Nine weeks of the 2023 NFL season have given way to heightened hopes for some and a heavy dose of reality for others.
Much of what we thought we knew when the campaign began two months ago has been confirmed. Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts are still good, the NFC South has no clear favorite and the Arizona Cardinals have struggled. We’ve also witnessed the unforeseen — injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins, the rapid descent of the New England Patriots and New York Giants and the rookie dominance of C.J. Stroud.
With that in mind, ESPN’s 32 NFL team reporters took part in a midseason reset. They lay out what they’ve learned through the first eight or nine games and frame what’s to come over the final nine weeks and beyond. Each team’s current odds to win the division and/or reach the playoffs and where each stands in the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI) rankings are also included.
FPI rank: 3
Chances to make the playoffs: 57.6%
Chances to win their division: 27%
What we know: The Bills defense is solid — ranking No. 5 in scoring defense — but injuries to key players are taking a toll. Three starters are out for either the season or at least a significant time, and while they brought in reinforcements at the trade deadline — CB Rasul Douglas and DT Linval Joseph — the defense is not at the level of play it was earlier in the season. One example: The unit allowed 288 yards per game through Week 4 and 370.8 yards per game since Week 5.
What we don’t know yet: Whether the offense can become consistent. This is the question haunting Buffalo, something that will determine the course of the rest of the season. There’s not going to be an easy way to get their running game going (108.1 yards per game) and have quarterback Josh Allen limit turnovers (nine interceptions, tied for the most in the NFL). This unit is too talented to be held back by these problems.
Stat that defined the first half: The offense has averaged 6.8 points per game in the first half since Week 5 (ranked 28th) and 13.4 points per game (first) in the second half during that stretch. It’s taking too long to get much of anything going on offense, and it has become a trend for Buffalo to rely on late drives to work its way back into games. — Alaina Getzenberg
FPI rank: 5
Chances to make the playoffs: 93.1%
Chances to win their division: 71.1%
What we know: The Dolphins have the ability to put up yards and points in a hurry — they lead the NFL in both offensive categories, despite mediocre performances in two of their past three games. Miami is also clinical in the red zone, scoring on an NFL-best 75% of their trips inside the 20-yard line. Defensively, the Dolphins have forced turnovers in three straight games after a sluggish start to the season — and they’re approaching full health with the return of Jalen Ramsey and Nik Needham.
What we don’t know yet: Can this team win big games? Miami has lost all three of its games against opponents with a winning record — although those losses were on the road to the Bills, Eagles and Chiefs. Still, until the Dolphins beat an elite opponent, questions will remain about their viability in the playoffs.
Stat that defined the first half: Tua Tagovailoa has been sacked on a career-low 4.3% of his dropbacks this season. The Dolphins’ offense has put up video game numbers this season, but that doesn’t happen if they don’t keep Tagovailoa upright — especially considering his injury concerns coming into the season. His offseason body transformation has proven helpful, but he’s also helping himself by getting the ball out faster than any other quarterback in the NFL (2.38 seconds). — Marcel Louis-Jacques
FPI rank: 26
Chances to make the playoffs: 0.3%
Chances to win their division: Less than 0.1%
What we know: The Patriots are in last place in the AFC, the playoffs are a long shot, and their talent needs a boost. The offense has mostly held them back, as slow starts and turnovers were a top issue after five weeks when they were minus-8 in turnover differential (currently minus-5). Meanwhile, injuries to top players Matthew Judon and Christian Gonzalez in Week 4 have hurt a defense that has generally been the strength of the team.
What we don’t know yet: How does this season affect ownership’s view of Bill Belichick’s future? Belichick is in his 24th season as head coach, and his 331 total victories (including playoffs) are shy of only Don Shula (347) on the NFL’s all-time list. The question has always been when Belichick will get there. Now the question is if he will get there as Patriots coach.
Stat that defined the first half: The Patriots’ offense ranks 31st in points per game (15.0). Preseason hope that the hiring of offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien would breathe life into the Patriots’ disappointing attack from 2022 hasn’t come to fruition. The reasons for that are multilayered — from inconsistency and injuries along the offensive line to limited talent among pass-catchers, to QB Mac Jones‘ inability to avoid costly turnovers. — Mike Reiss
FPI rank: 24
Chances to make the playoffs: 8%
Chances to win their division: 1.9%
What we know: The post-Aaron Rodgers world looks a lot like 2022, which is to say the Jets are wasting a championship-caliber defense with a historically bad offense. Held back by the limitations of backup QB Zach Wilson, the team plays each week with almost no margin for error, seemingly incapable of scoring more than one offensive touchdown (something they’ve done only once). You knew it would be tough when Rodgers was injured in Week 1, but not this tough.
What we don’t know yet: Can Rodgers (Achilles) complete a miraculous recovery and return this season? He sure hopes so, but it seems like a long shot. The way the offense is sputtering, he won’t have much of a season to save by late December. With the offensive line’s struggles, why would they subject him to potential injury? This looms as a huge storyline, but only if the Jets can stay in contention.
