2017 NFL midseason grades: Chiefs and Eagles get an A, Browns fail the first half


With Week 9 upon us, that means we’re officially more than halfway through the 2017 season, which makes right now the perfect time to hand out midseason report cards.

In a season where parity has taken over, the midseason grades definitely reflect that. Out of 32 teams, we only handed out a total of four A’s and two F’s. 

The Browns got an F because we don’t have a lower grade to give them. Not only did they go winless on the field during the first half of the season, but they also somehow managed to botch a trade that would have brought in a potential franchise quarterback. 

Between that trade and the last 10 drafts, it’s almost like they don’t even really want a franchise quarterback. 

Alright, let’s get to the grades. 

AFC East

Patriots (6-2) B+

It’s amazing that Tom Brady’s 40-year-old back is still functional after the way he carried New England through the first half of the season. Through eight weeks, Brady leads the NFL in pbading yards and is second in touchdown pbades, which is good news for the Patriots because they needed everything he had to offer over the first two months of the season. Bill Belichick has clearly finally realized that Brady will likely play until he’s 70, which is why the team dumped Jimmy Garoppolo. On the defensive side of the ball, although the Patriots got off to an ugly start, they’ve improved steadily over the past few weeks. In their past four games — all wins — the Patriots have only given up 12.8 points per game, which is a huge step up for a unit that was surrendering 32 points per game through the first four weeks of the season. 

Bills (5-2) B+

The crazy thing that most people don’t realize about the Bills is that they’re one drive and one play away — a Zay Jones drop against the Panthers — from being undefeated. The only reason the Bills don’t get an ‘A’ here is because the offense has been extremely inconsistent. One week, they can’t even hit the 200-yard mark (176 in Week 2 against the Panthers) and in another week, they’re shredding the Buccaneers for 434 yards. LeSean McCoy is the key to making their offense go and as long he stays healthy, the Bills should have a good chance of ending North America’s longest playoff drought at 17 years.  

Dolphins (4-3) C

The Dolphins season has been the ultimate Rorschach test in the NFL this year. If you’re a glbad half-empty kind of person, then you’d probably give them a ‘D’ here because their offense is horrible and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better anytime soon, especially since their starting quarterback will be playing with a cracked rib going forward. On the other hand, if you’re a glbad half full kind of guy, a ‘C’ makes perfect sense because the Dolphins have four wins despite the fact that they have the NFL’s worst offense. The truth though is that we ignored the glbades for this grade and what we did here is give the Dolphins defense a ‘B+’ and their offense a ‘D-.’ That averages out to a ‘C,’ right?

Jets (3-5) C+

After an offseason where the jets got rid of almost every veteran on the roster, the general consensus around the NFL was that they were tanking to grab one of the top picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. Instead, the Jets’ front office looked like a bunch of geniuses after New York shot off to a 3-2 start. Although the Jets have lost three straight, they were all winnable game, and this team has surprisingly been fun to watch this year. The Jets have been propped up by an opportunistic defense that’s forced 13 turnovers this season, which is the sixth-highest number in the NFL and the highest number for any team in the AFC with a losing record. 

AFC North

Steelers (6-2) B+

If you like in-season drama, then the Steelers are the team for you. In a span of eight weeks, we’ve had an Antonio Brown tantrum, Le’Veon Bell complaining that he’s not getting the ball enough and a trade demand from Martavis Bryant. Despite all the distractions, the Steelers have shot off to a 6-2 start that included wins over two of the NFL’s best teams — the 6-2 Chiefs and the 6-2 Vikings. Oddly enough, the biggest question mark through the first half of the season has been their quarterback. After an offseason where he mulled retirement, Ben Roethlisberger has been playing below average all year. If Big Ben doesn’t start ticking during the second half of the season, the Steelers likely won’t be making any sort of long playoff run this year. 

Ravens (4-4) C+

The Ravens have been an offensive disaster this season thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Joe Flacco. However, let’s not completely pin the team’s offensive struggles on Flacco. The Ravens are lucky they’ve had enough players to even field an offense through the first eight weeks of the season with all the injuries they’ve suffered. The team has nine offensive players on injured reserve, which they’ve had trouble recovering from. Of course, the Ravens have shot to 4-4 thanks to their bread and butter: Defense. With two shutouts this year, Baltimore’s defense has almost matched the NFL shutout total from all 32 teams for the entire 2016 season (Three). 

