Winners and losers from first half of NFL season

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve now reached the halfway point in the 2019 NFL season. It’s already been a year full of surprises, breakouts, disappointments and two undefeated teams are still left standing.

The NFC is loaded with contenders all vying for a shot at the undefeated San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, the AFC continues to be dominated by the 8-0 New England Patriots with the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens waiting for their shot at the NFL’s dynasty.

Now let’s take a look at the biggest winners and losers from the first half of the 2019 NFL season.

Winner: Lamar Jackson, quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

Jackson is quickly surpassing Baltimore’s grandest expectations for him in his second season. He’s on a historic pace right now and is making it a weekly habit to break defenders’ ankles and thrive in clutch moments with big plays.

The 22-year-old is 10th in the NFL in rushing yards (576) and on his way to shattering Michael Vick’s single-season NFL record (1,039). Meanwhile, Jackson’s completion rate is up 5.1 percent from his rookie year with a 10-point jump in quarterback rating (94.1). He’s achieving all of this without receiver Marquise Brown, who is a big-play machine when healthy. Jackson deserves MVP votes this year.

Loser: Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Cleveland Browns

As one quarterback thrives in his second year, another is struggling mightily. Cleveland’s front office kept Freddie Kitchens as its coach because of his relationship with Mayfield. Now a dark horse Super Bowl pick before the year is flatlining.

Plenty of blame must fall on Mayfield’s shoulders and his mind. He’s making inexcusable decisions, terrible reads in coverage and is unfathomably wild with his accuracy. Mayfield threw 14 interceptions in 486 attempts as a rookie and he’s already at 12 on 229 attempts this year, including a brutal pick against New England. Cleveland gave him an outstanding duo at wide receiver โ€“ now it’s time for Mayfield to take advantage of it.

Winner: Matt LaFleur, head coach, Green Bay Packers

Everyone spent the offseason and training camp critiquing LaFleur’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers. Now the Packers are riding high with a 7-1 record, a vastly improved team culture and Rodgers among the favorites for MVP.

It’s also important to keep in mind that this is happening in spite of Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams’ multi-week absence. The two-headed backfield of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams is dominating opponents and Rodgers is taking advantage of more open windows and creative play designs than he’s had in years. While LaFleur won’t likely win Coach of the Year, he belongs in the conversation.

Loser: Matt Nagy, head coach, Chicago Bears

Nagy could do no wrong in his first season in Chicago. Now everything is going wrong for the NFL’s reigning Coach of the Year recipient. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has regressed in his third year and this offense can’t get anything going.

An offense that averaged 26.3 points per game in 2018 is averaging 18.3 points this year. Most of the issues surround Trubisky, who opposing teams routinely challenge to beat them and he fails. That said, Nagy’s decisions aren’t helping Chicago either โ€“ his decision to kneel the ball rather than gain crucial extra yards played a role in Chicago’s humiliating loss on another missed field goal. Nagy’s job isn’t in jeopardy, but it’s time for significant changes with the decision-making and at quarterback.

Winner: Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback, New Orleans Saints

Bridgewater chose to re-sign with New Orleans as Drew Brees’ backup rather than become a starter for the Miami Dolphins. It’s a decision that paid off for the Saints and will set up Bridgewater to land a sizable contract this offseason.

Everything clicked once he started practicing with the starters. New Orleans rode a five-game winning streak with Bridgewater under center. He completed 115-of-165 attempts for 1,205 yards and a 9-2 TD-INT ratio during Brees’ absence. The 26-year-old is on a Super Bowl-caliber roster and made himself tens of millions of dollars on his next contract.

Loser: Melvin Gordon, running back, Los Angeles Chargers

As one player celebrates his contract decision, another is filled with regret. Gordon held out in training camp and carried it into the start of the regular season. Once he saw Austin Ekeler dominating, Gordon returned to Los Angeles.

Things spiraled further out of control since then. The Chargers just narrowly avoided a four-game losing streak and their Pro Bowl running back is averaging only 2.5 yards per carry with two fumbles. Gordon turned down a multi-year extension in August worth $10 million per season. Now he might not receive $10 million in total when he hits free agency this offseason.

Winner: Dalvin Cook, running back, Minnesota Vikings

Only one running back has won the NFL MVP award in the last 12 years. The odds are quite long for Cook to win the honor, but he’s delivering a season worthy of consideration. He leads the NFL in scrimmage yards (1,116), ranks second in first downs (40) and yards per carry (5.3) among players with 100-plus carries. Cook’s dominance is opening the passing game and if this keeps up, his impact makes the Vikings a championship-caliber team.

Loser: Dan Quinn, head coach, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta’s first half of the season can only be described as a disaster. A majority of the blame for this team’s disastrous start falls on Quinn and a defense that gives its opponents a “get right” game every Sunday. Quinn, who has an extensive background in defense, is calling plays for a unit that allows the second-most points per game (31.3) this season. It’s evident that change is required, but that decision might not come until much later in the year.

Winner: Nick Bosa, defensive end, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco knew it landed a special player when it took Bosa with the No. 2 pick. He’s playing at a level that is far exceeding the team’s grandest expectations and must be considered among the best defensive players in the NFL.

He entered Week 9 as the heavy favorite to be the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Bosa performed at an absurd level against the Carolina Panthers with three sacks and an insane interception. Now that he’s fully recovered from his ankle injury early in the year, Bosa will keep creating havoc in opposing backfields.

Loser: Joe Mixon, running back, Cincinnati Bengals

Mixon found himself in a miserable situation entering the season. After losing key starters on the offensive line to injuries and retirement in the preseason, the Bengals entered with one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. The line has been even worse for the Bengals than anyone imagined.

After rushing for 1,168 yards in 2018, Mixon is on pace for 640 yards this season. There’s zero room for him to run, with defenders getting into the backfield before he can even move, which results in his career-worst 3.2 ypc. He isn’t even being used as frequently in the passing game, further hurting his production in 2019. We won’t see the best version of Mixon until Cincinnati’s offensive line vastly improves.

Winner: Bill Belichick, head coach, New England Patriots

Everything is golden in New England. The reigning Super Bowl champions are utterly dominating every opponent on their schedule and Belichick’s defense is achieving some historic accomplishments. As detailed by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, New England leads the NFL in passer rating allowed (40.6), pressure rate (32.1 percent), yards per attempt allowed (5.1) and scoring percentage (7.6 percent).

Meanwhile, the NFL averages are 92.1, 27.1 percent, 7.4 and 35.1 percent. The secondary is locked down by two of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore and Jon Jones, with All-Pro safety Devin McCourty behind them. Belichick lost his defensive coordinators in consecutive seasons โ€“ this is his masterpiece. No one in the AFC is stopping this team from reaching Super Bowl LIV.

Loser: John Elway, general manager, Denver Broncos

Elway’s playing career will be remembered for so many moments of greatness. We’re now at the point in his tenure as Denver’s general manager and he might have more blunders in the front office than highlights on the gridiron.

He doesn’t have a good eye for evaluating quarterbacks and it’s greatly hindered Denver’s potential. Now with Joe Flacco sidelined and Drew Lock weeks away from a return, things are going to get even uglier. The Broncos are on pace to finish with only four wins, which would give them 15 total victories in the past three years. Head coach Vic Fangio may get more time, but the clock might run out on Elway’s career in the front office.