Midseason report for all 32 NFL teams: We picked first-half MVPs and more

Every NFL team has played at least eight games, so it is time to pause and take stock of the results.

How do we describe the first half? Who is the MVP? What will make the season a success? NFL Nation answers the questions for all 32 teams.

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AFC EAST

First half in two words: As expected. The Bills‘ 6-2 start isn‘t a surprise given their strength of schedule. The defense‘s performance through eight games has also been strong. Even quarterback , who set a career high with 89 consecutive passes without an interception, has stifled his hero-ball instincts within the Bills‘ newly implemented intermediate passing game.

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First-half MVP: Wide receiver might be one of the league‘s best offseason signings. Brown is on pace for a career-high 1,206 receiving yards — which would be the most by a Bills player since Lee Evans‘ 1,292 in 2006. Brown is Buffalo‘s unquestioned No. 1 receiver with 267 more yards than any of his teammates. If the Bills‘ vertical passing game gets going, the speedster Brown could explode.

The second half will be a success if: The offense plays complementary football. The Bills‘ defense was directly responsible for five of the team‘s six wins — an unsustainable model, as the Eagles proved in Week 8. This team needs its offense to hold up its end of the bargain, sustain drives and score points, which would allow its defense to stay fresh instead of wear down. Buffalo‘s defense should keep every game within reach, but its offense must be able to take over when necessary. — Marcel Louis-Jacques

First half in two words: Painful process. This was the Dolphins‘ long-term plan — undergo one bad season featuring an extreme talent purge in order to collect draft picks and clean up their salary cap — but that hasn‘t made it easier to swallow. The “tanking” label and embarrassing losses have worn on players and coaches, but Miami‘s win over the gave the Dolphins some joy in a painful process.

First-half MVP: . There aren‘t a lot of strong choices here, but the Dolphins have looked like a completely different team since Fitzpatrick became the quarterback during the fourth quarter of their Week 6 game vs. Washington. Since then, the Fitzpatrick-led Dolphins have scored 10 touchdowns in 13 quarters. They scored just two touchdowns in their first 19 quarters. Fitzpatrick is completing 65% of his passes and has seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a 95.3 passer rating since reentering the starting lineup. That‘s the FitzMagic factor on the field, and his off-the-field leadership has helped a young team continue to fight.

The second half will be a success if: The Dolphins continue to develop young players who will be a part of their long-term future. There has been positive progress in the first half for , , and . If coach Brian Flores continues to earn his players‘ trust and fight through this adversity, he‘ll be in great shape headed into Year 2 with more talent. — Cameron Wolfe

play1:00Ryan: The Browns got what they deserved

Rex Ryan rips the Browns after their loss to the Broncos and for mishandling their roster.

First half in two words: Building cushion. In posting the AFC‘s best record (8-1), the Patriots beat up on mostly inferior competition and put themselves in good position in the big picture. They are now in the midst of the toughest portion of their schedule, so this stretch should provide a better barometer of how they measure up.

First-half MVP: . The All-Pro cornerback has been arguably the best player on the Patriots‘ best unit through the first half of the season. Gilmore‘s ability to match up with a wide variety of pass-catchers provides valuable flexibility to the coaching staff, which has preferred more man coverage. He has three interceptions and a team-high 10 passes defended this season.

The second half will be a success if: The offensive line becomes a strength. When the Patriots made their run to Super Bowl LIII, quarterback noted how the offensive line played together for most of the year and was the backbone of the attack. This year, a string of injuries has hurt the line, especially left tackle, which is why the return of 2018 first-round draft pick (toe injury, eligible to play Nov. 24 vs. Dallas) from IR might be the most important development of the second half. Getting the line back up to speed, to the point where the running game can become more of a factor, is critical. — Mike Reiss

First half in two words: Unmitigated disaster. Everything has gone wrong, from quarterback ‘s mononucleosis, to linebacker C.J. Mosley‘s injury, to running back Le‘Veon Bell‘s lack of production, to safety ‘ feud with management. The Jets have been a mess, on and off the field.

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First-half MVP: GM Joe Douglas. Obviously, this is a reach, but the plain truth is that no one — no player, no coach — deserves this kind of recognition. Douglas has been on the job for only four months, hardly enough time to make an imprint, but he‘s valuable to the franchise because he has the daunting task of rebuilding this talent-starved roster. The Jets are counting on his football savvy to lead them through this dark time. This is his first time in the big chair, so there are no guarantees, but Douglas represents hope for better days.

