff conversation. The Bills have upended the big-name teams in Atlanta, Denver, and Oakland, and while unseating the Patriots is a tall task, a wild card berth is within the realm of possibility… Behind a bruising rusher in Leonard Fournette and the league’s fiercest sack attack, Sacksonville, er, Jacksonville will at last be out of the AFC cellar… Still not sure what to make of Denver, a team that will be in the mix but has laid a few eggs.

 

NFC Current Playoff Picture

NFC East Leader: Philadelphia Eagles (7-1)

Projected NFC East Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

NFC North Leader: Minnesota Vikings (6-2)

Projected NFC North Winner: Minnesota Vikings

NFC South Leader: New Orleans Saints (5-2)

Projected NFC South Winner: New Orleans Saints

NFC West Leader: Seattle Seahawks (5-2)

Projected NFC West Winner: Seattle Seahawks

NFC Wild Card 1: Los Angeles Rams (5-2)

NFC Wild Card 2: Carolina Panthers (5-3)

Projected NFC Wild Cards: Cowboys, Panthers

Few expected the Eagles to be perched atop the NFL at the halfway point in the season, but here they are. With an MVP-caliber first-half performance from quarterback Carson Wentz and strong play across the board, Philly looks like the team to beat in the NFC…With Aaron Rodgers out, the Packers’ playoff hopes are virtually toast, leaving the 6-2 Vikings as the runaway favorite to win the division… While Los Angeles looked strong early under new head coach Sean McVay, a tough second half schedule could allow the Seahawks to wrestle away control for the NFC West…The Saints have experienced a rejuvenation after years of mediocrity and lead the NFC South. The defense has improved by leaps and bounds and Drew Brees hasn’t missed a step… With the four division leaders all heavy favorites to win their respective divisions, most of the intrigue will come in the Wild Card race. Dallas has a tough second-half schedule, but they’re the most dangerous team in January if they can sneak into the playoffs… The Falcons have hit the Super Bowl slump as expected, though they have some pieces that could allow them to take a Wild Card spot… Carolina’s offense has underwhelmed with subpar performances from Cam Newton and rookie Christian McCaffrey. They’re another playoff-tested bunch that could make things interesting if they get into the playoffs… I’m ready to write off the Giants, 49ers, Cardinals, Redskins, Buccaneers, and Lions, though Detroit has the best shot of the bunch to make a late run.

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