|Nell Redmond / Associated Press|
|Top overall pick Cam Newton has exceeded all expectations halfway through his rookie campaign with the Panthers.|
The Packers are halfway to an unbeaten regular season. The Bills and Lions are in position to snap their playoff droughts. Jim Harbaugh has taken the league by storm with his 7-1 49ers. What has been the biggest story of the first nine weeks of the 2011 regular season?
Newton proves his worthCam Newton looks like he has the potential to be a truly special quarterback, with a combination of skills I'm not sure we've ever seen before.
He's doing things that Michael Vick can't do now, physically, and that Vick wasn't astute and dedicated enough to do early in his career. Newton is a one-man army who has lifted a previously moribund offense -- one without a flicker of hope beyond the running backs for years -- into one of the most dynamic, attacking vertical units in the game.
He is having the greatest rookie quarterback season ever, by a shocking margin, and what could end up being one of the best in the history of the game for any quarterback when you look at all the metrics like running average, rushing touchdowns, etc. And he's doing it despite all the pressure and the undue criticism and the fact he had precisely one year of starting experience in big-time college football.
He is already a difference-maker, just a half-season in, and he will be a franchise-changer very quickly.
Plenty of problems in PhillyThe biggest storyline -- because it's been constant -- has been the Eagles. From the time they went all in during free agency to their slow start that had media and fans calling for the jobs of Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo to their supposed resurgence, the Eagles have been the most front-and-center topic of this season.
With their loss to Chicago dropping them to 3-5 -- the same record as the Redskins -- the volume is about to be amplified even more. The margin for error now is between slim and none. Team officials said it's Super Bowl or failure. With those parameters, how bad would it be if Philly didn't even make the playoffs?
Packers are up there but ...The Packers going undefeated since their Super Bowl win is a big story and the potential for a repeat compounds the interest. The only story that trumps the Packers is the 49ers speeding towards an NFC West title before anyone else clinches a division. San Francisco is dominating opponents and the development of Alex Smith makes this my favorite story. The defense has yet to give up a rushing touchdown in 163 opposing attempts.
Carolina on my mindFor months during the locked-out offseason, quarterback Cam Newton's potential resonated as the polarizing discussion before and after the draft. Questions were asked -- and they've now been answered. In just nine weeks, Newton poured water on a fire that sparked out of wonder about his ability. Would he be accurate enough? Smart enough? Focused enough? Just because he answered each of those questions with a resounding "yes" doesn't mean we should dismiss his success as anything less than phenomenal.
Newton still hasn't won enough games, but he has invigorated a locker room (see: Steve Smith). I don't want to dismiss what Aaron Rodgers has done in Green Bay, but I expect his second half of 2011 will earn him plenty of attention. For now, this first half belongs to Newton, who has surpassed even the highest expectations many established for him.