Monday, November 5, 2012

If It Ain't Steel's NFL Mid-Season Reports And Predictions

The NFL season is at the midway point and we at If It Ain’t Steel are going to throw our predictions out there at the midway point along with some others. Week nine is in the books and we're now at a crucial point for a lot teams. This is the time of year when the cream rises to the top and the men separate themselves from the boys.

Starting off, we are going to talk mid-season MVP. The clear cut winner right now has to be Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. Matty Ice, or the “Matural” as he has been called as of late, has the Falcons sitting at 8-0 and has been playing rather well a fifth year starter. Do we think that he will win the MVP hands down, if it was decided today? Yes, but it's not being decided today, so time will tell. There are some very viable candidates out there who could make a case for having their names mentioned in this discussion.

One who could emerge from the rubble as the 2012 NFL MVP is "The Sheriff”, Peyton Manning. He is playing extremely well coming of a neck injury (and four neck surgeries) that sidelined him for all of 2011, so I would not stick the fork in him just yet. There is also his little brother Eli who is having a very good season as well. Then there are also ones like Drew Brees, Percy Harvin, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger who are leading for their teams in the right direction. So, as of right now there is no clear cut winner.

If It Ain’t Steel's Prediction: Peyton Manning

As of right now, the Defensive Player of the Year is clearly J.J. Watt's to lose. He is playing lights out on defense and leads the league in sacks (10.5) and has been batting down passes like a wild man ( a DEFENSIVE END). He is helping this Texans defense show why they are to be feared and one of the most complete defenses in the league. Bears cornerback Tim Jennings is making a good case for consideration as well with a league-leading six interceptions, one for a touchdown, and 15 passes defended. Clay Matthews is making a good case, as is Demarcus Ware, but I again say it is Watt's to lose.

If It Ain’t Steel's Prediction: J.J. Watt

Comeback Player of the Year is also Peyton Manning’s to lose. He came back this season under the cloud of “can he play like the Peyton that we are all used to?” It turns out that the answer is a resounding "yes!" He sat out all last season and a lot of people, including myself, thought he would never be the Peyton of old. But, he proved me and a lot of others wrong. He is playing very well and, just like always, is making no-name receivers household names. Adrian Peterson is also a consideration as he leads the NFL in rushing (957 yards) through eight games after missing most of last season with a devastating knee injury. Matt Schaub’s name could also be put into this mix, coming off a foot injury last season and having the Texans poised to take the first seed in the AFC. Time will tell.

If It Ain’t Steel's Prediction: Peyton Manning

Rookie of the Year is still up for grabs in my opinion. Yes, right now Robert Griffin III is the front runner, but don’t count Andrew Luck out of this race just yet. Luck has been impressive so far in his rookie campaign as well, including setting a single-game rookie record Sunday for passing with 433 yards. He does not have the running yards that RGIII has, but he is playing well and has the Indianapolis Colts already at a better record than they had at this point in the season last year and is slowly making the people of Indy forget about that other guy. Russell Wilson is also playing well, but I believe this one will be a tight two-man race until the end.

If It Ain’t Steel's Prediction: Andrew Griffin 1.5

Coach of the Year is a tough one in my opinion. These guys are responsible for what goes on with their teams. If their team is having a bad season, then it is their name that gets tossed around as being on the proverbial hot seat. If the award was given today it would go to Mike Smith. The Falcons are playing perfect ball right now, but won't go undefeated.

Another coach that sticks out to me who should be in the conversation is Gary Kubiak of the Texans. The Texans are 7-1 and playing almost as well as the Falcons. They had one bad game against the Green Bay Packers, but that happens to teams. How did they respond? They came back and knocked the feathers off of the Baltimore Ravens, a team they had never beaten. They scored the most points in a single game in their franchise history and controlled the game almost from start to finish.

Another that could be in this conversation soon is John Harbaugh of the Ravens. If the Ravens manage to take the North and the second seed in the AFC with the injuries they have piled up, then he very well should be. He probably won’t be, however, because Mike Tomlin was not named coach of the year when he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 3-1 record without their starting quarterback, to a 12-4 overall record and to the Super Bowl again in 2010. But, I do not personally see the Ravens keeping the second seed, but just some food for thought.

If It Ain’t Steel's Prediction: None yet. It can still be any one of several coaches.

