Half the distance to the goal
Midway through the 2005 NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings have been the center of a sex scandal, the Indianapolis Colts remain undefeated, and the NFC East is perhaps the strongest division in football. So with our coverage of the NFL sitting on the 50-yard line, we present our midseason power rankings, awards, biggest stories and second-half predictions for an historic year in football.
NFL Midseason Power Rankings
1. Indianapolis Colts (8-0)
The NFL's only remaining team without a blemish on their record, the Colts are an explosive offensive team with a defense to match. Reigning MVP Peyton Manning has a slew of receivers to look for when the Colts have the ball, like Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley, Dallas Clark and even Edgerrin James out of the backfield. On the other side of the ball, the Colts have improved their defensive line with the emergence of Dwight Freeney and the addition of Corey Simon. Indy has a special team, but has yet to play a fortified opponent. The Colts will have to fight through their second-half schedule in order to make a Super Bowl bid.
2. Atlanta Falcons (6-2)
The Falcons have the NFL's top-ranked running game, using the three-headed monster of Michael Vick, T.J. Duckett and Warrick Dunn, and their defense ranks in the top ten in points allowed. Atlanta is the NFC's top contender, and backup quarterback Matt Schaub would be a capable starting quarterback on several of the NFL's lesser squads, making him a perfect second-stringer for a team that relies heavily on the injury-prone Vick.
3. Carolina Panthers (6-2)
Carolina, winners of five straight games, is holding opponents to just 74 rushing yards per game, tops in the NFL. Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith have evolved into a dynamic offensive duo, and Stephen Davis is a touchdown machine. With a well-oiled offense and the league's scariest defense, the Panthers deserve a spot in the top three.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
The Steelers' overall philosophy of grind-it-out football has been a staple of Pittsburgh pigskin since its inception. A power running game featuring Willie Parker, Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley has enabled the Steelers' offense to keep on trucking despite losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a few games. Plus, the defense is back to its Steel Curtain roots.
5. Seattle Seahawks (6-2)
Seattle has finally become a great team, with a high-powered offensive attack featuring star running back Shaun Alexander and a stiff defense. Matt Hasselbeck has evolved into a better-than-average quarterback, and the Sehawks' linebacking corps is hard-hitting and fierce. A weak division has helped the Seahawks bolster their record, and they will have to step it up in the second half to make a deep run in the playoffs.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-2)
Carson Palmer has ignited the Bengals' offense and made the team a pass-first squad. Luckily running back Rudi Johnson can still pound opponents up the middle, making for an explosive and balanced offense. The Bengals' defense has also stepped it up, giving up less than fifteen points per game through the first nine games of the season.
7. New York Giants (6-2)
New York is the top dog in the NFL's best division, beating out the Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. Eli Manning has lived up to the hype of his last name, and big wideout Plaxico Burress has become his favorite target. If the Giants' defense can do better in third-and-long situations, they could be a scary team.
8. Denver Broncos (6-2)
Denver's running game never seems to slow down, and this year the team has platooned running backs Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson, a formula that has earned them first place in the AFC West. The Broncos defense is led by a strong set of linebackers: Ian Gold, Al Wilson and D.J. Williams. If Jake Plummer can continue to avoid interceptions and make good decisions, Denver will be dangerous.
9. New England Patriots (4-4)
The Patriots are in the midst of midseason turmoil, yet despite their immense amount of injuries and depleted defense, the Pats remain a favorite in the AFC. New England has lost all four of their starting defensive backs, but have regained key linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Their offense is still intact and has the ability to put up points. The Pats are the two-time defending champs for a reason.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)
Despite the apparent loss of RB Fred Taylor, the Jaguars are a young and energetic team that has the ability to pull major upsets in the second half of the season. Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich has a cannon for an arm, and the Jags' defense features a big defensive line and playmakers in the secondary.
1. Indianapolis Colts (8-0)
Yes, their schedule has been relatively soft, but they just beat their nemesis and defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. Edgerrin James is averaging close to five yards a carry and has been tearing up defenses. Then of course there is the unstoppable tandem of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. In the first half they hooked up for seven touchdowns. Defenses key in on the Colts' passing game, but if their running game holds up the Colts will be hard to beat. How long before people start mentioning the 1972 Dolphins team that went undefeated?
