I have been watching this sport for almost 20 years now, and I can honestly say this has been the most unpredictable NFL season in years. Basically this NFL season is like a blind date. It will either be incredibly bad or incredibly great. The girl could be pure gold or a total psycho. One week, a team could be showered with accolades and crowned the next Super Bowl champion. The next week it will be ridiculed left and right and calls from angry fans to sports radio stations calling for the coach's head fly left and right. But then again, who has a stable relationship anymore?
But if anything else, I've learned that the NFL season flys by like no other sport in the world. The baseball and hockey regular seasons are grueling, often boring marathons. The NFL season ends in the blink of an eye. We've already reached the halfway point of the season, and like a bad relationship, it's time to give praise but take a lot of shots at the same time. And for a diehard NFL fan like myself, I wouldn't have it any other way. Here's my awards, wrist slaps, and 2nd half predictions for this grueling relationship.
Biggest Surprise: AFC West
If you had told me that by Week 10 the CHIEFS and RAIDERS would reign supreme in the AFC West, Lamar Hunt would roll over in his grave and I'd advise you and Al Davis to seek some counseling. But it's true. Kansas City has emerged as a playoff contender due to outstanding running from Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones, and big plays from Matt Cassel. Not to mention their defense has staked its claim to being one of the best in the league this year. The Raiders, while half as talented, have recieved outstanding play from quarterback Jason Campbell, and the team seems to have shaken off the stench left behind by the JaMarcus Russell epic fail. Even Darrius Heyward-Bey (yeah, him) has stepped up. But the key behind the revival of the Silver and Black has been the play of the league's #2 rushing offense with a breakout year from Darren McFadden) and #3 pass defense, led by Nnamdi Asomugha. This all being said, expect a revival of the Chargers and eventual overtaking of both teams by the Bolts by the end of the season. But the revival of two old AFL rivals makes for a nice first-half story.
Biggest Disappointment: Dallas Cowboys
I was going to lump the Minnesota Vikings into this category as well, but after all the drama surrounding Mr. Favre and Mr. Moss and Mr. Childress, they saved their season with a dramatic comeback against Arizona last Sunday and set themselves up for a possible 2nd half surge. But wasn't this supposed to be the year Jerry Jones got a Super Bowl in his own back yard? Wasn't this supposed to be the year Tony Romo rose to the elite? Wasn't this supposed to be the year the Cowboys broke through with their sixth Super Bowl title, proving Wade Phillips could win? Guess what, Cowboy haters? CELEBRATE! The 'Boys are 1-7, Jones had to fire a head coach within the regular season for the first time after Sunday's 45-7 disgrace in Green Bay, Romo is possibly out for the season, and the team is not inspired to even leave the locker room on Sundays. You could point the finger at the coach, the owner, or the players, but the truth is you should point the finger at the business model of the Cowboys: make money, lots and lots of money, and pray the team on the field delivers a Super Bowl. Major changes are in store for this franchise.
Last week it was the Patriots. The week before it was the Jets. The week before it was the Steelers. Week before the Ravens. Week beforrrreeee......
In other words, take your pick. There are no elite teams in the pack of simply good to very good teams in the league after four weeks. They are as follows: The Jets, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Giants, Eagles, Packers, Saints, and Falcons. That's a heckofalota teams right there. As per the theme of this season in my intro, you just don't know week after week.
Tie between the Bills and Cowboys. The Cowboys for the reasons explained above, and the Bills simply because they are 0-8. However, the Bills come to play week after week, and are no pushover. They will eventually get a win as long as Ryan Fitzpatrick plays out of his mind. The Cowboys simply don't compete. So if you put a gun to my head, I'd lean toward Dallas. God, it feels good to be a Cowboy hater these days.
Once again, it is Mr. Manning from Indianapolis. His offensive weapons have been decimated by injuries. His favorite target, Dallas Clark, is out for the season, and arguably the poor man's Wes Welker, Austin Collie, is hurt once again. Other than Reggie Wayne, his options are the overrated Pierre Garcon, Blair White, and Jacob Tamme. Strikes a lot of fear in your heart, doesn't it? But of course, it is Peyton's place, and he is the glue, the heart, the soul, the foundation, and the infrastructure of the Colts. Without him, they are nothing. He is showing why once again.
Honorable mentions: Tom Brady, Clay Matthews, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster.
