Halfway to the Promised Land

Mike Zipf

The NFL has reached the halfway mark of the season, and while a few surprises have occurred, the same teams and same names remain on top. As the teams prepare for the season’s second half, several have established themselves as legitimate playoff and Super Bowl contenders, while a few teams are preparing for next season. The second half of this year’s season has several interesting storylines to follow, including whether the Indianapolis Colts, who started the first half of the season 8-0, will continue to remain perfect, matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Here is a breakdown of the first half of the season, including which teams are at the top, which are sitting in the basement and what to expect during the second half of the season

Top TierIndianapolis Colts (8-0) Led by All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning and the elusive receiver duo, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, the Colts have positioned themselves as the league favorite to capture this year’s Super Bowl. The Colts performed the unprecedented feat of winning two road games against two teams with a minimum of five wins and maximum of one loss. Chicago Bears (7-1) After starting the season 7-0, whispers started rumbling about whether these Bears could actually be better than the Bears of ’85. Like the ’85 Bears, the ’06 Bears have been led by their defense, which ranks first in the league in takeaways with 25. A recent 31-13 loss to Miami has people questioning whether their stellar start was a fluke. People in Chicago are fishing for answers. Denver Broncos (6-2) Prior to its last two games, the Broncos defense had only given up one offensive touchdown. Although the defense has faltered in the last couple games, the anemic offense that started the season has finally hit its stride, led by All-Pro receiver Javon Walker and running back Tatum Bell.New England Patriots (6-2) Year after year, the Pats seem to place themselves in Super Bowl contention. Yet again, Tom Brady is enjoying a phenomenal season with 14 touchdowns and 1,800 passing yards. However, the Pats’ success continues to hinge on their impressive defense, which ranks in the NFL’s top five.New York Giants (6-2) Heading into the season, the Giants’ offense, with a plethora of talent, was supposed to carry the team. Ironically, the G-Men’s defense has been the catalyst behind the team’s success. With the maturation of Eli Manning and Tiki Barber’s stellar season, which will be his last, the Giants could have their sights set on Miami. However, the losses of Michael Strahan (2-4 weeks) and linebacker Lavar Arrington (season) due to injuries will definitely hurt the defense.San Diego Chargers (6-2) Unexpectedly, first-year quarterback Philip Rivers has the Chargers poised for playoff contention. He has enjoyed an incredible season, earning a 96.7 quarterback rating along with 10 touchdowns. To no one’s surprise, LaDainian Tomlinson has been destroying opposing defenses, leading the league in rushing touchdowns with 12.

Preparing For the DraftArizona Cardinals (1-7) This season has been a disappointing and turbulent season for Head Coach Denny Green. Heading into the season, the Cardinals were many experts’ sleeper pick to make the playoffs. However, an ineffective defense, a porous offensive line and a lack of leadership leave Cardinals fans wondering who they should select in next year’s draft. Miami Dolphins (2-6) When defining the word “underachievement,” look no further than Miami. The Dolphins, who were projected to compete for a division title, have been a far cry from playoff contenders. Daunte Culpepper’s ineffectiveness and the Dolphins’ inability to close games has ‘Fin fans wondering if this team has already been fried. Detroit Lions (2-6) Offensively, the Lions have been respectable, and Roy Williams is finally enjoying a healthy breakout season. However, their defense has basically been non-existent, ranking 29th in total team defense.

Biggest First Half SurpriseThe effectiveness of first-year quarterback Philip Rivers. Rivers’ quarterback rating currently ranks ahead of fellow 2004 draft mates Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning.

Biggest First Half Let DownDrew Bledsoe. According to owner Jerry Jones, Bledsoe was supposed to be leading his team to the Super Bowl. Now he watches from the bench as Tony Romo takes over the helm.

Second Half Predictions

Biggest Surprise: The Indianapolis Colts remain undefeated, capturing the AFC South title with a 16-0 record matching the 1972 Miami Dolphins.Biggest Disappointments: Neither participants from last year’s Super Bowl will qualify for the playoffs. Both the Seahawks and Steelers are unable to recover from their first half struggles and injuries. Super Bowl: Colts vs. Bears