By John Jastremski
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We’ve about reached the halfway point in the NFL season — and yet it’s still very difficult to figure out who are the contenders and who are the pretenders.

The Colts, you loved them right? I sure did. Five straight wins, looking like a team that could easily come out of the AFC. What happens on Sunday? They get demolished by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Packers? Didn’t think Aaron Rodgers would have any trouble with that pathetic Saints ‘D,’ right? Well, guess again.

Those two matchups show you the unpredictable nature of the NFL, week in and week out. Just when you think you know, you don’t!

I’ve always been of the belief that November is the month of separation. For anyone out there, you’ll have much better indication about where the league stands as a whole by then.

So What Did We Learn This Week?

 The Most Underappreciated QB In The NFL Resides In Pittsburgh

I‘ve always argued over the years that when you have a list of the top quarterbacks, you’d be crazy not to include the name Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has accomplished a great deal in his NFL career, he’s won two Super Bowls, but he’s never gotten the proper respect over the years that he truly deserves.

Big Ben delivered one of the best regular-season performances you will ever see from a quarterback in Sunday’s victory over the Colts: 40 for 49, 522 yards and six touchdowns. I hope you didn’t sit him on your fantasy team this week like some stupid sports radio host who shall remain nameless!

The Steelers are anything but a vintage unit in 2014. They have major issues on the defensive side of the ball, but they are a 5-3 and in prime position in the AFC North.

The main reason… the most underrated quarterback in the NFL. Big Ben.

Meet The New Boss… Same As The Old Boss…

I remember the narrative after the New England Patriots played one of the worst games in the tenure of “Coach Hoody” Bill Belichick and “Mr. GQ” Tom Brady on Monday Night Football four weeks ago against the Kansas City Chiefs. All week I had to hear, “The Patriots are done!” “Brady is on the decline!” Ringing a bell?

Well, since that Monday Night game, the New England Patriots have won four straight and Brady is back to his usual tricks.

Brady, since playing one of the worst games in his career, has kicked it into another gear — and that was one full display on Sunday in a 51-23 victory over the Chicago Bears.

The porous Bears ‘D’ never had a chance against Mr. GQ. Brady torched the Bears to the tune of 350-plus passing yards and five touchdowns. Not too shabby.

Brady over his last four games: 69.2 completion percentage, 1,268 yards, 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

He’s back. And as long as he’s playing quarterback, you know one simple fact of life: the New England Patriots will continue to be the team to beat in the AFC East.

New Sheriff In Town?

I think everyone going into the season realized the Arizona Cardinals had a quality roster, but good enough to win the NFC West? The loaded division that features last two NFC representatives in the Super Bowl — the 49ers and the Seahawks? No way, right?

Believe it, folks. The Cardinals are legitimate contenders to win the West.

The talent of this Cardinals team was on full display in a come-from-behind win over the Philadelphia Eagles,  specifically the big playmaking duo of wide receivers.

Larry Fitzgerald is a household name and has been quiet over the last couple of years because of atrocious quarterbacks down in the desert, but it’s not like he forgot how to play.

Fitzgerald reminded you how brilliant he can be. Seven catches for 160 yards including an 80-yard touchdown, the longest reception of his career. However, it was another Cardinals receiver who stole the show.

With less than two minutes to play and the Cardinals down three, rookie speedster John Brown split past two Eagles defenders and caught a game-winning 75-yard touchdown pass propelling the Cards to a 6-1 start to their season.

The Cardinals have all the ingredients. Explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball, with a ball-hawking defense. I’m sure it was quite a treat for Jets fans to see old friend Antonio Cromartie bring in two interceptions.

There were certainly a lot of heroes on display in Arizona, but the biggest hero for that Cardinals franchise over the last two years is head coach Bruce Arians.

Arians just gets it. He knows how to win. He was a steady hand in the absence of Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis back in 2012. He took that team to the playoffs and won Coach of the Year.

