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NFL Team Grades Going Into Week 9

The Patriots, Steelers, Eagles are at the top of the league with the fourth best team looking in from a distance.  In a league devoid of truly great teams, most divisions are wide open and there is a ton of traffic near the middle of the pack.  Here is where we grade the NFL teams halfway through the season.

AFC East

New England Patriots (6-2) Grade: A

Until someone from the AFC East beats the Pats, they are firmly number one in the division and all of the NFL.  Their defense is coming back to life and Tom Brady is still as annoying…I mean…good as ever.  Fool me five times, shame on me.

Buffalo Bills (5-2) Grade: B-

LeSean McCoy is a stud.  Buffalo has a bend but don’t break defense which has been really strong all year, not allowing 30 points all year and only allowing 20 twice.  The question marks remain in the passing game, led by a still unreliable but talented Tyrod Taylor.

Miami Dolphins (4-3) Grade C+

The Dolphins have scored the fewest amount of points in the NFL.  Ndamukong Suh is the best player on the team and even he doesn’t seem interested at this point.  Getting Jay Cutler back to sleepwalk his way to mediocrity should not change much.  

New York Jets (3-5) Grade C-

The J-E-T-S simply aren’t a very good team.  Their three victories were not as impressive as keeping it close against the Patriots and Falcons.  The over/under on remaining victories for the Jets is probably two.  Sorry about your career, Josh McCown.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) Grade A

While Martavis Bryant considers other options, the Steelers who are still playing look strong.  The Killer B’s are playing well – especially Antonio Bryant. The Steel Curtain is finally a phrase that can be uttered without speaking about past teams. The Steelers are third in the NFL in total offense and second in points allowed per game. Not. Too. Shabby.

Baltimore Ravens (4-4) Grade B-

Before Joe Flacco was decapitated by Kiko Alonso in front of a live studio audience, the Ravens were already well on their way to a middling season.  Even after annihilating the Dolphins 40-0, it’s hard to say this is a playoff team.  The Ravens have a strong scoring defense but also allow the second most rushing yards in the NFL.  

Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) Grade C+

The “Bungles” are a talented team that cannot get out of their own way. Sound familiar?  This leads to the annual game of “what does Marvin Lewis have to do to get fired around here?”  I’m a big Andy Dalton fan, but he can’t do it all himself.

Cleveland Browns (0-8) Grade F

Sorry, Dawg Pound.  You have to win more than one game in the past year and a half to have a passing grade.  I live close enough to Cleveland to feel their pain from here.

AFC South

Tennessee Titans (4-3) Grade C+

The Titans beat the Browns 12-9 in overtime on Sunday.  Extrapolate what you will from that.  

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3) Grade B

The Jags’ pass defense is intimidating.  I’m not sure we should go throwing “Sacksonville” around just yet like they are the 2001 Ravens, but their young talent flies to the football and to the quarterback.  Blake Bortles is still more Pokemon than elite quarterback, however.  The Ravens analogy might have to continue on if they intend to compete in the playoffs.  They are a strong contender to win the South.  

Houston Texans (3-4) Grade C

The fightin’ J.J. Watt’s are now without their best player, but Deshaun Watson is having a great rookie season.  The Texans have a strong wide receiver corps as well, but the defense is not the backbone of the team is once was.  They give up 26 points a game, 29th in the league.  That’s a lot to overcome for a young offense.

Indianapolis Colts (2-6) Grade D-

Speaking of bad defenses, the Colts are downright atrocious on that side of the ball.  They are also 25th in the NFL in scoring offense.  Fun fact: the Colts have two wins this season.  Can you guess the combined record of the two teams they beat?  That’s right, it is 0-16.  If not for a fortuitous schedule, the Colts could easily be winless.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) Grade B+

Monday Night’s handling of the Broncos should be good enough to quell the overreaction about the Chiefs slide. Alex Smith has finally moved from game manager to legitimate top tier QB.  The offense scores a ton of points and doesn’t turn the ball over.  Easily my favorite in the West and probably the fourth best team in the league.

Denver Broncos (3-4) Grade B-

Denver’s once dominant defense is looking pedestrian.  And they STILL lead the league in yards allowed per game.  Since their week 2 dismantling of the Cowboys, the Broncos have struggled mightily on offense.  If they can score points, they will be fine and have a decent shot at the playoffs.

Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)Grade C+

The Los Angeles Chargers are probably the best three-win team in the NFL.  See: hanging with the Patriots and crushing the Broncos.  Philip Rivers is the Dan Fouts of the NFL.  I’ll see myself out.  

