By the tip of Monday evening, each NFL group might be at the least midway by its common season.
However whereas the primary eight video games of play can at occasions reveal a group’s course, the opening stretch just isn’t all the time indicative of precisely the place every outfit will land. Final season, for instance, the New England Patriots seemed sure for the AFC’s prime seed after opening 8-0, however Invoice Belichick and Co. dropped 4 of the their ultimate eight contests earlier than making their earliest playoff exit in a decade. The eventual Tremendous Bowl champion Kansas Metropolis Chiefs, in the meantime, opened simply 5-3 however gained seven of eight video games to set themselves up for his or her title run.
In 2020, a number of groups have gotten off to promising begins or have been slowed down by sluggish showings, however there’s nonetheless time to show issues round.
With that in thoughts, we requested NFL reporters and columnists from USA TODAY Sports activities: Decide one group that may rise and one group that may fall within the final two months of the NFL season.
Miami rising. Tua Time has arrived, however the Dolphins’ resurgence is actually a group factor. That a lot was mirrored in the course of the upset victory in opposition to the Rams in Tua Tagovailoa’s first NFL begin final weekend, when touchdowns got here from the protection and particular groups, too. Miami (4-3) heads into Sunday’s sport at Arizona with a three-game successful streak that has pushed it over .500 for the primary time since Brian Flores took over as coach. And there is not any cause to count on the move to cease. Can the Dolphins win the NFC East? It is doable. The Patriots are stumbling and the Payments have had some lapses as the present front-runner. Possibly the division comes down at a Week 17 encounter at Buffalo. One factor for certain: Flores has constructed a group that win or lose, will battle, scratch and claw.
Chicago falling. The Bears (5-3), taking a two-game shedding streak into Tennessee, look like they’re doing it with mirrors. I imply, take away the unbelievable comeback victories at Detroit and Atlanta, then what do you’ve? Certain, you might be what your document says you might be. But there’s additionally the truth that Chicago is -5 in internet scoring. Successful ugly, as quarterback Nick Foles reminded us, remains to be successful. However I am not satisfied that successful ugly will get it performed in two video games in opposition to the Packers that may possible decide the NFC North crown, and a pair of video games in opposition to the Vikings will not be straightforward, both. There are some issues that I can not assist however like concerning the Bears: The protection remains to be a load. Scrappy working again David Montgomery makes yards occur. Rookie receiver Darnell Mooney is an rising star. And the early-season change to Foles from Mitchell Trubisky supplied a steadying power. But they’re nonetheless simply getting by. Generally.
Does Group COVID-19 rely? The virus positively appears to be rising within the second half of the NFL season, whereas the variety of obtainable gamers and open services is falling. In any other case, I count on the Vikings’ inventory to rise. Their 1-5 season begin started with a 43-34 loss to the Packers adopted by a collection of turnover-laden contests. Final week, they rewrote the script with a 28-22 win at Inexperienced Bay by which they protected the ball, powered Dalvin Prepare dinner for 4 scores and held off Inexperienced Bay simply sufficient. If their younger protection can proceed its development and their offensive identification proceed to skew Prepare dinner, Mike Zimmer’s squad has potential for the potentially-expanding wild card spot.
Tennessee, in the meantime, has a troublesome schedule forward together with video games at Baltimore, Indianapolis and Inexperienced Bay. Can they successfully cease Lamar Jackson or Aaron Rodgers? Houston will search revenge after an OT loss. The Titans will wrestle to depend on producing takeaways to masks a protection that permits 396.9 yards per sport (seventh-worst) and has hassle producing strain (one sack per sport, tied for second-worst). Derrick Henry will entertain us all, however it will not be sufficient. Tennessee might be glad Houston and Jacksonville aren’t aggressive because the Titans duke it out with the Colts for the AFC South title.
I see the Philadelphia Eagles rising. They positively have disillusioned with their 3-4-1 begin, however quite a lot of that needed to do with accidents. They’re lastly beginning to see enchancment on this regard, and because the roster round Carson Wentz will get more healthy, the quarterback’s play will start to development upward as nicely. The NFC East is a large number, and issues play out favorably for the Eagles, who’ve gained two straight. With the Giants and Browns on faucet subsequent, Philly has a superb shot at extending that streak to 4 video games. The Eagles do have robust exams in opposition to the Seahawks, Packers and Saints forward, however they actually have a shot at ending with an 8-7-1 document to win their division and make the playoffs.
My faller is the San Francisco 49ers, and it’s unlucky as a result of this group returned a robust roster and aimed to keep away from the Tremendous Bowl hangover however hasn’t managed to keep away from the harm bug. Kyle Shanahan had this group enjoying nicely regardless of the entire holes on the roster, and the hope was the 49ers might tread water till the reinforcements arrived. However now that Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle have joined that in depth checklist of injured gamers, the 49ers hopes of constructing a second-half cost appears extremely unlikely.