What's going on, you guys! We are officially halfway through the NFL season! Every four games, there are truths that are revealed. Injuries occur, pretenders are exposed, contenders rise, and more! So, going with the theme of week 8 passing and us looking forward to week 9 now, here are 9 things of note and to look forward to in the second half of the 2020 NFL season!
The middle of the pack
There are a few teams that make up the mid-to-lower range of this year's NFL quality scale… And they have me doubting my judgement. Teams such as the Browns, Raiders, Dolphins, Cardinals, The Colts, The Bears, and The Lions. Most of the teams have undulated wildly between looking absolutely awful and like a possible Super Bowl contender. Some have leaned in either direction more than others, but really this is where I think the median team lays this year. The Cardinals have no defense half the time and the offense can disappear. The Bears have no offense to speak of 98% of the time. The Raiders haven't run the ball the way they want to and Derek Carr refuses to throw to anyone but Darren Waller more than half the time. Phillip Rivers just needs to stay out of the way 90% of the time because he can't carry a team anymore, but the Colts aren't running the ball as if that were the case. The Lions are… The Lions. Never great, but they always give fans a sliver of hope before they miss the playoffs. Matthew Stafford isn't playing as well this year. The Dolphins feel like they are still lacking the talent to compete and Tua needs time to heat up… But more often than not they have been more than the sum of their parts this year. The Browns are as good or better than they have been since, like, ever, but they haven't figured out how to beat quality competition or get Baker Mayfield's confidence back.
All of these teams have shown how great they can be at times this year, but they all feel destined to fail. Some by default. I'm a Baker believer, but even if the Browns finish with 10 or 11 wins, the Ravens and Steelers will have as many or more along with the head-to-head advantage and a crowded AFC playoff picture. The Cardinals are in the exact same position, although the 49ers continue to deal with the wrath of God apparently, so maybe there is more hope in the desert. The division winners all seem pretty clear right now, but the two wild card spots on both sides are going to be hotly contested between the better teams that don't win the division and the upper middle class scratching at the door.
The Bears piss me off
I think the Bears made all the wrong moves, offensively, all year long. They could have added another bona fide receiving threat I'm the off-season. They wasted too much money on Jimmy Graham. They TRADED FOR NICK FUCKING FOLES. He is NOT the QB to lead your team for more than half a season. He is not a franchise QB. He is an extremely short term answer. I wanted more for Trubearsky, but he is awful and probably depressed. David Montgomery showed little to no burst and explosiveness in his rookie year. All offseason all these geniuses in the NFL media circle praised him as a great day yasu pickup and the ideal lead back in Chicago… But he is what I thought he is. A slow, uptight runner that can't carry the load. Tahrik Cohen has been under and misused. Cordarelle Patterson has been over and misused. The offensive line lost some pieces and went from solid to not-so-great. The defense has literally been awesome most of the time and overall. Unfortunately, a defense cannot carry a team this year. Not this year. It's been far too easy to score, even on the best units. Matt Naggy probably realistically has and one year from now, or less, to turn things around. If Naggy can coax a running game out of his team, I think The Bears could be legit. They have 5 wins, but I have yet to see them as a legit threat to make the playoffs. I don't trust Foles and the rest of the offense. With a better running game and some simplified play calling, they may have something.
Drew Brees and the Saints
Drew Brees was LAMBASTED for his meticulous, short passing ways earlier this season. I think we all overreacted. Sean Payton and Brees are calling and running the plays that are going to get them to a championship. Well, it might get them there. Early in the off-season I thought the Saints were the most complete team in the NFL. Michael Thomas is half dead, which means Kamara is being run into the ground, Brees can't throw like he could two years ago, the defense is a confused mess half the time, and..That's it. Still, this is one of the near coached teams in the league. Brees is still more than capable of leading this team to the Super Bowl. The defense is fixable. The team is surprisingly being caught leaning on one star at a time. Last year was Michael Thomas, this year it's Kamara. They have GREAT depth almost everywhere, but don't seem to want to utilize it. The good thing for them is that the Kamara formula is working. It's working like a charm, man. Same thing with Thomas last year. Once Thomas gets right and Emmanuel Sanders isn't banged up, I think the offense will be ready to roll against anyone in the second half of the regular season and the playoffs!
