It’s approximately the halfway point of the NFL season and there is no shortage of topics to talk about. We have seen teams shock the world and rise through the ranks to become the best in their conference, and other teams and players that have been incredible disappointments.We’ll take a look at some of the biggest stories in the NFL so far this season, as well as who are some contenders, who are some pretenders, and who will be in the race for Marcus Mariota come draft time. Today, we take a look at the National Football Conference.
The most important of all storylines, of course, is that Colt McCoy equals ratings (no, really, the Monday night game between Dallas and Washington, which McCoy started, was the highest rated edition of MNF since 2010). In all seriousness though, the Dallas Cowboys have been a huge story this season, and deservedly so. These aren’t the Cowboys we’ve seen in recent years, where Tony Romo throws the ball 60 times per game, the defense is abysmal and their play calls rarely include run plays. This season, the defense is playing reasonably, the offensive line is much improved and DeMarco Murray has a shot at breaking record for rushing yards in a single season. They lost a game they shouldn’t have to Washington, but don’t think that makes them any less of a team. Dallas is a contender right now. They are not perfect, Tony Romo is dinged up again and they have to deal with the Eagles in their division (another certain contender), but don’t just shrug off Dallas as a farce that will eventually finish .500 again. Dallas is a good team and is truly deserving a praise this year.
After losing on Monday Night Football, Dallas is no longer the top team in the NFC, in fact the team they will play in Week 9 is. That team is the Arizona Cardinals. Last season, Arizona was the only team to beat the Seahawks at home (a fact that mainstream sports news outlets quietly tried to sweep under the rug) and missed the playoffs at 10-6. This year, they are leading what is often considered the best division in the NFL, over the Seahawks and the 49ers (and the Rams, although that’s not surprising to anyone). They play great defense even with some injuries, they have a great young corps of players (John Brown and Deone Bucannon are two great looking rookies, for example), their quarterback is having a career resurgence (and Drew Stanton has played well as the backup as well), and they have arguably the best coach in the NFL in Bruce Arians. This team is one of the Super Bowl favorites right now, there’s no doubt in my mind. Carson Palmer has been very good in Arizona, Larry Fitzgerald is still great, they have the pieces all around, and now they are putting it together. They lost to Denver, but they really could have even won that game. The Rams are not good, the 49ers have been iffy, Seattle has a slew of issues and has looked pedestrian this year; Arizona could run away with this division. and frankly I think that they will.
The NFC North is it’s same old highly competitive, messy self. Detroit is in first again, somehow. As I tweeted a few days ago, Detroit is the LSU of the NFL; they win games that they have no business winning. The Packers started slowly, had a great stretch in which Aaron Rodgers was invincible, then lost a bad one to New Orleans. The Bears are an absolute mystery, in several ways. Why is that incredible offense under-performing. Why does Marc Trestman refuse to run the ball frequently? Why does Mel Tucker have a job? They are a mystery to say the least, and without a major turnaround right away they will be missing the playoffs. For the two teams that have a shot at winning the division currently (sorry Minnesota, you’re not invited), they are going to be duking it out all the way until the end of the season. A healthy Packers team is one of the best in the NFL, and Detroit will likely lose one of the close games finally, which will actually make the race more competitive (not to take anything away from the Lions; as much as I hate them, they’re really good). I’m truly excited for this race, it will be an exciting one down the stretch (even though I’m pulling for the green and gold, obviously).
The NFC South is absolutely horrendous. Seriously, each team is bad. The only was that any team from this division makes it out of the first round is if New Orleans gets a home game. The Falcons are bad and need to fire Mike Smith immediately, the Buccaneers are terrible in several ways, the Saints need to be at home to win and Carolina is just frustrating to watch (and is bad). Not a great year down south so far.
The only real rookie quarterback to report on here is Teddy Bridgewater, who has been pretty good thus far. He’s not perfect but he has been good for a rookie who was thrust into the starting role. He will have plenty of time to improve and I think he will continue to get better and better. The Vikings are in good hands with him.
Lastly, there are a few teams who we can already see will be contending for a top 5 draft pick, not a Super Bowl. The Redskins are not the worst in the NFL, but they’ve got issues still. They’ll likely finish last in the NFC East by a decent margin, but they should be able to rebound next year with (hopefully, for their sake) some more young talent. The Rams will be drafting highly again, although their needs will become more apparent in the second half of the season. If Austin Davis plays well throughout the season, I would assume the Rams won’t be in the running for Mariota or Jameis Winston. Minnesota will likely add in to their pool of first-round picks that they’ve collected over the years with a high one this season, which sounds like it would be helpful but the team is yet to show much improvement in the win column. I would guess that Tampa Bay will likely be the worst team in the NFC this season and will be drafting the highest come next Spring. I understand it’s hard to come back from even a brief stint from Greg Schiano, but man are they awful. I’d say you should watch them to see for yourself, but you’d probably regret tuning into that game.
Stay tuned to Press Box Opinions, because coming up Thursday is my AFC Midseason report!