It has been a great first half of the 2011 NFL Season for the NFC West Leading San Francisco 49ers (6-1) and their players including OG Mike Iupati and RB Frank Gore. In fact, the Niners seem to be everywhere in Taking It to the House’s First Half Awards and they appear to be a very strong contender for this season’s second half too
(Philadelphia, Pa) — The 2011 NFL Season, titled “Back to Football”, so far has lived up to former league commissioner Bert Bell’s dream of “Any Given Sunday”. Parity is everywhere as there are currently 19 teams with winning records and almost every team – except the reeling Manning-less Indianapolis Colts — seems to have a legitimate chance of winning a playoff spot or at the very least producing “W’s” on a weekly basis.
But nothing in the National Football League should be taken for granted as shown by lower tier teams displaying that they are coming for a fight and not a “show” when facing upper level competition. Both the Jaguars’ 12-7 win over the Ravens on MNF in Week 7 and the formerly winless Rams 31-21 win over the Saints show just how “even” the NFL really is at this time.
Sure there are the defending Super Bowl Champion undefeated Green Bay Packers and the winless reeling Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins (fighting it out for Andrew Luck) at the other end of the spectrum, but in between there is a whole lot more sorting out to do in the second half of the 2011 season. Currently there is glut of 14 teams — over one-third of the league including NO, HOU, OAK, KC, SD, ATL, TB, NYJ, CHI, TEN, CLE, PHI, DAL, WAS — stuck between a record of 3-4 and 5-3 so there should whole a lot more exciting action as these teams sort themselves into “Contenders” and “Pretenders” before January brings the pageantry that is NFL Playoff football.
Already this season we have seen Controversy, Thrilling Finishes, Great Performances, Head Coaches on the Hot Seat, the Rise and Fall of Tim Tebow, Veterans Maintaining their presence, and young-buck Rookies stepping forward. And I cannot wait to see what the second half of the 2011 NFL Season will bring. Wonder if my “Keystone State” Super Bowl pick of the Steelers-Eagles is safe….we will see as Philadelphia at one point — before their recent 2-game winning streak — looked like the worst team in the league.
So let’s turn the page on first half and move-on to Part of this weekly melodrama by giving out our 2011 First Half Awards
NFL’s Best Team
Green Bay Packers – Nothing has changed with this team from the first quarter to the second quarter of the 2011 NFL Season — luckily have avoided any major injuries, suspensions, or any other distractions. We all know that being the defending Super Bowl champion is hard work, but the “Taking Care of Business” Packers (7-0) are making it look very easy at times. Though the NFL has not seen a repeat Super Bowl Champion since the Patriots (2003 and 2004), Green Bay seems to have a good chance because so far they have avoided championship killing problems of Compalancency, Injuries, Ego, Defections and most of all Overall Selfishness. Even with some quality players like LB Nick Barnett (Bills) and DT Cullen Jenkins (Eagles) leaving, I don’t see many holes on this talented team. And as crazy as it sounds, they might be better than last year’s squad. On offense, QB Aaron Rodgers should already make room for the MVP award and HC Mike McCarthy is finding balance too with RB’s Ryan Grant and James Starks. The Packers also have one of the NFL best defensive units too led by veteran DB Charles Woodson (leads NFL with 5 INTs) and space-eating NT BJ Raji. Packers numbers through Week 8 of the 2011 NFL Season are 230 points scored (average of 32.9 per game which ranks 1st in NFL), 141 points allowed (20.1 points per game average, ranked 9th), and a +8 in turnovers (ranked 4th in NFL). This Thanksgiving (Week 12), I don’t know what I am more excited for Turkey and Stuffing or the Packers big match-up with NFC North rival and 2nd place team, the Detroit Lions. With there remaining games being @SD, MIN, TB, @DET, @NYG, OAK, @KC, CHI, and DET – I don’t think the 1972 Dolphins (NFL’s only undefeated Super Bowl Champion) or 2007 Patriots (only 16-0 regular season in NFL history) are worried just yet about a perfect season for Green Bay.
