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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Kalemkerian: Midseason NFL Power Rankings

Though the NFL’s decision to expand the regular season to 17 games was met with equal parts praise and criticism, there is one benefit that few realized at the time the decision was announced: The new schedule gives us an exact halfway point in the season. Although it seems like the first nine weeks have flown by, we have indeed reached that point: 136 of the 272 total regular season games have been played, meaning we have exactly half of the season to go. We’ve had some teams surprise us with their struggles (looking at you, Kansas City) and we’ve had some teams come out and do exactly what we expected them to (sorry, Lions). But perhaps the best thing about the longer season is this: Every team gets an extra opportunity to add another W in the win column, and that’s just what these top-10 teams will be looking to do during the back half of the season.

1. Arizona Cardinals (8-1, 1st in the NFC West)

Were it not for a narrow three-point loss at the hands of Green Bay, the Cardinals would sport an undefeated record at the halfway point. As it is, Arizona has taken massive strides on both sides of the ball since last season. If Kyler Murray and the passing offense continues to thrive, there’s nothing standing in the way of the Cardinals and the coveted first-round bye (remember, there’s only one per conference this year).

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2, 1st in the NFC South)

Tom Brady’s Buccaneers will be the stiffest competition for Arizona. While the two teams won’t meet in the regular season, any slip up could prove fatal for Arizona as the Bucs have a cupcake second-half schedule, playing just two teams currently over .500. Getting Antonio Brown back from his ankle injury will only make beating up on subpar competition even easier.

3. Los Angeles Rams (7-2, 2nd in the NFC West)

Last week’s loss to the Titans was certainly disappointing and it exposed MVP frontrunner Matt Stafford as a mortal, but in the long run it should be no more than a bump in the road for Sean McVay’s crew. The Rams will get another crack at the Cardinals in Week 14, which will go a long way towards deciding their playoff fate. Anything short of a Super Bowl appearance would be a disappointment for an LA team so obviously in win-now mode.

4. Tennessee Titans (7-2, 1st in AFC South)

With Derrick Henry not coming back until the playoffs (at the earliest), the Titans will need other players to step up if they hope to maintain early-season success. Benefitting from a weak division, they’re nearly certain to lock up a division crown. However, Tennessee also currently sits atop the AFC and a first-round bye would be massive towards letting their star running back heal up. To keep winning without Henry, the defense will have to continue to dominate down the stretch.

5. Green Bay Packers (7-2, 1st in NFC North)

The Packers will need to do two things to keep churning out wins. First, they need to tune out all the off-the-field controversy surrounding Aaron Rodgers. Second, they desperately need to get Rodgers’ weapons back on the field. Putting up a mere seven points against a weak Chiefs team was a major disappointment, but not surprising given the receiving corps was led by Randall Cobb. It’s not 2014 anymore.

6. Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 1st in AFC North)

Sitting atop the most competitive division in football (the AFC West is a close second), the Ravens have managed to overcome many key injuries with an admirable “next man up” mentality. At this point, their method for success is pretty simple: Keep Lamar Jackson on the field, and wins will follow. Also, go check out the season Justin Tucker is having. Can kickers win MVP?

7. Buffalo Bills (5-3, 1st in AFC East)

Buffalo’s loss against Jacksonville was the most shocking upset of the season. Despite the fun that the Josh Allen vs. Josh Allen matchup brought, the concerns are real for the Bills. It’s possible, even likely, that they overlooked the lowly Jags, but scoring just six points against a bottom-five defense is never a good sign. I expect them to rebound, especially given their upcoming schedule (Jets, Colts, Saints, Patriots). 

8. Cleveland Browns (5-4, 3rd in AFC North)

Are the division-leading Cowboys or Chargers more deserving of this eighth spot? Maybe, but I have a good feeling about the Brown. Also, Browns fans deserve some love after the years, even decades, of pain they’ve had to endure. Losing OBJ didn’t slow down the offense at all as they steamrolled their rival Bengals last week. Cleveland should collect two more wins before heading into a massive SNF showdown with the Ravens in Week 12.