It’s the season’s halfway point for most NFL teams, so it’s a good time to reflect on the biggest story lines developing.
MVP: J.J. Watt
As I polled my friends on who the NFL’s MVP is, a common response was either DeMarco Murray, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck or maybe even Aaron Rodgers. And then I suggest my MVP, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. The response was generally the same. “A defensive player can’t win! How much impact can a DE have on a season, especially one on a 4-5 team?” To that I say why not? Yes, the average defensive end cannot affect a game like a quarterback. And historically, MVP is a quarterback or running back’s award. But J.J. Watt is more than an average defensive end. He scores touchdowns (including a game winner against Buffalo) and regularly swats away passes. He is also the best high motor pass rusher in the league. Watt completely changes the game from a defensive perspective. He has 39 tackles, one forced fumble, three fumbles recovered and 8.5 sacks. If you let him, Watt will ruin your day. According to Pro Football Focus, which rates every play by every player (if you’re into that), Watt has had the best game they’ve rated. Ever. By any position. Watt is the best defensive player of this generation and deserves an MVP award.
Barring Watt taking some snaps under center, I know he won’t win. So if I had to pick an MVP with a shot of winning, I’d go with Andrew Luck. Maybe it’s just because my recent memory of Peyton Manning is being shellacked by the Pats, but Luck has performed tremendously this year. He’s turning the Colts into an offensive juggernaut again. And unlike Rodgers or Manning, he’s had less bad spots. Luck is also on pace to break Peyton’s yardage record and the Colts team as whole is worse than Denver and Green Bay.
My Revised Super Bowl: Broncos Over Packers
OK, OK, so my preseason pick of Seahawks over Bengals isn’t looking so great. The Seahawks are 5-3, with a bad loss to the Rams. The Bengals have been shutout and looked dominant. Same old Bengals. I was hoping to see more consistency out of Cincinnati. Maybe some of their woes will be solved by the health of AJ Green, who has missed three games. Both teams can make the playoffs still and I’d still be surprised if Seattle missed out. However, Cincinnati is in a dogfight in a division where it once looked like they had the capacity to dominate. But it doesn’t look like Andy Dalton is leading the stripes to the AFC title anytime soon.
Moreover, the Broncos and Packers are on track. I’m really tempted to pick the Cardinals, but I just have a hard time seeing them actually win the NFC, although they’re marching towards a division title and a bye. The Broncos did just absorb a thrashing by the Patriots, but the Broncos are still the most talented team in football. They still have the most dangerous receiving corps in football, a stout offensive line and the greatest statistical quarterback ever. The Broncos are simply the most talented team in the NFL. They’ll be OK.
A Crazy, But Very Possible Super Bowl I’m Rooting For: Steelers Over Lions
Watch out for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In two weeks, Big Ben Roethlisberger has put up twelve touchdowns. And that’s before he plays the Jets. Sure, the defense isn’t what is used to be. But they still have playmakers — after all, Troy Polamalu is still playing safety. The Steelers are a dynamic offense, led by Leveon Bell and Antonio Brown — an offense worthy of winning a title. The Lions, with a healthy Calvin Johnson, feature an unstoppable receiver and a well balanced attack. Matt Stafford, although not an MVP quarterback, is good enough to catch fire and lead a team to a Super Bowl appearance. And let’s not discount their defense, which features a disruptive defensive line, anchored by Ndamukong Suh, who may be leaving the motor city very soon.
Most Surprising Team: The Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals were pretty good last year, missing the playoffs despite winning 10 games. This year, they’ve been the best team in the NFC, despite absorbing key losses. Their secondary is elite and the play calling doesn’t get any more aggressive than Bruce Arena’s. However, I still don’t see them actually winning it all.
Most Disappointing Team: Seattle Seahawks
It’s between them or the Chicago Bears. But the Seahawks were supposed to be the start of a dynasty. One of the youngest teams to ever win it all, led by a third year quarterback in Russell Wilson, they’ve barely skated by to a 5-3 record, looking up at Cardinals in the standings. I suppose part of it isn’t their fault. The departures of Browner and Thurmond from the Legion of Boom were not insignificant. Trading away Percy Harvin wasn’t a panacea. The Seahawks are only getting less talented. No team is infallible. The Seahawks are simply more flawed than previously thought, their cracks masked by the glow of a Lombardi Trophy. However, the division is still attainable. They still have to play the Cardinals twice, a perfect way to make up a two game deficit. If the defending champs get in, they’re a tough out.