I'd take Lamar Jackson over ANYBODY
Lamar Jackson, the reigning league MVP, is not having the same season as last year. I guess we shouldn't have expected him to play nearly perfectly 99% of the time two years in a row… But expectations are rightfully high for Jackson. He is completing 60% of his throws, in the middle of the pack in terms of yardage (1,343,) and his TD:INT rations sits at 12:4. Really, not a bad year on paper. He is also already over 400 yards rushing with 2 scores there. Jackson isn't really that far off or in that bad of a funk in general. The issue with him and the offense as a whole is that in obvious passing situations and on straight drop back plays, they have regressed. They can still drop 265 yards rushing on a great Steelers defense, but Jackson's turnovers and the passing offenses inability to make plays when necessary are hurting them.
Jackson and his offensive coordinator were ahead of the curve last year because they fully unleashed Jackson's ability as a passer and it surprised defenses, I think. As more film accumulates, defenses are starting to find the weaknesses. At times, Jackson seems to have trouble throwing outside the numbers and has some issues with his reads. Still, I think last year he proved that he is an elite passer and playmaker. He has the luxury of being, probably, the best athlete on the field in any game, and he just needs to keep drilling himself on the fundamentals of the position. I think his running ability combined with his potential as a passer makes him the best QB in the game (much love to Wilson, Rogers, and Mahomes though.)
How they nighty have fallen. I am a Panthers fan. I'm a Cam Newton fan. I don't think they should have let him go and gone for Bridgwater (Cam has a higher ceiling than Teddy B.) It's hard to defend that opinion or explain it when Cam and the Patriots can't seem to make a play through the air! Early in the season he looked like an upper their QB. Josh McDaniels had him playing smart and stable with improved mechanics in the pocket. They didn't box him in though, that game plans revolved around a run first offense led by Newton. Really, it was perfect. They started out hot at 2-1 (losing a heartbreaker to Seattle. Newton went throw for throw with soon-to-be NFL MVP Russel Wilson in that one) and looked to ruin the Bills division title hopes. Then, the cracks became chasms. Newton missed time with Covid-19, Julian Edelman stopped getting open and started getting hurt, the other receivers barely seem to have a pulse, the offensive line hasn't been as solid, and the defense isn't playing up to last year's elite standard.
As much as I'd like to say Cam Newton can coalesce with Bill Belichick and throw this team on his back, I don't see it. Newton is… like, straight up depressed. He seems like it at least. He never has been a truly elite passer, but even in his hayday his erratic ways worked sometimes. They worked enough. Now, he can't be relied on to elevate lesser talent out wide. The Patriots have zero legitimate receivers on their roster, including a now washed up Julian Edelman. I think Newton goes one and done with New England and has to settle down as a backup for the rest of his days. Which, KILLS me to say because the right situation could allow him to produce a Super Bowl trophy. The way young QBs are developing and the number of A+ prospects coming out of colleges nowadays make me think that Newton won't get that far out chance from a desperate team or one on the cusp of the playoffs. The interesting thing is that Newton and Belichick have proven us wrong before, so I guess there is a pretty far out chance they end up competing for a playoff spot towards the end of the regular season. Belichick also seems to be… like, testing his ability to coach up lesser talent. It feels like a hard reset is coming after this season, but no one can get a read on the Patriots mastermind right now. Well, I certainly can't get a read.
The friggin' Cowboys
I dislike the Cowboys, so this isn't me crying about their horrible season. I am… confused and sort of shocked at their fall from grace. Even with their full compliment of playmakers and coaches, they haven't looked like a team that can win NFL games. I mean, they have, but there is a feeling of hoplessness and despair everytime I see them trot out onto the field. The defense has been one of the biggest failures all year! They can't stop the run with a gun to their heads, let alone the pass. Especially deep passes, the secondary continually gets roasted. Kyler Murray completed 9 of 24 passes for almost 200 yards and 2 TDs. And they rushed for 260 yards. The offense was scoring no problem with Dak in control, but they weren't clutch and couldn't overcome their defense. Ezekiel Elliott has been AWFUL compared to his normal level of play and his big ass contract. Andy Dalton was looked at a way to stabilize things, but the horrendous offensive line play brought out the worst of Dalton and got him murdered (well, he was past the line of scrimmage on said murder, but his teammates just left the body laying there. I honestly think Mike McCarthy is mismanaging the team. I believe in him and their talent, but I don't imagine this ship being righted until next season if it does indeed make it face up.
