Ah, we're already halfway through the NFL season. While we haven't been inundated with controversies surrounding domestic abuse (unless you're Greg Hardy), we have had our share of stories. For one, there are a BUNCH of rookies that are starting this season, and many of them have been making a big name for themselves as of late. Or, you could be Johnny Manziel and overstay your welcome as a sophomore. Anyway, another springing controversy is the referee calls throughout each game. It looks more and more like challenges are being too heavily relied on, or that it almost seems like game fixes are set in place. I'm not one for that, so I'm just going to say that referees could very well be getting blind, and we need newer blood soon.
While we have some rookies on the field and lack thereof on the referee crews, we're seeing a lot of mistakes. Some make room for growth, others make room for torches and pitchforks. Let's see where that has taken the 30 NFL teams over the past nine weeks, shall we?
NFL MIDSEASON SLANT
(All results are as of Week 9... If you are reading this before Week 10's Bills/Jets game, the result does not apply.)
AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
New England Patriots (8-0) - [snoring noise] This could have been completely different if Tom Brady's suspension was not lifted. He's been playing as well as he ever has, and he's had viable options for the pass in every single game. While the defense may let a few go via the pass rush, they're solid against any runs, and will snare any unwary QB. They never needed to worry about the run, but those options might come in handy in the future in case they encounter a good passing defense.
New York Jets (5-3) - While there are big names on offense, there seems to be a lot of inconsistencies and a lot of injuries that affect the team in small ways. However, the defense will keep them in games as long as possible. The Fitzpatrick/Smith QB duo is pretty steady, but their style switches are clashing with most wide receivers. Regardless, they have been going pound-for-pound with most teams in games. The bridge must be gapped.
Buffalo Bills (4-4) - A team of runners is going to effective due to the amount of options you have. However, a hole-y offensive line and a QB new to the first-string role in Tyrod Taylor, there are some jitters when it comes to rough defenses. Speaking of defenses, while the Bills can hold at the line, there's no saving them from prayers. Looks like the second half is full of passing offenses. Uh oh.
Miami Dolphins (3-5) - Well, y'see, they say that defense wins games, and with the Dolphins, that's all they can really rely on. While they've had some high-scoring games, they were all against teams much, much worse than them. Outside of that, there is an inconsistent offense that really doesn't rely on any tricks to pull off plays. In a rough division such as this, the rest of the season could be an uphill climb for the fish in South Beach.
Cincinnati Bengals (8-0) - [explosion noise] Good. Gravy. I won't lie--they're super fun to watch. Andy Dalton has never been a terrible quarterback, and since he has some versatile receivers in Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green, they're no stranger to putting the hurt on the opposition. The defense is clutch as well. While they may be familiar with giving up bigger plays, they don't go much further than that. That's all key if you're an undefeated squad. Let's see if a team from Ohio can finally do something fun in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) - With an early injury to Ben Roethlisberger (on top of another one from this past week) and a younger-looking defense, people thought the season was going to fall apart rather quickly. However, this offense is purely driven by the run, which brings it old-school. DeAngelo Williams and Le'Veon Bell have been clutch (Mike Vick can run too, I suppose), but they can only do so much. The defense needs more consistency, and hopefully that isn't too much to ask for.
Baltimore Ravens (2-6) - Uhh... Outside of two lucky wins, nothing has really gone right for these guys. If the offense falls apart (which it has badly during some games), the defense almost follows suit and gift-wraps the game to the opposing team. Maybe since they're playing most of their games at home from here on out, things could be different, but that remains to be seen.
Cleveland Browns (2-7) - Paging Johnny Manziel...! The team is a mess. Between injuries and really horrible defenses, it doesn't look so great for the other Ohio team. NFL.com says something about the team trying not to "spiral out of control," and to be frank, they're kind of late to the party. This season is already out of their control, and it's time to do some healing.
[Oh no...it's another division that has no team over .500 and I have to pretend that it's normal. Good grief.]
Indianapolis Colts (4-5) - This team isn't exactly terrible, as it didn't help their cause to have a rough first-half schedule against powerhouse teams (some still undefeated). With that said, things should be significantly different for these guys unless injuries make their way onto the main players of the squad, and that may have happened with Andrew Luck. However, with easier defenses to face soon, the new-bloods in the WR slots should have more room to breathe and shuffle routes. Now's not a time to rest, that's for certain.