Stat that defined the first half: Only eight offensive touchdowns in eight games. Sobering context: The Dolphins scored 10 in one game. Wait, it gets worse: The Jets have gone four straight games without a TD drive longer than one play. Their past two TDs were on a checkdown pass that sprung for 50 yards and an 8-yard run in which the defense appeared to let them score in an end-game situation. Their offense is as bad as it’s ever been. — Rich Cimini
FPI rank: 2
Chances to make the playoffs: 95.7%
Chances to win their division: 74.6%
What we know: The Ravens are a serious Super Bowl contender. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is an MVP candidate, leading the league in completion rate (71.5%) and topping all quarterbacks in rushing yards (440). The defense is allowing a league-low 13.8 points per game while producing an NFL-best 35 sacks. Over the last three weeks, the Ravens have beaten two division leaders (the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks) by a combined score of 75-9.
What we don’t know yet: Will Jackson stay healthy? In the last two years, the Ravens were in first place in the AFC North in December before Jackson’s injuries derailed their seasons. With Jackson dealing with an ankle injury in 2021 and a knee injury in 2022, Baltimore lost seven of nine games without him in December or later. The Ravens have tried to reduce the number of hits on Jackson this season. Baltimore has called an average of 4.4 designed runs per game, which is a career-low for Jackson.
Stat that defined the first half: The Ravens have been so dominant that they’ve held the lead entering the fourth quarter of every game this season. This is tied for the fifth-longest streak to begin a season in the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of the previous five teams to do so, three went on to reach the Super Bowl, including the 1998 Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. — Jamison Hensley
FPI rank: 9
Chances to make the playoffs: 54.4%
Chances to win their division: 9.4%
What we know: After dealing with a right calf injury at the beginning of the season, quarterback Joe Burrow is healthy and playing like one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Cincinnati ended the first half on a four-game winning streak, with Burrow putting up impressive numbers. Since Week 5, he is third in the NFL in Total QBR, first in completion percentage and tied for first in passing touchdowns (10).
What we don’t know yet: Can Cincinnati’s defense continue forcing turnovers at a high rate? Through eight games, the Bengals rank fourth in the NFL in turnovers forced per drive at 17%, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That has negated a yards allowed per play of 5.9, which is the NFL’s third worst. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will happily give up the yards if drives don’t end in points. But turnovers will be crucial to Cincinnati’s postseason push.
Stat that defined the first half: Starting games strong has been paramount to Cincinnati’s success. Since Week 5, the start of the team’s current winning streak, the Bengals have scored touchdowns on 42.1% of their first-half drives, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That ranks second in the NFL. When Cincinnati reeled off eight straight wins to end the 2022 regular season, the Bengals led the league in that category at 39.5%. — Ben Baby
FPI rank: 12
Chances to make the playoffs: 54.6%
Chances to win their division: 8.3%
What we know: The Browns have an elite defense. Cleveland is No. 2 in the league in defensive efficiency, led by edge rusher Myles Garrett, who is among the front-runners for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The coverage has been just as tenacious as Garrett, spearheaded by one of the league’s top cornerback tandems — Denzel Ward and Martin Emerson Jr.
What we don’t know yet: If Deshaun Watson can be the franchise quarterback that propels Cleveland to a deep playoff run. Watson missed almost all of four games with a rotator cuff strain to his throwing shoulder. Before that, he hardly looked like the QB he was with the Texans. But Watson is back now and made some nice throws in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals. Where he goes from here will decide Cleveland’s ultimate fate — this season and beyond.
Stat that defined the first half: The Browns have leaned on their defensive backs to hold up in man-to-man coverage (53.6% of the time) and they have delivered. Cleveland is No. 1 in the NFL in lowest opposing QBR when in man (18.2). The next closest defense is the Ravens, who have an opposing man QBR of 27.5. — Jake Trotter
FPI rank: 17
Chances to make the playoffs: 44.3%
Chances to win their division: 7.7%
What we know: The Steelers are getting comfortable being in uncomfortable situations. Since 2022, the Steelers have an NFL-most seven wins when trailing through three quarters, and quarterback Kenny Pickett has three fourth-quarter comebacks this season — already tying the number he had in his rookie season. The defense has also come up clutch in game-sealing situations, including an end zone interception by inside linebacker Kwon Alexander against the Tennessee Titans in Week 9 and a scoop-and-score by T.J. Watt to beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 2.
What we don’t know yet: The team’s offensive identity. A season ago, the Steelers didn’t figure that out until the second half of the season, when they started running the ball effectively and used that to establish a balanced offense. The win against the Titans and the team’s season highs of 166 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry could be a signal that the Steelers are figuring it out. The team moved first-round pick Broderick Jones into the starting lineup and offensive coordinator Matt Canada from the booth to the sideline — two things that could be key factors to finding rhythm and identity.
Stat that defined the first half: The Steelers are the 34th team in NFL history to have been outgained in each of their eight games this season, per Elias Sports Bureau. Of that group, they’re the only team with a winning record in that stretch. The only team of that initial group of 33 teams to finish with a winning record was last year’s Steelers team, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. — Brooke Pryor
FPI rank: 19
Chances to make the playoffs: 26.8%
Chances to win their division: 12.3%
What we know: The Texans have already surpassed their win total from last year (three) and are in the AFC wild-card hunt. Their No. 2 pick, quarterback C.J. Stroud, has been impressive. After eight games, he is third in yards per game (283.8), third in passer rating (102.9) and tied for seventh in touchdown passes (14).
