The NFL has reached the halfway point in the season, and we have a clearer picture of who are contenders and who should be turning their attention to 2021 already.
The Chiefs, Ravens, Seahawks, and Packers have justified being favorites to win the Super Bowl going into this season. Drew Brees and Tom Brady have the Saints and Buccaneers positioned to be in a battle for the NFC South title all year. The Bills and Cardinals have gotten MVP caliber performances from Josh Allen and Kyler Murray, which has resulted in both teams exceeding expectations in 2020. The Steelers look damn near unbeatable so far, and head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear that "we do not care" about anything standing between them and a championship.
Let's take a look at the Week 8 power rankings based on what we've seen so far this year.
32. New York Jets (0-7, Last Week 32 +/- 0) - For the second week in a row there isn't a lot to say about the Jets. Until they fire Adam Gase this franchise has no chance to turn things around.
Adam Gase Insists It Way Too Early To Think About Destroying Trevor Lawrence https://t.co/JX8aXuF7XR https://t.co/nzmdunocoQ— The Onion (@The Onion)1603401604.0
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6, Last Week 29, -2) - Three bad losses in a row and they just don't seem to have enough players on the current roster to win. Still have Packers, Steelers, Browns, Titans, and Ravens on their schedule.
30. New York Giants (1-6, Last Week 30, +/- 0) - Daniel Jones continues to show flashes of what could be next year when Saquon Barkley returns from injury.
29. Dallas Cowboys (2-5, Last Week 25, -4) - Jerry Jones this past week reinforced that Mike McCarthy is their guy which should tell you where this season is going for the Cowboys. Time to jump ship on all Dallas players in fantasy including Ezekiel Elliott.
WANTED: Three men for robbery, stealing a total of $259,000,000 from the Dallas Cowboys. https://t.co/jChAXy2Al6— Fake SportsCenter (@Fake SportsCenter)1603926956.0
28. Washington Football Team (2-5, Last Week 31, +3) - Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin are really good position players for Washington. They cut up a porous Dallas defense in a Week 7 win, and once the Football Team has a new name and quarterback their fortunes could be changing in D.C.
27. Denver Broncos (2-4, Last Week 21, -6) - Denver has been ravaged by injuries this year most notably with Von Miller and Courtland Sutton sidelined for the season. They don't have the depth on their roster to compensate and should continue to fade even with starting quarterback Drew Lock back with the team.
26. New England Patriots (2-4, Last Week 23, -3) - New England is coming off an embarrassing 33-6 loss to the 49ers one of the worst in Bill Belichick's tenure, and things look bleak for the Patriots for the first time in nearly two decades. Cam Newton was benched in the whooping, but Belichick has confirmed that Newton is still the starter there. Unless Julian Edelman can wind the clock back five years there simply isn't enough left in the cupboard for chef Bill to cook with.
Belichick's "magical system" offense, without Tom Brady, currently has the most INTs thrown in the NFL with 11 and… https://t.co/JEaJ9qVQzO— Dov Kleiman (@Dov Kleiman)1603912338.0
25. Cincinnati Bengals (1-5-1, Last Week 26, +1) - All the Bengals need is a defense because Joe Burrow is already a bona fide stud. He's thrown for 300 or more yards in five of his seven career games and thrown for three touchdowns now twice. Cincinnati is much better than their record indicates and adds yet another team in the AFC North you don't want to face.
Joe Burrow BALLED out today despite the loss: 🔥 440 Total Yards 🔥 4 Total TDs https://t.co/9znwVgeZqK— ESPN (@ESPN)1603658964.0
24. Houston Texans (1-6, Last Week 22, -2) - Should get on track this week against Jacksonville although the playoffs may be out of reach already for Houston.
23. Atlanta Falcons (1-6, Last Week 24, +1) - The Falcons should've came out of Week 7 with a win, instead their strange season rolls on as it feels like a matter of time before they start to add some games in the wins column.
22. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4-1, Last Week 28, +6) - A big jump by Philadelphia this week as any resemblance of a football team playing football should be enough to win the NFC East this year. Travis Fulgham has settled into a good chemistry with Carson Wentz and has them looking better going into Week 8.
21. Los Angeles Chargers (2-4, Last Week 27, +6) - Justin Herbert gave the Chargers over 400 yards of total offense and four touchdowns last week. They have a favorable schedule the rest of the season and could surprise us by grabbing a wild card spot.
