We are now officially beyond the halfway point of the NFL season. Where is the time going? I have no idea, but I do know that we learned some things last week.
We learned that the Raiders are for real following a 30-20 domination of the defending Super Bowl Champion Broncos on Sunday night. We learned that the Lions might be the luckiest team in a long time, after defeating the Vikings in overtime to go to 5-4, despite trailing in the 4th Quarter of ALL NINE of their games. We learned that something is seriously wrong with the Packers, to the point where even Aaron Rodgers is (kinda) throwing his teammates under the bus.
We learned a lot, and we’ll probably learn even more this week. I’ll have my new Power Rankings, followed by a ranking of each of the eight divisions, and of course a Fantasy Start/Sit. I’ll also have a little something special for any UFC fans, as at the end of the post I’ll give a short preview and prediction for the biggest fights at the UFC’s first card in New York City taking place Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
- New England Patriots
- Dallas Cowboys
- Oakland Raiders
- Atlanta Falcons
- Seattle Seahawks
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Denver Broncos
- New York Giants
- Minnesota Vikings
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Washington Redskins
- San Diego Chargers
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Green Bay Packers
- Houston Texans
- Detroit Lions
- New Orleans Saints
- Arizona Cardinals
- Indianapolis Colts
- Baltimore Ravens
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Carolina Panthers
- Buffalo Bills
- Miami Dolphins
- Chicago Bears
- Tennessee Titans
- New York Jets
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Los Angeles Rams
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Cleveland Browns
- San Francisco 49ers
NFL Division Rankings
Each season, we hear divisions referred to as the “best” or the “weakest.” Well, I’m here to try and settle the argument of which division is the best in the league this year, and also which is the worse, with the other six in between. From one to eight, here are how I think the divisions stack up at this point in the season.
1 – AFC West
There is no debate here, the AFC West is the best division in football. Derek Carr, Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper have led a young Raiders team to a 7-2 start, and they head into their bye week in 1st Place. Right on their tails is the 6-2 Chiefs, who have a road victory over the Raiders already this season. The defending Super Bowl Champion Broncos are in 3rd Place at 6-3. That alone is reason enough for this division to be at the top. Sitting in last place in the 4-5 Chargers, who are without question the best team in the league that’s below .500.
2 – NFC East
There were a ton of questions about the teams in this division entering the season, but they have surpassed all expectations to this point. The 7-1 Cowboys are the biggest surprise of the season, led by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. It was a slow start for the Giants, but they’re starting to round into form following a win over the last place Eagles, who are at 4-4 after starting the season 3-0 behind rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. The Redskins have been quietly putting together a good season, as they sit at 4-3-1 coming off their bye week.
3 – NFC North
The top two teams in the NFC North are starting to struggle a little bit, but I think both of those teams are still good enough to compete with any team in the league. The Vikings are in 1st Place, but they have lost three straight after winning their first five games. There is something very wrong with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense, but at 4-4, they still have time to figure it out and make it to the playoffs. The Lions have trailed in the 4th Quarter in all nine of their games. Remarkably they are 5-4, and they just got a huge OT road victory over the division-leading Vikings. The Bears are just 2-6, but Jay Cutler is back and they are coming off of a victory over the Vikings. They could be dangerous during the home stretch.
4 – NFC South
This was one of the weakest divisions in the league last year, despite the 15-1 Panthers, but this year it has gotten much better, despite the 3-5 Panthers. The Falcons have proven to be one of the top teams in football with road wins over the Raiders and Broncos, and the Saints’ offense is leading it to some nice wins, as they sit at 4-4 and right in the playoff mix. The Buccaneers have been really struggling lately, but they still have a shot to make some noise as well at 3-5.
5 – AFC East
The 7-1 Patriots are easily the best team in football, that cannot be disputed at this moment. The rest of this division, though, is pretty mediocre. The Bills have shown flashes, but they had a bad start and are in a bad rut right now. The Dolphins may have found something with running back Jay Ajayi, but they are just 4-4 and don’t seem like a legitimate playoff threat yet. The Jets had high hopes coming into the season, but a terrible secondary and mediocre quarterback play have doomed them thus far.
6 – AFC North
I do believe that the Steelers, when completely healthy, are probably one of the best teams in the league. But they are dealing with all sorts of injury issues right now, and they cannot win on the road. That could be a problem. The Ravens are in 1st Place, but are just 4-4 on the season, and look unlikely to hold onto that spot. I said before the season that I thought the Bengals could struggle this season, and I’ve been right so far. They are just 3-4-1, so if they can figure out their issues, they could still reach the playoffs. The Browns are the only winless team in the league, but they play hard each and every week. You heard it here first, the Browns will defeat the Ravens tonight to get their first victory of the season.