What we don’t know yet: Is this really a playoff-quality team? They’re in the ninth spot in the AFC playoff hunt, tied with the New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers. They’re behind the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the wild-card race. They’ve already beaten the Steelers and will get the opportunity to play the Browns, Bengals and Jets. Also, the Texans are two games back in the AFC South behind the Jacksonville Jaguars — whom they’ve already beaten once. For the first time since 2019, the Texans are playing meaningful football in November.
Stat that defined the first half: The Texans have the sixth-best turnover differential (plus-5) and the fewest giveaways (5). They’ve played clean football on offense, led by Stroud throwing only one interception. Winning the turnover battle has allowed them to be competitive in the majority of their games. — DJ Bien-Aime
FPI rank: 21
Chances to make the playoffs: 16%
Chances to win their division: 3%
What we know: The Colts aren’t exactly contenders, but they have been more competitive this season under rookie coach Shane Steichen. Some questions have been raised about him in terms of decision-making and in-game management, but his scheme and playcalling have generated significant offensive production in spite of QB Anthony Richardson — the Colts’ fourth overall pick this year — being lost for the season to shoulder surgery. The Colts rank seventh in scoring (25.8 points per game).
What we don’t know yet: The Colts haven’t shown nearly enough consistency to demonstrate whether they can make things interesting in the final weeks of the season. Then again, only two of their remaining eight opponents currently have winning records. And the problems the Colts have experienced because of injuries in their secondary is somewhat mitigated by some of the middling quarterbacks they’ll face down the stretch. Can the Colts overcome their numerous weaknesses to be a factor in the wild-card race?
Stat that defined the first half: The Colts have outgained opponents in yardage just once in their four wins. It speaks to the unconventional manner in which the Colts have managed to win some of their games. That includes an overtime win over the Ravens that required an NFL-record four field goals of 50 yards or longer from kicker Matt Gay and Sunday’s win over the Panthers in which cornerback Kenny Moore II outscored his own offense with two interception-return touchdowns. — Stephen Holder
FPI rank: 10
Chances to make the playoffs: 88%
Chances to win their division: 79.8%
What we know: The Jaguars defense has been much better than expected. They’re tied for the league lead in turnovers (18) and are ranked third against the run (79.3 yards allowed per game). Linebacker Josh Allen is having the best year of his career with nine sacks and 48 QB pressures. On offense, running back Travis Etienne Jr. (583 rushing yards, eight total TDs) has been the offensive MVP, quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been solid and tight end Evan Engram and receiver Christian Kirk are on pace to better last season’s career bests in catches and yards.
What we don’t know yet: Can this offense compete with the NFL elite? The offense hasn’t consistently performed at a high level in the second season under coach Doug Pederson. Passing, rushing and total yardage are down from last season and scoring is essentially the same (less than a point per game higher) — even with the addition of WR Calvin Ridley. Lawrence is completing 68.3% of his passes and has nine touchdown passes. But the unit has struggled with red zone efficiency (47.6%) and hasn’t put together a complete game. To make a deep playoff run, the offense needs to be better.
Stat that defined the first half: Defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell’s unit has forced a turnover in all but one game. Their league-leading 18 turnovers have come despite the defense not yet having its full lineup at any point in the first half because of injuries. CB Tyson Campbell, S Andre Cisco, LB Devin Lloyd, LB Dawuane Smoot and DT DaVon Hamilton have all missed games this season. — Mike DiRocco
FPI rank: 16
Chances to make the playoffs: 10.1%
Chances to win their division: 4.9%
What we know: Trading for Nick Folk solved the inconsistencies at kicker the Titans have dealt with over the past two seasons. Folk has been perfect on all 19 of his field goal attempts. His 19 consecutive field-goal streak is tied for the fifth longest in franchise history. Four of Folk’s 19 field goals have come from 50 or more yards out. He is tied for second place, averaging 2.4 field goals made per game. The veteran kicker has also made all 13 of his extra point attempts.
What we don’t know yet: How much will injuries limit Treylon Burks‘ contributions? The second-year wide receiver missed nine out of the past 25 games. Burks was also unavailable for 12 days in training camp because of an LCL injury in his left knee. A separate injury to the same knee caused Burks to miss Weeks 4-6. Burks’ status for Week 10 is undetermined after he suffered a concussion attempting to make a jumping catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week.
Stat that defined the first half: The Titans’ offense is scoring touchdowns on 34.6% of their visits into the red zone. That’s less than half of their red zone scoring percentage (70%) from 2019 to 2022, which was the best in the NFL over that span. Four of Tennessee’s five losses this season were by one score or less. Finding ways to come away with touchdowns rather than settling for field goals when the Titans get inside the 20-yard line is the difference between wins and losses. — Turron Davenport
FPI rank: 25
Chances to make the playoffs: 1.9%
Chances to win their division: 0.1%
What we know: The Broncos are one of the most mercurial teams in the league. They surrendered 70 points — 10 touchdowns — to the Dolphins in Week 3 and then somehow gave up only one touchdown in two games combined against the Chiefs. The Week 8 win over the Chiefs snapped a 16-game losing streak against Kansas City that dated back to Week 2 of the 2015 season. It was the Broncos’ third win in the past five games after an 0-3 start.
