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2014 Season 3rd Quarter Analysis

With December arriving, so has the 4th quarter of the 2014 NFL season. So far, the season has provided great excitement, and continues to be somewhat unpredictable as no teams have really dominated either in terms of the standings or team quality. While many division races now have clear favorites, most are still open to some level of reasonable competition.

While overall the playoff picture is still very murky, there is a sense that the true Super Bowl contenders are starting to emerge. The Packers, Broncos, and Patriots figure to be the safest bets, but our ratings also place the Colts in that same category. And though they haven't looked quite the same this season, the defending champion Seahawks still lurk as a possible powerhouse that is just now coming back into form.

Below we analyze each team's performance through 13 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 (7-5)
Rating: -0.1 (20th) / Projected Wins: 8.5 / Win Division: 3.0% / Make Playoffs: 10.9%
The Bills currently sit in the middle of the playoff hunt in the standings and have our top overall rated defense in the NFL, but they face very long odds of actually making the playoffs. Their offense remains below average, and they face 3 of the best teams in the league in the Broncos, Packers, and Patriots in their final 4 games.

Miami Dolphins (7-5)
Rating: 2.6 (10th) / Projected Wins: 9.4 / Win Division: 15.4% / Make Playoffs: 43.3%
Ryan Tannehill has shown some improvement in his 3rd season, but the Dolphins mediocre pass offense remains the only blemish on an otherwise well-rounded good team. Miami has just under even odds to make the playoffs, which appears as though it will take 10 wins. With 2 winnable home games against the Vikings and Jets to close out the season, the Dolphins would remain in a good position by just winning either of their next 2 games vs the Ravens and at the Patriots.

New England Patriots (9-3)
Rating: 4.1 (5th) / Projected Wins: 11.6 / Win Division: 81.6% / Make Playoffs: 92.9%
The Patriots have played very well of late and own the all-important head to head tiebreaker over the Broncos, but our ratings suggest Denver is still just about equally likely to finish with the #1 seed in the AFC. New England has the best net points in the league, but hasn't had their success in quite as reliable of ways as some other top teams. In contrast to their dominant 2011 and 2012 seasons, they haven't quite been in the top tier of pass offenses and have had to rely on success in several other less consistent areas.

New York Jets (2-10)
Rating: -3.8 (30th) / Projected Wins: 3.2 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
The Jets offense actually hasn't been any worse than in the past few seasons thanks to a solid run game, but this season the defense has been just as bad as the offense. The Jets still have some Pro Bowl caliber players on their roster, so a big overhaul of the rest of the roster could probably turn things around quicker for them than a team like the Jaguars or Raiders. Obviously, the most important piece would be finding a competant quarterback.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
Rating: 3.8 (7th) / Projected Wins: 9.6 / Win Division: 18.6% / Make Playoffs: 41.4%
The Ravens offense has been much better than in recent years, but the defense has been much worse. Their remaining schedule is somewhat favorable, but with a 3-5 conference record and last week's loss to the Chargers, Baltimore is running out of ways to win potential tiebreakers in the AFC wild card race. A lot will hinge on the outcome of their toughest remaining matchup which is this week at Miami. Unlike most others in the AFC wild card race, The Ravens and Steelers are still just as likely to win their division as they are to make the playoffs as a wild card.

Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1)
Rating: 0.5 (18th) / Projected Wins: 10.1 / Win Division: 46.3% / Make Playoffs: 60.9%
Although they won the AFC North last year and have a 1.5 game advantage in the division this year, the Bengals are likely only the 3rd best team in the AFC North right now. They also face a tough schedule to close out the season. For those reasons, and the fact that they could still face competition for the division from any of the other 3 teams, Cincinnati still has only about even odds to win the division. The Bengals simply aren't passing the ball or playing defense at nearly the same level as last season. They aren't a serious threat to advance far in the playoffs. Not because they aren't a "clutch" team in the playoffs, but because they just aren't that good.

Cleveland Browns (7-5)
Rating: -0.3 (23rd) / Projected Wins: 8.6 / Win Division: 6.0% / Make Playoffs: 10.0%
The Browns are a pretty average team all around that has been a little lucky to get to 7-5. Because the AFC wild card race is crowded and much of the competition is better quality teams, Cleveland is unlikely to ultimately claim a playoff spot. The Browns would probably be wise to make the switch to Johnny Manziel sooner rather than later, because if nothing else he provides a wider range of possibilities. When being average is unlikely to be good enough to make the playoffs, an option with a greater upside and downside is superior to more of the same.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
Rating: 4.1 (6th) / Projected Wins: 9.4 / Win Division: 29.1% / Make Playoffs: 46.7%
The Steelers and Ravens have each vastly changed from the teams they were in past years, yet the changes have been so similar that they continue to be mirror images of one another. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh has had by far its worst defensive season in years, but has also offset that by transforming from a solid passing team to a very good one. The Steelers face a somewhat tough remaining schedule, but with 2 games against the Bengals remaining, they still hold a decent chance of winning the AFC North. Should they be relegated to fighting for a wild card with tiebreakers, Pittsburgh has a good conference record, but it may not help much if they don't improve their tiebreaker status within the division. Only the top wild card contender in each division is considered in each round of the tiebreaking process.

