So, we’re halfway through the 2012 NFL Regular Season. Let’s just say the First Semester is over, and as college students so frequently like to summarize: “Mistakes were made!” At the conclusion of one of the most turbulent (literally now in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy) first halves of a season I can ever remember, the NFL has only one unbeaten team (the 7-0 Atlanta Falcons) and a whole lot of question marks surrounding some of its Flagship Franchises who have dropped several winable games, resulting in parity the likes never before seen in the NFL.
So Ern is going to issue a Mid-Season “Class Rank” to each team along with a “Letter Grade” for how well Big Ern feels each team has utilized its talent thus far, both on the field and on the sidelines in the face of scheduling, injuries, officiating, etc. Ern will also display his Original Prediction for each team’s 2012 record so you can see how the Ernster is projected to finish as well ! So without further suspense, here we go:
1. New York Giants (6-2) (A -) Ern: 12-4 (NFC East Champs)
The Giants are the defending World Champs who have balanced both a difficult schedule and an injury to one of Football’s most explosive players – wide receiver Hakeem Nicks in order to remain atop the NFC East. They have already faced Dallas twice, splitting the season series – surviving on Sunday afternoon with key defensive plays in timely spots. The Giants have already overcome their first challenge from rookie phenom RG3 and the Redskins as Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz with a bomb in the closing seconds. With a commanding victory over the 49ers in the NFC Title Rematch also on their resume, the Giants are currently Valedictorian of the NFL Season.
2. San Francisco 49ers (6-2) (B +) Ern: 12-4 (NFC West Champs)
The 49ers should be 7-1 right now, on course to obtain Homefield Advantage in the NFC Playoffs. Instead, San Francisco suffered a hickup at Minnesota (bringing Coach Harbaugh down to a B+) and the 49ers currently find themselves behind New York (via tiebreaker), undefeated Atlanta, and Chicago in the NFC. The Niners have had some impressive wins – a complete domination at the Jets and last night’s pulveration of the Cardinals in the desert. If San Francisco is going to claim Homefield Advantage this year, they are most likely going to have to win Either at New Orleans (11-25) or at New England (12-16) – both very difficult places to play.
3. Atlanta Falcons (7-0) (A +) Ern: 8-8
Well, Boston College’s own Matt Ryan needs only one more win to achieve Ern’s 2012 Prediction. See, sometimes even the Experts can mess up this stuff! You have to give “Matty Ice”, Coach Mike Smith, star wideout Roddy White, and the rest of the Falcons the only A+ in the NFL for the First Semester. With the Saints struggling on the both sides of the football, Atlanta appears to have a clear path to the NFC South Title.
4. Houston Texans (6-1) (A) Ern: 10-6 (AFC South Champs)
Speaking of Homefield Advantage, the Houston Texans have the inside track in the AFC, effectively 2 games ahead of 5-2 Baltimore by virtue of their Reliant Stadium slam dunk of the Ravens in October. The Texans appear to have a cakewalk the rest of the way with their toughest remaining games at Chicago (11-11) and at New England (12-10). Even if they lose both of those games and win the rest, Houston would still finish 13-3. However, the strangest part of the Texans schedule is the last 3 games, 2 of which are both against the Colts, who are all of a sudden 4-3 and poised to compete with anyone, led by rookie sensation Andrew Luck. The Texans had best keep their eyes on Indianapolis!
5. Chicago Bears (6-1) (A) Ern: 12-4 (NFC Wild Card)
The Word that Big Ern would currently use to describe the Chicago Bears is “Solid”. Coach Lovie Smith is “Solid”. QB Jay Cutler is “Solid” (for the first time ever this late in season!). Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is “Solid” (both literally and figuratively). And wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester is “Solid” (ErnBlog Word of the Day) too. The Bears have only lost one game in 2012 – at Green Bay in Week 2. Chicago will eagerly anticipate their rematch with the Packers on December 16 – a chance to win the NFC North.
6. Green Bay Packers (5-3) (B) Ern: 12-4 (NFC North Champs)
Ern gives the Packers a straight B. Yeah, that hurts, doesn’t it Aaron Rodgers? Well, you know what? You frankly just have not played that well in 2012. So the officials screwed you guys in Seattle on Monday Night Football? Yeah, we all saw it. But once again, when you score 12 points on the road in the NFL, all bets are off. The Packers had better get going, because even though they pulled off the Lombardi in 2010, playing on the road in the postseason is no picnic!
7. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) (B +) Ern: 10-6 (AFC Wild Card)
The Ravens literally have the #7 Spot by One Point over the Patriots, whom they defeated 31-30 on September 23. At this point, the Houston Texans really are the only AFC team deserving of going to a Super Bowl. Although QB Joe Flacco (very under-rated) is having another strong year for Baltimore, the Ravens defense is aging. Future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis is out for the season. If that isn’t a devastating injury, I don’t know what is. Looking at Baltimore’s remaining 9 games of the season, I see only one seemingly easy win – this Sunday at Cleveland. Ern sees a rocky road the rest of the way for the Ravens.