What we don’t know yet: Will the Broncos concede that they are better on offense when they lean into the run game? They have consistently been one of the league leaders this season in percentage of explosive runs (rushing plays of 10 or more yards). In run block win rate, they’ve consistently been in the top three. Yet their offensive series often become pass-pass-pass-punt. Quarterback Russell Wilson has had five games in his career with fewer than 120 yards passing, and two of those have come in the Broncos’ past three games. More running looks could settle him in and give the Broncos more of the play-action passing game they’d like.
Stat that defined the first half: Take your pick — 70 points, 10 touchdowns, 726 yards of offense and 350 rushing yards allowed in the loss to Miami. It was just the third time in the league’s history a team had surrendered 70 points, and it was the second-highest yardage total in NFL history. That was the rudest of awakenings for coach Sean Payton and his staff. — Jeff Legwold
FPI rank: 1
Chances to make the playoffs: 98.8%
Chances to win their division: 90.4%
What we know: The Chiefs are better defensively than they’ve been since Patrick Mahomes took over as their starting quarterback in 2018 — and then some. The Chiefs are winning games when their offense doesn’t produce in its usual manner. They have allowed more than 20 points just twice this season. The defensive investments the team made in the 2022 draft are paying off with great performances from cornerback Trent McDuffie, defensive end George Karlaftis, safety Bryan Cook and linebacker Leo Chenal.
What we don’t know yet: Halfway through the season, the offense is still muddling through large stretches of most games, leaving some doubt whether the Chiefs can routinely return to their high-scoring ways. The wide receivers the Chiefs were counting on, Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney, have produced little. Mahomes is on pace for the worst full-season passer rating (96.7) of his career.
Stat that defined the first half: The Chiefs are allowing 15.9 points per game. That’s the team’s best through nine games since the Chiefs started 9-0 in 2013. Those Chiefs collapsed down the stretch, but don’t expect that to happen this time. The Chiefs are solid defensively at all three levels. There has been no weakness for opponents to pick on and consistently make gains. — Adam Teicher
FPI rank: 30
Chances to make the playoffs: 0.5%
Chances to win their division: 0.1%
What we know: The Raiders needed a culture shift, and moving on from Josh McDaniels to interim coach Antonio Pierce worked — for at least one game. Or did you miss the Raiders beating the New York Giants 30-6 and then puffing on some cigars in the locker room afterward? Or the new basketball hoop in the locker room? Or the return of the Friday pre-practice dance circle? Or practice squad players allowed on the sidelines during home games?
What we don’t know yet: How long will the emotional high last, and is rookie Aidan O’Connell the answer at quarterback? Jimmy Garoppolo might be the best overall QB on the roster, but the Raiders needed a reset, and O’Connell, a fourth-rounder from Purdue, represents that. As Pierce said, Garoppolo might actually play again at some point this season, but if he does, that would likely mean something went wrong with the O’Connell experiment.
Stat that defined the first half: Edge rusher Maxx Crosby has played 98% of defensive snaps through nine games. The two-time Pro Bowler rarely comes off the field. In fact, Crosby, who is leading Las Vegas with 9.5 of the team’s 24 sacks and is coming off his third career three-sack game, has missed only two defensive snaps in the Raiders’ past six games. — Paul Gutierrez
FPI rank: 8
Chances to make the playoffs: 50.1%
Chances to win their division: 9.4%
What we know: The Chargers can’t run the ball. After rushing for 233 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener, the Chargers’ rushing offense has stalled. They are averaging just 82.2 yards per game since Week 1 and are 22nd in the league in total rushing yards (809). “The running game, on offense, for us is one of those areas where it’s just taken us some time to figure it out,” coach Brandon Staley said. “But we have the right guys for the job.”
What we don’t know yet: Will wide receiver Quentin Johnston emerge as a consistent contributor? The Chargers chose Johnston with the No. 21 pick in the 2023 draft, but Johnston has been something of an afterthought in the offense. His best game this season came against the Bears in Week 8, when he caught five passes for 50 yards. Johnston will see his target share increase, however, as Mike Williams tore his ACL in Week 3 and Joshua Palmer was placed on injured reserve Sunday because of a knee injury.
Stat that defined the first half: The Chargers are allowing the most passing yards per game in the NFL (286). The Chargers have allowed just 718 yards rushing this season, the sixth-best mark in the NFL. But the issue for this defense is that teams don’t need to have success running the ball because they can get just about whatever they want through the air. Their worst performance this season came in Week 7 against the Chiefs, when Patrick Mahomes threw for 321 yards in the first half, his most in a half this season. — Kris Rhim
FPI rank: 6
Chances to make the playoffs: 95%
Chances to win their division: 13.7%
What we know: The Cowboys’ defense will be able to affect the quarterback and take the ball away. But it has done that since Dan Quinn took over as defensive coordinator in 2021. That’s also when linebacker Micah Parsons arrived. He has 7.5 sacks this season and 52 pass-rush wins in eight games. The Cowboys have 13 takeaways, and cornerback DaRon Bland, replacing an injured Trevon Diggs, leads the league with three pick-sixes. But in the bigger games, they need to come up bigger, which they didn’t do against San Francisco or Philadelphia.
