INSIDER'S SCOOP FROM BEN GRAHAM

THE 2018 NFL MID-season PReview!

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From the desk of Ben Graham

The first 9 weeks of the NFL Season is as exciting as I can remember. We have had 9 overtime games, plenty of upsets, records broken and amazing highlights. Every team faces certain challenges at this time of year including injuries, suspensions, coaches fired, players being traded and where the bye falls in the schedule. Realistically, there are still 23 teams vying for play-offs with 9 teams resigned to re-building for 2019. Based on my pre-season preview, the predictions are playing out the way I expected. The big surprises so far are Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins with the San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants and Oakland Raiders the big disappointments. Here is a look at each team, their record and where they were predicted to finish:

NFC East

1.      Washington Redskins (5-3) (Pre Season Prediction was 2nd)

The Redskins have been really impressive under the guidance of QB Alex Smith and I still expect them to push for a play-off spot but they are every chance to win the tough division, the NFC East. RB Adrian Peterson has turned back the clock, sitting 5th in rushing yards with 604 yards but the loss at home to the Falcons may prove costly late in the season.

2.      Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) (Pre Season Prediction was 1st)

The Eagles have had some injury concerns in the defence of their Super Bowl crown which has contributed to stuttering start to the season. QB Carson Wentz is working nicely into the season but will miss newly acquired RB Jay Ajayi for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. With a tough second half schedule, it will be a great effort to win the division but if they make it as a wildcard, they know what it takes.

3.      Dallas Cowboys (3-5) (Pre Season Prediction was 4th)

A slight improvement on what was expected although the loss in Week 10 at home vs Titans really hurt. The defence has been a bright spot and we’ve seen if QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliot turn it on, they can be hard to stop. Elliot is 4th of all running backs with 680 rushing yards. In a tough division, they are still a slight chance to get on a run but are a long shot to make the play-offs.

4.      New York Giants (1-7) (Pre Season Prediction was 3rd)

The Giants have been one of disappointments this season and after a 3-13 season last year, it doesn’t seem like they’ve improved at all. RB Saquon Barkey has been great in his rookie season and WR Odelle Beckham Jr continues to prove he is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL but QB Eli Manning remains a worry and looks like this will be his last year in New York.

NFC West

1.      Los Angeles Rams (8-1) (Pre Season Prediction was 1st)

Yes, the expectations were high at the start of the season but they have met them and showed they are one of the best teams in the NFL. The Week 9 game in New Orleans was a big test and whilst they lost 45-35, this could be the loss they needed. QB Jared Goff has so many weapons in WR’s Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp but it is RB Todd Gurley who leads the league in rushing yards (868) but is just as much a threat in the air. Tipped to play off in Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta.

2.      Seattle Seahawks (4-4) (Pre Season Prediction was 3rd)

A tough schedule to start the season but the Seahawks are starting to find their groove. A big win in Detroit took them to 4-3, but losing to the Chargers in Week 9 could be costly. Whilst it has been tough to keep pace with the Rams, there is enough to like to think they can push for a wildcard spot.

3.      Arizona Cardinals (2-6) (Pre Season Prediction was 4th)

The Cardinals weren’t tipped to do much this season and that is how it has played out. A lost season but rookie QB Josh Rosen will be much better next year if he is protected by a stronger offensive line.

4.      San Francisco 49ers (2-7) (Pre Season Prediction was 2nd)

One of the more disappointing teams based on pre-season predictions but there’s not much you can do when your quarterback goes down with a season ending knee injury. The 49ers are a far better team with Jimmy Garropolo at the helm so for 49ers fans, you’ll have to wait till next year to see him again.

NFC South

1.      New Orleans Saints (7-1) (Pre Season Prediction was 1st)

Tipped to win the strong NFC South, they are playing better than expected and proved it beating the Rams in Week 9, in what could be a preview of the NFC Championship game. QB Drew Brees and RB Alvin Kamara are leading the charge with Brees breaking a number of records including the most passing yards ever. The Saints are firming as a legit Super Bowl contender.

2.      Carolina Panthers (6-2) (Pre Season Prediction was 2nd)

Loving the QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey combo and they proved what they can do in Week 8, putting up 36 points against the NFL’s #1 ranked Ravens defence and another 42 points against Tampa Bay in Week 9. The defence has kept them in games where the offence has stalled and will be important down the stretch.

