Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Surprises, disappointments and predictions for all 32 teams
By Jeffri Chadiha
It's midseason time, and that means there's some evaluating to be done. We know the Patriots and Colts are outstanding. I also know the Giants, Packers and Cowboys are going to battle it out for the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
After that, everything gets a little hazy. That's why I'm offering a quick breakdown of all 32 teams. For each team, I've listed the biggest surprise, the toughest disappointment and, most importantly, how it will finish the season. Enjoy:
Dallas Cowboys (7-1)
Surprise: Coach Wade Phillips has this team off to a great start. Maybe these guys really needed a change after four years with Bill Parcells.
Disappointment: Julius Jones. It's blatantly obvious that Marion Barber is the better back and that Parcells wasn't stifling Jones' potential.
Prediction: 13-3. NFC East champion and top seed in playoffs.
New York Giants (6-2)
Surprise: Coach Tom Coughlin has softened his personality. It's one thing to take a team that started 0-2 and lead it to six straight wins. It's quite another to have the courage to take a different approach to coaching. Good for him.
Disappointment: Kicker Lawrence Tynes hasn't been the most reliable kicker in the world. His inconsistency could cost this team at some point in the second half.
Prediction: 12-4. Wild-card spot in playoffs.
Washington Redskins (5-3)
Surprise: Middle linebacker London Fletcher has proved that he still has plenty of energy left in his 32-year-old body. He's been the leader that the Redskins' defense had been hoping to find after adding him this offseason.
Disappointment: Santana Moss has become the same inconsistent, injury-plagued wideout he was with the New York Jets. He has 24 receptions and zero touchdowns this season.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)
Surprise: Wide receiver Kevin Curtis has been a valuable starter after spending four years as a backup in St. Louis. He started slowly -- with six catches for 81 yards in his first two games -- but he's had 31 receptions for 552 yards in his past six contests.
Disappointment: Quarterback Donovan McNabb has struggled enough that even coach Andy Reid has openly said his quarterback needs to play better. This may be the first indication that Kevin Kolb's opportunity to start might be coming sooner than initially expected.
Green Bay Packers (7-1)
Surprise: Quarterback Brett Favre has transformed himself from a cavalier gunslinger into an efficient game manager. Who knew?
Disappointment: The running game has been atrocious. Ryan Grant has the only 100-yard performance this season and Green Bay ranks last in the NFL in rushing (72.1 yards per game). Those types of numbers say even more about the way Favre has played.
Prediction: 13-3. NFC North champ.
Detroit Lions (6-2)
Surprise: The secondary lost its best player -- cornerback Dre' Bly -- and actually hasn't been a huge weakness. The Lions already have 14 interceptions this season after picking up 12 in 2006.
Disappointment: They lead the NFL with 36 sacks allowed. It's hard to imagine quarterback Jon Kitna surviving that kind of pounding for another eight games.
Prediction: 10-6. Wild-card spot in playoffs.
Chicago Bears (3-5)
Surprise: Second-year return man Devin Hester hasn't been hurt by a sophomore slump. He hasn't had much impact on offense, but his five return touchdowns this season are all you have to know about his dominance. He's already looking like the best returner this league has ever seen.
Disappointment: This isn't the same defense that led the Bears to the top of the NFC last season. It's been riddled with injuries -- including an arthritic back that has plagued Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher -- and it isn't generating enough turnovers. So far the Bears have 13 takeaways this season.
Minnesota Vikings (3-5)
Surprise: Rookie Adrian Peterson. We knew he was pretty good. With two 200-yard games (including an NFL-record 296), he's quickly proved he's a special back.
Disappointment: It's a good thing the Vikings have the NFL's best running game because their passing game is feeble at best. The only upside is the potential of rookie wide receiver Sidney Rice.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-4)
Surprise: Quarterback Jeff Garcia has carried this offense for most of the season. He was worth every penny the Bucs gave him during the offseason.
Disappointment: Injuries have killed their running game.
