Join Date: Sep 2012
hot off the press
1. Atlanta Falcons, 7-0
The Falcons clearly seem to be the most complete team in the league. Matt Ryan is playing at a high level, the defense is making a lot of big plays, and the team has found a way to win every week.
First Half MVP: QB Matt Ryan (2018 yards, 16 TD, 6 INT, 7.6 YPA)
Ryan has played with more confidence than we’ve ever seen from him, making some big throws in crunch time to keep his team undefeated.
Key Contributor: OLB Sean Weather spoon (52 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL, 2 PD, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Weatherspoon has been the team’s most active defender, using his speed to make plays all over the field. He has really emerged as an impact player both in coverage and attack the line of scrimmage.
Breakthrough Player: FS Thomas DeCoud (36 tackles, 4 INT, 6 PD, 1 sack, 1 FR)
The Falcons have struggled in previous years against top QBs, but that hasn’t been the case this year. The progression of DeCoud, who has emerged as a ball hawk in the secondary, has a lot to do with that.
Second Half Key: Staying Focused
The Falcons pretty much have their division in the bag halfway through the year. The Saints, Bucs and Panthers are all struggling and the only team with a winning record on the Falcons’ remaining schedule is the Giants. Winning Super Bowls is all about getting better throughout the season and playing your best football at the end of the year. The Falcons’ can’t get complacent and let the first half of the season be their high point.
2. Chicago Bears, 6-1
The Bears defense appears to be the most complete unit in the group, with a great mix of young playmakers and savvy veterans. The offense hasn’t been scoring a lot of points, but when you have a defense that scores nearly a touchdown per game, you don’t need that much from the offense.
First Half MVP: CB Tim Jennings (39 tackles, 6 INT, 1 TD, 13 PD)
Strong cases could be made for Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, who have scored two defensive touchdowns apiece, but Jennings has really been the most outstanding player on the defense. Jennings was always a solid player in Indianapolis, but he has elevated his play to a new level in Chicago.
Key Contributor: WR Brandon Marshall (50 rec, 675 yards, 4 TD)
Marshall has pretty much carried the Bears’ offense. Cutler doesn’t seem confident throwing it to anyone else, and the running game is not giving them great production.
Breakthrough Player: DT Henry Melton (24 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 FF)
Melton’s has quickly developed into one of the league’s best interior rushers, and it’s making quarterbacks very uncomfortable. The Bears’ pass-rush is forcing quarterbacks to rush a lot of throws and the result is a defensive unit that has intercepted 16 passes in 7 games.
Second Half Key: Protecting Cutler
If there’s one thing that can hold this team back, its their offensive line, especially LT J’Marcus Webb. Cutler has taken 25 sacks already and just can’t seem to get in rhythm. Their defense can’t continue to force turnovers at this rate all year, and their offense is going to have to win them some games.
3. New York Giants, 6-2
The Giants have looked strong thus far in their title defense, and are in dominant position in the NFC East at the halfway point. They have dealt with adversity well and are clearly the most mentally tough team in the league.
First Half MVP: QB Eli Manning (2300 yards, 12 TD, 8 INT, 7.8 YPA)
Manning has picked up right where he left off last year, quarterbacking the offense with authority and making plays in the clutch to win games.
Key Contributor: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (30 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 5 PD, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 FF, 1 FR)
The Giants’ pass-rush has not been quite as menacing as they were on their Super Bowl run, but Pierre-Paul has certainly been making his presence felt.
Breakthrough Player: FS Stevie Brown (34 tackles, 5 INT, 2 FR)
When Kenny Phillips got injured, there was a legitimate cause for concern about a defense that was already struggling against the pass. Sometimes guys take advantage of those opportunities to carve out a role for themselves, and that’s exactly what the backup safety has done.
Second Half Key: Getting the pass-rush back in gear
The strength of the Giants’ defense has been and needs to continue to be their front four. They don’t have great coverage units, and don’t have linebackers that are particularly effective blitzing. When their front four is at its best, they are able to compensate for the defense’s shortcomings. Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora combined for only 4 sacks, and need to start making a bigger impact.
4. San Francisco 49ers, 6-2
The 49ers are once again winning games with great defense and a strong run game. Their front 7 is absolutely dominating, and their offensive line is one of the best groups in the league.
First Half MVP: ILB Patrick Willis (65 tackles, 3 TFL, 6 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Fellow ILB Navorro Bowman is also having a heck of a season, putting up nearly identical numbers to Willis. Still, Willis is the heart of this defense and has made some very timely plays this year.
Key Contributor: HB Frank Gore (656 rush yards, 5.5 ypc, 4 TD, 121 rec yards)
Gore is a pure runner and is still gashing defenses at 29 years old. The passing offense is still inconsistent, but the 49ers aren’t having much problems winning with a strong run game and defense.
Breakthrough Player: CB Chris Culliver (22 tackles, 10 PD, 2 INT)
Because their run defense is so good, teams end up throwing a lot against the 49ers. Culliver is one of the guys who has been targeted a lot, and he has performed admirably, giving the team quality depth in the secondary.
Second Half Key: Finding offensive identity
The 49ers have been showing a lot of looks on offense so far, and still haven’t found a comfort zone. Harbaugh likes to mix in backup QB Colin Kaepernick, but does that affect their offensive flow? Crabtree has looked great in some games, but it’s still unclear if he’s going to become a go-to receiver. Vernon Davis has been very quiet, while Randy Moss and Mario Manningham haven’t been big parts of the offense. They need to stick to their power running game with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, but they also need to figure out how to best use their many offensive weapons.
5. Houston Texans, 6-1
Just halfway into the year, the Texans already seem to have the AFC in a chokehold. The Ravens are the only team that has been keeping up with them in the wins column, but the Texans just obliterated them in a battle for AFC supremacy.
