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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Grading each NFL team at the midway point of the season

Todd Gurley

We’re midway through the NFL season, which means there’s no better time than the present to hand out some report cards. Some teams have performed okay, some are great relative to expectations, and others simply have not performed well enough all season long. We also still have an unbeaten team even after Week 8.

Which teams pass and who fails? Here’s a grade for all 32 NFL teams midway through the season.

Arizona Cardinals (2-6) — D

There’s not a lot to say about the Cardinals. Josh Rosen has looked promising at times and led a nice comeback drive in Week 8, but they don’t have a lot of talent. What they have seemed to be misused under former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Perhaps Byron Leftwich will be an improvement in that role. However, there’s no ignoring the fact that their only two wins have come against a woeful 49ers team with no Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s hard to see many more coming their way.

Atlanta Falcons (3-4) — D+

The Falcons finally got to play a few lesser teams and duly beat them, overcoming their ongoing health issues in the process. This is still a very disappointing year for them, however, even taking into account the fact that their defense in particular has been beaten up pretty badly by injury. They’re fading in the NFC South, but their playoff hopes aren’t totally ruined. It’s just looking increasingly unlikely, especially if they can’t reel off a few more wins in a row.

Baltimore Ravens (4-4) — C

A promising start has given way to another .500 record through eight games for the Ravens. Their defense remains excellent and doesn’t look to be fading, but the major problem is that Joe Flacco has regressed a bit and taken the offense with him. Upcoming home games against the Steelers and Bengals have to be considered essentially must-wins if they’re to contend in the AFC North. Losses to the Saints and Panthers show they’re not playing elite football at the moment. They’re not done yet, but they can’t afford many more setbacks.

Buffalo Bills (2-6) — D

It’s hard to figure out what to make of the Bills. Their win over the Minnesota Vikings on the road truly came out of nowhere, and they haven’t come particularly close to replicating it since. This was a team that was expected to regress, and their defense has been a strong spot at times, but they have the worst offense in the league. With Josh Allen hurt, they have no quarterback solution. Perhaps with that in mind it’s genuinely surprising that they have two wins in the first place.

Carolina Panthers (5-2) — A

After a slow start, the Panthers have kicked things into high gear in recent weeks, winning four of five behind one of the league’s better defenses. That includes a late comeback at Philadelphia. The offense still has room to grow, as their passing attack hasn’t been quite as efficient as their excellent running game has been. The existence of the Saints ensures they’re not atop the NFC South, but they’re very well-positioned for a playoff run.

Chicago Bears (4-3) — B+

The early-season buzz around Khalil Mack has worn off a bit, and the Bears have lost two of their last three games. However, they remain tied atop the NFC North and in position to at least hang around the race for the foreseeable future. With a few exceptions, the defense has been very good, and has allowed 51 fewer points than anyone else in the division. Mitchell Trubisky continues to show signs of improvement as well and has taken advantage of some great playcalling. The Bears look to have at least some staying power.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) — B

Despite their early success, the concern for Cincinnati at this point has to be how poorly they’ve played against potential playoff teams. Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City have all beaten them, and the Chiefs did so convincingly. But there’s no ignoring a 5-3 record, and they’re right in the division race. The major concern has to be the defense, whose 29.6 points against per game is 29th in the NFL. That must improve if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.

Cleveland Browns (2-5-1) — D

They’ve actually won twice this season, so it can’t be an F. Even those wins have done nothing to diminish the dysfunction around the franchise, and they’ve still lost several games in backbreaking ways. That has culminated in a housecleaning on the coaching staff, and it probably means they’re essentially punting on the season. The remainder will be devoted to developing Baker Mayfield, and hopefully keeping their heads above water.

Dallas Cowboys (3-4) — C-

The Cowboys are very consistent at being inconsistent. They’ve alternated wins and losses every single week, looking formidable at home and awful on the road, an issue that they haven’t been able to rectify despite trying to diagnose the problems. As long as that continues, the Cowboys are a .500 team and not a huge threat to make the playoffs. That could still change, but this has not been a great season so far for Dallas, who were looking for a playoff appearance this year.

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