Justin Herbert was electric in the Chargers' win vs. the Jaguars ⚡️ ⚡️ 412 total yards ⚡️ Four total TDs ⚡️ First… https://t.co/4rtcJruEK6— ESPN (@ESPN)1603669076.0
20. Minnesota Vikings (1-5, Last Week 20, +/- 0) - Coming off a bye week, unfortunately for them they'll be welcomed back by Green Bay this week.
19. Las Vegas Raiders (3-3, Last Week 17, -2) - The Jekyll and Hyde for me the in the first half. They've beaten the Saints and Chiefs, but got crushed by the Patriots, who we thought were good, and the Bucs, who we know are good. Should know more after this week. TBD for Gruden's Raiders.
18. Chicago Bears (5-2, Last Week 11, -7) - I was looking for a reason to fade the Bears this week and I got it with another flat performance by them against the Rams in Week 7. Expect them to continue to trend down until their offense looks like they have a pulse.
17. Carolina Panthers (3-4, Last Week 18, +1) - Christian McCaffrey a longshot to comeback this week, but is back from IR and should be back on the field in the next few weeks. Teddy Bridgewater has kept them competitive picking up a few wins and adding in CMC could turn them into legit playoff contenders.
Christian McCaffrey has been designated to return from the reserve/injured list.— Carolina Panthers (@Carolina Panthers)1603814799.0
16. Indianapolis Colts (4-2, Last Week 15, -1) - Coming off a bye week, they get a surging Detroit team this week.
15. Miami Dolphins (3-3, Last Week 13, -2) - Tua Tagovailoa will make his first NFL start against the Rams this week. A head scratching move by head coach Brian Flores not only to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick who had the offense clicking, but to put a rookie in front of Rams' defensive superstar Aaron Donald in their first start is asking a lot of the young prospect.
14. Detroit Lions (3-3, Last Week 19, +5) - The Lions look like a different team with Kenny Golladay in the lineup. His long reception setup the eventual winning touchdown in Week 7 against the Falcons.
13. Los Angeles Rams (5-2, Last Week 12, -1) - The Rams have beaten every NFC East team and the Bears to comprise their five wins on the year. YOU'RE STILL ON NOTICE RAMS at least until you get a good win.
12. San Francisco 49ers (4-3, Last Week 16, +4) - The 49ers have dealt with more injuries than anyone this year and coach Kyle Shanahan has done an excellent job keeping his team focused on winning. If they can get healthier down the stretch the division crown isn't out of the question.
11. Cleveland Browns (5-2, Last Week 14, +3) - A career performance from Baker Mayfield who tossed five touchdowns against the Bengals in their Week 7 win made up for the fact that they lost receiver Odell Beckham for the season. Beckham tore his ACL on the team's first drive and will join Nick Chubb on IR.
Baker Mayfield started 0/5 with an INT, then went nearly perfect: 22-23 297 Yards 5 TDs His only incomplete pass… https://t.co/iDSPbl1XEE— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter)1603657787.0
10. New Orleans Saints (4-2, Last Week 10 +/- 0) - The Saints have been playing great in the absence of Michael Thomas. New Orleans gets the Bears this week before two tough matchups against the Buccaneers and 49ers.
9. Buffalo Bills (5-2, Last Week 8, -1) - Tyler Bass made six field goals against the Jets, but those were the only points the Bills could muster against the league's worst team. Josh Allen has played like an MVP at times this season, but needs to reduce the turnovers for them to make a deep playoff run.
8. Baltimore Ravens (5-1, Last Week 5, -3) - The Ravens drop three spots here, but only because they're coming off their bye. Lamar Jackson is going to have to be great over the next five weeks as they play the Steelers twice, the Colts, Patriots, and Titans. This will be a true test of whether Lamar is the same guy we saw last year or if he has in fact regressed.
NFL Twitter when Lamar Jackson makes a bad play or has a bad game https://t.co/azyfqYuCt9— 🃏 (@🃏)1603419425.0
7. Arizona Cardinals (5-2, Last Week 9, +2) - It feels like Arizona should be moving up more than two spots here, but the competition at the top of this list is fierce. Kyler Murray is one of the most exciting players to watch in this league, and although they will be missing Kenyan Drake for a couple weeks Chase Edmonds has proven to be a reliable fill in.