Bengals (3-4) C

The Bengals are one of the few teams in the NFL who are exactly who we thought they were: They have a punishing defense and then they also have talented skill players who never get the ball because Andy Dalton never has enough time to throw. After letting starting offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler leave in free agency, most people figured that Dalton would take a beating this season and that’s exactly what has happened. The Bengals quarterback is on pace to take over 50 sacks in 2017 and could challenge the franchise record of 53 sacks taken that was set in 1993 and tied in 1998 (Note: The NFL has only been keeping track of sacks since 1982). The bad news for Dalton is that the Bengals face four the NFL’s top-7 sacking teams over their final nine games (Jaguars, Steelers, Vikings, Bears). 

Browns (0-8) F

This team has basically been in total disarray since Hue Jackson’s arrival in 2016 and things haven’t gotten any better this season. The only thing Jackson has been consistent about this season is being inconsistent. Over the past month, he’s benched quarterback Deshone Kizer twice, and the amazing part is that Kizer was benched for two different quarterbacks — Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler — who arguably went out and played worse. Of course, you can’t completely blame Jackson for all of this. The Browns’ coaching staff and front office haven’t been on the same page all season. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even seem like they’re reading the same book. Things are so bad in Cleveland that Jackson’s daughter was apparently calling out the front office after the Browns didn’t go after Jimmy Garoppolo at the trade deadline. 

The two quarterbacks Hue has wanted most since taking over are Goff and Garoppolo. It’s fair to put RG3 on him. But it’s never his call. https://t.co/I6YMuxE8kv

— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) October 31, 2017

It seems like the Browns are either going to have to make a change with their coach or their front office soon. 

AFC South

Titans (4-3) C

The first half of the Titans’ season has been all over the place. It’s almost hard to believe that the same team that beat the Jaguars (37-16) and Seahawks (33-27) went out and got blown out of the water in a 57-14 loss to the Texans. One thing that Titans really struggled at during the first half of the season was scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The Titans ranked second-to-last in the NFL with 41.2 percent touchdown rate in the red zone through the first eight weeks. To put that in perspective, that’s worse than the Browns, Lions and Colts, and only better than the Cardinals. That’s a huge step down from last year when the Titans led the NFL in red zone efficiency (72 percent TD scoring rate).  

Jaguars (4-3) B+

If Blake Bortles can somehow become a competent NFL quarterback over the second half of the season, the Jaguars could become a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Jags defense has been one of the best in the NFL this year and has been a total nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. The Jags already have two 10-sacks games in 2017 and are currently on pace — with 33 sacks through seven games — to break a single-season sack record that has stood since 1984 when the Bears racked up 72. 

Texans (3-4) B-

After watching Deshaun Watson for six and a half games, it’s completely baffling that someone made the decision to give the Texans’ quarterback job to Tom Savage coming out of training camp. As good as Watson is now, imagine how good he’d be if he had taken most of the first-team reps during training camp. The emergence of Watson has been huge for the Texans because he’s had to carry a Houston team that suddenly has a decimated defense. Through the first eight weeks of the season, the Texans have lost several key players for the year, including J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Christian Covington. The good news for the Texans is that Watson seems ready to win every game in a shootout if that’s what needs to be done. 

Colts (2-5) D-

At this point, the Colts might just want to fire everyone and start over because this season has been a disaster for the Colts. The Colts first mistake was going into the season with Scott Tolzien as their starting quarterback. Even though they knew Andrew Luck was going to miss training camp, they refused to go out and sign anyone. By the time they traded for Jacoby Brissett, it was too late, because they were basically asking him to learn the entire offense on the fly. As if that’s not bad enough, Colts have also been torturing their fans by being the worst fourth quarter team in football. Through the first eight weeks, the Colts have been outscored 92-25 in the fourth quarter. Also, their only two wins this season came over the 0-8 49ers and 0-8 Browns, so I’m not even sure they technically count as wins. 