First Half MVP: DE JJ Watt (34 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 7 TFL, 10 PD, 2 FR)
Watt’s production from the 3-4 DE position has simply been unprecedented. He spends a lot of time in opposing backfields, and no one is better at disengaging and knocking balls down. 2 of his deflections have resulted in interceptions
Key Contributor: QB Matt Schaub (1650 pass yards, 10 TD, 4 INT, 7.4 YPA)
The Texan passing game hasn’t really been explosive this year, but Schaub has played tough as nails and been a steadying presence in the offense.
Breakthrough Player: CB Kareem Jackson (20 tackles, 3 INT, 6 PD, 1 TD)
Johnathan Joseph came to Houston last year and solidified one starting CB spot. With the emergence of Jackson, it seems the Texans will have their starting CB duo set for some time.
Second Half Key: Replacing Brian Cushing
Because of his versatility, Cushing may have been the most important player on the Houston defense. There‘s no one they can insert who can replace Cushing‘s productivity, but they will need ILBs Tim Dobbins and Bradie James to step up their play.
6. Green Bay Packers, 5-3
It’s been a rough half-season for the Packers, who were blatantly robbed of a win by replacement officials and hit by a barrage of injuries. The good news is they still have a winning record and should have all their key players healthy for the end of the year.
First Half MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers (2165 yards, 21 TD, 4 INT, 7.3 YPA)
Rodgers has handled the adversity like a real pro and his leadership on and off the field is a big reason the Packers have weathered the storm so well. He got off to a slow start, but has been on fire the last few weeks.
Key Contributor: OLB Clay Matthews (31 tackles, 9 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF)
Matthews had bounced back excellently from a 6-sack 2011 season, re-establishing himself as a premiere pass-rusher.
Breakthrough Player: WR James Jones (36 rec, 401 yards, 7 TD)
James Jones has been on the Packers a long time, but has never been asked to play a big role until this year. With Greg Jennings out, Jones has emerged as an extremely reliable target for Rodgers.
Second Half Key: Finding a run game
With Cedric Benson and James Starks out, the Packers have now turned to Alex Green at running back. Aaron Rodgers can carry the offense, and the Packers like to use WR Randall Cobb in the backfield, but they do need to maintain some kind of offensive balance.
7. New England Patriots, 5-3
The Patriots have been one of the hardest teams to figure out this year, showing signs of both dominance and vulnerability. They have been dealing with some injuries, but are expecting to get some key players back on the field soon.
First Half MVP: QB Tom Brady (2408 yards, 16 TD, 3 INT, 7.5 YPA)
As usual, Brady is tearing it up. It hasn’t been the smoothest start to the season, but Brady has still navigated his team to a winning record and won the important divisional games.
Key Contributor: LB Jerod Mayo (79 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 3 FF, 1 FR)
The defense has mostly been a mess, but Mayo has been a standout. He has 29 more tackles than the next man on the defense.
Breakthrough Player: HB Stevan Ridley (716 yards, 5 TD, 4.8 YPC)
Ridley has given the Patriots the power run game they have missed so dearly in recent years. With this added dimension, the Patriot offense can now shift gears and grind out wins.
Second Half Key: Improving coverage units
The Patriots rank 28th in the league in passing yards allowed, and are giving up a gaudy 8 yards per passing attempt. Injuries in the secondary are hurting them, but they also simply need guys to start playing better. Too many quarterbacks are having field days against this secondary.
8. Pittsburgh Steelers, 4-3
The Steelers started this season with a rash of injuries, but survived the first half with a winning record. They are now getting healthy and are in great position to make a playoff run.
First Half MVP: QB Ben Roethlisberger (1987 yards, 14 TD, 3 INT, 7.4 YPA)
With injuries to the defense, offensive line and backfield, Roethlisberger put the team on his shoulders. There is no one better in this league at improvising and making plays under pressure.
Key Contributor: LB Lawrence Timmons (40 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF)
Timmons’ impact can’t be fully appreciated from a stat sheet. With Troy Polamalu and James Harrison missing significant playing time, Timmons has been the guy who roams the field making plays on defense, and he has been a disruptive force.
Breakthrough Player: HB Jonathan Dwyer (299 yards, 5.2 ypc)
With Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman hurt, Dwyer got thrown into the starting lineup, and he has come up big. The Steeler offense has been looking pretty strong with him in there.
Second Half Key: Taking it to Baltimore
The Steelers are behind the Ravens in the divisional race right now, but that could be changing. The Ravens have been hit hard by injuries and play the Steelers twice in the next 5 games. If the Steelers can win those games, they can take command of their division.
9. Denver Broncos, 4-3
The Broncos had a tough opening schedule, but they managed to survive the first half with a winning record and very few injuries. The rest of their division does not look strong, and they appear to be in great shape for a strong second half.
First Half MVP: QB Peyton Manning (2113 yards, 17 TD, 4 INT, 8.2 YPA)
Manning is putting together a sensational comeback campaign, and it seems like Denver was the right place for him to stage it.
Key Contributor: WR Demaryus Thomas (39 rec, 679 yards, 4 TD)
Thomas has been an absolute monster this year, picking up right where he left off in the playoffs last year. Manning has never had a player with Thomas’ physical talent to work with and he is making sure to get his big receiver the ball early and often.
Breakthrough Player: LB Wesley Woodyard (61 tackles, 3 sack, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PD, 1 FF)
With DJ Williams suspended, Woodyard has stepped in excellently. The rangy linebacker has been all over the field making plays and will probably keep his starting job when Williams return.
Second Half Key: Keep running the ball
Peyton Manning is having a sensational year, and it would be easy for this team to become pass-happy, but that would be a mistake. Willis McGahee is having another strong season, Ronnie Hillman has emerged as a solid backup, and Peyton Manning is one of the best play-action QBs ever. Their defense is speedy and looks great at times, but they can get worn down if asked to spend too much time on the field. Controlling time of possession is crucial for the Broncos.
