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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

What we've learned from the NFL's first half

We've just crossed the hump of the NFL season. After figuring out where teams were in the first half of the season, most have now found their identity and are either positioning themselves for the playoffs, a wild card race or a draft pick. Each and every NFL season presents its unique aspects, so here is what I've thought of the first half or so of the year.

The Patriots are still the favorite

Before the season, I declared the Patriots the Super Bowl favorites, and from what I've seen so far from them this season I have no reason to change my mind. Tom Brady produced some shaky showings early in the season, but that shouldn't have alarmed anyone. After injuries any quarterback is susceptible to a start such as that one, like when Peyton Manning struggled out of the gate in 2008. Now Brady is comfortable and the Patriots are looking like their dominant selves once again.

New England is coming off a loss to the Colts, but anyone who watched that game knows the Patriots outplayed Indianapolis. If the teams meet again in January, which wouldn't surprise anyone, the Pats would be my pick. I fully expect the Pats to cruise through their weak division, run through the playoffs and hoist the trophy in February.

Cutler trade looking weak

The Bears did not completely think through the deal they made for Jay Cutler. Cutler is the young guy with the big arm, and Chicago overvalued him, or at least miscalculated. Cutler was 17-20 as a starter in Denver and had never won more than eight games.

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He's now only in his fourth season, and never showed any strong signs of being capable of leading a team to the playoffs in the present, backed up by the Bears' current 4-5 record and minute playoff chances. But the package Chicago sent for Cutler included three draft picks, two of those being first-round selections.

In addition, Chicago sent away another draft pick, this one a second-rounder for defensive lineman Gaines Adams. Unless the Bears counted on Cutler to begin winning immediately, the trade was illogical—the Bears traded for an up-and-coming player, but mortgaged their future in the process. They now find themselves in a tricky position, a team appearing on the downslide without great ability to acquire top young talent.

New Barry Sanders

Barry Sanders, often regarded as the most exciting running back in NFL history, retired just as I was beginning to follow pro football. I think we're going to get a new one with Chris Johnson, and the best part is he plays for a terrible team just as Sanders did. Take nothing away from Adrian Peterson, but this is now the best back in the league. Johnson leads the league with 1,091 yards, 174 ahead of Peterson. What's even more impressive about Johnson is he plays for a 3-6 team with an unstable quarterback situation, something Peterson cannot claim. Even with opponents focusing on Johnson he's still averaging 6.4 yards a carry and had a 228-yard rushing game against Jacksonville. The most fun part about watching Johnson is his ability to score from any part of the field, as he has four touchdown runs for 50-plus yards, including one for 91 yards and another for 89.

Arena Football League

One of my favorite days of the year, conference championship day, will be heavily tainted this year. Besides seeing two teams fight for a trip to the Super Bowl, twice, my favorite part is sitting in my warm living room in late January while players are outside in below-freezing weather. That's what football's about.

But this year, I, along with the rest of the country, will have to watch two games being played in climate-controlled domes. In the NFC either New Orleans or Minnesota will probably achieve home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and in the AFC it is Indianapolis. Having the Vikings and the Saints lose to set up a cold-weather game in the

NFC is near impossible, so I'll have to root for the Colts to bow out in the divisional round. It's depressing.

What are your NFL observations? E-mail Scott at

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