Week 9: Midseason Awards

Now completely halfway through the 2016 NFL season, I want to reflect on the first eight weeks and give my opinion on who I think is the favorite to win awards such as the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and then I want to give my favorites to win the NFC and AFC.

Before starting, I want to make one very important aspect clear: the NFL season is extremely long. Things will change, important injuries will occur, and teams will fall off or step up. Without further ado, let’s get it going.

MVP

There’s not one name I’m confident in crowning as the midseason MVP. Last year (through eight games), it was clear that Cam Newton was the favorite — his Panthers were 8-0 and Newton had 15 total touchdowns. This year, it seems that Tom Brady is the first name that pops up in everybody’s head, and for good reason.

Brady, despite missing the first four games, has been amazing since returning from suspension; he’s completing 73 percent of his passes, has 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions, and has an incredible 133.9 QB rating. For me, though, he can’t be the league’s MVP. The Patriots were 3-1 without him, and would be 4-0 if they weren’t forced to start third-string, rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett in a 16-0 loss to the Bills in week three. I think the Patriots could go 12-4 with Jimmy Garoppolo, so it would be unfair to say Brady is the most valuable player in the league when his team was having success without him.

It came down to two players for me so far: Matt Ryan and Derek Carr.

Ryan is leading the league in passing yards with 2,636 yards and has completed 69 percent of his passes (third in league, minimum of 100 passes thrown). The Falcons are atop the NFC South with a 5-3 record, and have a pretty firm grasp on a division that everybody thought would be the Panthers to win again.

I have been harsh on Ryan in years past. Here’s his last three seasons’ TD/INT ratio and QB rating:

2013: 26td/17int, 89.6 QB rating

2014: 28td/14int, 93.9 QB rating

2015: 21td/16int, 89.6 QB rating

This year, through eight games, his td/int ratio is 19/4, and his 115 QB rating is second in the league, only behind Mr. Tom Brady (min. 100 passes thrown). In fact, his 19 touchdown passes lead the entire league. He’s on pace for a monster season, and you can’t ignore what the Falcons are doing this year; their offense is dangerous.

In his third season, Derek Carr is making a strong case for MVP. You saw improvements in his second season (32 touchdowns, 13 interceptions), but him and the Raiders have taken a big step in the first eight games of this season.

The 6-2 Raiders are 5-0 on the road, and Carr’s 11td/3int ratio in those games are a big reason why. He has 17 total touchdowns (only three interceptions), and is fifth in the league with 2,321 passing yards. The Raiders have a buzz about them, and if it weren’t for Carr making big time throws late in games, their record could easily be 3-5.

But Beware: Through eight games of the 2015 season, Carr’s numbers looked like Ryan’s this year. His 19/4 td/int ratio in 2015 is identical to Ryan’s this year. He struggled in the latter half of last season, and the Raiders remaining schedule tells me we may be in for the same story this year. I think Carr has made a strong case for the MVP, but him and the Raiders will need to exceed expectations in this latter half of the 2016 season for him to remain in the conversation.

My pick: Matt Ryan. 

Rookie of the Year

This is an absolute no brainer for me. Ezekiel Elliott is the Rookie of the Year, and it’s not even close.

The fourth overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft is off to a monster start of a career; he leads the entire league in rushing yards (799 yards) despite the Cowboys already having their bye week. The rookie is averaging five yards per carry, but more impressive is what he’s been able to do in the passing game. Zeke is not only an efficient receiver (15 catches off 19 targets, 150 yards), but he’s also been remarkable in terms of pass blocking. Furthermore, he sets the tone for a Cowboys offense that’s averaging 409 yards per game (4th in the NFL). He’s a physical back, and his presence alone is a big reason why rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has had big time success throwing the football.

Coach of the Year

This is actually a really tough one for me. If this article was written after week five, Minnesota Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer would be a no brainer. His team went 5-0 after suffering terrible injuries to franchise QB Teddy Bridgewater and legend Adrian Peterson. But after dropping two straight after the bye, I’m not so sure the Vikings success will carry into the latter half of the season.

Bill Belichick could win this award yearly, but he’s made an especially-strong case this season. With Tom Brady suspended, the Patriots managed a 3-1 record. With Brady back, it looks like the Patriots legitimately may not lose a game for the remainder of the year. How do you ignore the flawless execution the Patriots bring to the table on a weekly basis?

Jason Garrett, who has been fairly criticized over the years, is making a strong case for the COY. He showed some guts in Dallas’ Sunday night win over the Eagles; first with a fake punt in the third quarter down 10 on their own 25-yard-line, then by going for it on 4th and 1 in overtime instead of kicking the go-ahead field goal. My issue with Garrett in the past is his conservative, coach-not-to-lose mentality. Things are different in Dallas this season, and he deserves some credit for their first-half success. Reminder: A lot was said about Dallas’ defense and the suspensions to some key players. DC Rod Marinelli deserves a lot of credit for what he’s been able to do this season (one of three teams that haven’t allowed more than 23 points in a game this season)

My pick: Jason Garrett

NFC Favorites

It’s tough to against the Cowboys at the moment; they’re 6-1 and have the absolute best force in the entire NFL — their offensive line. But I’m not ready to push all-in just yet, I want to see how they handle the quarterback situation once Tony Romo is fully healthy and ready to play.

I’m going to keep it conservative and pick the Seahawks. Seattle has been terrible on offense, and they haven’t been ultra-impressive on defense neither. But that’s the thing, they’re still 4-2 and 3-0 at home. This offense will find a groove, and as long as Russell Wilson continues to get to full speed, he’ll start throwing touchdowns. They’ll likely play the playoffs at home until the NFC Championship game at least, and their experience makes me feel comfortable in choosing them to return to the Super Bowl.

AFC Favorites

I really wanted to just write “The Patriots” and wrap this article up, but something tells me their dominant run will be cut short in the AFC Championship game. To who? The Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Patriots offense is a powerhouse, but I’m worried about their defense. As long as Big Ben stays healthy, I think the Steelers will make a run at the Super Bowl because their offense has the potential to be the best in the league. They have the best running back in football, the best receiver, and a top-5 QB. That combo is deadly enough to take down Brady and Gronk.

 

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