The 2017 NFL Season is officially halfway over, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Football (particularly, NFL football) is my absolute favorite sport, and I cannot believe that it is already halfway done. There have been many highlights, and some lowlights. This season has been amazing for a variety of reasons. Time to take a closer look at the overall NFL at the midway point in this week’s Aaron It Out.
Yes, I had another, fancier name in brainstorm mode for this portion of the column, and I may use it in the title, but I wanted to talk about five highlights of the season so far. It’s the midpoint of the season and these are extremely objective – as in, it’s my objective to bring you my opinion because these stories are so good, they basically write themselves.
1. THE JAGUARS ARE GOOD – Yes, they are indeed – after an offseason of semi-excitement, “winning free agency” again, and then a horrible-looking preseason, the Jags have come out of the gate matching the highest win total they’ve had since 2011. That is a really, really long time. The changes have been positive, and the season has been a pleasant surprise so far. More on the Jags, as always, later in the column.
2. IMPACTFUL ROOKIES AND SECOND-YEAR VETS – Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Deshaun Watson, Marshon Lattimore – awesome players making an immediate impact on their teams during their rookie seasons. Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Jalen Ramsey – players that flashed special abilities last year coming even more into their own this year. More now than ever, it’s looking like there are great athletes coming out of college that can translate their game to the NFL level quickly. It’s awesome to see, and many of these players are leading their teams to success they previously hadn’t seen. I’ll admit it, if you told me a year ago that Goff would be having an amazing 2017 season right along with Wentz, I may have laughed, but it seems like the coaching change out in L.A. set Goff on the right path.
3. NO MORE “SURE THING” TEAMS – They say the playoff field turns over at least 50% year after year, but that may be extremely true this season. In the AFC, at least three of last year’s six playoff teams are in definite danger of not being in the postseason (HOU, OAK, and MIA); in the NFC, I see five that may not make it in (DAL, ATL, GB, NYG, SEA). Some are just not playing well, some are victims of circumstance. Houston lost its star rookie QB to a horrible injury. As Aaron Rodgers goes, so also do the Packers go, and you may as well put the entire team on IR at this point. The Seahawks have spent their way into salary cap heck and their defense is old and their offensive line is not good at all. All that may seem crazy but it’s true, and leads us to our next point:
4. NEXT TEAMS UP – There is a new wave of favorites coming at you in the NFL, and you had better be ready. The usual suspects are on their way out, save for maybe New England, who do not have their division locked down by any stretch of the imagination. The Philadelphia Eagles have the best record in the NFL and are definitely playing on a championship level, and look to be the favorite in the NFC. The Kansas City Chiefs, although they ended with a 12-4 record last year, are on fire and look way better than they did last year. The Los Angeles Rams look great, and definitely have the leadership in the coaching staff to take their talent to successful levels. The biggest surprise, to me, is the Minnesota Vikings. Against all odds, they continue to lead their division and be the favorites to win it. They have lost multiple starting QBs, their all-star rookie RB, and when everyone writes them off, they go in and win anyway. Surprise of the year QB Case Keenum is playing lights-out and deserves a fat contract to go start for a team that won’t ruin him (stay away, Cleveland). Oh, did I mention the tied-for-first-in-the-AFC-South Jacksonville Jaguars, who would currently be a 5th seed if the playoffs started today?
5. THERE’S 8 MORE WEEKS TO GO – All this could change in the course of 2-3 weeks. Philly could start to tank it, and before you know it, Dallas is in the NFC East lead. The Vikings could go from hot to cold and the Lions wind up breathing down their necks. Welcome to the NFL – it’s an awesome ride.
AIO HOT SEAT
In honor of the midseason, a look at some of the coaches that could be on their way out (and very well may be soon):
Ben McAdoo – The Giants stink, and it’s not just the injury bug that’s caused that. When New York unceremoniously fired – oh, excuse me, “retired” – Tom Coughlin, they thought they could keep going with a hot-shot offensive young head coach and a patched-together version of Coughlin’s ’07 Super Bowl coaching staff. The experiment has failed; the team has too much talent on defense to be this horrible (remember, the Giants were a Wild Card team last year) and their offensive talent is being wasted, particularly their (future) Hall of Fame QB. McAdoo and the front office is to blame, and they will probably be cleared out at the end of the season (or sooner!), along with Eli. In fact, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility to imagine Eli following his big brother’s path to Denver, who desperately needs a quarterback with some starting experience before they have to start blowing up their defense due to their cap situation. In any case, McAdoo is gonna be McAdieu here pretty soon.
