Presenting the NFL midseason awards
The end of week eight marks the halfway point of the NFL season and despite the time elapsed, for every certainty there are just as many ambiguities.
It is time to look back on the season so far and recognise the impressive performances, the disappointments and the surprises.
MVP: Eli Manning (New York Giants), runner up Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos)
After earning the status of the best road quarterback and one of the most clutch in last year’s playoffs, Eli Manning has continued his ascent to the upper tier of quarterbacks with a remarkable string of performances so far this season.
Manning’s statistics might not be as impressive as other quarterbacks, he leads the league in passing yards but is near the bottom of the top 10 in rating, completion percentage and touchdowns, it is his play in the fourth quarter that has separated the younger Manning from the pack of contenders.
There is no more reliable quarterback in the fourth quarter than Manning. He has sparked remarkable comebacks against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Washington as well as his impressive performance in the Giants’ win in San Francisco.
The remarkable thing that separates Manning from other quarterbacks is his ability to shrug off poor early performances and turn disappointing early outputs into electric second halves. The Giants will always be confident with Manning under centre and no opposition can rest easy with a lead.
This ability is what separates Eli from other inconsistent quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler and Tony Romo. What should scare every single team in the NFL is that a Giants team led by Manning will never lack confidence when playing on the road and in the playoffs.
Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Watt (Houston Texans) runner up Lance Briggs (Chicago Bears)
The difference between the Texans and other very good to great attack is JJ Watt.
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers with Troy Polamalu, Tampa Bay with Warren Sapp and the Baltimore Ravens with Ray Lewis at their collective finest, Watt is the kind of defensive player who completely changes the way an opposition approaches defence.
Watt is as disruptive a force on the defensive line as has been seen in years. He leads the league in sacks at 9.5 and is second in the league in passes defended with 10. His uncanny ability to tip passes is remarkable, he is the only non-defensive back in the top 30 pass defenders and is doing this from the defensive line.
Watt’s impact in pass defence as both a rusher and disrupting passes is one of the main reasons why Houston’s defence is such a nightmare match-up. Watt is clearly one of the most dynamic defenders in the league and as a second year player his potential for growth and improvement is scary.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins) runner up Andrew Luck (Indianapolis Colts)
Despite the headlines that Griffin has deservedly garnered, the race for rookie of the year is far closer than it appears. Griffin and Luck have shown immediately that they have the potential to live up to the most optimistic of projections.
Griffin has been the more spectacular of the two leading Washington to some magnificent wins. Even in losing he has been exceptional. Although Griffin failed to replicate some of the earlier magic seen against the Steelers, he like Luck has shown natural growing pains in becoming accustomed to the professional ranks.
Griffin’s statistical performance is among the best in the league with Griffin leading the league in completion percentage and placed third in passer rating.
This in conjunction with somehow finding himself ranked 13th in the entire league in rushing points to Griffin, having one of the best seasons for a rookie quarterback ever. Rather than comparisons to Michael Vick, Griffin early on looks to be the next Steve Young.
Although Luck is not having near as impressive a statistical season, the trust that he has been given is something never seen before in a rookie.
Leading quite a poor team, Luck has been given free reign at the line of scrimmage to call plays and is already giving ample evidence that comparisons to Peyton Manning are well founded.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Tie Harrison Smith (Minnesota Vikings), Chandler Jones (New England Patriots)
The rookie defensive class hasn’t been nearly as spectacular as their offensive counterparts. With that being said both Smith and Jones have separated themselves from a fairly solid group of rookie defenders including Bobby Wagner, Mark Barron, Melvin Ingram and Bruce Irvin.
Jones has shown that he is not just a pass rusher but a very solid run defender and is doing his best to revitalise a very mediocre Patriots defence. Smith has been excellent both in run and pass defence and has helped lead a much improved Vikings secondary.
Unfortunately, aside from Smith, it doesn’t seem likely that any defender will receive an invite to the Pro Bowl, but this class has some promising players.
Coach of the Year: Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears), runners up Joe Philbin (Miami Dolphins), Tom Coughlin (New York Giants)
Lovie Smith is in the process of delivering one of the most impressive seasons of his coaching career. He has revamped an ageing and declining defence and has the Bears playing some of the best defensive football in the entire NFL.
The Bears are either at the top or near the top of every single defensive category and have two leading candidates for Defensive Player of the Year in Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.
Right now Smith’s iteration of the Tampa 2 is the best defence he ever has had as either a head coach or an assistant and that includes the Bears’ 2006 NFC Champion team.
Offensively, the Bears are playing far more to their strengths and personnel rather than the dangerous deep passing attack that Mike Martz coordinated the past two seasons.
With offensive coordinator Mike Tice, Smith has been able to solidify the Bears line to an extent and has quarterback Jay Cutler playing the best football of his career. The Bears right now can beat anyone and their future dates against San Francisco, Houston and Green Bay will be very interesting to see.