Honorable Mention: San Francisco 49ers (With a record of 6-1 entering Week 9, they already have more wins than last year. Jim Harbaugh’s no name squad could possibly clinch the awful NFC West by their Harbaugh Bowl Game on Thanksgiving vs. Jim’s brother, John’s, Baltimore Ravens ); Pittsburgh Steelers (After their Week 1 horrible loss to the Ravens, many people had them buried, but Mike Tomlin’s team has fought back to an AFC-best 6-2 record); Detroit Lions (This 6-2 team is talented, young, and hungry, but I am not sure if they are consistent enough just yet. Lost to the Niners in a very close)
NFL’s Worst Team
Indianapolis Colts – This pick shows just how valuable injured quarterback Peyton Manning (neck) is to this team. Withouth their leader, HC Jim Caldwell just cannot find a way to put his many offensive stars (Clark, Wayne, Collie, Garcon, and others) in good spots. Don’t blame backup Curtis Painter only as their defense and running game have been non-existent at times. The Colts (0-8) suffered the NFL’s worst loss of the season in a humiliating 62-7 defeat in Week 7 on Sunday Night Football. To drive home the point of “how” bad this team is, here are their numbers through eight games: 121 points scored (30th in NFL), 252 points allowed (NFL-worst 31.5 pts per game), and -7 in turnover ratio. At least their consolation prize, if they are the worst team at the end of the season, will be surefire first overall pick, Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
Dishonorable mention: Miami Dolphins (It will be a miracle if Sparano makes it to the 3rd quarter of the 2011 Season), Jacksonville Jaguars (Had the game of their lives in Week 7 upset of the Baltimore Ravens, it is a matter of time when Del Rio is out), and St. Louis Rams (this young team pulled off a huge upset in Week 8 by beating the “sleepy” Saints, but injuries and poor overall talent are too much to overcome for them).
Best Head Coach
San Francisco 49ers HC Jim Harbaugh – His young team is all heart as shown by their East Coast wins at Philadelphia and New York (Jets). Have gone from a record of 5-11 in 2010 to a 6-1 start in 2011. Harbaugh’s youthful ‘college” exuberance has made believers in QB Alex Smith (almost out the door before Harbaugh), RB Frank Gore (no longer viewed as “soft”), WR Michael Crabtree (making most of his opportunities) and all-out LB’s Patrick Willis and Navaro Bowman. Niners might even have the NFC West wrapped up by December. The Niners numbers through 7 games are 187 points scored (26.7 per game, ranked 6th in NFL), 107 points allowed (NFL best average of 15.3 points per game), and a +10 turnover ratio (2nd in NFL). We should find out more about San Francisco in their last 9 games of the season (@WAS, NYG, ARI, @BAL, STL, @ARI, PIT, @SEA, @STL)
Honorable Mention: Lions’ Jim Schwartz, Raiders’ Hue Jackson and the Titans’ Mike Munchak
Most Disappointing Head Coach
Minnesota Vikings HC Leslie Frazier – The last couple of seasons, everyone from fans to media all said the problem in Minnesota was former head coach Brad Childress and quarterback Brett Favre. Well now both are gone along with their respective diffencies, but yet the Vikings are still under achieving. After eight games, Frazier’s squad has a record of 2-6 which puts them firmly in the NFC North’s basement. Despite having arguably the NFL’s best running back in Adrian Peterson, the Vikings can’t score on offense and on defense are allowing too many big plays. Many are saying the Vikings’ front office jumped the gun by naming Frazier as their new leader based his end of season run in 2010. Minnesota’s numbers through 8 games is 172 points scored (21.5 per game, ranking 20th in NFL), 199 Points Allowed (24.9 per game, ranked 26th in NFL), and surprisingly a +4 in turnoverratio. This team and head coach still maybe able to turn it around some in the second half as clearly the team has responded to rookie Christian Ponder rather than benched veteran Donovan McNabb.
Dishonorable Mention: Dolphins’ head coach Tony Sparano (At this point in the season, he doesn’t have a quarterback or a clue) and the Colts’ Jim Caldwell (why doesn’t management remove his title and give it to Manning as clearly Dungy’s hand-picked replacement is very overrated)
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers – America’s favorite gunslinger has shined as the Packers have gone undefeated (7-0) so far. I know everyone wants to see if Rodgers can handle the pressure of being a defending Super Bowl Champion, but he has looked sharper than ever. Has thrown for 300 yards or more in 6 out of 7 games this season. The Packers have been impressive beating the Saints, Panthers, Bears, Broncos, Falcons, Rams, and Vikings. However so far so good as the NFL’s heavyweight champion equaled the great Barry Sanders (1997) by winning three consecutive Player of the Month honors in 2011. Rodgers numbers through eight games are impressive — 171-239, 71.5% (NFL Leading), 2372 yards, 20 TDs (NFL leading), 3 INTs, and a QBR of 125.7 (NFL leading)
Honorable Mention: Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, Lions WR Calvin Johnson, Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Saints QB Drew Brees, Patriots QB Tom Brady and Bears RB Matt Forte
New England Patriots WR Chad Ochocinco – A repeat winner from the first quarter of the 2011 NFL Season. You have to wonder if HC Bill Belichick has Randy Moss on speed dial as No. 85 has been “Ocho Stinko” in 2011. Ochocinco’s numbers through seven games show that he better start thinking about his next career as a reality television star — 9 receptions for 136 yards and 0 touchdowns. Wondering if the 33-year old will soon have to play special teams to prove his worth as players like rookie Taylor Price and Julian Edelman are ahead of him on the depth chart.