Since taking the Arizona job in 2013, Arians has a record of 16-7. He’s gutsy, likable and has helped transform the Cardinals into a serious contender.

JJ’s Stud Muffin Of The Week

Colt McCoy. QB. Washington Redskins.

Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys and Colt McCoy #16 of the Washington Redskins greet each other after the Redskins defeated the Cowboys 20-17 in overtime at AT&T Stadium on October 27, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys and Colt McCoy #16 of the Washington Redskins greet each other after the Redskins defeated the Cowboys 20-17 in overtime at AT&T Stadium on October 27, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It would be very easy to give this award to Big Ben or Tom Brady, but I’m all for the feelgood story. The former Texas Longhorn and Browns QB was given an opportunity on Monday Night Football to start his first game since 2011 and was able to seize the moment.

McCoy led a game*winning drive against the Cowboys and completed over 80 percent of his passes. He was fearless and delivered the signature upset of Week 8 and the signature moment of his NFL career.

JJ’s Charlie Brown Of The Week

Geno Smith. QB. New York Jets.

Geno Smith reacts on the bench against Buffalo at MetLife Stadium on October 26, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Bills beat the Jets, 43-23. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Geno Smith reacts on the bench against Buffalo at MetLife Stadium on October 26, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Bills beat the Jets, 43-23. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

There’s no argument that statistically Geno Smith has been the worst quarterback in the NFL this season. After Sunday’s first quarter against the Buffalo Bills, it has become perfectly clear that he can never start a game for the New York Jets ever again.

That is as bad a quarter as you will see a quarterback have all season!

Three first-quarter interceptions, incredibly inaccurate, terrible body language. The writing is on the wall for Smith. He will sit on the bench in Kansas City and you’d have to assume John Idzik or whoever is in charge of this organization will be looking for a new quarterback.

Looking Ahead… Game Of The Week

Broncos At Patriots

This is a game you circle on the calendar each and every year. Peyton vs. Brady. AFC Championship rematch. This is as good as it gets. Both of these teams improved a great deal since they last time they faced off, but I wonder how much New England has closed the gap with the Broncos.

The Patriots will need offseason acquisitions Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to make life miserable against the best receiving core in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, can the New England offensive line handle the much-improved Denver pass rush featuring a healthy Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

I expect an instant classic in the late afternoon slate on Sunday.

JJ’s Sucker Bet Of The Week:

New Orleans -1.5 At Carolina

After Sunday night’s victory over Aaron Rodgers, a lot of people out there are going to believe the New Orleans Saints are all the way back. I’m not buying, for this reason: the Saints can’t win AWAY from the Superdome.

Home: 3-0. Road 0-4.

This is a Saints team that lost in Carolina a year ago. They haven’t won a road game this year. Why on earth are they favored in this spot? I know Carolina is not as good as the team that won the NFC South a year ago, but I would expect many of the “suckers” to be all over the Saints.

Go against the grain. Carolina will win on Thursday night.

JJ’s Surefire Lock Of The Week:

Cardinals +4.5 At Dallas

This is a difficult matchup for the Dallas Cowboys. The explosive playmaking ability of the Cardinals will give the defense fits. I would expect Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and John Brown to have a field day against that secondary.

The health of Tony Romo is certainly another factor leading up to Sunday. Romo took a beating in Monday night’s loss to the Redskins. Much like the Redskins, Todd Bowles and the Cardinals love to blitz. As well as the Cowboys offensive line has played this year, they did a lousy job of handling the blitz pickups.

That’s a major problem.

You’re giving me 4.5 points too in the process? I’ll take ’em, but I don’t even need ’em! Cardinals will win the game outright.

John Jastremski was the winner of Fantasy Phenom in 2011 and can be heard on his program, “JJ After Dark,” on WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. (This week on WFAN: Friday 10 p.m. – 1 a.m. and Sunday 2-6 a.m.) Follow him on Twitter — @john_jastremski.

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