We’ve officially hit the midway point of the NFL season, which is both exciting and somewhat disheartening. While we’re that much closer to the postseason and the Super Bowl, the regular season is halfway over for all 32 teams. The first eight weeks have been exciting and unpredictable, making for a difficult-to-forecast second half of the year.
As challenging as it is to foresee what will happen in the final nine weeks, let’s take a dive into some fearless projections for the NFL’s second (and better) half. Here are 10 predictions, including the Vikings’ playoff chances and a surprising MVP winner.
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Matt Ryan will win Offensive Player of the Year, but …
Ryan is currently leading the league in every relevant passing category outside of passer rating. He’s played astonishingly well in his first eight games, and it’s the reason he’ll win Offensive Player of the Year. He’s on pace for 5,272 yards, 38 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Ryan is also averaging 9.45 yards per attempt, which is the second-highest in the NFL – first among players with at least seven starts. That’s a testament to the number of big plays he’s hitting, which is why his yardage numbers are so high. So long as Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu stay healthy, he’ll win the award.
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… Tom Brady will win NFL MVP in just 12 games
it’s something that’s never been done before, but Brady will be the first. He is only eligible to play 12 games due to his four-game suspension to start the season, putting him at a significant disadvantage compared to other quarterbacks. Nonetheless, he’ll still win MVP in four fewer games than everyone else. Matt Ryan will put up bigger numbers, but not by much. Brady is on pace for 3,957 yards, 36 touchdown passes and no interceptions this season, which obviously don’t match Ryan’s pace but aren’t substantially worse all things considered. The Patriots’ record at the end of the year will be the deciding factor as they’ll almost certainly win at least 12 or 13 games while the Falcons already have three losses.
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The Vikings won’t win the NFC North
It wasn’t long ago that we were talking about the Vikings as serious Super Bowl contenders. Now after back-to-back double-digit losses to the Eagles and Bears, they’re not even locks to make the playoffs. I still expect them to reach the postseason, but it won’t be by winning the division. The Packers, depleted and all, look like the better team at the moment and could easily win the NFC North. The Vikings still have to play the Cowboys, Redskins, Lions, Cardinals and Packers, all of which are difficult opponents. They could finish 10-6 and make the postseason as a wild card, but winning the division is becoming an increasingly tough prospect.
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Three players will have 2,000 yards from scrimmage
The NFL’s current leader in yards from scrimmage is David Johnson, who has 1,112 on the year. He’s on pace for 2,224 total yards this season, which would be among the 25 best totals of all time. He’s not the only one racking up yards in bunches, though. Ezekiel Elliott has 949 yards in seven games, putting him on pace for 2,169 yards. Given the way Dallas’ offense is built, he’ll continue to get touches and yards.
The kicker, however, is the guy Elliott sort of replaced in Dallas: DeMarco Murray. He’s been surprisingly productive, totaling 953 yards in eight games. He’s not currently on pace for 2,000 yards from scrimmage, but I believe he’ll reach that plateau as the Titans’ offense continues to progress.
Only nine times in NFL history -- and not since 2006 -- have at least three players had 2,000 yards from scrimmage in the same season.
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The Giants will finish 7-9, last in the NFC East
The Giants are a decent team, currently sitting at 4-3. They certainly haven’t met expectations after completely revamping the defense, but it’s hard to be angry about where they stand. However, they haven’t exactly beaten any good teams besides the Cowboys in Week 1, when Dak Prescott was playing his first NFL game. Their schedule is only going to get tougher with two matchups against the Eagles still to come, as well as dates with the Cowboys, Redskins, Steelers, Bengals and Lions all on the schedule. The Giants will win only three of their remaining seven games and finish last in the NFC East. They’re simply not as good as their record indicates, and it will show in the second half.
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The Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs will all make the playoffs
Thanks to wins by the Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs last weekend, the AFC West has established itself as the premier division in football. The combined record of all four teams is 20-11, including the 3-5 Chargers. There are very few teams out there that the Raiders, Broncos and Chiefs can’t beat right now, which is why all three of them will make the postseason. This is something that rarely happens, but it’s setting up perfectly for the AFC West to have three playoff teams.
Only the Patriots will make it from the East, the Steelers will pull away in the North, and the South will be lucky to have a team win it with a better record than 9-7. The AFC West currently has three teams at least three games above .500, and all of them will have more than nine wins. There simply aren’t any better candidates to take a wild-card spot from them.
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Three quarterbacks will finish with 5,000 passing yards
Only eight times in NFL history has a quarterback thrown for at least 5,000 yards. Drew Brees has done it four times, with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford and Dan Marino being the others. In 2011, Brady, Brees and Stafford all reached the mark, which is the only time three quarterbacks have passed for at least 5,000 yards in the same season.
This year will be the second time it happens. There are several candidates to accomplish the feat, led by Matt Ryan and Brees. They’re both on pace for more than 5,200 yards. The third could be a couple of guys. Kirk Cousins is second in the NFL with 2,454 yards, while Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton and Derek Carr are all averaging more than 290 yards per game. Any one of those four could surpass 5,000 passing yards, particularly with the way their respective offenses are built.
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Jared Goff will start at least five games for the Rams
The Rams traded up to draft Goff first overall, presumably making him the team’s franchise quarterback. After eight weeks, Goff has yet to play a single snap, and there’s little indication that he will any time soon. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t play, though. The Rams will continue to lose under Case Keenum, and Jeff Fisher will have no choice but to put Goff in the game. Fisher’s job is on the line – or at least it should be – and he can’t afford to sit back and watch Keenum run his team into the ground. Goff will start a game by Week 12 and finish the season as the Rams' starter.
WPMark J. Terrill
Three head coaches will be fired by year’s end
It’s somewhat surprising that no head coaches have been fired yet, but that will change soon. Gus Bradley (Jaguars), Chuck Pagano (Colts) and Mike McCoy (Chargers) are all on the hot seat, and Chip Kelly has been rumored to be on his way out of San Francisco and eyeing the college game again. John Fox, despite being hired last January, is also watching his seat warm up after the team reportedly brought in an outside consultant to evaluate the its football operations. The Jaguars are going nowhere, and the Colts are seriously underachieving with Andrew Luck, while the Chargers are definitely going to miss the playoffs for the third straight year under McCoy. These coaches’ respective teams won’t wait to make a change, and the three of them will be fired before the end of the season.
A.J. Green will lead the NFL in receptions and yards but not touchdowns
We came into this season expecting Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. to be the three best receivers in the NFL. While each has been very productive, Green has outgained and out-produced all three. He leads the NFL with 59 catches and 896 yards, and he’ll remain on top for the rest of the season. The one department he won’t pace the league in is touchdown receptions. He has just three right now, trailing Jordy Nelson, Michael Crabtree and Mike Evans, who all have six.
Green just isn’t the red zone threat those players are, and he won’t be able to close the gap before season’s end. Tyler Eifert will steal red zone targets from Green, as will Jeremy Hill by running the ball on the goal line. He’ll still be No. 1 in receptions and yards, just not touchdowns.