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All you losing NFL teams, don't lose hope

In the last 12 years, at least one team without a winning record at this point in the season has made the playoffs.

October 31, 2013|Sam Farmer
  • Quarterback Alex Smith and the Chiefs are the only unbeaten team in the NFL at the halfway point of the 16-game season.
Quarterback Alex Smith and the Chiefs are the only unbeaten team in the NFL… (Ed Zurga / Associated Press )

Kansas City hasn't lost. Jacksonville and Tampa Bay haven't won. Everybody else in the NFL has done a little of both.

Heading into the midway point of the regular season, 19 of 32 teams are at .500 or below.

That doesn't necessarily spell curtains for them, though. Since 2000, 32 teams have made the playoffs even though they didn't have a winning record at this point. At least one team has done that in each of the last 12 years.

So the season is still wide open, and, as far as the playoff picture is concerned, there's a lot more clarity than parity.

And questions persist:

What is the season's biggest surprise so far?

Kansas City is 8-0, the NFL's lone undefeated team. The Chiefs were a league-worst 2-14 last season, although with several Pro Bowl players on their roster they should have been better than that. Each of the 20 previous teams that started 8-0 in the Super Bowl era wound up making the playoffs.

Still, the toughest times are ahead for the Chiefs. The eight teams they have beaten are a combined 17-39 (.304) — none currently has a winning record — whereas their next eight opponents are 34-24 (.586). Upcoming games include two against Denver, two against San Diego, and what could be a pivotal game against Indianapolis in the second-to-last week.

Most impressive division, top to bottom?

AFC West. Kansas City, Denver, San Diego and Oakland are a combined 22-8 (.733), meaning the group is in the running for the highest winning percentage by a division through the first nine weeks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.

The 1984 AFC West was 31-14 (.689) through nine weeks back when that division consisted of the Los Angeles Raiders, Denver, San Diego, Kansas City and Seattle.

Since realignment in 2003, the highest winning percentage by a division through the first nine weeks — when every team has played at least half its schedule — was 23-11 (.676) by the NFC East in 2008.

What blockbuster game is coming soon?

Kansas City at Denver in two weeks. If the Chiefs can come away with a victory, they'll have a lot more believers — not that they care.

Could the AFC West produce three playoff teams?

Don't rule it out. Kansas City, Denver and San Diego would all be playoff teams were the postseason to begin today — admittedly a somewhat silly statistic with so much football to play. Tennessee, Baltimore, Oakland and the New York Jets are best positioned to play their way into the conversation.

Which star players are on the mend and on their way back to teams soon?

Receiver Percy Harvin felt well enough to start practicing with Seattle last week, and his first appearance with the Seahawks is right around the corner. The 49ers should be getting receiver Michael Crabtree back soon, and All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith returned to the team from rehab this week, although it's not clear when he'll return to the field. Meanwhile, Chicago is scheduled to have quarterback Jay Cutler back for a stretch run.

What's the season's most cringe-worthy statistic?

The Dallas Cowboys are the first team to give up four 400-yard passing games in the same season. Nobody else has given up more than one. Coming into the season, the Cowboys had allowed nine 400-yard passers in their first 53 seasons.

A team that's quietly scary?

Indianapolis. Turns out, the Colts weren't just playing on emotion for cancer-stricken Coach Chuck Pagano last season. They're playing the same way for the recovered Pagano as they did for interim coach Bruce Arians. Quarterback Andrew Luck has been steadily superb, and the Colts have a firm grip on the AFC South.

Consider this: San Francisco, Denver and Seattle are 20-1 against the rest of the league, and 0-3 against the Colts. (And that only other loss was the 49ers losing to the Seahawks.)

What turnaround rivals Kansas City's?

The U-turn of the New Orleans defense. Last season, the Saints gave up more yards than any defense in NFL history. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has done a masterful job this season, generating much more pressure than expected from a front featuring rising stars Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette.

Often, it has been the defense that has carried the typically high-octane Saints offense. No wonder the Ryan look — with the wild gray hair and ample waistline — was the most popular Halloween costume in New Orleans this week.

What happened to the Steel Curtain?

Warren Sapp made no friends in Pittsburgh in 2011 when he said the Steelers' defense was "old, slow, and it's over." Turns out he was two years early. The unit that led the league in yards allowed the last two seasons has had several cover-your-eyes moments this season, most notably coming unglued on a 93-yard touchdown run by Terrelle Pryor last Sunday on Oakland's first play from scrimmage.

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