Midway through this elongated, 17-game season, we are left with some significant questions. If you would have told a fan five years ago about the Aaron Rodgers situation, Odell Beckham Jr.’s foray into midseason free agency, Urban Meyer’s strange drift into incompetence and the Raiders’ descent into chaos, one might call you an alarmist at best and a bad fiction writer at worst. That is our reality, though, as we stare out at the second half of this season and wonder what might happen next, given what we’ve already tried to digest.
Fear not, though, as this is a post that brings good news. There are teams that get better in the second half every year, whether it be because of health, a coaching change, a scheme change or a beneficial schedule. We’ve projected six of those teams here, as well as what their records might look like at the end of 2021.
Current record: 7–2
Projected second-half record: 6–2
Projected final record: 13–4
Don’t interpret this is as a Titans are better without Derrick Henry take. Interpret this as a due to their memory-foam-soft schedule and solid offensive system, they’ll be fine without Derrick Henry take. Obviously, Tennessee has some regressing to the mean that needs to take place. They’re winning games on the strength of heroic, game-changing turnovers, which tend to come in bunches and then disappear. This shouldn’t take away from something like Kevin Byard’s reading Matthew Stafford like a tabloid. Those skills are always going to be there, which is why our confidence in the team sans Henry is fairly unwavering.
The Titans also have two games against the Texans, a game against the Dolphins and a game against the Jaguars remaining on their schedule. Should they fail to win the AFC South, this would go down as one of the most unfortunate collapses in modern NFL history. Why won’t that happen? The Titans are still fairly deep at the running back position, and while the current depth chart isn’t going to compress a defense like Henry would, Ryan Tannehill is efficient enough to make up the difference and get the ball to his playmakers.
New York Jets
Current record: 2–6
Projected second-half record: 4–5
Projected final record: 6–11
This is a good opportunity to bring up something I’ve been thinking about for a few days now. Living in the Northeast, a predominant talk radio story line has been the Jets’ signing Zach Wilson’s private quarterbacks coach, John Beck, to come aboard for the remainder of the season as if this were some kind of kowtowing to the rookie No. 2 pick. I think this is a bit of an overreaction. Beck could be a quarterbacks coach in the NFL right now if he wanted to be. He’s highly sought after, so much so that Kyle Shanahan entrusted Beck to evaluate Trey Lance for him during the predraft process. The Jets have a great quarterbacks coach in Rob Calabrese. Mike White’s readiness, along with Josh Johnson’s stepping up to come off the bench are obvious indicators of his skill set. But something may just be getting lost in translation, or mechanically. That’s not Calabrese’s fault. Beck can just be there to act as an intermediary.
The thing about most NFL quarterbacks coaches that we don’t talk about is how (typically) hands-off they are on the mechanical front. QB coaches are more like offensive coordinators specifically assigned to the quarterback. Beck has more of a handle on Wilson’s mechanics. What is wrong with having him there to just take a look? In the absence of a sage veteran starter who could interpret these things and offer advice, Beck seems like a solid secondary option.
Now that the rant is over, I’ll remind everyone that this Jets team beat two opponents with winning records and now faces the Titans, Jaguars, Dolphins (twice) and Eagles before the end of the season. If they win a majority of those games against bad teams and, perhaps, steal one more against the very good teams on their remaining schedule (Buccaneers, Bills twice, Saints), is it that unrealistic to see them claw out of Year 1 under Robert Saleh with six wins? If Beck’s presence helps stabilize Wilson once Wilson returns to the field, we could actually see the offense as designed. Their offensive line is very good. Their running game is developing. The receivers are O.K. This is more than one could say about a majority of the opponents the Jets have left on their schedule.
Current record: 2–6
Projected second-half record: 3–6
Projected final record: 5–12
I have a strange feeling Meyer will do just enough to legitimize a second year based solely on how beneficial his second-half schedule breaks. Jacksonville gets the Texans, Jets, 49ers and the Colts twice. If the Jags can beat the Texans and steal one of two from their reeling divisional rival Colts, this all of a sudden looks like progress. While interpreting this is ultimately up to Jaguars ownership, even a team that may not be well prepared from a head-coaching standpoint can still beat some middling opponents with a better-than-average offensive line, an elite edge defender, two good cornerbacks and a better-than-average receiving corps all tied together by a developing generational QB prospect.
Los Angeles Chargers
Current record: 5–3
Projected second-half record: 7–2
Projected final record:12–5
The Chargers have gone 1–1 since their bye week and squeezed out a close victory over the bottom-feeding Eagles after losing a game to the Patriots. While that may signal regression for some, their schedule breaks quite favorably over the winter months, with two games against the Broncos (I’m not calling the Broncos bad, but I am saying that Brandon Staley is a Vic Fangio apprentice, and thus, likely has some ideas on how to defeat his surging defense).
Justin Herbert has been playing middle-of-the-road football to this point. His play-by-play success rate is hovering in the high 40s and his completion percentage above expectation is barely above zero. This is not a reflection of who Herbert is, meaning that we should see more of the quarterback who piloted that stunning, three-game stretch in late September and early October when he completed 65% of his passes for 901 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. It may not be that good, but it’s going to be better than what we’ve seen the last three weeks, with a quarterback rating in the high 80s and a touchdown to interception ratio barely above 1:1.
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New York Giants
Current record: 3–6
Projected second-half record: 4–4
Projected final record: 7–10
The Giants are running into a postbye buzz saw against the Buccaneers, but then settle into one of two divisional matchups with the Eagles and a game against the Dolphins. Daniel Jones is playing about as well as a Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield and Teddy Bridgewater right now, which is enough when buoyed by a healthy offensive line to beat some of the vulnerable teams on their schedule. I know we keep saying once Saquon Barkley gets going—which is a false promise based on the milquetoast offense the Giants are serving each week. That said, Jason Garrett had become a little more flexible with the former No. 2 pick before Barkley injured his ankle and went back on the sideline. His increased involvement in the passing game was a sign that Garrett may have finally understood the matchup potential of his dual-threat back.
New England Patriots
Current record: 5–4
Projected second-half record: 6–2
Projected final record: 11–6
This is a space to admit when we’re wrong, and while I still wish Bill Belichick had allowed Mac Jones to try to win a game against the Buccaneers, his handling of the rookie quarterback has been masterly. Jones is the best rookie quarterback this season by a mile and should have an outside shot at winning Offensive Rookie of the Year if his numbers improve down the stretch. While many took the losses to the Bucs and Cowboys as some kind of flimsy evidence that the Belichick era had fizzled, some saw progress; these were not teams New England had any business competing with at the moment. Since the Cowboys game, the Patriots are 3–0, with two decisive, blowout wins over the Jets and Panthers, in addition to a narrow victory over the more established Chargers. If one 7–9 season and a 2–4 start to a rookie quarterback’s season is the extent of a rebuild in New England, few should have any complaints about post–Tom Brady life.
New England should be competitive against the Browns this weekend and will enjoy some fortuitous matchups against the Dolphins, Jaguars and Falcons before season’s end. They also have two Bills games, setting up a potential race for the AFC East crown. While I would still expect Buffalo to pull away, it’s never an easy feeling to see the Patriots over your shoulder.
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