We’ve reached the halfway point of the NFL regular season. This is the time of year when the air gets cold and fans start counting the days to the playoffs, or hope and pray that their team can find a way to make a run. As regular as the atmosphere is, so far, this season has been anything but expected.
This season started off with a bang amid controversy surrounding the NFL’s replacement referees and some of the unforgivable bonehead calls made. The reigning Super Bowl champs were beaten on Kickoff Wednesday in their own house, an event that has not occurred since the inception of the opening game played by the champions.
Four of the five teams that started rookie quarterbacks are in legitimate conversation for the playoffs. Let us not forget how RGIII and his flamboyant socks have stolen the hearts of all the NFL.
Peyton Manning made his triumphant return, just for another horse. Tim Tebow (ugh!), last year’s Cinderella in shoulder pads for Denver is now protecting the punter in New York.
Fans may very well have witnessed the last snaps of the greatest motivator, and possibly greatest linebacker, this league has ever seen in Ray Lewis.
The Houston Texans, once the laughing stock of the league, are 6-1, while the New Orleans Saints, a perennial powerhouse over the past five years, are a lowly 2-5 after the suspension of their coach.
To add to the craziness, the league’s leading rusher is Adrian Peterson, a guy who tore his ACL and MCL the day before Christmas!
The AFC is a dead heat, with ten of its sixteen franchises with three or four wins. The NFC fares a little better, as the West, historically one of football’s worst divisions, is now a hot, exciting race!
Enough about where we are, let’s talk about where this season is heading:
If the season were to end today, the playoffs would look something like this:
AFC: Texans, Ravens, Patriots, Broncos, Dolphins, Colts
NFC: Falcons, Bears, Giants, 49ers, Packers, Vikings
Not quite what you expected coming into the season, huh?
Now granted, there is a lot of football left to be played. There is still plenty of opportunity for a team not listed to make a run, there usually is at least one. New York Giants, anybody? Fans love that about the NFL! Parity runs amok, and they would not have it any other way.
With the upcoming schedule as it sits, when I look into my crystal ball, I foresee something a little different:
AFC: Texans, Broncos, Steelers, Patriots, Ravens, Colts
Texans get the first seed; I do not see a schedule with many more losses with the way they are killing it on offense and defense.
WATCH OUT FOR DENVER! Manning has that offense working like a well-oiled machine with a new 87 and 88 to throw to, and a defense that can hold its own. The Broncos are my favorite coming into next season. I think the injuries and inconsistencies, along with the positive play of the Steelers as of late will cost Baltimore the division, but not a wild card.
The Patriots scare me. I am not impressed with their play as of late, including Tom Brady, but aside from Miami, who has a tough schedule ahead, no one will challenge them for the division title. Indianapolis is a team playing with a lot of passion and has rallied around their new ailing coach and atmosphere. As long as Andrew Luck keeps his impressive play up and they can stay on the upside of their close matches, they will find a way to sneak in to the second season.
I like the Broncos and Texans playing for the AFC Championship in a week three rematch of a close game a few weeks ago. In the end, Houston will be too much for Manning and the Broncos, and will proceed to New Orleans.
NFC: Falcons, 49ers, Bears, Giants, Packers, Seahawks
Again, the Falcons have a favorable schedule ahead. As long as Matt Ryan—my vote for MVP—keeps finding Julio Jones, they should be in good shape. The 49ers will benefit from winning a Monday night game against the Bears in week eleven and just nudge out Chicago for the second seed. Both teams have jaw-dropping defenses and powerful running games, they just need to make sure their quarterbacks stay healthy and do not drop the metaphorical and actual ball.
The defending champions will easily win their division and march into the playoffs with a talented offense and one of the league’s best quarterbacks. A few tough matchups down the road will hurt their seeding however. Besides a hiccup in Indianapolis and a blown call in Seattle, the Packers have played well. I believe they will continue and finish strong, easily securing the fifth seed. In a dogfight between Minnesota and Seattle, Seattle gets the final spot, thanks to a home win against the Vikings in week nine.
The championship will feature Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ high flying offense at home against the Niners and their rock solid defense. In a tight one, the 49ers avenge their championship loss of a year ago and go to meet Houston.
Super Bowl XLVII: This will be one of the best-worst Super Bowls in the last couple years. Bad, because the matchup is not sexy and it will be a knockdown, drag-out brawl between the league’s top defenses. Great, however, because of the positive message it sends to all sports: the message that an expansion team can come from nothing and hold greatness in its hands, and that once-great franchises can be reborn!
Two powerful run games will collide against stiff defenses, but if the run is neutralized, it will come down to the better passing attack. When the confetti falls, it will be the once-mocked Houston Texans who raise the Lombardi Trophy, winning 24-19.
Mark it down, lock it in, these are Samuel Joseph Von Tobel’s official predictions for the remainder of the NFL season! Enjoy the rest of the season football fans!