10. Baltimore Ravens, 5-2
The Ravens started the season hot, but limped into their week 8 bye. MLB Ray Lewis and CB Ladarius Webb are both out for the year, and the team got absolutely shellacked in their week 7 meeting with Houston.
First Half MVP: HB Ray Rice (524 rush yards, 4.9 YPC, 245 rec yards, 5 TD)
Just like rice is the base ingredient to many dishes, Ray Rice is the base ingredient of the Baltimore offense.
Key Contributor: FB Vonta Leach (81 rec yards)
As usual, Leach is playing a huge role by blocking with authority in both the passing and running game. Rice is having a great year, and his backup, Bernard Pierce, is averaging 5.3 YPC
Breakthrough Player: WR Torrey Smith (25 rec, 435 yards, 4 TD)
Smith had a strong rookie season, and is quickly becoming a huge part of the Raven offense. He has dealt with some tragedy in his personal life this year, but the team has rallied around him.
Second Half Key: Overcoming injuries
Two things are going to need to happen for the Ravens to overcome these injuries. First, the team needs to emotionally recover from losing Ray Lewis. Second, Joe Flacco and the offense need to start putting points on the board. The defense still has enough talent to pull it together and be a solid group, but they’ll have to do it without their leader. No matter what, Flacco won’t be able to lean on his defense like he used to and will need to be more aggressive in the passing game.
11. Seattle Seahawks, 4-4
The Seahawks are quickly gaining a reputation as one of the tougher teams to go up against. Their defense is suffocating, and they play physical on both sides of the ball. They continue to be a great home team, but they need to improve on the road.
First Half MVP: HB Marshawn Lynch
Lynch, the league’s second leading rusher, is carrying the Seahawk offense on his shoulders. Russell Wilson hasn’t been bad for a rookie, but clearly needs a strong running game to take pressure off him.
Key Contributor: DT Brandon Mebane (32 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 PD)
Mebane has been a key cog in the Seahawks’ run defense for quite some time, and is a big reason they are ranked 5th against the rush this year.
Breakthrough Player: CB Richard Sherman (36 tackles, 11 PD, 3 INT, 1 FF)
The Seahawks have the biggest pair of corners in the league in 6’3’’ Sherman and 6’4’’ Brandon Browner, who had a breakout year in 2011. Sherman has done a great job of building on his rookie season and is making quarterbacks pay for testing him.
Second Half Key: Divisional Play
The Seahawks are standing strong at 4-4 and are very much in the playoff race, but they have an 0-3 divisional record, which is usually the tiebreaker for playoff spots. The Seahawks are a tough team and aren’t going to go away, but they need to win their divisional games, all of which are at home, in the second half.
12. Miami Dolphins, 4-3
The Dolphins have been a very surprising team this year. Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill has played with confidence and poise and is getting a lot of production out of an unheralded group of receivers. The defense has played much stronger than expected.
First Half MVP: DE Cameron Wake (23 tackles, 7.5 sacks)
Wake has made a seamless transition from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE. His relentless pressure off the edge is a big reason the Dolphins are getting away with starting a very inexperienced group of defensive backs.
Key Contributor: OT Jake Long (2 sacks allowed)
Reggie Bush is finding big holes to run through, and Ryan Tannehill is sitting comfortably in the pocket. This isn’t possible without Jake Long holding down the all-important LT spot. The strong play of rookie RT Jonathan Martin and second-year
C Mike Pouncey is also helping matters.
Breakthrough Player: CB Sean Smith (30 tackles, 10 PD, 2 INT, 1 FF)
Sean Smith has been up and down his first few years in the league, but the Dolphins needed him to step up this year after trading away CB Vonta Davis. Smith has stepped into the #1 CB role very nicely and is using his size and athleticism to aggressively cover opposing teams’ best receivers.
Second Half Key: Don’t stop believing
Nobody could have dreamed the Dolphins’ passing game would be this effective, or that their defense could be this dominant. It’s hard to fully explain how they’re doing it, but they have been competitive in every game they’ve played since their opener in Houston. One thing working in their favor is that they’ve managed to stay healthy, which can’t be said for a number of other AFC teams. Their second half schedule isn’t all that tough and if they keep competing like they have been, there’s no reason they can’t snatch a wild card spot.
13. Minnesota Vikings, 5-3
The Vikings have been off to a surprising start, but it’s still unclear if they are a team with staying power. How they fare in their 4 upcoming divisional games against the Bears and Packers will tell a lot about how good this team is.
First Half MVP: HB Adrian Peterson (775 rush yards, 139 rec yards, 5.1 YPC, 4 TD)
Peterson has made an incredible return from his ACL tear and is back to being the best runner in the league. The Vikings are a different team with Peterson on the field.
Key Contributor: LB Chad Greenway (81 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD)
Greenway, the NFL’s leading tackler, has been an important veteran presence on this defense. The Viking defense has shown great improvement from last year, and it starts with this guy.
Breakthrough Player: WR Percy Harvin (60 rec, 667 rec yards, 72 rush yards, 4 TD)
Harvin has always been a good player, but he has really taken a step forward this year. The Vikings have been feeding him the ball on short throws and screens, and he has responded with a league-high 427 yards after catch.
Second Half Key: Pass Defense
The Vikings secondary got torched with regularity last year, but have shown improvement last year. With games coming up against the Lions, Bears, Packers and Texans, their secondary will be put to the test.
14. Philadelphia Eagles, 3-4
Frustration continues in Philadelphia. Michael Vick is struggling and there are even talks of him getting benched. On the other side of the ball, there has been a steep decline in the production of pro-bowl pass-rushers Trent Cole and Jason Babin, Andy Reid needs to right this ship to save his job.