The second half will be a success if: Darnold regains his confidence and finishes on the upswing. He‘s mired in a three-game funk, rattled by the lack of pass protection. Coach Adam Gase is supposed to be the quarterback whisperer, so it‘s on him to fix the franchise‘s most valuable commodity. A strong finish by Darnold wouldn‘t make everything better, but it would validate the organization‘s faith in him. It also would give ownership a tangible reason for keeping Gase around in 2020. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

First half in two words: Shattering expectations. When the season began, the Ravens repeatedly heard how they were the third-best team in the AFC North and faced questions about whether he was a legitimate NFL quarterback. Midway through the season, Baltimore (6-2) has the AFC‘s second-best record and Jackson has established himself as an NFL MVP candidate. After upsets of the Seahawks and Patriots, no one is overlooking the Ravens.

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First-half MVP: Lamar Jackson. The bigger question is whether Jackson is the MVP of the entire league. He‘s the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to total more than 1,800 yards passing and 600 yards rushing in the first eight games of a season. He has outplayed and in head-to-head matchups. Jackson has been an effective passer, ranking 13th with a 95.4 rating. He has been nearly unstoppable in the open field, juking out defenders for the NFL‘s 10th-most rushing yards (637) this season. What can‘t be measured is how Jackson has become the emotional leader for one of the NFL‘s most dangerous teams.

The second half will be a success if: The Ravens capture one of the top two seeds in the AFC and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs. How rare of an accomplishment would that be? The Ravens have had a first-round bye only twice (2006 and 2011) in their first 23 years of existence. Baltimore currently sits in the No. 2 spot in the AFC, but it will be a challenge to hold onto it. After playing at the winless Bengals, the Ravens have a grueling four-game stretch against the Texans, Rams, 49ers and Bills — who have combined for a 25-8 record (.757). Baltimore, though, has proved it can beat the best teams in the NFL. — Jamison Hensley

First half in two words: Historically awful. The Bengals are the only winless team in the NFL at the midseason mark. If Cincinnati loses its Week 10 game against the Ravens, it will be the franchise‘s worst start since the Bengals opened the season with 10 consecutive losses in 1993.

First-half MVP: Special teams coach Darrin Simmons. He has been one of the few bright spots. Entering Week 8, was second in the NFL in punts inside the opponent‘s 10-yard line (23.1%). Safety is one of four players with a kickoff return touchdown, is second in the league in yards per return (37.44) and first in average distance to goal following a kickoff return (61.4). And after facing some preseason competition, kicker has made 11 of 13 field goals, including eight straight. Simmons deserves a ton of credit for the unit‘s success.

The second half will be a success if: Cincinnati can identify some key pieces to build around. Starting this week, everything is geared toward 2020 and beyond. The Bengals are going to see what rookie quarterback brings to the offense. By the end of this season, first-year coach Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati front office will know whether Finley has the potential to be the franchise‘s quarterback of the future. If not, the Bengals could use their first-round pick in the 2020 draft on one of the top quarterbacks. Developing young players and establishing a winning culture will be the two most important things for Taylor. — Ben Baby

play1:07Jackson: Chiefs‘ defense needs to repeat this effort in playoffs

Chris Berman and Tom Jackson analyze the Chiefs‘ victory against the Vikings and what Matt Moore needs to do for the team.

First half in two words: Discipline debacle. The Browns are first in penalties and tied for third in turnovers, which has prevented this team from generating any rhythm or momentum.

First-half MVP: . The second-year running back out of Georgia is second in the league with 100.4 rushing yards per game and third among running backs with 5.21 yards per carry. Save for a brief fumbling spell in which he turned the ball over on back-to-back plays two weeks ago against the , Chubb has been the driving force behind an otherwise underwhelming offense. It will be interesting to see how the Browns divide carries now that 2017 rushing champ returns from his suspension. Regardless, Chubb figures to remain the backbone of the Cleveland offense.

The second half will be a success if: The Browns miraculously rally to make the playoffs and end the NFL‘s longest playoff drought, which will probably require Cleveland winning its first division title in 30 years. Despite owning the second-easiest remaining schedule, that figures to be a long shot. Only one team in the Super Bowl era — the 1970 — has come back to make the playoffs after starting a season 2-6 or worse. — Jake Trotter

First half in two words: Rebound, reshape. The Steelers have been dealt a healthy dose of challenges: ‘s elbow injury, ‘s concussion, ‘s shoulder injury. After an 0-3 start, they‘re 4-4 thanks to their ability to adapt to the injuries. A big part of that is standout performance by the defense, which linebacker said has focused on making up for Roethlisberger‘s absence by fueling the offense with momentum-changing plays.

First-half MVP: General manager Kevin Colbert. The Week 3 move to trade a 2020 first-round pick for Dolphins safety was met with skepticism given the Steelers‘ uncertain future at quarterback. But Colbert‘s big swing is paying off early: Fitzpatrick has four interceptions, including a 96-yard pick-six against the Colts. The former first-round pick has been a game-changer, and Colbert‘s move to trade for him on an inexpensive rookie contract will likely continue to pay off.