6. Green Bay Packers (5-1, Last Week 7, +1) - Even without Aaron Jones the Packers continue to put up points. Jamal Williams filled in admirably with 77 yards and a TD. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams stole the show though. Adams finished with 196 yards and 2 TDs against the Texans. They get the 1-5 Vikings in Week 8.
That @AaronRodgers12 to @tae15adams connection was 🔥 #HaveADay | @Packers | #GoPackGo https://t.co/ra9pEca3hP— NFL (@NFL)1603657347.0
5. Seattle Seahawks (5-1, Last Week 4, -1) - The Seahawks' schedule does them no favor coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Cardinals. They will play another tough divisional game against the 49ers this week, but that might be just what Russell Wilson needs to get his team refocused and back on track.
4. Tennessee Titans (5-1, Last Week 2, -2) - In the battle of the undefeated in Week 7, the Steelers appeared to be on track to blow out the Titans jumping out to a big first half lead. Tennessee came roaring back however and nearly completed a comeback, falling just short. Pittsburgh has the best defense in the league and did an adequate job of limiting Derrick Henry throughout the game. The Titans will continue to be the favorite to win the AFC South.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2, Last Week 6, +3) - Coming off a convincing win against the Raiders, they will get the Giants on Monday night. Antonio Brown has agreed to terms with the team and could make his debut Week 9. The Bucs are for real and Tom Brady could be raising a Lombardi trophy again, and not for the Patriots. Sooo 2020.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (6-1, Last Week 3, +1) - The Chiefs are so good that Patrick Mahomes can throw for 200 yards and a touchdown and they still put up 43 points in Week 7. Le'Veon Bell made is Kansas City debut and he will add yet another weapon to that offense to give defensive coordinators nightmares far past Halloween.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-0, Last Week 1, +/-0) - They're a team that just looks the part. Along with the Packers, Chiefs, Seahawks, Bucs - they just look like a SB contender in all aspects of the game. Well coached, talent at every position group, next man up mentality. Best defense in the league. The AFC North will be a gauntlet, but everyone else adopted the dark, the Steelers were born in it.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - Bane Blows Up A Football Stadium www.youtube.com
In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.
After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.
The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.
It should also be stated that Reggie Jackson has been really good for Los Angeles throughout the playoffs and is someone that the team leans on to take and make tough shots in crunch time. His fearlessness attacking the rim provides a lot of space for his teammates.
Reggie Jackson after getting his free agency bag this summer https://t.co/kgR7AUeQZ5— Josiah Johnson (@Josiah Johnson)1624936925.0
The Suns have dropped two of the last three games, and their win came in Game 4 which saw a final tally of 84-80 so it's tough to gauge how much stock to take in that victory. What I'm trying to say is the Clippers have definitely looked the part of a Western Conference Champion the past three games, and the Suns are at risk of flaming out.
Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (MCL sprain) will not play tonight in Game 5 of the WCF against the Phoenix Suns.— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes)1624923130.0
The Clippers' starting big man, Ivica Zubac, was out with a knee injury while Los Angeles out scored the Suns by 26 in the paint. So far in every game but one (Game 3 when L.A. beat Phoenix 106-92) the team that has scored the most points in the paint has ended up winning. Both teams are good from the free throw line and it gets the opposition into foul trouble so it is a sound strategy for either side. But Deandre Ayton wasn't able to get much going offensively in Game 5 finishing with only 10 points in 37 minutes.
For the Suns, they were quick to point out their own shortcomings following the loss. Coach Monty Williams noted, "It's just unacceptable the way we started the game," he continued on to compare the Suns and Clippers in Game 5, "We showed up in the first quarter, and they played with desperation."
Monty Williams: “Leadership is tricky - if you can’t get people to follow you, you’re just walking by yourself”— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel Nichols)1624922492.0
Chris Paul who had 22 points and eight assists talked about Phoenix's inability to hold onto advantages, "We've got to close quarters better," Paul goes on to say, "that's been a problem for us all series long."
Paul has been a leader both on and off the court helping this young team to play far above the level anyone expected them to this season, but he's also been a part of many teams that fell short in the playoffs.
A championship run is the one knock on his hall of fame resume, and it seemed destined to happen this year especially after the Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. But he isn't the only player who has had their reputation affected by playoff performances.
The nickname Playoff P isn't an endearing one. It has become synonymous with Paul George and his failures in the postseason up to this point. Any success that the Clippers were going to have this year was always likely to be attributed to Kawhi Leonard, but now that he is sidelined it's all on PG to carry the load.
