Almost all of the divisions in the NFL have a team at 1-4 and nearly an identical number have an undefeated team. Currently, five teams sit at 1-4 (though the Dolphins are 1-3 after their Bye Week) and have a major uphill battle to make it to the playoffs.
The only team with a shot at winning the division is the Jacksonville Jaguars, and possibly the San Francisco 49ers (they’d really need to strike gold, or maize, and blue). A few other teams (Ravens, Saints, Dolphins, and Chiefs) will need to hope for a wild card spot.
For years the Dolphins had teetered the edge of mediocrity finishing 7-9 in 2012 and 8-8 in 2013 and 2014. After the huge signing of Ndamukong Suh expectations began to rise, but the defense has been terrible. They sit at 29th in the league in yards per game at 399.5, and 20th in points with 25.3. They had two very close game in weeks one and two, but the Bills blew them out in week three, while the Jets Chris Ivory ran over them in week four.
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Their defense, however, is not the biggest issue. They rank 28th in yards per game on offense with 314.8 and second to last in points per game with 16.3. They are an average team in terms of passing yards, but cannot get their running game together (69.3 yards per game). Since firing Joe Philbin, it seems unlikely that the team will be able to create a new identity in time to salvage the season. It doesn’t help that they are in the same division as the Patriots who currently sit at 4-0 and have two game against the Dolphins.
Kansas City Chiefs
It sucks that the Chiefs lost Jamal Charles. There is no eloquent way to say it. He runs the offense and is the team’s best offensive weapon. However, that’s not to say that the Chiefs had a great offense to begin with as they rank 18th in yards per game, as well as rushing yards per game. The offensive line has surrendered 22 sacks this season as well.
The defense is not quite as disruptive either. Justin Houston has had three sacks this year, not bad, but not a repeat of last year. They have the unfortunate reality of being in the same division as the Broncos, who have the best defense in the league and still have the potential to salvage a solid offense (remember the Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer).
San Francisco 49ers
Similarly, the 49ers are in a division that lacks consistency. The Cardinals are the clear favorites to win the NFC West as they score the most points in the league per game (38.0) and allow the fifth fewest (18.0). Their one flaw was losing to the Rams who can look like one of the top teams in the league one week, but one of the worst the next week (how do you cause Aaron Rodgers to turn the ball over four times and not win?).
The biggest problem, however, is that the niners themselves are consistently terrible on offense. Colin Kaepernick has thrown five interceptions, but if the one game against the Cardinals is ignored, he has four TDs and one interceptions, not a bad ratio. It is bad, however, that he only has four TDs. He has the fewest of any QB who has started all five games, and only one more than Matt Hasselbeck. If you ignore the first game of the season, then Carlos Hyde only has 207 yards and one TD in four games.
The offense ranks dead last in points scored per game at 15.0. The game this past Sunday against the Giants was promising, but having one good game from the offense is hardly enough to instill confidence.
The Jaguars themselves have found consistency in Blake Bortles who has 10 TDs and only 4 picks this year. He needs to work on accuracy as he throws for a 57.1% completion rate. The Jags have the luxury in being in a very open division.
Looking at the three teams in the AFC South, none seem to be complete. The Texans cannot figure it out defensively and flip flop between quarterbacks on a weekly basis. The Colts’ best player seems to be battling a pretty serious injury and has not lived up to the hype this season. The Titans have enjoyed solid play from Marriota, but he is bound to have major ups and downs throughout his rookie season.
The biggest problem remains the Jaguars’ defense. They allow 29 points per game (good for the second worst). Most recently, Doug Martin ran all over them for 123 yards and two TDs. In terms of yardage, they rank as a slightly below average defense at number 19 with 363 yards allowed per game. They just need to figure out how to create some turnovers. Currently they have one interception as a team and two fumble recoveries. Their biggest asset is the weak AFC South.
A Strong Past
New Orleans Saints
It’s hard to bet against the Saints. They’ve got Sean Peyton and Drew Brees (a coach who was suspended for a year and an aging quarterback with a surgically repaired shoulder). The Saints lost a winnable game against the Panthers with Luke McCown under center and still have six very winnable games against the Jags, Lions, Bucs, Texans, Washington, and Titans to come. Jarius Byrd’s return could help fix a very weak secondary and defense. If the offense figures out how to properly use CJ Spiller (similar to Darren Sproles) and keeps trying to run the ball with Mark Ingram, then maybe they can replicate some of their old offensive numbers.
The problem remains that their defense has not stepped up and has been torched all year. Their division has two undefeated team, both playing above expectations, and the Saints have put themselves into an early hole and are currently only above the Lions in the playoff standings. They need to hope that Atlanta and the Panthers come back down to earth, otherwise, it may be the end of the Brees-Peyton Era.
The Ravens are another team with a strong winning culture. The team has missed the playoffs one time in the Harbaugh era, when they went 8-8. They have never finished with a losing record with him and Joe Flacco, and they are a team that keeps trying to make moves to win.
Their division is tough as the Bengals are firing on all cylinders offensively and have a strong pass rush. The Steelers are staying afloat without Ben Roethlisberger, but when he returns the offense should be one of the best. Right now, the Ravens need to only worry about the secondary and finishing games.
The offense ranks in the top ten with 24.6 points, but their defense gives up 27.4 points. Flacco has found a way to run the offense without Steve Smith and the defense remains average agaist the run. They have lost all four games by a combined 17 points and have played the majority of the games on the road (including this Sunday against the 49ers and then the Cardinals). After their week nine bye week, the Ravens will have five of their last eight games at home. For a team that never seems to quite, they have a strong chance at making the playoffs in a wild card situation.
The Ravens, and Jaguars have the best chance at making the playoffs as a six seed, while the Saints could have a sliver of hope if their division begins to revert to it's usual weak state, but that seems unlikely at this point.
The Ravens have the talent and foundations to run, and the Jags have the luxury of being in an easier division. In any case, all these teams need to have better play on the defensive side of the ball. The Ravens and Jaguars have very winnable games this week, but not statement games. They need to beat a strong team to show some kind of life.
Whereas, if the Saints win on Thursday, then they will show their entire division that they have not thrown in the towel, yet.