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Top takeaways from first half of the NFL season

The NFL season is at its official midway point. There’s been so much that’s happened over the first eight weeks. Just how good are the undefeated San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots? Are they primed for a Super Bowl matchup?

The Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins find themselves in quarterback hell while other up-and-coming teams are seeing young signal callers step up.

These are among the top takeaways from the first half of the 2019 NFL season.

Changing of the tide at quarterback

The 2019 season has been defined by young quarterbacks making their moves up the totem pole. That’s no more apparent than in Houston and Baltimore where Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson have joined the MVP conversation for their respective teams. Some will conclude we’re in the golden age of quarterback play. With Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady doing their thing, that’s about as obvious as it gets.

Even then, this new generation of quarterbacks promise to ring in a new era around the league. That’s led by reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. We’ve also seen the likes of Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz up their games while Jimmy Garoppolo is leading an undefeated 49ers team.

Patriots historical domination

Through the first eight games of the season, the defending champs have outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 250-61. It really has been something to behold, especially on the defensive side of the ball. An older Tom Brady is riding this defense to a potential seventh Super Bowl title.

In addition to yielding just 7.6 points per game, the Patriots have allowed two passing touchdowns compared to 19 interceptions for a passer rating of 40.6. That is simply astonishing stuff. And it has New England as overwhelming favorites to come out of the AFC, once again.

Trades: The new NFL normal

It’s not quite at the level of the NBA. But what we’ve seen on the NFL trade market is something to behold. Heck, the likes of Pro Bowlers Jalen Ramsey, Marcus Peters and Emmanuel Sanders were dealt before Tuesday’s deadline. That comes on the heels of blockbuster deals involving Laremy Tunsil and Jadeveon Clowney immediately ahead of the season.

We’re now seeing contending teams moving what were previously high-value draft picks. Even teams not in the midst of contention are looking for proven talent over unknown commodities. That included the Pittsburgh Steelers moving a first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick in September. It’s the new NFL normal. Get used to it.

Shipwreck in South Beach

Pittsburgh gave Miami every opportunity to come away with its first win on Monday night. The Dolphins failed at every turn in a comical performance for their seventh consecutive loss to open the season.

Miami has now been outscored 238-77 in seven games. This puts Brian Flores’ squad on pace to be the worst team in NFL history, besting the expansion era 1976 Buccaneers as well as the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns from earlier this century. The tank is on in Miami, and there’s nothing the remaining players on this talent-stricken roster can do about it.

49ers as legit Super Bowl contenders

At 7-0 on the season, there’s absolutely no reason to question San Francisco as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. This team boasts the best defense in the NFC, and it’s not close. Led by potential Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa, this unit ranks No. 1 in the conference in total defense, points allowed, passing defense, passing touchdowns allowed, interceptions, quarterback rating and sacks per game.

It also must be noted that the 49ers are averaging nearly 30 points per game and have outscored their first seven opponents by the combined margin of 207-77. Despite some limitations from Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, these 49ers are absolutely legit. That’s a major takeaway from the first half of the NFL season.

Doomsday in D.C.

Jay Gruden’s ousting after just five games was a long time coming. For as bad as the Redskins’ front office is, Gruden did not inspire much confidence as the team’s head coach. Now at 1-7 and ranked 30th in the NFL in scoring offense, these Redskins are an absolute joke.

Owner Daniel Snyder remains the single worst figure at his position in the football world. President Bruce Allen is an absolute laughingstock. The backdrop here is real. Washington doesn’t feel that rookie first-round pick Dwayne Haskins is ready to start at quarterback. Instead, the team is relying on a backfield duo of veterans Case Keenum and Adrian Peterson. These Skins are not even in rebuild mode. They don’t boast enough young talent for that to be the case. It’s hell in the nation’s capital right now.

Kirk Cousins turning the corner

Cousins’ first 20 starts with the Vikings after a fully-guaranteed $84 million deal didn’t paint him in the best of lights. He posted a 10-9-1 record and continued to struggle tossing the ball down the field. It led to speculation that Cousins would ultimately become one of the biggest free-agent busts in NFL history.

In the four games since, Cousins has played like a legit MVP candidate.The former Pro Bowler is completing nearly 80% of his passes for 1,261 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception over the past four games. That span has seen him lead the Vikings to a perfect 4-0 record en route to seeing them average north of 30 points per game. Cousins has Minnesota as a legit NFC title contender heading into the second half of the season.

Browns are biggest disappointment of 2019

Cleveland entered the season with not only playoff aspirations, but seen as potential Super Bowl contenders. Since, it has been an unmitigated disaster for first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens and Co. He seems to be in over his head in his new role, especially when it comes to calling plays.

Remaining on offense, second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield has regressed something terrible. In fact, he leads NFL quarterbacks in interceptions since taking over as the Browns’ starter last season. Through seven weeks, Cleveland is 2-5 and has been outscored by an average of nearly a touchdown per game. It seems to be much of the same for this long-downtrodden Browns in 2019. That’s the sad reality.

Quarterback purgatory

You reap what you sow. This is pretty much the term that best describes multiple quarterback situations around the NFL. Chicago went all in with Mitchell Trubisky under center. He’s regressed terribly as a third-year player. In Washington, the Redskins decided on trading for Case Keenum while failing to develop rookie Dwayne Haskins during what has been a lost season.

It’s been a continuing theme. John Elway’s struggles as the Broncos general manager continued with the team trading for a washed Joe Flacco instead of selecting a potential franchise quarterback in the first round. He’s since been injured after a horrible start to the season.

In Cincinnati, the Bengals decided to ride with Andy Dalton under first-year head coach Zac Taylor. Cincinnati finds itself winless on the season and not even in the initial stages of a rebuild, even after benching Dalton. The disastrous Miami Dolphins continue to roll with Ryan Fitzpatrick over second-year signal caller Josh Rosen while tanking for a quarterback in April’s draft.

What’s the common theme here? These teams are a combined 6-32 on the season with no end in sight. It’s quarterback purgatory, and it’s been too much of a theme around the league in recent years.

Top of the NFC is loaded

We covered the 49ers and Vikings above, but there’s a plethora of Super Bowl contenders riding the top of the NFC standings heading into the second half of the season. The New Orleans Saints won all of the five games Drew Brees was sidelined, proving themselves to be absolutely legit. The Green Bay Packers have hit their stride on offense while boasting a dominant defense en route to a 7-1 start to the season.

These are the four teams most are talking about as potential Super Bowl contenders. However, the Seahawks boast the first half’s MVP in that of Russell Wilson and are 6-2 on the season. Dallas is coming off a blowout win and resides in first place in the NFC East. Heck, the Los Angeles Rams added Jalen Ramsey and have won two consecutive after some initial struggles. Buckle up, this promises to be a blast.

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