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What we're not overreacting to at midseason

Eight weeks is enough time to give up on your team for the season. It's enough time for us to look back at what we've learned so far in the AFC and NFC. It's enough time to think we know something about this season, when we probably have no clue.

Standings will alter dramatically in the final two months -- they always do. Teams that looked finished will rise. Teams that looked like playoff locks will fall. Let's foolishly try to figure it all out.

What we're not overreacting to after eight weeks


1. Tom Brady's struggles: He's experienced one of the sharpest statistical declines in history. Much of it is on Brady, not just his ever-changing cast of receivers. He's missed too many throws. The team's improving running game and vastly improved defense are giving Brady more support than usual. If Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola can stay healthy, don't be surprised if Brady is peaking in December.

2. Denver being the No. 5 seed in the AFC: Kansas City is headed for a second-half correction. See below.

3. Robert Griffin III's season as a reflection on his future: You get a pass when you tear your ACL and miss your entire second offseason.

4. Chip Kelly's struggles: Let's allow him to bring his own players in and not go crazy when he doesn't win with his No. 3 quarterback.

5. The Atlanta Falcons organization: It's just one of those years. Matt Ryan, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith are all very good at what they do. The defense still needs more playmakers, though.

6. The Baltimore Ravens' playoff chances: Any team with that defense and a quarterback as talented as Joe Flacco has a shot.

Feel free to lose perspective

1. The entire NFC East is worse than you imagine. The Giants and Redskins could still be among the worst five teams in the league. Philadelphia's only win out of the division was against Tampa. The Cowboys are easily the best team here, and they are in a constant quest to lose in the most excruciating way possible.

2.

3. Josh Freeman could be involved in getting two head coaches fired this season. Perhaps both during the season.

4. Matt Schaub will make almost $30 million for his efforts in 2012 and 2013. He's healthy enough to play, but Gary Kubiak thinks that Case Keenum has a better chance to save everyone's job and the Texans' season. It wouldn't stun me to see the Texans get back in the mix, but this is a veteran team built to win now. It could all be blown up if Keenum can't help engineer a miracle.

Most fascinating team for the next eight weeks

I'm ready for anything with the Carolina Panthers. They could make the Super Bowl or finish 7-9. Riverboat Ron Rivera could be calling for fourth-down conversions with the best defense in football or he could shrink in the big moments, like he has so many times before.

The Panthers, like Cam Newton, can be a moody team. They can be a bully and can play like they are afraid of success. When they are right, they can steamroll opponents with Newton's big arm and a power running game. But we haven't seen them come through in a big spot yet. We'll get our chances in the second half; they face the 49ers, Patriots and the Saints twice. All of those games are must watch. Which reminds me ...

Favorite teams to watch

1. Carolina Panthers
2. Detroit Lions
3. San Diego Chargers
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. Indianapolis Colts

Honorable mention: Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers

Every year, I wind up adopting a few teams. I'm not a longtime fan, but something draws me in for at least one season. I end up watching them each week and quietly rooting. The '05 Cincinnati Bengals were the first. The '13 Chargers are the latest.

Maybe it's my move to the West Coast or that no one talks about the Chargers. Philip Rivers' two-week stretch against the Eagles and Titans won me over. Risen from the ashes, the quarterback suddenly couldn't miss a pass. This team is exactly the opposite of expectations: terrible on defense, awesome on offense. Anything seems possible in any given week. Rivers is reminding everyone of the guy who led the NFL in yards per attempt three straight years at one point. Surprises are the best.

You'll notice a lot of young quarterbacks on these teams. Detroit's defensive line and a much-improved season from Matthew Stafford make the Lions a fun weekly watch. Seattle is very creative on both sides of the ball. Russell Wilson is challenging Andrew Luck and Terrelle Pryor for the league lead in "wow" plays. Luck is the most fun quarterback to watch overall, and there's just something about Chuck Pagano's crew that is admirable. They are greater than the sum of their parts, especially on defense.

The Bills get an honorable mention because they play entertaining games. The defense is feisty. They are well-coached and better than their record indicates. The Raiders get mentioned because Terrelle Pryor makes plays I've never seen before.

Teams in position for surprising second-half relevance

1. Oakland Raiders: They don't play a team with a winning record until Week 15. It's not that hard to imagine the Raiders hanging around the AFC wild-card race until the very end.

2. Tennessee Titans: They have two games left against Jacksonville and a quarterback playing better than anyone realizes.

Teams that could stumble down the stretch

1. Kansas City Chiefs: They play with a small margin for error because of their lackluster passing game. They have faced four backup quarterbacks, including recent close shaves at home against Case Keenum and Jason Campbell.

This does not take away from what the Chiefs have accomplished in the first half. But the best team they beat was ... Dallas. The Chiefs only face three more sub .500 teams all season, and they are all road games against tricky opponents. (Buffalo, Oakland, Washington.) A 12-4 record after a 4-4 finish would not be a surprise.

2. San Diego Chargers: I'm rooting for them, but five games left against the Chiefs, Broncos and Bengals will make life difficult.

3. New Orleans Saints: There aren't a lot of soft spots in the upcoming schedule. It sets up an interesting dynamic in the NFC ...

Angling for byes

Seattle, San Francisco and New Orleans play a round robin down the stretch. The 49ers absolutely have to beat Seattle in their rematch for any hope at a playoff bye. If that happens, we could see a scenario in which Green Bay winds up taking one of the top seeds in the NFC. The Packers have the easiest schedule of any contender down the stretch, and it's not close.

Player who has risen from the ashes


1. Philip Rivers: The poor man's Peyton.
2. Reggie Bush: Watch for a second half fade, because the workload has been high.
3. Knowshon Moreno: He's first in rushing/receiving touchdowns and seventh in yards from scrimmage. Seriously.
4. Doug Free: Quick, Jerry. Give him another huge contract!
5. Shaun Phillips: I thought he was done. He's not Dumervil, but he's helped.
6. James Ihedigbo: A career year out of nowhere.

Most random players who I keep writing in my notebook

1. George Selvie, Dallas Cowboys defensive end: He's been a savior with Anthony Spencer out.

2. Corey Lemonier, San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker: He has replaced Aldon Smith with very little drop off.

3. Marcus Cooper, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback: He helps give the Chiefs the best secondary after Seattle. I can't wait to see how they match up with Denver.

4. Wallace Gilberry, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end: Gilberry might be the best reserve defensive end in the league behind Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap.

5. Barry Church, Dallas Cowboys safety: Quick, Jerry. Give him a big contract!

Jason Hatcher for Defensive Player of the Year is a thing

Well, at least it's a thing in these parts. I listed Hatcher as fifth on my DPOY list at the quarter pole, and he's only improved his play since. It's tough to win an award like this on a defense that gives up the most yards in the league, but Hatcher has been as consistent as any player in the NFL at making an impact.

I don't think Hatcher will win the award or that he'll even maintain this pace, but his play through eight games deserves attention.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recapped every Week 8 game. Click here to listen and subscribe.

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