7 – NFC West
The Seahawks and Cardinals were supposed to be two of the top Super Bowl contenders in the NFC this season. The Seahawks are 5-2-1, and while they have looked anemic on offense at times, they are still one of the best teams in the league and a threat. The Cardinals on the other hand, for reasons that I cannot figure out, have struggled mightily so far this season. They are just 3-4-1, and I’m not sure that I see it getting better for them. The Rams are a complete disaster right now despite being a respectable 3-5, and the Chip Kelly experiment in San Francisco is off to a rough start, as they have lost seven consecutive games following their season-opening win over the 49ers.
8 – AFC South
In my opinion, and I think in many other people’s opinion, the AFC South is the weakest division in football this season. The 5-3 Texans are in 1st Place, but their offense has not clicked, and the Brock Osweiler signing looks like a huge mistake at this juncture. The Colts are gaining steam, but after a very poor start, they are just 4-5 on the season. Also at 4-5 is the Titans, who have wins over the Lions, Browns, Dolphins and the 2-6 Jaguars. Not a very good resume. And speaking of the Jaguars, many people had high hopes for them entering the season. They have probably been the biggest disappointment in the NFL, and their status as the worst team in the worst division is unlikely to change anytime soon.
It’s been a frustrating year for Newton owners (I sympathize with you), but I think he’ll start to turn it around this week. A home game against a Chiefs’ team that has given up a fair share of passing touchdowns, and are struggling with their pass rush. Feel good about starting him this week.
Another QB that has been frustrating to own this year, Manning started the turnaround last week with four touchdowns against the Eagles. Now he gets a struggling Bengals’ defense at home on Monday Night Football. When the lights shine bright, so does Eli.
Remember about a month or so ago when I told you to pick up or trade for Mariota? I look pretty smart so far. Now he gets to face the Packers, who have not been good against the pass. Look for a big week from Marcus.
Brock Osweiler/Blake Bortles
Two of the top pass defenses in the league going up against two quarterbacks who can’t seem to get out of their own way. This game is going to be won on the ground, so I wouldn’t start either of these guys this week.
The Vikings’ defense has started to struggle a little bit, but they are still one of the best in the league, and I don’t think Cousins is quite there yet to be able to thrive against any defense. Try and find a better option this week.
David Johnson/Melvin Gordon
You are obviously starting both of these guys every week now at this point, I just wanted to put them here for those that play daily fantasy. These are the two guys you’ll want to build your lineups around this week (not both in the same, but one of them should be in each of your lineups).
In his breakout game two weeks ago, Howard proved that he should be the bell cow of the Bears’ offense, and he gets a fantastic matchup this week against the Bucs. Look for him to build on that great game and go for big numbers once again this week.
Tim Hightower/Mark Ingram
The Raiders gave the entire NFL the blueprint for how to beat the Broncos: run the ball down their throats. That makes Mark Ingram a great play this week, and I think Hightower is also worth a start, as he’ll get carries and targets in the passing game.
DeMarco Murray/Jay Ajayi
As with Johnson/Gordon, you are obviously starting both of these guys, but just beware that they could be in for some tough sledding. Murray faces the Packers and Ajayi goes up against the Chargers, two teams that have been great against the run this season. I would not put either of these guys in any daily fantasy lineups.
I own Gurley in two leagues, so I know what Gurley owners are going through. In fact, I pretty much have to start him in both leagues this week, but I don’t feel good about it. He hasn’t done anything this year, and he faces the stout Jets’ run defense this week. Jeff Fisher said Gurley needs to get the ball more, but I don’t know that it will help his fantasy prospects this week.
It looks like Hyde might play this week, but odds are the Niners will be down early and will need to throw the ball a ton. That should limit Hyde’s opportunities, especially if they keep him on some sort of snap count, which is also possible.
Jay Cutler is back, and that can only be good news for Jeffery and his owners. Add that to the matchup with Tampa Bay, and Jeffery is a slam dunk this week. He is too big and physical for Tampa’s corners, and he should have a huge game.
Diggs is quietly putting together a really good season, and he’s been the focal point of the Vikings’ offense the last couple games. He has been targeted 27 times over the last two games, and I expect those big target numbers to continue against Washington this week.
Aqib Talib is unlikely to play this week, and when Derek Carr threw the ball last week, he had his most success going at Talib’s replacement Bradley Roby. The Saints will focus on the run game, but they’re still going to throw the ball, and Thomas is the most likely player to see a lot of Roby. I expect Brees to take advantage of that matchup like Carr did last week.
DeAndre Hopkins/Allen Robinson
Both guys that you might have to start, but I wouldn’t feel good about doing so. They’ve both been frustrating to own this year, mostly due to their quarterbacks, and this week their QBs have to go up against two of the top secondaries in the league. I’d honestly consider sitting both of these guys.
