By: Dave Baker
In honor of the Bake Shop’s inaugural season, we thought we’d catch you up on the first eight weeks, and take a look ahead with the First Annual Halftime Stretch: Wild Guesses and Other Ramblings on the NFL Midseason.
Five Things We’ve Learned
1. The NFC is the class of professional football. An injury-riddled AFC is a shadow of its record-breaking self, and has been reduced to a muddle conference of serious contenders and a smattering of mediocre teams. By all accounts, the road to Super XLVII will likely go through Houston. The Texans have a stranglehold on the AFC South, the second whackest division in football, and at 7-1 Gary Kubiak’s squad more than plays the part of AFC powerhouse. The postseason picture gets a little murkier in the NFC. Atlanta, San Francisco, the New York Football Giants, Green Bay, Chicago, pick your poison. A case could be made for any one of these teams meeting the Texans in New Orleans.
2. Drew Brees misses Sean Payton. He misses him so damn much. He misses his scent, the way he laughs. He misses his musk. When all this Bounty scandal stuff is sorted out, Drew and Sean might get an apartment together. It’s not gay; Drew is just lost without his head coach. So are the New Orleans Saints. With a top-tier quarterback at the helm, a Cold War arsenal of offensive firepower, and an always-suspect defense, nobody saw the Saints falling this far from contention – not even Three Ring Mark Schlereth. And that dude knows everything about football.
3. Defense is still relevant. In the wake of horrific injuries and emerging evidence of just how much the game takes from former players, big hits are showing up less and less on the highlight reel. Commissioner Roger Goodell and his people police games like the Gestapo, levying fines for breathing on a quarterback or receiver the wrong way. Goodell is well intentioned. I understand he’s trying to limit the enormity of the risks his players take just by stepping onto the field, while also attempting to cover up the decades of exploitation and neglect, but the old ways aren’t dead yet. The New York Giants and Chicago Bears have made defense the centerpiece of their game plans, scoring more points on defense alone than Jacksonville has all season. The Niners and Texans are bullying opponents, and the new-look Seahawks are playing with a swagger that’s been too much fun to watch. Before long, America’s game may closer resemble rugby than it does your granddaddy’s football, but for now there is still plenty of hard-hitting left to enjoy.
4. Mark Sanchez’s long-term deal is among the worst decisions made by any professional sports franchise in recent history.
5. Peyton Manning is still a boss. At 36 years old and coming off of season-ending neck surgery, a change of scenery is treating Peyton well. It’s still weird see him in Bronco orange, I don’t think anybody over the age of 15 will ever get used that, but Peyton is playing out of his mind. Despite a 4-3 start, the Broncos are right in the AFC playoff mix, which is to be expected considering they play in the AFC West, a division featuring three teams that would have trouble keeping pace in the SEC. His supporting cast leaves a bit to be desired, but Manning is the type of QB who can squeeze every ounce of talent from his receivers. Having already thrown 2,113 yards and 17 touchdowns and outscoring opponents 110-23 in the fourth quarter, the league is being humbly reminded that Peyton Manning can still sling a football like the future Hall of Famer he is.
Midseason Awards Based Solely on Players and Coaches I Like (Not on Anything all that Relevant)
1. Coach of the Year- Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Central Connecticut State University is famous for two things. 1) Getting trounced in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament by the Ohio State Greg Odens and 2) Scott Pioli. Who’s Scott Pioli you ask? Scott Pioli is the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. He is responsible for acquiring Matt Cassel from the New England Patriots and amassing this affront to professional football we call the Chiefs. Ranking in the bottom half of all major categories and going week-to-week between Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, the Chiefs are 1-7 and on the brink of blowing the whole organization up and getting a jumpstart on the rebuilding process. Way to rep New Britain, Scott. Newly appointed GMs rarely tolerate being straddled with any holdovers from the old regime, so it’s a safe bet that head coach Romeo Crennel won’t be far behind. That kind of sucks. I like Romeo Crennel. If I could have a cool black grandfather, I’d want him to be Romeo Crennel, or Dennis Green – I don’t think he’s been up to much since the UFL folded. Either way, if you only win one game this year Rome, you’re square with me, bro. You deserve at least one COY nod (or a hug) for watching this team on a weekly basis. Good luck finding a D-coordinator gig this summer.