The second half will be a success if: Rudolph can find a consistent rhythm. In his first season guiding the offense, the quarterback has struggled to start fast. He has thrown interceptions on each of the first two drives after coming back from his Week 5 concussion. For the second half to be a success, Rudolph needs to build on his earlier performances and eliminate early mistakes. — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

First half in two words: Consistently inconsistent. Offensively, the Texans have been hot and cold, and they struggled against the Jaguars in Week 2 (scoring 13 points) and Panthers in Week 4 (10 points), but then put up 53 in Week 5 against the Falcons. Houston has an excellent offense on paper — even though wide receiver Will Fuller is out because of a hamstring injury — but the Texans need to figure out how to be more consistent in the second half.

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First-half MVP: . Without a doubt, the Texans quarterback is the most important player on this team. On Sunday against the Jaguars, Watson showed again how plays are never over, even when he is facing pressure. After the game, wide receiver was asked what case he would make for Watson to be the NFL MVP. “Deshaun can make the case for himself from his play,” Hopkins said. “I can‘t. I can get up here and say a thousand words, but if you watch him play … his play speaks for himself and what he can do. Not just run the football, but throwing the football, getting out of the pocket, and helping his team win.”

The second half will be a success if: The Texans figure out how to replace the production of injured defensive end J.J. Watt, who tore his pectoral muscle in Week 8 and will miss the rest of the season. Although he had only four sacks, he led the NFL in quarterback hits and pressures, all while being double-teamed on 29.8% of his pass rushes as an edge rusher, the second-highest rate in the NFL when he got hurt. Two years ago, when Watt missed more than half the season on injured reserve, Houston had . Now, Houston‘s only proven pass-rusher is , who is going to get a lot more attention moving forward. — Sarah Barshop

First half in two words: If only. The Colts could be sitting with a 7-1 record halfway through the season if only could be a consistent kicker. The 46-year-old Vinatieri was responsible for the Colts‘ Week 1 loss to the in which he missed two field goals and an extra point. On Sunday, he missed a game-winning field goal against Pittsburgh. He has already missed 10 kicks — five extra points and five field goals — and the season is at the midway point. Vinatieri has made a career-low 70.6% of his field goal attempts. The clock is ticking on the career of the NFL‘s all-time leading scorer.

First-half MVP: Coach Frank Reich. He lost franchise quarterback Andrew Luck two weeks prior to the start of the regular season, is dealing with Vinatieri‘s kicking problems and they were still in first place in the division up until squandering the Pittsburgh game in Week 9. Reich‘s calming personality and belief in quarterback helped the Colts weather losing Luck. Reich hasn‘t put too much on Brissett, instead relying on the offensive line to become more of a running team this season. The Colts are 11th in the NFL in rushing attempts.

The second half will be a success if: The Colts can take advantage of their schedule to get back to the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The division race appears to be between the Colts and Texans. Five of the Colts‘ final eight games are against teams that currently have losing records. December will be key for the Colts, as they play three of their final five games on the road, including games at New Orleans and Jacksonville, a team they haven‘t beaten on the road since 2014. — Mike Wells

First half in two words: Gardner Minshew. When quarterback went down in the first half of the season opener with a broken collarbone, the general thought was the Jaguars were in trouble. Minshew, a rookie drafted in the sixth round, did not play well in the preseason (zero points on 30 drives). The Jaguars were going to have to bring in a veteran and hope to be around .500 when Foles returned. Except … Minshew turned out to be solid. He has 13 TD passes and four interceptions, but more importantly, has a 4-4 record as a starter, including Sunday‘s 26-3 loss to Houston. The Jaguars are 4-5 and still in the AFC South and playoff race.

First-half MVP: . He had a terrible 2018 — injuries cost him eight games, a fight and suspension, the loss of guaranteed money, weight gain, questions about his maturity and work ethic, and the scolding from Tom Coughlin — but he‘s been very good this season. He leads the AFC in rushing (831 yards) and he‘s playing 89% of the Jaguars‘ offensive snaps. Imagine how much the offense would have struggled without him. We might be talking about the Jaguars being in the running for the first overall pick, which is why he‘s the MVP.

The second half will be a success if: The Jaguars stay in the playoff race. Only one of the remaining six teams they play has a winning record (they play Indianapolis twice) and other than New England and Kansas City when returns, the rest of the AFC is pretty wide open. Owner Shad Khan wanted significant improvement from last season, and competing for a playoff spot in December instead of being out of the race by Halloween (which has pretty much been the case for much of the last decade) definitely qualifies. — Mike DiRocco

First half in two words: Consistently inconsistent. The Titans are one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. Every time it seems like they‘re on track, they turn in a subpar performance. Even after a quarterback switch, the offense is up and down, which has helped contribute to their 4-5 record.