Marvin Lewis – He hasn’t been extended and the Bengals suck. They’re not necessarily wasting talent (they don’t have much) but there’s change in the water in Cincy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they let go of Marvin to make a play for a good young coordinator, or maybe Hue Jackson.
Chuck Pagano – It is not completely Chuck’s fault that Andrew Luck was forced to play through his injury, or that there is no talent around Luck outside of Gore and Hilton, particularly on his offensive line, or that the defense is a giant turd, but he is partially to blame. Then again, so are former GM Guy Whose Name I Can’t Remember But Actively Traded For Trent Richardson So He Is Obviously Bad At Evaluating Talent, current GM Chris Ballard, and owner Jim Irsay, whose odd and drug-supported grip on the franchise’s public face absolutely needs to lessen (I could write a whole other column about how Irsay needs to throw some money at Polian, or Dungy, or Mora, or SOMEONE to be a “VP of Football Operations” and take away his Twitter). Pagano is an excellent defensive-minded coach and when he has the right players in place, the Colts are definitely a force – but that has not been the case the last couple of years. I hope Pagano is not fired, but I get the feeling that he will be.
John Fox – The Bears are 3-5 in a division where Aaron Rodgers is out for the year. They actively signed Mike Glennon. These may be decisions that the GM is also responsible for, but the Bears are awful, despite fluke wins against Pittsburgh and Carolina. They need new blood.
Hue Jackson – It would be a mercy firing.
THE JALEN RAMSEY MEMORIAL JAGUARS SECTION
I mean, I don’t know what else to say other than Jalen Ramsey may be one of the best players that the Jaguars have ever drafted, and his ejection during the Bengals game last week was stupid garbage. AJ Green was weak and totally rushed Ramsey from behind like a punk (although honestly, any actions like that make you a punk in my eyes – fighting is never the way to solve problems). Ramsey was playing the same game he’s been playing, against players like TY Hilton, Antonio Brown, and DeAndre Hopkins, among others, this season. There’s nothing about it that was out of the ordinary – Green couldn’t handle it, and acted like a punk. Football is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Ramsey was totally in the right, and Green in the wrong. Clear-cut, thank you very much.
You also have to admire the Jaguars for disciplining one of their top players (if not the best player on the team, and certainly on the offense) last week as well. Whatever problems the team was having with Leonard Fournette, they seem to have been taken care of, and all parties are moving forward. We need to remember Fournette is young and we all make/made mistakes when young. He will come out this week and ball hard, I am sure.
I am liking the offensive line setup for the Jags right now. Brandon Linder was sidelined with an illness for some time, and Tyler Shatley filled in as the center and the line didn’t seem to miss a beat. Once Linder was feeling better, AJ Cann was injured, but instead of moving Shatley over, Linder moved into the RG spot and the line gave Ivory and Yeldon some of their best running days in a long, long time. The current line of Cam Robinson, Patrick Omameh, Tyler Shatley, Brandon Linder, and Jermey Parnell seem to be clicking on all cylinders. I would like to see it continue, but we will see – the coaching staff is far smarter than me in that regard and they haven’t given us a reason to doubt them yet.
AARON IT OUT TOP FIVE
PREVIEWS AND PICKS
SEAHAWKS @ CARDINALS – The Seahawks are in decline. The Cardinals just got a confidence-boosting win against the Niners, who stink. That said, this is Arizona at home on a national platform. They generally do well. This will probably be a shootout but I like Arizona’s DBs over Seattle’s DBs. Cardinals win.
JETS @ BUCS – Ryan Fitzpatrick goes up against the team that wouldn’t give him a long-term deal. The Bucs continue their decline. Dirk Koetter may not have a job at the end of this season. Jets win.