3.      Atlanta Falcons (4-4) (Pre Season Prediction was 3rd)

The Falcons always promise so much more with such a talented roster but in such a tough division, they sit 3rd behind the Saints and the Panthers. Losing RB Devonte Freeman has hurt them and a return to the play-offs is a long shot but the 38-14 win in Washington may be a sign that they’ve turned it around.

4.      Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) (Pre Season Prediction was 4th)

What a topsy-turvy season it has been for the Buccaneers. They started the year on fire with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick the star attraction winning the first 2 games, then lost the next 3, QB Jameis Winston replaced him when his suspension ended, they fired the Offensive Coordinator, Winston threw 4 interceptions in Week 8 and was replaced by Fitzpatrick who nearly stole a win vs the Bengals. If they can sort things out, they’ll be a threat next year.

NFC North

1.      Chicago Bears (5-3) (Pre Season Prediction was 2nd)

The Bears lead the NFC North for the moment, but the Vikings are only ½ a game behind. QB Mitchell Trubisky has been efficient in his 2nd season but the defence is one of the most aggressive in the league, especially since DE Khalil Mack arrived from the Raiders. They’ll need to keep winning as the Vikings and Packers will be the dangers late in the season.

2.      Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1) (Pre Season Prediction was 3rd)

I predicted the Vikings to be the best team to miss out on the play-offs but in such a tight division, it is still anyone’s title. WR Adam Thielen has been a superstar this season, leading the league in receiving yards (947) and has 8 straight games with 100+ yards prior to only 22 yards vs Detroit. This is going to come right down to last game of the season where they meet the Bears.

3.      Green Bay Packers (3-4-1) (Pre Season Prediction was 1st)

In a sign of how tight this division is, the Packers tied with the Vikings in Week 2. If not for a few mistakes and fumbles, the Packers could easily be 5-2 and for Packers’ fans, hopefully this doesn’t come back to bite them come the jostle for a play-off spot. The loss to the Patriots in Week 9 just made it tougher to keep up with the Bears and the Vikings.

4.      Detroit Lions (3-5) (Pre Season Prediction was 4th)

The Lions seemed to be on the right track, but they are struggling with consistency. When they win, they win well but they have lost a couple of games by big margins. The running game has been an issue and while RB Kenyon Johnson has shown some ability, he needs to provide better support for QB Matthew Stafford as does the Offensive Line who allowed 10 sacks on Stafford against the Vikings.

AFC North

1.      Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1) (Pre Season Prediction was 1st)

The Steelers might be in 1st place in the AFC North but it is closer than expected due to the absence of RB LeVeon Bell who is holding out for a new contract. A tie with the Browns shows how close this division is but the Steelers biggest threat to returning to the play-offs for a 5th straight year are the 5-3 Bengals and the 4-5 Ravens.

2.      Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) (Pre Season Prediction was 2nd)

The Bengals are starting to deliver on the promise of success. The defence has contributed to some impressive wins but have had games where they’ve let through too many points. The offence is also impressing, particularly RB Joe Mixon and WR AJ Green complementing veteran QB Andy Dalton.

3.      Baltimore Ravens (4-5) (Pre Season Prediction was 3rd)

The Ravens have been slightly disappointing this season but are trying to ignite the offence with the introduction of Lamar Jackson to the offence. They have been up and down and rely too heavily on the defence. If they get things going in the back half of the season, they could be a threat in the AFC North.

4.      Cleveland Browns (2-6-1) (Pre Season Prediction was 4th)

I know it doesn’t get much worse than an 0-16 season, but the Browns have shown some promise at stages this season only to be let down by critical mistakes at the wrong time including missed field goals, fumbles and bad play calling. A power struggle saw the firing of Head Coach Hue Jackson and Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley. Looks like it’ll be next year for QB Baker Mayfield and the Browns.

AFC East

1.      New England Patriots (7-2) (Pre Season Prediction was 1st)

The Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC East but what has impressed me the most, is a vastly improved running game and a solid defensive performance. In Week 6, the Patriots hosted the Chiefs and what a fantastic game it was with the Patriots winning 43-40 in a thriller. Could it have been an AFC Championship preview? One thing is for sure, the Patriots will win the AFC East.