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
Ben who? Even with Ben Roethlisberger injured for much of the first half, the Steelers have done what they do best and that's win football games. Bill Cowher has to be considered one of the best head coaches of the era. Willie Parker, an undrafted free agent, has been the stalwart in the backfield for Pittsburgh.
3. Carolina Panthers (6-2)
Steve Smith is back. After breaking his leg in the first game and missing all of last season, Smith has emerged as one of the NFL's elite receivers, catching 55 balls for 903 yards and nine touchdowns in the first half. Smith and Jake Delhomme have become a potent combination for the Panthers. Combined with running back Stephen "touchdown-machine" Davis, the Panthers have shown the form they displayed when they made it to the Super Bowl.
4. Denver Broncos (6-2)
The dual rushing attack of Mike Anderson and rising star Tatum Bell has sparked the Broncos to one of the best records in the league. Anderson and Bell are trying to become members of a select group of tandem-backs to rush for 1,000 yards each in a season. Jake "the Snake" Plummer is having possibly the best season of his career.
5. Atlanta Falcons (6-2)
Mike Vick continues to electrify the league with his legs and has gotten help from Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett. The defense is one of the fastest in the league and led by linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive end Patrick Kerney. If the Falcons decide to pass the ball they could be scary good in the second half.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-2)
This offense is the closest thing to the Colts in the whole league. Carson Palmer is rapidly establishing himself as arguably the best young quarterback in the NFL. Chad Johnson is an elite wideout who punishes defenses when they play him in single coverage. Rudi Johnson has been consistent on the ground, rushing for close to 800 yards this season. Defenses will have a hard time stopping this well-oiled offense.
7. New York Giants (6-2)
The Giants weren't the number one offense in the NFL in the first half by coincidence. Eli Manning has progressed much quicker than people ever thought he would, firmly establishing himself as a star in only his second season. He's thrown 14 touchdowns this year, the same amount as his big brother. With Plaxico Burress emerging as a go-to number one receiver, Manning has found a consistent target.
8. San Diego Chargers (5-4)
Their record is deceiving but the Chargers have one of the best all-around teams in the NFL. The four games the Chargers have lost this year have all been by four points or less. Their defense is adequate with Donnie Edwards anchoring the center and Quentin Jammer bolstering the secondary. Oh yeah, they also have a guy by the name of Ladainian Tomlinson. He has rushed for 13 touchdowns, caught two for scores and thrown for three TD's. For all you mathematicians out there, that's 18 touchdowns. MVP, MVP, MVP…
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-2)
Shaun Alexander is amazing. Through eight games Alexander has rushed for a league high 949 yards and 14 touchdowns. With a solid quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, the Seahawks look like they are on the road to the postseason. The defense is a work in progress, but as long as Alexander stays healthy, the Seahawks will have a chance to win football games.
10. Washington Redskins (5-3)
Sure there are five other teams in the league with the exact same record, but the `Skins have played better than their record shows. With a resurgent Mark Brunell under center and Clinton Portis in the backfield, the Redskins have made their offense look smooth for the first time in years. Joe Gibbs looks like he is turning around one of the most proud franchises in the NFL.
Revised AFC Championship Picks
Abe: Colts over Bengals
In the end, the Colts just have too much firepower and not enough good teams willing to challenge them. As for the Bengals, they finally return to the postseason after years of mediocrity in a division dominated by the Steelers. The AFC Championship Game will feature a whole lot of offense, but Manning and Co. will finally expose the Bengals defense while Freeney the Freak and the rest of the Colts D-line will hurry Carson Palmer.
Josh: Steelers over Colts
Sure the Colts look smooth now but an injury to any of their big three (Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James) could seriously derail their chances of finally winning that elusive Super Bowl. The Steelers have already proven in the first half that they can win without their best team on the field. Such stars as Jerome Bettis, Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward have all been injured in the first half, but the Steelers still found a way to win six games. Their consistency gives them the edge over a very potent Colts team.