Dishonorable Mention: Titans RB Chris Johnson (107 rushes for 302 yards and 1 TDs plus the 53.5 million dollar man is now spliting time with former backup Javon Ringer), Chargers QB Philip Rivers (NFL-high 14 turnovers and his fumbled snap against KC with the game on the line in Week 8 was horrendous); New England Patriots running game (Pats will not have a chance in the postseason if they don’t find a way to run the ball more effectively), Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb (came over from Philly, got a huge contract and was the annointed starter but now looks skittish in the pocket), Vikings QB Donovan McNabb (the end looks near and he looks more intereste in broadcasting booth than his playbook) and Chargers OT Marcus McNeil (It has been one penalty after another for this former Pro Bowl O-lineman. Also got his lunch eaten by Chiefs DE Tamba Hali in Week 8 on MNF with 6 false penalties too)
Niners LB Patrick Willis – This high-energy tackler is playing at a “Ray Lewis” type level. San Francisco has one of the NFL’s top defenses — ranked first in NFL by allowing only 15 points per game – and Willis never leaves the field. Though many would say that the Niners have a “No Name” defense there are some players are definitely standing out including Willis, Bowman, and rookie OLB Aldon Smith (first-rounder from Missouri). So far this season, the 26-year old from Ole Miss has 54 tackles, 7 passes defended, 1 sack, and 1 Forced Fumble.
Honorable Mention: Cowboys OLB DeMarcus Ware (12 sacks), Packers CB Charles Woodson (NFL-best 5 INTs), Ravens NT Haloti Ngata, Eagles DE Jason Babin (9 sacks) and Steelers Troy Polamalu (when he doesn’t play, Pittsburgh is an entirely different team)
Denver Broncos CB Champ Bailey – Unfornately this former Pro Bowl player will have to be the representative for one of the NFL’s worst defenses. Bailey is being paid like a top-tier cover corner, but those days may have passed him by (0 INTs and 16 TKLs in 4 games started). Bailey has not shown much as his team has allowed a ton of yards and points per game. Broncos have not produced turnovers (-8), have lost leads on several occasions and have allowed 200 points (28.6 points per game to rank 31st in NFL. Denver head coach John Fox, Team Executive John Elway, and GM Brian Xanders surely will need to address their secondary in the offseason as both Bailey and SS Brian Dawkins appear to be at the end of the road of their storied careers.
Dishonorable Mention: Indianapolis Colts Defense (252 allowed points for an NFL-worst average of 31.5 points per game in 8 games), Dolphins LB Karlos Dansby, Dolphins LB Jason Taylor, Vikings DB Cedric Griffin and Patriots CB Devin McCourty
Offensive Rookie of the First Half
Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton – A repeat winner from the first quarter of the 2011 NFL. This kid has been unbelievable as he has lived up to all the hype surrounding being the NFL’s first overall pick. Through 8 games, Newton is on pace to break Peyton Manning’s rookie yardage (3739) and touchdown records (26). The Panthers have already passed their 2010 win total and veteran receiver Steve Smith has experienced rejuvenation with much of the credit going to the surefire NFL Rookie of the Year. Newton has proven his naysayers wrong (see ESPN’s Todd McShay) as he has compiled the following numbers in 8 games (2 wins) — 174-287, 60.6%, 2393 yards, 11 TDs, 9 INTs, and 87.1 QBR plus an additional 319 rushing yards with 7 TDs.
Honorable Mention: Bengals QB Andy Dalton, Cowboys DeMarco Murray, Bengals WR AJ Green, Vikings QB Christian Ponder, Ravens WR Torrey Smith and Cowboys K Danny Bailey
Defensive Rookie of the First Half
Niners OLB Aldon Smith – As crazy as this sounds, Smith has not even started a single one of the Niners first 7 games of the 2011 regular season. But the 2011 first-rounder from Missouri has made an instant impact on DC Vic Fangio’s defensive unit. Smith won the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week honors twice after victories over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions. He also was nameed the NFL Rookie of the Month for October — first Niner since Patrick Willis in 2007. So far the high-energy emergin linebacker has produced 13 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 safety, and 1 Forced Fumble in his brief career.
Honorable Mention: Broncos LB Von Miller, Cardinals Patrick Peterson, and Bucs DE Adrian Clayborn
Head Coaches on the “Hot Seat” — Dolphins Tony Sparano, Vikings Leslie Frazier, Cardinals Ken Whisenhunt, and Colts Jim Caldwell