Houston Texans (3-5) - Oh, how far the mighty have fallen. The thorn in the Texans' side is that they can't finish what was started. The offense may make a good showing, but pressure can get to them. Plus, the defense has a tendency to let big plays screw them up. Alas, if there's any more panic, the division could easily slip away from them.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) - Too many chances given equals automatic losses in my book. The defense has done that enough, and turnovers are a problem too huge for words. Dead serious. It needs a censor bar because the turnovers are so incredibly big and bad. Inability to get conversions on offense is almost as big of a problem here too. Ugh. Guys. Y'all ain't helping your cause when there's still people in Los Angeles that want a football team again.
Tennessee Titans (2-6) - Okay, yes, this is Marcus Mariota's rookie season, and he was last year's Heisman winner. Outside of that, it's almost time to jump off of that wagon and start fixing up the offense just so that his decent showings aren't spotty and cluttered with turnovers. While the defense shows some promise during games, they just aren't getting any offensive support.
Denver Broncos (7-1) - While this isn't Peyton Manning's strongest season at all, it does not matter in the least bit. The Broncos' defense is ridiculous, and by ridiculous, I mean you have probably reaped a ton of rewards on your Fantasy Football team if you have them. Despite a small hiccup this past week against the Colts, you aren't going to see these guys come up short on the way to January. What else can I say? You've got a full package (well, except in the run, but who cares when you've got Peyton?).
Oakland Raiders (4-4) - In a sudden plot twist, this team isn't entirely terrible like it was for a really long time. Okay, sure, the defense really leaves much to be desired (dead serious), but the offense is showing a ton of promise. Jack del Rio's hold on Derek Carr has been one of night-to-day beauty, and his versatility with receivers have kept them in games for the most part. The defense just needs to hold the opposition when it matters most. Pressure can be a killer, and it has been a factor in many close games.
Kansas City Chiefs (3-5) - Injuries haven't been too kind to this team as of late, and they've gotten beaten a lot by the onslaught of powerhouse offenses like Green Bay, Denver, and Cincy. Although their record doesn't really reflect their efforts, it can be a testament to how streaky the team can be. While they're no stranger to scoring, its all dependent on how well the offense and defense shares the efforts week in and week out.
San Diego Chargers (2-7) - Fact: Philip Rivers is the most underrated quarterback of this era. Fact: This season does not show that previous fact at all. Defense, a weaker special teams than usual, and the slough of turnovers does not help the cause of the Bolts whatsoever. With a lot of divisional matches in their second half of the season, and there are quarterbacks coming up with just as much gusto, problems could arise really quickly.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE
New York Giants (5-4) - The team has had a ton of rough games, that's for sure. While Eli Manning has his case of occasional magic in the pocket, the other side of the ball is relatively weak and underdeveloped. The lone saving grace of the Giants' defense is their turnover ratio, as they may totally give a lot of yardage, but erase it at a moment's notice. With the return of nine-finger Pierre-Paul, leadership could return and make their trip through the rest of the season a little more assuring.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) - Ladies and gentlemen, Sam Bradford hasn't blown out a knee yet. Anyway, the defense has been getting stronger and more consistent as the season has progressed, and the offense has been riding that momentum. However, inconsistent drives and inability to convert have been a problem, and it's best to take care of that situation if they don't want more disappointment.
Washington Redskins (3-5) - I forgot about this team. Between a mix of injuries (especially to DeSean Jackson) and a lack of defensive stability, it's not a shock at all that the [insert team name here] haven't been making good showings at all. One thing is for sure, while they have a lot of divisional games coming up in their second half, there are also a lot of offensive threats thrown in the mix. That could be a big factor on whether this season will be a massive disappointment or not.
Dallas Cowboys (2-6) - After losing six games in a row, you tend to wonder how big of a factor Tony Romo is with this team. The loss of Dez Bryant in the beginning of the season didn't help matters, but the main factor is who was in charge at QB. While the running game has been making up for it (especially after losing DeMarco Murray to the Eagles), late game choking has been the norm for these guys. While Romo may be back soon, the damage may already be done.
Minnesota Vikings (6-2) - All things considered, this definitely isn't the same team from the past few years. While Teddy Bridgewater isn't seen as an elite quarterback, Adrian Peterson (yeah, that guy) has been an obvious force on offense. The team is also a classic example of teamwork, as an underperforming offense is helped by a stellar-looking defense. While the road to the top is going to be rough, both sides of the ball should have enough trust to take out the division.