First Half MVP: HB LeSean McCoy (504 rush yards, 134 rec yards, 4 YPC, 5 TD)
When the Eagles try to pass the ball, the result is too many sacks, fumbles and interceptions. A battered offensive line is definitely making things tough on the offense, but McCoy has still been an effective offensive weapon.
Key Contributor: MLB DeMeco Ryans (56 tackles, 1 sack, 9 TFL, 2 PD, 1 INT)
Ryans has been a crucial addition to the Eagle defense. He has been a force in the middle of the field, and has also emerged as a leader on defense, helping everyone get properly aligned every snap.
Breakthrough Player: CB Brandon Boykin (21 tackles, 3 PD)
He hasn’t been filling up the stat sheet, but the 4th-round rookie has quickly emerged as a solid nickel back.
Second Half Key: Finding offensive rhythm
The Eagles aren’t going to be able to turn this season around if their offense doesn’t start playing better. Losing their starting LT and C for the season has taken a heavy toll on this offense, but they have to find a way to fight through it. The offense needs to find some flow and Vick needs to take better care of the football.
15. Arizona Cardinals, 4-4
The Cardinals got off to a scorching 4-0 start, but then lost winnable games against the Rams, Bills and Vikings before getting taken apart by the 49ers on Monday Night Football. The season seems to be slipping away from them, as they have been hit hard by injuries and face a second-half schedule that features road tilts against the Packers, Falcons, 49ers, Seahawks, and Jets.
First Half MVP: ILB Daryl Washington (68 tackles, 8 sacks, 4 TFL, 2 FF)
Washington has been a wrecking crew, and is enjoying unheard of production as a pass-rusher from the MLB spot. Washington is quickly emerging as one of the league’s best linebackers.
Key Contributor: DE Calais Campbell (29 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 TFL, 4 PD)
Players Campbell’s size (6 foot 8, 300 pounds) who can move this well are hard to find. The key to the Cardinals’ defensive success is their dominance up front, and that all starts with Campbell.
Breakthrough Player: WR Andre Roberts (36 rec, 454 yards, 5 TD)
Larry Fitzgerald is not having his strongest season, and the Cardinals have lost their top 2 running backs to injury. This means someone needed to step up on the offense, and that somebody has been Andre Roberts.
Second Half Key: Protecting the QB
Coach Ken Whisenhunt started the season with a QB controversy. He hasn’t had to make many tough decisions because both of his quarterbacks have been hurt because they’re taking too many hits. The Cardinals offensive line has been devastated by injuries, and with HBs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams out, it’s hard for them to team to establish the run. Rookie Ryan Lindley might be starting at QB by the end of the season if they Cardinals’ offensive line gives up another 39 sacks in the second half.
16. Detroit Lions, 3-4
The Lions are a team with a lot of problems. Their defense isn’t stopping anyone, their run game isn’t getting any respect, and they are too reliant on WR Calvin Johnson (who isn’t having a great year). However, they are still an exciting team that can never be counted out a game, just like they shouldn’t yet be counted out of the playoff race.
First Half MVP: QB Mathew Stafford (2108 yards, 8 TD, 7 INT, 6.7 YPA)
Stafford is not having his best year and the Lions’ offense has been downright ugly for the most part. What’s unexplainable is how Stafford becomes suddenly unstoppable every fourth quarter. The Lions are coming off season-saving consecutive comeback wins against the Eagles and Seahawks, and Stafford was brilliant down the stretch in both games.
Key Contributor: DE Cliff Avril (19 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 PD
Avril has been a bright spot for the Lions on defense. Their secondary is not looking good and Ndamakong Suh is not playing to his ability, but Avril has been doing his part.
Breakthrough Player: WR Titus Young (26 rec, 304 yards, 3 TD)
Teams are focusing on taking away WR Calvin Johnson and daring the Lions other receivers to beat them. When Nate Burleson went down for the season, it meant one of the young receivers would need to step up, and Young has done just that (181 yards, 2 TDs in the last 2 games)
Second Half Key: Stop falling behind
It seems like every game, all the Lions do is shoot themselves in the foot. Penalties and miscues mount all game and they end up behind in the fourth quarter. They have somehow managed to squeeze out a few wild wins, but they need to start executing consistently throughout the game. There is no shortage of talent on this team, but they need to be able to play sixty minutes of smart football.
17. Dallas Cowboys, 3-4
Like their quarterback, the Cowboys have been up and down this season. QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant have been brilliant at times, but there have just been too many miscues. CBs Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr have made the Cowboys more difficult to throw against, but the team is just not playing with consistency or confidence.
First Half MVP: OLB DeMarcus Ware (33 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 FF, 1 FR)
Ware is the Cowboys best player, and as usual, he is among the league leaders in sacks. There isn’t a more consistent sack-producer in the league.
Key Contributor: ILB Sean Lee (58 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF)
Lee has been the Cowboys‘ most active defender, but they will have to go the rest of the season without him. If they can’t find an effective replacement, it could ruin their season.
Breakthrough Player: LT Tyron Smith (4 sacks allowed)
Smith was assigned the all-important task of protecting Romo’s blindside this year. He has gone up against some great pass-rushers this year, and has proven he can hold his own. He may not be an all-pro, but it seems the Cowboys have found their left tackle of the future.
Second Half Key: Keep running it
The Cowboys’ offense looks best when they establish the run and are able to keep team’s off balance. Romo is a great playmaker, but will get too aggressive and make mistakes if asked to do it all myself. HB DeMarco Murray had a strong start to the season, but is dealing with some injuries now. Whether he makes a strong return or not, the Cowboys need to stay with their run game.