First-half MVP: . After finishing without an interception in his first two seasons with the Titans, Ryan is tied with for the team lead with three picks. He has the task of covering slot receivers every week but holds his own. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees likes to send Ryan on the blitz out of their nickel package, which has led to his 3.5 sacks. No defensive back has more sacks than Ryan dating back to the start of the 2018 season. The Titans‘ secondary is the most reliable unit on the team, and Ryan is one of its best defensive backs.

The second half will be a success if: The Titans can rely more on running back , who has 164 carries for 644 yards through nine games. Henry‘s season-low 13 carries came in a Week 9 loss to the Panthers. Getting Henry the ball and using play-action is the key for the Titans‘ offense.– Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

First half in two words: Growing pains. The Broncos have lost two games on the final play and another with 22 seconds remaining. The makeover is well underway, as proven by Denver‘s starting offense in Week 9, which averaged 25 years old. The quarterback question is nowhere close to being answered. There are plenty of times when the talent deficit shows, but first-year coach Vic Fangio has kept the Broncos competitive. Other than the dismal loss to the Chiefs, the Broncos have played with backbone.

First-half MVP: . Certainly , , , and are in consideration, but Fangio has often put Harris on the opponents‘ best receiver. While , , T.Y. Hilton and . have each had a moment or two against Harris — Hill‘s touchdown and Hilton‘s third-down catch late in the Colts‘ win — none of the group has topped 90 yards and Hill has the only score.

The second half will be a success if: The Broncos can simply get their bearings on offense. The quarterback question will not be answered in the final seven weeks, no matter how much rookie does or doesn‘t practice or play. But the Broncos can continue to groom Lindsay, Sutton, , and into a core to build around. First-year coordinator Rich Scangarello‘s task will be to continue to tailor the offense to its players. — Jeff Legwold

play1:31Stephen A.: Eagles are desperate enough to pick up AB

After losing DeSean Jackson to a season-ending injury, Stephen A. Smith suggests the Eagles should go after Antonio Brown because, in his eyes, he is minimal risk.

First half in two words: First place. Being atop the AFC West at 6-3 is an accomplishment given a larger-than-usual number of injuries, including one that kept quarterback from playing the past two weeks. The Chiefs have bigger goals, but given what they‘ve faced this season, they‘ll happily accept their current standing.

First-half MVP: Mahomes. He got off to a great start before slumping (by his high standards) and then being knocked out by a dislocated kneecap. The Chiefs were able to split the two games he missed, but his absence has left little doubt the Chiefs are legitimate Super Bowl contenders with him in the lineup.

The second half will be a success if: The Chiefs win the AFC West. That didn‘t seem like much of a goal when the season started or even five weeks ago. But a rash of injuries left the Chiefs in a weakened state and unable to emerge from a difficult five-week stretch of schedule with more than two victories. The Chiefs could still be a tough out in the playoffs if they get Mahomes and most of their other injured players back by the end of the season. So holding off the Raiders and winning their division would still leave a lot in play for the Chiefs. — Adam Teicher

First half in two words: Disappointing performance. The Chargers could point to any number of reasons for the rough start, from running back ‘s holdout to injuries or the intense pressure of finding their way entering their third year in the ultra-competitive market of L.A. But the bottom line is the Chargers have not met preseason expectations or performed like a Super Bowl contender. Those struggles led to the dismissal of offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt last week.

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First-half MVP: . In his fourth NFL season, the edge rusher is tied for fourth in the NFL with 8.5 sacks in nine games. Even more impressive, Bosa is second on the Chargers with 46 combined tackles, showing he can do more than get after quarterbacks, including defend against the run.

The second half will be a success if: The Chargers continue to play like they have of late. They got their offense on track in a big win over the , finishing with a season-high 159 rushing yards. The defense and special teams performed well, too. If the Chargers continue to play well in all three phases, they have a chance to compete for a playoff spot. — Eric D. Williams

First half in two words: Almost there. The Raiders survived their grueling six-week roadie through Minnesota, Indianapolis, London, Green Bay and Houston and emerged with a white-knuckle 31-24 victory over the Lions to improve to 4-4. Two winnable home games are next, against the suddenly awake Chargers and still-sleeping Bengals. If the Raiders truly fashion themselves playoff contenders, they have to handle their business.

First-half MVP: . All the rookie running back has done is carry the Raiders‘ offense while allowing quarterback to settle into his role in his second year in coach Jon Gruden‘s offense. Jacobs, who has topped the century mark in rushing in three of his past four games, has rushed for 740 yards — eclipsing Marcus Allen‘s franchise rookie rushing record of 697 yards in the nine-game, strike-shortened 1982 season — and six touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. Jacobs could use some work on catching the ball out of the backfield, but hey, nobody‘s perfect, right?

