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Tuesday March 28th, 2023 4:28AM

Many positive, negative surprises mark NFL season's 1st half

By The Associated Press
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The New York Jets, New York Giants and Miami Dolphins could end long playoff droughts while the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers are well below .500

These aren’t the NFL standings anyone envisioned before the season.

“I guess I would say it’s a little crazier than normal,” former NFL quarterback and current NBC “Football Night in America" analyst Chris Simms said.

It’s not unusual for each NFL postseason to have a few new faces.

Seven of the 14 playoff teams each of the last two seasons hadn’t reached the postseason the previous year. Every postseason since 1990 has featured at least four new playoff teams.

What makes this season stand out is that several playoff contenders are relevant for the first time in several years.

The Dolphins (6-3), Jets (6-3) and Giants (6-2) are on pace to earn wild-card playoff berths. The Jets haven’t reached the postseason since 2010, the longest absence of any team.

“Whoever we’re playing, whether it’s before or after the game, we know that we can play with anybody just based off our confidence, off our skill level and really based off the ability to understand the game,” Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “I feel like we’re a young group, but we’re very wise in a lot of areas, and it makes up for a lot of things.”

The Dolphins and Giants last reached the postseason in 2016. Before then, Miami hadn't earned a postseason bid since 2008. The Giants' last playoff berth before 2016 was its 2011 Super Bowl championship season.

Moreover, the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks are leading their respective divisions after finishing in last place a year ago. The NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (7-1) have bounced back from an 8-9 season.

If Baltimore or Seattle maintain their leads, this would mark the 18th time in the last 20 seasons that at least one team has won its division after either tying for last or finishing last outright the previous year.

Seattle may be the biggest surprise of all. The Seahawks have capitalized on quarterback Geno Smith’s emergence after trading Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos.

“I thought they might be a three-win team going into the season,” said NFL Network analyst and former executive and scouting director Marc Ross. “I had Geno in New York, loved the guy, but just didn’t think he had this in him anymore after so much time, and just rolling the dice with all the young guys they had and losing Russell. It just seemed as if this was a complete rebuilding year. They started out as a feel-good story – oh, this is cool – and now when you look at them, they’re a legitimate team when you look at the talent they have at every position group, really.”

There also have been plenty of unwelcome surprises, most notably the last two Super Bowl champions.

The Rams (3-5) have lost four of their last five. They’re coming off a loss to Tampa Bay (4-5), which is tied for first in the NFC South only because every team in that division is below .500.

The three-time defending NFC North champion Packers (3-6) have lost five straight games for the first time since 2008.

“Nobody likes being in this situation,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “But the only way that I know how to get out of it is to continue to fight, continue to go back to work and try to find

There’s a common thread with those three teams. They’re all aging teams with veteran quarterbacks who aren’t playing up to their usual standards.

“When old quarterbacks sort of hit the wall, they hit the wall,” Ross said. “They don’t come back.”

One year after leading the Rams to a Super Bowl title, Matthew Stafford has thrown an equal number of interceptions (eight) and touchdown passes. Rodgers is coming off a three-interception performance at Detroit. Tom Brady ended his brief retirement to return to Tampa and has 10 touchdown passes with one interception, but the Bucs continue to struggle.

“The reign of Brady and Rodgers being the top quarterbacks in football, it’s over,” Simms said. “It’s been over. But people didn’t want to get off of that. I think that’s part of it. Those two, they’re not even in the same stratosphere as somebody like Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes anymore. They’re in a different world. Joe Burrow’s in a different world than they are. Justin Herbert’s in a different world than they are. Lamar Jackson’s in a different world than they are.”

Simms doesn’t see how Rodgers or Brady could reverse that trend, which is bad news for the long-term prospects of the Packers and Bucs.

“I think there’s a little bit of a changing of the guard, not only with teams to a degree, but certainly at the quarterback position throughout the NFL,” Simms said.

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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