NFL midseason report cards give top marks to Cardinals
The 2014 NFL season has reached the midpoint for most teams, meaning it's time to issue report cards for all 32 clubs to reflect their performance through eight weeks:
Cardinals (6-1): Remarkable results considering the number of key bodies not in uniform defensively and fact QB Carson Palmer had to sit for a month. Bruce Arians is first half's coach of the year.
Broncos (6-1): With an overtime possession in Seattle, they might be undefeated. Despite hiccups running ball, Peyton Manning-led offense is cruising. Money John Elway spent on defense has paid off.
Cowboys (6-2): They've wisely hitched their wagon to RB DeMarco Murray's legs rather than QB Tony Romo's arm (or back). But clock-controlling offense must keep shielding a defense vulnerable to big plays.
Lions (6-2): Vastly underrated team has thrived despite kicking woes and WR Calvin Johnson's bum ankle. Top-ranked defense is primary reason for rise atop NFC North. They could really take off if Johnson's return opens up run game.
Patriots (6-2): Since wide reports that his demise was at hand, QB Tom Brady has 14 TD passes and 0 INTs during four-game win streak. Defense seems shaky, especially against teams that can run.
Bills (5-3): They wisely rolled dice in draft to get WR Sammy Watkins and did so again by benching QB EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton, who's 3-1 as the starter. Jim Schwartz has elevated defense to a new level.
Chargers (5-3): QB Philip Rivers has carried Bolts for most of first half with MVP-caliber play. But supporting cast better take it up a notch given December schedule will be no cakewalk this year.
Colts (5-3): QB Andrew Luck replaced Peyton Manning once and may do it again at MVP level as master of league's No. 1 offense. Defense was occasionally dominant during five-game win streak before being filleted anew in Pittsburgh.
Eagles (5-2): They're right in the thick of the NFC East race, seemingly doing it with mirrors (and non-offensive TDs) amid issues on both sides of the ball. If the offensive line returns intact next month, RB LeSean McCoy should explode.
Packers (5-3): They remain very suspect in the trenches, a weakness that may ultimately unravel them when it counts. But QB Aaron Rodgers and limited mistakes should keep them dangerous week in and week out.
Browns (4-3): Sticking with QB Brian Hoyer over Johnny Manziel has been the right call for a team leaning on an offense that gets WR Josh Gordon back soon. Mike Pettine's defense has been a disappointment so far.
Chiefs (4-3): They've won four of five courtesy of Justin Houston-led defense that's been suffocating. QB Alex Smith has been his usual efficient self while frequently handing off to dominant ground attack.
Dolphins (4-3): QB Ryan Tannehill has raised his game since Joe Philbin wavered on his job status last month. Rebooted O-line has done nice job. Still, week-to-week consistency lacking overall.
Ravens (5-3): No team in AFC is allowing fewer points. WR Steve Smith has instilled needed fire. Gary Kubiak has revitalized offense that's been exceptional on ground without Ray Rice.
Steelers (5-3): Hard to assess a team that can spank the Colts yet can't put away the Bucs at home. But defense has 11 takeaways in last six games. No wide receiver has outperformed Antonio Brown.
49ers (4-3): They've done a nice job surviving despite constant questions swirling around coach Jim Harbaugh and absence of most of a vaunted linebacking corps. With stars returning, they seem primed to hit accelerator.
Bengals (4-2-1): Not surprisingly, they've been slumping without injured WR A.J. Green. Laying eggs at New England and Indianapolis and K Mike Nugent's whiff vs. Panthers renew questions about big game readiness.
Texans (4-4): New coach Bill O'Brien has them playing closer to their talent level again. But defense must do more than watch DE J.J. Watt. Offense must do more than watch RB Arian Foster ... like protect the ball.
Vikings (3-5): Mike Zimmer deserves coach of the year consideration, too, for keeping them near .500 with a rookie under center and his best player potentially gone for good. LB Anthony Barr is a blossoming star.
Redskins (3-5): QB Robert Griffin III's return is imminent for a team that would be just a game under .500 going into the bye with a win Sunday. Defense is good enough to make them a threat if it's not continually betrayed by turnovers.
Saints (3-4): They're about three plays from being 6-1, but still a good chance they're in first place by Friday morning. Turnovers starting to come on defense, and offense gaining steam as TE Jimmy Graham and WR Brandin Cooks surge.
Giants (3-4): Despite recent rebound, November schedule threatens to bury injury-ravaged team. At least youngsters in several key positions are gaining valuable repetitions as organization's philosophy evolves.
Panthers (3-4-1): Playing in league's worst division is keeping them viable. But exodus of talent in offseason is apparent, and defense has been shockingly inept without DE Greg Hardy, especially against run.
Seahawks (4-3): Results are not reflective of the ability. Champs seem to be their own worst enemy as the locker room distractions persist. QB Russell Wilson better be ready to carry them going forward.
Bears (3-5): They've fallen far short of their potential, largely because they're doormats at Soldier Field. Though QB Jay Cutler deserves heaping helping of blame, defense is an embarrassment for second consecutive year.
Jaguars (1-7): After sorry September, these young bucks are showing life. Defense allowed 16.5 points per game in October. Offense bonding around seven players with less than two full years of pro experience.
Rams (2-5): They're usually a tough out, but that's faint praise considering the overall talent level. Defense has not performed under Gregg Williams. But previously unknown QB Austin Davis has done a nice job.
Falcons (2-6): It'd be hard for any team, even one with this much potential, to overcome a never-ending rash of injuries. Still, hard to explain blowing 21-point lead Sunday. Continued lack of toughness and depth will scuttle them.
Titans (2-6): Given how organized new coach Ken Whisenhunt is, it's ironic that they seems to be in such disarray. The quarterback position is in total flux, and the hybrid defense has fallen flat.
Raiders (0-7): Rookies Khalil Mack and Derek Carr seem capable of anchoring the defense and offense, respectively, for years to come. But they may not have units worth leading before 2016.
Buccaneers (1-6): They can't stop anybody with a defense that might be outmoded in modern NFL. Not good when your offense is almost equally inept despite better than average players at skill positions.
Jets (1-7): They're in unrecoverable slide after handing QB Geno Smith the job in training camp despite overestimating his readiness. Failing to get capable corners Rex Ryan's D needs to execute was a poor gamble.
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