2015 NFL midseason predictions: AFC wild-card race heating up

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At the midpoint of the 2015 NFL season, our analysts refresh their predictions on the major individual awards, the entire playoff field and Championship Sunday/Super Bowl outcomes.

Click here to glance back at our analysts' preseason predictions.

AFC NORTH

Jeffri Chadiha: Cincinnati Bengals. They have a ton of talent, and quarterback Andy Dalton has never been so confident and consistent.

Judy Battista: Bengals. Maybe the most complete team going, and Andy Dalton is having a career year -- only remaining question is January.

CHARGERS AT RAIDERS

Willie McGinest: Bengals. They're off to a great start and have a huge lead in the division. They've been in some tough games and come out on top. They've shown a lot of character when they've gotten down.

Michael Silver: Bengals. Enjoy Hue Jackson while he's here; he'll get another head-coaching shot in a couple of months.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Bengals.

Colleen Wolfe: Bengals. When the Steelers lost Le'Veon Bell for the year, they lost their shot at the division. Bengals win it.

Ike Taylor: Bengals. Andy Dalton has been a rifleman as the leader of this team.

Steve Wyche: Bengals. Too deep on both sides of the ball. Of course, there's still the question of whether they can win in the playoffs.

Nate Burleson: Bengals. They have a strong three-headed monster in Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. It's hard to stop three efficient weapons.

Gil Brandt: Bengals. This is as complete a team -- offense, defense and special teams -- as there is in the NFL. Also, Andy Dalton is playing at a very high level.

Adam Schein: Bengals. I don't believe it, but Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis are making a, well, believer out of me.

Marc Sessler: Bengals. I'm no longer waiting for the Andy Dalton collapse.

Charley Casserly: Bengals. Cincinnati will be chased by Pittsburgh, but the Bengals will hold on.

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Bucky Brooks: Bengals. The Bengals are legitimate contenders in the AFC. Hue Jackson has Andy Dalton and Co. playing at a high level, while the defense is starting to flex its muscle as a physical unit with bullies on every level.

Elliot Harrison: Bengals. With the win over the Steelers in Week 8, the Bengals have built too large of cushion to be caught. What, are the Ravens or Browns going to catch them?

Shaun O'Hara: Bengals.

Steve Mariucci: Bengals.

Heath Evans: Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

AFC EAST

Jeffri Chadiha: New England Patriots. The only question about this team now is whether it can go undefeated again.

Judy Battista: Patriots. To make things simpler for our editors, just put this as my pick until Brady and Belichick retire.

Willie McGinest: Patriots. That's a no-brainer.

Michael Silver: Patriots. After losing Darrelle Revis in March, and TWO left tackles over the past two months, they somehow look even better than they did last February.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Patriots.

Colleen Wolfe: Patriots. I'll take New England here -- but no perfect season. The Patriots' pass protection needs to get it together.

Ike Taylor: Patriots. It's like taking candy from a baby for those guys. They're so good.

Steve Wyche: Patriots. The Jets are legit, but if Ryan Fitzpatrick has been impacted by his thumb injury, the Pats will just extend their division lead.

Nate Burleson: Patriots. Tom Brady is playing the best football he's ever played, and Rob Gronkowski is unstoppable.

Gil Brandt: Patriots. A 7-0 team that has the best-performing quarterback in the NFL right now. New England also has a coach who has an unbelievable ability to get his team ready for important games.

Adam Schein: Patriots. It's Bill Belichick's world -- we're just living in it.

Marc Sessler: Patriots. This requires no explanation.

Charley Casserly: Patriots. The real question is, can they go undefeated?

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Bucky Brooks: Patriots. They are the best team in the NFL behind the sensational play of Tom Brady and the unheralded efforts of a sneaky good defense.

Elliot Harrison: Patriots. With the three-game lead over the Jets, the Patriots will be difficult to overtake in the AFC East. That, and the fact that they are outscoring everyone, have the best head coach, quarterback and tight end.

Shaun O'Hara: Patriots.

Steve Mariucci: Patriots.

Heath Evans: Patriots.

