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2014 Season 1st Half Analysis

The 2014 NFL season has provided a bit of variety from the standard expectation that the Seahawks, Broncos, 49ers, and Patriots would run away with the league yet again in NBA-style fashion. While Denver and New England remain at the top of the AFC standings, the Colts have actually been the most impressive team statistically, and the field of possible contenders has increased. In the NFC, many of the best teams find themselves with poor records or trailing in their divisions. Throughout the league, most divisions and playoff seed races look as if they will come down to the wire at the end of the season. The list of legitimate Super Bowl contenders remains much deeper this season at the half way point than is usually the case.

While the domination of passing continues to be a growing theme, the increase in efficiency seems more spread throughout the league than simply focused on a few elite teams, and the 2014 season has still seen some volatility in terms of quarterback injuries and benchings. Whereas during the 2014 draft, hardly any teams seemed desperate for a quarterback, there are already now a sizeable list of teams that don't really know who will be starting for them come next season.

Below we analyze each team's performance through 9 weeks with our expected points added stats and ratings, and project their season outlook and playoff chances going forward. All automated odds found below as well as a variety of others can be found on our Standings page.

AFC East

Buffalo Bills (5-3)
Rating: 0.0 (23rd) / Projected Wins: 8.6 / Win Division: 12.5% / Make Playoffs: 25.0%
The Bills join the Browns in the AFC as 5-3 teams that have overachieved but aren't likely to keep up their level of success and make the playoffs. The AFC is crowded with higher quality teams with similar records to Buffalo. The Bills have rode our 3rd rated defense so far, but their 26th rated offense is likely to come back to bite them. The offense has been a bit better since Kyle Orton took over for E.J. Manuel, but would still have to show more improvement beyond their current level to really warrant postseason expectations.

Miami Dolphins (5-3)
Rating: 2.0 (12th) / Projected Wins: 9.3 / Win Division: 28.6% / Make Playoffs: 49.1%
The Dolphins are the definition of a borderline playoff team right now. They have basically a 50% chance of reaching the postseason and are 12th in our team ratings, which puts them right on the border of a 12 team playoffs. They are also a great example of why the "importance of good defense and rushing" myth is invalid. Despite our 2nd rated rush offense and 2nd best overall defense, their subpar pass offense reduces them to a only a borderline playoff team.

New England Patriots (7-2)
Rating: 2.4 (10th) / Projected Wins: 10.6 / Win Division: 58.9% / Make Playoffs: 77.6%
Buying into short term trends and tossing out the Patriots' first 4 games of the season makes them look like Super Bowl favorites, but taking a whole season's data is usually a better approach if personnel have not changed significantly. New England is likely to win the AFC East, but it is difficult to see them as a better team than the other division winners in the AFC will be based on the full sample of games so far. The Patriots could be dangerous if they win their race with the other AFC favorites for a bye or home-field advantage in the playoffs, but they also face a tougher schedule in that race.

New York Jets (1-8)
Rating: -2.5 (29th) / Projected Wins: 3.5 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
The only significance of the rest of the Jets season will be determining just how high a draft pick they finish with. As expected, they will have to go back to the drawing board at QB this offseason, with the added trouble that now they have a bad defense as well.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (5-4)
Rating: 3.4 (5th) / Projected Wins: 9.3 / Win Division: 16.1% / Make Playoffs: 40.8%
Consecutive losses to division rivals and the Steelers pass offense exploding have combined to drop the Ravens division championship odds from 66% down to 16% in just the last 2 weeks. The good news is Baltimore is still as good a team right now as they have ever been in recent years, including their Super Bowl season. Their pass offense is better than ever, and the run game and defense remain solid. However, they have a bit of a hole to dig out of at 5-4, which means it is still slightly more likely that they miss out on the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2-1)
Rating: 0.6 (21st) / Projected Wins: 9.0 / Win Division: 19.3% / Make Playoffs: 33.9%
The Bengals have managed a good record, but it is a bad sign that their overall point differential is barely positive. The pass offense has regressed slightly, and the defense isn't quite what it used to be either. If they don't perform at a higher level going forward, their luck running out may not only mean not winning the division, but very possibly would result in Cincinnati missing the playoffs altogether.

