Rocket Sports & Entertainment’s NFL Halftime Report

By on November 11, 2011

The Jim Harbaugh led San Francisco 49ers are 7-1 and atop the NFC West as well as being the #2 team in the conference (photo by Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE)

Before the start of the 2011 season, those of us that follow the NFL had our doubts that a raw, yet supremely talented and freakishly athletic, quarterback could take the league by storm. We also thought that Jim Harbaugh would improve San Fransisco in his first year as head coach, and maybe even win the pathetic NFC West, though he would have no chance at guiding his team to a first round playoff bye.

Boy, were we wrong. Cam Newton has energized the Panthers fan base, despite only a 2-6 showing, and the 49ers have the league’s second best record, midway through the season.

Full of surprises, this season has proved to be memorable in many football cities across America. In this report, Rocket Sports and Entertainment announces its midseason award winners.

BEST TEAM – GREEN BAY PACKERS

Could this be anybody else but Green Bay? Undefeated at the midway point, the Packers (8-0) have won tight games and they have won blowouts. Averaging over 34 points per contest so far this year, the defending Super Bowl champions have reeled off 14 wins in a row.

Despite fielding a defense that is ranked 30th out of 32 teams in yards allowed per game, the Packers keep on rolling. Aaron Rodgers is having a historical season and his offense has been virtually unstoppable, scoring over 40 points in a game three times (most recently, in a 45-38 thriller over San Diego last Sunday) this year.

Of course, the season is still early, but its starting to look more and more like the NFC playoffs will be going through Lambeau Field. Memo to the rest of the league: bring a jacket, because Cheesehead Country gets awfully cold in January.

WORST TEAM – INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

The battle for the worst record in the league will probably end up being almost as exciting as the race for the top seeds in both the AFC and the NFC.  The team with the worst record at the end of the year will pick first in the 2012 NFL Draft and, more than likely, that pick will be used on Stanford senior Andrew Luck.

Luck is widely considered the most NFL-ready quarterback to come out of college in quite some time and he will eventually be drafted by a team that will look at him as its savior. Although St. Louis and Miami are in the hunt for Luck, with 1-7 records, the worst team in the league at the season’s midway point is Indianapolis.

At 0-9, the Colts have already been outscored by 155 points on the year. That’s an average margin of defeat of 17.2 points per game, a number unfathomable to fans used to seeing the once indestructible Peyton Manning reel off 10 win seasons in his sleep. Suffering through blowout losses this year may be tough for Colts fans, but by losing this year they may end up winners for the next decade (that is, as long as Luck lives up to the billing as the greatest quarterback to come out of college since John Elway).

SURPRISE TEAM – SAN FRANSISCO 49ERS

Of all the categories in this report, naming a “surprise team of the year” was the toughest. It’s not because we at Rocket Sports and Entertainment are all-knowing and that nothing from this season has surprised us (far from true), but because so many teams are playing above expectations.

In the AFC, Buffalo and Cincinnati are tied for the division leads in the East and the North, and Detroit is cruising, at 6-2, with the playoffs in reach in the NFC. With all due respect to what these clubs have accomplished, San Fransisco trumps them all with what it has done so far.

Entering the halfway point, the 49ers are 7-1 and went though a four week stretch earlier in the year that saw them face the upstart Bengals, the Eagles, the Bucs, and the Lions. Coming away unscathed from the toughest stretch of their season, San Fransisco has won six in a row.

A favorable schedule the rest of the way (with five divisional games remaining in the worst division in all of pro sports) has coach Harbaugh in a prime position to secure a first round bye in the playoffs, an amazing accomplishment in his first year as head coach at the pro level. What has made Harbaugh so successful is the job he has done with quarterback Alex Smith, long thought a bust as the number one overall pick in 2005. Smith has thrown the least amount of interceptions in the league (among quarterbacks with at least 160 pass attempts), with two, and has a quarterback rating of 97.3, a career high by over 15 points and good for sixth in the league.

MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

After a flurry of offseason moves, including the additions of Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, and Cullen Jenkins, fellow acquisition Vince Young labeled the new look Eagles as the “Dream Team”.

That term has proved to be a nightmare for coach Andy Reid, who has struggled to implement his new toys into a Philly pass defense that has long been one of the best in the business. Michael Vick has followed up a brilliant 2010 campaign with an inconsistent 2011, and the Eagles, at 3-5, are in danger of missing the playoffs for only the fourth time in the 13 years of the Reid era.

MVP – AARON RODGERS (QB-GB)

With 2,619 yards passing, a league-leading 24 touchdown passes versus only three interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 129.1 (28.5 points ahead of his closest challenger), Aaron Rodgers has somehow improved upon a 2010 season that ended with Green Bay celebrating its fourth Super Bowl title. The laegue’s most accurate passer, with a 72.5% completion percentage, Rodgers has emerged from the shadow of Brett Favre and is playing at a higher level than the Wrangler spokesman ever did. 

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – CAM NEWTON (QB-CAR)

Acknowledging the size and speed of such an amazing specimen, many of the talking heads at ESPN, FOX, and CBS had serious doubts that the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft could have success early in his pro career. With the lockout taking valuable time away from Newton, it was hard to imagine that he would be able to learn the playbook and develop chemistry with his receivers before the season began.

But Newton came out firing, throwing for 290 yards and three touchdown passes (with no interceptions), in an season opening loss to the Vikings, and has not looked back. Newton has had his ups and downs in the first half of the season, but he is currently sixth in the NFL in passing yards, is second among quarterbacks in rushing yards (to Vick), and is third in the league in rushing touchdowns.

With 11 touchdown passes versus nine interceptions, the young quarterback definitely has room for improvement, but his arrival has revived the career of wide receiver Steve Smith (see below) and has created a needed buzz among the Panthers fan base. As long as the former Auburn Tiger continues to improve, Carolina looks to be a team on the rise in the coming years.

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR – STEVE SMITH (WR-CAR)

Although it may seem odd to see two players on this awards list from a last place team, that has no chance at reaching the postseason, the turnaround in production from Smith (who needs only 82 receiving yards for his sixth 1,000 yard season) has been nothing short of incredible.

Languishing on a roster that hasn’t had capable quarterback play in a few years, Smith has been the most explosive receiver in the league midway through the season. Second in the league in receiving yards and seventh in the NFL in receptions, Smith has once again returned to his previous status as elite. With Newton throwing him the ball, Smith leads the league in receptions of over 20 yards (with 19) and boasts a 20.0 yards per recepetion average (which leads the NFL among players with at least 20 catches). 

Smith already has as many catches in 2011 as he had in all of last year. He also has more receiving yards and touchdown catches than he did in 2010, a season that was statistically his worst since his rookie year (not counting the 2004 campaign in which Smith was hurt in the opener and missed the rest of the season). In reviving his career, Smith has made Newton’s acclimation to the league easier and is potentially playing his way to a fourth All-Pro slection.

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