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The second half will be a success if: This is twofold because while Carr holds the keys to the offense, the defense has to be more of a bend-but-don‘t-break outfit going forward. Carr, as noted, is settling into his role of a — gasp — pseudo game manager in Gruden‘s offense. And Jacobs‘ productivity behind a reimagined offensive line has been a revelation that sets up Carr nicely in the play-action pass game. Carr has the tools to outscore a lot of the teams in the NFL, but he needs the defense to keep things manageable, as it did in the defeat of the Lions. — Paul Gutierrez

NFC EAST

First half in two words: Too inconsistent. The Cowboys looked like Super Bowl contenders in their 3-0 start and then lost three consecutive games, including one to the winless . They followed that with back-to-back wins to stay atop the NFC East at 5-3 at the midway point, just ahead of Philadelphia. “It‘s important not to be kind of playing from behind like we did last year,” said. “We got it done, but it‘s definitely a lot different feeling in this locker room. We‘ve just got to keep getting better. We‘ve got to keep putting four quarters together every Sunday, and I think we‘re going to be good.”

First-half MVP: . He entered the season under pressure to perform because he opted not to accept the Cowboys‘ offer on a long-term deal. The bet on himself could pay off in a big way, with him being on pace for career highs in passing yards and touchdowns. He has showed improvement as a passer while also continuing to be dangerous as a runner. He still has room to grow but has been their most valuable and important player through the first half, and that will need to continue in the second half.

The second half will be a success if: The Cowboys win the division. Gaining home-field advantage or the second seed will be difficult with so many teams ahead of them at the moment, and earning a wild card will be hard because of losses to Green Bay and New Orleans. Winning the NFC East is their best path to the playoffs, and they are undefeated in the division so far. They don‘t have much wiggle room and a difficult schedule awaits, especially the next four weeks against Minnesota, Detroit, New England and Buffalo. — Todd Archer

First half in two words: Bad. Again. The Giants were 2-7 through nine games last year and are 2-7 again. Enough with the idea of trying to compete while rebuilding. The Giants came into this season with a 38-year-old starting quarterback () and signed a 30-plus wide receiver () as their key free-agent acquisition. They intended to be in the running for the playoffs before quickly recalibrating expectations (for the third straight year) and turning to rookie quarterback . No team has more losses than the Giants (31) since the start of 2017.

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First-half MVP: . This isn‘t supposed to be so difficult. Maybe that is why they‘re 2-7, though. Golden gets the nod because he has been their most productive player in all nine games. He has a team-leading 5.5 sacks and 14 pressures this season. Injuries have helped his cause, with offensive stars , , Jones, and Tate missing time this season.

The second half will be a success if: Jones continues to improve. If he can improve his ball security and decision-making while simultaneously continuing to make splash plays, it gives the Giants real hope for the future. It‘s not so much about wins and losses the final seven games as much as it is about how Jones plays and takes care of his turnover problem. Even if he takes baby steps, it can be viewed as a positive. — Jordan Raanan

play0:49Spears: Nagy needs to take responsibility for the Bears‘ problems

Marcus Spears wants Matt Nagy to take ownership of the Bears‘ struggles this season.

First half in two words: Roller-coaster ride. There have been blowout losses and dominant wins, and signs of dysfunction and displays of character. Players like to use the word resilient to describe this team, though mercurial fits, too.

First-half MVP: Running back . Traded from Chicago to Philadelphia for a conditional sixth-round pick this offseason, Howard has proved to be a stabilizing force for the Eagles. He is far and away the leader in rushing yards (525) and touchdowns (six). Injuries at receiver have made the passing game an adventure, but when coach Doug Pederson turns to the run, he knows he has a physical, reliable back in Howard, who is going to choose the right hole and crash through it. Howard‘s snaps and carries continue to increase as his value is realized.

The second half will be a success if: The Eagles commit to an identity. The offense has to run through tight ends and and running backs Howard and . Quarterback needs to challenge defenses with his legs (without running recklessly into traffic) to create opportunities downfield and maintain drives. The offensive line is strong and there is enough talent on the team to overcome issues at receiver, but the Eagles have to stick to the right recipe. — Tim McManus

First half in two words: Complete disaster. The Redskins fired coach Jay Gruden after an 0-5 start. They failed to trade holdout tackle , leading to harsh words by the Pro Bowler after he reported. They lost key players to injuries (tight end and running back ) and, at 1-8, are off to their worst start in 21 years. They wanted rookie quarterback to sit and learn all year, but those plans were derailed and he‘s endured growing pains. Meanwhile, their stadium has become a home away from home for visiting teams.

