- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

Everybody knows Minnesota and New Orleans are the class of the NFC, Peyton Manning is on pace for more than 5,000 passing yards and the bottom of the league has never been filled with so many bad teams.

With that in mind, here are some unconventional predictions about the second half of the season.

UNDER-.500 TEAM SURGES

Miami. The Dolphins are 3-5, and realistically they’re the only team among the 13 under-.500 teams that has the pieces in place to make a November/December run.

The disparity in haves and have nots this year is bad for the sport. There are going to be a bunch of teams in the 12- to 14-win category (Minnesota and New Orleans) and others who will finish with 1-3 wins, a group that could include the Redskins.

6-2 TEAM TO IMPLODE

The Redskins did it last year, finishing 8-8. New England went from 5-3 to 11-5 and also was left out of the dance. This year’s 6-2 teams are Dallas, New England, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Denver.

New England and Pittsburgh will be fine - the teams may meet in the opening round, and that would be a fistfight.

Cincinnati and Denver are a little more iffy. The Bengals face a big test Sunday at Pittsburgh; a win and they’re in control, but a loss and they’re tied with the Steelers. Denver has lost two straight and still has trips to Indianapolis and Philadelphia.

The Broncos will beat the Redskins but won’t make the playoffs.

THIS YEAR’S ARIZONA

The Cardinals were dreadful in December last year but got hot at the right time and came within seconds of winning the Super Bowl. Two seasons ago, the Giants were the No. 5 seed and won at Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay before stunning the Patriots.

This year’s candidates - a division winner without a bye or a wild-card team - is a deep group.

Among the division leaders, Arizona (5-3) belongs in the discussion again because the Cardinals have looked so good at times. On the wild-card side, Philadelphia would be the No. 5 seed today, and the Eagles were the fifth seed last year. Pittsburgh would be a wild-card team, and Houston’s offense makes it a dangerous out.

NON-QB TO WIN MVP

Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson is second in the NFL with 837 rushing yards, and if the Bengals made the playoffs for the first time since 2005, he’ll be the key reason. Houston receiver Andre Johnson has 54 catches for 800 yards and four touchdowns, helping put the Texans in the playoff race for the first time.

And why not a defensive player? New Orleans safety Darren Sharper has seven interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) and 12 pass breakups for the undefeated Saints.

IN-SEASON COACH FIRED

Unless things completely implode with the Redskins (more first halves like last week’s in Atlanta), the guess here is that Jim Zorn finishes out the year.

Each of the five 1-7 teams has a new coach, but Eric Mangini had better not get comfortable in Cleveland. Mangini and Zorn lead the group of hot-seat coaches that includes Wade Phillips (even though Dallas leads the division), Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy, Carolina’s John Fox, Buffalo’s Dick Jauron and Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio.

But no coach will be fired in-season. The Tom Cable stuff hasn’t produced a reason to be fired with cause, and Al Davis is preoccupied with his legal mess against Lane Kiffin.

COORDINATORS BECOME COACHES

Former head coaches Mike Nolan and Gregg Williams have produced massive improvements with the Denver and New Orleans defenses. Williams has been out of the lead seat since 2003, so he may be deemed a better fit than Nolan, who was fired in-season last year. Veteran defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati) could be a great pick.

Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett will get looks if the Cowboys continue to be productive.


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