By Ryan Wormeli
Each team in the NFL has played either seven or eight games so far, marking the end of Week 8 as roughly the halfway point of the 2017 season. That makes it as good a time as any to look back on the first half and try to gauge what we actually know about the NFL.
Check out these takeaways and then head on over to see how Week 8 affected the 2017 power rankings by clicking any of the links below.
1. Rookie(s) of the Year
It's impossible to discuss this season without mentioning the league's newcomers. Kareem Hunt set the world on fire on the first night of the season and has continued to find success in every subsequent game. Dalvin Cook (pre-injury) and Leonard Fournette were highly productive runners from the get-go. Deshaun Watson somehow entered the season as the backup, but took over halfway through Week 1 and has been a superstar ever since. Evan Engram might already be the best pass-catcher in New York (Non-Odell Division). And Redskins fans know Jonathan Allen was making a nice impact before he got hurt.
With guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees getting older every year, the NFL needed a nice influx of young talent, and the 2017 draft gave us just that.
2. Philly Flying High
Brace yourself for this 'Skins fans, but the Eagles are legitimately good, and probably will be for a while. At 7-1, they have the best record in the NFL, a young quarterback breaking out in his 2nd season, and a really talented defense (when the secondary is healthy). There's a case to be made for Philadelphia as Super Bowl favorites, and with Wentz around for the foreseeable future, they aren't going away anytime soon. It looks like he and Prescott will be battling it out for NFC East supremacy over the next few years, putting even more emphasis on the Kirk Cousins question for the Redskins.
3. "Offensive" Line Play
Grading offensive lines can be difficult, even with the most advanced statistics available. Sack rate, yards per carry and other metrics that can highlight quality line play are also heavily influenced by skill position players. Still, it's fair to say O-lines around the NFL have taken a step back this season, with teams struggling more than ever to keep their quarterbacks upright and open holes for their running backs. Even the Cowboys, who had an all-time great offensive line in 2016, have fallen off greatly this season.
Head coaches are surely hoping the league sees more talent at the OT and G positions soon, as almost no teams are exempt from the current struggling state of the big uglies.
4. Hue-ge Mistake? (Or, the Cleveland Browns are really, really bad at evaluating quarterbacks)
The Browns have long struggled to find their next (first) franchise quarterback since returning to the NFL in 1999, starting a whopping 26 different QB's in that span. Despite a gaping hole at their most important position, head coach Hue Jackson passed on drafting Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in consecutive years, opting to take a flier on DeShone Kizer instead. Stunningly, it appears the Browns have made a poor decision, as Wentz and Watson are likely two of the five biggest favorites for this season's MVP, despite being so new to the league. Kizer, meanwhile, is completing just 52.1% of his passes and sporting an unsightly 3:11 TD to INT ratio.
As noted above, Wentz has led the Eagles to the league's best record, and Watson has revitalized the Texans offense since taking over the starting job midway through his first game. Fans in Philadelphia and Houston are not only excited for the future, but are already cheering for winners in the present. Browns fans, as has been the case for so many years, are stuck imagining what it would be like to have a star under center. For that matter, they're still imagining what it would be like to see their team win a game this season.
5. Primed for Parity?
Coming into the season, some folks thought the Patriots could go 16-0. Instead, they're lucky to be 6-2. The Chiefs started out a dominant 5-0, and then lost back to back games. The Cowboys cruised to a 13-3 record last season, but stand at just 4-3 through seven games, and may be without Ezekiel Elliott for 6 games. The Packers are perennial playoff threats, but lost all-world QB Aaron Rodgers to a broken collarbone.
The point is, we really don't know who the Super Bowl favorites are. The Eagles have the league's best record, but you could make a strong case for any number of teams to make it to Super Bowl Sunday. The NFL prides itself on parity, and outside of a few terrible teams at the bottom, just about every team rightfully sees itself as a potential playoff squad. It makes for an exciting season, but also means it's hard for us to lock in on the best teams. The truth is we really don't know that much about this year's NFL, which makes it just like any other year. And that's why the second half will be such a fun ride.