NFC at the Midway Point
Note: This was slated to go up Saturday, but inclement weather and a busy schedule postponed it. My apologies on that front.
So, the other day, we spun around the AFC at the midway point and gave a quick synopsis of what’s happened, an overall grade, and their potential for the second half. I’m sure that the two Browns fans in the world left will be steamed about the F- I gave their franchise, but I’ll be honest. I only gave them a F-, because you can’t give them anything lower…like a Z.
With that said, let’s get cracking on the NFC and look over the streaking teams like New Orleans, the suddenly slumping ones like the Giants, and the doormats like Tampa, Detroit and the Rams shall we? You’ve got to love football, even if you’re a fan of a sad sack franchise. Right? Right? RIGHT?
Okay, so maybe I tried too hard to sell that last point. However, in my defense, I’m a Bills fan, so sue me for trying to make fans of those one win teams feel better…if there are any of you left.
DALLAS COWBOYS (6-2) Grade: B+ The Cowboys were 2-2 and in overtime with the lowly Kansas City Chiefs before managing to escape that game with a win. They then proceeded to win three more in a row, including dispatching Atlanta and division rival Philadelphia to take over the divisional lead. Miles Austin has been seemingly the real deal playing opposite Roy Williams at WR. The three headed run game needs to be more effective, and Tony Romo needs to avoid flopping in December as he has been prone to doing. December’s schedule is nasty, with the Giants and New Orleans on the road, plus San Diego at home, with Philly coming to town in week 17. Fortunately, they also get Washington twice and Oakland.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (5-3) Grade: B- The Eagles are consistently inconsistent this season. They thump some bad teams (Kansas City, Carolina and Tampa for example) but lose to Oakland? Not only do they lose to Oakland, they score NINE points? They bomb the Giants, but can’t beat Dallas? They have great young playmakers like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek, but they don’t perform on a constant basis. The Eagles need to get it together now because the schedule doesn’t get easier. Five road games (San Diego, Chicago, Atlanta, Giants and Dallas) dot the schedule, along with a trip to Denver.
NEW YORK GIANTS (5-4) Grade: C I just can’t see giving Tom Coughlin’s bunch a higher grade than this. That’s all they’ve been, is average. They started out like gangbusters, winning their first five out of the gate and becoming the trendy pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Since then, the wheels have fallen off, and in horrific fashion. The pass defense has been carved up like John Madden’s turducken. The Saints blew them away. The Cardinals came east and won in the Meadowlands, then Philadelphia steamrolled them. Last week, it was the Chargers rallying in the last minute to win and extend the skid. With the second half schedule showing Atlanta, at Denver, Dallas and Philadelphia the next four weeks out of the bye, it’s do or die for the Giants.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2-6) Grade: D- Since the Redskins started 6-2 last season under Jim Zorn, they’ve gone 2-6 and 2-6 in the next two half season splits. Those numbers don’t look good. They can’t score on offense, the line is a sieve, and with Chris Cooley gone, they have no real playmakers or solid receiving threats. DeAngelo Hall yaps more than he makes plays, and the Redskins are horrific to watch. They lost to the LIONS. The second half schedule is murderers row: Denver, at Dallas, at Philly, New Orleans, Giants, Dallas, at San Diego. The lone breather is Oakland. If Zorn goes 2-6 in this split, I’d be surprised.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-1) Grade: A The Vikings have the one two punch offensively they needed to pair with Adrian Peterson by adding 94 year old Brett Favre to the mix at quarterback this season. So far, Favre has delivered, with a QB rating of 106.0, leading the league. Of course, Favre tends to fade in the second half of the seasons (remember 2008, Jets fans?), and it would be good for Brad Childress to get him some rest and prune juice before the playoffs if possible. Doormats Detroit and Seattle are next followed by a home game with the Bears. If they win those three, lock down the North. December is a bit more brutal as three of the five games are on the road (Arizona, Carolina, Chicago) and the home tilts are with Cincinnati and the Giants. The Vikes will make the playoffs, but how far will they go?
CHICAGO BEARS (4-5) Grade: C The Bears have been up and down. Pummel the Browns, get waxed by the Bengals and Cardinals. They’ve dropped four of five after Thursday night’s game with San Francisco in a game that was horrific to watch. Jay Cutler tossed five interceptions, raising his season and league leading total to 17. They can’t afford to lose many more games. Matt Forte went from a stud to almost forgotten: he had just five carries last week against Arizona. With Philadelphia, two with Minnesota, Green Bay and Baltimore still on the sked, the Bears need to crank it up, and that means on both sides of the ball. The line needs to give Jay Cutler time, and the defense needs to make some plays, and by plays, I don’t mean like Tommie Harris slugging Deuce Lutui.
GREEN BAY PACKERS (4-4) Grade: C- The Packers are as good as done when it comes to the division. They lost both matchups with Minnesota already this season, much to the disdain of the Favre hating fans that jammed Lambeau Field when Minnesota came to town a couple weeks back. They just don’t have the same mystique that they had at Lambeau before, as they are just 2-2 there. They also have three of their four wins against a trio of one win teams (Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis.) The only team they have beaten with multiple wins is the Bears in week one, and they LOST to the fourth one win team (Tampa) last week. Games with Dallas, Baltimore, at Pittsburgh, at Chicago and at Arizona will determine if Green Bay goes anywhere for the postseason or just home.