First-half MVP: Running back . He did little in the first five games, largely a coaching decision, but has been the main reason Washington has had a chance in any game. He has eight carries of 15-plus yards in the past four games; a younger Peterson would have ripped off some long touchdown runs. He‘s past that point, but his passion and toughness haven‘t waned. In the past four games, he has rushed for 383 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry — without the benefit of a passing attack.

The second half will be a success if: Haskins develops. The rookie has no touchdown passes on 44 throws over eight and a half quarters. Haskins is not in an optimal spot considering the dearth of offensive talent, but he must show how he handles protection calls or how well he‘s making his reads and avoiding turnovers. He needs to show the veterans — and any prospective coaches — he can handle the job. But he also must make a big play or two with his arm. He has attempted two passes of 20 yards or longer; completing neither. — John Keim

play1:03Clark, Hasselbeck tab Saints as top team in NFL right now

Ryan Clark and Tim Hasselbeck pick the Saints as the top team in the NFL at this point, but Hasselbeck states the Patriots aren‘t far behind.

NFC NORTH

First half in two words: Very disappointing. The Bears were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. Instead, Chicago is 3-5 and falling further out of the NFC playoff picture with each passing week. The offense is a disaster. Quarterback has not improved. This is not what the Bears expected.

First-half MVP: . The veteran wide receiver is the only bright spot on offense. Robinson caught one pass in the Week 9 loss to Philadelphia, but he still leads the team with 47 receptions for 532 yards and three touchdowns. Where would the Bears be without him?

The second half will be a success if: Trubisky begins to string together good performances. Both are highly unlikely. The Bears are in serious trouble and the schedule is unforgiving. Chicago has road games against the Packers, Rams and Vikings and a home game against the Chiefs in Week 16. That spells trouble. — Jeff Dickerson

First half in two words: Perfectly mediocre. It‘s probably not what the Lions want to hear, but it is their identity. Flashes of brilliance, particularly on offense, coupled with turnovers at inopportune times and a defense that can‘t stop the run or pass, and it leaves the Lions right in the middle of the NFL — a place where they‘ve lived for many, many years.

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First-half MVP: . The quarterback is playing the best football of his career. Halfway through the season, he would be in the MVP conversation if his team were playing better as a group. He‘s thrown for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. He‘s on pace for his best season since 2011, when he threw for 5,038 yards, but he‘s a better overall quarterback now than he was then. He‘s making his receivers better and is in command of Darrell Bevell‘s offense.

The second half will be a success if: The defense can fix its problems. The Lions have allowed more than 100 yards rushing in every game this season. The unit continues to struggle to reach quarterbacks — although is starting to round into form. And the defense can‘t cover anyone, either, surrendering big games to quarterbacks , and . Coach Matt Patricia is viewed as a defensive mastermind. His team needs to show it if it‘s going to be .500 or better this year, let alone contend for a playoff berth. — Michael Rothstein

First half in two words: First place. Despite Sunday‘s dud against the Chargers, the Packers lead the NFC North in what many thought would be a rebuilding year under new coach Matt LaFleur. But quarterback wasn‘t kidding when he said this offseason there‘s no grace period for this team. After two years out of the playoffs, the Packers look like a contender again.

First-half MVP: Brian Gutekunst. The second-year GM knew he needed to fortify his defense and went all-in on that side of the ball. He hit home runs with sack leaders and and found a stabilizing force in safety . He drafted a budding star in safety . Only top overall pick has been a bit of a disappointment, but there‘s time to groom him. The only knock on Gutekunst was his failure to give Rodgers another weapon, but a GM can‘t address every shortcoming in one season.

The second half will be a success if: Rodgers and the offense are more like what they showed against the Raiders and Chiefs than the way they looked against the Chargers. Rodgers put himself back into the NFL MVP race after the two former games, but the entire offense was a failure in the team‘s latest loss. With back from his toe injury, Rodgers and LaFleur have to figure out how to mesh their Pro Bowl receiver with the success running backs and enjoyed while Adams was out. — Rob Demovsky

First half in two words: Highs, lows. It has been the best of times (a stretch of wins that lasted the entire month of October), and the worst of times (heartbreaking losses to Green Bay, Chicago and Kansas City) for the Vikings. put together a stretch where he statistically was the best QB in the NFL, leading the league in completion percentage and yards per attempt from Weeks 5-8. But he‘s still struggling in big moments, including Sunday‘s 26-23 loss at Kansas City when he had chance to lead Minnesota to a win in the final 2:30. Instead, he is now 0-10-1 in his Vikings career when trailing in the fourth quarter. The defense, meanwhile, isn‘t the same unit it was in 2017 despite having most of the same pieces that got this team to the NFC Championship Game. For all the moments where this defense stole the show (against Philadelphia, for example), there have been others where Mike Zimmer‘s unit came up painfully short (i.e., getting gutted by big plays in Kansas City).

