With 132 games in the books, we have crossed the midpoint of the 2012 NFL season. How has your team done? Where are they headed from here?
1. New England Patriots (5-3)
Patriots are the first team since 1940 to have three losses by a combined four points through eight games of a season. No offense has scored more points or gained more yards and first downs. They are on a record streak of 17 straight regular season games with at least 350 yards of offense.
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Known as a passing team with Tom Brady, the Patriots are second in rush attempts per game (34.5) and fourth in rushing yards per game (149.6). Bill Belichick’s defense continues to play a bend-but-don’t-break style, ranking 22nd in yards per game, 12th in points per game, and third in takeaways (20). They are 1-2 against teams with a winning record after losing to Baltimore and Seattle despite holding 13-point leads in each game.
The Patriots will be heavily tested in December when they host Houston and San Francisco in consecutive weeks, but remain a big favorite in the AFC East.
2. Miami Dolphins (4-4)
In a new era led by two rookies, coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins have played very well after an opening-day disaster in Houston, going 4-3 since. However, they have not made the plays late to win games, losing each time by a field goal.
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Philbin has gone from the high-flying offense in Green Bay to a passing attack with just six touchdown passes this season. Brian Hartline (41 receptions for 662 yards) has emerged as the top receiver, and Reggie Bush leads the ground game (534 yards). The defense had been one of the best in the AFC led by Cameron Wake’s 8.5 sacks, but they allowed a record performance to Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck in a big loss on Sunday.
With three games remaining against the Patriots and 49ers, it will be very difficult for the Dolphins to reach the postseason this year, but a second-place finish is still likely.
3. New York Jets (3-5)
After losing Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes for the season, the Jets have struggled against a tough first-half schedule. They have played seven consecutive teams .500 or better, going 2-5 in those games.
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Mark Sanchez is completing a league-worst 52.9 percent of his passes, and backup/personal punt protector Tim Tebow would offer little help in that regard. He’s a 47.5 percent career passer. While the pass defense has survived without Revis, the run defense is 29th in rushing yards per game, and 23rd in yards per carry.
The Jets are 3-8 in their last 11 games, and while the rest of the schedule may lighten up, Rex Ryan appears headed for his first losing season as head coach.
4. Buffalo Bills (3-5)
Despite the high-priced signing of free agent Mario Williams to team up with Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, the Buffalo defense has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season.
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It started in Week 1 when the Jets were able to score 34 offensive points. After wins vs. lowly Kansas City and Cleveland, Buffalo allowed 45 points in the second half alone to New England. A week later the 49ers became the first team in NFL history to rush and pass for over 300 yards each in a 45-3 rout. Tennessee went into Buffalo and scored five touchdowns with Chris Johnson rushing for 195 yards.
Run defense has always been a problem for Buffalo, but it’s never been this bad. It even offsets the strong rushing performance of the offense, with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller leading the team to the third best yard-per-carry average in the league (5.3). Of course, Ryan Fitzpatrick has not played well enough to take advantage of it. Chan Gailey is 13-27 (.325) in Buffalo, so look for changes to be made.
1. Baltimore Ravens (6-2)
It is strange to see the Baltimore offense rank higher than their defense, but that is the case this season. The “high-flying offense” with Joe Flacco has calmed down the last four games, while the defense finally held an opponent under 300 yards for the first time this season (Cleveland had 290 yards in Week 9). That is something they did nine times in 2011.
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Of course it is harder when Terrell Suggs only recently returned, and Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb have been lost for the season. But even before injuries Baltimore was struggling, allowing over 200 yards rushing in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history.
The 6-2 record is big in the AFC, but the Ravens have several tough games remaining and will have to take care of Pittsburgh to win the division for the second straight season.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
Coming into Week 9, the Steelers’ offense had the fewest possessions (69) this season, while the defense faced the fewest drives (66). New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has taken a lot of risk out of the offense, putting a premium on third-down conversions, which the Steelers are the best in the league at, converting 51.3 percent of the time.
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Ben Roethlisberger has a career-best sack percentage of 5.4 percent, and has thrown 16 touchdowns to four interceptions with a 101.1 passer rating. The Steelers were only 2-3 after blowing the fourth-quarter lead in four games, but have put together an impressive three-game winning streak to get back into contention.
They will play Baltimore in Weeks 11 and 13, which should ultimately decide who wins the AFC North. The good news is they should be able to get players like Troy Polamalu, Rashard Mendenhall and David DeCastro back from injury.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (3-5)
The Bengals were 3-1 to start the season, but their wins came against teams with a combined 6-20 record. They have lost four straight, and have yet to beat a quality opponent since Andy Dalton became the starting quarterback last season.
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Dalton has regressed some in recent weeks, even though sophomore receiver A.J. Green has played like a superstar with 51 receptions for 735 yards and eight touchdowns. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has not provided a strong running game, averaging 3.4 yards per carry and suffering the first three fumbles of his career. The offense is 31st on third down. The defense has regressed from last season, ranking 20th or worse in most major categories. They have allowed a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of three straight games.
With several tough games remaining, this looks like a losing season in progress for the Bengals.
4. Cleveland Browns (2-7)
Despite their 2-7 record, the Browns have been competitive in every game this season. The 29-year-old rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has had the most growing pains of all the rookie QBs starting this year, though it may just be due to the fact that he is the worst player of the group.
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Coach Pat Shurmur and quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Cleveland has tried to help him with fellow rookies like running back Trent Richardson and wide receiver Josh Gordon, but it has still produced one of the worst offenses in the league. The defense has not been much better, putting Pat Shurmur (6-19) on the hot seat with new ownership in town.
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