SAINTS @ BILLS – We have the Saints, who are surprisingly decent, heading to Buffalo to play the Bills, who are also surprisingly decent. This matchup is intriguing because it seems like the Bills have a solid defense and the Saints’ offense is coming together nicely. The Bills have also not lost at home this year, a surprising statistic but one I feel is important and is going to lead to me calling this a Bills win.
BROWNS @ LIONS – The Browns can start Bernie Kosar at quarterback and still get demolished. Lions win.
BENGALS @ TITANS – The Jags homer in me is going to come out a bit here. The Bengals are going to be salty after last week, particularly AJ Green, and I don’t think they are going to let another team embarass them the way the Jags did. The Titans have only won their last two games by three points, and one of those was an overtime win over the Browns. Cincy’s running game will look to establish themselves against an increasingly suspect Titans defensive line. Bengals win.
PACKERS @ BEARS – I would rather watch a Sunday afternoon rerun of Steel Magnolias. Packers win.
CHARGERS @ JAGUARS – This is a very difficult pick because I like the Jags here, but the Chargers just always seem to have their number. If the Jags can keep Melvin Gordon contained, then I see this being a game that Jacksonville can win. However, I am not sure they can do that. I’m all in on the Jaguars optimism train, and they really do have a relatively easy schedule after this game, but there’s something about the Chargers that always gives me pause when thinking about them taking on the Jags. Philip Rivers is an underrated talent at QB and I am probably wrong about this, but I think the Chargers stand a better chance of winning this game. I hope I am wrong. Chargers win.
VIKINGS @ REDSKINS – The Redskins are trying to figure out if they’re good still. The Vikings know they are good and continue to prove it every week. I like the Vikings to win the North and maybe even the 2 seed in the NFC this season, but there’s still a lot of games to go. In this game, though, Vikings win.
STEELERS @ COLTS – The Colts got a win last week against the hapless Texans, but this week promises to be a completely different story. The Steelers have something to prove and they’re out to do it every week they can after being embarassed by the Jaguars. The Colts will be completely outmatched, especially since they just cut their most talented defensive player (Vontae Davis). Steelers win.
TEXANS @ RAMS – The Texans could have signed Colin Kaepernick, signed Josh Johnson instead, are starting Tom “Mr. Immobile” Savage, and their offensive and defensive lines stink. The Rams are much more talented, strong on both sides of the ball, and one of the big stories of the year. Who ya got? Rams win.
GIANTS @ NINERS – Yeesh. Oh, wow – this is still happening? It’s a 4PM game? Why, NFL? Oh my. I feel sorry for those in the viewing area of this game. Uhm, ah, I guess… Giants win? Just… my goodness.
COWBOYS @ FALCONS – Atlanta needs to get Steve Sarkisian some help (possibly out the door), and although Dallas may not have Zeke Elliott in their backfield, they are finding ways to win games against all odds (I am very impressed with their victory over Kansas City last week). I think the Cowboys, after a slow start, are looking solid and making a pretty decent play for the NFC Wild Card this year. The Falcons are continuing to experience their Super Bowl loss “hangover,” and it will likely continue this week. Cowboys win.
PATRIOTS @ BRONCOS – The Broncos have a quarterback problem and neither Brock Osweiler nor Paxton Lynch are the solution. Unless the defense can come together and support the team the way they did in that fluke-y win a couple of years ago when the Broncos beat the Pats on the way to the Super Bowl, this game is solidly in New England’s hands. I think New England is very vulnerable this year to rack up a few losses but Denver isn’t the team that’s gonna get the ball rolling. Denver will need to make a strong play for Kirk Cousins, Eli Manning, Case Keenum, or Sam Bradford this coming offseason to shore up their “unable to draft a QB” issue. Patriots win.
DOLPHINS @ PANTHERS – Jay Cutler should be back for this game but I’m not entirely sure that will make much of a difference as Carolina has been rolling the past few games. The Dolphins are gonna be the Dolphins, and are most likely due to continue their losing streak here. Panthers win.
Enjoy the games everyone! See you next week!
Featured image by @madebytim