The second half is here and that means things are about to get interesting in the NFL. So I thought, in true Athlon Sports prognostication fashion, I would put on my predicting hat for the second half. Here are outlandish, outstanding and potentially out of touch bold predictions for the rest of the NFL season:
A rookie running back will lead the NFL in rushing
Doug Martin sits at No. 3 in the NFL in rushing with 794 yards after two huge games against Minnesota and Oakland. Alfred Morris is No. 4 in the league with 793 yards but hasn’t had a bye week yet. Trent Richardson has been solid and sits just outside the top ten in rushing with 575 yards. All three could finish in the top ten and Martin or Morris have a good shot at leading the league in rushing — Martin's 99.3 yards per game is No. 2 in the league. There is certainly a youth movement at the position this season as not just rookies but new starters (Stevan Ridley, C.J. Spiller) have been successful. At the midway point of the year, Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ryan Mathews, Steven Jackson, Michael Turner and Matt Forte are all outside of the top 15 in rushing. What would be more shocking: A rookie leads the NFL in rushing or Chris Johnson leads the NFL in rushing?
The New Orleans Saints will have a winning record
The schedule is daunting, but the Saints (3-5) are playing their best football at the right time. Winners of three out of the last four, Who Dat nation is feeling cautiously optimistic about the second half. Yes, the Falcons (twice), 49ers and Giants are on the schedule, but two of those come at home. The coaching staff and defense are beginning to finally settle in after Bounty Gate and Replacement-a-palooza and Drew Brees is back carving up defenses. He leads the NFL in passing yards and should keep his team in every game. Every game is a must-win for New Orleans from here on out, but they should be favored against Oakland, Carolina, Tampa Bay and Dallas. A 2-2 mark against the big boys — SF, NYG and ATL — could give the Saints a 9-7 record and a potential Wild Card bid.
A team will win the Super Bowl without a 4,000-yard passer
Last fall, 10 players threw for at least 4,000 yards and 14 threw for at least 3,500 yards. Seven of the top nine passers made the playoffs while five of the six NFC playoff quarterbacks threw for at least 4,000 yards. This fall, 14 players are on pace for more than 4,000 yards and an astonishing 24 are slated to top 3,500 yards. The last time a team won the Super Bowl without a 4,000-yard passer was the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger in Super Bowl XLIII. The last time a team won the Super Bowl without a 3,000-yard passer was also Big Ben (XL). So with passing records getting smashed every week, it would come as a shock if the Super Bowl champions didn’t feature a high-flying passing attack, right? However, Jay Cutler, Matt Schaub, Alex Smith and Joe Flacco are all ranked 15th or worse in yards per game and none are on pace for 4,000 yards. In case you didn’t notice, other than the Atlanta Falcons, those are the best four records in football.
Andy Reid will be coaching in 2013…in San Diego
The Eagles failed to score a touchdown in five trips inside the Saints' red zone on Monday night and Michael Vick was sacked seven times. Philadelphia moved to 3-5 after the team’s fourth straight loss — Reid’s longest such streak as the head coach of the Eagles. Vick is a huge part of the problem and it will likely cost Reid his job unless he can figure out a way to win games. Which will be hard to do with five games left in the division (Dallas twice, Washington twice, Giants). Unless this team wins at least six of its final eight, heads will roll in The City of Brotherly Love. And since Norv Turner has no business being an NFL head coach, there should be an opening in San Diego as well. With an established roster of veterans, Reid’s 129 wins and nine playoff appearances would fit nicely in SoCal.
A rookie quarterback will win a playoff game
Andrew Luck is special. He has set all types of rookie quarterback records and is already establishing himself as one of the NFL’s best passers — he is fourth in yards — and has his team leading the AFC Wild Card hunt right now. With a very favorable second-half schedule, it will be hard for the Colts not to finish with a winning record. And in the atrocious AFC, where only six teams have a winning record, Luck and the Colts have as good a shot as any to reach the postseason. In the NFC, Russell Wilson has the 5-4 Seahawks positioned to snag a Wild Card berth as well. Both have been much better at home, and although it is unlikely either will get to host a playoff game, both are clearly capable of an upset come January. They are both unflappable leaders who care only about winning.
Randy Moss will catch a touchdown in the Super Bowl
The 14-year veteran wide receiver sat out the 2011 season only to return to the field with the 49ers this fall. Many didn’t know what to expect when the future Hall of Famer took the field this season. While he hasn’t been the explosive weapon fans were accustomed to seeing throughout his career, he has been a meaningful part of the San Francisco offense. He has only caught 13 passes for 235 yards but has scored twice and has been used as a decoy on countless plays. On a team that looks like it could be the odds-on favorite to the win the NFC, Moss has a good chance to reach the big game for just the second time in his career. He caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown as a Patriot in Super Bowl XLII. He may not stuff the stat sheet, but Jim Harbaugh would figure out a way to get Moss involved in the offense should the 49ers make it to New Orleans.
Neither the Bears nor the Ravens will win their division
The Bears (7-1) and Ravens (6-2) have a combined record of 13-3 and are both sitting at least one game ahead in the NFC and AFC North Divisions. Yet, there is a good chance that neither will finish atop the standings. The Bears' second-half schedule is daunting and it begins with Houston and San Francisco before tests with Seattle, Green Bay, Minnesota (twice), Detroit and Arizona. Three of the final four are on the road, including the final two against teams that could be fighting for playoff bids (Cardinals, Lions). The visit from the Packers in Week 15 will likely determine the Monsters of the Midway’s fate in 2012. So if it comes down to Aaron Rodgers vs. Jay Cutler, that’s an easy one. In the AFC, the Ravens' defense is simply too depleted and still has to face the Steelers twice, face both Mannings as well as road trips to Washington, San Diego and Cincinnati.
-by Braden Gall
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