Not only is Maclin in danger to miss the game against Carolina with a groin injury, but when he’s been healthy, he just doesn’t seem to be a focus in Kansas City’s offense. It’s a favorable matchup if he plays, but I can’t be confident that he’ll get enough targets to be worth starting.
Eifert is finally healthy, and he had a big game over in London two weeks ago, showing everyone that he was exactly what Andy Dalton and the Bengals needed on offense. He’s a must start every week as long as he’s healthy.
I’m obviously big on the Bears this week, but this one is for good reason. The Bucs have been AWFUL against tight ends this season, so Miller could be in for a big performance this week. It could depend on if Jay Cutler actually throws him the ball, but I think he will.
He has been very hit or miss this year (more miss than hit), and I don’t like him against the Broncos this week. It’s simple as that. There will be better options this week.
He’s been Mr. Reliable his entire career, and he’s been a great piece for Dak Prescott, but he’s got a tough matchup with the Steelers this week. They have some of the best cover linebackers in the league, and I think Prescott will try to attack their corners instead.
UFC 205 Predictions
Mixed Martial Arts are finally legal in New York, and for the UFC’s first show in the state, they are going all out. UFC 205 is the biggest card in the company’s history, headlined by Featherweight (145 lbs) Champion Conor McGregor moving up to Lightweight (155 lbs) to challenge Philly’s own Eddie Alvarez for his Lightweight Championship. The card will see two other belts defended, as well as a slew of popular fighters like Chris Weidman, Miesha Tate, Donald Cerrone and New York’s own Frankie Edgar. Here is a short preview of the biggest fights that will take place on Saturday night, and my predictions for them.
Lightweight Bout (155 lbs)
#2 Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0) vs #6 Michael Johnson (18-10)
Some believe that the winner of this fight could be in line for a title shot, but a lot of that could also depend on who leaves UFC 205 with the belt, Conor or Eddie. Regardless, this should be a really good fight, and you’ll get it for free on FOX Sports 1. Nurmagomedov has for a long time now been considered one of the top young prospects in the UFC. Unfortunately, injuries have derailed his flight towards stardom. He is one of the best pure wrestlers in the UFC, and for him to win this fight, he’ll have to take it to the ground, which he almost always does. Johnson is a much more skilled striker, and he’ll want to stay upright and strike with Nurmagomedov. If he can make that happen, he may be able to catch him and pull the upset.
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov, Unanimous Decision
Featherweight Bout (145 lbs)
#2 Frankie Edgar (19-5-1) vs #7 Jeremy Stephens (25-12)
Frankie Edgar is probably just thrilled to be a part of this, the UFC’s first card in his home state of New York. He has been a championship-level fighter for a while now, but the former Lightweight Champion has had two chances at the Featherweight belt, and has come up short both times, most recently falling to Jose Aldo at UFC 200. Despite the loss, Edgar is still one of the best 145-lb fighters in the company, and he comes into this fight the favorite over the powerful Jeremy Stephens. Stephens claims to have the most powerful fist in the division (Conor McGregor had a nice laugh at that one), but whether that’s true or not, it is true that Edgar needs to be careful. If Stephens lands one right hand, that could be the end for Edgar.
Prediction: Frankie Edgar, Unanimous Decision
PPV Main Card
Women’s Bantamweight Bout (135 lbs)
#1 Miesha Tate (18-6) vs #8 Raquel Pennington (8-6)
Miesha Tate finally reached the pinnacle at UFC 196 when she defeated Holly Holm by submission in the 5th round to win her first UFC Championship. Unfortunately, her time at the top wouldn’t last long, as she was defeated by 1st round submission at UFC 200 by new champion Amanda Nunes. Tate has long been one of the top female fighters in the world, and she’ll look to stake her claim for another title opportunity on Saturday when she takes on #8 ranked Raquel Pennington. Pennington and Tate go way back, as Tate was Pennington’s coach on The Ultimate Fighter, so she may know more about Pennington than anyone. Pennington is riding a three-fight winning streak into this one, and with a win, she could launch herself into the upper-echelon of female fighters. She is very well-rounded, but her best bet will be to keep the fight on the feet, as Tate is one of the most impressive female wrestlers in the UFC.