 

AFC SOUTH

Jeffri Chadiha: Indianapolis Colts. They've struggled, but they're also blessed to be in the worst division in football.

Judy Battista: Colts. By default.

Willie McGinest: Colts. I think they're going to start playing better football. All around, they're the most talented team in the division.

Michael Silver: Colts. The ship may be sinking, but I'm clearly committed to going down with it. Keep the faith, Indy fans.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Jacksonville Jaguars.

Colleen Wolfe: Houston Texans. Brian Hoyer leads the Texans to the top of the division. The AFC South: Someone's Gotta Win It!

Ike Taylor: Jaguars. This is a toss-up. I'm going to go with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Did I just say that?

Steve Wyche: Colts. They win by default, because the rest of the division is D-League caliber. Unreal that Indy could end up hosting a playoff game.

Nate Burleson: Colts. Just because the rest of the division isn't very good.

Gil Brandt: Colts. When you get down to it, this is between Indy and Hosuton, and I think the playoff spot usually goes to the team with the best quarterback -- even with his struggles this season, that's Andrew Luck.

Adam Schein: Colts. By default. Or something.

Marc Sessler: Jaguars. Does anybody want the South? I'll swing for the fences with the Jaguars -- the only team inside the division not mired in turmoil.

Charley Casserly: Colts. Indianapolis wins because no one else wants this division.

Bucky Brooks: Colts. Indy's mastery of a division littered with inexperienced and mediocre quarterbacks leads to another playoff berth.

Elliot Harrison: Colts. The Colts are the best team in a really bad division. Wish there was more to say than that. Indy might not even be able to win the NFC East.

Shaun O'Hara: Colts.

Steve Mariucci: Colts.

Heath Evans: Colts.

 

AFC WEST

Jeffri Chadiha: Denver Broncos. They've got the best defense in football and an offense that is starting to come together.

Judy Battista: Broncos. We don't think Peyton Manning is dead yet -- but even so, the defense will carry them.

Willie McGinest: Broncos. We know they can score points and what they can do on offense, but their defense gives them an opportunity every week.

Michael Silver: Broncos. If Peyton Manning can be even half of his former self come playoff time (and I think he will), he's got the team around him to compete for a second championship.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Broncos.

Colleen Wolfe: Broncos. The Broncos are 7-0 -- and that defense shut down Aaron Rodgers.

Ike Taylor: Broncos. Denver all day. This division has some hungry teams, but the Broncos are going to win it.

Steve Wyche: Broncos. They will beat out the Raiders because of their defense. Might not make it to Round 2 of the postseason, though.

Nate Burleson: Broncos. They have the best defense in football.

Gil Brandt: Broncos. Denver's defense, plus the fact that they are undefeated despite Peyton Manning not playing his best football for most of the season, makes the Broncos the team to beat in this division. I'm also sure Manning's play will improve as the new offensive philosophy takes hold.

Adam Schein: Broncos. The amazing defense is arguably the best in the NFL. Classic team with a great defense carrying an average quarterback.

Marc Sessler: Broncos. Everything we saw Sunday night against the Packers points to the Broncos hitting their stride.

Charley Casserly: Broncos. They need to get the offense straightened out. Oakland could challenge late.

Bucky Brooks: Broncos. Peyton Manning takes a back seat on a Denver squad that pummels opponents behind a ferocious defense. The Orange Crush 2.0 could take the five-time MVP to the Promised Land one more time.

Elliot Harrison: Broncos. The Broncos' defense has shown itself to be the premier unit in the league and will win the West.

Shaun O'Hara: Broncos.

Steve Mariucci: Broncos.

Heath Evans: Broncos.

 

AFC WILD CARD 1

Jeffri Chadiha: Pittsburgh Steelers. That offense can still be dangerous, even with Le'Veon Bell lost to a season-ending knee injury.

Judy Battista: Steelers. They survived the knee injury that kept Ben Roethlisberger off the field for four games, and even with Le'Veon Bell done for the season, the Steelers have Antonio Brown.