Randy Moss. He is already on his third team this season. The circumstances behind his departure from the Patriots were simply business. The circumstances behind his departure from the Vikings are simply despicable. Whatever the situations, Moss has simply quit on two different teams this year. If he is quitting on Tom Brady and Brett Favre, how in the world can Vince Young or Kerry Collings possibly make him happy?
Tom Coughlin, Giants. After a 1-2 start from the Giants, Coughlin survived calls from the media and fans for his head and enormous pressure from within to lead the G-Men to the top of the NFC and a 6-2 record. Coughlin gets beaten and tortured in the media day in and day out, and is roundly criticized by fans, but he continues to go about his business with class and dignity, and has not only saved his job, but put New York in position for a Super Bowl run. Honorable mention: Mike Smith, Falcons; Mike McCarthy, Packers; John Harbaugh, Ravens; Rex Ryan, Jets; Tom Cable, Raiders; Todd Haley, Chiefs.
Now that Wade Phillips is out of the picture, the overwhelming choice is Brad Childress. Amid in-fighting with his recievers, conflicts with ownership, questionable play calling, and an overall mediocre record, Chilly is the next to go with one more bad loss.
If you drafted Arian Foster of the Texans for your fantasy team, you look like an absolute genius. Foster has established himself as an elite running back in the NFL, leading the league in rushing (864 yards) and touchdowns (10), including 231 yards and 3 TD's on opening day. Honorable mentions: Darren McFadden, Peyton Hillis, Kenny Britt.
Top Storylines for the Second Half
1. Can the Vikings rally for a playoff spot? Yes, but if any only if: the ancient Favre can stay upright, Brad Childress can get out of his own way, and they can beat the Bears and Packers the next two weeks. The Randy Moss drama ended, and the Brett Favre sexting drama appears to be on the shelf for now. Is this Favre's last hurrah? Please. But if so, and we're not sure, he will want to go out with a bang. They will be dangerous in the second half.
2. Can the Chiefs or Raiders or both make the playoffs? I think the Raiders will fall just short, but I believe the Chiefs are talented enough and hungry enough to squeak in. I believe the Chargers will end up winning the AFC West despite another mediocre start, but in a wide-open AFC playoff picture, it's possible Kansas City can sneak in.
3. Can Donovan McNabb lead the Redskins to the playoffs? McNabb's benching by coach Mike Shanahan in Detroit created unnecessary controversy in the Nation's Capital. With the Giants pulling away and Eagles showing signs of a playoff team, the time is now for both to co-exist and guide their new team to the playoffs. It won't be easy, though.
4. Can the Houston Texans finally take that next step? It's still too difficult to tell. They have all the talent in the world on the offensive side of the football, but it's the defense that has prevented Houston from taking that next step. Betty White could throw for 500 yards against that secondary, and how much longer can Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Arian Foster survive shootout after shootout? I still say they make it in.
5. Will the NFC West champion have a sub-.500 record? It would be sad yet fascinating at the same time. Any one of the four teams can still win this awful, awful division. Imagine, for instance, the 49ers fighting their way to a 7-9 record, finishing tied for first with Seattle. But by virtue of a tiebreaker, they miss out on the division title? I believe the division winner, no matter whom it is, will finish 7-9.
And now, my favorite part of this unhealthy relationship: the 2nd half predictions!
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sam Bradford, Rams
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, Lions
Offensive Player of the Year: Arian Foster, Texans
Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews, Packers
Coach of the Year: Todd Haley, Chiefs
Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning, Colts
Seeds in ( )
AFC East: Jets (2)
AFC North: Steelers (1)
AFC South: Colts (3)
AFC West: Chargers (4)
AFC Wild Cards: Patriots (5) and Texans (6)
NFC East: Giants (1)
NFC North: Packers (3)
NFC South: Saints (2)
NFC West: Seahawks (4)
NFC Wild Cards: Falcons (5) and Eagles (6)
Colts 30, Texans 24
Patriots 20, Chargers 18
Packers 27, Eagles 21
Falcons 37, Seahawks 14
Steelers 17, Patriots 14
Jets 23, Colts 21
Giants 30, Falcons 27
Packers 35, Saints 28
Steelers 24, Jets 14
Giants 28, Packers 23
Steelers 31, Giants 24
Picks for Week 10 (1-3 last week, 5-7 overall)
NYG -15 over Dal
Min -1 over CHI
ATL -2 over Bal
Hou +1 over JAX