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Almost halfway through the NFL season, it’s STILL too early to draw conclusions

Jay Ajayi, Mike Pouncey
Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) celebrates a touchdown during the second half against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 23.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

It happens every year around this time. Everybody wants to take what we’ve seen so far in the NFL and use it to predict how the postseason picture is going to come into focus.

That old saying is starting to crop up: “If the playoffs started today, then . . .”

Well, if the playoffs started today, we would say, a) “Why are they starting in the middle of the week?” and b) “What happened to the second half of the season?”

As another unpredictable Sunday reminded us, it’s too early to draw any solid conclusions about which teams will rise and fall in the second half.

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That Arizona and Seattle played to a 6-6 tie, with both kickers missing chip shots in overtime, is almost beyond belief.

Or what about Miami’s Jay Ajayi running for a combined 418 yards in 54 carries the last two weeks?

“He makes it hard to go away from the run, because it’s just positive plays so many times,” Dolphins Coach Adam Gase said Monday, still basking in the afterglow of a 28-25 win over Buffalo. “You just know if we’re in third down, it’s going to be third-and-manageable.”

There’s the synchronicity of Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest active player at 43, making his 43rd consecutive field-goal attempt, the longest such streak in league history. He made both of his tries Sunday against Tennessee to break the record of 42 held by former Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt.

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It’s surprising, too, that with the regular season nearing the midway point, only one team, Philadelphia, has returned a kickoff for a touchdown. And the Eagles have done it in back-to-back weeks. Wendell Smallwood ran one back 86 yards in Week 6, and Josh Huff had a 98-yarder in the Eagles’ 21-10 victory over Minnesota on Sunday.

Philadelphia is the first club since Kansas City in 2013 to have kickoff-return touchdowns by different players in consecutive weeks.

Duel in Dallas

The stage is set for a battle of the rookie quarterbacks, with Philadelphia playing at Dallas on Sunday night.

That game pits Dak Prescott of the Cowboys and the Eagles’ Carson Wentz, both of whom have played remarkably well. Prescott, a fourth-round pick, has eight touchdown passes and one interception for Dallas, which has won five in a row. Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick, has eight touchdowns and three interceptions for the Eagles, who handed the Vikings their first defeat.

There was speculation that Tony Romo might be able to return to the Cowboys for this game, but he’s still rehabbing from a fractured bone in his back. Prescott is expected to get Dez Bryant back, though, as the receiver was able to practice Monday after missing three games with a hairline fracture in his right knee.

Road warriors

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After winning at Jacksonville, the Raiders are 4-0 on the road for the first time since 2000, and they will be visitors again Sunday when they play at Tampa Bay. They will spend the week on Florida’s Gulf Coast to prepare, rather than flying home and making the cross-country trip again. They will practice at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.

The Raiders gave Coach Jack Del Rio a game ball Sunday after beating the Jaguars, a team he coached for nine years.

For Del Rio, the best part about staying in the Sunshine State this week will be getting to see his son, Luke, play quarterback for the University of Florida. The Gators will play Georgia at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field on Saturday.

“This is the same field that he was by my side for nine years, throwing the ball in pregame warmups and things like that,” the coach said. “It will be really awesome to go back and watch him play. He was on the sideline with me as a young man, and now he’s grown into a guy who has a chance to lead a program like Florida in a stadium where we grew up watching the Jaguars and Gators play.”

Asked if he gets stressed watching his son play, Del Rio said: “That’s harder than anything I do. There’s no question about it. That’s the hardest thing I do. Coaching, playing, no problem, but watching your kid, that’s tough.”

Political football

While his older brother was famous for barking out “Omaha!” at the line of scrimmage, it sure sounded as if Eli Manning shouted “Trump!” as an audible when the New York Giants played the Rams in London.

After the game, Manning denied invoking that candidate’s name.

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“Trump? Trump? No, no Trump calls,” he told reporters. “We are using something very similar, but there is not a ‘Trump,’ not an audible that we are using. Nothing there, nothing there.”

This much we know: His line built a wall. The Rams barely touched him.


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