NFL: First Half Recap

So we’ve seen week 8 come and go, marking the unofficial halfway point of the season.

Sure some teams have already taken their bye, meaning they’ve only played 7 of their 16 game scheduled, but many have played 8.  So I figured I’d take a look back at my picks for the major awards and who was gonna win it all, and tell you who really won the 1st half of the season.

My Pre-season Division and Wild Card Winners

  • NFC: New York, Seattle, Green Bay, Atlanta, Dallas & New Orleans

Clearly I, was very off when I picked the Falcons and Giants to win their divisions.  Sure it could still happen, but it’s very unlikely as they sit in 3rd and 4th respectively.  But Seattle and Green Bay are both sitting pretty atop their respective divisions, and while Dallas and New Orleans aren’t wildcard times, they of course lead their divisions and would be playoff teams, as I thought they would be. I think the easiest division for me to pick had been the North.  But this has become of the of the bigger surprises for me, with both Detroit and Chicago right there heading into the second half.  The Saints, who I thought would be in a dog-fight with the Falcons all year for the South are coasting right now, but as we all know, a lot can happen in a short amount of time in the NFL.  If the playoffs started today, 4 of my 6 pick would make the playoffs.

  • AFC: Patriots, Denver, Baltimore, Houston, Cincinnati, and Indy

Here’s another case of getting the teams right (for the most part), just not picking them high enough.  Let’s talk about Indianapolis, who are showing they are a legit Superbowl contender, having knocked off three of the best teams in the league (Denver, Seattle and San Francisco), and easily at that.  I had them winning the a wild card spot, so I wasn’t really off, but I never thought they’d do this well again.  A lot of their success last year came in 4th quarter comebacks, something I didn’t see them replicating.  Denver I’m not wrong about, but my biggest shock might be in Kansas City.  I knew the Chiefs would be improved, never did I think they’d lead this division.  I figured they’d battle for a wild card.  But here they are the last undefeated team standing.  The Pats hold a slim lead, but things can change quickly if they’re not careful.  Baltimore and Houston have been big disappoints, while the Bengals defense has given them a nice lead in the North.  Just like in the NFC, 4 of my 6 picks would make the playoffs if they started today.

  • My AFC and NFC Championship games probably won’t end up quite the way I picked them, but my Superbowl pick of Denver over Seattle (sure call it chalk) does remain as a real possibility.

And how about my pre-season award winners?  Here is how some of my picks have changed.

Offensive Rookie of the Year:

  • I picked Texans Wide-receiver DeAndre Hopkins.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Packers Running Back Eddie Lacy, who I put down as an honorable mention.  He’s given the Packers another option on offense, which just makes them more dangerous.

Offensive Player of the Year:

  • I picked Lions WR Calvin Johnson.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Broncos QB Peyton Manning, another pre-season honorable mention by me.  How could he not be the guy right now? Look at his stats: 29 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. He’s completing nearly 72% of his passes and has only been sacked 11 times in 8 games.  Sure he’s got a lot of weapons but he’s also finding them and making all the throws.  But to be fair to Megatron, he’s having an insane year yet again.

Defensive Player of the Year:

  • I picked Bengals Defensive Tackle Geno Atkins.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to the Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali.  This guy has done a little bit of everything.  4 forced fumbles, 23 tackles, a pick 6 and 9 sacks.
  • Other possibilities: Bills MLB Kiko Alonso, Seahawks CB Earl Thomas or Chiefs OLB Justin Houston.

Most Valuable Player:

  • I picked Packers QB Aaron Rodgers.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Colts QB Andrew Luck.  This guy has shown he was the right guy to take number 1 last year.  He can outplay the best of them, and can put early game struggles behind him to help his team late.  His numbers aren’t flashy, but he takes care of the ball and is a true leader.
  • Other possibilities: Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson and Lions WR Calvin Johnson.

Coach of the Year:

  • I picked Seahawks Pete Carroll.  After a half of football, my vote would now go to Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid.  When you turn a 2 win team into an undefeated team halfway through the season, you’re going to be considered for awards.
  • Other possibilities: Bengals Marvin Lewis, Colts Chuck Pagano and Panthers Juan Rivera.