18. Indianapolis Colts, 4-3
The Colts are drawing inspiration from their coach, Chuck Pagano, who is battling leukemia. The Colts have been very competitive under rookie QB Andrew Luck, and could have a shot at a wild card berth if they can get healthy.
First Half MVP: WR Reggie Wayne (54 rec, 757 yards, 2 TD)
Wayne could have bolted in free agency with Peyton gone, but he decided to stick around for the start of a new era, and is turning in perhaps his finest season. Andrew Luck surely appreciates it.
Key Contributor: FS Antoine Bethea (45 tackles, 1 TFL, 5 PD)
Bethea has been a key veteran presence for a defense going through serious reshaping. Not only are they going through major changes in turns of scheme and player turnover, but they have also dealt with injuries to key defenders like Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Pat Angerer and Cory Redding.
Breakthrough Player: LB Jerrell Freeman (69 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 FF)
Sometimes injuries create opportunities for unknown players, and Freeman has taken full advantage of this one. Freeman led the CFL in tackles last year, and is now fourth in the NFL this year.
Second Half Key: Getting production in the run game
Andrew Luck looks good, but he doesn’t look like he’s ready to sling the ball 50 times a game against NFL defenses. Donald Brown has been a disappointment and Vick Ballard isn’t producing much spark off the bench. Luck is a great play-action QB, and this offense won’t start popping until they find a legitimate running threat.
19. Oakland Raiders, 3-4
The Raiders looked as sloppy and mistake-prone as ever to start the year, but have actually been looking pretty good as of late. They have significantly cut down their penalties, and are forcing turnovers on defense. If they can get Darren McFadden going in the second half, they have a real shot at making a playoff run.
First Half MVP: DB Michael Huff (26 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT)
Things looked bad early when starting CB s Ronald Bartell and Shawntae Spencer went down with injuries. Huff moved to corner and has played better at the position than any Raider since Nmandhi Asomugha.
Key Contributor: TE Brandon Myers (31 rec, 383 yards, 0 TD)
WRs Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey provide the big-play spark, but Myers has been doing a great job working the middle of the field. He has caught 31 of 37 passes thrown his way and has picked up a lot of big first downs.
Breakthrough Player: LB Phillip Wheeler (59 tackles, 1 sack, 2 FF, 4 PD)
Wheeler didn’t draw a lot of attention on the free agent market, but seems to have found the right place for himself. He has been the Raiders’ most active defender this year.
Second Half Key: Stopping top passing attacks
The Raiders lack a dominant edge rusher and are clearly undermanned at the CB position. Not a good combination with guys like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Joe Flacco on the schedule. Their front four has shown the ability to create a good pass-rush, but not on a consistent basis.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 3-4
The Bucs spent big money in the off-season, but came out flat early in the year. They have won their last 2 games, but were recently dealt a big blow: OG Carl Nicks, one of their prized free-agent acquisitions, is out for the year.
First Half MVP: QB Josh Freeman (1800 yards, 14 TD, 5 INT, 8.1 YPA)
In the games they’ve won, it has clearly been because of Freeman. The Bucs spent some money to surround their QB with more talent, and he is rewarding them with a solid season.
Key Contributor: LB Mason Foster (53 tackles, 1 sack, 9 TFL, 1 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR)
Mason Foster has stepped into the starting MLB role quite nicely. He and rookie OLB David Lavonte are very active and have combined for 18 tackles for a loss in just 7 games.
Breakthrough Player: HB Doug Martin (543 rush yards, 224 rec yards, 4 TD, 4.2 YPC)
LeGarrette Blount hasn’t been giving the team much, and the Bucs really needed their rookie to step up. Martin has been a dynamic weapon for the Bucs and is an extremely important piece to the puzzle on offense.
Second Half Key: Pass-rush
The Bucs only have 11 sacks so far this year, and have lost their best pass-rusher, Adrian Clayborn, for the season. DE Michael Bennett and DT Gerald McCoy have been playing solidly, but neither of them are dominant players. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan needs to start dialing up some blitzes or make some kind of scheme adjustment to create pressure.
21. New Orleans Saints, 2-5
It’s been a rough year for the Saints. The bounty scandal hung over their heads all off-season and has refused to go away during the season. The presence of coach Sean Payton is clearly missed, and the defense has been abysmal.
First Half MVP: QB Drew Brees (2300 yards, 20 TD, 8 INT, 7.3 YPA)
If there’s one reason not to give up on the Saints, it’s Brees. Even under horrible circumstances, Brees continues to be one of the league’s most prolific passer. Whatever success the Saints do have this year will be because of their QB.
Key Contributor: WR Lance Moore (31 rec, 433 yards, 2 TD)
The Saints lost some receivers in the off-season and Jimmy Graham has been hurt, which has resulted in Moore getting his number called more often than he’s used to this year. The veteran receiver has done a good job getting open for Brees and has been nearly as productive as the team’s go-to receiver, Marques Colston.
Breakthrough Player: DE Junior Gallete (14 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 TFL, 1 FF)
Gallete has been one of the very few bright spots for the Saints on defense. He has shown some real ability as an edge-rusher and could be an important piece of the puzzle moving forward.
Second Half Key: Get the run game going
A year ago, the Saints rushed the ball for 132 yards a game. This year, they’re dead last in the league with 72 rushing yards a game. Their defense simply isn’t a strong group, but they can do them a favor by running the ball and improving on their current ranking of 29th in the NFL in time of possession. With a solid offensive line and Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles, and Pierre Thomas in the backfield, their ground game should be much more productive.
22. Cincinnati Bengals, 3-4
The Bengals are on a 3-game losing streak, and need to turn it around quickly. There have been some encouraging signs, but they have a daunting second half schedule and need to start playing tougher.
