“And we’ve reached halftime, football fans!” Already? Yes sir, and what an interesting season it has been! As intriguing as this NFL season has been, time needs to slow down just a little… Between the emergence of quarterback Carson Wentz and the nearly undefeated Philadelphia Eagles getting off to a hot start, the weekly suspension debacle of Dallas Cowboys tailback Ezekiel Elliott, or the ongoing “mystery” on quarterback Colin Kaepernick has yet to be given any chance to play for anybody, this season is off to a tremendous start! At this point, almost everyone not named the Browns or 49ers still have a chance to reach the playoffs and the ultimate prize: Super Bowl LII!
While we weren’t able to make preseason predictions this year, it should make recapping the first half of the NFL season that more fun! Let’s get to it!
Standings as of Week 9
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2)*
New England Patriots (6-2)
Kansas City Chiefs (6-3)
Tennessee Titans (6-3)*
Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3)*
Buffalo Bills (5-4)*
Occupying the AFC’s top seeds are the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots and the habitual contending Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams are sitting pretty with 2 losses after hot starts marred by a few bumps in the road. In the Steel City, the first half of the season had a soap opera feel to it. All-Pro WR Antonio Brown had a tantrum after not getting the ball on a broken play, Big Ben Roethlisberger claimed to “not have it anymore” after a bad game against the Chicago Bears, and talented WR Martavius Bryant has demanded a trade. Despite those few hiccups, the Steelers are the #1 seed in the AFC and boasts wins over two of the league’s best teams — the Kansas City Chiefs and the Minnesota Vikings. Add in an improved defense and the potential for Big Ben to play better down the stretch, and the Steelers will continue to be top contenders in the AFC.
In Boston, Tom Brady seems to be fighting father time and winning! Through the first eight games, Brady is 1st in the NFL with 2,541 passing yards, and 2nd in touchdown passes with 16. His phenomenal play has overshadowed the horrendous start of Bill Belichick’s defense and the absence of injured WR Julian Edelman. While the defense has improved over the last few games, Brady and the Pats will need much more support if they hope to make another Super Bowl appearance.
The next two spots are taken by two of the NFL’s most improved teams: the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans. The Chiefs jumped out the gates with a 42-27 manhandling of the New England Patriots, and continued that hot start by winning the next 4 games. Quarterback Alex Smith must’ve taken offense to the Chiefs Selecting rookie Patrick Mahomes as an insult because he’s producing the best season of his career (2,444 passing yards, 18 TDs, and only 1 interception). Rookie RB Kareem Hunt has exceeded all expectations and leads the NFL in rushing yards (800) and yards from scrimmage (1,131). Add in WR Tyreke Hill’s knack for making explosive plays, and the Chiefs are eccentric themselves as a force to be reckoned with this season.
The AFC wildcard spots are currently occupied by two of the NFL’s biggest surprises: the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills. Both teams are lead by much-improved defenses but held back by inconsistent offenses. In Duval County, FL, the Jags are on the Titans’ heels for the AFC South crown with an identical 5-3 record. Led by newly acquired DE Calais Campbell, the defensive unit has kept the Jaguars afloat all season while Blake Bortles struggles continue. One offensive revelation had been rookie RB Leonard Fournette’s emergence ( 596 yards and 6 rushing TDs) halfway through the season. If Bortles can show some type of consistency in the second half of the season, the Jaguars have the potential to make a little noise in the playoffs. Up in Buffalo, the Bills are in almost the same boat as the Jags as the defense is carrying the team on its back. QB Tyrod Taylor is having another inconsistent season, and RB LeSean McCoy (546 rushing yards) is literally carrying the offense this season. Rookie CB Tre’Davious White has been an excellent addition to an already improving defense, and they seem to be getting better by the week. Despite their obvious offensive flaws, the Bills are primed to break their longest American sports (not just NFL) drought at 17 years. Wow!
