We have arrived at the point where every team in the NFL has played at least half their schedule. Some teams not having their byes have played nine games. It has been a first half unlike any ever seen.
For the first time, there are three undefeated teams at the halfway mark, and there were nearly four. The defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are 8-0, with Tom Brady not only playing every game but excelling at a level not even he has ever achieved before. The Cincinnati Bengals are 8-0, finally living up to the vast talent they have always had and just gotten by with. Quarterback Andy Dalton controls things like an elite. In the NFC, the Carolina Panthers are 8-0, with quarterback Cam Newton playing at an MVP level for the toughest team in football. The Denver Broncos were undefeated until losing this past week in Indianapolis and stand at 7-1, with Peyton Manning finding it more difficult than he ever has. Father Time is undefeated himself.
The Patriots, Bengals and Broncos all still have each other to play in the second half, so much to be sorted out at the top of the AFC. Joining that trio as a division leader are the underachieving Indianapolis Colts at 4-5, and without quarterback Andrew Luck for likely six weeks with a lacerated kidney—ouch! The AFC South is still wide open. So are the wild card spots, currently held by the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh just lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for likely a month with a sprained foot. The Oakland Raiders may finally be ready to return to the playoffs led by the dynamic combo of quarterback David Carr and receiver Amari Cooper.
Joining the Panthers as division leaders in the NFC are the Arizona Cardinals at 6-2, the New York Giants at 5-4, and a tie in the North between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings at 6-2. The Packers were 6-0 before losses in Denver and Charlotte the last two weeks, with the defense showing signs of wear. Minnesota, winners of four straight, and Green Bay still have their two games against each other coming up.
The Cardinals lead the West by two games over the Seahawks. They play in Seattle on Sunday night. Our old friend Chris Johnson has had a rebirth in Arizona, and has been a key in one of the league’s top offenses. Seattle has found some creative ways to lose games, and the great defense has shown some cracks, but they will still be a factor. An Arizona win this week though might put them away. The St. Louis Rams are also 4-4. Rookie running back Todd Gurley has made quite the impact for a team with a tough defense.
The East is a mess. The Giants currently lead but hardly impress, and the Eagles may be the team in the end there. Preseason favorite Dallas started 2-0 but lost quarterback Tony Romo to a broken collarbone; they have gone 0-6 since. The wild card is a muddle at midseason with seven teams all within a game of each other.
The AFC is where the power is, and the NFC should prove more dramatic with everyone so closely bunched. New England is the favorite in the AFC for sure, and Carolina has emerged as the favorite in the NFC. There are often teams we do not expect who make runs into January. If you are looking for those teams, it could be Oakland and Minnesota who happen to play each other this week.