NFL: Mid-Season

AFC East:

Will the Patriots ever lose? Many people asked this question pre-season, yet we’re 9 week sinto the NFL season & they sit at a complacent 5-3. A lot of teams would kill to be 5-3, but in Foxboro they expect more. Brady & company heads to the Meadowlands on Sunday, where their season might hang in the balance. A win gives them 1st place in the division, but a loss puts their season in purgatory.

-Bills who? Not since the 90’s, have the Bills been relevant in professional football. Their defense, led by the beastly George Wilson, wants to deter people from those negative connotations, while the offensive trio of Ryan Fitzpatrick/Fred Jackson/Stevie Johnson have helped rack up points. One thing’s for certain, don’t count them out.

-How many Super Bowls will Rex predict the Jets will win, before they win one? Jets sit a top the AFC East in a three way tie for 1st, yet the Jets haven’t played their best football yet. They’re a run first offense that’s tried to do too much with the passing game. Their defense has been great like everyone has expected it to be, but they have to grind their workhorse Shonn Greene if they want to open up Holmes for the deep play  & be a serious title contender.

-Can dolphins drown? It sure seems that way. Before yesterday, they were one of two winless teams that looked in line to solve all their problems by drafting Andrew Luck #1 overall in the April draft. However, after a road victory in the hostile Arrowhead Stadium, maybe their season will turn around. I think Daniel Thomas can be their next workhorse if they ever decide to give him enough carries and if he can stay healthy. Brandon Marshall is still one of the most talented receivers in the NFL & it seems like he is becoming a leader in that clubhouse as well. If they could find a way to get Andrew Luck then it would sure fix a lot of their problems.

AFC North:

-Are the Ravens the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl? The Ravens defense has been lights out like it always is, led by the four-headed defensive monster: Ray Lewis/Ed Reed/Terrell Suggs/Haloti Ngata , but the Ravens biggest problem is their inconsistencies and stagnant demeanor. I cannot believe the same team that beat the Steelers twice, also lost to the Jaguars & Titans and were down huge to the Cardinals before turning it on and squeaking out a close one. Joe Flacco has shown that he can keep his composure in tough situations though, which will go far in determining the Ravens’ fate not only this year, but in the future as well.

-Addition by subtraction? At the beginning of the 2010 season, I thought the Bengals had all the pieces in place to win the Super Bowl. After a horrendous season, the Bengals re-grouped & rebuilt via the draft. Terrell Owens & Chad Ochocinco left to free agency and Carson Palmer gets traded. Andy Dalton & A.J. Green get taken in the draft and the chemistry between this tandem is already immense. I knew that Dalton & Green would make them better, but definitely didn’t expect them to be this good & especially not this fast.

-Over the hill? Steelers defense has been one of the best in the league over the past decade and rightfully so, but it seems like they’ve lost their edge. Not only do they not cut off some big plays, but their age is apparent in all of their injuries to their linebacking corps.

-Bright or Plight?  I’ve praised the way that Browns’ management has built this defense & a lot of the time for good reason. Halfway through the season, D’Qwell Jackson is the defensive player of the year by far. T.J. Ward & Joe Haden have also helped keep them in close games. The problem is, you can’t win a game if you can’t score. Coming out of college, a lot of people expected Colt McCoy to be a good NFL QB, but he hasn’t elevated himself to that level yet, but it’s not entirely his fault. He doesn’t have many weapons. Josh Cribbs is a special teams specialist, but a depleted running game with the down year Hillis is having & the injury to Hardesty, makes things even more difficult. Evan Moore & Ben Watson are two good tightends that can help McCoy get down the field from time to time, but they don’t have any legit WRs. Greg Little has the talent to be the WR1 there though, if given the opportunity.

AFC South:

-Is this the year the Texans live up to their hype?  Texans seem to be in control of their own destiny. Foster is healthy & is picking up where he left off last season. The Texans have won their last three games even without their best player, Andre Johnson. Owen Daniels is an emerging TE. While Schaub’s skillset seems to be deteriorating & Mario Williams is lost for the season, but they’ve been able to pull off some huge blow out wins. They’re in line to finally make the playoffs.

