It’s a short regular season in the National Football League, and we’re already halfway through the 16-game schedule.
So it’s time to take stock of who’s hot, who’s not, who’s surprising or disappointing – and who might make it all the way to Super Bowl LII on February 4th in Minneapolis.
Best bet for MVP – Carson Wentz (Philadelphia Eagles)
Let’s take you back to April 28th, 2016. For most of you, it was most likely to be just another uneventful Thursday, but for Philadelphia Eagles fans, it was the day they found their franchise quarterback.
As the draft approached, two young QBs were vying for the honour of being named the number one overall pick. Jared Goff of the University of California and Carson Wentz of North Dakota.
Luckily for Philly fans, the Los Angeles Rams selected the former, which meant Wentz was heading east to Pennsylvania.
In his rookie year, the North Carolina-born quarterback showed a huge amount of promise with very few offensive weapons at his disposal.
Wentz led his side to a 3-0 start, which included a hugely impressive week three win against Pittsburgh.
Results took a turn for the worse as Doug Pederson’s side slipped to a 7-9 record, but Wentz certainly showed why Eagles fans had reasons to be optimistic.
In the 2017 off-season, free agency allowed the Eagles to add the weapons Wentz had been craving.
LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery all joined the roster to ‘beef up’ their offence.
Wentz has responded in magnificent fashion by throwing a leasgue-high 23 touchdown passes, with a passer rating of 104.1.
The former number 2 pick has led his side to a 8-1 record – the best in the NFL – which puts them top of the NFC East, arguably the most competitive division in football.
The play-offs loom and, with quarterbacks’ careers often defined by post-season results, Wentz, 24, will have have a chance to begin cementing his legacy very early on.
Notable mentions: Jared Goff (LA Rams), Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs) and Tom Brady (New England Patriots)
Outstanding Rookie – Kareem Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs)
Kareem Hunt had one of the most memorable NFL debuts in recent memory.
He fumbled his first career carry (against the defending Super Bowl champions, the NewEngland Patriots) before going on to break the record for most yards from scrimmage by an NFL debutant (246) – quite a way to introduce yourself.
Despite being the sixth running back taken in the 2017 draft, Hunt has shone with his electric speed and exceptional hands in the back field – illustrated by his 800 total yards, the most by a rookie running back this season.
The former Toledo star has four touchdowns, which is the second most by a rookie and tied with the likes of NFL legend Marshawn Lynch.
Under the stewardship of Andy Reid at the Chiefs, Hunt is in the perfect place to learn, improve and ultimately, become a star (if he’s not one already).
Surprise package – LA Rams
Let’s not beat around the bush, the LA Rams were terrible last season and if we’re honest, they were always going to be with Case Keenum at quarterback.
Therefore it came as little surprise when midway through last season, Keenum was dumped for the number one overall pick, Jared Goff.
Initially, Goff struggled to come to terms with the professional ranks. He threw interception after interception in loss after loss which ultimately left question marks over his selection over Wentz.
However, the Rams were always going to give their number 16 time to develop given what they had invested in him and that faith is now starting to pay off.
The California born quarterback has transformed himself from a rabbit in the headlights into a calm, quick-thinking MVP candidate.
So, what’s made the change?
For me, it’s not what it’s who and that who is newly appointed head coach, Sean McVay.
The former Washington offensive coordinator has transformed a turgid, one dimensional team into statistically the best offensive unit in the NFL. His ability to get the most out of Goff and third-year running back, Todd Gurley has been a huge reason for this.
Gurley, the former Georgia university running back, has seven touchdowns so far, which is one more than he had after the entire 2016 season. His ability to occupy defenders has given huge amounts of space for the likes of Cooper Kupp, Sammy Watkins and Tavon Austin to exploit.
The LA Rams really do have a well balanced offensive unit.
But what’s a great offence without a solid defence?
Led by Aaron Donald, this Rams defense is relentless at getting after the quarterback.
They stand sixth on the list of sacks but where they can improve is in the run defense. Far too many times have opposition backs been able to get into the secondary and keep the chains moving.
If they can improve that aspect then who knows, we could well be looking at Super Bowl contenders!
Underachievers: New York Giants
Warning! Look away now Giants fans…
If at the start of the season someone would have said the Giants would be 1-7, nobody would have believed them.
So how can a side that reached the play-offs last year now be talked about in the same breath as the Cleveland Browns?
The fact that Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen share the workload at running back contributes but the overriding factor is their quarterback.
I’m sorry, Eli Manning fans, but your man is past his sell-by-date. Yes, his offensive line isn’t great, but with weapons like Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepherd and Brandon Marshall at his disposal, he should be doing better.
To give some perspective, the Giants offence currently ranks 23rd and 27th in passing and rushing respectively – thats on Manning and the running backs.
Let’s take some of the heat away from Manning now as we ponder just why their defence has gone from the number one ranked last year, to the 26th ranked this year.
Has fatigue set in? Has all that time on the field because the offence cannot string consecutive first downs together finally taking it’s toll?
Or is it simply good players under achieving? Who knows, but what we do know is that head coach Ben McAdoo is on borrowed time.
The temperature in the Giants hot-seat is rising, and it will be surprising if he makes it until the end of the season.
Now, here’s where the fun begins. Lets dish out some mid-season awards…
Catch of the Season – Cole Beasley for the Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants
Best Play – Kansas City/Tyreek Hill v Dallas Cowboys
I feel like we could have a whole section of awards dedicated to Tyreek Hill, given his special ability to make jaw dropping plays. This amazing team effort finished off by the speedster makes it to the top of the pile for best plays. Check it out…
Memorable Trick Play – Seattle Seahawks v New York Giants
Fail of the Year – Tyreek Hill v Denver Broncos
Most Impressive Announcer – Tony Romo @ CBS
Tony Romo’s career as an NFL quarterback may be over (for the time being) but his life as an announcer is just getting started. Romo has breathed fresh life into CBS with his amazing knowledge of the game and unique ability to call out plays prior to the snap of the ball.
If you haven’t seen the video of him doing so, here it is…
Superbowl LII prediction: Eagles v Chiefs
The old adage, defence wins championships may have been applicable before, but not many defences can stop these two sides.
The Cheifs may be in the middle of a slight wobble, but under the guidance of Andy Reid, I believe they will be resurgent in the second half of the season.
Their main rivals in the AFC are the New England Patriots, who have struggled to replicate the form of last season, and I believe the Chiefs will pip them to the conference title.
Over in the NFC, it’s wide open.
The Eagles and Rams currently stand out to me but don’t discount Dallas, Seattle, New Orleans, Minnesota or Carolina of making a play off charge.
However, the Eagles are the best team in the NFL right now, regardless of records and stats. Carson Wentz is a superstar and I feel he will be the difference when games get tight.
Prediction: Carson Wentz and the Eagles to be wearing Super Bowl rings in February.
Feature image of NFL logo photo by Jonathan Moreau via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)