We are at the halfway point of the 2011 NFL Season and it is report card day. We have had plenty of team to see who the pretenders and the serious contenders. In a season of more parity than usual, it is time to see if your AFC team is who you thought they’d be.
I based my grades on more than just records. I looked at play on all three sides of the ball, preseason expectations, and consistency of performance. Injuries were taken into consideration, but nobody got a pass just because their star player got hurt.
Buffalo Bills – This team is getting a B purely on overachieving. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a waiver wire gem to fantasy football players while Fred Jackson is having a monster season. Unfortunately their defense is about right where you thought it’d be which is the difference in this team being 4-2 or 6-0. Even with two losses, the win at home against the New England Patriots was huge…real huge. That should get them into the playoffs if they continue playing the same kind of football along the way. Unfortunately a few close calls that didn’t go their way have earned them a B rather than an A.
Pittsburgh Steelers – It was rough, real rough when the team opened with a 7-35 loss in Baltimore. However, don’t let their 5-2 record fool you. They have had close calls with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts, and even allowed the horrendous Arizona Cardinals to put up 20 on them. This is a streaky team and until they play consistent football, they are only slightly above average in my opinion.
Cincinnati Bengals – Once again, who knew? You get rid of your star players on offense and what happens? You finally have a winner in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green look like they are on pace to be one of the elite combinations in future years. This defense is playing better than it has been on a week to week basis in a long time. They went toe to toe with the 49ers and held them to 13 points. Their loss to Denver was a killer. As a whole, this team may be the biggest overachiever in the entire league.
Baltimore Ravens – I started writing this blog on Monday and gave the Ravens an A. Unfortunately the Ravens were exposed as a highly one dimensional team on Monday night by one of the worst offenses in the NFL This team is in big trouble as defenses start concentrating on stopping the run while daring Flacco to throw under pressure. I was all ready to hop on the Super Bowl bandwagon here, but that all changed Monday night.
Oakland Raiders – It was looking good, really good until Jason Campbell went down. The offense was finally starting to click and their defense was playing meaner than they have in years. Unfortunately injuries have caught up to the team and they are coming out of an embarrassing defeat to their rival Kansas City Chiefs. I’ll look past the injuries Sunday and look ahead to a team when healthy, that will be very hard to beat in future weeks.
San Diego Chargers – If I wrote this blog last week the Chargers would have earned an A. Unfortunately for the bolts, they reverted back to their annual early season form and put in an embarrassing effort against the New York Jets Sunday. Philip Rivers is struggling big time and the defense isn’t helping. Injuries are really hurting this team as it appears almost every player on the team is hurt from week to week. I would be surprised if they don’t turn it around and finish strong like most seasons under Norv, although you have to wonder if the Jets exposed the perfect game plan to beat the Chargers this past Sunday.
Houston Texans – Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Excuse me if I don’t get excited about their big win Sunday over the Tennessee Titans. After starting this season with what looked like one of the best defenses in the NFL, the team has played inconsistent football for most of the season. 4-3 is below expectations, although I think .500 is exactly where this team will finish up. I know about the injuries, but Arian Foster and Andre Johnson don’t play on defense and Mario Williams wasn’t hurt when they let the Saints put up 40.
New York Jets – Are they overachievers or exactly where they should be? Their defense is the worst it has been during the Rex Ryan era and their offense has been incredibly inconsistent. Beating up on the Miami Dolphins won’t convince me that this is a team ready to turn it around. Their running game has struggled, their passing game has been laughable at times, and teams are slicing up the Jets on the ground for the first time in years. They are 4-3 and have a very favorable schedule down the stretch. Yet I’d be stunned if they get back to the AFC championship for a third year in a row.
Tennessee Titans – Will the real Tennessee Titans please stand up? One week they are beating the Baltimore Ravens and the next they are getting torched by the Houston Texans. The lack of a running game here is killing them. However, that doesn’t excuse their horrendous play on defense in recent weeks. I expected more out of Matt Hasselbeck, yet at this rate I’d be surprised if they can even finish with a .500 record.
Denver Broncos – Remember when these guys were the hottest team in the NFL last season? That was a long time ago. This team has greatly regressed under John Fox on all sides of the ball. They have just been in a total funk after beating the Bengals and can’t seem to get out of it. They did beat the Miami Dolphins but that game was as ugly as it gets. With Brandon Lloyd shipped off to St. Louis and Willis McGahee on the bench, it isn’t going to get better anytime soon.
Kansas City Chiefs – Talk about a wacky team. After starting off the season miserably and losing their franchise running back and defensive back, they have put together three straight wins. Even more impressive is that this team is looking better by the week. If the Chiefs played all season like they are playing now, they’d be getting a B. If things keep up, they’ll get their B once final grades come out.
Cleveland Browns – Eh, what do you really say about the Browns? I think this team is just doomed for mediocrity. They have a decent quarterback, decent running back, decent wide receivers, and a real nice defense, and are..well decent. If they could put something together on offense, they could really surprise some teams. Sadly that doesn’t look like it will happen and I can’t imagine this team finishing the year with anything higher than a D grade.
Jacksonville Jaguars – As I was saying earlier, I started writing this blog on Monday. I originally gave the Jaguars an F. However, it is hard not to reward them for beating a team I was going to give an A in prime time. Their offense is still terrible, but their defense is actually quite solid. Quietly, it was doing the job against elite running backs and quarterbacks most of the season. However, their offense is still arguably the worst in the NFL. Blaine Gabbert has shown absolutely nothing to make me think he can turn this around by season’s end. Andrew Luck, welcome home.
Miami Dolphins – Speaking of the Suck for Luck Bowl. It is hard to completely fault the Dolphins since they did lose their starting quarterback. However, they weren’t exactly playing lights out football when he was in the lineup. I can sum this up real quick. You lost to Tim Tebow at home after giving up a two touchdown lead. Enough said.