The NFL season is now officially halfway home in terms of the regular season. Teams are getting ready for the stretch run, and those teams that are poised for a long run into January are looking to improve their trouble spots before the real second season begins. With that, there is always time to look back on some of the key moments and key players of the first half of the season, and today I’ll run down some of those as we get closer to week 10 of the season.
1st Half MVP: Peyton Manning – This one is somewhat of a no-brainer, as Manning is having another stellar season on a team that is expected to finally reach their goal and make it to Miami in February. Manning has been again, the wheel that makes the Colts offense go, and his poise and high level of play is a major reason the team is 8-0. After somewhat of a slow start throwing, Manning has been red hot the last three weeks, throwing for 342, 345, and 326 yards in three wins, two of which were on the road. The Colts march to 8-0 was not easy, as they had to win back-to-back road games at Denver and New England. Manning has already thrown for 2291 yards, 17 TD’s and just three picks. Despite these numbers, everyone will still wait with bated breath for what the Colts and Manning will do once the pressure is on in the playoffs. Drew Brees of the Saints would have to be second on my list.
Biggest Bust (Player) 1st Half: Tie – Chad Johnson and Daunte Culpepper – One is a star wide out who’s mouth is way bigger than his numbers, and another is a quarterback who’s presence and play was supposed to make his team a Super Bowl contender. Tough call here on the bigger bust of the two, probably Culpepper, as he is just a mere shadow of what he was just two seasons ago in Minnesota. The Dolphins took a big gamble in this deal, and are paying for it not paying off with a current 2-6 season. Culpepper will likely sit the rest of the season after starting the first four games, and throwing just two TD’s, three picks, and just being basically ineffective in leading Miami to a 1-3 start.
Johnson’s mouth continues to run, and he even spent a week on the cover of Sports Illustrated, but his play on the field continues to lack. Averaging just about 60 yards per game with just two touchdowns, Johnson’s lack of play is one reason the Bengals are struggling to stay afloat in the AFC North. He has yet to have a 100 yard game (99 vs Tampa Bay was his biggest day), and his 12.1 yards per catch is down over 2 yards from last year and his career numbers. His first eight games a season ago Johnson had 717 yards on 48 catches and 5 TD’s. This year – 483 yards on 40 catches and two TD’s. Ouch. His play is a big reason the team is at 4-4 as compared to last year when after eight games they were 6-2.
Best 1st Half Team: Indianapolis – Not much of a shock here, as how could you not vote for a team that is 8-0? The Colts defense is still a little troubling, as they are allowing 165 yards on the ground per game, and 21.6 points per game as well. Despite that, the offense is back to the form it was two seasons ago, and consider the fact they didn’t run the ball all that well till the last 2-3 weeks, the Colts are going to be tough to beat in the second half. It will be interesting to see how Tony Dungy handles the whole “16-0” talk that has already begun to surface again, and how he deals with the final few games if the team does suffer a loss. I am sure he will look at last year and try to avoid a sluggish finish that in the end was a major factor in their flat start in the eventual playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
Biggest Bust 1st Half Team: Pittsburgh – It would be easy to pick on Miami or maybe the Cardinals, but for a team that won the Super Bowl just nine months ago to be sitting at 2-6?! Maybe 4-4 at worst, but I don’t think anyone would or could have seen 2-6 coming from a team that brought back most of the same players that held up the Lombardi trophy in February. Bill Cowher stated Sunday he has no answers to the letdown, and players are starting to talk about 2007. If Cowher does leave after this season, this is not a way to go out. Turnovers and just a total lack of focus and discipline on both sides of the ball has been the reason why the champs have turned into chumps.
Biggest Surprise 1st Half Team: New Orleans – What a great story the 6-2 Saints have developed into just one season after not having a true home game on their schedule. Drew Brees is right up there and is likely the NFC MVP of the first half, and the dangerous combo of Deuce McAllister (487 yards) and super rookie Reggie Bush (207 yards rushing 312 receiving) has made the Saints a team with as much firepower as any in the league. Considering that six of their last eight games are against teams that are either .500 or under, the Saints should be hosting a playoff game come January.
Rookie of the 1st Half of the Year: Marques Colston New Orleans WR – What a first half for this 7th round pick from Hofstra, who has burst onto the scene to even overshadow first round pick Reggie Bush. Colston has become the favorite target of Drew Brees, and has hauled in 44 catches for 700 yards and already seven TD’s. That would equate to 1400 yards, 88 catches and 14 TD’s in his first season. At 6-4, 231 pounds, Colston is tough to bring down, yet has shown the speed to get behind defenders. He is by far the steal of the draft and he and Joe Horn combine for one of the more dangerous combos in the league.