1. Houston Texans (7-1)
Houston owns the second-best scoring differential in the league (+100). It held at least a 20-point lead in each of the first four games this season, becoming the fourth team in NFL history to do so. The Texans demolished the Ravens 43-13 in an AFC showdown in Week 7. They can throw it off play action with the best of them, they run the ball well, they have a league-low six giveaways, and the defense is ridiculously active, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate J.J. Watt.
Thomas B. Shea / Getty Images
But what’s the eyesore for the Texans? It is that 42-24 rout the Packers put on them in Houston in front of a national audience.
Now the Texans get their next chance with a road game in Chicago against the best defense in the league. It is important they win a game like this or the one in New England (Week 14) if fans are to take the team seriously as the Super Bowl favorite out of the AFC.
2. Indianapolis Colts (5-3)
Perhaps the surprise team of 2012, the Colts have already more than doubled their 2-14 result from last year, and with a rookie quarterback and interim coach to boot.
Darron Cummings / AP
But Andrew Luck is no ordinary rookie, as he is on pace to pass for 4,808 yards. He just threw for a record 433 in a win over Miami, which was his fourth game-winning drive in eight games; another NFL record for a rookie. He’s not doing it alone as Reggie Wayne leads the league with 835 receiving yards.
This is still a young team, but they are 4-1 since the news of Chuck Pagano’s leukemia diagnosis, and they are fighting as the underdog each week. If the defense can start getting takeaways (they have a record-low three through eight games), then that will take some pressure off Luck and improve their scoring.
But right now, it’s a three-game winning streak and a game in Jacksonville on Thursday night is enticing to make it four straight for the team everyone expected was a few years away from winning again.
3. Tennessee Titans (3-6)
The Titans were an enigma last season, but this year is pretty clear. The defense is historically terrible. By allowing 308 points, that is tied for the sixth most through nine games in NFL history. Three of the teams ahead of them were in their first season in the NFL, and two of those teams did not return for a second (1950 Baltimore Colts, 1952 Dallas Texans). Quarterbacks are completing 72.2 percent of their passes against the Titans, who have a 108.4 defensive passer rating (worst in the league).
Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images
They have three wins, all fourth-quarter comebacks, including an upset of Pittsburgh and a wild overtime win over Detroit where they set a record with five touchdowns of 60 or more yards. Matt Hasselbeck has replaced the injured Jake Locker and added some stability to the offense, but the defense is too much to overcome. Chicago, with a lot of help from their defense, just dropped 51 points, including 28 in the first quarter in Tennessee.
If things do not get better, this could be another quick hook for a head coach (Mike Munchak).
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7)
Cecil Shorts giveth, and Cecil Shorts taketh. The second-year receiver has been the lone bright spot on the league’s worst offense. Without his stunning 80-yard touchdown to beat the Colts, this team could be headed for a 0-16 season.
Andy Lyons / Getty Images
Though, Shorts did lose a fumble to set up a game-winning field goal in overtime for the Raiders. Shorts is still doubling up first-round rookie Justin Blackmon’s production, who averages just 9.8 yards per catch. Blaine Gabbert is still one of the worst quarterbacks in the league whether he has Maurice Jones-Drew or not. When your offense has scored at least 24 points once in 24 games, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense to play well, which has not been the case this season.
This was supposed to be a year of improvement, but Jacksonville has gone backwards after a 5-11 season.
1. Denver Broncos (5-3)
Peyton Manning turning the team into the Denver Colts is complete. He has them already mastering the “games with limited possessions, highly-efficient offense, and a strong chance for fourth-quarter comebacks” formula from Indianapolis. Denver’s never out of a game with Manning, and we have seen that numerous times this season, even if the deficit was 24 points. Manning is putting up some of the best stats of his career all across the board.
Denis Poroy / AP
Willis McGahee and Demaryius Thomas.
The Broncos have three comeback wins, and are one of only two teams to score at least 21 points in every game this season (Houston). Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are on pace for big seasons, while Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman provide Manning with the best running game he’s had since 2006. The offense keeps getting better, the defense has come along well, and the schedule only gets easier.
There is no reason Denver cannot win out from here.
2. San Diego Chargers (4-4)
The Chargers had their season going according to expectations. They won the games they should have, lost the games they should have.
But when they had a 24-0 lead at halftime on Denver in Week 6, that was a game they had to close to take control of the division. Instead the historic comeback or collapse depending on your viewpoint happened, and the Chargers did not recover even with a bye week, losing 7-6 in Cleveland.
Jeff Gross / Getty Images
A sweep of Kansas City has them sitting at 4-4, but with Philip Rivers still not looking like the old Rivers, a decaying set of skill position players, a suspect defense and Norv Turner, it is hard to see San Diego rallying for a return to the postseason. When they blew the 24-point lead, they blew their shot this season.
3. Oakland Raiders (3-5)
Al Davis is gone, but he’s not forgotten. This is the story of … Darren McFadden with nagging injuries, and Carson Palmer throwing critical interceptions late in games. Sound familiar?
Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
Palmer’s had his moments with big comeback wins over Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, but he also has a lot of empty stats as he is on pace for 4,710 passing yards on a below-average scoring offense. The offense has to try and catch up with that defense, which has been brutal against the pass. They have also had two games in which teams rushed for over 260 yards as well.
Dennis Allen is a young coach who has yet to put his stamp on this team. It blends right in with the disappointment we have seen since the 2003 season.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (1-7)
Worst team in football. So much for the healthy returns of Jamaal Charles, Matt Cassel, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki helping out Romeo Crennel this season.
Stacy Revere / Getty Images
Somehow the Chiefs have managed to go eight games without a single lead in regulation. Not even an opening-drive field goal to go up 3-0. All they have is a field goal in overtime to beat New Orleans, which despite the Saints’ struggles, looks like the upset of the year given they trailed 24-6 (largest comeback in Chiefs’ history).
Crennel has had to delegate defensive coordinator duties, but while the defense has been terrible, the offense is embarrassing. Kansas City already has 29 giveaways, which are the most through eight games since the 1997 Saints had 30. The Chiefs’ turnover differential is -20. Only three teams since 1940 have managed to be at -21 through eight games, so there could be a record brewing there.
The NFL Network had a great stat last week that Kansas City has not had a quarterback they drafted win a game for them since 1987 (Todd Blackledge). The Chiefs started Tyler Palko last year and Brady Quinn this season. Why not some Ricky Stanzi in the second half this season? It would be hard for the season to get any worse than it has been.
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