And finally my biggest surprises good and bad of the first half.

Biggest Disappointment – Team

  • Houston Texans: This is a team I saw as one of the last two standing in the AFC.  With a running back tandem like Arian Foster and Ben Tate, with a very good defense that got back Brian Cushing to play along side last year’s defensive player of the year in JJ Watt, I thought it was time for this team to take that next step.  But Matt Schaub has regressed, and is now injured, and TJ Yates didn’t do much better backing him up.
  • Dis-Honorable Mention: New York Giants – They collapsed in the 2nd half of 2012, and have carried that bad play into 2013.  Injuries have ravaged the o-line, secondary and running back position, but they still have too many weapons to be just 2-6 in the first half.

Biggest Disappointment – Offensive Player

  • Ravens RB Ray Rice: This is a guy who is usually atop the rushing yards leader board.  But a year removed from helping his team win the Superbowl, Rice hasn’t done much to help his team, and it’s a big reason why they’re just a 2-win team coming out of their bye.  At 26, there should still be something left in the tank, but he hasn’t been producing.  He’s been very good in his career after the bye, so maybe the extra time off will help get him back on track.
  • Dis-Honorable Mention: Redskins QB Robert Griffin III – It might not be fair to say this, as the mobile quarterback is coming off a serious knee injury that knocked him out of the playoffs last year.  But if you’re going to let him play, that means he’s healthy, which means we should be seeing more consistency from last years Rookie of the Year.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise – Team

  • Carolina Panthers: This team is riding on the high of a 3 game win streak that saw their offense put up 30+ points again, and the defense limit its opponents to 13.7 points a game, 2nd only to KC.  This team hadn’t been over .500 since before Cam Newton was drafted.  They are 2nd in a division where the Falcons play.  That means something.
  • Honorable Mention: Kansas City Chiefs – 2 and 14 to 8 and 0.  A sack happy, shutdown defense.  A good run game.  A quarterback who is very good at game management. They get honorable mention because despite a bad record a year ago, this team sent 6 players to the pro bowl, so the turnaround isn’t a huge surprise. This team is primed for a postseason run.

Biggest Pleasant Surprise – Player

  • Cowboys LB Sean Lee: This guy has a nose for the football, tied for 1st in the NFL with four interceptions, one of which he returned for a score.  He also has the most return yards of a defensive player.  He’s also defended 10 passes, recovered a fumble and has a combined 81 tackles.
  • Honorable Mention: Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor – His team only has 3 wins, and his numbers aren’t great, but after a few years of disappointment, he’s shown glimpses. First of all, those 3 wins match Oakland’s win total from a year ago.  He can run with the best of the mobile quarterbacks.  And he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter. Matt Flynn was brought in, and Pryor just flat-out beat him for the job.

So there you have it.  That was fun, looking back at what I thought preseason and seeing how it’s panning out.  Of course there’s still a whole lot of football to be played, and everything I wrote here (or almost everything) could be meaningless come week 9 or 10.   But that’s the beauty of the gridiron, nothing stays the same for long.  So win, lose or draw, let’s go out and enjoy the 2nd half of the 2013 season as much as we did the 1st half.

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NFL: Week 5 Thoughts

5 down. 12 to go.  And we still have 3 win-less teams, as well as 3 undefeated squads.

Washington, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Tampa Bay were all on their bye weeks.

I’m deviating from breaking this down by record.  Now that we’ve come to week 5, division races are starting to take shape.  So let’s take a look around the league that way.