8. New England Patriots (5-3) (B -) Ern: 13-3 (AFC East Champs)
So far, with a B-, the Patriots have the worst Midseason Grade among the NFL’s George Peabody Medal Contenders. I’ll get more into George Peabody Medals (a suburban Massachusetts topic) in my first book. But right now, let’s get to the Patriots. Their secondary is horrible. The best player in the New England secondary is Devin McCourty – a third-year corner from Rutgers who is a better kick returner than a defensive player! One of these years Belichick has got to ask someone for help with these Drafts! Bill, you’re a genius on the field, a wizard at practice, an innovator in the filmroom. When it comes to picking college football players in New York City on a Thursday night in late April, I think there are folks better at that. Just saying.
But it’s not the Patriots’ failure to pick the right players that saddles them with the B-. It’s New England’s failure to not realize until Week 8 in London against the St. Louis Rams that they need to blitz their linebackers and attack quarterbacks in order to attempt to conceal their primary weakness in the defensive backfield.
While the Patriots offense often appears unstoppable, it frequently breaks down in the red zone, resulting in field goal attempts by historically reliable Stephen Gostkowski. Well, this year, Gostkowski’s missed a few, including a potential game winner against Arizona. Big Ern is not going to criticize the field goal kicker. He’s going to criticize New England’s offensive coordinator – Josh McDaniels, who on multiple occasions this season has chosen to completely abandon the running game. In the Patriots’ two best games of the year thus far (at Buffalo and this past Sunday against the Rams), the New England offense featured a well-balanced attack of Tom Brady short to medium-range passing and the Stevan Ridley/Danny Woodhead/Brandon Boldin/Shane Vereen running game. If the Patriots refuse to run the football in the key games (note the Seattle game in particular), Big Ern does not see them making the trip to New Orleans in February for the Really Big Game.
9. Miami Dolphins (4-3) (A -) Ern: 8-8
Big Ern’s impressed with the Dolphins. He’s impressed with Coach Joe Philbin, Cameron Wake, Reggie Bush, rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, and now backup QB Matt Moore who came in out of the bullpen on Sunday to bury the Jets. The rest of the way, Big Ern sees the Dolphins beating Buffalo twice and New England once. If Miami could then muster up 2 more wins along the way (home against Tennessee? home against Jacksonville?), can you say, Playoffs?
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) (B) Ern: 11-5 (AFC North Champs)
11. Denver Broncos (4-3) (B) Ern: 10-6 (AFC West Champs)
The Broncos shouldn’t have a problem winning the West, but without better defense in the Playoffs, Denver will be a quick out.
12. Arizona Cardinals (4-4) (B) Ern: 4-12
13. Seattle Seahawks (4-4) (B +) Ern: 7-9
14. Minnesota Vikings (5-3) (A -) Ern: 5-11
15. New Orleans Saints (2-5) (C) Ern: 12-4 (NFC South Champs)
16. Washington Redskins (3-5) (B +) Ern: 7-9
17. Oakland Raiders (3-4) (B) Ern: 9-7
18. Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) (B) Ern: 7-9
19. Dallas Cowboys (3-4) (C +) Ern: 10-6
20. Indianapolis Colts (4-3) (A -) Ern: 6-10
21. Detroit Lions (3-4) (C +) Ern: 10-6 (NFC Wild Card)
22. San Diego Chargers (3-4) (C) Ern: 7-9
Norv Turner is So Done there.
23. Buffalo Bills (3-4) (C +) Ern: 9-7
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is good. Coach Chan Gailey is good. Pick defensive free agent acquisition Mario Williams – not so good.
24. Tennessee Titans (3-5) (C) Ern: 5-11
25. St. Louis Rams (3-5) (C +) Ern: 2-14
Big Ern loves Coach Jeff Fisher. He’s the Man.
26. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) (D) Ern: 6-10
I knew this team was gonna suck.
27. New York Jets (3-5) (F) Ern: 11-5 (AFC Wild Card)
Big Ern can’t understand why Tim Tebow is not playing QB for the New York Jets. The Jets need to win the rest of their games to hit Ern’s projection. Fat chance!
28. Carolina Panthers (1-6) (C) Ern: 8-8
Cam Newton’s gonna make a second half comeback.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) (B -) Ern: 4-12
30. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6) (C -) Ern: 9-7
Come on, Romeo Crennel ! What’s going on in KC?
31. Cleveland Browns (2-6) (C) Ern: 2-14
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6) (C) Ern: 1-15
Jags on track for Ern-projected 1-15.