First Half MVP: WR AJ Green (44 rec, 636 yards, 7 TD)
In just his second year, Green is quickly emerging as an elite receiver. QB Andy Dalton is a solid passer, but his success is very much tied into the presence of Green on the outside.
Key Contributor: DT Geno Atkins (22 tackles, 7 sacks, 2 TFL)
The Bengals have had a rash of injuries at cornerback, but their success rushing the passer has helped them cope with this. Atkins is one of the league’s top interior pass-rushers.
Breakthrough Player: DE Michael Johnson (24 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR)
Carlos Dunlap has been dealing with injuries and is not having a great year at the LDE position. Johnson is making up for that by providing a strong pass-rush from the other side.
Second Half Key: Winning in the trenches
The Bengals rank 23rd in rushing defense, and 23rd in rushing offense. Quite simply, teams are having their way with the Bengals. They need to become a tougher, more physical team.
23. Washington Redskins, 3-5
The Redskins have been one of the league’s most exciting teams, but are having a hard time winning games because of their defense’s inability to make stops. Injuries to OLB Brian Orakpo and DE Adam Carriker have crippled the team’s pass-rush.
First Half MVP: QB Robert Griffin III (1778 yards, 476 rush yards, 14 TD, 3 INT, 8.0 YPA)
The Redskins paid a hefty price to get Griffin, and he has absolutely been worth it. He is a truly dynamic player and has been surprisingly efficient in his rookie season. Cam Newton blew the league away last year, and Griffin is having a similar impact in his rookie year.
Key Contributor: LT Trent Williams (1 sack allowed)
A big reason the Redskins’ offense has been so good this year, is improved line play. Williams has rare athleticism for an offensive lineman and is emerging as one of the better blindside protectors in the league.
Breakthrough Player: HB Alfred Morris (717 rush yards, 5 TD, 4.7 YPC)
Morris is probably the second-best rookie so far this year. Unlike Griffin, there wasn’t any hype surrounding Morris entering the season. Morris has been a force between the tackles, which has stopped defenses from overly focusing on containing Griffin on the perimeter.
Second Half Key: Keeping the offense going
The chances of the defense making a turnaround aren’t very good, which means they will have to win games by shooting it out. TE Fred Davis is out for the year and WR Pierre Garcon is dealing with a sprained foot, which means things aren’t getting any easier for Griffin. It seems like at some point in the season, Griffin will actually look like a rookie and Morris will slow down, but it hasn’t happened yet.
24. St. Louis Rams, 3-5
The Rams have been competitive under head coach Jeff Fisher, but are going into their bye on a 3-game losing streak. The Rams have plenty of positives to draw on, but have some clear shortcomings.
First Half MVP: CB Cortland Finnegan (52 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 9 PD, 3 INT, 1 TD)
Finnegan embodies the Rams’ new defensive attitude. There’s a reason Fisher wanted his old corner on his team as he went about the task of making a culture change in St. Louis.
Key Contributor: DE Robert Quinn (18 tackles, 7 sacks, 2 PD, 1 FF)
The strength of the Rams’ has been their pass-rush. Quinn and Chris Long rank as one of the better DE duos in the league and have been putting a lot of pressure on opposing QBs.
Breakthrough Player: WR Chris Givens (13 rec, 333 yards, 2 TD)
The Rams’ needed someone who could bring big-play spark, and the rookie out of Wake Forest has brought it. Givens is on an amazing streak of 6 consecutive games and counting with a reception of 50+ yards.
Second Half Key: Protect Bradford
The biggest problem for this team is clearly their awful pass-protection. They are really banged up on the offensive line, and their QB has been taking a beating. Bradford is a promising young quarterback, but he has had his injury issues, and it would be a shame to see him get hurt again. They need to have a strong run game and throw plenty of quick passes to slow down pass-rushers.
25. New York Jets, 3-5
The Jets have been hit hard by injuries, but to their credit, haven’t fallen apart. Mark Sanchez hasn’t done much to show he is the starter of the future, so Tim Tebow could start stealing snaps as the season goes along.
First Half MVP: SS Laron Landry (56 tackles, 3 PD, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 FF)
Landry has been a great addition for the Jets. He has been highly active, flying around the field delivering big hits. For the first time in Rex Ryan’s tenure in New York, he has a legitimate playmaker at the safety position.
Key Contributor: CB Antonio Cromartie (20 tackles, 8 PD, 3 INT, 1 TD)
In the wake of Darrelle Revis’ torn ACL, Cromartie has stepped up big time. He has been highly inconsistent throughout his career, but is responding quite well to the adversity the team is going through.
Breakthrough Player: WR Jeremy Kerley (30 rec, 478 yards, 2 TD)
Kerley is another player who has stepped in the wake of injuries. With Santonio Holmes out for the year, the team needed some of their young receivers to step up. Kerley showed promise last year and is making great use of this opportunity.
Second Half Key: Get Tebow in the game
Without Revis, the team cannot rely on their defense like the used to. Mark Sanchez isn’t having a horrible season, but he is clearly not going to lead the team on a playoff run. It’s time for them to see what they have in Tebow and not be afraid to mix it up. Nobody is expecting much from them after the injuries they’ve suffered, so now’s the time to take some risks. They have a good offensive line and might be able to run an effective ball-control offense with Tebow.
26. San Diego Chargers, 3-4
Norv Turner may be on the hottest seat in the NFL. The Chargers have been completely lackluster this year, and Phillip Rivers is playing poorly for a second consecutive season. Their meltdown against the Broncos (they blew a 24-0 lead and lost 35-24) may be remembered as the turning point of their season.
First Half MVP: FS Eric Weddle (39 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 4 PD, 2 INT, 2 FF)
The Chargers’ pass defense has been a mess for the most part, but Weddle has been helping them keep it together. The Chargers may be undergoing a major overhaul in the off-season, and Weddle is a guy for them to rebuild around.
