NFL Nation: 2013 NFL Midseason Report AFC

Midseason Report: New England Patriots

November, 6, 2013
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How are they doing it?

That has been a common question from out-of-town media members in recent weeks when it comes to the New England Patriots and their 7-2 record. Many teams that sustain similar injuries to key players usually struggle, but the Patriots have persevered with depth players meeting the challenge in expanded roles and the club finding a way to come through in the few crucial plays that often determine the outcome of games.

It hasn't always looked pretty -- and that might explain why some grades are a bit lower than one might expect from a first-place team. Feel free to grade the “grader” in the comments section and let us know if we were too easy, too harsh or just right.

Midseason Report: Houston Texans

November, 6, 2013
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The Houston Texans' season hasn't gone as they'd hoped after two consecutive years as AFC South champions. Nearly every unit has played well at times, but they've all cost the team in their own ways, too.

The result is a 2-6 record that is shocking to many people in the building.

The Texans haven't admitted defeat on the season yet, but time is running out to turn it around. Here's a look at how each unit has played so far.

 

Midseason Report: Denver Broncos

November, 6, 2013
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos reached the halfway mark of the season chasing both history and the future.

While they now face the prospect of an extended absence of coach John Fox, scheduled for surgery this week to replace a valve in his heart, they sprinted through eight games behind a passing game putting up never-before-seen numbers and point totals through eight games -- so much so if Denver was shut out the rest of the way, 2013 would still rank as the 22nd-highest output in the franchise’s history. And since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, this is just the seventh time the Broncos have reached the halfway point at 7-1 or better, and these Broncos would certainly take the good news that has previously come with that mark.

The previous six times, the Broncos reached the Super Bowl four times, winning the title game twice. And that is just the kind of future executive vice president of football operations John Elway envisioned when he took the job.

Midseason Report: Tennessee Titans

November, 6, 2013
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Halfway through the Tennessee Titans' 2013 campaign, they're very much alive as a playoff contender.

While their 4-4 shows improvement from last season and they are certainly a better team than the one that finished 6-10, they've blown multiple chances that could have left them in better position.

They let a lead slip away in Houston in Week 2 and lost in overtime, and could have pulled an upset against Kansas City or Seattle in Weeks 5 and 6.

If they had won one of those games, they'd be in the lead for the AFC's final playoff spot.

Sunday's win in St. Louis saw the Titans finally manage to play as they desired, running the ball very effectively. The second half of the season will tell us if that was an aberration or the start of something.

 

Midseason Report: New York Jets

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
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On the eve of the season opener, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan gave his team a visual presentation that set a tone. He showed the ESPN.com Power Rankings for Week 1, which placed the Jets at No. 32. They took it as an insult and used it as motivation.

Two months later, the Jets still talk about those Power Rankings, mocking them.

Can you blame them? At 5-4, the Jets are one of the biggest surprises in the NFL, a legitimate wild-card contender in the AFC. Except for the front seven, there's not an abundance of talent on the roster, but Ryan and his staff have terrifically managed the highs and lows that come with having five rookies in the starting lineup, including the quarterback. Only one of their remaining opponents has a winning record, so the Jets should be in it for the duration.

On to the grades ...

 

Midseason Report: Oakland Raiders

November, 6, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- You knew this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Oakland Raiders and, before Sunday's embarrassing 49-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland was playing above expectations. Indeed, after a 4-12 season last year, the Raiders had a chance to win their fourth game at this year's midway points.

Alas, the Eagles and Nick Foles, who threw a record-tying seven touchdowns, had different plans and it makes you wonder if these are indeed the same old Raiders who have not been to the playoffs since 2002, let alone had a winning season since that Super Bowl campaign. The difference, at least on the surface, is this team has been in every game save two -- at Denver and against the Eagles.

But the NFL is a results-oriented business and at the midway point, the Raiders sit at 3-5.

 
 
SAN DIEGO -- At 4-4 overall at the midpoint, the San Diego Chargers are about where they should be heading into the season's backstretch.

Quarterback Philip Rivers' bounce-back season has been one of the main storylines for this team, along with the return of a competitive spirit established by first-year head coach Mike McCoy.

Still, the Chargers face a daunting schedule if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. San Diego still has five AFC West division contests left -- two each against division leaders Kansas City and Denver.

 

Midseason Report: Indianapolis Colts

November, 6, 2013
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The team’s best receiver? Out.

The best tight end? Out, too.

The best running back? Yep, he’s right there in street clothes with them.

And the Indianapolis Colts as a whole? They’re sitting at the top of the AFC South with a two-game lead over the Tennessee Titans.

The Colts have overcome season-ending injuries to Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Thomas to put themselves in position to control their own destiny in seeking their first division title since 2010.

