STARTING POINTS: Halfway home, an NFL analysis

Happy Election Day. Get out there and vote for the guy you think will be best for America for the next four years. When your done. Feel good about it. If your guy wins congratulations. If your guy loses, that’s OK, too. The system worked. Accept the outcome. Be happy you live here. And support the winner during his term.

America has already spoken out and decided about one thing, and that’s to declare the NFL the No. 1 sport in the country. All precincts have reported (these are the kind of clever introductions you’re obligated to use on election day) and football wins in a landslide. So with that in mind, this will be an all-NFL post today.

POINT ONE: Usual suspects

The truth is, despite some early shocking developments, as we reach the halfway point, the teams on top are ones that we might have predicted before the season. There’s not a suprising division leader in the bunch –  Falcons, Giants, Bears, 49ers, Patriots, Texans, Ravens, Broncos. In a weird way this predictiability is surprising because the NFL more than any other pro league is driven by parity. It is a rare year indeed when the teams you expect to win, win. We’ll see if that continues.

POINT TWO: Surprise teams, pleasant category

There have been a three teams to forge an above-.500 record so far that fall into the pleasant suprise category. That group is led by the Indianapolis Colts who would be the No. 1 wild-card team in the AFC if the season ended today. There turnaround from a dismal year shouldn’t be too big of a surprise because they have Luck on their side in both senses of the word. No single franches deserves this much good fortune to have its only two bad seasons in the last 15 years at just the right time to draft Peyton Manning and then Andrew Luck. Luck has been as good as advertised and the team has ridden an emotional month to a 5-3 record. I’m a believer. I don’t see why they won’t hang on and snag a playoff spot. The other two surprise teams hail from the NFC in Seattle and Minnesota, both with 5-4 records. It is my opinion that the Seahawks would have an even better record if they would have played this season with backup Matt Flynn as their QB, but there’s no doubt that Russell Wilson’s gotten more comfortable after a rocky first five or six games. His last three have all been solid. The Vikings are doing it with a whole lot of a healthy Adrian Peterson, some mistake-free safe quarterbacking and a decent defense. Of these two I think the Seahawks have the best chance to earn a playoff spot.

POINT THREE: Surprise teams, unpleasant category

The list of underachieving teams is longer than the overachievers. These teams likely did not envision being below .500  at this point (in order of how much I am suprised by their failure) Eagles (3-5), Saints (3-5), Cowboys (3-5), Bengals (3-5), Raiders (3-5), Jets (3-5). This motley group has a lot of the same problems: Spotty quarterback play, dumb mistakes, woeful defenses. If I had to pick two teams from this batch that could string together some wins and still make the playoffs, it would be the Saints and Cowboys. If the Saints defense puts up the least bit of a fight, they could get right back in it. The Cowboys’ have an attractive looking schedule the rest of the way. The Jets are a quarterback change from getting back in it. Their backup, I forget his name, was 7-1 in his first eight games last year. That would give the Jets a 10-6 record. Boom playoffs.

POINT FOUR: MVP candidates

Since the Bears’ defense isn’t allowed to win the award collectively, I’ve got a group of quarterbacks in mind that are in position to claim the top spot. It’s hard not to give credit to Matt Ryan of the Falcons right now. His team is 8-0. And he’s shown the ability to win close games. The media favorite is Peyton Manning, and he is definitely in the conversation, particularly if the Broncos can scorch through a very soft remainig schedule. Matt Schaub has the Texans clicking. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Eli Manning are viable candidates still, and entering the fray this last week is Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers QB is having by far his best statistical half-season and some ugly losses (Raiders, Titans) are quickly being forgotten about. Right now I would have it in this order: Rodgers, Ryan, Peyton Manning, Schaub, Roethlisberger, Eli, Brady. Adrian Peterson would be my top non-QB. And Andrew Luck is creeping into consideration.

POINT FIVE: Second-half story lines

NFC North uprising: The Division is the only one with no team under-.500, and it will be interesting to see if the Packers, looking as strong as ever again, can catch the Bears for the top spot. The way Adrian Peterson is running, you can’t rule out the Vikings, and don’t forget about the Lions at 4-4 who are one of the few teams in the top 10 in the league in both offense and defense. They coughed away some games with poor special teams play or they would be in better position. Bold prediction is that three NFC North teams will be in the postseason.

Charging into the playoffs: My other bold prediction is that the Chargers will find their way into the playoffs. The schedule is not daunting and their main competition for the final spot right now  is the Colts and Dolphins.

Mannings: Both Peyton and Eli appear to be in position to comfortably guide their teams to the postseason as division champions. It’s interesting that they are both so successful but do it in different ways. Peyton is about precision and pre-snap decision making. Eli is more draw-it-up-in-the-sand ad-lib type of QB. A sibling Super Bowl is not out of the question.

Chief concerns: Not an exciting story line, but don’t forget, the Chiefs still haven’t led at any point of any game this year in regulation. You have to believe it will happen, but at the same time, you could kind of see it lasting a while, too.