AFC West

Chiefs (6-2) A-

Apparently, drafting Patrick Mahomes was the motivation Alex Smith needed to finally turn into an MVP-caliber quarterback, which is exactly what he’s done through the first eight weeks of the season. In eight games this year, Smith has thrown 16 touchdown pbades and zero interceptions. Those numbers are a big reason why he’s currently leading the NFL in QB rating. Although Smith is almost always efficient, the big change this year is that he’s been willing to throw the ball downfield. 

Thanks in large part to his willingness to throw the deep ball, Smith is on pace to throw for 4,362 yards this year, which would obliterate his previous career-high of 3,502. Of course, the Chiefs haven’t just been the Alex Smith show. The emergence of rookie Kareem Hunt and the continued dominance of tight end Travis Kelce has helped the Chiefs overcome the uncharacteristically below average play of a defense that’s giving up more yards per game than all but two teams in the NFL. 

Raiders (3-5) C-

The Raiders had high hopes going into the 2017 season and through the first eight weeks, Raiders fans have watched in horror as those hopes have crashed into a brick wall. The Raiders problems this season have been all over the place. The addition of Marshawn Lynch hasn’t really helped the offense, Derek Carr has struggled nearly all season and the defense still hasn’t picked off a pbad this year, making them the first team in NFL history not to record an interception through the first eight games of the season. The only good news for the Raiders is that they’re currently only 1.5 games out of the final wild-card spot in an AFC playoff field that’s completely jumbled this year. 

Broncos (3-4) D+

The Broncos have had two seasons to figure out their quarterback situation and so far, they’ve completely failed. With one of the top defenses in the NFL, all the Broncos need is average play from their starting quarterback, and they haven’t even been getting that. In the Broncos past three games, all losses, Trevor Siemian has thrown six interceptions and just two touchdown pbades. Things are so bad in Denver that players on the defensive side of the ball are now calling out the offense. 

It appears that the Broncos are making a switch at quarterback to Brock Osweiler, who probably isn’t going to save the season. 

Los Angeles Chargers (3-5) C+

After a crazy offseason that included making the move from San Diego to Los Angeles, the Chargers are basically a good kicker away from a being 5-3 right now. Four of their five losses have come by one score and they’ve been able to stay in games thanks in large part to a defense that’s been terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. The Chargers have racked up 26 sacks this season, which is tied for third in the NFL. After a bye in Week 9, the Chargers could quickly work themselves back into the playoff picture because their next two games are against the two teams that currently hold the two wild card spots in the AFC: The Jaguars and Bills. 

NFC East

Eagles (7-1) A

The first half of the season couldn’t have gone any better for the Eagles, who blew away every NFC team they played through the first eight weeks. When it comes to playoff tiebreakers, racking up NFC wins is always a good thing, and the Eagles did that, going undefeated in their division (3-0) and their conference (6-0). The Eagles’ rise to the top of the NFL has been led by Carson Wentz, who’s thrown 19 touchdown pbades this year, which is tied for the league-lead. The Eagles haven’t just been riding the Wentz-Wagon to victory, though. Philly also has also had a dominating run defense that ranks No. 1 overall in the NFL, surrendering just 70.4 yards per game. If the Eagles weren’t the team to beat heading into the second half of the season, they definitely are now after adding Jay Ajayi to an already high-powered offense.  

Cowboys (4-3) B

The first half of the Cowboys season can only be described as a roller coaster and that’s mainly because they’ve been hit with wild ups and downs both on and off the field. Off the field, Ezekiel Elliott seems to have his suspension reinstated every week, only to have his legal team successfully appeal it. Although Elliott didn’t miss any games during the first half of the season, the case was likely something that was weighing on him. On the field, the Cowboys have struggled against strong offensive teams — surrendering 35 points in consecutive weeks to the Packers and Rams — which doesn’t bode well for the second half of the season because the Cowboys next three games are against the Chiefs, Falcons and Eagles. And they’ll be going into those games without Elliott, who’s now suspended. 

Redskins (3-4) C-

The first half of the season really couldn’t have gone any worse for the Redskins, especially when you consider that their 3-4 record includes an 0-3 mark against NFC East teams. If the division somehow comes down to a tiebreaker, you can pretty much bet the Redskins aren’t going to win it. The problem for the Redskins is that things are likely going to get worse before they get better. The team is extremely banged up —  Jay Gruden said there will be at least 13 players on the injury report heading into Week 9 — and if the Redskins falter down the stretch, that will raise a lot of questions about their future, with the . main one being, should they pay Kirk Cousins?

