Midseason report (cont.)
MOST OVERHYPED STORYLINE -- Whatever will the Steelers do without Ben Roethlisberger? Umm, mainly win. During Roethlisberger's four-game league suspension, the Steelers went 3-1, losing only at home narrowly to Baltimore in Week 4. And the way Pittsburgh ran the ball and played defense, it didn't really matter who played quarterback in those games, although Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon turned in some solid relief work.
Kudos to: Andy Reid and the Eagles' season-long quarterback controversy, which seems mostly to be resolving itself week by week.
MOST OVERLOOKED STORYLINE -- The Bucs are back: Tampa Bay started last year 1-12, and we were all wondering if rookie head coach Raheem Morris was overmatched and headed for a one-and-done experience as the team's front man. But the Bucs are 7-3 in their last 10 regular-season games, and this year's 5-2 start has them tied for the NFC South lead with Atlanta heading into Sunday's first-place showdown at the Georgia Dome. While we were all fixated on Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford last season, the other 2009 first-round quarterback, Josh Freeman, was getting better by the week.
Kudos to: The disappearance of the Vikings' vaunted pass rush. Where have all the sacks gone, Jared Allen?
BEST DIVISION -- AFC South: There's not a losing record in the division, and the Colts (5-2), Titans (5-3) and Texans (4-3) have all had their big, impressive victories this season. Even Jacksonville (4-4) can whip up on you if you're not careful. Isn't that right, Cowboys?
Kudos to: AFC East, where the Patriots (6-1), Jets (5-2) and Dolphins (4-0 on the road) are all formidable.
WORST DIVISION -- NFC West: A shocker, right? The entire division owns just one road win outside of head-to-head division play (Seattle won at Chicago), and the so-so Seahawks are the only team with a winning record at 4-3.
Kudos to: NFC North, where the 5-3 Packers have underachieved but are still the only team that looks capable of making anything resembling a playoff run.
WHINE OF THE YEAR -- Are we there yet? Like some 5-year-old in the back seat of his parents' car, new Giants safety Antrel Rolle, he of the multi-million dollar free-agent contract, actually complained about New York's travel schedule for a Week 2 trip to Indianapolis. Rolle said coach Tom Coughlin got the team to Indy too early for a Sunday night game, and there was too much waiting time before kickoff. Shut up and play football.
Kudos to: Randy Moss disses the quality of the catered Vikings' team lunch last week. (And such small portions!).
HE'S NO NOSTRADAMUS AWARD -- Jed York: After his team started this season 0-5, the 49ers team president sent a text to a media member predicting San Francisco would still win its division. No 0-5 team has ever dug out of that hole to make the playoffs, but the 49ers are 2-1 since York got his phone out. That still puts them 2½ games behind division-leading Seattle with eight games remaining for San Francisco. It's also worth noting that at the end of the 2008 season, upon removing the interim tag from head coach Mike Singletary's title, York guaranteed his team that it would make the playoffs in 2009. The 49ers went 8-8 and finished second.
Kudos to: That 2,500-yard rushing season just ain't happening for Chris Johnson in Tennessee this year.
NAME OF THE YEAR -- Mike Williams: Oh, to be young and an NFL receiver named Mike Williams in 2010. We've got two of them, you know. There's the new Mike Williams in Tampa Bay, and the old one in Seattle. The old one was a first-round flop in Detroit, but then he went away for a while, lost weight, and came back as a revelation with the first-place Seahawks.
The new Mike Williams has been quite a find as well for the first-place Bucs. Tampa Bay drafted him in the fourth round this year out of Syracuse, and he's leading all rookie wide receivers with 32 catches for 470 yards and four touchdowns. That's even better than the old Mike Williams, who has 33 catches for 375 yards and one touchdown in Seattle.
Kudos to: The man they call Law Firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Patriots running back who has rushed for six touchdowns in their past five games.
BIGGEST MOVE THAT DIDN'T MATTER -- Batman and Robin, foiled again: The Terrell Owens signing in Cincinnati certainly got Chad Ochocinco excited -- I can still see them both on that ESPN bus during training camp, smiling, laughing and practically giddy at their prospects -- but it hasn't really translated into wins. The Bengals are 2-5 after going 10-6 and winning the AFC North last season. The unstoppable Cincinnati passing game has been fairly stoppable, even though Owens has produced of late. Getting out of Buffalo looks like it was the right move for T.O., but just barely.
Kudos to: Chester Taylor, Chicago. The Bears running back has 160 yards on 44 carries thus far. Yawn.
BEST MOVE -- Different bird, same player: The Ravens gave up third- and fourth-round picks to get receiver Anquan Boldin from the Cardinals in March, and he's been everything and more than Baltimore could have wanted. Boldin is pacing the Ravens in receptions (38) and yards (518), with five touchdowns. He quickly became Joe Flacco's go-to target, and the Baltimore QB has targeted him 60 times in seven games. Boldin instantly upgraded a Ravens receiving corps that was the biggest weak link on Baltimore's Super Bowl-quality roster.
Kudos to: LaDainian Tomlinson is a Jet, and New York's backfield is better for it. Who said L.T. was washed up at 31? (I did).
THE LOOK OUT AWARD -- The Chicago Bears offensive line: In just seven games, the Bears beleaguered offensive line has given up an NFL-worst 31 sacks (eight more than anyone else) and 53 quarterback hits (also the league's most). Quarterback Jay Cutler has absorbed 27 of those sacks, including a staggering nine in the first half of a 17-3 loss at the Giants. To no surprise whatsoever, Cutler was knocked out of that game with a concussion. And it's not getting any better in Chicago. In Cutler's last three games, he has been dropped 19 times.
Kudos to: Washington's offensive line, which has surrendered 23 sacks and 50 quarterback hits, second-most in the league in both categories. No wonder they're worried about Donovan McNabb's cardiovascular health. He's running for his life.
INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR -- DeAngelo Hall becomes Jay Cutler's favorite receiver: The Redskins cornerback picked off Cutler four times in the second half of Washington's three-point win at Chicago in Week 7, returning one of those 92 yards for a touchdown. Afterward, Cutler was unbowed, saying he'd throw in Hall's direction the next time they played one another. If they let him play, that is.
Kudos to: Houston running back Arian Foster shreds the Colts defense for 231 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a 34-24 win in Week 1. Foster had 191 yards and all three touchdowns in the second half.