-Remember the Titans? The Titans were off to a fast start, before their #1 receiver, Kenny Britt, was lost for the year. now they seem stuck in mediocrity with their playoff odds dwindling more & more every week. Stuck at 4-4, their season can go one of two ways. All I know, is that they have to beat the Texans in their re-match to stand a shot at getting back into the AFC South race.

-Luck is better than skill? Jags squeaked out a week 1 win against the competitive Titans, but then hadn’t won again until their defense showed up and stunned the Baltimore Ravens. Jaguars are one of the teams that would benefit the most by getting Andrew Luck, but with two wins that seems un-realistic at this point, unless they work out a trade.

-Is Peyton Manning the MVP of the past decade? The Colts have been a mess since Peyton hasn’t played. Starting at 0-9, their season is bleak to say the least. The silver lining in this all is that being the only winless team, they have the best shot at obtaining Andrew Luck.

AFC West:
-Role reversal? The Chargers are notorious for their slow starts & second half of the season brilliance & dominance. This season, however, they sit at 4-4 in a tie for 1st place. Will they continue to have 2nd half success or will they falter down the stretch this year, with the abundance of interceptions that Rivers has been throwing.

-Do it for Al Davis? Al Davis personifies Raiders’ football. With his heartbreaking death earlier this year, it seems like the time that Raiders football is back on the map in a big way. Trading a pretty penny for former pro-bowler Carson Palmer & bringing in a true receiver in T.J. Houshmanzadah gives them the talent to get it done. With Run DMC being hurt, Michael Bush will have to shine bright to keep the Raiders in the race, until he can regain the work load.

-Will the injury bug hurt them? With Jamaal Charles & Eric Berry being done for the season, many unsung heroes have had to step up for them to even still be in this race. The emergence of Jonathan Baldwin, Jackie Battle, & Brandon Flowers have kept the Chiefs afloat. Only time will tell, if it will be enough to earn them their 2nd straight division title.

-TEBOWned? Since the beginning of the season, many Broncos fans have been chanting Tebow, waiting for him to get his chance. He finally did & he came back down 15 with under 3 minutes to go against the Dolphins & squeaked out an overtime victory. The next week he got blown out, but then down 24-14 against the Raiders, he turned it on & led the Broncos to 38 points. The scary thing is, no one knows which Tebow will show up week in & week out.

NFC East:

-Is it in his blood? Eli is often criticized and never gets the respect, that at times, he deserves. He has as many Super Bowl wins as his brother, yet Peyton is considered by some the greatest QB of all time, where as Eli is never talked about in a positive light. Depleted with injuries & in the shadow of the dream team, Eli & company find themselves at 6-2 and in prime position to make the playoffs for the first time since they beat the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl.

-May I have a diet choke? Romo is notorious for being able to blow games in a matter of minutes. Although, Romo is the only QB to be able to chalk up the Niners defense and beat them, he’s also found ways to blow very winnable games. (See their huge 4th qtr lead vs. the Jets in week 1)

-The dream team or the all hype team? Many people, including me, predicted the Eagles to win the Super Bowl this year. It seemed like all of the stars were aligning. After a mediocre start, the Eagles are finally locked in & playing their best football. Only question is, are all their problems behind them? Eagles have the talent to beat any team, any week, but they can’t overlook even their “easy” opponents or they could be sitting on their couches in January.

-Sexy Rexy merely an illusion? Rex Grossman, of Bears’ Super Bowl fame, won the starting job out of pre-season & got the ‘skins off to a scorching 3-1 start, before faltering and giving way to John Beck. The Redskins now sit at an un-appealing 3-5 & appear to be who most of us thought they’d be. Running back by committee, #1 receiver is hurt, & mediocre defense (besides their above par secondary). I’d expect a Super Bowl winning coach, to be able to do more, even in his situation.