Comeback Player of the Year- Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
Derrick Rose doesn’t even play professional football, #TheReturn just gets me all kinds of jacked up. Few athletes are tied to their city like Derrick Rose is to Chicago. Derrick Rose isn’t merely from Chicago; Derrick Rose is Chicago. He grew up there and mastered the city’s unique brand of basketball. He isn’t on a mission to chase records or cement a legacy. He is on a personal crusade to bring an NBA title back to his hometown. Derrick Rose is humble, emotional, and obsessed with the game of basketball – he is the Anti-Lebron in every sense of the word. When Rose eventually walks out of that tunnel to take the floor, it will be one of the most emotionally charged moments the United Center has ever seen.
Defensive Rookie of the Year- Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
The Boston College product may not be posting gaudy statistics, but the Panthers have found stability and a bright future at the all-important middle linebacker position. With Jon Beason placed on IR and doubts rising about whether or not he’ll play another down as a Panther, Kuechly will be thrown into the fire and assume leadership of this reeling Panther’s defense. Closing out games and getting any kind of consistency from Cam Newton remain the biggest issues for Ron Rivera’s squad, but with Kuechly holding down the middle, they’ll have something to build on.
Offensive Rookie of the Year- Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
“Teach Me How to Dougie” Martin straight up disrespected Raider Nation last week. He set a rookie rushing record with 251 yards and four touchdowns. Not a bad way to follow up a monster 135-yard-one-touchdown performance against Minnesota. With so much attention on the 2012 rookie quarterback class, Martin’s 794 yards and eight touchdowns – not to mention a pretty legit nickname – have him barreling into the Rookie of the Year conversation.
Defensive Player of the Year- Charles “Peanut” Tillman
This prediction isn’t all that farfetched. All Peanut does is punch out footballs; he has a PhD in generating turnovers. Of the Bears 28 takeaways this season, Tillman has been directly responsible for nine of them, including two pick sixes. He added four more forced fumbles this past Sunday in Tennessee. Who knocks out four balls in one game? For most corners, forcing four fumbles is a good season. Tillman already has seven through eight games. Lovie Smith’s defensive scheme doesn’t call for shutdown corners. The Bears typically give up huge chunks of yardage before shutting teams down in the red zone or coming up with a game-changing takeaway. At 33, Tillman is a 10-year veteran of the Cover 2 system. He’s developed into an integral part of a core group that has sustained the Bears for the past decade. With the clock winding down on the respective careers of Tillman, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Julius Peppers, they’ll have to keep up this breakneck speed to get that elusive second shot at the Lombardi Trophy. They believe they can do it. Is there any reason we shouldn’t?
Offensive Player of the Year- Rusty Smith, Tennessee Titans
Honestly, I’m only putting Smith here to acknowledge the fact that somebody named Rusty plays quarterback in the NFL. Other than that, he’s kind of terrible. Google him, look at his awful stat line, and listen to his pre-draft interview at Florida Atlantic. If this guy isn’t the next Kenny Powers, I don’t know who is.
Most Valuable Player- Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
An argument could be made for Peyton deserving this award last season. In his absence, the Indianapolis Colts went 2-14, demonstrating that losing Peyton was the difference between contending for a playoff spot and finishing with the worst record in football. The Colts did, however, draft Andrew Luck, so it’s safe to say things worked out for all parties concerned. With both Manning brothers playing at such high levels, the potential exists for a Manning Super Bowl loaded with subtext: two brothers battling it out on football’s biggest stage in the very city they were raised. It’s a neighborhood showdown for the ages.