4 Questions, 4 Analysts: Mid Season Madness
Well with us being just under halfway through the season it seemed a good time to get caught up in the madness of it all. As you’ll probably know we unleashed our Mid Season All Pro team earlier this week so we wanted some feedback on that, who is stepping up as the league MVP and what possible Super Bowl match up is on the cards.
Four questions for four analysts.
1. Nobody gets everything they want. In our Mid Season All Pro Team, which guy who didn’t make it do you think has a right to feel slighted?
Ben: I think AJ Green can count himself very hard done by not get at least an honorable mention at wide receiver. He was almost shutdown in the one game against Pittsburgh prior to the Bengals bye week but outside of that I struggle to see that five other receivers have genuinely had a better eight weeks than Green. Of the five players mentioned above him Vincent Jackson has a less consistent impact than Green and Roddy White benefits from being part of a trio of receiving targets that teams simply cannot devote full attention to. Green is the primary focus of the Bengals’ passing game and yet is still putting in tremendous performance after tremendous performance. His league leading seven scores also put each of the five players ahead of him on the All-Pro team in the shade.
Khaled: I know Tony Gonzalez isn’t much of a blocker any more, but when you look at the work he has done as a receiver, he should have gotten more love on that alone. In the modern NFL the passing game is king, and no tight end has a higher grade than Gonzalez in this regard. His ability to create separation is still there, and his work after the catch (forcing 11 missed tackles) has been superb. He’s slowed down a bit recently but is still third in yards with four touchdowns on a team not short on offensive weapons.
Neil: I’m firmly of the opinion that we have some Peyton Manning “haters” on the staff. I understand that his week two debacle in Atlanta stands against him but since then no one has played better or trended more positively. For him not to even get an honourable mention is simply wrong. I told Khaled at the time there are five quarterbacks I would have chosen before Ryan (who is only 4th in our grading) because I feel while he was good early, his last three games haven’t been of the standard I’d expect from an All-Pro.
Sam: It’ll be made worse given that his teammate got the nod in front of him, but I think Tim Jennings can feel a little hard done by. He started the season absolutely on fire and still leads the NFL with six interceptions. The only reason he didn’t make it is that teams never backed away from throwing at him, and he has already been targeted a league-leading 72 times, so naturally as a zone corner he has also given up some yards and catches. Despite all that I think he has a strong case and would be a deserving member of the team.
2. There’s some MVP chatter flying about so the question is which guy would you vote for right now?
Ben: There’s no doubt in my mind that by the end of the season a quarterback will separate himself as a clear contender for this award, so right now I’m looking outside the lines for my mid-season MVP. To that end is it any coincidence that the Vikings offense has finally started to take flight now that they are making Percy Harvin an every down part of their offense? We are used to seeing Harvin play extremely well in limited snaps and the Vikings offense struggling as a result. Now with Adrian Peterson making a miraculous recovery the Vikings offense runs as much through Harvin as it does through Peterson and he is responding with some astonishing play, somewhat helping to inflate the stats and opinions of his quarterback.
Khaled: So Neil thinks that Matt Ryan doesn’t deserve to be on the team because he’s our fourth highest graded quarterback, yet plumps for our seventh ranked guy to make the All Pro team instead of him. Well not only do I disagree but I’d say Ryan is putting himself in a season worthy of being the mid season MVP. You can manipulate the numbers all you want but he has the highest average per game grade of any quarterback and has led his team to a 7-0 record. Atlanta has the best record out there and Ryan’s ability on third down and when the game is on the line has been crucial.
Neil: I don’t think there’s a more dominant player than J.J. Watt at the moment and wouldn’t it be great to see a defensive player recognized as having as much impact as anyone? Watt is getting pressure with broadly the regularity of say Aldon Smith, while playing inside and no player at his position is making life anywhere near as uncomfortable for quarterbacks. Add to that he’s also has the best run stop percentage in the game of football, effectively making a tackle which is a defeat for the offense on one in almost every five running plays. For good measure throw in 10 batted passes. To give another perspective on just how dominant he’s been his grade of +44.5 is 26.5 rating points better than the next 3-4 end, Calais Campbell who is having a great year.
Sam: Though J.J. Watt has been unquestionably the best player in the NFL, the Packers went out of their way to try and slow him down and were able to hang 40 on that defense, so you have to question how ‘valuable’ he really is in that instance (after all he played very well). Unfortunately I think it probably comes down to a selection of quarterbacks, and the difference Peyton Manning has made to that Broncos team speaks for itself. Forget comeback player of the year, Manning has a real case for MVP.