What we don’t know yet: Are the Cowboys a real Super Bowl contender? Their five wins have come against teams with a combined 15-28 record this season. In their biggest tests against the 49ers and Eagles, they lost. But the loss that is actually galling is the one to Arizona in Week 3. If the Cowboys’ season ends without a playoff game, that will be the loss that haunts them. Four of their next five games are at home, where they have won 11 straight, and the road game is at one-win Carolina. They almost have to be 9-3 going into a December with four of five games against teams currently with winning records.
Stat that defined the first half: The offense’s 44% red zone success. After leading the NFL in red zone percentage last season, the Cowboys are 29th in 2023. They are tied for 31st in goal-to-go scenarios (50%), better than only Denver. The recent loss to Philadelphia epitomized the issues. They got to the Eagles’ 6-yard line with 27 seconds left and could not score a winning touchdown. They can drive the ball (6.4 plays per drive, which is No. 2 in the league), but they have to finish drives with touchdowns. — Todd Archer
FPI rank: 32
Chances to make the playoffs: Less than 1%
Chances to win their division: Less than 0.1%
What we know: What could go wrong did go wrong. The Giants’ most important offensive players (Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley) each missed at least three games. And now, both quarterbacks, Jones and Tyrod Taylor, are injured. The result is that the offense is averaging 11.2 points per game. That is almost four points less than any other team. It’s impossible to win like that.
What we don’t know yet: Just how bad this is about to get, and how much heat will fall on Brian Daboll. He won Coach of the Year in his first season with the Giants, but all that equity seems to have been squandered nine games into his second year. Daboll will have his hands full trying to keep this all together in the second half of the season. His job isn’t in jeopardy, but this will be a test on just how much of a handle he has on this team.
Stat that defined the first half: The -116 point differential, easily the worst in the NFL. New England has the second-largest differential at -93. This means the Giants aren’t just losing most games, they’re getting blown out (see: Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami and Las Vegas). This is how you end up 2-7 with a strong chance to land a top-five pick in the 2024 draft. ESPN Analytics has it as an 90.4% possibility. — Jordan Raanan
FPI rank: 7
Chances to make the playoffs: More than 99.9%
Chances to win their division: 86.3%
What we know: The Eagles’ NFC title defense is off to a strong start. The Eagles boast the best record in the league (8-1). Quarterback Jalen Hurts is hobbled by a left knee injury but has worked his way into the MVP conversation for a second straight year nonetheless. They have elite offensive and defensive lines, and arguably the best receiver tandem in A.J. Brown (already over 1,000 yards receiving) and DeVonta Smith. The last NFC team to lose the Super Bowl and return to the game the following year was the 1974 Vikings; Philadelphia is on a mission to change that.
What we don’t know yet: Whether the secondary will stabilize over the second half of the season. Injuries led to a rotating cast at both safety and slot cornerback, and that took its toll: The Eagles rank 29th in pass defense (257 yards per game) and are tied for the second-most passing touchdowns allowed with 19. The expectation is things will settle down in the back end once nickel corner Bradley Roby returns from a shoulder injury after the bye and newly acquired safety Kevin Byard gets comfortable in the system.
Stat that defined the first half: Six. The number of consecutive games Brown posted 125-plus receiving yards, an NFL record. It took him just nine games to go over the 1,000-yard mark — a first in franchise history. Brown and Smith are making life pretty easy for Hurts by NFL standards: Over the past two games, Hurts has a 92% completion rate with five touchdowns and no interceptions when targeting Smith and Brown. — Tim McManus
FPI rank: 28
Chances to make the playoffs: 7.8%
Chances to win their division: Less than 0.1%
What we know: Quarterback Sam Howell can play. Through nine games, Howell, who entered the season with one career start, was second in the NFL in passing yards (2,471) and seventh in touchdowns (14) but also tied for first in interceptions (nine). In his past five games, he has thrown 10 touchdowns to only four picks. Howell still has a lot to learn before anyone can rightly know where his career ultimately will go, but he’s off to a promising start.
What we don’t know yet: Who will be retained? At 4-5, Washington likely will need a strong second half for the coaches to stick around another year under new owner Josh Harris. The Commanders haven’t finished with a winning record in Ron Rivera’s first three seasons, though they did win the NFC East in 2020 at 7-9. To help their case, the defense, which ranks 30th in points and 28th in yards, must finish strong.
Stat that defined the first half: Forty-four sacks allowed. It’s a combination of youth (Howell), an offense that has thrown the ball 38 times more than the No. 2 team (Minnesota) and a line that needed to be built better. Howell was on pace to be sacked 97 times at one point but now is on pace for 83 — which would still set an NFL record. Howell has remained healthy, but the sacks have lost an NFL-high 293 yards. — John Keim
FPI rank: 27
Chances to make the playoffs: 2.4%
Chances to win their division: 0.3%
What we know: This rebuild is taking a while. The Bears are 5-21 since hiring Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles despite making aggressive moves to build a competitive roster. Aside from seven losses, the first half of the season was tumultuous for several off-field reasons, including: two assistant coaches leaving via resignation and dismissal, quarterback Justin Fields‘ pointing to coaching as a possible reason for his “robotic” play, embattled wide receiver Chase Claypool being offloaded to Miami and cornerback Jaylon Johnson requesting a trade.
