The NFL has reached the halfway mark in the 2021 campaign, (well, since there are 17 games to the regular season it is to some), and a time to see what’s what.
An advisory here. Don’t be fooled into drawing conclusions based on what we’ve seen so far.
Many, if not most observers get on and off the bandwagon week to week.
Just so you know, it’ll all come down to the last month, probably the last two weeks.
We see it every year. This one is no different.
We’ve also learned not to assume anything. Week 8 told us that.
On the Thursday night going into the weekend, the Cardinals and Packers presented the most compelling matchup of the season to date.
The Arizonans were the big surprise of the NFC, sporting the only unbeaten record in the entire league.
The Aaron Rodgers Packers had won seven straight after an opening weekend loss.
The Pack had a 10-point lead in the final quarter only to see the Cards rally and have a chance to win or tie with time running out.
They trailed by three, and had 1st and goal on the Green Bay 8-yard line with 21 seconds remaining.
It came down to one of three options. Go for the winning touchdown, make it, and celebrate.
Go for the winning touchdown, fail, but still try a short field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Just settle for a field goal try and not risk a TD attempt.
The worst case scenario, of course, would be an Arizona turnover which would give them neither a win or a tie, but their first loss.
By now you may know it ended up being their worst case scenario.
Veteran receiver A.J. Green missed a change-of-play audible by quarterback Kyler Murray at the line of scrimmage, failed to turn around for a pass thrown his way in the end zone, and the Packers” Rasul Douglas made a one-handed interception to knock the Cardinals out of sole possession of the NFC West lead.
On Sunday, the Saints were out to narrow the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers lead in the NFC South.
But New Orleans quarterback, Jameis Winston, was knocked out of the game in the second quarter.
The score was 7-7 at the time. With backup Taysom Hill, on the sidelines, it was then up to third-stringer Trevor Siemian, who hadn’t taken a snap since 2019, to carry the load.
Fat chance, especially against Tom Brady’s group.
But Siemian did not turn the ball over, and manufactured enough points to keep the Saints in the game and allow their defense to do the rest in a stunning New Orleans victory.
The Bucs trailing by two points, only had to get into field goal range to get the win, but Brady threw an improbable pick-6 to P.J. Williams and the Saints moved to within a half-game of the champs.
There was no way to assume what eventually transpired in either of the two games.
Nor was it smart to assume that backup quarterbacks, thrown into the breach, last weekend would all lose.
Siemian delivered for the Saints, as Mike White did for the Jets, Cooper Rush did for the Cowboys, and Geno Smith did for the Seahawks.
Keep in mind, history shows that short term success with backups at that position, doesn’t necessarily hold true for the long haul.
I took a look back at my pre-season “predictions” just to check how smart, or not to smart I am, at this juncture.
Despite their defeat in the Bayou, I still believe the Bucs will sail through their division, certainly with Jameis Winston reported to be out for the rest of the season.
The same goes for the Packers who won’t be challenged in the NFC Central.
I get no medals for picking those two to run away with their races.
Even with a couple of silly losses, the Bills dominating the AFC East was a no brainer.
I did go out on a limb with the Patriots, touting them in a rebound season. They’ve rallied from a slow start, and are thick in the AFC playoff race.
But I was high on the Dolphins who are the biggest disappointment in the AFC.
I offered that QB Tua Tagovailoa was the key, and he has shown flashes at best.
But there is a serious problem with the Dolphins ability to build a roster, and not be quickly disenchanted with highly-regarded draft choices.
Tua has had to operate with a sub-par offensive line and ineffective play-calling, two things that have plagued the Dolphins for years.
Rumors swirled concerning the possible acquisition of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who hasn’t played under the cloud of 22 civil cases involving sexual assault incidents.
The Dolphins were a playoff team a year ago, but they’ve fallen back to their more recent losing ways.
Remember this is the franchise that rid themselves of offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, two former first rounders who have become Pro-Bowl performers.
Not to mention quarterback Ryan Tannehill who was released by Miami, only to lead the Titans to perennial playoff berths and this season, dominance in the AFC South.
But there’s a big problem in Tennessee with the foot injury to their great running back Derrick Henry who may be lost for the season. I wrote about Henry reminding people how hard it was to bring down the legendary Jim Brown and that has proven to be no exaggeration.
Two great races in the AFC, the North, where a game-and-a-half separate all four teams, and the West, where the same story exists, should continue the second half.
It’s possible that three teams from one of those divisions could advance to post-season, but more likely two from each will move on. Watch for a major upswing for the Chiefs who have swooned thus far.
I still think KC will take the West, with either the Raiders or the Chargers as wild-cards.
I’m still riding the Patriots to surge into the playoffs in the AFC.
If the Chiefs are headed to the penthouse from the outhouse, we may see the Bengals go the other way.
If they do, it won’t be a lasting thing. Not with Joe Burrow around.
Baltimore should win the North, and Pittsburgh should claw its way to the second season.
In the NFC I can finally take some bows for my picking the Dallas Cowboys to capture the division after so many unfruitful years.
But what was I thinking when I took a stab at the Bears to make the playoffs?
I should be booed off the stage for that one.
Prospective division winners are much clearer in the NFC.
Tampa Bay, Green Bay, and Dallas are easy choices. And I’m still going with the LA Rams to win the West.
To me, the Rams still appear to be the best in the Conference. Yes, even with Tom Brady, playing as good as ever.
Matthew Stafford has been everything the Rams expected, and the acquisition of All-Pro linebacker Von Miller to an already superior defensive unit, only adds icing to the cake.
Von Miller and Sean McVay
It’ll be playoff time for the Cardinals, for sure, and if the Saints can’t hang in without Jameis Winston, the other two wild-cards will be the either the Seahawks, who need Russell Wilson’s return, the Vikings, or the 49ers.
All of those three teams currently have losing records.
That’s why we have a second half to a football season.
Good teams get better. Flashes in the pan, don’t pan out.
I’ve seen no reason to shift away from the Rams and Bills to reach the Super Bowl.
But I’ve also seen injuries. particularly at the most important position on the field, quarterback, alter the big picture.
We’ll check in again as the NFL approaches their usual fantastic finish.
Till then, don’t be shocked at anything, and most important, don’t assume anything.