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#pounditFriday, December 4, 2020

Grading each NFL team at the midway point of the season

Kirk Cousins

Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1) — B-

The Vikings have very much had mixed returns so far this season. They’ve won at Philadelphia and should have at Green Bay, but kicking woes forced them to settle for a tie. On the other hand, they lost at home to Buffalo and their other wins have been against bottom-feeding opposition while the likes of the Rams and Saints, two elite teams, have both defeated them. Minnesota’s defense hasn’t been as good as anticipated. If it improves, they’ll be fine, but expectations may have to be adjusted a bit.

New England Patriots (6-2) — A-

It was safe to assume Bill Belichick would get things right eventually and that’s exactly what happened. After a 1-2 start, they’ve won five in a row. They’ve dealt the Kansas City Chiefs their only defeat of the season and handled the Chicago Bears on the road as well. Concerns linger over a defense that has given up 30 points in two of the last three games, but Tom Brady looks fine, the offense is doing well, and they look like they’ll be right in the thick of the AFC playoff picture once more. One thing they are missing is a healthy Gronk. If his back injury improves and he returns to his difference-making form, watch out.

New Orleans Saints (6-1) — A

After a season-opening loss to Tampa Bay that looks more and more bizarre with each passing week, the Saints have been fantastic. Going to Minnesota and winning by ten is a statement of intent, especially after how last year’s NFC Divisional game went. Drew Brees continues to sip from the fountain of youth and Alvin Kamara is an exceptionally dangerous all-purpose player. The defense has regressed a bit which is a concern, but there’s no disputing whether the Saints are major contenders in the NFC.

New York Giants (1-7) — F

A whole lot of bad decisions have led the Giants to this point. Despite some skill players on offense, the line is doing a bad job and Eli Manning looks like a completely spent force. The team itself clearly wants to move on from Manning, but a lack of foresight has left them with no long-term replacement. They’ve won just once, and it feels like a fluke. This team is going nowhere, and it’s time for their front office to admit that a full rebuild and a new quarterback are in order.

New York Jets (3-5) — C

Grading on a curve, the Jets haven’t been that bad. They were expected to be poor, but they’re 3-5, and Sam Darnold has shown some positive signs between the growing pains. No, the Jets aren’t playoff contenders, nor do they really excel anywhere, but they’re not in the basement. They’re a very average team, more or less in the middle. Considering how futile they’ve been in recent years, that’s a step forward, and there are positive signs here.

Oakland Raiders (1-6) — F

The luster is well and truly off the Jon Gruden era in Oakland. They’re 27th in points for and 31st in points against. They’ve traded two of their star players and sparked a load of dysfunction in doing so, particularly in the second instance. They don’t seem to have a clear philosophy, and they definitely don’t have enough talent to win right now, which was their goal entering the season. The Raiders are a mess of mixed messages, and it’s hard to see where they’re going or where it starts to get better.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) — C

The Eagles have been a disappointment no matter how you look at it. They’ve lost to clearly inferior teams in Tampa Bay and Tennessee, and though a win against Jacksonville saved them from really falling toward the abyss, they haven’t been impressive so far. The good news is the NFC East looks ordinary and, at 4-4, they’re still very much in it. Carson Wentz looks healthy, Alshon Jeffery has been great, and there’s still talent here. They simply must play to their talent level now.

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1) — B+

After some early-season drama, the Steelers have rounded into form, winning three in a row and four of five. That also means victories in key divisional games, including a big win at Cincinnati. Those wins have ensured they’re atop the AFC North, and most tellingly, they still haven’t really missed Le’Veon Bell. Fill-in James Conner has done admirably and the chatter about how much the Steelers need Bell has really died down. Their next game at Baltimore may prove decisive.

San Francisco 49ers (1-7) — D-

Ultimately, it’s not San Francisco’s fault that Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt early in the season and won’t be able to play again in 2018. Their 1-7 record is, however, somewhat indicative of just how ill-prepared they were to play without him and Jerick McKinnon. Their defense has been bad, and the Garoppolo injury can’t be held responsible for that, while C.J. Beathard just isn’t an NFL starter. They will take their high draft pick and hope Garoppolo can stay healthy in the future, because this season is lost. What they do with their draft pick will be a big decision for the franchise.

Seattle Seahawks (4-3) — B-

Yes, the Rams have left them in the dust, but that was always bound to happen. Despite the loss of the Legion of Boom, only three teams have allowed fewer points than Seattle, and that is still keeping them relevant. Their schedule is about to get a lot tougher, so regression could be around the corner. For now, though, the Seahawks are 4-3 and in the playoff hunt. Considering the high turnover, particularly on defense, that’s a pretty solid accomplishment from Pete Carroll and his staff.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) — C-

The Buccaneers have certainly learned one thing — Jameis Winston might not be their quarterback of the future after all. He got his job back and didn’t last long before the turnover-prone quarterback was benched once again. They’re also really bad defensively, though injuries haven’t helped there. It all adds up to a team that has some serious issues. Perhaps they’ll catch the FitzMagic again, but they’ve lost four of five and it doesn’t look exceedingly likely.

Tennessee Titans (3-4) — C+

That strange win over the Philadelphia Eagles may end up being the highlight of their season. Marcus Mariota’s progression continues to disappoint — perhaps an elbow injury is still plaguing him — because he’s not looking like the franchise quarterback they once envisioned. The Titans have lost three in a row and, while still in the AFC South mix, appear to be trending in the wrong direction. Their offense simply has to play better to pick up a defense that has, on the whole, done an outstanding job preventing points all season long.

Washington Redskins — A-

Probably the surprise outfit of the NFC so far, the Redskins surprisingly sit atop the NFC East. Their offense is more adequate than it is great, as Alex Smith remains a game manager, but Adrian Peterson has been a revelation. They’re top five defensively in terms of points allowed, and that’s the primary reason they are where they are. They have yet to face the Eagles in what should be a telling matchup, but Washington has to be taken seriously at this point.

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