The NFL officially started the second half of the season on November 7, leaving behind preseason expectations and early season predictions to look ahead to the exciting playoff race. The NFL world is looking forward to how each division will play out and who will form the playoffs.
Starting in the AFC East, the New England Patriots are once again leading the division with a record of 7-2. The Buffalo Bills were right up there with the Patriots before losing two straight, the latest being a blowout loss to the New Orleans Saints, dropping them to 5-4. The Miami Dolphins begin the second half of the season at 4-4, with an opportunity for a wild card spot still at large. Rounding up the division are the New York Jets, once again in the cellar of the division, with a record of 4-6.
The AFC North, a previously very competitive division, has been anything but this year. The Pittsburgh Steelers are dominating the division, leading the pack with a record of 7-2. The Baltimore Ravens, coming in with high expectations, have sputtered on offense, limping into the second half at 4-5. The Cincinnati Bengals, a team with a surplus of talent, has surprisingly struggled, going 3-6 and with a lot of work to do if a playoff spot will be earned. Rounding out the division for what seems like the tenth year in the row is the Cleveland Browns, still looking for their first win at 0-9.
The AFC South has been the surprise division of the year. Tied for first in the division are the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans, both teams at 6-3, and both teams not known for having winning habits. The Houston Texans got off to a great start before losing rookie phenom Deshaun Watson for the season, losing three straight since the injury, and with an overall record of 3-6. The Indianapolis Colts record is deceiving, as the team has been without their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck. The Colts enter the second half at 3-7, and are already looking towards next season.
Rounding out the AFC is what some deem the most competitive division in the conference, the AFC West. The Kansas City Chiefs lead the division at 6-3, starting 5-0 before losing three straight, but ending the slide with a win in their last game. The other teams records are not quite representative of their talent. The Oakland Raiders, coming into the season with Super Bowl expectations, have stumbled at 4-5. This is deceiving too though, as the team played a few games without star quarterback Derek Carr. Finishing off the AFC West are the Los Angeles Chargers and the Denver Broncos, both at 3-6. The Chargers have once again struggled to close out games, while the Broncos are in a free fall, having lost their last five games.
We now move to the NFC, where out of the four division leaders, zero made the playoffs last year. There have been surprises and disappointments, including the 7-2 Los Angeles Rams, and the 5-4 Atlanta Falcons.
We start in the NFC East, a previously competitive division, which has been dominated by the 8-1 Philadelphia Eagles this season. The Eagles ride a seven game win streak and a scorching hot quarterback, Carson Wentz, into the second half of the season. Coming in at second are the Dallas Cowboys at 5-4. Dallas has had an up and down season but seem to be in trouble after the suspension of star running back Ezekiel Elliott was upheld. The team was simply outplayed in their first performance without Elliott, losing 27-7 to the Atlanta Falcons. At third is the 4-5 Washington Redskins, a team who can still fight for a wild card spot, having lost all their games by just two possessions or less. Coming in at fourth are the New York Giants, limping at 1-8, with their last loss coming to the previously winless San Francisco 49ers.
We move to the NFC North, where the Minnesota Vikings lead the division at 7-2. The Vikings have overcome injuries to their starting QB, Sam Bradford, and starting RB, Dalvin Cook, to win five in a row and take control of the division. Tied for second are the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, both at 5-4. The Lions are looking for a division title, while the Packers just lifted a three game losing streak this past week. The Packers lost potential Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the season, and are still looking to recover, while the Lions are looking for more consistency on the defensive side of the ball. Wrapping up the division are the Chicago Bears at 3-6. The Bears, although bound for another losing season, are looking forward to the future after promising performances from rookie QB Mitch Trubisky.
The NFC South, the toughest division in football with three teams with winning records, is bound for another tight playoff race. Leading the division are the 7-2 New Orleans Saints. The Saints are the hottest team in football, not only winning seven straight, but demolishing the competition, the latest being a 47-10 beatdown of the Buffalo Bills. In a close second are the 6-3 Carolina Panthers. After missing the playoffs last season, the Panthers are riding on the shoulders of Cam Newton once again, and looking for a second Super Bowl appearance in three years. Not far behind in third are the 5-4 Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have been very inconsistent this season, sometimes looking like the Super Bowl team they were last year and other times looking like a losing team. The offense has struggled with the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and are looking to turn it around in the second half. Rounding out the division are the 3-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The problem with the Bucs is simple: quarterback Jameis Winston has struggled mightily, and the record has shown it.
The last division, the NFC West, has been the surprise team in football this season. Leading the division at 7-2 are the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams have previously been known for their losing ways, looking for their first winning season since 2003. The young backfield of Jared Goff and Todd Gurley have led the Rams to four straight wins and head a young team hopeful for a playoff appearance. In second are the 6-3 Seattle Seahawks, methodically winning close games once again and looking to spoil the Rams party. In third are the Arizona Cardinals at 4-5. The Cardinals are once again looking towards next season as starting quarterback Carson Palmer and starting running back David Johnson both sustained season-ending injuries. The final team is the 1-8 San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have struggled this year, but recently won their first game of the season. Quarterback CJ Beathard has been solid in a tough role, leading the Rams in the absence of Brian Hoyer. The 49ers hope the recent acquisition of Jimmy Garoppolo will help solve the QB situation.
The NFL has had a wild first half of the season, and many fans are excited about the new faces in the playoff picture. The second half is bound to be just as exciting, if not more. With playoff and MVP races, the fun is just getting started.