 

Midseason Report: Baltimore Ravens

November, 6, 2013
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In a span of nine months, the Baltimore Ravens have gone from atop the football world to third place in the AFC North. The defending Super Bowl champions have lost four of their past five games and dropped to 3-5, their worst record at the midway point since the 2007 season.

The Ravens are two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) and play the AFC North leaders twice in the second half of the season. In order to make any major move forward, the Ravens have to find a way to start faster on offense and finish stronger on defense.

So far, the Ravens have earned a first-half grade of C-minus. Their past four losses have been decided by a total of 14 points. But all three of their wins have come against teams with losing records and against two quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden and Matt Schaub) who are no longer starters.

Here's the first-half assessment of the Ravens:

Midseason Report: Cincinnati Bengals

November, 6, 2013
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The first half of the Cincinnati Bengals' season went about as well as anyone around the club could have imagined. The team has a 6-3 record with wins over the Packers, Patriots and Lions. They clearly were one of the NFL's top teams.

But now that the second half has officially begun for the Bengals (Thursday's 22-20 overtime loss at Miami was game No. 9), will they be able to return to the winning ways that defined the season's first two months? Or will they revert to their old losing ways?

Before the Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens this weekend, we take a look at how they have fared so far in this position-by-position evaluation:

 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It has been an ugly first half of the season for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

They’ve lost every game by double digits -- the average margin is 22 points -- and are riding a 13-game losing streak that dates back to a Nov. 25, 2012, when they beat Tennessee. They rank last in the NFL in total offense and rush defense, 31st in rush offense, and 27th in total defense.

They haven’t scored a touchdown at EverBank Field since the first quarter of the 2012 regular-season home finale.

Ugly, indeed.

There have been slivers of good work in parts of the team in the first eight games, but the overall body of work deserves an F.

In breaking that grade down, it's clear this midseason report card isn’t going to be pretty. In fact, it’s the kind of report card that gets you grounded for weeks:

Midseason Report: Kansas City Chiefs

November, 6, 2013
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The ultimate grade for any team at this point of the NFL season is defined not by A's, B's or C's but W's and L's. Grading on that curve, the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs, the NFL’s last unbeaten team, are at the head of the class.

That’s not to say everything is working well in Kansas City. Offensively, the Chiefs are getting by while the Chiefs have often dominated with their defense.

 

Midseason Report: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 6, 2013
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The Steelers lost five of their last seven games a year ago to finish 8-8 and with the first non-winning season in Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach. The season was framed, at least by optimists, as an aberration and deemed unacceptable by the organization that has won six Super Bowls.

If only people knew the Steelers’ second-half swoon in 2012 was but a precursor to what has transpired through the first half of this season.

The Steelers are 2-6 and need a miracle approximating the scope of the Immaculate Reception to make the playoffs. They have all but played themselves out of postseason contention before the leaves have fallen, leaving players as stunned as they are angry.

“If you would have told me in the offseason [that the Steelers would lose six of their first eight games]) I would have told you no way,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “We’re the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is a great organization and it’s a winning organization.”

It’s also one that has struggled in almost every aspect on the field, and the tough times the Steelers have experienced are reflected in their midseason grades:

Midseason Report: Cleveland Browns

November, 6, 2013
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Expectations can define a season. A team that’s supposed to be playoff-caliber that enters the bye with a record below .500 is disappointed. But a team that’s not supposed to win much, that hasn’t won much and that enters a Week 9 bye week one game below .500 is upbeat.

Especially when said team has started three different quarterbacks, lacks a run game and traded its starting running back. Oh -- and lost its first two games. These are your Cleveland Browns, a team that by all convention and logic should be nowhere near 4-5.

But the Browns pieced together four wins in seven games after their losses to start the season, and played one of its most complete games in beating Baltimore on Sunday. Jason Campbell was never expected to be a lifeboat, but he’s played that way for two games. And with a division game against first-place Cincinnati right out of the bye, the Browns have a chance to actually be competitive in the AFC North for the first time in a long time.

This adds up to a better-than-expected start that gives the Browns (remember the expectations) a sold B in the first half.

Midseason Report: Buffalo Bills

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
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The Buffalo Bills are 3-6. They're in last place in the AFC East. At this point, their chances of making the playoffs are fading.

Those are just the facts with the Bills as they enter the second half of this season. But there are mitigating factors: They have a first-year coach, a first-year general manager, and they've run through three starting quarterbacks in nine games, two of which are rookies. Under those circumstances, the odds are stacked against you in the NFL.

That's the context for our midseason Bills report card. The Bills haven't gotten the play they need out of most positions and most players. But the talent is there. The potential is there. What hasn't been there, to this point, are the results.

 

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