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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NFL Halfway Mark

Eight weeks of NFL action are in the books. As several of the teams in the NFL have completed eight of their 16 games, we have reached the halfway point in the NFL season.

What do we know so far? We know which teams are front runners in the “Suck for Andrew Luck” competition. We know which teams are competing for a first round bye in the playoffs and which teams will have to scratch and claw to have their playoff tickets punched.

(Note: statistics are as of the morning of Monday, October 31, 2011)


Green Bay Packers (7-0) – The defending Super Bowl champions are the last remaining unbeaten team in the NFL. It is a quiet 7-0 start, in part because none of the Packers’ wins came against teams that had records greater than .500 at kickoff. With the Chargers, Buccaneers, Lions, Giants, and Raiders on the schedule in the next six weeks, the Packers will have ample opportunity to demonstrate how they measure up against better competition.

Detroit Lions (6-2) – The Lions are off to a 6-2 start. The last time they started 6-2 was in 2007. They finished 7-9. I expect better. The question is whether or not “better” will get them into the playoffs.

Chicago Bears (4-3) – The Bears have been a hallmark of consistency in 2011. They’re consistently inconsistent.

Minnesota Vikings (2-6) – The Vikings appear to have found their man in Christian Ponder. Ponder won the battle of NFL rookie quarterbacks, squeaking by Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers last weekend. If hindsight is 20/20, it is plain to see that the Vikings did not need to trade for Donovan McNabb.

Ndamukong Suh is making opposing QBs lose their heads. 1


New Orleans Saints (5-3) – The Saints are the best team in this division, but it remains to be seen if they are an elite team. Elite teams do not play three consecutive opponents with a combined record of 3-15 at kickoff and come away with just one win, albeit a 62-7 annihilation. Facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for control of the NFC South next week, the Saints can show what they are made of by how they respond after losing to the previously winless St. Louis Rams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3) – The Bucs are about to begin a stretch of four road games in the next six weeks, starting in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome against the Saints. How they perform in this stretch will likely determine their playoff chances. Their defense has to tighten up if the Bucs expect to be playing ball in January.

Atlanta Falcons (4-3) – The Falcons are like box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The same Falcons that beat the Lions struggled with the Seahawks and were beaten handily by the Packers and Bears. The Falcons are a team with a clear advantage in the Georgia Dome since Matt Ryan has been the quarterback. They will have to win as many home games as they can with road games at Houston, Carolina, and New Orleans in the second half of the season.

Carolina Panthers (2-6) – This is the best 2-6 team I have ever seen. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton’s development is coming in well ahead of schedule. The Panthers are a top 5 passing team after last weekend. Only one of their six losses are by more than seven points. However, their run defense has been completely porous and has to get better or else the Panthers will have another high draft pick in 2012.

Easiest Rookie of the Year vote, ever. 2

New York Giants (5-2) – This is the only team in the East with a winning record. However, these are still the Giants, who think that December is the time for giving…and they’ve given away a lot of games in the past. The Giants have yet to find a running game while their opponents run all over them as they give up 130 rushing yards per game. This weakness was illustrated by Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush having only the second 100 yard rushing game of his career. Can Eli Manning help his team ward off a rally from the Eagles or Cowboys?

Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) – The Dream Team dug itself into a huge hole by starting at 1-4. Their game against the Bears next week on Monday Night Football will tell us whether or not they are going to be in the NFC playoff picture or just dreaming. LeSean McCoy being in beast mode, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, is not hurting the Eagles’ cause.

Dallas Cowboys (3-4) – At 3-4, the Cowboys can ill afford another loss in the near future. However, four of their next six games are at home. Of those next six games, opponents include the punchless Seahawks, hapless Redskins, the winless Dolphins, and defenseless Cardinals. So the Cowboys are far from falling completely out of the NFC East race.

Washington Redskins (3-4) – The Redskins are tied for 2nd place in the NFC East…technically. With John Beck at quarterback, that is nothing more than a technicality.

I never thought I'd see the day in which "Mike Shanahan" and "incompetent" could be reasonably used in the same sentence. 2

San Francisco 49ers (6-1) – Where are the 49ers and what have you done with them? Where is the real, game sabotaging Alex Smith? San Francisco is off to its best start since 1998. Chew on this: if the season ended today, the 49ers would have a first round bye. While the 49ers have a very long way to go before securing the #2 seed, in their pitiful division, with games coming up against the Redskins, Seahawks, the Cardinals twice and the Rams twice, I think the Niners’ playoff ticket is all but punched.

Seattle Seahawks (2-5) – Hey! The Seahawks are still the defending NFC West champions. You have to knock out the champs! They’ve been on the canvas for weeks.

Arizona Cardinals (1-6) – So the Cards traded Dominique Rogers-Cromartie to the Eagles for quarterback Kevin Kolb? BOHICA, Cardinals fans! That stands for Bend Over Here It Comes Again!

St. Louis Rams (1-6) – The Rams played the Saints, last week, like it was their Super Bowl. That is as close as they’ll come to the real thing.

