Giants are the best team. Rivers is the MVP.
By Ralph Vacchiano
Halfway through the season, who among us would’ve guessed the Kansas City Chiefs would be 5-3 while the Dallas Cowboys would be 1-7? Who had the Eagles in contention in the NFC with Michael Vick at the helm? How about Darren McFadden and Jason Campbell resurrecting their careers while reviving a franchise in Oakland?
It has, without a doubt, been a season of surprises. New stars (Sam Bradford, Dez Bryant, Ndamukong Suh) are emerging. A few old ones (Brett Favre, Randy Moss) look ready to bow out.
Here’s a look back at the wild first-half, and a sneak preview at what might happen the rest of the season:
Best team: The New York Giants
It’s hard to argue with the stats that say they are No. 1 in defense and No. 2 in offense. And to show their physical nature, the Giants (6-2) are No. 3 in rushing and No. 2 stopping the run. They’ve got one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushes (they’ve already knocked out five quarterbacks this season), and they have a seemingly unstoppable passing attack. Yes, the Steelers are close, and they might end up having the better defense. But the Giants’ offense is way ahead of Pittsburgh’s. They’ve won five straight and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping any time soon.
Worst team: The Carolina Panthers
Yeah, the Cowboys are getting blown out lately, and the Buffalo Bills are 0-8, but the Panthers (1-7) have scored only 88 points this season. That’s 11 points per game. That’s not an NFL offense. The San Francisco 49ers should be ashamed for losing to them and allowing quarterback Matt Moore to throw for more than 300 yards. This is a dismal group with no quarterback, little hope, and likely facing a coaching change after the season.
Half-season MVP: QB Philip Rivers, Chargers
His team is 4-5, so he may need to win a few more games to make a real push for this award. But if he does get the Chargers to the playoffs, it’s going to be hard to overlook his eye-popping numbers. Despite the holdout of his best weapon, receiver Vincent Jackson, and the loss of running back LaDainian Tomlinson from his offense, Rivers has a completion percentage of 65.3, and he’s thrown for 2,944 yards and 19 touchdowns. That’s a ridiculous pace for an NFL record 5,233 yards and 33 touchdowns.
Coach of the Half Year: Mike Tomlin, Steelers
So many coaches are doing nearly as much with less — like Raheem Morris in Tampa and Todd Haley in Kansas City, but try this experiment: Take any other starting quarterback away from any other team for the first four games of the season and see what happen. The odds are that team wouldn’t still be 6-2. And when you consider that Tomlin was down to his fourth quarterback for a time and had to navigate his team through the entire Ben Roethlisberger mess all offseason, too, it’s mighty impressive that the Steelers haven’t come apart at the seams.
Defensive Player of the Half Year: LB Clay Matthews, Packers
His 10.5 sacks not only make him clearly the league leader, but it’s a half-sack more than he had all of last season. He’s spread out the sacks, too. He’s only gone sackless twice in eight games. He’s clearly the best player on his own defense, and his 62-yard interception return against the Cowboys last Sunday night sealed this deal.
Rookie of the Half Year: QB Sam Bradford, Rams
With all due respect to Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Dez Bryant, the Cowboys dangerous receiver/returner, there is no harder position for a rookie to play than quarterback. And it’s not even close. Yet Bradford, with a team that won one game a year ago, has already won four times and has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,674 yards and 11 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. Those would be good numbers for any quarterback. They’re remarkable for a rookie. And they’re a miracle for a rookie on a bad team. Of course, thanks to him, the Rams are now pretty good.
Biggest surprise: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Several experts looked at the Bucs in the offseason and saw the worst roster in the NFL. Morris, their coach, saw a contender. He may not be right in the end, but he’s been right so far. They’re 5-3 thanks to their Comeback Kid at quarterback, Josh Freeman. Morris has patched together a running game, too, and engineered some pretty impressive wins. It’s hard to imagine they have staying power this season, but the future is brighter than it seemed.
Biggest disappointment: The Dallas Cowboys
Remember when Jerry Jones was thinking they’d be the first team to play a Super Bowl in their own building this February? Now they’re 1-7 and Jones was the first owner to fire his coach, axing Wade Phillips and promoting offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. They’ve lost quarterback Tony Romo and, from the way it looked the last two games, they’ve lost their heart, too.
Coach on the Hot Seat: John Fox, Panthers
See the “Worst team” category for why. The good news for him is he’s extremely well-respected, and it’s doubtful he’ll be unemployed for long.
Biggest gamble: Titans claiming WR Randy Moss
Well, they do have experience with Pacman Jones, so they know a little about how to deal with bad guys and chemistry problems. But boy, what a risk! The Titans are 5-3, sitting atop the NFC South, seemingly building something, and now they bring in a guy who’s clearly still in his “angry man” mode. Moss was discarded by New England and Bill Belichick, who is supposedly better than any coach in the NFL at handling problems. And he was drop-kicked by Minnesota and their coach, Brad Childress, who is desperately trying to hang on to his job. If they didn’t want him, don’t you have to ask yourself if he’s really worth a third chance? Really, best of luck to you, Jeff Fisher. And to your team.
Revised Super Bowl prediction: Ravens over Packers
No reason to revise it, actually, since that’s what I predicted in the summer. Yes, I think the Steelers and Giants are the best teams in the NFL right now. But the Ravens (6-2) and the Packers (5-3) are right behind them. I’m still confident that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will get on a roll, and I love what I’ve seen out of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers so far. I won’t back down from my pick now.