What We've Learned About This NFL Season at the Midseason Mark
School days, school days.
Feel free to sing along.
Eight weeks down and nine more to go in the 2013 NFL regular season, but we have indeed learned so much to date.
There are have been some eye-opening performances to go along with some eye-opening teams and trends.
Therefore, here’s a quick look at 10 things we’ve learned as the month of October comes to an end in the National Football League.
One Hail of a Start
A year ago, football fans and pundits alike mulled over the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs finished 2-14, yet had six players named to the Pro Bowl.
Off to their best start since 2003, the 8-0 Chiefs are perhaps less interested in Pro Bowl invitations and more concerned with possible travel plans to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Did anyone honestly see this coming? Even with Andy Reid taking over as head coach, no one could have possibly envisioned that eight weeks into the season, the Chiefs would be the party poopers when it came to the 1972 Miami Dolphins' annual champagne celebration.
But Reid’s team has the winning formula. Kansas City leads the league in turnover differential (plus-12) and has held every one of its opponents to 17 points or less.
Veteran quarterback Alex Smith has done exactly what was expected, and running back Jamaal Charles leads the NFL in total yards from scrimmage.
Making Some Points
Led by an amazing start by quarterback Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos have put themselves in the record books.
But if they are to make real history, the team may have to do something that has yet to be done.
With 343 points in their first eight games this season, an unprecedented total at this stage of any season, the Broncos appear well on their way to becoming one of the top scoring teams in league annals.
Of course, John Fox’s team has also allowed 218 points in eight games, a not-so impressive total. But Denver’s defense just got outside linebacker Von Miller back a few weeks ago and that should help in a big way.
But back to the Broncos’ point total. Seven times in NFL history a team has scored at least 540 points in a season. In none of those instances has the team gone on to capture a Super Bowl title.
Perhaps we will see the Manning and the Broncos offense develop a little more balance as the season wears on to keep their defense off the field.
Then again, perhaps they won’t. And that could be a very painful lesson indeed.
Go AFC West, Young Men
The Kansas City Chiefs own the NFL’s best record at 8-0.
The Denver Broncos own the AFC’s second-best record at 7-1.
The San Diego Chargers are 4-3 and have won their last two games.
The Oakland Raiders are 3-4 and are one win away from matching last season’s victory total.
Do the math and that’s a combined 22-8 record for the division.
Last season, the Broncos were a 13-3 team and the Chargers, Raiders and Chiefs were three stooges with a combined 13-35 mark. That adds up to a 26-38 ledger for the AFC West.
Is this quartet the best of the eight divisions this season? There’s an awfully long way to go, but it has taken these teams a relatively short time to get in the discussion.
Oh, Yes, They Call It the Streak
It is indeed surprising that we haven’t heard accusations of collusion this season in the NFL.
Take a look at the standings these days around the league. In most instances, one team has separated itself from the pack in more ways than one.
For instance, the New England Patriots come off a victory over the Miami Dolphins. The rest of the AFC East has combined to lose six straight games.
The Cincinnati Bengals have won 4 games in a row. The remainder of the AFC North is also riding a collective six-game losing streak.
The Indianapolis Colts suddenly lead the AFC North by two games. That’s due to the fact that Houston Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars have combined to lose 16 straight games since the start of 2013.
It also works both ways. The St. Louis Rams have dropped their last two games while the rest of the NFC West has teamed for nine straight wins. And the last-place New York Giants have won two straight following an 0-6 start. Meanwhile, the rest of the NFC East is coming off at least one loss.
What does it mean? It just reinforces the streaky nature of today’s NFL. But this kind of trend really does take the cake.
Say what you will about the Seattle Seahawks. There’s nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to having the NFC’s best record in 2013.
Off to the best start in the team’s 38-year history, Pete Carroll’s team has received a little scrutiny this week for an ugly 14-9 win on Monday night against the St. Louis Rams.
Combine that with a 12-7 victory back in Week 1 at Carolina and a poor first-half performance at Houston back in Week 4. Yes, we have figured out by now that the Seahawks just aren’t the same team away from the noisy confines of CenturyLink Field.
But you know what we have learned? Carroll’s team has indeed found a way to win on the road. A year ago the ‘Hawks dropped five of their first six games away from home. Since then and including their 2012 playoff split with the Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons, Seattle owns a combined 7-2 road mark.
More importantly this season, the Seahawks have beaten both the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams in their buildings, something the club was unable to do last season when they forged a 3-3 divisional record and lost all three road games in that instance.
The bottom line is that Carroll’s team is quickly learning to win games everywhere and in various fashions. And that adds up to very bad news for 31 other teams in the league.
Back in 2011, the Indianapolis Colts would be without quarterback Peyton Manning. And that was an enormous factor in the team’s 2-14 that season.