Oakland Raiders (3-5) Grade C+

Man, what happened to the AFC West?  Last year this division could have had four playoff teams if such a thing were possible.  This year, not so much.  The Raiders are looking more like their usual, over-hyped selves.  One would think this will not continue and this may just be part of the growing process of an up and coming power.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles (7-1) Grade A-

The Eagles sure set on making my other piece look bad (See here).  Carson Wentz has not shown signs of slowing down nor his inexperience.  They look poised to secure a first-round bye.  The playoffs against more veteran teams will be the real test.

Dallas Cowboys (4-3) Grade B+

Early season panic and Ezekiel Elliott not being suspended…or maybe he is…I’m not sure I can keep up anymore.  Besides a week one blowout, they have looked consistently solid if not brilliant.  Beating up on the Redskins this Sunday didn’t hurt.

Washington Redskins (3-4) Grade B-

On this year’s episode of “maybe the Redskins will actually be good”, they aren’t that good.  Two losses against the Eagles and a 0-3 record inside the division will be tough to overcome. Before we blame Kirk Cousins, let’s keep in mind that most barbarically named team in the NFL allows 25.7 points per game.  

New York Giants (1-6) Grade D+

Yes, the Giants really are that bad.  It’s a shame to see wasted talent due to a mess of an offensive line and an inability to run the ball.  Just focus on getting better for next year, OBJ.

NFC North

Minnesota Vikings (6-2) Grade B-

It’s a bit hard to believe in the Vikings at this point in the season, but they are a few games up and have key wins against the Pack attack and the Detroit Matthew Staffords.  Minnesota’s defense is extremely good.  If that holds up, they have a chance.

Green Bay Packers (4-3) Grade B-

In year’s past, the Packers may have been able to limp into the playoffs without Aaron Rodgers.  With the Vikings defense and the Lions capable of playing much better than they are now, it seems unlikely.  

Detroit Lions (3-4) Grade B-

I rated the top 3 teams in this division equally and I really think it is a toss-up. In typical Detroit fashion, they have run into the wrong teams at the wrong times.  They have a heads up win vs. the Vikings and I still think they might take the north. If they can develop a run game, their underperforming offense could turn the corner.

Chicago Bears (3-5) Grade C-

Bears fans should be excited by the offense and by the non-disastrous defense the Monsters of the Midway have trotted this year. Mostly, they should be excited by Mitch Trubisky not being Rex Grossman or Jay Cutler.  The Bears look like they will be a contender this decade, just not this year.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints (5-2) Grade B-

It’s hard to believe the Saints are as good as their record indicates. Their run game is heating up, but it’s still in the middle of the pack. They rely on Drew Brees to win games, make no mistake.  This division (like the NFC East) looked like a juggernaut on paper but has failed to deliver.  If you picked the Saints to win the South before the season began, you are a special kind of crazy.

Carolina Panthers (5-3) Grade B+

Christian McCaffrey has put a jolt in the Panthers offense, but not so much on the ground. Carolina’s defense has been awesome, however, holding opponents to just 264 yards per game.  Only the completely one-sided Broncos are better.  If Cam Newton comes anywhere near where he was in 2015, this team is dangerous.

Atlanta Falcons (4-3) Grade B+

O, Atlanta. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?  Thou art more frustrating and more unpredictable.  The Falcons are pulling a Bengals-like wasting of talent, although this time around they aren’t waiting until the postseason.  Blaming a Super Bowl hangover is a legitimate point. They are still a force of a team if they can screw their heads back on their shoulders.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5) Grade C+

Anyone who watched Hard Knocks this year was in for a treat.  The Bucs are a young team peppered with key veterans and loaded with talent.  They are also 2-5 and a few games away from seeing their playoff hopes die. It’s easy to blame famous Jameis Winston, but don’t ignore the Bucs’ terrible pass defense.

NFC West

Seattle Seahawks (5-2) Grade B+

The Seahawks have made the playoffs in 5 straight seasons.  I don’t expect that to change this year. Russell Wilson has been chucking it around the yard and is probably having the best season of his professional career to this point.  

Los Angeles Rams (5-2) Grade B+

Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the NFL.  There, I said it.  He can wreck a game plan and is a rare interior D Lineman who is equally adept at stopping the run and the pass. The Rams have a balanced attack on offense.  Similar to the Eagles and Bears, this is going to be a scary team.  We’re not sure if they are scaring anyone in Seattle just yet.

Arizona Cardinals (3-4) Grade C+

Arizona is dead last in the league in rushing yards per game with 63.4. That is unbelievably bad. Thanks, Adrian Peterson?  Perhaps someday teams will realize that in football, one player does not change the entire team.  

San Francisco 49ers (0-8) Grade D-

The 49ers are bad, but not Browns bad. It will be interesting to see who wins that race to the bottom. We’ll see how Jimmy Garoppolo handles going to being the backup for a great team to potentially starting for a basement dweller.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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