Bet On It, Midseason Edition: What to expect down the stretch
The NFL season has kind of, sort of reached its midway point — a few teams have played eight games; the rest will hit that mark this weekend.
And we more or less know by now which teams will be in the playoff picture until the end and which can start drawing up draft boards. But given the number of franchises still in the hunt, the second half of the NFL season could be enthralling.
Here’s a glimpse at a few things to expect:
• If anyone breaks Dan Marino’s single-season yardage record, it’ll be Drew Brees
Marino set the standard for NFL quarterbacks by throwing for 5,084 yards in 1984. Right now, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are all on pace to surpass that total.
Brees is in the best position to take home the record. Not only does it look like New Orleans will have to fight tooth and nail to get to the postseason — meaning 16 full games for Brees, if he’s healthy — but also the Saints have just one game outside a dome the rest of this season. Brady and Rodgers, meanwhile, will have to deal with the elements in, among other places, Foxborough and Green Bay.
Another factor working against Rodgers’ push (and possibly Brady’s down the line): Unless the Packers are chasing 16-0 or trying to get Rodgers the passing record, they could sew up the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed early, which would mean less playing time for Rodgers in an effort to keep him healthy.
• The Colts and Dolphins will finish tied for the NFL’s worst record
The “Suck for Luck” movement continues to gain steam in Indianapolis and Miami, where the home teams are 0-8 and 0-7, respectively. We’ve about reached the point in the season where both the Colts’ and Dolphins’ players have to have 0-16 stuck in the back of their minds. Neither team has a ton of winnable games left, either. The guess here is that each finds a way to eke out one victory — meaning that the Andrew Luck sweepstakes will come down to a strength-of-schedule tiebreaker.
• No team in the NFC East will win more than 10 games
Despite the Giants’ 5-2 start and the Eagles looking like a real threat again, 10 wins might be pushing it. For Philadelphia, Dallas and Washington (and we can pretty much forget about the Redskins), getting to 10-6 would require a 7-2 close to the season. Possible? Sure. But it’ll be difficult. The good news for Dallas and Philly is that the upcoming schedule is very manageable — both teams still play Miami, Arizona, Seattle and Washington.
The Giants do not have the benefit of an easy waltz to the finish line. They still play at New England, New Orleans, San Francisco, Dallas and the Jets (though that’s not really a road game), and host Green Bay, Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas. Finding five more wins in that slate might be tough.
• No team in the AFC West will win more than nine games
And speaking of underachieving divisions …
Maybe the Chiefs can turn their current four-game win streak into a monster finish; maybe Carson Palmer’s arrival will send the Raiders soaring; maybe San Diego will wake up for the last few weeks, like it usually does. Right now, it’s hard to see any of these teams putting together any sort of long run against difficult competition. And the schedules ahead will be trying for all three teams still in the AFC West race (Sorry, Denver).
If any team can surpass nine victories, it might be the streaking Chiefs, who could be 6-3 after games with Miami and Denver.
• DeMarcus Ware (and maybe Jared Allen) will break the single-season sacks record
Michael Strahan holds the NFL record for most QB sacks in a season with 22.5. Ware sits at 12 with nine games left, while Allen has 12.5 and eight games to go. Both have a legitimate shot at topping Strahan’s mark, but if you have to pick one, put your money on Ware.
Why? Well, that cushy upcoming schedule for Dallas mentioned above will pit Ware against four teams ranked in the bottom six for sacks allowed. That starts this week with Seattle, whose 28 allowed makes it the worst pass-protection team in the league.
• Cincinnati will wind up 8-8 or worse
Let’s just get this out of the way: The Bengals’ turnaround this year has been impressive, and they are an enjoyable team to watch with the A.J. Green/Andy Dalton combo and a ferocious defense. But it still feels like they’re a year — and probably another offensive weapon or two — away from really competing in the AFC.
In addition to a Week 9 trip to Tennessee, Cincinnati still has two games apiece against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. If the defense holds up, Cincinnati could pull off a couple upsets here and there and stay in the race. But it’s more likely that the Bengals hit the wall.
• Fred Jackson will lead the league in rushing
Yep, you read that right. As it stands now, Jackson sits fourth on the rushing ladder, behind Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew. But Jackson is second in yards per game (103, behind McCoy’s 107.7), and Buffalo figures to run more and more as the weather gets worse. Jackson has 111, 121 and 120 yards in his past three games. It’ll be tough to surpass those three guys ahead of him, but the Bills’ star back will have every chance in the world to do so.
• Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman will wind up starting again
Comforting words for fans of the Broncos and Redskins, I’m sure. But there’s really no getting around the mess at QB for either team: Tim Tebow has played about six good minutes in two starts, while John Beck just got shut out in Toronto.
Unless Denver’s coaching staff is 100 percent committed to Tebow (it’s not) or Washington believes Beck is its QB of the future (it doesn’t), it’s hard to imagine either team just letting the ship sink in 2011 without another change at QB.
• Calvin Johnson will top 20 touchdowns
The man known as Megatron has a shot at Randy Moss’ single-season receiving TD’s record of 23 — Johnson sits at 11 halfway through Detroit’s season. He might not haul in 12 touchdowns the rest of the year, but given how often Stafford looks to him, Johnson has a legitimate shot to get to at least 20. He’s had four multi-TD games already, and as the Lions’ schedule gets tougher, Stafford might find himself throwing even more.
• At least three divisions won’t be decided until Week 17
When the NFL preaches parity — and especially since the league started scheduling only intra-division games in Week 17 — this is the idea. Looking at the Week 17 schedule right now, no fewer than 12 games could have major division-title implications. The NFC East, NFC South and all four AFC divisions are on pace to go to the wire.
Bank on at least three still being up for grabs come that final Sunday. And if you have to mark your calendars right now, circle these games: Dallas at the Giants, San Diego at Oakland, Tampa Bay at Atlanta and Tennessee at Houston.