What we don’t know yet: Who is the Bears’ starting quarterback in 2024? Even before Justin Fields dislocated his right thumb in Week 6, the 24-year-old QB didn’t do much to prove he’s the long-term answer. Rookie Tyson Bagent, who started three games in Fields’ absence, has looked good in spurts but has also thrown six interceptions. Chicago gets one last chance to evaluate Fields once he returns from injury to see if he can improve in critical situations and take fewer sacks. The Bears currently own the No. 2 and No. 3 picks in the draft, which they might need to use on a quarterback.
Stat that defined the first half: The Bears have the fewest sacks (10) and quarterback hits (36) and have allowed the second-highest passer rating (103.3). Chicago’s lack of a consistent pass rush has been the main culprit in its defensive struggles, which led Poles to send a 2024 second-round pick to Washington at the trade deadline in exchange for defensive end Montez Sweat, whom the Bears quickly signed to a four-year, $98 million extension. — Courtney Cronin
FPI rank: 11
Chances to make the playoffs: 94.9%
Chances to win their division: 77.5%
What we know: At 6-2, the Lions are off to their best start over an eight-game stretch since 2014 and have positioned themselves to win their first divisional title since 1993. After closing out the 2022 regular season with eight wins in their final 10 games, coach Dan Campbell’s team has picked up where it left off with veteran quarterback Jared Goff running the show in an offense designed around his strengths.
What we don’t know yet: Can the Lions challenge top opponents? Campbell acknowledged during Monday’s practice the Lions “have not played our best football collectively.” Five of Detroit’s six victories have come against teams with losing records that are 15-27 collectively, so there are still questions surrounding just how legitimate the Lions are. The Lions haven’t reached the playoffs since 2016 and are 1-2 this season against likely playoff teams with their lone win coming in the opener against the Chiefs.
Stat that defined the first half: The Lions have won three consecutive home games by 12 or more points for the first time since 1997. Ford Field has been a real advantage for them. Goff has thrown a touchdown pass in 17 straight home games, a franchise record. The Lions also recorded their first victory on “Monday Night Football” since 2014 in a Week 8 home win over the Raiders. According to Vivid Seats, the average cost of a ticket to that game was $252 on the resale market, making it the hottest Lions ticket in the past 15 years. — Eric Woodyard
FPI rank: 23
Chances to make the playoffs: 16.6%
Chances to win their division: 1.4%
What we know: This is a rebuilding season, even if the Packers have never said it. If you weren’t convinced before, last week’s trade of cornerback Rasul Douglas to the Bills just before the deadline should have done the trick. And that’s not all bad. Given the big chunk of dead money (more than $60 million, most of it from Aaron Rodgers‘ contract) on this year’s salary cap, it made some sense for GM Brian Gutekunst to spend a year taking stock of the roster and coming up with a plan to add to it in the offseason with a healthier salary cap and an array of draft picks (five in the first three rounds). That doesn’t do a lot now for coach Matt LaFleur, who should hope that’s not held against him.
What we don’t know yet: Is Jordan Love the franchise quarterback? The biggest downside of having the youngest roster in the NFL is that Love isn’t the only one making first-time mistakes. The Packers don’t have a catch by a receiver who has more than two seasons of NFL experience because they don’t have a receiver who has more than two seasons of NFL experience. Throw in three rookie tight ends plus injuries to veteran left tackle David Bakhtiari and running back Aaron Jones, and it’s hard to evaluate exactly what Love can be.
Stat that defined the first half: 59.6%. That’s Love’s completion percentage through the first eight games. He is one of only three regular starters who is below 60% (Zach Wilson at 59.9% and Matthew Stafford at 59.7% are the others). Packers QB coach Tom Clements insisted last week that Love does not have an accuracy problem. In fact, last Sunday against the Rams, Love had his most accurate day of the season when he completed 20 of 26 passes, including 6-of-8 on throws of 10-plus air yards. — Rob Demovsky
FPI rank: 18
Chances to make the playoffs: 71.5%
Chances to win their division: 20.8%
What we know: Receiver Justin Jefferson is one of the best players in the NFL — but the Vikings can win without him. Coach Kevin O’Connell built his entire offense around Jefferson, and he had caught an NFL-high 36 passes for 571 yards when he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 5. Since then, the Vikings have won four consecutive games and are back in the NFC playoff race. That’s due in large part to a defense that has found its footing under new coordinator Brian Flores. During the win streak, the Vikings have ranked No. 7 in scoring defense (17 points allowed per game) and No. 3 in both defensive efficiency and defensive EPA.