AFC South

Houston Texans (6-6)
Rating: 0.4 (19th) / Projected Wins: 8.0 / Win Division: 3.1% / Make Playoffs: 10.2%
The Texans are pretty mediocre in all ways, and find themselves behind a surprisingly large crowd of wild card contenders in the AFC. They still have the luxury of playing the Jaguars twice in their final 4 games, but their other 2 games at the Colts and vs the Ravens will be a tough test. Houston still has a chance to make the playoffs, but would likely need to win at least 3 of their final 4 games.

Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
Rating: 6.2 (1st) / Projected Wins: 10.7 / Win Division: 96.9% / Make Playoffs: 97.1%
The Colts currently occupy just the #4 seed in the AFC playoff picture, but remain in the very top tier of our team ratings because their pass offense has been as good as any team in the league. Their weak link has been on defense, but that is likely to regress back towards the mean a bit. Because the Colts dominate on pass offense, and it is the most predictive area of success, the Colts have a much more legitimate chance of advancing deep into the playoffs than most people realize.

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Rating: -4.1 (31st) / Projected Wins: 3.4 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
The Jaguars remain pretty terrible across the board, and will have a lot of holes in the roster to fix yet again this offseason. Perhaps most disappointing, Blake Bortles has done little to provide any sort of hope going forward. While there are exceptions, in today's NFL eventual franchise quarterbacks usually produce with at least mediocre success even in their 1st season.

Tennessee Titans (2-10)
Rating: -2.7 (28th) / Projected Wins: 3.8 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
Though Zach Mettenberger has been mostly ineffective overall due to a tendency to turn the ball over too often, he has shown some promising signs of being able to drive the team down the field. If he doesn't decline in the final quarter of the season as defensive coordinators have a better book on him, Mettenberger may have played well enough to earn another look next season. With one of the worst defenses in the league, the Titans have enough other holes to fill in the offseason as it is.

AFC West

Denver Broncos (9-3)
Rating: 5.9 (2nd) / Projected Wins: 11.9 / Win Division: 93.4% / Make Playoffs: 98.9%
The 2014 Broncos are more similar to their 2012 squad than the 2013 one that tore up the league until the Super Bowl. But they remain one of the very best teams in the league, with a very good pass offense and solid play in other areas. Despite their head to head loss, they remain slightly higher rated than the Patriots overall, and still have just about as good a chance of finishing as the top seed in the AFC. Denver is in the small group of Super Bowl favorites that all maintain similar odds of winning the championship.

Kansas City Chiefs (7-5)
Rating: 2.1 (12th) / Projected Wins: 9.2 / Win Division: 0.7% / Make Playoffs: 39.0%
The Chiefs offense has been slightly better than last season, but the defense has been a bit worse. They seem to be equally capable of beating or losing to just about any team in the NFL on a given day. That may be a good quality to have in the playoffs, but so far it has also impeded their ability to make the playoffs. Coming off 2 straight losses while others in the AFC wild card race have carried on, the Chiefs are now slightly more likely to miss the playoffs than make them.

Oakland Raiders (1-11)
Rating: -5.2 (32nd) / Projected Wins: 2.0 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
With the worst record in the league, our worst team rating, and a tough remaining schedule, the Raiders can safely be considered strong favorites for the #1 overall draft pick in 2015. Despite almost universal praise in the media, Derek Carr has done little to separate himself statistically from just about any of the worst young QB busts in recent years. Carr doesn't have a great supporting cast and could improve with more experience, but it wouldn't be unreasonable for Oakland to try again at the quarterback position in the draft if they especially like one of their options in today's QB driven league.