Key Contributor: LB Jarret Johnson (19 tackles, 1 TFL)
Johnson has been a great free-agent pickup for the Chargers. His individual statistics aren’t that good, but he is one of the league’s best edge-setting run defenders. It’s no coincidence the Chargers are ranked 2nd in rush defense and Johnson’s old team (Baltimore) is struggling to defend the run.
Breakthrough Player: DE Corey Liuget (14 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 PD, 1 FR)
Liuget, the team’s first round pick a year ago, has taken a step forward this year. He is an effective run anchor and has been a disruptive force inside.
Second Half Key: Start closing games out
The Chargers have dropped their past 3, but were in position to win all of those games late. It sounds cliché, but this team needs to start playing like they want it. They haven’t shown the ability yet this season to pull out a tough win.
27. Buffalo Bills, 3-4
It’s seems to be shaping up to be another disappointing season for the Bills. Their defense ranks dead last against the run, giving up a ghastly 6 yards per carry. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is doing nothing to convince people he can take the team to the playoffs.
First Half MVP: HB CJ Spiller (523 rush yds, 173 rec yds, 5 TD, 7.3 YPC)
Spiller has been everything the Bills hoped he would be when they used a top 10 pick on him. He has shared carries with Fred Jackson, but is averaging twice as many yards per carry as his backfield mate.
Key Contributor: OG Andy Levitre (1 sack allowed)
One thing the Bills have been doing quite well is blocking up front. Levitre is the Bills’ best lineman and is quietly having a strong season. Rookie LT Cordy Glenn has also been a revelation, but has been injured. When he and Levitre are both on the field, the Bills have a lot of success running left.
Breakthrough Player: CB/RS Leodis McKelvin (536 return yards, 1 TD, 5 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT)
McKelvin has never blossomed into the cover corner the team hoped he would be, but he has been a valuable return specialist. He is averaging 24 yards per punt return, best in the league by a large margin, and his average of 32 is good for third best in the league in kickoff returning.
Second Half Key: More pressure from the front four
The Bills have spent a lot of money on their defensive line, and the production just hasn’t been there. DE Mario Williams is not earning his contract right now, DE Mark Anderson is hurt, and DT Marcell Dareus isn’t the force in the middle the Bills expected him to be. They have a very talented group, and it’s certainly not too late for them to turn it around.
28. Tennessee Titans, 3-5
The Titans have been hard to figure out. Their defense has been horrible, but they have managed to piece together a few wins with veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck at the helm. There have been some positive signs on offense, but the unit still lacks cohesion.
First Half MVP: LB Akeem Ayers (67 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, 4 PD)
The Titans’ defense has a lot of problems including their lack of a pass-rush and the gaping hole left at MLB by the injury to Colin McCarthy. Ayers has been a tackling machine, gobbling up all the receivers and back who are constantly running free against the Titans’ porous defense.
Key Contributor: HB Chris Johnson (595 rush yards, 128 rec yards, 2 TD, 4.5 YPC)
Johnson’s production has been very uneven, but when he plays good, he gives the Titans a chance to win games. Big losses on runs where he dances around are often drive-killers, but his big-play ability can’t be denied.
Breakthrough Player: WR Kendall Wright (40 rec, 351 yards, 3 TD)
The Titans’ rookie receiver is already playing a big role in the offense. They love to get him the ball on quick hitters and let him make plays with the ball in his hands, and he has been very effective moving the chains.
Second Half Key: Tighten up the defense
Sometimes, a group of players needs to just play better. The Titans’ defense has been sleepwalking for most of the season, and simply need to start playing tougher and more disciplined. They did a good job against the Colts last week for most of the game, but gave up a TD in the final minutes to let them tie the game 13-13, and then allowed the Colts to open up OT with a long touchdown drive. If the defense can’t get any stops when it counts, they won’t win many games.
29. Carolina Panthers, 1-6
The Panthers have to be the most disappointing team so far. Cam Newton isn’t coming close to the hype generated by historic rookie season, and he isn’t getting a lot of help from his teammates. The Panthers’ offensive line is getting dominated in the trenches, and their defense is getting lit up by opposing passers.
First Half MVP: DE Charles Johnson (22 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 2 PD, 3 FF, 1 FR)
One good sign for the Panthers’ defense is the pass-rush they have been getting from their front four. Johnson got a big extension from the Panthers a year ago, and he is showing he is worth the investment.
Key Contributor: WR Steve Smith (35 reception, 589 yards)
Smith isn’t having nearly the success he had a year ago, but he is still by far the Panthers’ most productive offensive weapon. Newton really doesn’t have a lot to work with right now, and it’s hard to say how bad this offense would be without Smith.
Breakthrough Player: LB Luke Kuechly (62 tackles, 7 TFL, 3 PD, 1 INT, 1 FR)
MLB Jon Beason has been put on the IR for the second consecutive season, which is making the Panthers look very wise for spending their first rounder on Kuechly. The rookie LB has been filling up the stat sheet and making an instant impact on defense.
Second Half Key: Get the run game going
A major key to last year’s offensive success was their run game. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both excellent backs, so it’s surprising to see that Cam Newton leads the team in rushing by 100 yards with 310. Last year, they had three 700-yard rushers. Losing C Ryan Kalil hurts, but the Panthers can’t give up on their run game because the rest of their offense flows from it.
30. Cleveland Browns, 2-6
The Browns looked hopeless early in the year, but have gotten a nice boost from the return of CB Joe Haden, and have won 2 of their last 3. Their future is uncertain with new ownership coming in and Mike Holmgren stepping down, but they have some nice pieces to build on.
First Half MVP: LB D’Qwell Jackson (60 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 TFL, 4 PD, 2 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD)
Jackson is doing a great job for the Browns patrolling the middle of the field. He has been a solid producer over the years and is one of the league’s more versatile linebackers.