Prediction: 10-6. NFC South champ.
Carolina Panthers (4-4)
Surprise: Rookie Jon Beason has looked impressive while filling in for injured starter Dan Morgan at middle linebacker. Beason has a bright future.
Disappointment: The quarterback situation has been unsettling. Jake Delhomme is out for the season. David Carr has looked skittish under center. And Vinny Testaverde has been nursing an Achilles injury. This offense has second-half disaster written all over it.
New Orleans Saints (4-4)
Surprise: They had the character to overcome an 0-4 start and push themselves back into postseason contention. They should be even more optimistic because the combined record of their remaining opponents is 23-42.
Disappointment: Their pass defense remains suspect. The Saints currently rank 27th in that department and they've intercepted only six passes all season.
Atlanta Falcons (2-6)
Surprise: Outside linebacker Michael Boley has been one of the leading tacklers in the NFL.
Disappointment: Coach Bobby Petrino has a lousy relationship with his players. If this continues -- and he can't find a decent quarterback -- he won't last long.
Seattle Seahawks (4-4)
Surprise: Wide receiver Bobby Engram has been a steady playmaker. He seemed to be lost in the shuffle last season with Darrell Jackson, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson in the mix. Now he leads the team with 48 receptions.
Disappointment: Running back Shaun Alexander. Yes, it's fair to say he's injured. But he's been fragile ever since he signed that big contract after his 2005 MVP season.
Prediction: 9-7. NFC West champ.
Arizona Cardinals (3-5)
Surprise: Kurt Warner's playing quarterback again. He was talking retirement around this time last season.
Disappointment: Matt Leinart. Because Warner was sharing snaps, it's obvious that coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't trust Leinart completely before he was knocked out for the season. We'll have to see how Leinart responds in Year 3.
San Francisco 49ers (2-6)
Surprise: Rookie linebacker Patrick Willis leads the NFL in tackles. After that, there really hasn't been much to smile about around the 49ers.
Disappointment: What happened to their running game? Frank Gore made the Pro Bowl last season. This year he has 435 yards at midseason.
St. Louis Rams (0-8)
Surprise: You can't be serious.
Disappointment: There are too many to name, but injuries have killed this team.
New England Patriots (9-0)
Surprise: Randy Moss has been a perfect citizen and re-established himself as the best receiver in the NFL.
Disappointment: We need a little more time with this one.
Prediction: 15-1. AFC East champ. Top seed in playoffs.
Buffalo Bills (4-4)
Surprise: Their secondary has used eight different starters in eight games, and they've still managed to play solid football.
Disappointment: The slow start by wide receiver Lee Evans. He's been more productive lately, but he opened the season with only 12 receptions in his first five games. Not surprisingly, the Bills have won their past three games with him contributing 19 catches for 401 yards.
New York Jets (1-8)
Surprise: Rookie linebacker David Harris has a bright future. He leads the Jets in tackles and had 24 -- yes, 24 -- in the Week 9 overtime loss to Washington.
Disappointment: QB Chad Pennington. His comeback from two shoulder operations was a nice story last season. Now that Kellen Clemens is starting, it appears that Pennington has played his last game in New York.
Miami Dolphins (0-8)
Surprise: When you have no wins, there aren't any positives to embrace.
Disappointment: This team has relied on its defense for so long that it's hard to understand how it can be so bad this season. One reason has to be the lack of production from outside linebacker Joey Porter. He was supposed to bring an edge to the Dolphins after signing with them last offseason. So far the team is still waiting for that benefit.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
Surprise: The emergence of wide receiver Santonio Holmes. The word heading into the season was that he was ready to surpass Hines Ward as the team's No. 1 receiver. He's shown that ability with his production (a team-high 30 receptions for 536 yards and six touchdowns).
Disappointment: Their punt coverage unit. Pittsburgh is allowing more than 15 yards per punt return; that's something that needs to change in the second half.
Prediction: 13-3. AFC North champ.
