Where to begin? The 2012 NFL season is just about half over and it is obvious, par the norm, no one could have expected any of this to happen. “This” is a nice loose term to encapsulate everything, as there are eight divisions and each seems to have a compelling storyline worthy of an NFL Films feature. Below is the breakdown for each division.
Yes, the New York Giants have been able to defend its Super Bowl win. NFL pundits always seem unable or unwilling to veer from picking the Dallas Cowboys as the division champ during the preseason, but the Giants rank among the best teams in point differential while the Cowboys are struggling to stay at .500 while giving up more points than they score. Elsewhere in the division, the duo of first round pick Robert Griffin III (who will win the NFL Rookie of the Year Award) and sixth round pick Alfred Morris are powering the best running game in the NFL. Oh, and Michael Vick is not done. His receivers may not be able to catch the football, but he still remains a mercurial enough talent to keep the Eagles in the hunt for the playoffs and Andy Reid employed.
Three of these teams are contenders to win the division and two are contenders to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVII. The two are the Bears and Packers. Chicago discovered this little secret called the passing game. They have been onto this secret for some time now, but severe deficiencies on the offensive line and in the wide receiver group have kept this franchise lost. Now Jay Cutler has reunited with Brandon Marshall and the Mike Tice has taken over as offensive coordinator and outlawed seven-step drops. The results have been amazing across the board, including for the defense, which now has time to rest and has begun to put up as many points as the lesser teams. The Packers are picking up steam at the right moment as Aaron Rodgers apparently back to his MVP form. The Vikings are a mirage and the Lions still unable to figure out how to win consistently.
Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but the Atlanta Falcons have turned a devastating vertical game into the last undefeated record in the NFL. Matt Ryan may even be challenging Drew Brees as the best quarterback in the division. Speaking of New Orleans, the Saints are rebounding from a dreadful start following the fallout from the head hunting scandal, but this team has enough offense to make up for a defense looking over its shoulders every time it hits someone a little hard. Sadly Buccaneers and Panthers remain bottom feeders and four easy division wins.
It is no shock to see the San Francisco 49ers on top of the division with a dominant defense, but it is a little unsettling to see the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks just one game back in the standings. All three teams are led by amazing defenses. Suddenly the NFC South has the best defensive division in the either conference. Even the St. Louis Rams are a bit stingy. If only one these clubs had a quarterback, then the West might have a serious contender.
The Patriots are leading the division, but the lead is just one game. Tom Brady and company have looked far more human this season as Bill Belichick has finally come back to the running game and injuries have worn away at the talent advantage. The rest of the division is pretty much fighting for the right to finish with 7 wins and miss the postseason. The Dolphins are all defense, but Reggie Bush has seen the light and morphed into an actual capable feature back, minus the touchdowns. The Jets are trying to avoid starting Tim Tebow, but Mark Sanchez is making it quite difficult thanks to his penchant for turnovers. The Bills are the wild card, one destined to ultimately fall short, but one with enough moxie from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to upset every team in the league.
The Baltimore Ravens strategy seems quite simple. Ray Rice take care of every offensive play within 20 yards of the line of scrimmage, letting everyone else go deep for Joe Flacco. Unfortunately, injuries to linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarious Webb have placed them on the IR have put the rest of the season in jeopardy and may require Flacco to complete many more deep passes. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a curious team. Ben Roethlisberger is trying to survive behind a suspect line, though he has a terrific choice of young receivers running and breaking routes. The aging defense is showing signs of the end of an era, but may have enough punch for one or two last seasons. The result is a good team but far from a great football team. Elsewhere the Cincinnati Bengals are quickly erasing those joyous memories of a great start and the Cleveland Browns are terrible.
The Houston Texans are amazing with a great defense, a superb running game led by Arian Foster, and Matt Scaub and Andre Johnson ready to back this all up with one of the most dangerous deep games in the NFL. Oh yeah, Andrew Luck is going through some predictable growing pains as a rookie starting for the Indianapolis Colts, but he is obviously a star in the making. Tennessee is hanging around, but they seem to live and die in accordance with running back Chris Johnson’s performance. He has looked human this season as age and a terrible offensive line have proved limiting to once unstoppable Titan at the running back position. The Jaguars are simply the worst team in professional football with few hopes to alter this reality for the rest of this season or for next year.
Once again, the AFC West is the worst in the NFL, but Peyton Manning is playing profoundly well. He is second in the NFL in QB Ratings. Still, somehow it is difficult to imagine him regretting the decision to ignore San Francisco. The Broncos are still going to win the division with the Raiders a team without a direction, the Chargers only relevant for fantasy points, and the Chiefs ready to rebuild once again. This is a division without much in terms of defense and even less in terms of offense.