Cleveland Browns (5-3)
Rating: -0.6 (24th) / Projected Wins: 8.3 / Win Division: 9.0% / Make Playoffs: 20.8%
Like the Bengals, the Browns have the look of an overachiever so far. They have been mediocre in all areas so far, and their reliance on avoiding negative plays in the pass game is not usually a recipe for long term success. The return of Josh Gordon down the stretch gives Cleveland some hope, but it remains unlikely their current surprise run will end in a playoff appearance.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
Rating: 4.1 (4th) / Projected Wins: 10.3 / Win Division: 55.6% / Make Playoffs: 72.2%
The fact that the Steelers are passing the ball better this season than in any recent years makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC. On the other hand, the defense has been a bit worse than we've ever seen from Pittsburgh in recent years. But pass offense generally trumps defense in the NFL. The Steelers so far look like a good playoff team, but the tough AFC North makes it possible for even a very good Steelers team to fail to win the division or even miss the playoffs.

AFC South

Houston Texans (4-5)
Rating: 0.1 (22nd) / Projected Wins: 7.6 / Win Division: 3.4% / Make Playoffs: 11.8%
The Texans defense is good, but not good enough to carry a team that is mediocre at best on offense. While Ryan Fitzpatrick has been decent, it is hard to blame the Texans for deciding to go forward with Ryan Mallett since they were very unlikely to make the playoffs simply by carrying on. Mallett has given no reason to believe that he would provide an upgrade over Fitzpatrick, but unknowns always have the potential for producing more exteme results on either side of the spectrum.

Indianapolis Colts (6-3)
Rating: 6.4 (1st) / Projected Wins: 11.1 / Win Division: 96.5% / Make Playoffs: 97.3%
The level of what Andrew Luck and the Colts pass offense has done this season is still going under the radar a bit, and remains on par with what the 2013 Broncos did. They have been so dominant passing that it overrides their slightly below average defense for our top overall team rating. Indianapolis has virtually already wrapped up their weak division, and quite possibly has as good a chance of winning the Super Bowl as any other team in the NFL this season. Working against the Colts are their head to head losses against the Broncos and Steelers which could end up costing them seeding position in the playoffs. They host the Patriots in Week 11 which could also produce an important tie-breaker result in the AFC.

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)
Rating: -3.4 (31st) / Projected Wins: 3.3 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
The Jaguars join the Raiders, Jets, and Bucs in the race for the #1 pick in next year's draft. But all 4 teams are a bit better than their records would indicate. None are more than 5 points worse than a league average team, and the bottom team in the NFL usually is. Jacksonville is slightly better than they were last season, but still show no real hope going forward. Bortles has extinguished his preseason excitement by throwing way too many interceptions while not even moving the ball very well otherwise.

Tennessee Titans (2-6)
Rating: -2.1 (28th) / Projected Wins: 5.0 / Win Division: 0.1% / Make Playoffs: 0.2%
Of all the teams making quarterback moves, the Titans decision to bench Jake Locker seemed the most rash. But Tennessee had little hope for this season either way, with a losing record and a very bad defense. The list of late round QBs who have had success in their rookie season is very short, and his first game was nothing to get excited about, so it is difficult to see much hope for Zach Mettenberger. But the fact that the Titans decided to make such an unusual jump to a late round rookie perhaps says something positive about Mettenberger.

AFC West

Denver Broncos (6-2)
Rating: 5.5 (2nd) / Projected Wins: 11.3 / Win Division: 72.8% / Make Playoffs: 88.4%
The Broncos offense hasn't been quite as dominant in passing or rushing as last season, but remains one of the most potent in the league. The defense has shown signs of being slightly more effective against the run. Despite the loss in New England, the Broncos remain our favorites for the #1 seed in the AFC because they remain a higher rated team and face a bit easier schedule than the Patriots. Denver is right in the mix among the Super Bowl favorites, but aren't quite the strong AFC favorties it looked like they would be before the season began, with teams like the Colts, Patriots, and Steelers looking more formidable than expected.

