As we approach the season’s midpoint—November will dawn tomorrow with 55 percent of the season’s 272 regular-season game remaining—here’s how I see the league, 1 teams through 32:
1. Buffalo (6-1). Played, arguably, the toughest slate so far and beat the Rams, Baltimore and Kansas City on the road. The Bills have five games remaining in a better-than-expected AFC East, but they’re the clear Super Bowl favorites as November dawns.
2. Philadelphia (7-0). There’s a pretty big line of demarcation between the Bills and everyone. I’ll take the Eagles as the biggest threat, with a defense that’s allowed 17 points or fewer in five of their last six, and a quarterback that’s pretty damn ready for the big stage.
3. Kansas City (5-2). After the Bills beat KC and frustrated Patrick Mahomes two weeks ago, I wrote: “Everything Mahomes did was a struggle. Nothing was easy.” Teams can change a lot from October to January. Andy Reid has time to turn that around and catch Buffalo, but it’ll be a chore.
Will contend to the end:
4. Dallas (6-2). This is the one team at or near the top that could win a playoff game in January 13-9 if it had to. And in a season when scoring is down, that matters. By the way, Tony Pollard is one great threat.
5. Minnesota (6-1). Five straight wins. Five straight one-score wins. Buffalo and Dallas loom back-to-back in November, but it’s hard to fathom the Vikings losing the NFC North and the second (or first, if the Eagles falter) NFC seed.
6. Tennessee (5-2). There’s a lot to like about this team. I just don’t know if the Titans can score with Kansas City, Cincinnati, Philly and Dallas, who are on the schedule in the next nine weeks.
7. San Francisco (4-4). Pressure’s on, Christian McCaffrey. Big edge for the Niners is they’ve got the bye now, then no team of the last nine foes is great. It’s a very manageable stretch run.
8. Seattle (5-3). Averaged 33 points a game in October, so scoring’s not going to be an issue. But Seahawks entered Sunday 29th in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. That’s an issue if they want to play deep into January.
9. Baltimore (5-3). The Mark Andrews shoulder injury is concerning, but Lamar Jackson loves rookie alternative Isaiah Likely. Here’s an edge: None of Ravens’ next eight foes are over .500.
10. Cincinnati (4-3). I’d have the Bengals higher, but they’ve got Tennessee, Kansas City, Buffalo and Baltimore in the last seven weeks, with the Bills and Ravens in weeks 17 and 18.
11. Miami (5-3). Dolphins are 5-0 when Tua Tagovailoa starts and plays at least three quarters of the game. There is, however, a killer three-game trip down the stretch: at Niners, at Chargers, at Bills. Worrisome. And there is a worrisome D that allowed 40 to the Jets and 27 (and 393 yards) to the Lions. Averaging just 1.9 sacks per game, I wonder how motivated they’ll be to go chase Bradley Chubb before the trade deadline.
If everything goes right, could make a run:
12. N.Y. Giants (6-2). Craziest team in this crazy season. Maybe we should just accept that smart coaches—Brian Daboll, of course, and underrated Mike Kafka and Wink Martindale—can put players in position to win late in games. They’ve done it for much of the season so far.
13. L.A. Rams (3-4). I can feel the draft choices burning a hole in GM Les Snead’s pocket. For once, the Rams are in decent shape with draft capital, with a second- and third- next year and the draft intact in 2024. They’re in play for a pass-rusher and a speed receiver.
14. L.A. Chargers (4-3). Coming out of the bye next Sunday, we still don’t know if the Chargers can be a January threat. This five-pack of games should tell us: at Atlanta, at San Francisco, Kansas City, at Arizona, at Vegas. Pack a suitcase.
15. New England (4-4). The quarterbacking is surprisingly bad, and Pats won Sunday, in part, because of Zach Wilson’s awfulness. Plus, two of the last six games are against Buffalo. But you never know with this franchise.
16. N.Y. Jets (5-3). On Sunday a debilitating loss because of the foibles of the supposed franchise quarterback. I don’t see how the Jets compete at a high level with a quarterback playing like Zach Wilson.
17. Atlanta (4-4). I don’t love the Falcons, but I’d be encouraged by a few things: Falcons have a full complement of picks next year and are $64 million under the projected ’23 cap. And they are a feisty, competitive team with wins over the Seahawks and Niners. They might have a home playoff game in January.
18. New Orleans (3-5). My quixotic preseason prediction—Saints will be the NFC’s top seed—lies in ruins. But then they go out and bury the Raiders by 24, and Alvin Kamara comes alive, and you wonder: Can’t they win a bad division?
Just seem too flawed:
19. Green Bay (3-5). I don’t see it turning around, but I might change my mind if GM Brian Gutekunst gets a trusted receiver (Chase Claypool? Nelson Agholor?) before Tuesday’s deadline, and if Romeo Doubs becomes what he presaged in training camp.
20. Tampa Bay (3-5). I don’t see it turning around.
21. Washington (4-4). There’s something about Taylor Heinicke. Teammates love him. Next two weeks—Minnesota, at Philly—will tell everything about whether this team can chase a Wild Card, which seems highly unlikely.
22. Arizona (3-5). One road game in the next 47 days, which would seem to be an edge—until you consider the Cards are 1-4 at home in the last calendar year.