What we don’t know yet: If Kirk Cousins has taken his final snap with the team. Cousins tore his right Achilles tendon in Week 8 at Lambeau Field, an injury that will sideline him for the season. His contract will void in March, after the deadline to declare franchise tags, so he has a guaranteed path to free agency. O’Connell implied that he wants to re-sign Cousins, and general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah also spoke in positive tones. But Adofo-Mensah noted the decision “isn’t just a ‘me’ thing. It’s a negotiation.” In the meantime, the Vikings will rely on a combination of backups — Joshua Dobbs, Jaren Hall, Sean Mannion and possibly Nick Mullens — the rest of the way.
Stat that defined the first half: In starting the season 1-4, the Vikings compiled the NFL’s worst turnover margin (minus-9). Opponents scored the fifth-most points off those turnovers (37). Since then, the Vikings are tied for the NFL’s third-best turnover ratio (plus-4) and their offense leads the league in points off turnovers (38). — Kevin Seifert
FPI rank: 22
Chances to make the playoffs: 37.3%
Chances to win their division: 24.9%
What we know: Bijan Robinson and Drake London are legitimate playmakers. London has 37 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns, and Robinson has 714 scrimmage yards and is on pace for nearly 1,350 as a rookie. The offseason signings of safety Jessie Bates III, linebacker Kaden Elliss, and defensive linemen Calais Campbell and David Onyemata have all improved the defensive unit.
What we don’t know yet: Whether Atlanta has a quarterback to count on. Both Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke have shown flashes of really good play — but also a bunch of very mediocre. It’s why there have been questions the past two weeks of who will start. Tied in with that, the offensive line’s protection abilities — particularly against the pass where 24.4% of dropbacks have been pressured — have not been consistent and it’s unclear if it will get better this year.
Stat that defined the first half: Atlanta leads the league with seven fumbles lost and 11 lost turnovers — one of three teams with more than 10, joining Chicago and Arizona. Those turnovers have marred an offense that has moved the ball well over the last month. Atlanta also leads the league with four red zone turnovers (three fumbles, one interception), although three came in a game the Falcons won against Tampa Bay. — Michael Rothstein
FPI rank: 31
Chances to make the playoffs: 0.2%
Chances to win their division: 0.1%
What we know: Carolina’s roster, even before a rash of injuries, wasn’t good enough to just drop in a quarterback like No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young and win right away. Many missing pieces remain, from a true No. 1 receiver who is a deep threat to an offensive line that can protect and open up the running game. Until the Panthers fill those needs, it’ll be tough to judge Young.
What we don’t know yet: Whether coach Frank Reich is the right person to turn the organization around. It’s impressive that he hasn’t lost the locker room after a 1-7 start. But he was hired in large part because of his offensive expertise, and after six games he turned the playcalling over to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who’d never called a game. As promising as Brown is, the Panthers scored only two touchdowns in his first two games.
Stat that defined the first half: Opponents have scored 45 points off Young’s turnovers and 59 off Carolina’s turnovers overall. That’s the second most in the NFL behind the New England Patriots (69). The Panthers missed a chance to win at least three more games due to these mistakes, including Sunday’s 27-13 setback to Indianapolis in which Young had two pick-sixes. — David Newton
FPI rank: 14
Chances to make the playoffs: 76%
Chances to win their division: 63.7%
What we know: The secondary is the real deal. The Saints have consistently forced at least one turnover in all nine games, and they have had at least one interception in seven of them. Five different defensive backs have at least one interception, and the Saints lead the league with 12 total. Those takeaways have helped keep the team in games when the offense has struggled, which doesn’t look like it’ll stop anytime soon.
What we don’t know yet: If the Saints can consistently move the ball on offense. They rank 29th in yards per rush (3.6), 18th in rushing yards per game (103.9) and have yet to have a 100-yard rusher in a game. They’ve improved their pass protection (two sacks in the past three games) but still haven’t put it all together. The Saints say they’ve seen the potential on offense, but living up to it on a weekly basis will be the big question.
Stat that defined the first half: The Saints are 28th in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns 45.5% of the time despite improvement in the past three games, where they ranked 15th. Consistency could move them up the red zone efficiency list, keep them above .500 and in the playoff hunt. — Katherine Terrell
FPI rank: 20
Chances to make the playoffs: 22.8%
Chances to win their division: 11.3%
What we know: It’s been a rough month. The Bucs went into their Week 5 bye at 3-1, and giving up only 17 points per game. They have dropped four straight (giving up 24.75 points), including a 39-37 shootout at the Houston Texans in Week 9 where the offense scored 30 points for the first time this season.
What we don’t know yet: Can Todd Bowles turn this thing around? The expectation was that the offense would struggle early on with a new quarterback in Baker Mayfield and a new offensive coordinator in Dave Canales. But the defense’s dramatic decline the past four weeks has raised questions about Bowles’ job status. If the Bucs don’t reverse course, does he get more time, given that he didn’t get to choose his staff last season and the salary cap limitations caused by retired quarterback Tom Brady’s $35.1 million cap hit?