Kansas City Chiefs (5-3)
Rating: 3.2 (7th) / Projected Wins: 9.6 / Win Division: 21.4% / Make Playoffs: 58.4%
The Chiefs defense has been a bit less dominant than it was in 2013. However, somewhat under the radar, Alex Smith and the pass game have been much more effective. Despite a lack of 300+ pass yard games, the Chiefs pass game has been better than average by efficiently moving the ball down the field on limited attempts and avoiding interceptions. The Chiefs have the best playoff odds of any AFC team not currently projected as a division winner, but the wild card race is pretty crowded. Kansas City also still maintains a small chance of stealing the AFC West with the Broncos only a game up and the Chargers falling apart.

Oakland Raiders (0-8)
Rating: -2.8 (30th) / Projected Wins: 2.6 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
Like some other NFL teams with terrible records, the Raiders aren't quite as bad as their record would imply. They are good enough to deserve almost 3 wins by this point, but have been unlucky. However, they are still one of the worst teams in the league, and the rest of the season will only serve the purpose of giving Derek Carr time to develop. So far Carr has barely been effective enough to warrant a 2nd season as a starter, but he also hasn't had much help from the rest of the offense.

San Diego Chargers (5-4)
Rating: 2.0 (11th) / Projected Wins: 8.6 / Win Division: 5.8% / Make Playoffs: 24.5%
Just 3 weeks ago, the Chargers looked like a sure-fire playoff team that would challenge the Broncos in the AFC West race. Since then, things have fallen apart on both sides of the ball. San Diego still has a team rating worthy of a playoff appearance, but the odds are now stacked against them a bit in a crowded AFC wild card race. The Chargers are a good example of how a single good quarterback can keep an otherwise very bad team relevant in the NFL.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys (6-3)
Rating: 2.9 (8th) / Projected Wins: 9.6 / Win Division: 32.5% / Make Playoffs: 59.6%
The Cowboys outlook now hinges largely upon injuries. Realistically, the bigger impact on Dallas' chances will likely come from the injury to Nick Foles rather than that of Tony Romo as long as Romo doesn't aggravate his injury, due to the longer time table. Betting markets surprisingly have faith in Mark Sanchez keeping the Eagles near their prior level of productivity, which would mean our current odds for the Cowboys and Eagles remain reliable. At the moment, the Cowboys are underdogs to Philadelphia in the NFC East, and just barely above even odds to make the playoffs. The NFC wild card race is tough enough that a 10-win team could easily miss the playoffs like last season.

New York Giants (3-5)
Rating: 1.1 (18th) / Projected Wins: 7.2 / Win Division: 4.9% / Make Playoffs: 13.8%
The Giants are a mediocre NFL team that has been a bit unlucky to be below .500 so far. Essentially, their 2013 poor offense and good defense have both regressed to the mean. They still have an outside chance of sneaking into the playoffs, especially if the Foles and Romo injuries have a bigger effect than expected.

Philadelphia Eagles (6-2)
Rating: 2.8 (9th) / Projected Wins: 10.4 / Win Division: 61.8% / Make Playoffs: 78.3%
The rest of the Eagles season will be an interesting case study on several fronts. We should have several questions answered, including whether Nick Foles was just a system QB, whether Mark Sanchez could actually be decent with better talent around him, and whether a coach's system can really impact a football team strongly. Much of our analysis over the years has indicated that quarterback quality largely trumps coaching schemes and even surrounding offensive talent. Pass offenses rarely have success without a good quarterback, and rarely struggle with a good quarterback. Betting markets usually follow that reasoning pretty strongly, which is why it comes as a surprise that the Eagles don't seem to have been downgraded much by them despite the gap between Foles' and Sanchez's history. One thing that is clear is that if the Eagles continue on just as well with a QB who was signed for just $2 million, Chip Kelly should universally be regarded as one of the best coaches in the league. Helping the quarterback situation in Philadelphia is the fact that the Eagles defense has surprisingly jumped from our 21st rated in 2013 all the way to 5th in 2014, despite almost entirely being comprised of the same players. The Eagles defense still gives up a decent number of points because their fast paced offense creates more possessions for opposing teams, but in terms of efficiency they have been very good. This fact also dispells the myth that was commonly heard last season that the Eagles fast paced offense leaves the defense too tired to play well.