NFC EAST (The Under .500 Club)

  • Cowboys: Tony Romo had the best game of his career, becoming the 1st Dallas QB to throw for over 500 yards. But a late second interception led to a Broncos game-winning field-goal and a loss. But don’t focus on another Romo turnover.  When you put up 48 points, you should win.  The defense just couldn’t stop Peyton Manning.  To be fair no one has yet this year.  (2-3)
  • Eagles:  Michael Vick went down with a hamstring injury in the 1st half, but Nick Foles didn’t miss a beat. Kicker Alex Henery shook off a shaky start to his season by completing all 5 of his field-goal attempts. (2-3)
  • Redskins: Bye week. (1-3)
  • Giants: The good news? The offense looked a little better.  The bad news?  They didn’t look good enough, with 4 more turnovers, 3 of which came courtesy of Eli Manning in the 4th quarter.  The run-game remained anemic, and the defense generated absolutely no pass-rush once again. Changes need to come, and quick. (0-5)

NFC NORTH (Too Close to Call)

  • Lions: After a big win over Chicago last week, the offense sputtered without Calvin Johnson in the lineup against Green Bay. The running back tandem of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell couldn’t help Matt Stafford and the pass game either.  (3-2)
  • Bears: It wasn’t a horrible performance by the defense a week after allowing 40 to Detroit.  But they couldn’t get much going on offense.  Aside from a huge day from wide-receiver Alshon Jeffery, who caught 10 balls for 218 yards and a touchdown, Chicago couldn’t do capitalize.  Jay Cutler’s two fumbles, 1 which was lost didn’t help.  (3-2)
  • Packers: It wasn’t the prettiest game, but a win’s a win. Most of the offense came from the leg of Mason Crosby, who kicked 5 field goals.  Aaron Rodgers did connect on a long TD pass to James Jones to pull away in the 3rd quarter. (2-2)
  • Vikings: Coming off their bye week, they’ll have a new QB on the roster after signing Josh Freeman, who was released last week by the Bucs.  (1-3)

NFC SOUTH (The Saints Are Running Away) 

  • Saints: After starting last year 0-4, the turnaround in New Orleans has been a big one.  One of the final 3 unbeatens, Drew Brees is having a great start to his year, as is the defense.  Jimmy Graham tied an NFL record held by Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez with his 4th straight 100-yard game as a tight-end. Graham accomplished this feat back in 2011 as well. (5-0)
  • Carolina: Cam Newton had a very bad day Sunday against the Cardinals.  The mobile QB did manage to throw for over 300 yards, but was also picked off 3 times, took a safety and was sacked 7 times.  The defense had an okay day, but that many turnovers is hard to overcome. (1-3)
  • Atlanta: They came from 13 down to take a 1-point lead with less than 2 to play.  Really they should’ve been up 4, but somehow instead of kicking a field goal to end the 1st half to get within 7, the Falcons instead chose to go for it on 4th and goal and were stuffed. For the first time in his career, Matt Ryan loses back to back games at home, and are now essentially 5 games out of 1st. (1-4)
  • Tampa Bay: Bye Week. (0-4)

NFC WEST (The Most Improved Division?)

  • Seahawks: They suffered their first loss of the season, a shootout loss with the comeback kids, the Colts.  Going back even further, it was their first regular season loss since November 25th of last season.  Russell Wilson had 300+ total yards in the loss, including 102 yards rushing. (4-1)
  • 49ers: Another easy win for San Fran, this time coming against a Houston team that is struggling big time.  Tramaine Brock’s pick six of Matt Schaub on the first pass of the game was all the niners needed in the 34-3 win on Sunday Night football. (3-2)
  • Cardinals: Their defense was the real star against Carolina, picking up 7 sacks, a safety and three interceptions.  Carson Palmer’s day was nothing to write home about, neither was the run game, but they did enough to win thanks to short field position.  (3-2)
  • Rams: A good game on all ends versus the now 0-5 Jaguars. Sam Bradford threw for 3 touchdowns, including 2 to Austin Pettis. The run game was pretty good as well.  Big plays were the name of the game, including Matt Giordano’s 82 yard interception return for a touchdown. (2-3)

AFC EAST (You Can’t Just Hand New England the Division Anymore)

