By Nick Ferraro
The Giants are one of the NFLâ€™s biggest surprises leader at the mid-way point. Eli Manningâ€™s development has provided excitement, and the schedule in the second half will help them remain in contention. Washington has improved, but they are not yet ready. The Cowboys have lost some close ones and still seem a beat off the pace. The Eagles remain the favorite despite their first half woes. They are still the most talented NFC team on both sides of the ball. The toughest part of the Eagleâ€™s schedule is over, and they should be favored in each of their last six games. Theyâ€™ll win it by a nose.
The North is a mess. An 8-8 record will win this disaster. The fact that these wrecks get to play each other twice will ensure that someone finishes at .500. It will be a quick stay in the playoffs for whomever wins the division. The Packers and Vikings are done. The Vikings are perhaps the leagueâ€™s most disappointing team. Steve Mariucciâ€™s job may hang on the Lions second half. Chicagoâ€™s win in Detroit makes them the favorite. The Bears have the best running game and the best defense in the North. Theyâ€™ll make the playoffs and their coach, Lovie Smith, deserves a ton of credit for the improvement this team has made.
The South will be the most interesting division in the second half. Brian Grieseâ€™s injury will doom the surprising Bucs. Itâ€™s a shame because this may have been a compelling three-team race. Instead, the Falcons and Panthers will race for the division. Atlanta will slip by the Panthers in a tight race. The Falcons rushing offense gives them the slight edge.
San Francisco has shown heart, but theyâ€™ll be in contention for the first overall pick in the 2006 draft. The Cardinals are one the leagueâ€™s biggest disappointments. This was thought to be their year to challenge for the division. The Rams gutted out a nice win over the Jaguars to close the first half, but the Seahawks are clearly the best in the West. Shaun Alexander is the most dangerous weapon in the division, and the Seahawk defense has improved just enough for them to get over the hump. They are not a Super Bowl contender, but theyâ€™ll get the Westâ€™s only ticket to the post-season.
The AFC East is the leagueâ€™s most disappointing division. Injuries have forced the Jets off the radar after a lot of preseason hype that had prognosticators picking them as the division champion. The Bills appear to have made a major error in turning the team over to JP Losman. Kelly Holcomb has awakened the Bills offense, but they struggle to stop the run. Miami has been competitive and they appear to have a bright future with Nick Sabanâ€™s in control. The champion Patriots have come back to the rest of the pack, but they are still dangerous and deserve respect. The Pats will win the division by default.
The Browns have to be disappointed by the fact that they were the Texanâ€™s only win. The Ravens are one of the big disappointments of the first half. After adding key free agents, Derrick Mason and Samari Rolle, the Ravens were thought to be a legit title contender. Instead they lost Kyle Boller, who wasnâ€™t playing well anyway, and the running game has been terrible. The Bengals have had a terrific first half and appear to be ahead of schedule in contending for the playoffs. The Steelers sent the Bengals a clear message in the first half when they trounced them in Cincinnati. It will be tight, but Pittsburgh still rules the North. They can get to the Super Bowl if they can add some more explosiveness to the offense.
Everyone wants to know if the Texans will win another game. Well, okay nobody cares, but the answer is no. The Texans are the favorite to land pick number one in the 2006 draft. Dom Capers is probably spending his final days in Texas. The Titans have managed to be more competitive than most people thought they would be after purging the roster for salary cap reasons. The Jaguars have an enviable second half schedule that will allow them to put the pressure on the Colts. Indianapolis is the leagueâ€™s best team. Their defense has finally made the strides necessary for the Colts to win the AFC. Theyâ€™ll stay in front in the South, and the road to the Super Bowl will go through Indianapolis.
The AFC West is the leagues best division, top to bottom. Oakland is stuck in the cellar despite the fact that the Raiders are a decent team. Kansas City was overrated entering the season as people got too rapped up in the additions they made on defense. The Chiefs are still not a good defensive team, and the age along the offensive line is beginning to show. The Chargers have the first half MVP of the league in LaDainian Tomlinson. The Chargers are a contender in the AFC as long as Antonio Gates is roaming the middle of the field keeping defenses from keying on the run. Denverâ€™s running game is back to peak form. Jake Plummer has evolved into the quarterback Mike Shanahan thought he would be when he signed Plummer as a free agent. Many laughed when Denver added four former Browns to the defensive line. They arenâ€™t laughing now. The Broncos will win the AFC and likely get another shot to redeem themselves against the Colts in the playoffs.
Eagles 31 Giants 20
Panthers 20 Bears 7
Panthers 24 Falcons 14
Eagles 30 Seahawks 17
Panthers 31 Eagles 20