Washington Redskins (3-6)
Rating: 1.0 (20th) / Projected Wins: 6.5 / Win Division: 0.8% / Make Playoffs: 2.9%
Despite the quarterback carousel, the Redskins have actually passed the ball at an above average level overall this season, but have been let down by one of the worst defenses in the league yet again. While they have little to no hope of making the playoffs, they are a decent team overall that could string together some wins if Robert Griffin plays well or if the defense turns things around.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (3-5)
Rating: 1.5 (15th) / Projected Wins: 7.3 / Win Division: 5.8% / Make Playoffs: 18.9%
The Bears are a decent team overall that has been a bit unlucky to have a losing record. They remain an above average passing team, but have played bad defense. Chicago has also been plagued by fumbles and special teams to the extent of about a 3 point deficit per game compared to opponents. The good news is those areas of the game are highly incosistent over the course of a season, so that number should not hold up to nearly that extent going forward.

Detroit Lions (6-2)
Rating: 1.7 (13th) / Projected Wins: 10.2 / Win Division: 48.7% / Make Playoffs: 78.8%
The Lions defense has improved to the best in the league this year, but the offense has seen a little drop off in efficiency. How much of the drop off has been due to Calvin Johnson being injured is debatable, but about half the decline has come on run plays and Golden Tate has put up Calvin Johnson type numbers since Johnson got hurt. Granted, his return to health can only help. Despite their 1 game lead in the NFC North and game up in the head-to-head tiebreaker with Green Bay so far, Detroit is still no more than a coin flip to win the division due to the strength of the Packers. Should they lose the division race, the Lions are still a safe bet to claim a wild card.

Green Bay Packers (5-3)
Rating: 3.2 (6th) / Projected Wins: 9.9 / Win Division: 44.4% / Make Playoffs: 71.1%
The Packers offense is about on par with its previous levels of success under Aaron Rodgers. However, the defense has continued to be almost as poor as it was last season. Overall, that limits the Packers to just outside of the top tier of NFL teams that they had belonged to in past years. The Packers are about as likely to win the NFC as any other team, but several teams are right up there with them.

Minnesota Vikings (4-5)
Rating: -1.5 (27th) / Projected Wins: 7.0 / Win Division: 1.1% / Make Playoffs: 8.5%
The Vikings finally have an above average defense for the first time in several years. However, they lack a dominant run game for the first time in years as well due to the absence of Adrian Peterson, and the pass offense remains weak under Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings have very slim odds of making the playoffs currently, but could salvage a small chance if Peterson is able to return to the field soon.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (2-6)
Rating: 1.0 (19th) / Projected Wins: 6.0 / Win Division: 8.1% / Make Playoffs: 8.8%
The Falcons pass offense has surprisingly been no better, or possibly even worse, than a season ago despite having both Julio Jones and Roddy White healthy and the offensive line seemingly playing better. The defense has been a bit better than 2013, but is still among the worst in the league. Despite all this, the Falcons are still a pretty average team because the pass offense remains above average overall. Atlanta has been unlucky to have such a poor record at this point, but retains a slim playoff hope due to the division they are in. While the Saints are a good team that should have little trouble pulling away with the NFC South, if they have a string of bad luck the Falcons could still challenge for the division title. At this point that is the only way the Falcons could realistically get into the playoffs.

