Every team in the National Football League has now played at least eight games and, as usual, there are some surprises.

So, it’s time to take a look at how things stand at the halfway point of the season.

Offensive MVP

Rich Gannon does not get the recognition he deserves, but he has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league since he joined the Oakland Raiders in 1999.

The journeyman 36-year-old has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 1,749 yards this season. He has thrown 11 touchdown passes with just one interception and leads the league with a 98.8 quarterback rating.

It’s not his fault that the Raider defense was completely unable to stop Shaun Alexander last Sunday.

Defensive MVP

Michael Strahan has been the lone bright spot for the New York Giants this year. The 275-pound defensive end has posted 15 sacks and forced five fumbles. He needs to average one sack per game the rest of the season to tie the record of 22 that Mark Gastineau set in 1984.

However, if the Giants do not get more consistent production on offense, then they are not even going to make the playoffs.

Most improved team

Chicago’s magic finally ran out against the Green Bay Packers, but the Bears are far better than anybody thought they would be.

The Bears have the toughest run defense and have allowed the fewest points in the NFC. Their problem is on offense.

Rookie Anthony Thomas has provided a consistent running game, but the Bears do not have enough serious receiving threats. If the offense does not improve, the Bears will not have many more opportunities to get lucky.

Most disappointing team

This was supposed to be the year that Tampa Bay finally made the Super Bowl. Instead, the Buccaneers are lucky to be 4-4 and third in the NFC Central.

As expected, Tampa Bay’s offense is among the worst in the league. An average passing attack has gotten no support from the running game.

The biggest surprise has been Tampa Bay’s formerly impenetrable defense, which is just now getting back on track.

The main culprit is Warren Sapp, who only has three sacks after predicting that he would be the one to break Gastineau’s record.

Best team

The St. Louis Rams came back from their first loss and a bye week ready to dominate Carolina and show the rest of the league that they’re still the team to beat.

The Rams have so many weapons on offense that it would take way to long to talk about all of them.

The most impressive thing about the Rams, however, has been their defense. St. Louis has allowed 13.3 fewer points per game this year than last year ? 16.1 compared to last year’s 29.4 ? and looks like a lock to make the Super Bowl this February.

Worst team

Detroit is the only team without a win and has been outscored by 11.2 points per game. Enough said.

Rookie of the Year

LaDainian Tomlinson is on pace to rush for almost 1,300 yards in his rookie season, and he has already scored eight touchdowns. Unfortunately, Doug Flutie seems to be running out of gas and San Diego’s 3-0 start seems so long ago.

Most surprising player

When New England started 0-2 and Drew Bledsoe got hurt, it seemed like the Patriots were already done for the season.

Enter Tom Brady, and suddenly the Patriots are 5-4 and very much alive in the playoff race. Brady has thrown for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns to revitalize New England’s offense.

It will be interesting to see what Bill Belichick does with Bledsoe once the $100 million man is healthy. It will be hard to bench Brady if he beats the Rams and Saints the next two weeks.

Most disappointing player

Wayne Chrebet was supposed to take over as the New York Jets’ top receiver when Keyshawn Johnson left for Tampa Bay two years ago. The diminutive receiver was good last year, but he has been almost invisible this season.

Chrebet only has 348 yards receiving and if it weren’t for Curtis Martin’s 917 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, the Jets would be looking towards next season already.

Things to look for

New Orleans needs Ricky Williams to stay healthy all year for the first time in his career to have a shot at the playoffs.

Rod Smith is matching last year’s career numbers, but the Broncos still miss Ed McCaffrey.

Denver also needs to do better on defense in order to catch the Raiders.

Jerome Bettis and the league’s top defense have carried the Pittsburgh Steelers to the top of the AFC Central. The Steelers will need to get something out of the passing game, however, to stay in first.

Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison is as good a combination as there is in the league, but Indianapolis’ ground game will suffer without Edgerrin James.

The already terrible Indianapolis Colts defense will also be without its top player, Mike Peterson, for at least four weeks.

Is Jeff Garcia the best quarterback in the NFC or is Terrell Owens the best receiver?

It doesn’t matter. They’re both great and San Francisco is going to the playoffs because of them.

Green Bay is still Brett Favre’s team, but Ahman Green is the reason the Packers are atop the NFC Central. Look for them to hold off the Bears and win the division.

The Miami Dolphins again have one of the best defenses in the league and, while the offense could use work, they score just enough to win.

If Miami can beat the Jets in Round Two, it will win the AFC East.

Considering what he has to work with, Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb may be the best quarterback around. If Duce Staley is finally healthy again, the Eagles are scary.

After a slow start, Baltimore’s defense is back up to last year’s level. However, if the Ravens do not score more than 17.4 points per game in the second half, they will not return to the Super Bowl.

Jacobs can be reached at bjacobs@campustimes.org.



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