George entered rarified air Monday night joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant as players who scored 20 or more points in each of the first 18 games in a postseason. All of their teams reached the Finals. George is hoping to follow suit as the Clippers are headed back home to host Game 6.
Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.
Offense being the key word here.
Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.
For a player that relies so heavily on driving to the basket to get shots off close to the hoop, it's expected for that player to draw plenty of contact resulting in a lot of free throw opportunities. That was certainly indicative of what we saw from Simmons in the first two rounds of the 20-21 playoffs.
He got to the line 45 times against the Hawks in their second round matchup, but only converted 15 freebies which equates to a 33% free throw percentage in the series. Simmons shot just 34.2% from the stripe if you include their first round games against the Wizards, which accounts for the worst free throw percentage by a player with at least 70 attempts in a postseason in NBA playoff history.
With a minimum of 70 attempts, Ben Simmons' 34.2% free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in a postseaso… https://t.co/EvEcQxEe8m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPN Stats & Info)1624244835.0
In the four games that Atlanta beat Philly in this series, they lost by a combined 17 points. If Ben Simmons shoots just 70% from the line and makes 31-45 during this series, that adds 16 to Philadelphia's series point total. Obviously, the attempts might not directly impact the losses, but from a very broad overview, it would draw the series significantly closer — especially taking into account that three of the four losses the 76ers took in the series were lost by four points or fewer.
Also let's not allow people to say that the free throw stat is overblown and out of context. It's not. Shaquille O'Neal, who is notoriously one of the worst free throw shooters in league history, still managed a career playoff free throw percentage of 50%. That's why we saw the conception of "Hack-a-Shaq" where teams would intentionally foul O'Neal to put him on the line rather than allowing him to hurt them in other ways.
We've begun to see teams adopt this practice now with Simmons, which is just flat out embarrassing for a player of Simmons' pedigree. We have seen what he's able to do with the ball. He flies down the court on fast breaks, is a brilliant creator for teammates, and is one of the better finishers at the rim that we have in the league today.
We've already touched on his defensive prowess that has elevated him to becoming NBA All-Defense multiple times and a three time All-Star. But what do the Sixers do with Simmons before next season?
The 24-year-old point-forward still has plenty of time to work on his game. We've seen other players add a jumper later in their careers to great success; just ask Vince Carter how that works. But, usually, in order to develop a perimeter shot, there is at least a solid foundation to build on — that being the ability to consistently hit free throws.
Simmons is a career 60% free throw shooter, and he shot right around the mean during the regular season. The decline in made shots from the charity stripe in this postseason is cause for concern that this isn't the beginning of a trend.
Add to that Simmons' reluctance to take shots further away from the basket, and defenses have the luxury of ignoring Simmons in the half court set. We have seen teams (like the Jazz and 76ers) that rely heavily on the pick and roll get shut down in these playoffs, and it's teams like Atlanta and Phoenix that are able to spread defenses thin by putting multiple shooters on the court at one time succeed.
In 34 career playoff games, Ben Simmons has made 5 shots outside of 10 feet (from the basket).— Paul Hembekides (@Paul Hembekides)1624277710.0
Joel Embiid was phenomenal in the postseason, so let's not ignore that fact. Also, he was playing on one knee and still almost willed the Sixers to a win. But again, Embiid was not 100% in the playoffs, which limited his abilities.
Doc Rivers answers a question whether Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team https://t.co/8xL35u98RC— Rob Perez (@Rob Perez)1624244460.0
Following their loss, Doc Rivers was asked if he thought Ben Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, to which he responded, "I don't know that answer to that question right now," which doesn't provide a whole lot of confidence in Simmons' status with the team next year. Trade rumors have already begun to circulate, and it would make sense for this Philly team to hit the reset button now.
If Simmons continues to be exploitable in big moments, as we've seen him be so far in his career, his value is only going to go down. Adding further complications into the situation is the team just agreed to a new contract extension with Simmons and is due to make between $33 and $40 million per season over the next four years.
As the two cornerstone pieces of The Process appear to be two Scotties without a Mike, the early departure for the East's top seed will likely mean a big shakeup in the near future. If Embiid is healthy, he is elite without question. Maybe Philadelphia will go out and add around their two stars, but unless the organization is confident that Simmons can avoid another atrocious offensive performance in future playoff series, all they have is a really good regular season team.
The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.