NFC North:

-Will they ever lose? The Packers sit at 8-0 & are halfway to perfection. Aaron Rodgers & company are destined to go down as one of the best offenses of all time. They rank almost dead last in pass defense however & if their offense loses any steam, then they could trip up a couple times down the stretch.

-Are the Lions for real? Lions have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL & one of the brightest young QB/receiver duos as well. If Jahvid Best could ever turn into an elite runner, then the Lions could be contending for a Super Bowl sooner than later.

-Can Forte keep them in it? Matt Forte accounts for 43% of the Bears’ total offense through the first half of the season. It’s astounding that they haven’t paid him yet, because he surely deserves it. However, if the Bears don’t find better ways to get their young tightends, knox, & williams better involved in their offense, then any good defense could build a barricade around Forte & make their offense non-existent.

-Is McNabb’s career over? The slow start by the Vikings, put them in a position to start Christian Ponder. The rookie’s been very impressive in his two starts & it makes me wonder if McNabb’s career is over. All I know is with Jared Allen, AP, & Ponder, the Vikings future is looking bright.

NFC South:

-Are the Saints the most complete team in the NFC? Drew Brees has a plethora of receivers he can hurl it to, the most under-rated tightend in the NFL in Jimmy Graham, & a three-headed running attack. Their defense however can be a problem at times, because they have a very hard time defending against great passing games.

-Are Matt Ryan’s numbers inflated because of his athletic receivers? Whether it be Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White or Julio Jones, it seems lke Matt Ryan is constantly being bailed out by dives and extensions by his receiving corps. Ryan’s accuracy will have to be more pinpoint if the Falcons want to go far into the playoffs this year.

-Is the Bucs young & sluggish style causing them from contending? At times, the Buccaneers seem to be playing great football. However, sometimes they let their attitudes and short tempers get the best of them. Blount got in trouble at Oregon for punching a kid for taunting & just recently the Bucs got a 15 yard penalty for Blount punching a Saints’ player. Talib got a 15 yd penalty for the same thing later in the game. Foolish short tempered mistakes cost teams close games. If they want to be an elite team in the NFL< then they have to cut down on giving away free yardage.

-Is Cam the next Michael Vick? It’s only his rookie year, but Cam Newton is already becoming a dual threat QB in the vein of Michael Vick. Whether he’s hurling down field to Steve Smith or using his legs to get a first down, one thing is certain, his time is now. It’s only his first year in the league, but people in Carolina have something to get excited about.

NFC West:

-Can Alex Smith win a Super Bowl? Other than the Packers, no team has been as good in the first half of the season as the 49ers. Patrick Willis fronts this toughnosed defense and  keeps them in every game. The niners also have some of the best special teams in the NFL. However, outside Frank Gore, they really don’t have an explosive offensive threat. A diluted receiving corps doesn’t help, but multiple tightend sets, usually helps Smith break free in the pocket and find an open man downfeld, which has helped the Niners get off to their fast start. Eventually teams will catch on, if they don’t become a multi-dimensional offensive teams.

-From beast mode to autopilot? Marshawn Lynch exploded for a huge run knocking off tackles left and right in Seattle’s route of the defending Super Bowl champs last January, since then he’s been almost non-existent. Pete Carroll has to find ways to use Lynch/Forsett more to take the pressure off of Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson isn’t a great QB and even when trailing in games, they should use Lynch more to edge downfield. It gives them their best chance to win games.

-Is Kolb a good QB? In the offseason, many people talked about how getting Kolb made the Cardinals immensely better, but I wasn’t sold. He only had a handful of starts in his NFL career, but yet he was getting praised for mediocre numbers. Cardinals only have two wins and for good reason, because they aren’t a very good team.

-Is Sam Bradford a future elite quarterback? Last year, Bradford had a great year, being honored with offensive rookie of the year honors.  However, this year, being plagued by injuries to himself and his receiving corps, he’s had a miserable year to say the least. People with high hopes still believe he can turn into Peyton Manning someday, but will his injury woes from college continue to creep up to his pro career or will he be able to stay relatively healthy and turn the Rams franchise around.


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