At the midway point in the 2016 NFL season, almost none of the league’s 32 teams look like elite squads. Outside of the Patriots, we’ve got a bunch of completely two-faced teams that look like world-beaters one week and future also-rans the next.
Ok fine, the Cowboys – who are riding a seven-game win streak – look pretty damn good, too. But they haven’t played a tough schedule, to date, and they’re led by two rookies, including a first-year pivot. That’s a massive cause for concern when looking at Dallas’ playoff hopes. No rookie QB has ever hoisted the Lombardi Trophy (as a starter).
The current mediocre climate in the NFL makes predicting this year’s Super Bowl match-up an exercise in guesswork. Who’s going to turn it up in the latter half of the season? Who’s going to get hot at just the right time as the temperature dips and the playoffs roll around? Your guess is as good as mine. But here’s now Vegas sees it at the moment.
As mentioned, Dallas has rattled off seven straight wins and is now 7-1 on the year. Their only loss came in Week 1 against the division rival Giants. The run-game has looked unstoppable since Week 2 and rookie back Zeke Elliott leads the league in rushing yards (891 rushing yards plus seven touchdowns). The offense isn’t one-dimensional, though. Dak Prescott is challenging his teammate for Rookie of the Year honors, piling up 2,020 passing yards and 12 TDs to just two interceptions.
The surprisingly balanced attack has Dallas sitting fourth in the league in scoring (27.9 PPG). The scary part? The Boys are basically doing all this without top target Dez Bryant playing at his usual level. Dez has only played five games this year due to injury and was held to 40 yards or fewer in three of those.
The offense isn’t having to shoulder the whole load in Big D. Somehow Rod Marinelli has his no-name defense on par with the stacked offense, sitting fourth in the league in scoring (17.5 PPG). We’ll learn a lot about this unit – which is banged up on the back end – when it faces the Steelers’ formidable passing game in Week 10. Another solid showing will put Dallas squarely in the “elite” camp heretofore reserved for the Patriots.
Seattle is still getting a ton of respect from Vegas. That’s more due to their recent history than how they’ve played this season. Yes, they’re 5-2-1 (including 4-0 at home) and have a comfortable lead atop the NFC West, but the both sides of the ball have looked vulnerable at times and they only have a +28 point differential (compared to +83 for Dallas).
The offensive line remains the biggest concern. Not only has it been unable to protect Russell Wilson, but it’s been weak as a run-blocking unit, as well. The once run-focused Seahawks are third-last in the league at 75.4 yards per game and mustering a pitiful 3.2 yards per carry.
Until the last couple weeks, the defense had been this team’s saving grace. They’re still third in the league in scoring at 16.8 points per game, but have surrendered 25 and 26 in their last two and given up ample yardage, to boot (800 yards, combined). The D is feeling the absence of Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor. Expect it to get back to its smothering ways when healthy.
Atlanta Falcons: 5/1
Green Bay Packers: 13/2
Minnesota Vikings: 10/1
Arizona Cardinals: 11/1
New York Giants: 14/1
Carolina Panthers: 16/1
Detroit Lions: 25/1
New Orleans Saints: 30/1
Philadelphia Eagles: 35/1
Washington Redskins: 40/1
Los Angeles Rams: 125/1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 200/1
Chicago Bears: 250/1
San Francisco 49ers: 5000/1
The Patriots are 7-1 on the season but a perfect four-for-four since Tom Brady’s return. The offense has been virtually unstoppable with Brady under center, scoring at a 34.0 PPG clip. The QB has already entered the MVP discussion and is working his way up the statistical leader-boards (1,319 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, no interceptions) despite only playing half the season.
Brady’s return coincided with Rob Gronkowski getting healthy, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. Gronk had one catch before Brady came back. Now he leads the team with 484 receiving yards (and three touchdowns) on 22 catches.
A lot of pundits see the defense as a potential weakness for the Pats, and they’re just 18th in the league in Defensive DVOA, per FootballOutsiders. Sometimes old-fashioned stats speak louder than advanced metrics, though, and the team’s 16.5 points-against per game mark (second-best in the NFL) is pretty damn audible at the moment.
The Steelers are the second choice in the AFC despite sitting at .500 (4-4) halfway through the season. They were 4-1 and looked to be rolling to an AFC North title until Ben Roethlisberger got injured. He missed a chunk of the team’s loss to Miami, sat out the next week’s setback to the Patriots, and then looked like a shell of himself in last Sunday’s loss to Baltimore.
Pittsburgh remains a viable Super Bowl contender because of how good the team – make that the offense – has looked when Ben is healthy. Even without star RB Le’Veon Bell for the first three games of the season, the Steeler attack was putting up nearly 28 PPG before the current three-game slide.
Despite having no semblance of a pass rush, the defense (and its bend-don’t-break mentality) has been respectable (19th in Defensive DVOA). It looked much improved against the run last week following the return of Cameron Hayward. When the offense is firing, this D is good enough to get the few key stops the team needs.
Oakland Raiders: 8/1
Kansas City Chiefs: 9/1
Denver Broncos: 19/2
Houston Texans: 25/1
Indianapolis Colts: 25/1
Cincinnati Bengals: 30/1
San Diego Chargers: 35/1
Baltimore Ravens: 35/1
Buffalo Bills: 60/1
Tennessee Titans: 75/1
Miami Dolphins: 75/1
New York Jets: 200/1
Jacksonville Jaguars: 250/1
Cleveland Browns: 9999/1
Photo credit: Keith Allison (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].
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