We are beginning of the stretch run in the NFL, and it’s one of the more interesting years that I can remember. It’s a blend of the old and the new staking their claim on the contenders list. I also see the very beginnings of the changing of the guard in the League.
Anyway, let’s get started with the big picture. It appears as though on balance, the NFC has a more top heavy group, and would edge out the AFC in my opinion as the strongest conference. With Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas, and Detroit…you’ve got four teams that have been very impressive. In the AFC, Baltimore has the best record, Kansas City, Jacksonville, and Miami are just a game behind them. Still, from the eye test, I seem to be more impressed with the NFC.
Now, into the weeds…I think Philly will lose a couple of more games, their schedule is too tough, but they will be in the hunt for the top seed. San Francisco is the next favorite for the top seed, but they have a similar schedule and it will be a tight race to the end for the top seed. Don’t forget Dallas in that mix either. The Cowboy defense took a hit against Seattle Thursday night, but, they are an impressive group. If they peak in late December, the Cowboys could make it a tie breaker decision on the top seed.
Our Lions are right there, but of late, they have started turning the ball over. They barely escaped from Chicago, and then let Green Bay get them on Thanksgiving. Detroit is a good team though. They will win the NFC North, and have a home playoff game, but, as they head down the stretch, the huge game for them will be in Dallas. That game will tell us a lot about the Lions. Circle that date.
The next level of NFC are good teams, but I don’t think they can make a deep playoff run unless an injury pops up to derail one of the top teams. I thought Seattle had a chance, but, with their schedule, it’s an uphill climb for them. As they proved against Dallas in Dallas, they can be very dangerous, but in my eyes, not a bonafied contender for the crown. Same with Atlanta and New Orleans, one of them will win the NFC south, but, I don’t think they can make a run in the playoffs.
The interesting teams are Green Bay and Minnesota. I think the Packers are very pleased with the progress of QB Jordan Love, and their win on Thanksgiving against the Lions really gave them confidence. They won’t pass the Lions to win the NFC North, but, they could make it interesting. Minnesota I thought would make a run, but then Kirk Cousins got hurt, and even though Josh Dobbs gave them some hope in his first couple games, they have hit a wall. With their best receiver out over the past month, and an untested quarterback trying to play catch up, there is just too much working against the Vikings.
There will also be some real battles in the last couple weeks with wild card spots in play, but, only the Rams can come out of the woods for a possible NFC playoff possibility, in my opinion. Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald give them that chance.
In the AFC, it’s a much more balanced group. I think Baltimore, with the best record, has a great shot to get to the AFC title game, but they tend to make games tight that shouldn’t be. That always scares me. I know it’s the NFL, and anyone can beat anyone else, but it just seems like the Ravens let teams stay in a game they shouldn’t stay in. If you have someone beaten, don’t ever give them hope, and the Ravens too often give the other guy hope. They are my favorite for now, but, with reservations.
Kansas City will be there in the end too. Patrick Mahomes is a magical quarterback and he can make anything happen, so the Chiefs have a chance. They must start executing better on offense though. They have dropped passes, and turned it over too many times for a title contender. They clean that up, and they are right there with the Ravens.
Miami can score. Offensively, they may be the most explosive, but, I’m not sold on their defense. If you can’t stop the other guy, you’ll always have problems. Miami hasn’t proven to me they are consistent in stopping the other guy. When your hope is to always outscore your opponent, it can get dicey, but, their explosive offense gives them a punchers chance.
I think the dark horse is Jacksonville. Last year, they kind of showed up unannounced, and nearly got into the second round. Doug Pederson is a fine coach, and Trevor Lawrence is starting to assert himself into the elite quarterback category. With no real juggernaut this season in the AFC, be wary of Jacksonville.
Now, Houston and Denver are the surprises in the AFC. Denver, because we gave them up for a lost cause after they let Miami score 70 against them, but they’ve made a great comeback. Give head coach Sean Peyton credit for holding them together. Russell Wilson has also made a comeback, and that has given them a chance…they are a possible wild card, which I never would have imagined a month ago. Houston meanwhile, has made some people sit up and take notice. I am very impressed with DeMeco Ryans, the Texans head coach. I think he is a budding superstar coach. They may not make it this year, but, they’ll beat somebody in contention.
Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland were all on my list of contenders at the beginning of the year, but, I’ve cooled on them. Cleveland, because they lost their quarterback, and now with Myles Garrett, maybe the best defensive player in the AFC injured, the Browns are fighting an uphill battle. I also had the Bengals as a real contender, but the loss of Joe Burrow kind of took them out of the mix, like the Jets loss of Aaron Rodgers on opening night, Burrow’s absence is too much for Cinci to overcome to get to the promised land.
In Pittsburgh, I love Mike Tomlin as a head coach, but I am not sold on a team that fires their offensive co ordinator in mid season. QB Kenny Pickett has not shown me enough consistency week to week for me to get on their bandwagon. Their defense is good enough, but can it carry their offense through the rest of their schedule? They may make it to the tournament, but, I just don’t see them making a deep run.
Buffalo is a mystery. Josh Allen is a great quarterback. His talent is incredible, but, he turns it over, and his best games have been in classic losses. I love the guy. I would start my franchise with him. But, in the NFL, it’s about winning. The Bills aren’t doing that. Additionally, their schedule is like facing murderers row. They’ll beat somebody down the road who is a contender, but, it will be too little too late, and a disappointing year for the fans in upstate New York.
There you have it…you may agree or disagree. To tell you the truth, I expect it, but from my perspective that’s the NFL landscape as we head down the stretch. At some point, I’ll post something more specific about the Lions, but for now, I want to let the year play out. Look, just so you know, and don’t interpret me wrong, I think the Lions are in the top 5 in the NFC right now. Let’s enjoy these last weeks, and as the dust settles before January, we’ll give the Lions their due, as we talk about their playoff match up.