Jim Harbaugh looks like he was ready to put on the gloves and duke it out with Lions coach Jim Schwartz. No wonder the 49ers are improved. If I were on the team, I'd be worried that Coach was trying to take MY job! 4


Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) – After a convincing win over the New England Patriots without the services of Hines Ward, I think any questions about the demise of the defending AFC champions have been put to bed.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) – Quietly stifling defense plus efficient play with limited mistakes from rookie quarterback Andy Dalton are casting Head Coach Marvin Lewis, on Halloween, in the role of a black cat. He’s bad luck for anyone that crosses his path and has nine lives. Speaking of Bengals management and animals, Dalton’s rapid progress and early success combined with the fleecing of the Oakland Raiders for two high draft picks in exchange for former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer have me convinced that team owner Paul Brown is so lucky that he must have horseshoes up his ass.

Baltimore Ravens (5-2) – If the season ended today, the Ravens would be in third place, behind the Steelers due to their record and behind the Bengals due to the tiebreakers. The Ravens play the Steelers and Bengals in two of their next three games. It is time to separate the men from the boys.

Cleveland Browns (3-4) – The Browns are an inflated 3-4, if there is such a thing. Their three wins include epic victories over the winless Colts, the winless Dolphins, and a battle for the ages in a 6-3 win over the Seahawks. Their smallest margin of defeat is 7 points. If you cannot run the ball and cannot stop the run, which apply to the Browns, you are going to have a difficult time winning in the NFL.

Let's face it. Boxing isn't what it used to be. Ravens vs Steelers can help take the edge off of your boxing jones. 5


Houston Texans (5-3) – With the absence of Peyton Manning, the Texans, who have had the odds stacked against them in the past because of their division, practically have their division handed to them because of who is in it. Still, the Texans, even in recent, more competitive years, have had a pension for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Tennessee Titans (4-3) – Rookie head coach Mike Munchak and veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck deserve a ton of credit for helping the Titans to be competitive against teams that are not in the top tier. Perhaps the Titans would have a puncher’s chance against the big boys if they weren’t dead last in the league in rushing. Where is Chris Johnson?

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) – Top ten defense…top ten running game…dead last in passing with a struggling rookie and a journeyman who could not make most NFL rosters at QB. And long time starting quarterback David Garrard (2010 passer rating of 90.8) was NOT worth $9 million because???

Indianapolis Colts (0-8) – Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning’s demonstrated that, over the course of his career, he has been the league’s most valuable player with his play on the field, including four Most Valuable Player awards. His absence illustrates that point just as effectively. 
There's Waldo. Now where's Chris Johnson? 6


Buffalo Bills (5-2) – If the season ended today the Bills would win the AFC East by virtue of a tie breaker over the Patriots. Ahhh! Let that marinate…. Okay, back to reality. The Bills are very improved compared to recent years and will compete for the division title and the playoffs. However, their win over the Pats is the only win the Bills have over a team that had a record greater than .500 at kickoff. They have a long way to go and their defense is mediocre. For now, though, the Bills are in first place.

New England Patriots (5-2) – Tom Brady is going to will the Patriots to a lot of wins and probably get his team into the playoffs. However their defense either has to start forcing a gaudy number of turnovers or find some way to make a 180 degree transformation in defending the pass. The Patriots defense is on pace to obliterate the old record for most passing yards given up in a season. They aren’t going to a Super Bowl…they aren’t winning a playoff game like that. I can only imagine that coach Bill Belichick is beside himself in film sessions.

New York Jets (4-3) – Quarterback Mark Sanchez has looked much more efficient, more patient, and smarter as a passer in the Jets’ last two games. If this continues for most of the rest of the regular season, then I expect the Jets to be the front-running contender that they were in 2010. If the Sanchez regresses and/or the Jets fail to get a better handle defensively against the run, well….

Miami Dolphins (0-7) – Dead fish walking…. Yes, I know that a Dolphin is not a fish. They aren’t much of a football team, either.

Dear Patrick Chung: the good news is that you caught Mike Wallace. The bad news is that he caught the ball. 7


Kansas City Chiefs (4-3) – The Chiefs, by virtue of the tiebreaker, are in first place in the AFC West. In spite of being blown to smithereens in the first two games of the season and starting 0-3…in spite of losing Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles for the season before the season was barely in progress…in spite of being written off as a one year wonder from 2010, the defending AFC West division champions, after Week 8, are in first place. Head Coach Todd Haley deserves a ton of credit for holding his team together and keeping them focused in spite of a host of bad breaks in the beginning of the season.

San Diego Chargers (4-3) – I am not sure what’s more surprising, the Chargers’ fast start, the fact that the Raiders are breathing steam on their tails, or the fact that their Monday Night Football game against the Chiefs, last night, decided first place in the usually non-competitive division. The Chargers, while at times susceptible against the run and while not having the toughest schedule, thus far, have been very crisp in their execution. Philip Rivers, as highly regarded as he is, may still be slightly underrated. He is on pace for a 4,500 yard season. Then again, when he struggles with the center-quarterback exchange like he did last night, perhaps he is a little overrated.

Oakland Raiders (4-3) – The Silver & Black is BACK and rookie Head Coach Hue Jackson has built a team in the true Raider tradition, one that their late owner, Al Davis, would embrace. The Raiders will have a dog in every hunt as long as running back Darren McFadden continues to run like a freight train. However, the Raiders have no real shot at the playoffs if newly acquired quarterback Carson Palmer does not get comfortable and play productively very quickly.

Denver Broncos (2-5) – Tim Tebow believes in the power of prayer. The problem is that neither he nor the Broncos have one.

I don't think Rivers can just say, "Whoops!" 8

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