Lawrence: Halfway Home

At the halfway point of the NFL season, Amy Lawrence takes stock of where we are, where we've been, and what's still to come

After Hours With Amy Lawrence
November 06, 2018 - 6:41 pm

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Believe it or not, we've reached the midway point of the NFL season. A third of the teams in the league still need to take their byes, but the majority just wrapped the eighth game out of 16. Seems like just yesterday we kicked off the season-openers, and now the single digits are behind us. As a side note, Thanksgiving is two weeks away, and Christmas is seven weeks out. Time flies when you're having fun!

Halfway is the perfect juncture to take stock of where we are, where we've been, and what's still to come. After an opening month full of wild inconsistency and question marks, a handful of teams used the second month of the season to settle into a rhythm and groove. They've discovered their strengths and ways to mask their weaknesses. In some cases, franchises addressed their biggest problems by making moves at the trade deadline.

The hottest team in football is currently the Saints with their seven-game win streak. Their emphatic victory over the Rams left us with no unbeatens and established New Orleans as a force to be reckoned with in the NFC. No one is surprised that Drew Brees' offense is second in the league in points per game (34.9) with heavy doses of Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. However, the Saints also used a stout run defense to corral Todd Gurley and take options away from Sean McVay and Los Angeles. Don't look now, but the South front-runners are surrendering just 76.4 rushing yards per game, tops in the NFL.

Don't cry for the Rams. They've built a three-game cushion in the NFC West on the strength of Gurley's first half. The MVP candidate leads the league in rushing yards (868) and touchdowns (12), and he's also caught four TDs. LA ranks in the top five in nearly every offensive category. The addition of Brandin Cooks through free agency not only added a deep threat for Jared Goff, but it opened up more space for Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. In the secondary, the defense is still susceptible to long shots downfield; but Aaron Donald is back to crushing QBs, and new addition Dante Fowler recorded his first tackle for a loss against New Orleans.

Mark your calendars for Monday night before Thanksgiving when the Rams kick off with the high-octane Chiefs in Mexico City. What a fantastic way to kick off the holiday week! Speaking of MVPs, Patrick Mahomes is the NFL's newest ratings bonanza. With 29 touchdown passes and more than 2,900 yards passing, he's can’t-miss TV. With a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal, you couldn't blame head coach Andy Reid for having the time of his life. Kansas City and New England are setting the pace in the AFC, which isn't unfamiliar, but remember when the Patriots could barely muster 30 points in back-to-back weeks against the Jaguars and the Lions?? Their offensive struggles have dissipated with Julian Edelman returning from suspension and Josh Gordon getting up to speed. Even as Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel battle injuries, success is found in the versatility of the Pats' roster, like a wide receiver who fills in at running back and a running back who leads the team in receiving yards. New England can use its upcoming bye week to get healthy, but four of the next five games are on the road, including a trip to Pittsburgh.

The Steelers present an interesting case study. The preseason and initial month were mired in locker-room drama and questions about Le'Veon Bell. But the emergence of James Conner flipped the script. He's already over a thousand yards from the line of scrimmage behind a stout offensive line, and his nine rushing TDs are tied with Kamara for second-most in football. While their AWOL superstar exercises his independence, it's a tribute to Conner and the entire team that Bell is barely missed on the field. Sports are a microcosm of life: there's no such thing as "irreplaceable." After finding their footing, the Steelers have rattled off four consecutive wins to soar to the top of the AFC North. In the South, the Texans will do whatever it takes. Defense sets the tone with its aggressive, physical style; but there isn't much margin for error as Houston has scored more than 20 points just once in the last five weeks. Among their half-dozen consecutive wins, the Dolphins are the only opponent above .500 right now.

In the second half of the season, it's easy to see a storm brewing with potential Wild Card teams. Just behind their respective division leaders, the Panthers and Chargers are turning into solid contenders, thanks in large part to their quarterbacks. Cam Newton and Philip Rivers are completing 67% of their passes, and each shares the backfield with a dynamic partner in Christian McCaffrey and Melvin Gordon, respectively. Carolina's 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Eagles in Week 7 lit a fire, and the Steelers will serve as a critical measuring stick to kick off Week 10 on Thursday. Los Angeles is flying under the radar but steadily improving on defense while padding its record against poor teams. The Chargers are in the midst of an eight-game stretch with all but one foe NOT sporting a losing record.

At the midway point, ten non-division leaders have at least four wins, which adds up to fierce competition for the Wild Card spots. The Atlanta Falcons make an intriguing sleeper. On a three-game streak, they seem to have found their footing after a brutal start. Matt Ryan leads all quarterbacks in yards per game, and he's top five in almost every other category. The defense is tighter after navigating some critical injuries and hasn't allowed 30 points in the last three weeks. However, the Falcons still face road games against the Saints, Packers, and Panthers so another trip to the postseason won't come easy.

Halfway home, we can see the identities and personalities of each team, their strengths and their fatal flaws. Our little NFL season is growing up. There's still plenty of time for everything from course corrections to derailments to massive changes to major drama, but 2018 is no longer a "baby"; instead, it's a full-grown behemoth!

A well-traveled veteran of sports radio and television, Amy is the passionate host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program, After Hours with Amy Lawrence, from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Listeners can tune in from Canada and overseas, thanks to SiriusXM, cbssportsradio.com and the CBS Sports app. Amy has also handled basketball play-by-play and color duties for various radio and TV outlets over the past 15 years. Amy graduated from Messiah College with bachelor’s degrees in Communications & Accounting before earning her master’s in TV & Radio from Syracuse University. She is a native of Concord, NH.

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