The National Football League's season is at the 50-yard line. Half of the regular season games are in the book. Some teams are thinking Super Bowl, some are thinking playoffs, and others are just playing out the string.
Midseason is a good time to check in on who's up, who's down and who's gaining ground in the NFL. Let's start with the folks who are up:
Traditional powers. Most of the best teams this year are the NFL's usual suspects. The Philadelphia Eagles (6 wins-2 losses), Green Bay Packers (7-1), San Francisco 49ers (6-2), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-2) and Denver Broncos (6-2) all look like they can start printing tickets for the playoffs. These teams usually are good because they have smart coaches, veteran quarterbacks and solid defenses. It's the same story this season.
Marty Schottenheimer. Remember him? Coach Schottenheimer got run out of town after leading the Washington Redskins to an 8-8 record last season. But the Skins won eight of their last 11 games for Coach Schottenheimer. Well, the coach went to San Diego and he's still winning. The Chargers, led by running back LaDainian Tomlinson, are this year's surprise team with a record of 6-2. But the Chargers' remaining schedule is brutal. Despite a hot start, Marty may go 8-8 again this year.
Michael Vick. A second-year quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons (5-3), Michael Vick is simply the most exciting young player in the NFL. When the super-quick Mr. Vick tucks the ball under his arm and takes off out of the pocket, watch out. Catch him if you can.
Okay, now let's talk about who's down:
The Defending Champs. Who would have thought that last season's Super Bowl teams would have a combined record of 7-9 at the halfway point of this season? Not me. Still, I figure at least one of these teams will be back in the playoffs at the end of the season. Which one? The Patriots. The Pats have a solid team with quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady at the helm. The Rams' star quarterback, Kurt Warner, has been injured. The Rams won't make it without Warner at his best.
Kordell Stewart. Last season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart looked like he had it all -- a playoff team, a rocket arm and flashing feet. Now, after too many mistakes and other mishaps, Stewart is on the bench behind Tommy Maddox. How the mighty have fallen.
So who's gaining ground? That's easy:
Emmitt Smith. The great Dallas Cowboys running back broke Walter Payton's all-time rushing record this season. No one in the history of the NFL has gained ground like Emmitt Smith.
The Washington Redskins. The Redskins are not a very good team, but they may be good enough to slip into the playoffs. The defense is improving every game and the Redskins' schedule from now to January is not that tough. If the Skins can just win the games they should -- against the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) and Houston Texans (2-6), as well as two against the Dallas Cowboys (3-6) -- and split their two remaining games with the New York Giants (3-5), they will end up with nine wins. And that just might be enough to keep their season going.
Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's Friday sports column and is the author of sports novels for kids.