Midseason update and review on the NFL
AFC North: Despite a lot of drama surrounding two of the team’s biggest offensive stars, the Steelers are on top of the American Football Conference North Division and their offense has been nothing but potent. Despite Le'veon Bell holding out, rookie running back James Conner has been electric, and the offense hasn’t skipped a beat. Big Ben is playing with veteran prowess, and it's hard to look bad when you’re throwing to Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster most of the time. The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals have shown promise, but both teams are riddled with inconsistency. While the Bengals currently hold the better record, the Ravens have a higher ceiling and would be a more dangerous team in the playoffs.
AFC East: The New England Patriots are the division leaders. With a high-powered offense and a defense that always does enough, they face no real challenger within their division. The Miami Dolphins sit at .500 and with a late season surge they could capture a wildcard, but that would be surprising. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are in the rebuilding stages, each grooming their rookie quarterbacks into franchise stars for years to come.
AFC South: The AFC South is home to the hottest team in the NFL right now. The Houston Texans started off with a 0–3 record, and many doubted the ability of Deshaun Watson to bounce back from his rookie year injury, but as of this issue’s publishing, the team has won six games in a row and leads the division. The Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts are middle-of-the-road teams that will eventually compete for the second wild card slot.
AFC West: The AFC West contains the top two teams in the AFC. Led by their phenomenal sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs have been consistently heralded as one of the top teams in the NFL and a shoe-in for a first-round playoff bye. Their offense has been potent and their defense has been stifling. With only one loss, they stand unrivaled as the top seed in the AFC. However, at 7–2, the Los Angeles Chargers are not far behind. This race will likely decide the first and fifth seeds come playoff time, so the AFC West is a division to watch closely.
NFC North: This is one of the most talented divisions in the NFL. Strengthened by the early season acquisition of Khalil Mack, the Chicago Bears currently have the division lead. However, that could be very temporary, as the Vikings and Green Bay Packers have the offensive potential to top them. This division will come down to the wire and be great television in the process.
NFC East: On the other hand, the NFC East looks a lot more impressive on paper than in actuality. With a 6–3 record, the Washington Redskins currently lead the division, but only because of a power vacuum created by the poor play of the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. If the defending Super Bowl champions start playing like it, Philadelphia could make some noise in the NFC, but for now it seems that the Redskins lack a challenger.
NFC South: Close your eyes and picture this: Despite a mediocre defense and a receiving core lacking a true star, Drew Brees is playing MVP-caliber football and has New Orleans on the edge of their seats. Now open your eyes. You haven’t just been sent back to 2009; this is happening right in front of us. The dynamic duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara is still among the NFL’s best and could propel the Saints to win a Super Bowl in their rivals’ building. The Carolina Panthers will likely make it to the playoffs as a wildcard.
NFC West: The Saints’ only real challenge lies in the West, and their offense has proven its ability to keep up. The Los Angeles Rams may have lost by 10 in a shootout, but if these two teams met in January, it would be the stuff of legends. Goff and Gurley have proven themselves a 1–2 punch that could keep the Rams contenders for the next five years or more, and based on the divisions’ performance this year, L.A. fans can sleep easy at night knowing their playoff bye is theirs to lose.