He is in such a weird place. I mean, he is still respected as one of the top few QBs in the league. He is, I believe, the most talented passer to ever grace the NFL. So far. He has MVP awards, wildly impressive career stats, and a huge head to go with it all. This year, Rodgers looked PERFECT playing QB until he had that rare dud against the vaunted Buccaneers defense. Matt Lafleur and Rodgers seem to have jelled and the second year in LaFleur's offense has really made Rogers a better player than he was previously (even with a lack of bona fide receiving threats. Valdez-Scandling and Lazard deserve some respect though,) so it's interesting that Rodgers is getting attention, but also gets lost in the sauce. He and the infamous Packers defenses of years past (this year too) have robbed Rodgers of his second Super Bowl trophy which has significantly damaged his legacy. He is still playing at a level in which he can to up against and beat any other elite QB or offense in a shootout. Russel Wilson, Pat Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady, etc., Rodgers still plays at that level almost every single week. This doesn't feel like his year. The Packer's year. Rodgers has not slowed down at all, so maybe he still has multiple years left. I think he may get one more chance next year as a Packer, but he feels destined to be pushed out by LaFleur and his hand selected QB of the future. Rodgers needs to play even more perfectly to get his team to the promise land. No bad games, like against the Bucs. I think he has it in him, but I don't trust the defense or the health of his skill position players to aid him in that pursuit. This is a test of the fire left in him. His passion for football and winning.
Falcons. Vikings. The Vikings implosion has been a complete surprise. They lost some pieces on defense, but I didn't think it would lead to such a dire situation. They haven't been able to stop almost… Anyone. They haven't been consistent on offense. A problem that has plagued them since Kirk Cousins got there. They are relatively healthy and have Dalvin Cook at the top of his game. Combine that with a more clutch defense in the past week or so and they have some momentum going into the home stretch here. Green Bay is fallible (they certainly know that,) and they're best hope is to win the division (with the crowded middle of the pack I touched on earlier.)
As for Atlanta? Gross. The Falcons are like the Cowboys in which they look lost on the field. Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, and Julio Jones have been great. Everyone else needs to step it up. The defense has been swiss cheese almost all year. Dan Quinn is finally gone. I like the guy, but he wasn't able to finish a season or a game after giving up the infamous 28-3 Super Bowl lead. The team has playmakers at most levels. They have some good coaches, but it seems like they lost the team. That isn't a knock on Quinn per day, as I think he will be a head coach again, but he just couldn't keep them on track. Atlanta has some salary cap maneuvering to do this off-season and they need to decide if Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are going to be part of their rebuild.
The Chargers Should Fire Anthony Lynn
I respect the hell out of Anthony Lynn. I thought he was a good hire as head coach of then San Diego, now Los Angeles Chargers. I think he will have some successful runs with another team. I don't think LA is working out quite that well though. He is a people's person, tough, good leader… But he has been unable to will his team past close losses. In theory, there isn't a huge problem with every game you play being a close one. As long as you win most of them, right? The Chargers can't do that. They drafted Justin Herbert and I saw it as a reach, but he is proving me wrong. They still have elite defenders at multiple levels. They have a pretty young team that needs to clean up a few positions before they are truly good. I love Lynn, but it's time for the Chargers to realize that he will not have them competing for anything more than 9-7 (at best) any given year. I think the time to hire a young, aggressive coach that can really ramp up the energy and attract exciting, young talent on the field is now! Gotta love what they did I'm Denver in week 8 though!
Well, that's what I have for now! Drop a comment below and let me know your thoughts on the 2020 NFL season so far and what you're excited about in the second half!