San Diego Chargers (8-4)
Rating: 1.9 (13th) / Projected Wins: 9.8 / Win Division: 5.9% / Make Playoffs: 48.7%
The Chargers are in pole position in the AFC wild card race, but face an absolutely brutal schedule from here on out. San Diego is unlikely to be favored in any of their final 4 games, but going just 2-2 the rest of the way would likely be enough to make the playoffs. The Chargers have a bit worse rush offense than last year but are slightly better on defense. Overall, they are at about even odds to make the playoffs.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys (8-4)
Rating: 2.4 (11th) / Projected Wins: 9.9 / Win Division: 15.4% / Make Playoffs: 49.5%
The Cowboys most likely lost their chance of winning the NFC East when they lost at home to the Eagles on Thanksgiving. They are right on the borderline between making the playoffs and missing them both in terms of their current record and the quality of their team. They have 3 of their final 4 games on the road. That may sound like a good thing since they are 5-0 on the road, but that record is certainly a statistical anomaly rather than a real trend. Dallas is about a coin flip to make the playoffs. The Cowboys should finish with about 10 wins, but unlike the AFC it may possibly take 11 wins to make the playoffs as an NFC wild card.

New York Giants (3-9)
Rating: -0.3 (22nd) / Projected Wins: 5.0 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
Eli Manning and the pass offense have rebounded from their disastrous 2013 season back to their efficiency levels of past seasons, but they have been poor in just about every other area. The Giants simply have too many below average players seeing significant playing time, and there may not be a quick 1 year fix to get back to being competitive next year.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-3)
Rating: 3.2 (8th) / Projected Wins: 11.3 / Win Division: 84.6% / Make Playoffs: 90.5%
The Eagles have more or less carried on at the same level of efficiency with Mark Sanchez at QB. But until Sanchez or Foles end up playing for a different team, it may be tough to really analyze whether Sanchez has improved or the Eagles offense simply makes quarterbacks seem better than they are. The Eagles are now a safe bet to win the NFC East, and could realistically finish anywhere from the #1 to #3 seed in the NFC. Philadelphia is currently 5th most likely to win the Super Bowl in our simulations, but that could drop a bit once other division races become more clear. They aren't quite playing well enough to be considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders at this point.

Washington Redskins (3-9)
Rating: -0.4 (24th) / Projected Wins: 4.9 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
None of the Redskins quarterbacks have really played enough games to get a good sense of who deserves to be starting currently, but as a whole their QB group hasn't actually played very poorly. Their defense has been the biggest problem, and ranks 2nd to last in our ratings. Washington has suffered numerous significant injuries on defense, so there is reason to believe that the unit could possibly turn things around quickly next year.

NFC North

Chicago Bears (5-7)
Rating: -0.2 (21st) / Projected Wins: 6.9 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.2%
Jay Cutler and the pass offense haven't been as effective as last season, so it hasn't been nearly enough to offset a still terrible defense. The defense has suffered a number of injuries, so it may not need a complete overhaul next season. It is difficult to tell if the league has caught up to Marc Trestman's offense after a successful first season, or if Jay Cutler simply isn't good enough to produce above average efficiency on a consistent basis.

Detroit Lions (8-4)
Rating: 1.1 (16th) / Projected Wins: 10.1 / Win Division: 20.3% / Make Playoffs: 74.3%
Matt Stafford has cut down on costly interceptions this year, but it has been offset by a decrease in the Lions ability to move the ball down the field through the air. The Lions have our 2nd highest rated defense, but they will need to regain their offensive dominance to really be a dangerous team in the playoffs. Detroit has 3 weak opponents in their next 3 weeks, meaning they could clinch a playoff spot by taking care of business in those games prior to their tough Week 17 matchup at Green Bay. The Lions still have a slim chance of winning the NFC North, which is almost entirely contingent upon beating the Packers for a 2nd time this season.

Green Bay Packers (9-3)
Rating: 5.8 (3rd) / Projected Wins: 11.8 / Win Division: 79.7% / Make Playoffs: 96.5%
The Packers defense has returned to mediocrity, which is enough when combined with their excellent passing game to place Green Bay in the mix of the very best teams in the league. They have about a 50% chance of nailing down the #1 seed in the NFC, and as good a chance as any team in the NFL of winning the Super Bowl. Should the Packers lose one of their next 3 games, or the Lions not lose any of theirs, the NFC North would likely be decided by a Week 17 home game against Detroit.

Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
Rating: -1.5 (26th) / Projected Wins: 6.8 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.4%
Teddy Bridgewater has been the most effective of the rookie quarterbacks that have seen significant action, but that isn't saying much this season. The Vikings defense has become an above average unit after a few years of poor play, perhaps thanks to the arrival of Mike Zimmer. But it hasn't been enough to offset a mostly stagnant passing offense. If the Vikings could get decent play out of Bridgewater and the pass offense next year, and Adrian Peterson returns, Minnesota would be a solid team.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons (5-7)
Rating: 1.2 (14th) / Projected Wins: 6.7 / Win Division: 31.6% / Make Playoffs: 31.6%
The Falcons are a decent team with a good pass offense but one of the league's worst defenses. They are good enough to have 6 or 7 wins by now, but currently only project to have that many wins by the end of the season. Atlanta has a tougher schedule than New Orleans to close out the season, but beat the Saints in Week 1, so the NFC South will likely be decided by the outcome of their Week 16 matchup in New Orleans.