Cleveland Browns (5-3)
Surprise: The play of quarterback Derek Anderson. The Browns eventually have to play Brady Quinn, but Anderson has proved he deserves to start for somebody next season.
Disappointment: The run defense. The Browns have allowed a 100-yard rusher in six of eight games this season. The only teams that didn't hit that mark against them were St. Louis and Seattle -- and both those teams had running backs playing with nagging injuries.
Prediction: 9-7. Wild-card spot.
Baltimore Ravens (4-4)
Surprise: Willis McGahee has shown why the Ravens wanted to acquire him during the offseason. He's fifth in the NFL in rushing with 689 yards and he's on pace for a career year.
Disappointment: Steve McNair is starting to look like a 34-year-old quarterback who's been banged up quite a bit in his 13-year career. It doesn't help that he's been playing behind an offensive line that will never be described as sturdy.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-6)
Surprise: The lack of a viable running game and the eight-game suspension of WR Chris Henry haven't stifled the Bengals' passing attack. QB Carson Palmer, WR Chad Johnson and WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh have all produced big numbers.
Disappointment: There's not even a question. It's their lousy defense.
Indianapolis Colts (7-1)
Surprise: Joseph Addai. He's emerged as one of the elite all-around backs in the league in just his second season.
Disappointment: Sunday's loss to New England means the Colts probably will have to play the Patriots in Foxborough if they meet in the playoffs.
Prediction: 13-3. AFC South champ.
Tennessee Titans (6-2)
Surprise: The play of their defense. The Titans rank second in total defense after finishing last in 2006. They're also second in points allowed (15.5 per game).
Disappointment: The Titans have no semblance of a passing game. Only the 49ers average fewer yards through the air than Tennessee, which is producing 149.1 yards a game.
Prediction: 11-5. Wild-card spot in playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)
Surprise: The hot start by QB David Garrard helped Jacksonville look like one of the NFL's top-five teams before an ankle injury sidelined him for two games. He's always been a solid quarterback, but this year he's proved to be efficient and extremely valuable.
Disappointment: That once-vaunted defense now looks really vulnerable. First the Jags allow Drew Brees to throw for 445 yards and three touchdowns against them (Week 9). Then they learn that defensive tackle Marcus Stroud has been suspended four games. That second bit of news, by the way, is a big blow for a team that prides itself on stopping the run.
Houston Texans (4-5)
Surprise: Wide receiver Kevin Walter has emerged as a reliable target with injuries sidelining Andre Johnson. He leads the team with 43 receptions for 545 yards.
Disappointment: Mario Williams. He's looking more like a solid defensive end who will never be great. Think Courtney Brown without the injuries.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)
Surprise: The inspired play of defensive end Jared Allen. After serving a two-game suspension to start the season, he's picked up 8½ sacks in six games. This guy is the Chiefs' MVP.
Disappointment: The offensive line. People can point fingers at RB Larry Johnson's pedestrian numbers, but his problems start up front. Simply put, this is a mediocre bunch at best.
Prediction: 9-7. AFC West champ.
San Diego Chargers (4-4)
Surprise: Second-year cornerback Antonio Cromartie. He's scored three touchdowns in the past two weeks -- including an NFL record 109-yard return of a missed field goal against Minnesota -- and he's going to be a big-time player for years to come.
Disappointment: Coach Norv Turner. This team has too much talent to be playing .500 football.
Denver Broncos (3-5)
Surprise: Jason Elam continues to be a clutch kicker after 15 seasons in the league. He's the main reason this team isn't winless right now.
Disappointment: The defense. Coach Mike Shanahan overhauled the unit and hired a new defensive coordinator. The result: The Broncos rank 26th in total defense and last in rushing defense.
Oakland Raiders (2-6)
Surprise: Running back LaMont Jordan looked good for the first four weeks of the season. That's about the best we can do.
Disappointment: The defense. This unit finished third in the NFL last season. Now it ranks 30th in rushing yards allowed.
Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.