Standings as of Week 9
Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)
Minnesota Vikings (7-2)*
New Orleans Saints (7-2)*
Los Angeles Rams (7-2)*
Dallas Cowboys (5-5)*
Carolina Panthers (6-3)
In the NFC, Carson Wentz and the Eagles are flying high atop not just the NFC, but the entire NFL! Wentz has been on fire this season, throwing for a league-leading 19 passing TDs and have led the Eagles to an undefeated record in the NFC and in the NFC East.The Eagles defense has definitely chipped in boasting the #1 rushing defense in the league (only giving up 70 yards per game). With the puzzling trade with the Miami Dolphins for Pro Bowl RB Jay Ajayi, the Eagles are expected to be even more explosive as they set their sights on a Super Bowl berth.
In “Nawlins”, Drew Brees and much-improved defense have the Saints in line for a long playoff run. We’ve all wondered what would happen if Brees finally got a competent defense to go along with an already lethal offense, and 7-2 is the result. Rookie CB Marshon Lattimore is one of the main reasons for the improvement on defense and has truly been a shutdown corner for the Saints in his extremely young career. If the Saints continue to be consistent on both sides of the ball, they may become true Super Bowl contenders.
The next two playoff spots belong to two teams that are surprisingly good this season: the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings. In Hollywood, the NFL’s youngest coach Sean McVay has the Rams playing like the Greatest Show on Turf again! He’s single-handedly turned QB Jared Goff from potential stay bust into one of the league’s most improved passers and leader of the NFL’s second-highest scoring teams. RB Todd Gurley is off to another hot start posting 686 yards rushing and 10 total touchdowns. If the defense can continue to hold its own, the Rams could be on track to earn their 1st playoff appearance in nearly 14 years. In Minnesota, are riding the shoulders of their stout defense to a 6-2 record. After already missing QB Teddy Bridgewater since last season, they started the season with former 1st round QB Sam Bradford. After just TWO games, they lost Bradford then lost promising rookie RB Dalvin Cook as well. In their absence, QB Case Keenum, RB Jerick McKinnon and the 3rd ranked defense had kept the Vikings afloat. It should be an interesting to see if the success continues in the second half of the season for the Vikes.
Holding down the wildcard spots in the NFC are the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers. In Big D, the Cowboys aren’t playing to quite the level they were at this point last season, but they’re still pretty good. With the weekly uncertainty of RB Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension hanging over their head, the Cowboys are somehow surviving this roller coaster ride of a season. QB Dak Prescott (1,818 passing yards and 4 ints — after having only 4 all of last season) has come down to Earth this season but is still playing at a high level. The one concern that they have going into the 2nd half of the season is their defense with battles with the Falcons and Eagles coming up next. And it looks like they’ll be facing them without Elliott, who lost his latest appeal of his suspension. I guess the D in Big D stands for DRAMA!
Offensive MVP: Carson Wentz, QB, Eagles
Since rookie QB Deshaun Watson went down for the rest of the season, Wentz is now the sole leader in touchdown passes this season with 23. His play is one of the biggest reasons that the Eagles are soaring atop the entire league with a surprising 8-1 record. Wentz has shown improved decision-making skills and has wowed us with BIG, but smart plays on a weekly basis! Though he has the old man Tom Brady on his heels for the MVP, Wentz is doing everything he can to keep his birds flying high.
Defensive POY: Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars
At this point in the season, Campbell is arguably the best free agent addition this season. After playing the 5 technique in a 3-4 defense for his whole career in Arizona, Campbell has exceeded expectations piling up an astounding 11 sacks as an outside rusher. His play, along with a lot of his teammate’s improved play, has vaulted the Jaguars defense into the league’s elite.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs
Had Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans not tore his ACL a few weeks ago in practice, he would be our choice for OROY. Fortunately for Hunt, he’s also enjoying a tremendous start to his NFL career. Through the first 8 games of his budding career, Hunt is leading the league with 1,131 yards from scrimmage, while simultaneously leading the league in rushing with 800 yards to this point. And to think… His first carry in the NFL was a fumble!
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Saints
If you’ve been keeping up with the Saints for the past decade, you should know that their defense has been ATROCIOUS! In an effort to improve their secondary in one of the more pass-heavy divisions in the NFL, the Saints selected Lattimore from Ohio State University with the 11th pick in the 1st round, and he’s lived up to lofty expectations. While he might not be the only reason the defense is playing well, he’s definitely the main cog. Don’t let his 2 interceptions fool you.