2.      Miami Dolphins (5-4) (Pre Season Prediction was 3rd)

If the Dolphins are re-building, they’re doing a good job but at times, they’ve had to do it without QB Ryan Tannehill who is a tad injury prone and RB Jay Ajayi who they traded away to the Eagles. The defence is holding their own and whilst a wildcard play-off spot is unlikely, if they can get on a roll, they are right in the hunt in the AFC play-off picture.  

3.      New York Jets (3-6) (Pre Season Prediction was 2nd)

The Jets have a lot to look forward to in coming years with QB Sam Darnold at quarterback (if he can refrain from throwing so many interceptions) but Jets fans will have to wait till next year or until such time the Patriots fall off the perch. They’ve been competitive but just haven’t got the class at their other skill positions.

4.      Buffalo Bills (2-7) (Pre Season Prediction was 4th)

We know the Bills are in re-build mode but no-one expected the horror run they’ve had with injuries, particularly at quarterback where it has been musical chairs. Tyrod Taylor started the year until injured, rookie sensation QB Josh Allen is also out injured, Nathan Peterman threw interception after interception and Derek Anderson was signed from the golf course. Next year is a long way away but the Bills are in good hands if Allen can stay healthy. 

AFC West

1.      Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) (Pre Season Prediction was 1st)

The Chiefs are the story of the season so far with QB Patrick Mahomes breaking nearly every record in the book. With RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce a stellar support cast, the sky is the limit for the Chiefs. They did meet their match in Week 6, going down to the Patriots 43-40 but they are my pick to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 53 in Atlanta.

2.      Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) (Pre Season Prediction was 3rd)

The Chargers have been quietly going about their business only 2 games behind the hot Chiefs. They’ve always had a bit of Jekyll & Hyde about them but have shown so far this season that we are seeing more of the good than the bad. They are right in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the AFC, especially after an important win in Seattle.

3.       Denver Broncos (3-6) (Pre Season Prediction was 4th)

Internally, the Broncos believed they were right in a successful window but things haven’t really worked out as planned. Whilst they’re not out of it and have the ability to upset more fancied teams, there are signs they are looking to bolster their drafts stocks next year, for example trading away veteran WR Demaryius Thomas to the Texans.

4.      Oakland Raiders (1-7) (Pre Season Prediction was 2nd)

The Raiders are the biggest disappointment in the AFC. New Head Coach Jon Gruden has had a disastrous start to his current tenure with poor form, injuries and letting key players go (Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper) the catalysts for a shocking season. The only way is up for the Raiders. 

 

AFC South

1.      Houston Texans (6-3) (Pre Season Prediction was 1st)

The AFC South is another division that has played out as expected but the Texans are now completely dominating the division after their 6th win in a row. It was a slow start but they are firing on all cylinders, QB DeShaun Watson threw for 5 TD’s in Week 8, RB Lamar Miller is putting up big numbers and WR DeAndre Hopkins is 3rd in receiving yards (894) and the receiving core just got stronger with WR Demaryius Thomas a big addition. I expect they win the AFC South and push the Chiefs and Patriots when the whips are cracking.

2.      Tennessee Titans (4-4) (Pre Season Prediction was 2nd)

The Titans were 3-1 after Week 4 but lost the next 3 games to slip to 2nd in the AFC South. They arrested the slide against the Cowboys in Week 10 and may get on a roll with one of the easiest schedules to finish the season. I don’t think they head the Texans to win the division but if they can win 5 of their next 8, they’ll be a wildcard chance.

3.      Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) (Pre Season Prediction was 3rd)

The Jaguars are another AFC South team that started 3-1 only to drop the last 3 games. They are slowly proving last season may have been one out of the box because the defence aren’t playing at the heights of last season and the offence looks to have gone backwards, particularly QB Blake Bortles who was benched in Week 7. The prediction of a slide looks to be correct.

4.      Indianapolis Colts (3-5) (Pre Season Prediction was 4th)

There isn’t a team in the NFL that relies on the health of their quarterback more than the Colts and QB Andrew Luck. They lost 4 in a row but the last 2 weeks have seen Luck and the Colts offence put up big numbers for 2 big wins. They’re not likely to make the play-offs but they’ll surprise a few team on the way. 

  

Ben Graham

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