23. Indianapolis (3-4-1). I have no idea how the Colts are alive, but now their fate’s in the hands of the 218th pick in the 2021 draft, Sam Ehlinger.
24. Las Vegas (2-5). I’m stunned to have the Raiders this high, frankly. But I just can’t believe how bad they’re playing, and I think they’ve got to be better with a Jacksonville-Indianapolis-Denver stretch starting Sunday in Florida.
25. Denver (3-5). One half cannot fix a season. But the second half in London was something close to the way Nathaniel Hackett thought his offense and defense would play. Let’s see if they come back after the bye, in Nashville, and show they’re not playing out the string.
26. Pittsburgh (2-6). Last four losses have come to teams that are a combined 16 over .500. Don’t love the Steelers, but like them more than most of the teams in this nether region.
27. Chicago (3-5). The Monday night stunner in Foxboro was certainly a hopeful sign, and an indication that there should be 10 designed runs in every week’s gameplan for Justin Fields.
28. Carolina (2-6). Two players should not be traded: D.J. Moore, Brian Burns. Otherwise, augmenting a 2023 draft that’s already strong (six picks in the first four rounds) should be a high priority. Interesting how hard they’re playing for Steve Wilks, though.
Lost sheep in the pasture of life:
29. Jacksonville (2-6). Second half of this season has to be about consistency for the franchise quarterback. That has been lacking, notably, for Trevor Lawrence, capped by a ridiculous interception on first-and-goal from the Denver one-yard line Sunday in London.
30. Cleveland (2-5). “Hold the fort till Deshaun gets back” was the mantra in August. “Never planned on giving up 27 points a game” has been the reality.
31. Detroit (1-6). The highest-scoring team in football through four weeks then scored six points total in its next two games. Lions gonna lion.
32. Houston (1-5-1). Lost to Malik Willis Sunday. But look on the bright side: Astros are in the World Series. Maybe no one will notice.
My midseason awards:
MVP: 1 Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo. 2 Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia. 3 Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City. 4 Geno Smith, QB, Seattle. 5 Saquon Barkley, RB, N.Y. Giants.
Allen, best player on the best team having his best season, beat the former MVP and Super Bowl winner (Mahomes) on his turf in week six (“Josh Allen feels impossible to play against,” the former Kansas City tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, tweeted Sunday night. Schwartz is right.). Hurts is terrific week in and week out and edges Mahomes for the second spot. Smith is heroic, and if the Seahawks win the NFC West with a strong record, he should be in the discussion, for sure.
Coach: 1 Brian Daboll, N.Y. Giants. 2 Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia. 3 Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota. 4 Mike Vrabel, Tennessee. 5 Robert Saleh, N.Y. Jets.
Last time the Giants were better than competent was 10 years and eight months ago, when they waltzed into Indianapolis and beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Daboll might be the modern-day Parcells. He and his coaches have schemed a team with C talent to play at a B-plus level for two months, even including the 14-point loss at Seattle Sunday.
Offensive Player: Same as MVP.
I hate this category. For those who say, “Give it to the best non-quarterback,” I say: It’s not called Offensive Player of the Year Who Is Not a Quarterback. And Saquon Barkley is not having a better year than Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes. So there we are.
Offensive Rookie: 1 Kenneth Walker, RB, Seattle. 2 Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston. 3 Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans. 4 Drake London, WR, Atlanta. 5 Garrett Wilson, WR, N.Y. Jets.
Walker’s been sensational recently, exploding for runs of 69, 34 and 74 in consecutive October games. Looks like one of the two strong rookie backs unless Chris Olave goes big in the second half.
Defensive Player: 1 Micah Parsons, edge, Dallas. 2 Aaron Donald, DT, L.A. Rams. 3 Matt Milano, LB, Buffalo. 4 Dexter Lawrence, DT, N.Y. Giants. 5 Von Miller, edge, Buffalo.
So many candidates, and I left off some great ones—Quinnen Williams, Maxx Crosby, Patrick Surtain II, Chris Jones. Parsons strikes me as the most impactful defender of the first half, the player who does the most to keep offensive coordinators up at night, with eight sacks and at least four near-misses for more.
Defensive Rookie: 1 Sauce Gardner, CB, N.Y. Jets. 2 Jaquan Brisker, S, Chicago. 3 Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Detroit. 4 Jack Jones, CB, New England. 5 Kyler Gordon, CB, Chicago.
Gardner’s been as good as anyone could have foreseen, allowing 43 percent completions and a 51.1 passer rating in coverage through the first seven weeks, per PFF. What’s cool about him is nothing—not facing Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, not seeing Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill against Miami—is too big.
Executive: 1 Howie Roseman, GM, Philadelphia. 2 John Schneider, GM, Seattle. 3 Joe Schoen, GM, N.Y. Giants. 4 Joe Douglas, GM, N.Y. Jets. 5 Brandon Beane, GM, Buffalo.
Roseman’s trade for A.J. Brown and draft of Jordan Davis on the same day last April made this a good year to begin with, and that’s before considering the addition of four defensive starters—linebackers Kyzir White and Haason Redick and corner James Bradberry in free-agency, and corner-turned-safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson in trade.
Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column