The NFL season officially reached its midway point with the end of the early-afternoon games this past weekend, and we now find ourselves looking ahead to the second half of the season. This has been a wild year so far in the NFL, with multiple teams surpassing preseason expectations and several players breaking into the spotlight.
As is a tradition this time of the year, our focus turns to which player might take home the MVP award or which team looks like the Super Bowl favorite? The Philadelphia Eagles would seem to figure into both of those questions, with QB Carson Wentz leading the league in touchdowns passes (23) and the team holding the league’s best record at 8-1.
But Tom Brady, at age 40, hasn’t seemed to slow down one bit, as he leads the league in passing yards (2,541) and has the Patriots sitting atop the AFC East, with a 6-2 record coming out of their bye. Alex Smith has also made his case for MVP, with an 18 TD 1 INT start to the season, though the Chiefs are on a three-game losing streak.
As for most surprising team, the Los Angeles Rams, under first-year head coach Sean McVay, make a solid case, with a 6-2 record heading into the second half. Or, if you’re a more negative-minded person, the New York Giants, who entered the year thought of as a playoff team, are 1-7 and look to be headed for a top draft pick.
To help us wade through these midseason questions, we caught up with two-time Super Bowl champion and Inside The NFL panelist Ray Lewis to get his thoughts.
Lewis, along with Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms, and James Brown break down this and other NFL storylines all season long each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime’s Inside The NFL.
CBS Local Sports: Which team has been the most surprising so far?
Ray Lewis: The Rams have surprised me the most this year. You think about the young coach in Sean McVay, what they’re doing with a guy who I believe is one of the best talents in the league in Todd Gurley. They just have something in the NFC that I think a lot of people aren’t expecting: grit.
If you look at this team last year against where they are now, this is a totally different ball club. So you ask yourself, ‘what changed?’ I think a lot changed, not just in terms of the head coach, but I think the players got together and said ‘Look, we’ve got a real ability to be good here.’ So, if you were to ask me one team that has surprised me so far, it would have to be the Rams.
CBS Local Sports: Who is your midseason MVP?
Ray Lewis: It’s a hard question to answer because, of course, you’re always going to have Tom Brady in the conversation. But, honestly, if you see the way Carson Wentz is playing football right now, it’s incredible. That, and you combine it with the Eagles having the best record in the NFL. Honestly, if I’m picking an MVP right now, and I said this a few weeks ago, I’m going with Carson Wentz.
CBS Local Sports: Who is your midseason Super Bowl favorite?
This is a tougher year to figure out. If you look at the AFC right now, you’re talking about Pittsburgh and New England. It looks like those two teams are on a collision course once again this season. Kansas City does give you highlights here and there, but they then fall off, losing their last three games.
When you talk about the NFC, I think we’re on track for an exciting playoffs on that side of things. You talk about the Eagles, the Saints, the Panthers, the Rams, and the Vikings. This is a different mix of teams that we’re not used to seeing over the past couple of years. That’s what makes the NFC really exciting. I don’t know who comes out of that group of teams, because it’s going to come down to match-ups once the playoffs roll around.
CBS Local Sports: Which head coach has the hottest seat at the midway point?
Ray Lewis: Honestly, any coach that’s not winning (laughing). That’s what it comes down to. I know people are looking at the Giants situation right now and wonder about Ben McAdoo. But I think there are other coaches that you have to take a hard look at too. If a guy has been there four, five, six years and things haven’t changed for the team, with what they’re trying to do. Top down, when you go into organizations, they’re always looking at how to get better. A coaching change is always one way of trying to do that, particularly if the coach has been there for a long time and things haven’t changed.