Last of an eight-part series
In PFW's midseason team reports, we focus on each team's biggest surprise and biggest disappointment, a fantasy football MVP, an assistant coach on the rise, and a fearless prediction for the second half of the season.
Biggest surprise: Head coach Lovie Smith's healthy scratch of DT Tommie Harris against the Packers caught people off-guard, as did the quick benching of CB Zack Bowman, who still hasn't regained his starting job since being replaced by Tim Jennings in the Green Bay game. Some thought Smith had shown a higher tolerance for mistakes or poor play in the past.
Biggest disappointment: The Bears were hoping that offensive line coach Mike Tice could work some magic and turn the front five into a serviceable unit, but it has been downright horrendous at times. QB Jay Cutler has taken so many hits that he appears skittish in the pocket at times, and the run blocking hasn't been much better.
Fantasy MVP: RB Matt Forté has had some downright awful games — check out his eight-carry, 11-yard showing against Seattle in Week Six. He does have six TDs, though, and had huge games against the Lions and Panthers. Cutler hasn't had a good fantasy day since Week Two, so Forté is the choice.
Assistant coach on the rise: There are glimmers of hope that the Bears' offensive line is improving after going through personnel changes on an almost weekly basis in the first half. Mike Tice has done a good job making O-line adjustments and in developing rookie seventh-round pick ORT J'Marcus Webb. Tice's reputation was already strong, and it could be greatly enhanced depending on how the O-line fares in the second half.
Fearless prediction: If Mike Martz is a bit more flexible in making adjustments during games, the Bears could be a different team in the second half. He hasn't shown much interest in doing that, however. The offense will have its good moments, but it will never completely come together and the Bears will finish a distant second in the division.
Biggest surprise: CB Alphonso Smith, cast aside by the Broncos as a draft bust, has been a gem. He has shown great instincts and playmaking ability (five interceptions) in a short time and has solidified the starting spot opposite Chris Houston. Once the team's most obvious shortcoming, cornerback has been a pleasant surprise.
Biggest disappointment: The team expected a lot out of second-year LB DeAndre Levy. It traded Ernie Sims in the offseason and believed that Levy could anchor the unit from the inside. Instead, he has battled through injuries and has been unable to assume the role of defensive quarterback that the team hoped he'd take on.
Fantasy MVP: Calvin Johnson and his eight touchdowns are head and shoulders above any other Lions. Rookie RB Jahvid Best has been too inconsistent. TE Brandon Pettigrew has been a nice surprise, but he's too inconsistent catching the ball.
Assistant coach on the rise: DL coach Kris Kocurek is about as animated a DL coach — think Keith Millard on Red Bull — as you'll find in the league, but he's far more than a screamer. Although he has little coaching experience, Kocurek was credited by coordinator Gunther Cunningham with the creative stunts and DL alignments the Lions used against the Redskins and plan to sprinkle into the game plans for the remainder of the season.
Fearless prediction: Stafford's injury likely prevents a playoff run but Shaun Hill will keep them competitive and, buoyed by a few divisional wins, they enter the offseason as one of the more intriguing NFL clubs on the rise.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Biggest surprise: There are a number of players to choose from, but the most pleasant surprise has to be the Pro Bowl-caliber play of Tramon Williams on the right corner in place of the injured Al Harris, who has since been waived. Williams has outperformed 2009 PFW/PFWA Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson and has played well enough for the Packers to recently offer him a well-deserved contract extension worthy of an ascending core player.
Biggest disappointment: Even though it has been hurt significantly by season-ending injuries to RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermichael Finley, there is no excuse for the mistakes and inconsistency that have plagued Green Bay's offense. QB Aaron Rodgers has had way too many disturbing stretches in which he has appeared out of sync with a receiving corps that also has left a lot to be desired.
Fantasy MVP: On pace for double-digit TD catches, WR Greg Jennings has been Rodgers' most productive weapon by far. He is averaging six catches for 92 yards over his last four games with three TDs.
Assistant coach on the rise: RB coach Edgar Bennett has quietly done a great job with a backfield that has been much better than it has been given credit for. A case could also be made for OLB coach Kevin Greene, who is getting the maximum out of league Defensive MVP candidate Clay Matthews and undrafted rookie Frank Zombo, who has been pressed into starting duty in place of Brad Jones, who went on injured reserve.
Fearless prediction: In spite of one of the worst injury epidemics in recent league history, the Packers persevere and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Biggest surprise: SLB Chad Greenway has turned into a very good player, and he's playing next to MLB E.J. Henderson, who has come back miraculously from a broken leg. Together, they have been two of the bright spots in an otherwise tough season.
Biggest disappointment: From Sidney Rice's hip injury to Brett Favre's struggles and the latest saga — the Randy Moss debacle — it has been a series of dramatic and painful hits for what was an explosive offense in 2009. The Moss mess might have cost head coach Brad Childress some support from within, as well as with the fans, as he is left to clean up the trouble in a 3-5 season.
Fantasy MVP: No question it has been Adrian Peterson. Week in and week out, he has been a force. Shutting him down means holding him to 70 rushing yards. Amid all the hoopla, he has been a consistent producer.
Assistant coach on the rise: There's a decent chance Leslie Frazier could be the next head coach from this staff. It could even happen in Minnesota. The defensive coordinator has been a perennially hot head-coaching candidate but always seems to come up just short. His chance could come in the next year-and-a-half.
Fearless prediction: The Vikings will win a few games and approach .500 … but fall short of the ultimate goal: the postseason. The wins will cool Childress' seat temporarily, but he ends up getting fired for his complete body of work this season.
You can read more midseason team analyses in the current print edition of PFW (cover date: Nov. 14, 2010) — including categories such as team MVP, player to watch and keys to the second half — on sale now at retail outlets. You can also purchase a print or electronic (PDF) copy of the issue at PFWstore.com.