Key Contributor: CB Sheldon Brown (32 tackles, 1 sack, 5 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD)
I have to admit I’m surprised to be saying this, but Sheldon Brown can still play. At 33 years old, he seemed to have lost a step, but he has used his football IQ to remain an effective player.
Breakthrough Player: HB Trent Richardson (470 rush yards, 209 rec yards, 6 TD, 3.7 YPC)
Richardson, the team’s top draft pick this year, has given the team what they’ve been missing in the run game. They have been looking for a dynamic back for years, and they finally have one. The big question is whether or not he can stay healthy.
Second Half Key: Getting receivers to step up
QB Brandon Weeden is dealing with some struggles as a rookie, and part of the problem is he doesn’t have confidence in any of his receivers. Rookie Josh Gordon has emerged as a dynamic big-play threat, but only has 17 catches. Greg Little has dropped a lot of balls and still needs a lot of work before he reaches potential. Mohammad Massaquoi and Benjamin Watson have been non-factors.
31. Kansas City Chiefs, 1-6
It’s become clear that the Chiefs need to start over at the quarterback position, but it’s still surprising that they are doing this badly. The Chiefs have a strong run game and all the necessary pieces to have a strong defensive unit, but they have not led a game at any point this season (in their one win, they trailed all game and won in sudden-death overtime).
First Half MVP: HB Jamaal Charles (595 rush yards, 131 rec yards, 3 TD, 5.0 YPC)
Charles has made a remarkable comeback from a torn ACL injury and is really the only thing working for the Chiefs offensively. Backup HB Peyton Hillis has been a non-factor and the passing game has been a disaster. His heroics against the Saints are the only reason the Chiefs have their one win.
Key Contributor: ILB Derrick Johnson (60 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 1 PD)
There are a lot of players on the Chiefs’ defense who are not playing well this year (Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Stanford Routt, Glenn Dorsey), but Johnson has continued to play at a high level. The rest of the defense needs to follow his example and play to their ability.
Breakthrough Player: OLB Justin Houston (24 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 PD, 1 INT)
One positive for the Chiefs is the pass-rushing duo of Houston and Tamba Hali. Houston had a promising rookie year and has become a force on the left side, out-producing his pro-bowl counterpart in the first half of the season.
Second Half Key: Protect the football
The Chiefs turnover differential right now is -18. The closest team to them in this category is the Cowboys at -11. They are on a record pace with an astonishing 25 turnovers in just 7 games, and their defense is second to last in the league in takeaways. They obviously don’t have a high-powered offense, but they need their quarterbacks to take care of the football and give the team a chance to stay in games.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1-6
About everything that could go wrong for the Jaguars has gone wrong. They spent a lot on WRs Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson, but both have been ineffective, and QB Blaine Gabbert has continued to struggle. Their pass-rush continues to be non-existent as Jeremy Mincey leads the team with 2 sacks, and their defense is not showing any big-play ability.
First Half MVP: HB Maurice Jones-Drew (414 rush yards, 86 rec yards, 2 TD, 4.8 YPC)
Jones-Drew may have been best off holding out, as he simply lacks the supporting cast to be successful in Jacksonville. He continues to be by far their best player on either side of the ball, but is dealing with a foot injury right now and might end up mailing in the season as he prepares for free agency.
Key Contributor: MLB Paul Posluzny (54 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 PD, 1 INT)
The Jaguars have been with OLB Daryl Smith all year, but luckily have still had one of their two defensive stalwarts at LB. Despite all the struggling players surrounding him, Posluzny has been as solid as ever.
Breakthrough Player: WR Cecil Shorts (20 receptions, 400 yards, 3 TD)
Shorts is the only receiver on the team who has shown anything this year. He’s clearly a dynamic big-play threat, but he needs to get more involved in the offense. He did lose them a game by fumbleomg in overtime, but his 80-yard TD reception against the Colts in the final minute got them their only win.
Second Half Key: Keep Progressing Gabbert
The Jaguars have to face that they are not going anywhere this year. The question they need to answer is whether or not Blaine Gabbert is their quarterback of the future. They need to keep bringing him along slowly and try to find a gameplan that he can be successful with. Panicking when they fall behind in games and having him force things will not do him any good.
1. DE J.J. Watt, Houston.
2. QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta
3. QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
4. QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
5. QB Peyton Manning, Denver
1. QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
2. QB Peyton Manning, Denver
3. HB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
4. QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta
5. QB Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
1. DE J.J. Watt, Houston
2. CB Tim Jennings, Chicago
3. ILB Daryl Washington, Arizona
4. OLB Lance Briggs, Chicago
5. OLB Clay Matthews, Green Bay
1. QB Peyton Manning, Denver
2. HB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
3. HB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
4. WR Randy Moss, San Francisco
5. QB Carson Palmer, Oakland
1. QB Robert Griffin III, Washington
2. HB Alfred Morris, Washington
3. QB Andrew Luck, Indianapolis
4. QB Ryan Tannehill, Miami
5. HB Trent Richardson, Cleveland
1. DE Chandler Jones, New England
2. LB Luke Kuechly, Carolina
3. CB Casey Hayward, Green Bay
4. S Mark Barron, Tampa Bay
5. CB Morris Claiborne, Dallas
Most Disappointing Player
1.QB Phillip Rivers, San Diego
2. QB Michael Vick, Eagles
3. QB Cam Newton, Panthers
4. DE Mario Williams, Buffalo
5. WR Laurent Robinson, Jacksonville
Coach of the Year
1. Joe Philbin, Miami
2. Mike Smith, Atlanta
3. Lovie Smith, Chicago
4. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota
5. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay
Last edited by Eazy Picks : 11-01-2012 at 11:45 PM.