NFL Midseason Update

Somewhere in the not too distant future, the Department of Homeland Security will be able to ferret out terrorists based only on a series of questions about the NFL. Consider this: Last month’s Patriots-Cowboys game drew 30 million viewers, making it not only the most watched sporting event of the fall season but the highest rated television program period. Only terrorists and their sympathizers spent that day outside with their families. So before the brown coats ship you off to Guantanamo for failing to identify the leader of the NFC West (the 4-3 Seattle Seahawks), here is a quick primer of the NFL season as it reaches the mid-point:

The Patriots are a bunch of no good cheaters who run up the score During the off-season, when the New England Patriots overhauled their passing game by signing three new wide receivers (Donte’ Stallworth, Wes Welker and Randy Moss) it was like an already successful multi-millionaire businessman winning the lottery. So it’s not too shocking that the Patriots have started a perfect 8-0. What is surprising is how thoroughly dominant they have been. Quarterback/model impregnator Tom Brady has had the best half season in the history of the game (a record 30 TD passes and just two interceptions) and the Pats are averaging a record-setting 41.4 points a game. Of course, it helps that they’re padding these stats by running up the score (last week, with a 35-point lead over the Washington Redskins, the Patriots still went for it on fourth down, eventually leading to another TD), most likely as a middle finger to the rest of the teams for the embarrassment of getting caught using a video camera to steal defensive signals against the Jets. Apparently, the old adage about cheaters and prosperity does not apply to New England.

Peyton Manning likes winning almost as much as commercial endorsements The Indianapolis Colts are also undefeated, having won 12 straight going back to their Super Bowl-winning 2006 season. But instead of gaudy offensive numbers, the Colts are winning with stout defense, particularly from safety Bob Sanders, the leading contender for the Defensive player of the year award. In the latest showdown of what has become the most entertaining and competitive sports rivalry of the past decade (, the Colts and Patriots will meet this weekend in what can only be under-hyped by describing it as the biggest regular season game of the year.

More parity than a hippie commune Outside of the aforementioned teams, competitive balance continues to be a hallmark of the NFL. Out of 32 teams, only nine are more than one game over .500 and a full half are 4-4 or worse. This means that, by virtue of our crappy division and league-wide mediocrity, the Broncos still have a pretty decent shot at making the playoffs. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Your Fantasy Football team is fucked Injuries have always played a big roll in deciding success in the NFL, but this year, the injury bug seems to be biting worse than ever, particularly at the quarterback position. Nine AFC teams alone have seen their opening day starter miss at least one game due to injury. Add this to the disappointing returns of 2007 Pro Bowl running backs Larry Johnson, Steven Jackson, and Frank Gore and your fantasy team is pretty much screwed. Put it this way: That guy in your league who picked Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and Braylon Edwards is probably running away with the whole enchilada.

Surprises/ Disappointments It’s always hilarious to look back on pre-season predictions from the so-called NFL experts (last year, Sports Illustrated picked the Miami Dolphins to beat the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl – neither team even made the playoffs, and this season Miami is 0-8). It’s extremely hard to figure out which teams are going to excell, which is why Vegas loves the sport so much. This year, the most successful turnarounds are the Cleveland Browns (at 4-3, just one game behind the division-leading Steelers), the resurgence of Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers (who are tied for the best record in the NFC at 6-1) and the suddenly competitive AFC South (where the typically lackluster Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are both 5-2). As for disappointments, the two teams in last season’s NFC Championship game, the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears are a combined 6-9, the 3-4 Philadelphia Eagles are struggling as coach Andy Reid faces a personal crisis (both of his sons are looking at jail time on drug and gun charges), and the Cincinnati Bengals are 2-5, despite a plethora of offensive weapons.

Hopefully, with these few insights, you’re now informed enough about the NFL to avoid deportation to Canada. Their football league ain’t got shit on ours. -- Mark Schiff