As the second half of the NFL season kicks into gear, here are a couple of observations.
Before I get to the NFC West, let's talk Cleveland Browns. They've become such an easy target for critics, made even easier after their latest blunder. The organization agreed on a trade with the Bengals that would have brought quarterback AJ McCarron to Cleveland. The Bengals did their part to get the deal done by turning in their paperwork minutes before the trade deadline.
The Browns, however, filed their paperwork minutes after the deadline and the NFL denied the trade.
The Browns are still looking for their first win this season, but don't blame head coach Hue Jackson. Despite his 1-and-23 record in Cleveland, Jackson's had a tough go dealing with an inept owner and his incompetent management team. Jackson made no secret of his desire to not only draft quarterback and rookie sensation Deshaun Watson, but he also apparently pushed hard in the offseason to acquire McCarron as well as Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, who's now with the 49ers. A head coach doesn't need an elite quarterback to run the show, but he definitely needs a good one. Unfortunately for Jackson, he answers to a baseball guy in the front office, who must not know his head from his analytics.
Now to the NFC West. We'll start at the bottom with the winless 49ers. They're in good hands with GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan. They lost five of their eight games by an average of just over two points. Defensively they're young, but the Seahawks will tell you they're not afraid to smack you in the mouth. They lost a very physical game in Seattle by three points. Newly acquired quarterback Jimmy Garappolo gets the second half of the season to learn, and after the 49ers add some pieces in the offseason, they will once again be formidable.
The Niners play the Cardinals Sunday, who are clinging to life with their 3-and-4 record after the Rams blew 'em out before the bye. Without injured quarterback Carson Palmer, the Cardinals are on a downhill slide. Throw in rumors of Bruce Arians' impending retirement and it feels like a rebuild in the desert.
It's easy to see the Rams are on the rise under Sean McVay. The first-year head coach made a smart move surrounding himself with an experienced coaching staff. He revived quarterback Jared Goff's career, which almost died a quick death last season under former coach Jeff Fisher. The Rams lead the NFC in scoring and their defense has long been a nemesis of the Seahawks -- maybe even more this season with guru Wade Phillips calling the shots.
The Rams will be part of a difficult stretch for the Seahawks in December. The Eagles could come to Seattle with only one loss when they meet December 3. The Hawks then travel to Jacksonville, which currently has given up the fewest points in the NFL, and they're number one against the pass. The Hawks come back home for the Rams which could be for the division title, and then they play in Dallas Christmas weekend. That is a brutal 4-game stretch.
A Fearsome Foursome, to steal one from Rams lore.
Although, I know what you're thinking. How many people associate the word fearsome with Jacksonville?
Probably the same number of folks who picked the Rams to win the NFC West.
Or the Bills to make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.
All real possibilities as the NFL heads into a wide open second half of the season.