Willie McGinest: Steelers. Even with Le'Veon Bell out, they've got a lot of other weapons and should be in good shape as soon as Ben Roethlisberger is 100 percent healthy.

Michael Silver: Oakland Raiders. They compete hard every week, they've got playmakers on both sides of the ball and Derek Carr is a promising young QB. What's not to love?

Maurice Jones-Drew: Raiders.

Colleen Wolfe: Steelers. DeAngelo Williams fills in admirably for Bell, but Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are what really matter.

Ike Taylor: Steelers. I never count them out. I've been there with Pittsburgh -- we started off 0-4 in 2013, then went 8-4 the rest of the way and finished one game short of the playoffs.

Steve Wyche: Steelers. Pittsburgh edges out ... Oakland for this spot. Big Ben's return turns Pittsburgh into a Super Bowl contender by the end of the season.

Nate Burleson: Raiders. Oakland will be carried here by Derek Carr and Amari Cooper.

Gil Brandt: Raiders. Derek Carr is having a sensational year, while Charles Woodson's play has really helped the defense a lot. Oakland has built up plenty of momentum heading into the back half of the season.

Adam Schein: New York Jets. They have a fantastic defense and a great head coach, and I think New York has a window, now that Le'Veon Bell is out for the year in Pittsburgh.

Marc Sessler: JetsThe AFC is a mess, but the Jets have the talent on defense to get into the party with nine wins.

Charley Casserly: Steelers. A dangerous team when healthy on offense. Of course, they won't be truly healthy the rest of the year, with Le'Veon Bell out. Still, I like them here.

Pro Bowl ballot

Bucky Brooks: Buffalo Bills. Buffalo finally gets it together in the second half under Rex Ryan. The defense suffocates opponents behind a fearsome foursome that settles into its respective role under the ultra-aggressive defensive wizard.

Elliot Harrison: Jets. Like the Broncos, the Jets can lean on their defense. ... Also in their favor: a manageable schedule.

Shaun O'Hara: Steelers.

Steve Mariucci: Jets.

Heath Evans: Bengals.

 

AFC WILD CARD 2

Jeffri Chadiha: New York Jets. New York is the front runner here, so long as Ryan Fitzpatrick stays healthy. If not, look for Oakland, which only faces three teams with winning records in its final nine games.

Judy Battista: Jets. They still have games against the Patriots and the Cowboys (who will almost certainly have Tony Romo back from injury by then), but the rest of the schedule is loaded with teams that the defense should dominate.

Willie McGinest: Oakland Raiders. They can score and play with anybody. Beating the Jets just gave them a huge boost of confidence.

Michael Silver: Pittsburgh Steelers. Quietly, Mike Tomlin has built a menacing defense ... and a healthy Big Ben will do big things down the stretch.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Steelers.

Colleen Wolfe: Raiders. All things are possible.

Ike Taylor: Raiders. Those guys are playing well as a team in a lot of parts of the game.

Steve Wyche: Raiders. Like I've been saying all season, these upstart Raiders are a problem for every team they face.

Nate Burleson: Steelers. I think they'll get going again with Ben Roethlisberger back.

Gil Brandt: Steelers. DeAngelo Williams ran well enough while Le'Veon Bell was suspended earlier this season, and I expect him to serve as a sufficient fill-in for the injured Bell the rest of the way. Left tackle is a question mark, but Ben Roethlisberger will push Pittsburgh over the edge.

Adam Schein: Raiders. They are for real! With a real quarterback!

Marc Sessler: Steelers. They'll outlast the frisky Raiders, only to be wacked in the postseason.

Charley Casserly: Raiders. Derek Carr and the rest of the young talent drives a playoff push.

Bucky Brooks: Jets. Gang Green works through its midseason quarterback issues to secure the final wild-card spot. The Jets could become the latest sixth-seed to make a legitimate run at the title behind a star-studded defense that finds its groove down the stretch.

Elliot Harrison: Steelers. The Steelers? Sans Le'Veon Bell? Yep. Like the QB, ascending defense and overall grit of this team.

Shaun O'Hara: Jets.

Steve Mariucci: Steelers.

Heath Evans: Buffalo Bills.

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