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Game Rewind takeaways: Five midseason trends

We're halfway home, people.*

With eight weeks of play in the books, our weekly Game Rewind notebook has surveyed everything from Tom Brady's young Patriots offense to Rob Ryan's upstart D down in The Big Easy. Along the way, we've punched our ticket for a ride on the Genocoaster, marveled at Russell Wilson and scribbled about the Chip Kelly Experience.

But enough with the preamble. Let's take a gander at some of the bigger themes, schemes and players here at the midpoint:

1. Sophomore quarterbacks all over the map

Last year's gang of rookie passers has a shot to go down as the GOAT, but Year 2 hasn't been kind to some.

Andrew Luck is an ascendant talent, but Robert Griffin III has struggled. The return from knee surgery has to be factored into his slow start, but the Redskins quarterback lacks the accuracy and touch he showed as a rookie. Ryan Tannehill was our top Making the Leap candidate, but he's getting sliced behind a Dolphins offensive line with issues across the board:

I'd listen to arguments for Russell Wilson being the brightest of the bunch, but not so much for our friend, Brandon Weeden:

2. Pathetic big-name running backs

One year after Adrian Peterson rumbled for 2,097 yards, we're seeing a batch of big-name featured backs fizzle out.

Ray Rice hasn't been the same since suffering a hip injury, managing a measly 2.8 yards per carry on the year. He and fellow Ravens runner Bernard Pierce have spent most of the season ranked first and second in the league in percentage of runs netting two yards or fewer.

In Tennessee, Chris Johnson is averaging 3.2 yards per tote and just 1.4 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. The Titans have an improved offensive line -- and benching center Rob Turner helped -- but CJ2K's season is adrift.

It's not all about YPC, but Maurice Jones-Drew -- trending steeply downward -- is another 3.2 man and, of course, we have Trent Richardson. A first-round pick has netted the Colts three yards and a cloud of Lucas Oil FieldTurf:

3. Young front sevens

With teams flinging the ball all over the field, there's never been a higher premium on rushing the passer.

We all know what the 49ers and Seahawks can do, but a handful of upstart defenses have assembled scary front sevens with the ability to take over games.

The Chiefs -- 2-14 one season ago -- don't go 8-0 without the combination of Dontari Poe swallowing blockers inside to free up Tamba Hali and Justin Houston on the edges. Carolina's talented front has wreaked havoc on opponents and thrust the Panthers into playoff contention in the NFC.

The Browns can stop the run for the first time in a decade, while Detroit and the Jets have built defenses nobody wants to face. An overpowering pass rush tips the scales, just ask Terrelle Pryor:

4. The NFC West

The NFC West has lived up to the billing. The Seahawks are the conference's best team and San Francisco has gone 6-2 while figuring itself out on offense. The Cardinals are frisky at 4-4 and the Rams -- left for dead without Sam Bradford -- just gave Seattle a fright on Monday night.

When the 49ers and Seahawks met last month, the game was a one-sided wash in favor of Pete Carroll's crew. We expect a tighter matchup come December 8.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman oversees a run attack averaging 183.8 yards per week during the team's five-game win streak. We're also seeing an increase of Colin Kaepernick scampers out of the pistol, and Michael Crabtree will be back soon enough. Roman promised the 49ers would "peak at the right time."

They aren't far off:

5. The Peyton Factor

It's stunning that Denver -- after all we've seen -- rides second in the AFC West behind the Chiefs.

The Broncos face a fascinating three-game stretch starting in Week 11 with consecutive games against Kansas City, the New England Patriots and the Chiefs again. The K.C. tilts will define the AFC West and tell us more about a Denver offense that's been impossible to slow down for every team but the Colts. Peyton Manning's on pace to shatter a laundry list of records and no team in the league can score points in bunches like Denver:

Manning's arm strength is suspect, but his pre-snap abilities and near flawless decision-making have molded the Broncos into the team to beat in the AFC, no matter what the standings say.

* OK, we're technically not halfway home, considering a chunk of teams have played just seven games in a regular season that rolls on through Week 17. Just go with it.

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