DETROIT LIONS (1-7) Grade: D I know what you’re saying to yourself: “WTF? He gave the Redskins a D- and da Browns a F-, but the Lions get a D?” Well, the Lions have gotten better, despite only having one win. However, that’s one more win than they had last season. They did battle Pittsburgh tough and took St. Louis to the limit, but blew a 17-0 lead to Seattle this past week. Kevin Smith needs to get the ground game going to prevent Matthew Stafford from having to throw on every down. The Lions at least have ONE good chance at a win in the second half: they play Cleveland on November 22.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (8-0) Grade: A+ The Saints have been rolling right on through this season, bulldozing teams and burning out scoreboards across the country. Even when they’re held in check, they still put up points (their low total so far on the season was 24 against the Jets. Factor in 27 against the Bills and they haven’t been lower than 30 in any other game, including four 40 point outbursts.) They have a pretty clear slate to the division title and most likely home field advantage: two with Tampa, St. Louis, Washington and Carolina all are on the schedule in the second half. The roadblocks to a potential perfect campaign? New England on Monday night November 30th, at Atlanta and then home against Dallas.
ATLANTA FALCONS (5-3) Grade: B The Falcons have done fairly well, despite some less than stellar play by Matt Ryan in recent weeks. Michael Turner is still grinding out yards, as shown by his 166 yard performance against Washington last week. Tony Gonzalez has been a nice addition to give Ryan a big target to hit in the middle of the field. Michael Jenkins still needs to develop into a solid #2 receiver or Atlanta will need to address that in the offseason. However, with the warts on some of the other contenders, they still have a good shot at making the playoffs.Two with Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Jets and Bills should get Atlanta at least four wins, and they would probably have to snare one from the trio of the Giants, Eagles and Saints to get to ten and punch their ticket.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (3-5) Grade: C- The Panthers survive one way, and one way only: by controlling the clock and pounding the ball on the ground. Case in point: Jake Delhomme’s passing yards in wins are as follows: 181, 65, 90. His passing yards in losses include two 300 yard games. The Panthers need DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to tote the rock and keep the defense off the field. Control the clock, limit opponent’s chances to do damage. The Panthers have a tough slate ahead, starting with a home game with Atlanta this week. Road games with the Jets, Patriots and Giants loom as do home games with Minnesota and New Orleans. I don’t see this team getting to even 7 wins, much less the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (1-7) Grade: D- The Bucs shed almost all their veteran core that was with them through the first part of the decade when the team was successful. In the overhaul, guys like Derrick Brooks and Warrick Dunn were shown the door. It’s a young team needing time and experience to improve. The defense has been a sieve, but they did make some big plays to beat Green Bay last week to break into the win column. Josh Freeman is the QB of the future, and the Bucs will build around him going forward. They won’t get anywhere this season, but check back in 2011 or so, and see what Tampa is doing.
ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-3) Grade: B The Cards lead the division, not so much because they’ve been great, but because the rest of the division has taken a giant, stinky dump. The Cards have won four of five and look like they can really put a hammer on the division with wins over Seattle and the Rams the next two weeks. In fact, the only two games against winning teams in the second half are home contests with Minnesota and Green Bay. The Cardinals seem poised to repeat as division champs, but they’ll need to improve in the second half to make it a successful run like last season.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (4-5) Grade: C- The 49ers were fine, then they signed Michael Crabtree, and went in the toilet, dropping four straight. Shaun Hill was benched as starting QB and replaced with former first overall pick Alex Smith. They dropped two games they could have won on the road with Minnesota and Indianapolis, which would have them right with Arizona instead of below .500 and behind the eight ball. They did manage to open the second half with an ugly, and I do mean UGLY, win over Chicago on Thursday night. With Jacksonville, and games with Seattle, Detroit and St. Louis, the 49ers should be able to get to .500, but I don’t see them hitting the postseason this year.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (3-5) Grade: C- Not sold on anything about the Seahawks, especially those uniforms. What in the hell were they thinking with the color scheme? It hasn’t translated on the field either. Sure, Matt Hasselbeck was hurt, but Seneca Wallace wasn’t bad in his stead. The offensive line has been…well, offensive, and the run game hasn’t conjured images of Shaun Alexander, or even Curt Warner for that matter. It gets brutal fast in the second half: road games at Arizona and Minnesota could finish Seattle’s season early. Couple that with road trips to Houston and Green Bay, and a playoff miss is quite likely for the Hawks.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (1-7) Grade: F+ One could say that the Rams are on pace to match last season’s two win total. Not many people would be thrilled with that. You also can say that the Rams are on a one game win streak, but that can be tempered by the fact that the win was over one win Detroit. The team FINALLY got a rushing touchdown from Steven Jackson, on his 165th carry. Of course, Jackson is running well, as he has picked up 784 yards and four 100 yard games, but the lack of a pass game has really hurt the offense. Donnie Avery has not blossomed as much as management would have hoped. With games against New Orleans, Arizona twice, Chicago and Houston, the Rams still have a tough road to go. Their best bet to win another game would be a home game against Seattle at the end of November. Either way, this is a rebuilding project, plain and simple.
In the next piece, I’ll break down my picks for award winners, and why. We’ll see you next time, same station. As Billy Red Lyons would say, don’t you dare miss it.