Revised NFC Championship Picks
Abe: Falcons over Giants
Assuming Vick stays healthy, the Falcons are an absolute lock for a deep playoff run, while the Giants will continue their roll provided Antonio Pierce and the rest of their defense can step it up on big plays. But New York's run will end in this game because of Atlanta's simply unstoppable rushing attack. If the Falcons can produce any semblance of a passing game, they could be your next Super Bowl champs.
Josh: Panthers over Falcons
Both of these teams have excellent defenses and effective offenses. The Falcons run the ball non-stop and tire out the opposing defense while Carolina prefers the Jake Delhomme-Steve Smith offense. Carolina has the speed to contain Mike Vick and the Falcons' run-oriented team and they'll get enough offense to beat Atlanta.
Revised Super Bowl Predictions
Abe: Colts over Falcons
I'm sticking with my preseason pick of the Colts as Super Bowl champions, their MVP being the defensive line as a unit. Freeney, Simon, Robert Mathis and friends will shut down the Falcons rushers and contain Vick as a runner. Conversely, "Edge" James will run free after Manning spreads out the Falcons defense by hitting Stokley in the slot. The Colts live by winning shootouts, so expect this one to be high-scoring. The Falcons just won't be able to keep up with the touchdowns Indy will put on the board.
Josh: Panthers over Steelers
Both teams are consistent. Both can run the ball. Both can stop the run. The Panthers just have a little bit more flair and in the Super Bowl that can make the difference between becoming world champions and being the runner-up. If Carolina can establish their run game enough they will be able to spring Steve Smith for some big plays. The Panthers also have Super Bowl experience and that gives them the edge over a team with a second-year quarterback.
Offensive Most Valuable Player
Abe: Steve Smith, WR, Panthers
Wide receivers are rarely considered for the MVP award, but then again Smith is no typical receiver. Through the Panthers' first eight games, Smith leads the NFL in receptions (55), receiving yards (903), receiving touchdowns (9) and yards per game (112.9), while ranking second among wide receivers in first down catches (39, behind the Bengals' Chad Johnson, who has played nine games thus far). Though Carolina has struggled running the ball at times, the security of having Smith's big-time playmaking ability gives QB Jake Delhomme comfort in the pocket and has propelled the Panthers to five straight wins. All this after missing 15 games last season with a broken leg...
Josh: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers
How good does it get? This man is just superhuman. Everyone knew LT would be a force, but nobody expected him to throw more touchdown passes in the first half than Kurt Warner (3 to Warner's 2). His statistics so far are staggering. He has accounted for 1146 yards and 18 Charger touchdowns. He's thrown them, caught them and of coursed rushed for them. Essentially he is the first half MVP not only because of his extremely impressive personal statistics but because of his importance to the Chargers.
Defensive Most Valuable Player
Abe: Jonathan Vilma, LB, Jets
It seems impossible that a player from New York could be underrated, even overlooked, but that is the case with Vilma. Midway through the season, Vilma leads all defensive players in solo tackles, with 70. Vilma also has an interception and a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. But his statistics do not begin to explain his value. Okay, so he plays for the lowly Jets, but Vilma flies around the field and seems to always be wrapping up the ballcarrier. The kid is a freak, and he is also the only reason the Jets haven't gone 0-8 in 2005. Vilma is the most phenomenal and exciting defensive player in the NFL today.
Josh: Dwight Freeney, DL, Colts
Freeney takes this one for the team — literally. The Colts' defense is finally playing well and as a result the Colts haven't lost a game yet. Freeney isn't leading the league in sacks as he did last year, but the attention he is getting has been opening up opportunities for other players on the defense to make plays. His teammate defensive end Robert Mathis is leading the league in sacks so far with nine. Linebacker Cato June has scored two touchdowns this year. These statistics don't mean Freeney isn't doing what he does best: tackle the quarterback. Thus far he has six sacks to his name. As the leader of the most improved defense in the league, Freeney deserves this award.
Offensive Rookie Of the Year
Abe: Kyle Orton, QB, Bears
Orton is my boy. This guy has been stellar through the first half of the season, despite his less-than-spectacular numbers. The most important stat for quarterbacks is wins, and so far Orton is doing well in that department, leading the Bears to a first-place record of 5-3. Orton stepped in at quarterback for Chicago at the last minute before the season started and has kept the squad under control and shown poise beyond his years. Orton never commits the rookie QB mistakes made by players like Alex Smith, and he has even tossed seven touchdowns so far. It's tough to say whether the Bears would be in the same position with Rex Grossman at the helm, but judging by Chi-town's last few seasons, the kid is alright.