OK, now that we have those predictions out of the way, we want to touch on another prediction that everyone will start making now: which team will go to the Super Bowl and win it all. The NFC is not as much of the jumbled mess right now that the AFC is. There are several teams right at or above .500 that could very well make a late season push, so things are not completely written in stone yet in the AFC. I think the only team that is close to set in stone is the Texans. They're currently the #1 seed, are the most complete team in the AFC and I just do not see them going into any sort of spiral.

So, this is what I like to call my spin on this, or what my partner-in-writing calls “Jaydenisms." We do this a lot when coming up with ideas for our blog, we bounce off each other ideas and then the pieces take life. This one was no different. So, here goes some food for thought, so to speak.

There has not been a team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the New England Patriots did it in '03 and '04, to find the next team to do it goes back to '97, '98 Broncos. So, to be a repeat champ is even harder than taking it all the first time. There have only been three teams since the 2003 season to represent the AFC and those were the Patriots ('03, '04, '07, and '11), the Colts ('06 and '09) and the Steelers ('05, '08 and '10). We predict that will change this year, but we will touch on that a little later.

The NFC on the other hand has only had one team to make a repeat appearance in that time frame - the New York Giants. Every year since '04 there has been a different NFC team represent the conference. So, the Giants being the current SB champs and representatives of the NFC does not assure them of going to the big dance.

For instance, in 2010 the New Orleans Saints went marching in to Seattle as the reigning champions. They were to play a team that was 7-9 and had won their conference. I'm sure they were thinking that this would be an easy win considering they were 11-5 and, again, the reigning champs. They thought wrong. Marshawn Lynch went Beast Mode on them with a 67-yard touchdown run by mowing down a supposedly good Saints defense. He made them look like a high school defense. Junior varsity. Similarly, last year the Packers, coming off a SB win and a 15-1 record got sent packing despite hosting a 9-7 Giants team on the (in my best John Facenda voice) frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

Recently, though, the team that gets hot at the right time seems to be the team to take the championship regardless of the conference. Don’t believe me? Look back at who has gone to the SB six of the past seven seasons (Steelers, Colts, Giants, Arizona Cardinals, Packers and Giants). Those teams came from the wildcard rounds and all except one went on to win it all.

So, it really doesn't matter what your record is going in to the playoffs, it matters how you are playing when you get there. Right now, the Falcons are the best team in the NFC right now, but history has shown that it may not matter who has the best record. It is more of one of those “who wants it more” kind of things. Note the examples above.

That gets me to another point: just because a team looks good right now, and has a great record, does not mean they are going to be the team to beat. History has shown that a team with a sub-par early record can get hot late and win it all. Just because a team is sitting at or below .500 does not mean that they are done by any means.

Anything can happen. There are still a lot of games to be played and some of these teams sitting with winning records right now can see that change in a hurry. There are several teams that start out hot and falter second half of the season. Maybe they benefitted from an easy early schedule and then face better opponents late. Maybe they lose key players for the season. Maybe rivals want to play spoiler because they have nothing else left for which to play.

For teams that surge at the end of the season, the reverse could have been the case. Once early-season injuries that had initially set them back are behind them, they suddenly are true contenders. There are lots of things that factor into why.

The teams that stand out to me that are in that boat in the AFC are the San Diego Chargers, Broncos, Steelers and Colts. Those four teams could very well make the playoffs or end another teams playoff dreams, depending on the scenario. All four of these teams have the ability to turn their seasons around they are already on that path and could be spoilers for the ones sitting on top right now. Time will tell, because, again, there is a lot of season left.

So, to end this we are going to make our prediction of who we think will make the Super Bowl this year. It may surprise some people. But, hey, we aren’t known to think inside of the box, now are we?

If It Ain’t Steel's Super Bowl Prediction: Texans vs. Bears

I know, we don't have our Steelers in the big dance. We have a lot of work to do, even after the Giants win. And let’s face it, we're not delusional, we are realistic. The Texans are the best team in the AFC and are going to be hard to put out of the playoffs if they play at home. The Bears are getting it together and quietly demolishing teams. Jay Cutler and crew will be hard to beat the second half of the season.

Trust us, we hope our Steelers prove us wrong, we would love nothing more. And if they do, that is one big helping of crow we will be more than glad to eat.