First-half MVP: . The running back leads the NFL in rushing (894 yards), has a team-high nine touchdowns and his 1,232 yards from scrimmage through nine games are the second-most in Vikings history. Cook‘s first two seasons were disrupted by knee and hamstring injuries, but this season he‘s shown the ability to be an explosive playmaker in the passing game, helping the Vikings become one of the best teams at executing running back screens with his 10.2 yards per catch.

The second half will be a success if: The Vikings win games against contending teams. If Minnesota wants to advance further than the wild-card round of the playoffs, it has to earn wins at Dallas and Seattle. Cousins needs a victory against a team of that stature to quiet the notion he can‘t win “the big one” and instill the confidence he can get his team past the NFL‘s best should the Vikings still be playing in January. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

First half in two words: Total disaster. The Falcons were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders with a high-powered offense led by quarterback and receiver , and with coach Dan Quinn taking over as the defensive coordinator. Instead, the Falcons started 1-7 and have dropped six consecutive games. It‘s been a combination of not establishing the run on offense, having too many mental lapses on defense, picking up too many penalties and faltering on special teams with missed kicks.

First-half MVP: . If there‘s been one player who has been consistently good through the first eight games, it‘s been the defensive tackle. He has proven himself more than worthy of the four-year, $68 million extension ($42.5 million guaranteed) he received in July. Jarrett leads the Falcons with three sacks and has two forced fumbles along with six tackles for losses and seven quarterback hits. Jarrett can‘t do it all by himself, although he‘s tried.

The second half will be a success if: The Falcons win all eight games. That‘s likely impossible, but that‘s all Quinn can sell owner Arthur Blank on at this point, with his job on the line. A coaching change seems inevitable, but Quinn certainly will try to rally the Falcons by saying they have a chance to sweep the NFC South in the second half because no division games have been played. The first game in the second half of the season is on the road against the rival and , and the Falcons are 0-4 on the road. — Vaughn McClure

First half in two words: Very resilient. The Panthers have gone 5-1 with untested and undrafted quarterback since an 0-2 start and losing starter to a foot injury. They bounced back from a 51-13 loss at San Francisco with a victory over the , so as edge rusher said, “We‘ve got a bunch of fighters.‘‘

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First-half MVP: Running back isn‘t just the MVP of the Panthers, but perhaps the entire league. He has 1,244 total yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. He‘s accounted for 45.8% of the team‘s yards from scrimmage. No other player in the league entering Sunday had above 37%. He has three touchdown runs of 50-plus yards. No one else in the league has more than one. His 13 total touchdowns are as many as had during 16 games in 2012, the last time a running back beat a quarterback for MVP.

The second half will be a success if: McCaffrey can maintain his MVP pace, Allen can manage the offense without big mistakes and the defense can continue to terrorize quarterbacks. It‘ll take all that with a tough second-half schedule that begins with a trip to Green Bay. The Panthers, with 34 sacks, are on pace for 68, which would put them within range of the NFL single-season record of 72 by the ‘84 Bears. They are at plus-six in turnover ratio. — David Newton

First half in two words: Thumbs-up. The Saints are remarkably 7-1, despite losing quarterback for five weeks because of a thumb injury. Their defense was lights-out in his absence, making the case for the Saints as the NFL‘s most talented roster from top to bottom.

First-half MVP: . “Can‘t Guard Mike” should actually be getting more traction as a league MVP candidate; he would be the first wide receiver to win the award. Not only is he on pace to break Marvin Harrison‘s NFL record of 143 catches in a season, but he has been a lifeline for both of the Saints‘ quarterbacks — not missing a beat when filled in for Brees. With 73 catches for 875 yards, Thomas has 40 more catches and 579 more receiving yards than anyone else on the team.

The second half will be a success if: They reach the Super Bowl. At this point, anything else would be a colossal disappointment. The Saints have been knocking on the door the past two years, only to wind up as victims of the “Minneapolis Miracle” and the “NOLA no-call.” Now they have another clear path to the NFC‘s No. 1 seed, with a critical Week 13 home game against San Francisco highlighting the second-half schedule. Brees, running back and most of the roster should be healthy after a Week 9 bye. Their biggest concern is finding reliable pass-catchers beyond Thomas and Kamara, but the Saints sure look like the NFC‘s team to beat. — Mike Triplett

First half in two words: Wildly inconsistent. Quarterback went from throwing seven touchdowns and two interceptions in Weeks 3 and 4 to throwing three touchdowns and five interceptions in Weeks 5 and 6. The Bucs upset the on the road 55-40 in Week 4 and took the into overtime in Week 9. But they also looked like an abomination against the in London with six turnovers and fell to a -led squad the following week.