Carolina Panthers (3-5-1)
Rating: -0.8 (25th) / Projected Wins: 6.6 / Win Division: 9.6% / Make Playoffs: 10.9%
Luke Kuechly gets all the attention, but Greg Hardy was the most valuable player on the Panthers defense. However, his absence alone shouldn't be enough to explain the Carolina defense dropping from 7th best in 2013 all the way to 3rd worst in 2014 for a unit that is otherwise very similar. On offense, the Panthers remain pretty average at passing, but have struggled at rushing for the first time in years. Part of that decline may be due to several injuries at RB, so some improvement going forward should be possible. Like the Falcons, the Panthers retain just a slim hope of sneaking into the playoffs by stealing the NFC South should the Saints struggle.

New Orleans Saints (4-4)
Rating: 4.8 (3rd) / Projected Wins: 9.2 / Win Division: 82.2% / Make Playoffs: 83.3%
The Saints might have the most promising outlook of any 4-4 team that the NFL has ever seen. Not only do they still have an outright lead in the NFC South, but their play indicates that they are actually one of the best teams in the league and have simply been unlucky to have lost so many games thus far. The Saints offense is among the best in the league in both passing and rushing, but the defense has fallen apart after their surprise success last year. The Saints are unlikely to gain a higher seed than #4 in the playoffs, but are still as likely as any other team to win the NFC.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7)
Rating: -3.6 (32nd) / Projected Wins: 3.5 / Win Division: 0.1% / Make Playoffs: 0.1%
The Buccaneers find themselves in the same un-enviable position as the Jets, with a set of quarterbacks that includes a very bad young one, and a very old one who is probably only marginally better and has no promise for the future. Tampa Bay is currently our lowest rated team overall, with poor performance in just about every area of the game. The Bucs are in the odd position where their veteran QB has less playing experience in recent years than their young QB, so he actually probably has the higher upside at this point. There remains a chance McCown could regain some semblance of his 2013 form and turn the Bucs into a respectable team going forward.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (7-1)
Rating: 1.5 (14th) / Projected Wins: 11.2 / Win Division: 74.9% / Make Playoffs: 90.7%
The Cardinals have had an incredible run to this point, but it is quite likely that come January, everyone will fittingly forget to remember that they called Arizona one of the best teams in the league back in the middle of the season. The Cardinals are solid favorites in the NFC West in our projections, but they are based solely on 2014 performances, and past years give reason to believe the Seahawks and 49ers have both underperformed so far this year. Realistically, the Seahawks are probably as likely as the Cardinals to win the division. The two teams still have both of their head to head games left to play, and Seattle winning both would in itself boost the Seahawks above the Cardinals. The stats show that the Cardinals aren't really any better than they were last season, so even if they do win the NFC West, they aren't likely to advance very far in the playoffs.

San Francisco 49ers (4-4)
Rating: 1.3 (16th) / Projected Wins: 8.0 / Win Division: 6.9% / Make Playoffs: 27.3%
The 49ers defense is still playing well, but not quite at the level of past seasons. The offense has also been marginally worse, mostly due to a less effective run game. Getting Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman back could help the defense regain its dominance, but it is probably too little too late for a team with a tough remaining schedule in a conference that will probably require 10 or even 11 wins to make the playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks (5-3)
Rating: 1.1 (17th) / Projected Wins: 8.9 / Win Division: 16.3% / Make Playoffs: 41.8%
The Seahawks have been one of the few exceptions in recent years to the general rule that defense is not a reliable way to win in the NFL long term, and they appear to have finally fallen victim to some extent to that rule. Seattle is still 6th in our defensive ratings, but that is a far cry from their runaway 1st in 2013. Further, the offense hasn't been quite as potent as last season. They are actually running the ball better, but aren't moving the ball through the air nearly as effectively. Factoring in past seasons, the Seahawks playoff odds are realistically a bit higher than those listed. But they are in legitimate danger of missing the playoffs, and wouldn't necessarily be a force to be reckoned with should they make it.

St. Louis Rams (3-5)
Rating: -1.4 (26th) / Projected Wins: 6.2 / Win Division: 1.9% / Make Playoffs: 5.2%
The Rams have our worst rated defense in the NFL. Austin Davis and the pass offense have been bad but not terrible, meaning the Rams could have a tough decision to make at QB in the offseason. Davis has played just barely well enough to justify belief that he could develop into a solid starter in the future.

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