Prediction: Miesha Tate, Rd. 2 Submission
Welterweight Bout (170 lbs)
#5 Kelvin Gastelum (13-2) vs #6 Donald Cerrone (31-7, 1 NC)
This fight is being a little overlooked due to the three title fights on the card, but Gastelum versus Cerrone has a chance to steal the show. Gastelum was the winner of The Ultimate Fighter 17 fighting at Middleweight (185 lbs), defeating Uriah Hall in the finals. He is an excellent striker, and is coming off a victory over former Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks at UFC 200. Saturday he’ll take on one of the most popular fighters in the UFC in Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. After losing to Rafael Dos Anjos in a fight for the Lightweight title, Cerrone moved up to Welterweight and has won three consecutive fights, including three Performance of the Night bonuses. Cerrone has won 11 of his last 12 fights, so he is clearly a man on a mission. Cerrone is also a very talented striker, but his jiu jitsu is also top-class. This will be an exciting fight.
Prediction: Donald Cerrone, Split Decision
Middleweight Bout (185 lbs)
#2 Chris Weidman (13-1) vs #4 Yoel Romero (11-1)
Another exciting fight on a stacked card, the winner of this fight could be next in line for a shot at Michael Bisping’s Middleweight title. Weidman is a former Middleweight champ, and this will be his first time in the Octagon since losing the title to Luke Rockhold in December of last year. Weidman is a former All-American wrestler, and also a U.S. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion. His takedowns are some of the best in the UFC, and I suspect that taking this fight to the ground will be the best way for him to get the win, because his opponent is one of the most dangerous strikers in the game. Romero was a silver medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympics, and has transitioned into being a very successful mixed martial artist. His technique has been questioned by a lot of experts, but there’s no denying that his right hand packs a ton of power. All it could take is one shot to end Weidman’s night.
Prediction: Yoel Romero, Rd. 3 KO/TKO
Women’s Strawweight Championship (115 lbs)
C Joanna Jedrzejczyk (12-0) vs #2 Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-0)
One of these ladies is going to suffer the first defeat of their professional fighting careers. Joanna Jedrzejczyk is one of the most dominant champions in the history of the company. She has pretty much wiped out the Strawweight division, save for her fellow Polish fighter Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Karolina earned this opportunity with a split-decision win over Rose Namajunas at UFC 201 in Atlanta. Beyond this being the “Battle for Poland,” one of the most exciting things about this fight is that both of these women want to stand up and just throw fists. Neither of them try to hide the fact that they are glorified boxers, but that just means that the better striker will win this fight. Joanna has some of the quickest movements I’ve ever seen, and I think it will be tough for Karolina to keep up. But the best part of fighting is that anything can happen.
Prediction: Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Unanimous Decision
Welterweight Championship (170 lbs)
C Tyron Woodley (16-3) vs #2 Stephen Thompson (13-1)
Championship fight #2 of the night will pit the new Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. Woodley is one of the best strikers in the UFC, and he proved that when he knocked out former champ Robbie Lawler in the 1st round at UFC 201. Lawler had become known for his iron chin, and Woodley caught him with one punch and then laid it on to take the title. This fight will be a wonderful clash of styles, as Thompson boasts a repertoire based on karate, which has become a lost art in MMA. Thompson has won seven fights in a row, so he comes in with some momentum. He will attack Woodley in a variety of ways, and he is very hard to read, which could cause some trouble for the underdog champion. Thompson’s style is also very well-suited to go deep into fights, so he won’t be afraid to weather the storm and take this fight to a decision. This should be a fun co-main event.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson, Unanimous Decision
Lightweight Championship (155 lbs)
C Eddie Alvarez (28-4) vs C-FTW Conor McGregor (20-3)
Oh man, I am excited for this fight. Conor McGregor is a once-in-a-lifetime figure. He is polarizing, he is entertaining and above all else, he is a damn good fighter. McGregor does whatever he wants, says whatever he wants, and Dana White and the UFC are powerless to him because he is the biggest star they’ve ever had. It makes for wonderful viewing, and this Saturday, he looks to become the first fighter in UFC history to simultaneously hold championships in two different weight divisions. He’ll have a tough task in taking down the “Underground King” Eddie Alvarez. It’s been a whirlwind career for Alvarez. He’s been a champion in every organization he’s fought in, and it took three years, but he is finally the UFC Lightweight Champion following a 1st round TKO of Rafael Dos Anjos. Alvarez has an exceptional ground game, but he also likes to stand up and strike with his opponents. That might not be his gameplan Saturday though, as McGregor has the best left hand in the business. “Precision beats power and timing beats speed,” McGregor said following his 13 second knockout of Jose Aldo. He doesn’t think there’s a Featherweight in the world that can take his left hand, but when he moved up to Welterweight, Nate Diaz seemed to take them okay. Diaz beat him once, but lost the second time due to eating too many of those precision punches from McGregor. If Alvarez stands and tries to out-punch McGregor, he’s likely to come up short, but if he can get the fight to the ground and extend the fight, his chances will improve. This will be the perfect finish to what is sure to be a tremendous night of fights.
Prediction: Conor McGregor, Rd. 2 KO/TKO