Eagles, Bills among surprises at NFL mid-season mark

  Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Week eight of the NFL season is in the books, which marks the official half-way mark in the regular season. Each division has their surprises and disappointments, but some are definitely more eye-opening then others.

AFC East

New England Patriots: 6-2

Buffalo Bills: 5-3

Miami Dolphins: 4-3

New York Jets: 4-5

It’s not much of a shock to see the New England Patriots at the top of their division, but the real surprise is seeing the Buffalo Bills riding the Patriots’ tail.

The Bills are the only AFC team with an undefeated record at home despite the departures of Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby, Stephon Gilmore and Marcell Dareus. They have the third-best rushing defense in the league and they only allow 16.4 points per game, which is the second-lowest in the NFL.

The Dolphins have been disappointing, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They average the fewest points (13.1) and yards (252.4) per game. It’s hard to win games when you average less yards and points than teams that don’t even have a win yet.

Things won’t be getting easier for the Dolphins offense. They decided to trade their Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fourth-round pick. Kenyan Drake will likely become their new starting running back.

The Jets defense looked good on Thursday against Buffalo as they try to climb back to a .500 record. It won’t be easy for the Jets offensively because they average just 203 passing yards per game. They still have tough upcoming matchups against the Chiefs, Patriots, Saints and Panthers.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-2

Baltimore Ravens: 4-4

Cincinnati Bengals: 3-4

Cleveland Browns: 0-8

The biggest surprise in the AFC North is seeing the Cincinnati Bengals, with a sub-par record, struggling offensively. Since 2009, the Bengals have used seven first-round picks to draft offensive players but they average just 287 yards per game, which is fewer than Cleveland and San Francisco.

In the offseason, Cleveland looked like they were taking all the right steps towards improving their football team but, as of right now, they’re showing no signs of improvement. The Browns have yet to win a game this season, they score the second-fewest points in the league and they have the worst turnover differential in the league. Things aren’t looking good for Head Coach Hue Jackson.

AFC South

Tennessee Titans: 4-3

Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-3

Houston Texans: 3-4

Indianapolis Colts: 2-6

The AFC South might come down to a week 17 game between Jacksonville and Tennessee.

The Jaguars have really adopted a smash mouth football style.

Defensively, they have the second-most takeaways with 16, and they allow the fewest points per game in the NFL (15.7). Offensively, they average the most rushing yards per game with 169, and they score an average of 26 points per game.

Houston, who’s known for their defense, has been riddled with devastating injuries. J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Christian Covington are all out due to serious injuries. Now, their star rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson, who looked like one of their only bright spots, is out for the season.

The Texans have the highest-scoring offense in the league, averaging 30.7 points per game. Their scoring stats will likely take a hit with backup quarterback Tom Savage taking over for the injured Watson. There’s not much hope left for the Texans’ season

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs: 6-2

Denver Broncos: 3-4

Los Angeles Chargers: 3-5

Oakland Raiders: 3-5

No one would’ve guessed that the Oakland Raiders would be at the bottom of the division at this point in the season. Both the Broncos and the Raiders are 1-4 in their last five games, putting the division in the hands of Kansas City.

The Chiefs just have to go 4-4 or better in their last eight games and they’ll have the division. They average the third-most yards and points per game and they still have games against the Giants, Jets, Chargers and Dolphins. What was supposed to be one of the most competitive divisions in the league is looking like a runaway title for the Chiefs.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles: 7-1

Dallas Cowboys: 4-3

Washington Redskins: 3-4

New York Giants: 1-6

The successful Eagles and the struggling Giants could be the two biggest surprise stories of the season for completely opposite reasons.

People figured that Wentz and the Eagles would take a step forward this year, but no one knew they would soar past their opponents and have the best record through their first eight games. He still needs to improve his ball control, but Carson Wentz is really starting to evolve his game and is starting to look like one of the next great quarterbacks in the league. Now, Wentz will have another weapon to work with after the Eagles acquired Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the Giants heading in to this season. Some analysts picked them as their Super Bowl favourite, so for them to be 1-6 at the midway mark in the season is definitely a shock. The Giants are definitely feeling the loss of Odell Beckham Jr. with their offense averaging less than 300 yards and just 16 points per game.

Dallas is fighting to stay in the hunt, but it’s going to get tougher if they lose star running back Ezekiel Elliot. As of right now, he will play against the Chiefs.

NFC North 

Minnesota Vikings: 6-2

Green Bay Packers: 4-3

Detroit Lions: 3-4

Chicago Bears: 3-5

Minnesota is on a four-game winning streak, and they’re looking to take advantage of Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending injury. Green Bay have lost both their games since their elite quarterback broke his collarbone, and their season will likely be ruined because of the injury.

The Vikings are also dealing with injuries at the quarterback position, but their defense is leading the way. They allow the fourth-fewest rushing yards (81.4) and points scored (16.9) per game. Minnesota also likes to get to the quarterback with 24 sacks so far this season.

Detroit is looking to sneak in to a Wild Card spot, but it’s hard when you average the fifth fewest rushing yards per game (82.1).

The Lions’ defense has had some good outings this year. They’re tied with Jacksonville with the second-most takeaways in the league, and they allow the seventh-fewest rushing yards per game. Consistency is their biggest issue, and they’ll have to play well for full 60 minutes every week if they’re looking to get sneak in the playoffs.

NFC South

New Orleans Saints: 5-2

Carolina Panthers: 5-3

Atlanta Falcons: 4-3

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2-5

After their heartbreaking Super Bowl loss, a lot of fans and experts deemed the Atlanta Falcons a team that has enough talent to get back to the Super Bowl, but they might not even win their division. Six of the Falcons last eight games are against their division, and the other two games are against tough Cowboys and Seahawks teams.

New Orleans is off to a hot start, and it certainly helps that they average the second-most offensive yards per game.

Their balanced attack on offense is shredding defenses, and their defense is taking steps toward the top-half of the league.

The Carolina Panthers are right behind the Saints, but their struggling offense could be their biggest setback down the stretch. They average just over 200 yards passing per game, and those yards will get harder to pick up through the air now that they’ve traded their leading receiver, Kelvin Benjamin.

Tampa Bay finds themselves at the bottom of the division, and they’ve lost their last four games. The Bucs have the second-best passing attack, but the fourth-worst rushing attack. Their one-dimensional offense has led to their eight interceptions thrown this year. Their season doesn’t look hopeful after the first half.

NFC West 

Seattle Seahawks: 5-2

Los Angeles Rams: 5-2

Arizona Cardinals: 3-4

San Francisco 49ers: 0-8

The battle for first in the NFC West is tighter then ever right now between Seattle and Los Angeles. The Rams have been hot from the start, averaging over 125 rushing yards per game on offense and only allowing 205 passing yards per game on defense. After seven games, Jared Goff has almost 700 more passing yards, four more passing touchdowns and three less interceptions compared to last year.

The only team that looks to be in the Rams way is the red-hot Seahawks. Seattle has won their last four games and they are finding success in their passing game, which averages the third-most yards per game. Both teams have almost identical defensive numbers, but the Rams are one of just two teams that average at least 30 points per game.

While there’s a battle at the top of the division, the 49ers have already sealed the bottom. San Francisco has yet to win a game, and they might secure the first-overall draft pick this season. There’s still optimism for this team after they recently acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots for a second-round draft pick.

As the weeks go on, and the playoff races continue, the NFL picture will become clearer. We’ll get to see a line drawn between the pretenders and contenders. In the NFL, all it takes is an injury, or even one play, to place a team on either side of that line.

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