We are almost at the halfway point of this year’s regular season in the NFL, so it’s probably a good time to take a look at how the season has played out so far…
There are currently still 5 five undefeated teams left standing in the league: the Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, and reigning champions New England Patriots. What is usually the case during the regular season, the teams with the most potent offensive schemes rise to the top and look outstanding, while the more defensively solid teams show their teeth when it comes to the playoffs. However this group of undefeated teams shows that isn’t the case this year.
The Broncos, whose headline player in quarterback Peyton Manning, have scored more points through the defence and special teams, than through the offence. That’s almost unheard of for a Manning led team. The play of Manning in particular is something to watch out for during the rest of the season, whether he still has it in him for another run at the Super Bowl. Age and the extent of the effects that the number of neck surgeries he has undergone are beginning to show a limit in the capabilities Peyton has throwing the ball. Look out for the game against Pittsburgh later in the season for a real indicator of the Broncos’ playoff hopes.
Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have been playing at a magisterial level, and it is a case where we may be witnessing two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. However they are not the only signal callers who have stood out so far. Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals has, to this point, shown us that he has turned the corner with experience and is making plays when they are most needed. Dalton’s third and long conversion rate is at a new level for him. Doubters will argue that he still needs to show what he can do in the playoffs before they’re convinced; this may not be the case if he carries on at this high level and the Bengals keep their winning streak. Needless to say if a game involves any these quarterbacks you should be treated to some great play.
The last of the undefeated teams, are the most interesting case; the Carolina Panthers. Here we have a team which has been built in very much the same mould as the Seattle Seahawks; but have not been able to quite reach the top echelon. Defensively the team is sound, led by standout linebacker Luke Kuechly. However, like most teams, success depends on the play of the quarterback and this year Cam Newton has been getting the job done. Despite the level of talent around him being somewhat lacklustre, Newton has shown great poise and ability to get his players making key contributions in games. This is ability to affect the level of performance of those around them is the difference between good quarterbacks and great quarterbacks.
Seeing which of these teams stay undefeated the longest will provide great entertainment, we may even have the chance to see another team go undefeated to the end of the regular season, which hasn’t been done since the 2007 New England Patriots.
Playoff projection in the AFC
The American Football Conference’s playoff placings already look almost set, even at this relatively early stage, with the Bengals, Broncos, and Patriots being ahead of the pack by a distance. Only the final wildcard seems to be up for grabs. A team to watch are the Oakland Raiders. In recent years they have become to be known as perennial losers, but with some talented players on their roster this year, may just be able to make a push at the playoffs. But as seasoned fans of the league will know; it’s the Raiders. So you can’t really rely on them too much.
It’s going to get wild in the NFC
The National Football Conference is going to provide the most interesting race for the playoff positions, with a very wild competition for the two wildcard places. The two teams which give the intrigue for this, are the Dallas Cowboys and the reigning NFC champions Seattle Seahawks. The Cowboys, are sitting at the bottom of the NFC East division with a 2-4 record, a couple of wins behind the NY Giants. What makes them significant is that their two star players, quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant, are soon to return from injury. With their return the Cowboys’ offence will go from being a mediocre threat to lethal. Despite his many critics, Tony Romo is one of the best Quarterbacks in the league right now. Teams would be silly to think otherwise.
As for Seattle, it is a case where they simply haven’t got going yet. The two fourth quarter collapses against the Bengals and Panthers were highlight games. Struggling with protecting Russell Wilson, the offensive line can take most of the responsibility. Any quarterback is going to struggle to pick teams apart through his passing if on almost every play he is running for his life. When there is adequate protection, the Seahawks look like a very dangerous team. It would allow running backs Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls the change to cause some serious damage, something which they have shown in flashes so far this year.
People may argue over the overall quality of play in the NFL this year. But what cannot be questioned is the excitement of most of the games, through both good play and bad. If you’re interested in following the rest of the season you better strap in, because it’s going to be a wild ride.
All information correct up to October 31st.