If the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers can do it, why not (insert your middle-of-the-road NFL team here?)
While dominant regular seasons aren’t to be dismissed, the most recent history of Super Bowl champions suggests that you should be wary at getting too excited over the 7-0 Atlanta Falcons or 6-1 Houston Texans, owners of the best records in the NFC and AFC, respectively.
In other words, a big regular-season offers little in the way of guarantees.
Last year’s Super Bowl champion Giants, you may recall, were 6-6 at one point and entered the post season with a modest 9-7 record.
The previous season, the Green Bay Packers were just 5-3 after eight weeks and, though they finished with a respectable 10-6 record, they ended the season in second place in the NFC North before launching their successful Bowl run.
At the other extreme, there is no need to remind Cheeseheads what a 15-1 record got them last year.
With that in mind, is it possible that among all the teams in the shadow of .500 this season, we will see another Super Bowl contender emerge? Most teams in that situation have their flaws, or their record would be better. But with more than half of the season remaining, there is plenty of time for that to change.
In no particular order, here’s a look at some of those teams hovering around the .500 mark and their prospects at being a factor come post-season:
Miami Dolphins (4-3): Probably a year away, or more, simply because it’s asking too much for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill to lead an unproven team that far. Making the playoffs would be a nice feat, however, and is not out of the question.
Buffalo Bills (3-4): Surely you jest.
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3): An interesting possibility, considering they’ve won two Super Bowls in the past decade with teams that weren’t necessarily dominant. They need to be much better on the road, but with that defence and the always game Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, they have the potential to be dangerous.
Indianapolis Colts (4-3): They’ve already over-achieved to get this far, but they don’t have too many heavyweights on their schedule. Going beyond making it to the playoffs is a big ask, however.
Denver Broncos (4-3): With a decent defence, a great home-field advantage and Peyton Manning already in his groove, the Broncs may be the most dangerous of the middle-of-the-pack teams. They figure to only improve and should they win their division could be major players in a ripe for the taking AFC.
San Diego Chargers (4-4): Needed a Thursday night blowout over lowly Kansas City to get to .500. Can’t argue with their talent, but their execution is a different matter.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-4): One of the few 3-4 teams we will throw into the mix because, if QB Mike Vick ever gets his act together, who knows? Then there’s the fact that they don’t play a team that currently owns a winning record until Week 17.
Dallas Cowboys (3-4): Hard to imagine it, but they throttled the champion Giants in Week 1 and almost nipped them in a dramatic comeback last week. If they ever get their act together, starting with a win over undefeated Atlanta this week, they could be a fun team to watch.
Minnesota Vikings (5-3): One of the surprises of the first half, it’s hard to imagine the Vikes continuing on that path. Why? Two games versus the Bears, two more against the Packers and one with the Texans are among the challenges ahead.
Green Bay Packers (5-3): A slow start was a cause for concern as is the injury bug that doesn’t seem to go away. But with Aaron Rodgers leading the Pack offence, they remain among the elite of the tough NFC.
Detroit Lions (3-4): Would be a stretch given they’ve barely offered a hint of their breakthrough form of a year ago. Hard to imagine them passing either the Packers or Bears in their division.
Arizona Cardinals (4-4): Surprise 4-0 start was impressive, but we’re getting the real Cards now. Terrible on both sides of the ball in Monday’s thrashing at San Francisco.
Seattle Seahawks (4-4): If they played every game at CenturyLink Field, sure. The NFC is too tough for them to make a long run, however, and they aren’t going to catch the 49ers to win the West.