What to watch for in the season's second half

Halftime adjustments are critical in football.

Sometimes coaches expand a game plan, many times they reduce a game plan and they do it based on what they learned in the first half. So now it's time for us to learn from the first half of the season and get a second half game plan together.

Here are 10 things that should make up the second half of the NFL season.

There is now enough information to ...

  1. Extend the contract of Romeo Crennel. The Browns are headed in the right direction and they don't need to get this wrong. Sure, Crennel has time left on his deal, but he also entered the preseason as the odds-on favorite to not be there in 2008. The players play hard for him and they respect him; it's time to make a statement in Cleveland.
  1. It's probably time to bench Steve McNair if the Ravens are going to stay in the playoff race. McNair will go down in NFL history as one of the greatest QBs to play the game, but he doesn't have the skills to win the division. He is not where Trent Dilfer was when he took the Ravens to the Super Bowl, and the supporting cast isn't as good.
  1. It is about time for Miami to play quarterback John Beck. The Dolphins aren't going anywhere this year and with the prospect of a top pick in the draft, they need to find out if Beck is their long-term answer. He doesn't need to start, but it is time to get some real time.

I don't think these things will happen ...

  1. Hard to see the Patriots going undefeated. With a win over the Colts, the home-field lock could be done by Week 15 or 16 and the motivation to play everyone could be gone. Also, a team such as the Steelers could come into Foxboro and beat New England.
  1. I have great respect for the jobs Herm Edwards and Dick Jauron are doing with their teams, but I don't think they can sustain the effort and get into the postseason. Both teams are going to need exceptional play from their quarterbacks down the stretch, and that may be too much to ask. Both teams have given up more points than they have scored.
  1. The Bears still have a chance mathematically to rebound but it doesn't look bright for a team that was built on defense and now gives up more points than it scores. Last year, the Bears held teams to 16 points a game while this year they surrender 23. Cedric Benson doesn't make enough plays and the quarterback situation is shaky at best.

These teams will stay in the playoff hunt ...

  1. New Orleans because they have a quarterback who distributes the ball, the receivers have fixed the issue with dropped balls and the line doesn't give up sacks. Brees has been sacked one time in the last five games. If teams don't get to him at a rate better than one time every 66 passes, the Saints will come marching in once again.
  1. San Diego is in a weak division and are already in striking distance. The Chargers boast a defense that can get after the passer and too many playmakers on offense to lose more than they win.
  1. Detroit looks like this year's version of the 2006 Jets. They are headed toward the 10 wins predicted by Jon Kitna in the off-season. The defense creates turnovers (24 in eight games), and that equates into two extra games of offense. If Martz and his offense get three extra series a game, they will make it to the January games.

These teams will make a run ...

Is there a team out there with a losing record that is going to turn it around in the second half and make it to the playoffs?

I think it will be very tough for any AFC team to fit the bill, but over in the NFC it would appear the Arizona Cardinals have the best chance to flip their 3-5 record in the second half of the season and win their division. They have the weapons on offense, and on defense have given up less points than the Cowboys, Lions and Saints.

When it's all said and done, the final stats will say ...

  1. Tom Brady will break the touchdown record for a passer. He needs 17 in his last seven games. Look for Ben Watson and Donte' Stallworth to become bigger targets down the stretch.


Celebrate Adrian Peterson's run toward the NFL record book with NFL Shop gear.

  1. Adrian Peterson needs to stay on his 129.5 yards a game to hit 2,072 yards. It's a lot to ask as defenses will take even more risks to stop Peterson and his desire to twist and turn for extra yards could cause some bumps and bruises that may slow him down for a week or two. He will lead the NFL in rushing, but I think it will be closer to 1,800 yards than 2000.
  1. Randy Moss looks like he will finish with 100 receptions and 18 touchdowns.
  1. The Steelers will lead the NFL in points allows on defense. Last year, the Ravens gave up 201 points and that is within reach.
  1. Look for Jared Allen and Aaron Kampman to go down to the wire for the sack title, and it will probably take 18 to do it.

Circle these games as the 10 to watch ...

The top 10 games that jump out at me during the second half of the season are led by the Steelers at New England in Week 14. The Steelers will have the best chance to bring the Pats down. My second choice is the Thanksgiving Day game when the Packers go to Detroit. It's not only a statement game for the upstart Lions, but the division lead is on the line.

The other games on my radar screen include: Cleveland at Pittsburgh in Week 10, N.Y. Giants at Detroit in Week 11, Tampa Bay at New Orleans in Week 13, San Diego at Tennessee in Week 14. And, there are three can't-miss games in Week 17: New England at N.Y. Giants, Detroit at Green Bay, and Tennessee at Indy. All of those games will have playoff and home-field issues at stake.

The battle of the best defensive scheme is going to be a close call

The 3-4 defense is well-represented by the Patriots, Steelers, and Cowboys. The 4-3 scheme has the Colts, Green Bay, and Tampa Bay among others. At the start of the year it looked like teams caught up with the 3-4 pressure schemes, but after watching the teams who run it it's hard not to like. The Super Bowl right now looks like its shaping up as a battle of the 3-4 schemes.

Best front office decisions for 2007

The season is far enough along to look back at the decisions made earlier this year and praise the great ones. The aggressive off-season moves by the Patriots top the list. Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Stallworth, Brady, and Adalius Thomas all look great. Second to those moves might be signing Jeff Garcia in Tampa Bay. The honorable mention decisions included the Colts letting a number of defensive starters go in the off-season, the contract extension for Tony Romo, Cleveland trading Charlie Frye, and Green Bay refusing to add veteran receivers and running backs to the young roster.

It's time to think about 2008

With a half of a season left it is close to the right time for the Dolphins, Jets, and Raiders to start aiming toward the 2008 season. All three teams have coaches who need to know what they have personnel wise before the end of the season. Veteran players hate when it appears the team is throwing in the towel, but it's not really the case. There are some young players on the sidelines, especially quarterbacks, that need to go. Head coaches have to be able to sell the decision that everyone is being evaluated and it's a good thing.

Is the NFL simply running out of QBs?

During Week 9 we saw 11 quarterbacks start who were really backups at some point in the season. We have already seen 67 quarterbacks throw a pass in the league this year. I talked with two head coaches who are both working out quarterbacks this late into the season trying to have enough guys in uniform to finish a game if need be. By the end of the season, there will close to 80 quarterbacks who have taken a snap and thrown a pass for 32 teams. We have officially run out of choices at quarterback if a team needs one.

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