Madden Ratings: Week 8 analysis, Week 9 predictions

I believe Dr. Peter Venkman put it best in "Ghostbusters" when he said, "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!"

That right there pretty much sums up the 2015 NFL season so far. Here we are at the midway point, and truth be told, there's been a lot to digest. Let's do a quick recap.

We've seen coaches fired in Miami and Tennessee. Star players like Steve Smith Sr. and Le'Veon Bell have gone down with season-ending injuries. The Detroit Lions continue to spiral out of control (actually, were they ever in control?). And, we've seen the Colts go from Super Bowl favorites to a franchise on the cusp of a major overhaul. Fortunately, Indy realized that all of their problems could be solved if they put Rob Chudzinski in charge of their offense.

(Fun fact: There was an 80s horror film called "C.H.U.D." which stood for "Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller." It got 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is almost twice as much as the latest "Fantastic Four" movie. So, yeah...)

Fortunately, there have been enough notable highlights to counterbalance the negativity. We still have four undefeated in Carolina, Cincinnati, Denver and New England, and we've witnessed the emergence of Todd Gurley, a player capable of carrying both the Rams offense and the mantle as the next star running back in this league. Again, not bad for a guy who tore his ACL last year.

So, as we get ready for what will likely be a whirlwind finish to the 2015 season, it's time to sit back and enjoy the midseason Madden ratings.

Moving On Up

If you're like me, when you think Madden ratings, you think Brian Hoyer. No? Well, too bad. Say what you will about the Houston Texans, but the one constant in a season filled with alarm clock malfunctions and Arian Foster injuries has been Hoyer. After a miserable start in Week 1 (one that got him benched), Hoyer has played solid football of late, putting up 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He's gone up four points at the midway mark, sitting at a 79 OVR.

Without question, the feel good story of the 2015 season has been the return of Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry. After being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma last December, Berry battled the disease and made it back to the football field in time for Week 1. Regardless of how the Chiefs finish the year, Berry's recovery has made it a successful season already. He's up three points in the midseason ratings to 89 OVR. Welcome back, Eric.

How great has Larry Fitzgerald been so far? The Cardinals wide receiver already has 55 receptions for 706 yards and seven touchdowns. In the 14 games he played in last season, he finished with just 784 yards and two touchdowns. Fitzgerald is on pace to get his first 1,000-yard receiving season since 2011 (hard to believe). He's up one point to 93 OVR.

Moving On Down

It feels strange to see Eli Manning having a better statistical season than his older brother, Peyton. Manning has 17 touchdown passes and just four interceptions at the halfway point of the season. He's down two points, though, to 84 OVR.

I've pointed out Colin Kaepernick's dip in the ratings before, but, given that he's been benched, I thought it was worth noting that he's down three more points to a 77 OVR. Hard to believe this guy once led the 49ers to a Super Bowl. Whatever the future holds for Kaepernick, I'm pretty sure a rating above an 80 isn't in the cards.

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is down five points to 87 OVR. Given how bad the Colts' season has been thus far, I'd say Vinatieri has been the lone source of reliability on that roster. The guy is a month away from turning 43 and he hit a 50-yard field goal last week in overtime like it was nothing. Five points seems a bit harsh.

Great Caesar's Ghost

Matt Cassel is up a point to a 76 OVR, which is way too much if you ask me. I know he's only played two games, but he's looked awful in both outings. It's a shame that Cowboys fans have to wait until Week 11 to see Tony Romo back on the field. Hopefully, Romo can win them a few games down the stretch to end the season on a positive note.

Six bold predictions for Week 9

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EA Sports

6. I still can't believe Kaepernick got benched for Blaine Gabbert. That's like telling Kobe Bryant he's being benched for Adam Morrison. And trust me, if I'm comparing Colin Kaepernick to Kobe in this analogy, you get a sense of just how bad I think Gabbert is. In his last 10 starts, Gabbert is 0-10 with a 62.5 passer rating. Now, he's starting in place of Kaepernick and without Vernon Davis on the roster. Everyone says he is going to fail miserably, so I'll go against the grain and say he throws for three touchdowns. Yes, three touchdown passes by a San Francisco quarterback is considered a bold prediction nowadays.

5. DeMarco Murray returns to Dallas this weekend to take on the Cowboys. How's this for a jaw-dropping stat? In the six games he's played with the Eagles this season, Murray has just 88 rushes for 307 yards. In his first six games with Dallas last season, he had 158 rushes for 785 yards. Not even Houdini could devise a disappearing act as masterful as the one Chip Kelly has performed on Murray's running game. In their Week 2 matchup, Murray rushed for two yards on 13 attempts and spent the majority of the game doing his best Michael Jackson moonwalk impression. Murray will get revenge Sunday, piling up over 150 rushing yards in an Eagles win.

4.Ben Roethlisberger's return last week couldn't have gone worse for Pittsburgh. Not only did they lose a divisional game at home to Cincinnati, but they also lost star running back Le'Veon Bell for the rest of the season. At 4-4, Sunday is a must-win game for the Steelers as they host the suddenly red-hot Oakland Raiders. While Oakland has put up big numbers the past two weeks and has all the makings of a team on the rise, I still think they'll endure a few more growing pains this season. I like Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant to both get 100 yards receiving while DeAngelo Williams fills in admirably for Bell and gets 100 combined yards of his own in a Steelers win.

3. In the classic film "Teen Wolf", Michael J. Fox's character transformed into a fun-loving werewolf during his high school basketball games and lit up opponents left and right. I feel like Rob Gronkowski is the Teen Wolf of the NFL. Every time this guy gets the ball, he literally drags people along for the ride. He is his own party bus. Back in Week 7 against the New York Jets, Gronk reached a career-high in receptions with 11. This week, I'm predicting he reaches a new career-high in receiving yards. His high right now is 160, which came against the Washington Redskins back in Week 14 of the 2011 season. Coincidentally, the Patriots' opponent this weekend is the Redskins. Teen Wolf Gronk goes off.

2. That offensive shootout between the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints last weekend was one of the most exciting games in years. Not only was it a high-scoring affair, but we also got to see shades of vintage Drew Brees. The future Hall of Famer tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes, outperforming the pitiful effort put forth by Eli Manning (really, only six touchdowns?). This week, Brees goes up against the Whisenhunt-less Tennessee Titans, and I foresee the hot streak continuing. Brees goes off again for six touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback to go for six-plus touchdowns in back-to-back games since Big Ben did it last year.

1. Last week, I picked the Colts to upset the Panthers, and after an epic fourth quarter collapse, Carolina needed overtime to pull out the win. It's not that I don't like the Panthers. They have a top 10 defense and an MVP candidate in Cam Newton leading the way on offense. They're a good team, but they haven't faced an opponent with a winning record all season. Yes, that win in Seattle was a nice one, but don't forget that they had to rely on defensive miscues by the Seahawks to come back in that game. Now, they'll go up against an angry Aaron Rodgers who failed to throw for 100 yards last week against Denver. You don't think he has something to prove this Sunday? Rodgers hasn't lost consecutive starts in the same season since 2010. Green Bay dominates Carolina on the road.

Colin J. Liotta is a Digital Features Editor and Writer for NFL.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSportsHero.

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