Josh: Carnell Williams, RB, Buccaneers
It's true the Cadillac did get a few fender benders in the first half, but that shouldn't detract from the impressive numbers he has put up this first half. Although he only played in six games, he carried the Bucaneers' offense and showed that the running game is in good hands—even if they are a rookie's. Although Kyle Orton has had a very respectable first half, Williams has already become the face of the Bucs' offense and shown the potential to be a star in years to come.
Defensive Rookie Of the Year
Abe: Shawne Merriman, LB, Chargers
Merriman has been an integral part of an improved Chargers defense, putting up solid numbers: 28 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles. The linebacker is an intimidating presence and a hard-hitter who has a nose for the ball. Merriman's demeanor and style of play has drawn comparisons to another former Charger linebacker, Junior Seau. Merriman's mean streak on defense makes him the obvious choice for defensive ROY. (Plus, he's reppin' Maryland to the fullest.)
Josh: Derrick Johnson, LB, Chiefs
Johnson was taken with the 15th overall pick by Kansas City to help rebuild a defense that has been among the league's worst in recent years. He has made an immediate impact, recording 47 tackles already this year. He deserves this award not because he has been such an amazing player but simply because he has had the biggest impact out of defensive rookies.
Abe: Washington Redskins (5-3)
Be honest, unless you're a crazy optimist, you had no idea the `Skins would be this good. Santana Moss has turned out to be the most significant offseason acquisition in the NFL, and with the rebirth of Mark Brunell, Washington's offense is finally scoring points. The defense, led by Lemar Marshall, Marcus Washington and Sean Taylor, continues to be among the best in the NFL, holding opponents to less than 290 yards per game. The Redskins are thinking playoffs for the first time in years.
Josh: Chicago Bears (5-3)
Rookie Kyle Orton has quarterbacked the Bears to the most shocking record in the NFL. The 5-3 Bears were expected to lie firmly in the cellar of the league this year. After Rex Grossman was injured for the season (yes…again) Orton stepped in and led the Bears like a veteran. NFL Report.com predicted, along with countless "experts," that Chicago would finish last in their division. They currently reside atop the NFC North. With Brian Urlacher in the middle, the Bears' defense has established itself as one of the league's best.
Abe: Minnesota Vikings (3-5)
Oh, Minnesota. The Vikings are truly the most disappointing team in the league. Their "improved" defense turns out to be not so improved. Their all-pro QB is out for the season. They went without their best wide receiver for the first 3 weeks of the season. And oh yeah, several of their players were involved in a sex cruise scandal still being investigated. All this in the first half of the season. The Vikings' season is summed up by the thoughts of head coach Mike Tice, who is disgusted with his team's play. "Sometimes, you wake up and you say, 'Man, I didn't have anything to drink last night. I didn't have anything fattening. So why do I want to puke?' Then you realize, 'Oh, that's right.' You start remembering what's going on in your life," said Tice.
Josh: Detroit Lions (3-5)
Just as the biggest surprise was out of the NFC North, the biggest disappointment is from the same division. The Detroit Lions were expected to make great strides with a young core of rising stars. Joey Harrington was supposed to settle in as a quarterback with Roy Williams, Charles Rodgers and rookie Mike Williams manning the sidelines. Nothing has gone right for the Lions this season though. Their record stands at a mediocre 3-5. Kevin Jones has been a disappointment at running back, rushing for only 381 yards in the first half. Joey Harrington has lost his starting position. Charles Rodgers is once again injured, and this year Roy Williams has joined the gimpy club right alongside him. With their offense either underperforming or injured, the Lions have just been awful on the eyes.
Abe Schwadron. Abe is a huge basketball, baseball, and football fan that likes to read up on sports in SLAM, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN magazines. Hobbies include streetball, poker and film-making. A sneaker addict, Abe likes to keep his kicks fresh. Abe likes reggae and hip-hop music, … More »
Josh Zipin. Josh Zipin has trouble paying attention for more than three seconds at a time... More »