Turn to page 2 for questions 3 and 4.
3. Which team in the NFL has a record that doesn’t resemble their performance, good or bad?
Ben: To an extent the Cleveland Browns record makes sense, they are a young inexperienced team who are making the sort of mistakes that you would expect a young and inexperienced team to make. However their whole body of work would not look out of place with a .500 record at this stage. Their Week 1 loss was put down by many to an off-day from the Eagles, but it turns out the Browns aren’t actually that far off the Eagles. They also lost out in close games to Cincinnati and Baltimore within the division, had the win in the hands of Josh Gordon against the Colts and have only really lost to one team, Buffalo, that by the way they’ve played this season they shouldn’t have done. I don’t expect a second half surge from Cleveland but unless the off-field turmoil takes its toll on the field I expect the Browns to take some scalps and play spoiler to some playoff teams in the second half of the season.
Khaled: I think I’m going to plump for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers here. I’m slowly becoming more and more convinced by this team, and it has a lot to do with how they’ve cut out all the sloppy stuff that was their trademark in the second half of 2011. Instead Josh Freeman is playing mistake free football, Doug Martin is really finding his feet at this level, and the defense has taken a giant leap forward. It helps that Gerald McCoy is healthy, but the move of Ronde Barber to safety has worked while the presence of Lavonte David really shored up the linebacker group. They’ll look back at games against the Giants, Cowboys and Saints and know they should have really won them.
Neil: I think for the Washington Redskins to be 3-5 is very misleading. Every loss, other than the game at Pittsburgh, has been by a score or less and other than the injury to Robert Griffin III I think they beat the Falcons. The key word in this question though is “performance” and especially on offense they’ve exceed all expectations. Griffin is our 6th rated passer and the offensive line is unrecognizable from a year ago blocking for rookie sensation Alfred Morris. They’ve also had a huge amount of injuries to contend with including Pierre Garcon, Fred Davis and Brian Orakpo. This is a team moving in the right direction.
Sam: The defense has been carrying them with some unsustainable scoring and play, but the Chicago Bears offense has not been worth a 6-1 record, and if they don’t find a way to improve that side of the ball eventually they will be shown up for that. The offense was given plenty of weapons in the off-season and dumped the suicidal offense of Mike Martz, so the excuses are fast running out for their disappointing lack of performance.
4. And if you had to pick a Super Bowl contest (and winner) right now. Who would it be?
Ben: My pre-season pick was the Baltimore Ravens and the Chicago Bears and both are still in playoff contention so I am inclined to stick with those two for the time being. The Bears defense is playing as well as any unit and the offense is showing signs of improvement as well if they could just develop some consistency. I am far more nervous about the Ravens and am edging towards the exit of that bandwagon but I’m still on it for now, just. The defensive injuries concern me but if Terrell Suggs can gradually up his workload and maintain the level of performance he showed in Houston then that could reinvigorate a team that under John Harbaugh you would assume will find a way to win enough games down the stretch to make the playoffs. Still they’ll lose to the Bears when they get there.
Khaled: When push comes to shove I can’t help but feel the New England Patriots are going to come up with the big performance when they need it. Tom Brady is playing too well and while that defense has issues, they have more playmakers than they had a year ago. That will prove telling. Joining them I would be worried that Aaron Rodgers hasn’t peaked yet this season. When he gets going, the Green Bay Packers will be near impossible to stop. I say this time he gets hot at the right time and picks up Super Bowl ring number two in New Orleans.
Neil: I’m going to stick with my preseason pick of the New England Patriots in the AFC. Their play in the secondary and lack of pressure against quality tackles is a little concerning but dance with the girl you brought is my motto. In the NFC unfortunately not only has my date (the Saints) turned out to be ugly but I’ve found the defense throwing up in the toilet. Needless to say I’m hurt and embarrassed by their behaviour and have decided to start cosying up with the San Francisco 49ers. Alex Smith does scare me (as does the coaches desire for over complex play-calling) but every other facet of their game is first rate. In the big one the Patriots still win because this is a team their defense matches up well with.
Sam: In the AFC I’ve been on the Houston Texans bandwagon since before the season started, and I’ve yet to see a compelling reason to come off. The NFC I think will be far more of a crapshoot and come down to who gets hot at the right moment for a run to glory. The way Eli Manning is playing when the chips are down though looks unstoppable at times. If the New York Giants D keeps them even vaguely in games down the stretch he seems pretty much guaranteed to do his bit. Giants and Texans Super Bowl with Houston coming out on top.