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Just how pass-happy has the NFL been in the first half of 2011? Consider:
• In 2010 no team averaged more than 288.1 yards through the air. Through Sunday of Week 8 the top three passing teams are stratospherically higher: The Saints were throwing for 326.8 per game, the Patriots for 324.7 and the Packers for 323.4.
• Never have teams collectively thrown more than 56% of the time over the course of a season. After Sunday's games the passing frequency was 56.5%
• There were 10 individual 400-yard passing games through Sunday. That's already the fourth most ever. The record is 13.
• In Peyton Manning's first eight starts, as a rookie in 1998, he passed for 1,873 yards. Panthers rookie Cam Newton has passed for 2,393 in his first eight this year.
• Teams are scoring more points per game (44.6 through Sunday) than in any season since the NFL-AFL merger, in 1970.
So why the air raid? There have been some interesting theories advanced. For one, the weather around the country on Sundays has been mostly conducive to passing, clear and not too cold. It's not unusual for offensive production to slacken once the snow and wind hit. Some also argue that defenses didn't have an off-season to work on ways to counter the new wrinkles of high-powered attacks. That's a tougher sell: Rookies Cam Newton of the Panthers and Andy Dalton of the Bengals walked in with only seven weeks of organized NFL practice time and played above-average quarterback immediately. Why would it be harder for defenses to be ready at the start of the season.
To analyze these theories and get to the heart of the offensive explosion in the NFL, SI assembled its own football think tank last Thursday. Our panel of experts:
• Dalton, an instant starter in Cincinnati after running variations of a spread offense at TCU for four years.
• Saints coach Sean Payton, a cutting-edge passing-game expert.