With the way the Bears are playing defence and the potential of Cutler as a passer, this Bears team is as dangerous a team as there is in the league.
Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos) runner up Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)
There is no surer bet for any award this season than Manning winning Comeback Player of the Year.
After four neck surgeries in 2011 that saw him miss the entire season and the Colts cut ties based upon Andrew Luck and the uncertainty surrounding Manning’s health, Manning joined a Denver team that was one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL in 2011.
Although Manning has not yet raised his play to the level of his prime, he is the best quarterback in his division and will likely lead the Broncos to the playoffs. Manning has answered almost every question about his health and shown that he is as accurate as ever and is still the smartest quarterback in diagnosing defensive schemes at the line of scrimmage.
Although he hasn’t yet shown proficiency with deep passing, considering that it was unclear whether he would be able to play again, Manning unequivocally deserves this award.
Biggest Surprise (Team Edition): Tie Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings
At the start of training camp both the Dolphins and the Vikings seemed destined to be among the worst teams in the league. Both teams seemed to be without any offensive weapons led by shaky young quarterbacks and average defences.
Although they are only 4-3, the Dolphins have shown some incredible character this season, fighting in every game and winning against a number of teams that appeared to be superior to them.
Coach Joe Philbin has managed to have all of his players buy into his system and if not for bad luck in overtime games could easily be 6-2.
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has not performed at the level of Luck and Griffin but considering how he was derisively viewed as having incredible bust potential, he has far outperformed expectations.
The Dolphins are not the best team in the league but they deserve to be respected by every team they face. With the Patriots a moderate disappointment, the Dolphins will be in the mix for a playoff spot.
The Vikings somehow have found their defence rejuvenated with stalwarts Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield playing at a level not seen in them in years. Jarred Allen is quietly as good as ever and Adrian Peterson is showing no lingering effects from his devastating ACL tear.
With rookie standouts Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith, the Vikings will be feeling very positive about their position even beyond their excellent record.
Biggest Surprises (Player): Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)
After a devastating ACL tear in the dying weeks of the 2011 season it was a surprise to even see Peterson suit up at full health. Not only has Peterson returned to full strength he has managed to return to top form and is playing at an All-Pro standard.
Considering it was foreseeable that Peterson would not even play this season, he is far and away the best running back in the league. Running behind an improved offensive line anchored by exceptional rookie left tackle Matt Kalil, Peterson is leading the league in rushing and has the Vikings moving in a positive direction.
Biggest Disappointments (Team): New Orleans Saints, runners up Buffalo Bills
After a 13-3 2011 in which Drew Brees broke numerous long standing passing records while compiling one of the most impressive statistical seasons ever, 2012 has seen the Saints absolutely derail.
They endured an offseason of turmoil that included Brees’ contract dispute and media campaign against Roger Goodell thanks to the Bounty scandal (and the subsequent suspensions).
The Saints were a mess in the offseason and have been a mess on the field. Their shaky coaching situation combined with their lack of defensive talent have seen them crash back to earth in 2012.
The Saints’ defence is an open floodgate with New Orleans conceding 472 yards per game. Brees has shown that he is just a volume passer, second in the league in yards but trailing Matt Cassell and Russell Wilson in completion percentage.
The Saints can do absolutely nothing in defence and their attack is very ineffective and has been exposed as much time after time. The Saints right now are riding on reputation.
Biggest Disappointment (Player): Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers), runner up Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
In 2011 Cam Newton appeared to be ushering in a new era of quarterbacks. No longer were athletic quarterbacks to be built in the mould of Randall Cunningham or Michael Vick, Cam Newton had the body of Ben Roethlisberger with better athletic ability.
Newton was the Panthers’ goal-line back, an unstoppable force when near the goal-line and produced rushing touchdowns at a rate no quarterback has ever before. Newton’s record breaking extended into the passing game as he became the first rookie to throw for over 4000 yards.
This season Newton has been plagued by mistakes with the second-year quarterback taking too many risks attempting to make big plays rather than settling for what’s available.
The Panthers have had some seriously bad luck and their porous defence should be recognised as well, but Newton has taken a serious step back from his whirlwind rookie campaign.
Quietly the Packers have improved to 5-3 and Aaron Rodgers is at peak form. The Packers seem poised to begin a long win streak with only games against the New York Giants and Chicago Bears serious challenges in the near future.
Fully expect the Packers to roll into the playoffs as the hottest team in the league and finish the season at worst with a 6-2 record and Rodgers winning MVP based upon the classic Peyton Manning rule that sees the MVP being awarded to the best quarterback in the league leading the hottest team.
Although the Falcons have a substantial lead in the race for the top seed in the NFC, the Packers will be right in the mix at the top of the conference.
If their attack hits the form that they are capable of they will scare every team in the league and for good reason. The Packers can destroy even the best defence in the league as they showed on Monday Night Football against the Texans.