Carolina Panthers (3-8-1)
Rating: -1.8 (27th) / Projected Wins: 5.2 / Win Division: 2.6% / Make Playoffs: 2.6%
Cam Newton and the pass offense have moved the ball about as well as in past seasons, but have struggled more with sacks. And while the Panthers have maintained a certain level of passing efficiency, the rest of the league has passed them by a bit even in just a 4 year span. Meanwhile the Carolina rushing offense and overall defense have seen a huge dropoff since last season. The Panthers slim playoff hopes that do still exist mostly revolve around them winning out. They have the benefit of games against the Saints and Falcons to play still to make up ground in the division, but both are on the road. Should they somehow manage to win both those games, their other 2 are winnable home games against weaker opponents.

New Orleans Saints (5-7)
Rating: 4.5 (4th) / Projected Wins: 7.8 / Win Division: 65.8% / Make Playoffs: 65.8%
Although the Saints continue to be dragged down by their league-worst defense, our ratings rely on the fact that no defense can ever really be quite as bad in the long run as the Saints numbers have been so far. Their defensive performance to this point likely has as much to do with opposing offenses simply having good days against them as it has to do with the Saints defense being terrible. And even as terrible as their defensive numbers are, New Orleans still has positive net points on the season despite their losing record. The Saints have one of the very best offenses in the NFL, which would make them dangerous in the NFC playoffs despite their terrible record. New Orleans has an easier schedule than Atlanta to finish the season, and home field in their upcoming matchup. That makes them solid favorites in the NFC South despite their previous loss to the Falcons, but winning the division isn't a certainty either. Like the rest of the NFC South, there are no real scenarios where the Saints could possibly make the playoffs as just a wild card.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10)
Rating: -3.3 (29th) / Projected Wins: 3.2 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.0%
Though they are just 3 games out of the division lead, the Bucs are indeed officially eliminated from playoff contention so long as the Falcons and Saints don't tie their upcoming game, because Tampa Bay would lose any tiebreaker with the winner of that game. While Josh McCown has shown occasional flashes of success that resemble his 2013 production, he doesn't appear to be the answer at QB going forward. Meanwhile, other pricey free agents that the Bucs acquired this offseason aren't paying off either.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals (9-3)
Rating: 0.6 (17th) / Projected Wins: 10.9 / Win Division: 52.0% / Make Playoffs: 89.0%
The Cardinals are really just a pretty average team that has been lucky so far to have the record they do, and the loss of Carson Palmer only makes things worse. They have one of the best defenses in the NFL, but their offense is slightly below average. The NFC West is fairly likely to be decided by the Week 16 home game for the Cardinals against the Seahawks, so it could easily go either way. Even if the Cardinals do claim a good playoff seed, they are unlikely to advance very far in the playoffs. There is still also a possibility that Arizona could miss out on the playoffs altogether if they managed to lose 3 of their final 4 games against a tough remaining schedule.

San Francisco 49ers (7-5)
Rating: 1.1 (15th) / Projected Wins: 9.2 / Win Division: 5.6% / Make Playoffs: 30.5%
The 49ers have been a little worse on offense and defense compared to their 2013 season. Their pass offense hasn't actually really been any worse, but their rush offense has. They have also struggled in some more luck-based categories like fumbles and punting that they had success at in recent years. San Francisco is still in the playoff mix but the odds are currently a little against them making the playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
Rating: 2.8 (9th) / Projected Wins: 10.3 / Win Division: 42.4% / Make Playoffs: 68.6%
The Seahawks are one of the tougher teams to figure out, because you always wonder if their defense could suddenly regain their 2013 form. While Seattle is still our 4th ranked defense, they are far from their effectiveness from last season. Overall, the offense has been similarly effective to last year, but while having more success rushing than passing. The Seahawks have a good chance of making the playoffs, but will likely have to win in Arizona to win the NFC West. It is still too early to rule the Seahawks out of Super Bowl contention, but based on this season alone they don't appear to have as good a chance as the Packers or some AFC teams.

St. Louis Rams (5-7)
Rating: -0.8 (25th) / Projected Wins: 6.8 / Win Division: 0.0% / Make Playoffs: 0.5%
The Rams defense has returned to mediocrity after struggling early in the season, but the pass offense remains rather poor. They have some quality players on the roster, but will continue to struggle next year in a tough division unless they can get better play from the quarterback position.

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