Green Bay Packers (6-2) - To the common eye, this isn't a surprise. However, the team has actually overcome a lot of problems since the beginning of the season. Injuries to the defense have made gametime a bit shaky and stressful, and while Aaron Rodgers is doing his thing yet again, he hasn't had as much support lately from his fellow receivers. I know, it sounds like I'm reaching here, but in a tighter-than-usual division, there is much to be aware of before the next seven weeks arrive.
Chicago Bears (3-5) - If there is a team that consistently underperforms week in and week out, it's Da Bears. Watching unanswered points be scored against them is rather irritating, as there is so much to get from this team, but they aren't being utilized correctly. New coaching may be the difference maker here, but you don't want to point fingers at guys who have only gelled for barely a year.
Detroit Lions (1-7) - Oh, how far the mighty have fallen here. Matt Stafford may be a magical quarterback, but you can only go so far with one guy on your team that is performing at a decent level. Instead of scoring, they give the ball away and let the opposition score. Instead of holding teams at the line, they simply don't. Coaches have been fired like crazy over the past year, and Coach Caldwell is aware that the Detroit faithful are restless. This is ugly.
Carolina Panthers (8-0) - With all of this offensive versatility finally showing its face, Cam Newton looks like a wizard in the pocket. With the first half schedule they had, things looked shaky, but they proved their worth, and they rarely screwed up. With an easier second half schedule, we're not going to see a sub-.500 team from this area. All cylinders are a-go, and if no injuries occur, the chances to see them go far in January look really good.
Atlanta Falcons (6-3) - Yes, they started 6-0, but it sort of looks like they got cocky and trickled off in the second half over the past three weeks. It isn't like they've choked or fallen asleep or anything, it's just that they start strong, and most teams that do that may burn out. That isn't to say that they aren't good anymore--because they still are--but it's time for them to play more tactical ball, and see if Matt Ryan can continue showing more versatility and for the defense to hold the line.
New Orleans Saints (4-5) - In the most unprofessional way possible, Drew Brees is amazing (herp derp) and the defense is lousy (herp de-derp derp). On paper, that is the best way to put it. In fact, the offense looks playoff caliber, but the defense is one of the worst in the league, and Rob Ryan may possibly be out of a job by the end of this season because of how poorly the team can hold and force turnovers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) - For what it's worth, Jameis Winston is having a great rookie season, and he's fortunate to have a veteran coach in Lovie Smith giving him tender, Lovie care. With him and Doug Martin on the run, things look promising for the offensive squad. However, while the defense is better than average, too many points are being scored on short, quick plays, and if that is curbed, the team could finish at a decent spot toward the end.
Arizona Cardinals (6-2) - I really like these guys. Even though there are a lot of mistakes scattered throughout the game, they have the ability to make comebacks and upset. Carson Palmer is having a great season, and the secondary is the scariest its looked since some guy named Kurt Warner was QB. While laurels shouldn't be rested on by this point, they have the tools to make a run for the playoffs. The defense needs to stay healthy. That is the main goal.
St. Louis Rams (4-4) - Despite a solid defense, the Rams have been blessed (rather, cursed) with an inconsistent QB in Nick Foles. Most of the time, that didn't matter because the running game was strong and kept the team in the game. However, with Todd Gurley shaky with injury, things could go sour. Although the second half doesn't seem to have as many formidable defenses to destroy the offensive line, it could be much better for the Rams and their staff.
Seattle Seahawks (4-4) - The 'Hawks start off strong each game, but they start running out of steam halfway through the third quarter. Although their defense is still formidable, the offense has been figured out, and games have been too close for comfort each week. Divisional games at home are going to be a big factor, of course, and the run needs to stay sharp. They may be down right now, but they aren't out by a long shot.
San Francisco 49ers (3-6) - This record does not fully explain the type of nosedive this team is taking at the moment. In fact, let me take you to the trainwreck play that took place in Week 8. Jim Tomsula in his rookie season as a head coach in the NFL has been a rocky one, considering he pulled the trigger late on pulling Kaepernick, but this is a purely hard learning experience (and reality check) not just for the coaching staff and the team, but the front office as well. No, I don't think they miss Harbaugh as much as people think, but this whole team is painfully unstable, and their win in Week 9 may have been a fluke.
While a lot of these analyses come as no surprise, we're bound to have an interesting eight weeks ahead, and hopefully we'll see some more growth.
See you again when we're done eating turkey, opening up re-gifts, and getting hammered when the clock strikes midnight.