Stat that defined the first half: In Weeks 1-4, Tampa Bay surrendered 318.5 yards per game. After the bye, it has given up 426 yards, with most of the damage done on third down. Even the league’s second-best red zone defense (34.6%) can’t save the Bucs here. — Jenna Laine
FPI rank: 29
Chances to make the playoffs: 0.1%
Chances to win their division: Less than 0.1%
What we know: The Cardinals can’t win without quarterback Kyler Murray. It hasn’t mattered who else was behind center. They went 1-7 with Joshua Dobbs and 0-1 with Clayton Tune at quarterback. Arizona’s offense, while hampered by injuries, hasn’t looked smooth or effective all season. Murray’s return should inject some life into a largely dormant offense under first-year coordinator Drew Petzing.
What we don’t know yet: What the offense will look like with Murray back on the field, which is expected to happen this weekend against the Falcons. It could look vastly different than what it’s been thus far, with Petzing perhaps holding back some of a playbook that was tailor-made for Murray.
Stat that defined the first half: Eight: That’s how many losses the Cardinals have. Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.” But their record doesn’t tell the entire story. For most of their games, they’ve shown fight, especially on defense. The offense was able to move the ball under Dobbs, who was dealt to the Minnesota Vikings before the trade deadline. Closing out drives with touchdowns was an issue, which could change once Murray returns. — Josh Weinfuss
FPI rank: 13
Chances to make the playoffs: 15.7%
Chances to win their division: 1.8%
What we know: The Rams have a strong rookie class. Led by wide receiver Puka Nacua, Los Angeles drafted an impact group, and they did it without a first-round pick. Nacua (fifth round) has already set the franchise record for catches in a rookie season and the Rams also found a starting center in Steve Avila (second round) and linebacker in Byron Young (third round). Young has five sacks, which ranks second on the team.
What we don’t know yet: How close the Rams are to contending. Los Angeles made the decision this offseason to move on from several veteran players and focus on their young draft class. The Rams are scheduled to have a first-round pick in 2024 for the first time since 2016, and they will have the salary cap flexibility this offseason to spend. This season has shown they still have quite a few holes on their roster, but the team has the resources to aggressively fix that in the offseason.
Stat that defined the first half: The Rams are averaging only 19.8 points per game, which just has not been enough to win games, even with a defense that has exceeded expectations. With the way they were built this offseason — deciding to rely on a young defense — the offense needed to lead the way. That scoring average is tied for 21st, and although an improvement from last season’s 17.5 points per game, it has not been enough. — Sarah Barshop
FPI rank: 4
Chances to make the playoffs: 96%
Chances to win their division: 83%
What we know: At full strength, the 49ers are capable of going toe-to-toe with any team in the league, but they’re far from infallible without their full complement of stars. The Niners are loaded with highly paid talent, which is great when they are all healthy and productive. When they aren’t, the onus falls on a roster that is more top-heavy than it’s been in the past to pick up the slack. The difference is obvious, as they got off to a dominant 5-0 start where they were almost fully healthy, then lost three straight without the services of left tackle Trent Williams and receiver Deebo Samuel.
What we don’t know yet: Does this team have the ability to pull out tight games at winning time? The Niners of recent vintage have been nothing if not resilient, winning games in nearly every way imaginable. But this group has a quarterback in Brock Purdy who hasn’t been in many adverse situations and a new defensive coordinator in Steve Wilks. Purdy’s passer rating drops more than 30 points when the Niners are trailing, and it remains to be seen whether he can consistently deliver in crunch time. Also, Wilks must prove that he can get the defense back to previous levels reached by Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans.
Stat that defined the first half: Let’s not overcomplicate this: The 49ers had just two turnovers (tied for second fewest in the NFL) and a league-best plus-7 turnover margin in their first five games, all wins. In their past three games, they have seven giveaways and are minus-3 in turnover differential. It’s no coincidence they lost all three games. Turnover differential matters for every team, but the Niners have proved over the past two seasons that there’s a straight line between their ability to win the turnover battle and their ability to win games. — Nick Wagoner
FPI rank: 15
Chances to make the playoffs: 63.9%
Chances to win their division: 15.2%
What we know: Quarterback Geno Smith is not playing like he did during his brilliant first half of last season. It’s been more like a continuation of his shaky second half of 2022. He’s thrown nine touchdowns to seven interceptions and ranks 16th in Total QBR (56.2), with eight turnovers over his last four games. Not all of them have been Smith’s fault, and he’s played behind a handful of backup offensive linemen with a different combination of starters nearly every week. But he needs to eliminate a couple of bad plays each game.
What we don’t know yet: Where do the Seahawks rank in the NFC pecking order? Only the Eagles and Lions have a better record, and the Seahawks beat the Lions on the road. They also went toe-to-toe with the Bengals in Cincinnati, their only loss in a stretch of six games that included a win over the Browns. Then again, they were dismantled by the Ravens in a 34-point loss last week, and three of their wins have come against three of the NFL’s worst teams (Cardinals, Panthers, Giants). The defining stretch of their season is approaching, with two games against the 49ers and one apiece vs. the Eagles and Cowboys in a four-week span.
Stat that defined the first half: The Seahawks rank 30th in third down conversion rate both on offense and defense. They’re allowing opponents to convert 45.3% of the time, and after a 1-for-12 showing in their blowout loss to Baltimore, they’re converting on only 31.9% of their chances. The Seahawks are fortunate to be 5-3 despite being so poor on the money down, but that isn’t a sustainable trend. — Brady Henderson