Craig: What we have learned about the NFL so far

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2012 - 5:57 PM

Thumbs up to the Falcons, Lovie Smith and Peyton Manning. Thumbs down to the Saints, Rex Ryan and Tony Romo.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning

Photo: David Zalubowski, Associated Press

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If you're an unsuccessful gambler hoping to kick the habit, look no further than Lucas Oil Stadium for the realization that predicting the outcome of NFL games is better left to dumb sportswriters who are smart enough not to gamble.

At the (kind of) halfway point of the season, the 4-3 Indianapolis Colts play the 4-3 Miami Dolphins in a game no one would have attached playoff implications to when those two teams and their rookie QBs were getting beat by a combined 40 points in Week 1.

"I think you could go with Miami as the surprise team of the first half," said Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. "Then again, really and truly, if you want to get down to it, Indianapolis could be the team. To go 2-14, start over, a new quarterback, all the turmoil with their coach [Chuck Pagano] battling leukemia. That's pretty amazing."

At 5-3, the Vikings also are in the mix as most surprising team. Of course, they're also in the mix to be this year's version of last year's Buffalo Bills.

Like the Bills last year, the Vikings started 4-1. Like the Bills last year, the Vikings were 5-2 before losing their eighth game. The Bills, of course, ended up losing seven straight en route to 6-10. So much for surprise starts.

The Cardinals are 4-4 after a 4-0 start. The Falcons are 7-0 for the first time ever, not that anyone outside of Atlanta notices. The Bears are 6-1 and Lovie Smith is suddenly smart again.

Tony Romo keeps finding ways to help the Cowboys underachieve. Mario Williams is turning into another defensive lineman who becomes a high-priced free-agent bust. And who the heck knows what Rex Ryan and the Jets are thinking when it comes to Tim Tebow.

The Chiefs are a letdown at 1-7 and have yet to lead a game in regulation. But they can't top the 2-5 Saints in terms of disappointment. The Saints are the first NFL team since at least 1950 to allow 400 or more yards in seven consecutive games.

"Obviously they had a lot of distractions with the [bounty scandal]," Vikings left guard Charlie Johnson said. "But still. You figured even without [coach Sean] Payton, this was still pretty much the team that went 13-3 a year ago and won the Super Bowl a couple years ago. What's happened to them this year is the biggest surprise to me."

The NFL's Comeback Player of the Year could be a battle between Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who leads the league in rushing after blowing out his left knee last December, and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who leads the league in passer rating (109.0) after missing last season with multiple neck surgeries and then being released by the Colts.

As great as Peterson's story is, Manning probably will win that award and perhaps his fifth league MVP as well. In his past four games, he has set an NFL record for consecutive games with at least 300 yards passing, three touchdowns and a completion percentage of 70.

"Peyton is not a surprise to me at all," said Johnson, who played with Manning in Indianapolis. "His work ethic is always unbelievable. His want-to, his will to win and be successful is unmatched. I haven't been around anyone who has the drive like that. He's proven a lot of people wrong."

The way this season is shaping up, don't be surprised if Manning and the Broncos end up at Lucas Oil Stadium for a playoff game against Andrew Luck and the Colts.

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2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
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Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
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Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
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Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
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