First-half MVP: . The former reserve outside linebacker signed a one-year, $4 million deal this offseason and has produced 10.5 sacks through eight games — more than any other player in the league. He‘s also earned an additional $500,000 in bonuses for reaching double-digit sacks.

The second half will be a success if: The Bucs can find a winning formula with their defense and offense. Eliminating one or two explosive plays per game from opposing offenses would dramatically change the outlook for this team. They also have to avoid turnovers on offense, finding the right balance of risk versus reward for Winston, who leads the league with 16 turnovers — three more than any other player. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

First half in two words: Offensive inconsistency. The Cardinals started 0-3-1 and then won three straight. Throughout it all, the offense that coach Kliff Kingsbury hoped to run has been up and down. He‘s been creative but for as good as the offense looks at times, it looks equally bad at others.

First-half MVP: . The Cardinals outside linebacker is third in the NFL in sacks (9.5) and has been a dominant force each week, including those when he‘s held sackless. In those games — three this season — offensive lines have doubled him and made sure he doesn‘t beat them, a sign of respect and his impact. That also allows other defenders to get clearer lanes to the quarterback. If Jones can get on a hot streak, he may play himself into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

The second half will be a success if: The Cardinals can find more consistency on offense under rookie quarterback , who has thrown for 2,229 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions while completing nearly 71% of his passes. The offense has shown glimpses of being superb this season, but it needs to sustain those stretches. — Josh Weinfuss

First half in two words: Consistently inconsistent. Through eight games, consistency is the word that seems to be heard most often when talking with coaches and players about the Rams‘ 5-3 first half. They have played great, at times, on offense, defense and special teams, but have been unable to play well in all three phases through four quarters or in consecutive games.

First-half MVP: . The two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year doesn‘t have the sack numbers (5 in 2019) that he did a season ago when he finished with 20.5, but he has commanded a considerable amount of attention, proven by the number of double- and triple-teams he has absorbed. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Donald has been double-teamed on 63.7% of snaps and has a pass rush win rate of 26.8%.

The second half will be a success if: The offense can establish an identity. It‘s a weird phrase to write, given coach Sean McVay‘s 11-personnel offense became an overnight sensation in 2017 and powered the Rams to a Super Bowl appearance in last season. However, through eight games, the offense has appeared to be a shell of its former self, even as it has produced 26.8 points a game, which ranks eighth in the NFL. The Rams must commit to establishing the run, something they‘ve appeared reluctant to do, as has attempted 315 passes and , and (plus a few receivers) have contributed 199 carries. — Lindsey Thiry

First half in two words: Nearly perfect. The 49ers are the league‘s biggest surprise after surging to an 8-0 start. They haven‘t been flawless in every game, but the fact that they have continued to find different ways to win bodes well for a deep postseason run.

First-half MVP: Coach Kyle Shanahan. There‘s plenty of credit to go around, and choosing one person is difficult. So we‘re giving it to Shanahan because of the job he has done, not only in helping shape the roster but also for his coaching staff‘s work developing talent and his in-game X‘s and O‘s and management. The Niners have even proved able to overcome injuries to key starters far better than they had in recent years, another tribute to the job Shanahan and his staff have done.

The second half will be a success if: The 49ers win the division and make a run at the Super Bowl. This team has answered every question thrown its way but one thing nobody knows is how it will fare under the bright lights of the postseason. There‘s a lot of young talent here that hasn‘t flinched in big moments, but those moments are about to get much bigger. The 8-0 start gives the Niners some margin for error, but even with the schedule getting tougher, they should win the division and finish with a top-2 seed in the NFC. If that happens, anything is possible come January. — Nick Wagoner

First half in two words: White-knuckle. That‘s how the Seahawks have been winning, with six of seven victories coming by a single score and an average of 3.5 points. They have a plus-18 point differential with one win against a team that‘s currently above .500.

First-half MVP: isn‘t just the Seahawks‘ MVP. The quarterback might be the NFL‘s MVP. Wilson has a league-high 22 touchdown passes (he has rushed for three more scores) and one interception. He also leads the NFL with a 118.2 passer rating and has been above 100 in all but one game. Said left tackle after Wilson led a game-winning overtime drive Sunday against Tampa Bay, bailing out their defense and kicker , “He‘s the MVP this year. I think he‘s been showing it all year, and he continued to do it today.”

The second half will be a success if: The pass defense improves. The Seahawks aren‘t as loaded on that side of the ball as they were during their back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, but they have too much talent to be sitting at 22 in Football Outsiders‘ defensive DVOA rankings. It‘s hard to find anything Seattle does above average on that side of the ball. Most glaring is how no one other than has provided much in the way of a pass rush. They need and others to step up and make life easier on their young and rebuilt secondary that got torched in consecutive weeks by and . — Brady Henderson

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