A year ago, another club was down a Payton. And the effects of his absence proved to be fairly devastating as well.
With Aaron Kromer and then Joe Vitt taking over as interim head coaches, the team finished 7-9 and missed out on what would have been a team-record fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
But Payton is back on the sidelines after a one-season suspension. And so is that winning feeling in the Crescent City. The Saints lead the NFC South with a 6-1 record, and a victory over the New York Jets on Sunday would give the team as many win as it had all of last season with eight more games to play.
Many assumed last season that with quarterback Drew Brees at the helm, the Saints could be successful sans their head coach. But there’s a lot to be said about Payton and Brees, together since 2006 in New Orleans but separated in 2012.
Now it’s the Saints that are separating themselves from the rest of the NFC South.
AFC. Easy as 1-2-3?
Let’s take a stroll down NFL preseason prediction memory lane.
When going through the list of Super Bowl contenders prior to the season, many top-five lists included (in no particular order) the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers.
Obviously more teams were mentioned. But the general consensus was that the NFC was the superior conference heading into the season. Although the Baltimore Ravens did come away with a win in Super Bowl XLVII, the NFC won last year’s interconference series, 39-25.
Eight weeks into 2013 and there’s been a bit of a reversal of fortune. The AFC owns a 21-17 lead in the head-to-head standings so far, with nearly half of those losses (eight) at the combined expense of the Houston Texans (0-2), Tennessee Titans (0-3) and Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3). Those three clubs have combined for a 5-17 mark this season.
But talk about AFC domination. Last week, the Denver Broncos completed a season sweep of the NFC East and in those four games scored a combined 189 points. That’s more points than 22 teams in the league have scored in 2013.
So perhaps the AFC isn’t as bad as many might think? Then again, the conference could just as easily win the regular-season rivalry and fall short at MetLife Stadium in February.
Out of the Running?
It seems in many instances, the role of the running back is somewhat of a running joke these days?
Alright, enough with the word games. But it is certainly worth noting that there has been a sharp decrease in 100-yard rushing performances by individuals in the league this season.
There have been 110 games played in 2013 to date and on just 32 occasions a player came away with a C-note on the ground. Keep in mind that includes three such games by Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (two) and Seattle Seahawks signal-caller Russell Wilson.
Is the running back really being that de-emphasized in the league? Well, keep in mind that nine of the league’s top 11 players in terms of total yards from scrimmage in 2013 are indeed running backs. And we haven’t gotten to the final two months of the season when weather has a habit of changing game plans for many teams.
But here’s a number to watch. Since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, the fewest 100-yard rushing performances in a full season were 74, done in both 1989 and ’90. But keep in mind that was an NFL with just 28 teams. It will be interesting what we learn when the season finally comes to an end.
We all know the woes of the Oakland Raiders for more than the last decade.
The Silver and Black owns a 52-115 record dating back to 2003, this after finishing 11-5 in and reaching Super Bowl XXXVII in 2002.
One of the issues has been finding a quarterback. In recent seasons, the team drafted JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick in 2007, and that experiment didn’t last long. For most of 2011 and 2012, another former first overall pick in the form of Carson Palmer was at the helm and produced mixed results.
This offseason, general manager Reggie McKenzie dealt Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals and swung a deal for quarterback Matt Flynn, last of the Seattle Seahawks. The Raiders also selected quarterback Tyler Wilson in the fourth round in April.
But when it was all said and done, former supplemental draft choice Terrelle Pryor wound up with the job.
The three-year veteran has split his first six starts this season, and while his passing numbers are less-than-impressive so far (five touchdowns, seven interceptions), he leads the club with 391 yards rushing, an NFL record 93 of those yards on the team’s first play from scrimmage last Sunday in the team’s 21-18 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Prior to the season, Pryor was a near afterthought. Now he may indeed be the team’s quarterback of the future after all.
For the majority of the offseason, the shortcomings of the Atlanta Falcons were a big topic.
Mike Smith’s team had de-emphasized the run, and on the defensive side of the ball, did not know how to stop it. The lack of a pass rush was also a problem as well.
The addition of defensive end Osi Umenyiora has somewhat fixed the latter problem. But the lack of a running game is one reason the hopes of quarterback Matt Ryan and his teammates of returning to the playoffs are slowly fading.
Granted, the absence of running back Steven Jackson for the last five games hasn’t helped. But Smith’s club is dead last in the NFL in rushing. Over their last four contests, the Falcons have rushed for a total of 146 yards.
The lesson here is that football will never be a one-man show. In recent years, Atlanta has relied on Ryan and his ability to get the ball to wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones as well as veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez. With White and Jones on the sidelines, this is a team whose one dimension doesn’t have all of its parts.
It’s a lesson that Falcons should have learned before the season ever started.