Giants (1-6) F

Before the 2017 season started, Jason Pierre-Paul was talking about the Giants possibly going undefeated this year, and now we’re here. 

In terms of pure expectations, the Giants have been the worst team in the NFL this year. No one was expecting the Browns or 49ers to compete for a playoff spot, so it’s not a total shock to see those teams floundering at 0-8. However, Giants players spent the offseason talking up their team whenever they could only to watch the Giants come out and fall flat on their face. The Giants have been a soap opera all season and things should only get more interesting over the final nine weeks of the year. The Giants have had to deal with some serious injuries this year — like losing Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall for the season — but that’s not really an excuse, because they were bad before that happened. 

NFC North

Vikings (6-2) A

Despite the fact that their starting quarterback has only played in two games this season, and despite the fact that their electric rookie running back was lost for the year in Week 4, the Vikings still managed to shoot out to a 6-2 start on the season. The Vikings are basically the definition of what “next man up” is supposed to mean in the NFL. After Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook went down, the Vikings plugged in their backups and moved on with the season. A big reason why those two offensive injuries haven’t killed Minnesota is because they’re defense has been so dominant this year. Through eight weeks, the Vikings are giving up just 282.1 yards per game, which ranks third in the NFL. 

Packers (4-3) B-

The first half of the Packers season was actually going pretty well until Aaron Rodgers went down in Minnesota. Before Rodgers’ injury, the Packers had shot off to a 4-1 start and looked like a team that would definitely be contending for the NFC title. However, without Rodgers over the past two weeks, the Packers have looked lost on offense. it’s almost impossible to grade the Packers because they’re two completely different teams when they have Rodgers vs. when they don’t. Rodgers doesn’t just open things up offensively, but he also keeps the offense on the field for long periods at a time, which in turn gives the defense a break. That’s not happening with Hundley, and not coincidentally, the Packers defense gave up their highest yardage total of the season in Hundley’s first start. 

Lions (3-4) C

The first half of the season ended on an ugly note for the Lions, who lost three straight games following a 3-1 start. The Lions have had basically had the same problems for the past few years and those issues are rearing their head again in 2017: They can’t protect Matthew Stafford and they have no run game, which would be nice to have because it would take some pressure off their quarterback. Stafford has been sacked 25 times in this season, which is tied for the second-highest total in the NFL. Stafford’s received no help from a Lions ground game that’s averaging only 82.1 yards per game this season, which is the fifth-worst number in the league this season.  

Bears (3-5) C

After starting the year with a 1-4 record, the Bears season looked to be left for dead after just five weeks. However, the Bears have started to turn their season around thanks in large part to a pbading attack that no one can stop. That’s a joke, the Bears have no pbading attack. However, they do have a defense that’s turned into the 1985 Bears over the past month. During October, the Bears defense almost didn’t need any offensive help because they nearly scored as many touchdowns as they allowed. Over the past four weeks, Chicago’s defense scored three touchdowns and only allowed four. If rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky gets comfortable running the offense, the Bear could turn into a surprise second half team. 

NFC South

Saints (5-2) B+

Saints fans have probably been wondering for years what would happen if Drew Brees actually got some defensive help in New Orleans, and it looks we finally have our answer. After years of getting torched, the Saints defense has stepped up big time in 2017. Let’s just put it this way, the Saints 20-12 win over the Bears in Week 8 marked the first time since 2009 that the Saints have won a game where Brees didn’t throw a touchdown pbad. Basically, it’s been nearly eight years since the Saints were able to win a game without much help from Brees. A big catalyst for New Orleans’ defense has been rookie Marshon Lattimore, who’s slowly turning into a shutdown corner. If Lattimore plays the second half of the season like he played the first eight weeks, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him named defensive rookie of the year. 