  • Patriots: They still lead the division, but they picked up their 1st loss of the year thanks to a shutdown Bengals defense.  It was a low scoring game, something we’re not seeing from New England.  And that’s because  Tom Brady did something he hadn’t done in 52 games, he didn’t throw a touchdown.  (4-1)
  • Dolphins: A 13-6 halftime lead wasn’t enough to save Miami from their second loss of the year.  In a game of field-goals, Caleb Sturgis missed from 57-yards to tie the score with 33 seconds to go.  The run game was non-existent, with starter Lamar Miller picking up just 15 yards on the ground. (3-2)
  • Jets: Geno Smith continues to show growth in his rookie season, leading his team on a game winning drive with under 2 minutes to play. The defense was lock down in the 1st half, but showed some holes in the redzone late.  But it’s a big road win none-the-less. (3-2)
  • Bills: Not only did they lose their game with Cleveland, they lost starting QB EJ Manuel.  On a scramble in the 1st half, Manuel took a hit to the knee, and suffered an LCL sprain, which could sideline him for up 6 weeks.  Fellow rookie QB Jeff Tuel came in for Manuel, but didn’t look very good.  The run game was on point, but it wasn’t enough on the road. (2-3)

AFC NORTH (Where Almost Everyone is 3-2)

  • Ravens: Justin Tucker had himself a day, going 4-4 on his field-goal attempts, including the game winner with 1:42 to go. Joe Flacco wasn’t a whole lot better than his 5-interception performance last week, but Ray Rice finally showed up on the ground, running in for 2 touchdowns.  (3-2) 
  • Browns: Three straight wins, despite losing QB Brian Hoyer to knee injury.  Brandon Weedon lost the starting job to Hoyer when he went down with an injury, but returned to help lead Cleveland to another win. (3-2)
  • Bengals: The offense wasn’t great, but their defense pitched a Brady shutout.  Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis ran in a 1-yarder for the games only touchdown in the 4th quarter. (3-2)
  • Pittsburgh: Coming off their bye (0-4)

AFC South (Houston We Have a Problem) 

  • Colts: Another impressive win for Indy, this time handing Seattle their first loss of the year.  Andrew Luck continues to show why he was the number 1 pick in last year’s draft, leading his team for a 9th career comeback win.  The special teams for both squads showed up, including Delano Howell who scored for Indy on a 61-yard return touchdown of a blocked field goal.  (4-1)
  • Titans: Tennessee lost, but put up a good fight against the undefeated Chiefs.  Ryan Fitzpatrick, in place of the injured Jake Locker, ran in a go-ahead TD in the 4th.  (3-2)
  • Texans: Ever since taking a 20-0 1st half lead in week 4 against Seattle, Houston has been outscored 57-3 in their 2 game losing streak. Matt Schaub threw a pick 6 for the fourth straight game (a 1st in NFL history), and was benched in favor of TJ Yates. (2-3)
  • Jaguars: Things have gone from bad to worse for the win-less Jags.  After getting starting QB Blaine Gabbert back, he left their loss to St Louis with a hamstring injury, and lost 1st round pick OT Luke Joeckel for the year to a broken ankle. Things don’t look better with the 5-0 Broncos coming to town. (0-5)

(AFC WEST) Where You’re Either Undefeated or a Game Under 

  • Broncos: This team has scored the most points through the first 5 games of a season in NFL History.  And yet they almost lost to Dallas.  The defense hasn’t needed to be on much this year, with Manning being so automatic (20 touchdowns, 1 rushing TD and just 1 interception).  But they couldn’t stop the run or the pass against Dallas, something they need to fix, because odds are Manning will struggle one of these days.  Maybe. (5-0)
  • Chiefs: Denver has company.  They got pushed by Tennessee, nearly blowing an early 14-0 lead.  But a Jamaal Charles touchdown in the 4th, apart of a 108-yard rushing performance, put them up for good. (5-0)
  • Raiders: Terrelle Pryor made it known Sunday Night that this is his team.  Two touchdown passes in the 1st quarter put San Diego in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.  The Raiders showed more faith in Pryor Monday, when they released off-season acquisition Matt Flynn. Their defense forced 4 turnovers, including one from veteran Free Safety Charles Woodson, who tied an NFL record with his 13th defensive touchdown. (2-3)
  • Chargers: The dilemma that is Phillip Rivers continues.  400 yards passing, but threw 3 interceptions.  This team was 2-0, and now find themselves at the bottom of the division. (2-3)

So that’s a wrap on week 5.  Week 6 kicks off with two desperate teams on Thursday Night Football.  The win-less New York Giants head to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears.