Plenty of surprises have emerged in an NFL which features greater parity than ever.
Nonetheless, superpowers still exist. At the halfway point of the regular season, juggernauts like the Patriots, Rams, Chiefs and Saints stand out as favorites to compete in the 2019 Super Bowl. The unbeaten Rams are the current kings of odds on NFL games with a +300 line to win it all, according to CanadaSportsBetting.ca.
More than 70% of franchises remain in the hunt for the playoffs at the half-way mark. Over the upcoming weeks, the playoff picture will continue to clarify as Fall gives way to Winter. This half-season review reveals playoff favorites and longshots over the second half of the campaign.
NFL Playoff Locks
There’s a miniscule chance that these clubs fall out of the playoffs. Only injuries or an unforeseen disaster will prevent the Patriots, Rams, Saints and Chiefs from a post season berth.
New England Patriots (6-2)
New England followed a familiar pattern over the first half of the season, stumbling out the gate before winning five in a row for a stranglehold on the AFC East. All signs point to a strong second half push to secure a first-round bye.
Los Angeles Rams (8-0)
Los Angeles remains the best team in the NFL and the only undefeated club at the halfway mark. Despite an elite group of pass rushers, the Rams defense could use improvement. Good thing the offense provides the luxury to figure things out on the other side of the football.
New Orleans Saints (6-1)
If FItzmagic didn’t hand the Saints an exciting 48-40 week one loss, New Orleans would be riding atop the NFC as an unbeaten squad. The Saints also enjoyed a bit of good luck, winning a week seven match against the Ravens due to a missed PAT. Drew Brees keeps rolling and the Kamara-Ingram combo has shifted into high gear, but coach Sean Payton needs to get improvements from the defense, which ranks 23rd in the NFL.
Kansas City Chiefs (7-1)
The most exciting team in the league continues to pile points on all opposition with 36.3 PPG, including a 40-point shootut during their last-second loss to the Patriots. Patrick Mahomes remains on track for an historically great season and an MVP award, partly made possible by the speed of Hunt and Hill. Similar to the Saints, the Chiefs need to start playing defense.
AFC Playoff Race
Division Title Contenders
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1)
No Le’Veon Bell? No problem. AFC offensive player of the month James Conner now holds down the starting job as RB. Ben Roethlisberger quietly enjoys his best season in years, averaging 327.1 yards per game with a 94.5 passer rating. After a tough start to the 2018 campaign, the Steelers have the inside track on the AFC North crown.
Houston Texans (5-3)
Houston pulled off five wins in a row after starting the season with three consecutive losses – one of the more unlikely swings in recent memory. The AFC South is a disaster, which also bodes well for the division-leading Texans.
Cincinnati Bengals (5-3)
An excellent start to the season places the Bengals neck-and-neck for the AFC North alongside the Steelers. A home loss to the Steelers places them behind the 8-ball, more likely to earn a wild card spot.
Wild Card Contenders
Los Angeles Chargers (5-2)
One of the trendy sleeper picks to ascend to the Super Bowl out of the AFC, the Chargers 5-2 record makes them a wild card favorite. L.A. is unlikely to catch the Chiefs, barring a horrendous second half from Kansas City.
Baltimore Ravens (4-4)
Losers in three of their last four matches, the Ravens find themselves fading out of contention for a division title. If they don’t right the ship soon, Baltimore will miss the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins (4-4)
Technically, Miami has a decent shot at keeping pace for an AFC wild card spot. Games against the Packers, Patriots and Vikings will likely cause the Dolphins to sink.
Tennessee Titans (3-4)
The Titans offense can’t score enough points to take advantage of a top-three defense in terms of points allowed. A three-game losing streak threatens to extend into a longer slump.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5)
Injuries have ripped through Jacksonville’s lineup, devastating offensive production over a four-game losing streak. The Jaguars need to emerge healthy from their bye week to climb back into the post season.
Indianapolis Colts (3-5)
Andrew Luck and the Colts are playing relatively well, winning two in a row against the worst teams in the NFL. Jury’s out whether they’ll be able to leverage an easy schedule into a wild card spot.
NFC Playoff Race
Division Title Contenders
Washington Redskins (5-2)
Washington enters the half-season on a three-game streak, riding their defense to top spot in the NFC East. If their pop-gun offense improves, Washington might be able to hold off the Eagles for the division title.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)
Philly’s all-in on another Super Bowl run, gaining momentum and Golden Tate – the perfect wide receiver to boost Wentz’s return from injury. Expect a strong second-half push from the defending champs.
Chicago Bears (4-3)
Chicago’s defense will remain elite as long as Mack doesn’t remain injured, which should be enough to earn a wild card spot. If Mitch Trubisky improves his consistency on the road, the Bears will be tough to displace from the top of the NFC North.
Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1)
Minnesota’s dramatic up-and-down season features long stretches of outstanding football interspersed with baffling gaffes and inexplicable cold streaks. This team remains dangerous, capable of beating the best in the NFC and supplanting Chicago as division leaders.
Green Bay Packers (3-3-1)
Green Bay might still win the division because they have Aaron Rodgers on their roster. Anything less than another Pro Bowl season from Rodgers will remove the Packers from the playoffs.
Carolina Panthers (5-2)
Carolina’s proven themselves as one of the toughest teams in the NFL, one game behind the division-leading Saints and in control of a wild card spot. A slip up from New Orleans could help the Panthers claim the NFC South.
Wild Card Contenders
Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
Seattle emerges with a surprising 4-3 record, positioning themselves for a playoff run in the second half. They won’t catch the Rams to win the NFC West, but they’ll factor into the wild card hunt over the next several weeks.
Atlanta Falcons (3-4)
Atlanta needs to win their next three matches to regain a spot in the playoff hunt. A loss to Washington, Cleveland or Dallas will almost certainly doom the Falcons in 2018.
Detroit Lions (3-4)
Detroit defeated the Patriots, Packers and Dolphins, but lost to the Jets, 49ers, Cowboys and Seahawks. Good luck figuring out this franchise in the second half.
Dallas Cowboys (3-4)
Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott might have turned a corner over the past few weeks while the defense continues as a top-five unit in the NFL. Dallas might be the best comeback club in the second half of the schedule.
Abandon All Hope
A total of nine NFL teams find themselves too far behind for a realistic shot at the post season.
Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, New York Giants,
New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Read More on XN: Week 9 NFL Picks Against The Point Spread
Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr, C.C 2.0