Falcons (4-3) C

The Falcons basically spent their entire offseason insisting that there would be no Super Bowl hangover this year, but if the first half the season was any indication, it’s starting to look like they haven’t quite recovered from blowing that 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. It’s hard to say what the lowpoint of the first half was for Atlanta, but it probably came in Week 6 when they blew a 17-0 second half lead to a Dolphins’ team that has the NFL’s worst offense. Of course, you can’t completely blame the Super Bowl hangover for Atlanta’s struggles, you can also pin some blame on new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. In his first year with the team, Sarkisian looks like a kid at Christmas who has so many toys to play with that he just gets confused. The Falcons are still one of the three most talented offenses in the NFL, Sarkisian just hasn’t figured out how to utilize all the talent he’s been given.  

Panthers (5-3) B-

For a team that’s only two seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance, the Panthers have put together one of the quietest 5-3 records in the NFL this season. Of course, that could be because every time they do something good, they follow it up with something bad. After jumping out to a 4-1 start, the Panthers then lost two in a row, including an inexplicable 17-3 setback to the Bears in Week 7. Although Cam Newton is the face of the franchise, the Panthers defense has been carrying Carolina through the first half of the season. The Panthers have been beating up opposing quarterbacks — their 27 sacks ranks second in the NFL — and they’re only surrendering 264 yards of offense per game, which also ranks second in the NFL. One thing that will be interesting going forward is how Newton reacts to losing Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers’ leading receiver who was traded to the Bills on Tuesday. 

Buccaneers (2-5) D

The Buccaneers were a popular preseason choice to win the NFC South, however, those division titles basically went down the drain during an ugly first half of the season where nothing went Tampa’s way. You can really pin the blame on anyone here. For instance, take their 19-14 loss to the Patriots in Week 5. In that five-point loss, kicker Nick Folk missed three field goals. There’s also the 34-17 loss to the Vikings in Week 2 that can be pinned on Jameis Winston, who threw three interceptions. The defense has had its fair share of problems also. In Week 6, the Bucs surrendered 38 points to a Cardinals team that has averaged just 13.5 points in all their six other games this season. Basically, the Bucs can blame their poor start on everyone on their roster. 

NFC West

Seahawks (5-2) B+

If the first eight weeks of the season proved anything, it’s that the Seahawks might be the scariest team in the NFC. Not only did the Seahawks prove they can win with defense, which we already knew, but the offense proved that Seattle can also win if their forced into a shootout. The Seahawks’ 41-38 win over Houston in Week 8 marked the first time in Russell Wilson’s career that he’s won a game where the opposing team scored 31 or more points (He had been 0-6). The Seahawks only really had two holes through the first half of the season — their offensive line and their run game — and they plugged one of those holes before the trade deadline by adding Texans’ left tackle Duane Brown. If Wilson gets any help in the rushing department, the Seahawks will likely become the most dangerous team in the NFC over the second half of the season.  

Rams (5-2) A

Although the Eagles have the best record in the NFL, we can probably all agree that the Rams have been the most surprising team in the league this year. New coach Sean McVay has basically resurrected a franchise that Jeff Fisher left for dead. After a 2016 season, where the Rams offense was almost painful to watch, McVay has revived the Greatest Show on Turf and turned the 2017 Rams into the NFL’s second-highest scoring offense through the first eight weeks of the season. Thanks to McVay, the Rams are on track to earn their first playoff berth since 2004. 

Cardinals (3-4) C-

The first half of the Cardinals season started on a low note after David Johnson went down with an injury in Week 1. The injury was devastating for the Cardinals because their entire offense was pretty much designed to go through their star running back. With Johnson out, the Cardinals haven’t really been that competitive. Although they eked out wins over the 49ers (18-15) and Colts (16-13), their four losses have come by an average of 20.8 points.  With Carson Palmer now also out due to injury, it’s hard to see the Cards rebounding over the second half of the season. 

49ers (0-8) D-

Although the 49ers are winless this year, we’re not giving them the same failing grade that we gave the 0-8 Browns. The difference between these two teams is that that the 49ers have actually been competitive this year and they’re doing everything they can do get that first win. On the competitive side of things, the 49ers actually set an NFL record this year when they lost five straight games by three or less points. Coach Kyle Shanahan and new general manager John Lynch also get some serious credit for the Jimmy Garoppolo trade that went down on Monday. After Shanahan quickly realized that the team was going nowhere with rookie C.J. Beathard under center, Lynch went out and got Garoppolo, who could be the team’s quarterback of the future. 

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