The Halfway Mark

As we officially head into Week 9, I think it’s fair to say this is the “halfway” mark of the 2017 NFL season. I want to take a look at the most noteworthy storylines from the first half of the season, then look ahead to the second half.

First Half Storylines: AFC

Not Much Changed at the top… 

  • Early on, it looked like the Patriots were going to be very vulnerable. Many people expected them to compete for an undefeated season, and that was put to rest immediately after a big opening night upset from the Kansas City Chiefs. They started 2-2, but have since won four straight games after seeing major improvements from their defense. At 6-2, the Patriots are just fine heading into the second half of the season. But what makes the AFC even more the same as it has been in recent years is the Patriots’ main competition: the Chiefs and Steelers. All three teams sit comfortably at 6-2 and are on their way to the playoffs once again. If that comes true, it’ll be the third straight year all three made the playoffs.

Pleasant Surprises from the AFC South… 

  • The AFC South is typically extremely mediocre and even boring, but it’s been fun this season. The Jaguars have one of the league’s best defenses and rookie running back Leonard Fournette has provided a much-needed identity to their offense; they have a legit shot to make the playoffs as long as Blake Bortles doesn’t drag them all the way down. The Texans have been held back by incompetent quarterback play in recent seasons, while their defense has carried the slack. This year, it’s actually looking like the opposite; their defense is banged up, but rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson has taken the league by storm. He has been remarkable, and it’s helped his playmakers, too.

Disappointments so far… 

  • The Raiders, Chargers, Browns and Colts have been massive disappointments this season. The Raiders and Chargers are both 3-5, while the Colts and Browns are a combined 2-14. Look, the Browns and Colts were never going to be legit contenders this season. But that doesn’t mean they have had extremely disappointing seasons. The Browns were finally supposed to compete this year, and they look like the same old Browns; The Colts are a disappointment strictly because of how they have handled the Andrew Luck debacle — fans have a serious beef with how management has publicly handled his situation.

First Half Storylines: NFC

There’s a new Sheriff in Town… 

  • The Eagles have been remarkable this season, and right now, they are the class of the NFC. At 7-1, they poise one of the league’s more complete teams. Carson Wentz has taken the second-year jump and looks like he’ll be around for a while, and they just made a trade for Jay Ajayi that indicates they are going for it all while the conference is so wide open. Their main competitors, as we sit today: The Vikings, Saints, Seahawks, Rams, Cowboys, Packers. The Vikings are still a question mark at the most important position; the Saints and Rams need to prove in the second half of the year that they are for real; the Seahawks have flaws on both sides of the ball; the Cowboys and Packers will be without Ezekiel Elliott and Aaron Rodgers for the foreseeable future. The window is now for Philly, and they are going after it.

Major Busts…

  • The Bucs, Giants and Cardinals have been major busts this season. There was so much hype around the Hard Knocks Bucs, and they have been awful; there are serious concerns about Jameis Winston. The Giants made splash moves in the offseason, but never fixed their ailing problems along the offensive line. Then, their best playmakers got hurt for the year to add injury to insult. The Cardinals’ situation was a little more predictable in my opinion, but it’s still upsetting to see a fun, short-lived era put to sleep — I don’t think we see Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald take the field for Arizona in 2018, just a few years after appearing in the NFC Championship game.

Pleasant Surprises and Big Letdowns… 

  • The Rams are a pleasant surprise; their offense exploded through the first half of the season, while Jared Goff and Todd Gurley made a ton of noise; they will be a team to watch moving forward. Christian McCaffrey has been a big letdown. Whether it’s his usage or just his skill set, he hasn’t been what everybody hoped for. I’m intrigued to see if he has a better second half. Vikings’ Case Keenum has been a pleasant surprise. The Vikings’ defense is championship-ready, but they just can’t find stability at the quarterback position, while Sam Bradford’s knee just won’t hold up. It’s going to be interesting to see who quarterbacks that team in the second half of the season with Teddy Bridgewater nearing a return. The Falcons have been a big letdown. While 4-3, they just aren’t the same team they were last year. Not close, so far. I’m interested to see if they get back on track or continue down their downward spiral.
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