Being above .500 is huge at the midway point of the season. It means you’re probably among the division leaders, well in contention for a playoff berth and have played relatively solid football through nine weeks. It does not, however, guarantee you a spot in the playoffs by any means.
There are currently 12 teams at 5-4 or better, but as you know, not all of them will make the postseason. Some team that’s at or below .500 will go on a run to make the playoffs late in the year, surprising all of us. Three of those winning teams will also falter down the stretch and miss out on the big dance.
So who are they and why will they falter? Read on.
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Houston Texans (5-3)
As it stands right now, the Texans have a decent shot at reaching the postseason. They’re 5-3, sitting atop the mediocre AFC South and have a date with the Jaguars up next. However, the Texans aren’t as good as their record indicates. On the season, they’ve scored just 137 points. That’s with having a $72 million quarterback, Lamar Miller and DeAndre Hopkins. Only two teams – the Bears and Rams – have scored fewer points than Houston, and they’re a combined 5-11.
Sure, the defense has been solid, allowing just 167 points on the year, but if you do the math, that’s a point differential of minus-30. There are exactly seven teams with a differential worse than that, and they’re all 3-5 or worse. That just shows that the Texans are winning their games by small margins and getting blown out by teams like the Vikings, Broncos and Patriots – all of which came on the road.
Speaking of playing games away from home, they’ll be visitors in five of their final eight games. They’ve lost all three of their road games this season by a combined score of 85-22. That’s … not good. The main reason behind that is quarterback Brock Osweiler’s inability to play well anywhere besides NRG Stadium. In three road starts this season, Osweiler is completing 52 percent of his passes for 170.3 yards per game with one touchdown and two interceptions. His passer rating is 58.9, and he has averaged 4.12 yards per attempt.
It’s reasons like those that the Texans will miss the playoffs with road games against the Raiders, Packers, Colts and Titans on the schedule. The Colts or Titans will swoop in and take the division crown from Houston.
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Detroit Lions (5-4)
The Lions have been a pleasant surprise this season, overcoming the loss of Calvin Johnson (retirement) and Ameer Abdullah (injury). Matthew Stafford has played like an MVP, leading his team to comeback victory after comeback victory. Incredibly, the Lions have trailed in the final 90 seconds of all nine of their games – they’ve won five of them. That not only shows great resilience and mental toughness, but it also shows their biggest flaw: the inability to play well for all four quarters. They won’t be able to sustain this comeback mentality for the rest of the season, and it will doom them down the road.
Stafford’s numbers (mostly) get progressively better as the game goes on. He has a 96.4 passer rating in the first quarter, 94.9 in the second, 108.0 in the third and 101.9 in the fourth. In overtime, it’s 156.9. it’s not a perfect upward slope numbers-wise, but there’s no doubt he’s better in the second half and overtime.
Yet, strangely enough, he’s thrown it more times in the first half (59) than the second (45). The Lions don’t even bother to attempt to establish the run – they know they can’t gain yards on the ground (24th in rushing). That’s going to significantly hurt them down the stretch. Not to mention, their schedule isn’t exactly favorable.
They still have to play the Vikings, Saints, Giants, Cowboys and Packers – the last of which could determine the NFC North and wild-card seeding in the NFC. I expect the Vikings and Packers to both get back on track, which will ultimately bump the Lions from a playoff berth.
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Washington Redskins (4-3-1)
The Washington Redskins currently sit at 4-3-1, good for third place in the always-competitive NFC East. They’ve had a relatively solid season thus far, beating the likes of the Giants, Ravens and Eagles – three playoff contenders – but their schedule is far from favorable going forward. And that’s taking into account how incredibly difficult it’s been through nine weeks.
In the next four weeks, the Redskins will play the Vikings, Packers, Cowboys and Cardinals. The Vikings, Packers and Cardinals are all reeling and have been struggling of late, but it’s easy to make the case that all four of those teams have far more talented rosters than Washington does. The Redskins lack talent at running back, their best offensive lineman Trent Williams is suspended for four games, and the defense has struggled against the run.
This will pose problems against teams like the Cardinals and Cowboys, who are among the best at running the ball. It will also be a challenge for the Redskins to generate any ground game against the Vikings and Packers, two of the best teams against the run.
Of course, anything can happen in the wild, wild East, and we’ll probably see the standings shift seven times before the season ends. But looking at the Redskins’ schedule, their chances of making the playoffs are not exactly favorable.