|I can't wait to see Schwartz's reaction when he finds out who he 's losing the Coach of the Year race to!|
Hard to believe, but the NFL season is a third of the way done (I know it’s technically more than a third…just play along, OK?). Despite a six week sample size, there are still loads of questions to be answered. Are the Bills actually good? Are the Eagles actually bad? Can Jason Campbell actually be considered a loss? (I think you know the answer to this one)
With a plethora of mysteries left to be solved, it’s important to step back and see where we are at this moment. Here are the award winners after the NFL’s first trimester:
Honorable Mention: Matt Stafford, Ryan Fitzpatrick, LeSean McCoy, Wes Welker, Steve Smith, Jimmy Graham, Devin Hester
Toughest Omission: Matt Forte – Having a huge season behind a brutal offensive line, but his lack of TD’s (2) and the question of whether he’s even the most valuable on his team forced me to leave him off.
5. Tom Brady –If you’re looking for a guy who’s conformed to the idiotic modern day thought that only QB’s can qualify for MVP, then I’m not your guy. Brady’s sheer volume of numbers (2163YDS, 16TDS) and the fact that he’s piloted an offensive juggernaut make him a legit candidate, but his obscene interception numbers (8 already!) can’t be overlooked. Fluky or not, his 4 INT’s against Buffalo single-handedly cost them the game and his 2 yesterday probably should have resulted in a loss as well.
4. Fred Jackson – A lot of people want to give Ryan Fitzpatrick all the credit for Buffalo’s ascendance, but Fred Jackson has clearly been the most important player on that team. For a guy who was drafted over last year and thrust into a sham of a training camp “battle” for his job, that’s pretty impressive. To date, Jackson ranks 2nd in rushing yards (601), 2nd in Y/A (5.7), T-2nd in TD’s (6), and T-2nd in carries of 20+ yards (8). Projected over a 16 game season, Jackson would end up with 1603YDS and 16TDS. But wait, his impact is felt beyond the running game! Fabulous Fred has been a major weapon in the passing game, amassing 24REC for 279YDS.Talk about Fitzpatrick all you want; Buffalo goes as Jackson goes.
3. Calvin Johnson – You don’t usually see WR’s this high on MVP lists. Then again, you don’t usually see WR’s on pace to score 24TDS. Still, the numbers don’t even do justice to his immense impact on his team. Megatron spends most of the game being blanketed by two and sometimes three defenders. Teams have tried focusing zone coverage his way, they’ve tried bringing safety help over the top, they’ve tried jamming him at the line – they’ve tried just about everything you can possibly try to slow a guy down. It’s not working. None of it. Not only is Johnson still ultra-productive, but ample opportunities are being created for Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Titus Young, and Jahvid Best to make big plays. Matt Stafford deserves his fair share of credit, but Calvin Johnson is what makes this machine go.
2. Darren McFadden – The Oakland Raiders are 4-2 for the first time since 2002…with Jason Campbell at QB. No offense to Campbell, but he kinda sucks. OK, so I guess I did mean offense! The point is, McFadden’s enormous impact on the league’s 9th ranked offense is too impressive to overlook. He IS the offense! In a pass-happy league, it’s somewhat refreshing to see the type of impact a dynamic running back can still have. McFadden currently leads the league in rushing yards (610), is 9th in TD’s (4), and is 3rd in Y/A (5.5). WITH JASON CAMPBELL AS THE STARTER!
1. Aaron Rodgers – In case you didn’t get my not-so-subtle hint, there’s a large amount of space between Rodgers and anyone else in the NFL. He’s absolutely surpassed Brady as the best QB in the league, and it’s not even close right now. Rodgers ranks 3rd in passing yards (2031), 1st in TDS (17), 1st in Y/A (9.76), 1st in Comp% (70.2%), and 1st in QB Rating (122.5). For perspective, Rodgers current pace would see him pass for 5416YDS (NFL record), toss 45TDS (4th all-time), finish 2nd in the Super Bowl era for Y/A (Kurt Warner, 9.9, 2000), finish T-4th for single season completion percentage (Drew Brees/Ken Anderson, 70.6%, 2009/1982), and break the single season record for QB Rating (Peyton Manning, 121.1, 2004). So yeah, this isn’t just a good season. It’s a historic season. Throw in the fact that Green Bay has looked almost unbeatable at times, and you have a clear runaway MVP.
Defensive Player of the Year
3. DeMarcus Ware – Ware led the NFL in sacks last season with 15.5. Through only five games, he’s almost halfway to that number already. As is typically the case, Ware has been absolutely unblockable off the edge and new DC Rob Ryan clearly knows how to utilize him in his blitz-heavy scheme. What’s even more impressive is that Ware has posted the bulk of his production against the likes of D’Brickashaw Ferguson (2 sacks), Matt Light (2 sacks), and Trent Williams (1 sack). Looking ahead, upcoming games against the Rams (32nd in sacks allowed), Seahawks (31st), Cardinals (25th), and Dolphins (t-22nd); as well as 2 divisional games each against the Giants (t-22nd) and Eagles (t-4th…but their line is bad) should give Ware a legitimate chance to break the all-time single season record. Perhaps that’s what it will take to get Ware, a guy who has already posted a 20 sack season, his first DPOY award.
2. Patrick Willis – He has no sacks, no interceptions, and a reduced number of total tackles. And yet, he clearly belongs on this list after how dominant he’s been for the league’s 2nd ranked scoring defense. Perhaps in response to the increased reliance on passing offense, Willis has been asked to drop into coverage more than he is usually accustomed to. He’s responded by posting 7 passes defended, 2nd amongst LB’s. One play in particular stood out in last Sunday’s victory over the Lions. With the game still very much in the balance, Willis found himself in one-on-one coverage against Brandon Pettigrew. Despite not having the QB in sight, Willis was able to read Pettigrew and get his hands in between the ball and the receiver, breaking up a potentially huge 6 yard TD pass. Its plays like these, along with the fact that Willis never misses a tackle, which makes him one of the most integral defensive players in the league.
1. Jared Allen – There’s not much explaining to do here. Allen has an astounding 9.5 sacks through 6 games. That puts him on pace to notch 25 sacks by the end of the year, easily breaking Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5. If that weren’t enough, he’s grabbed 1 INT, forced 2 fumbles, recovered 2 fumbles, and recorded a safety for good measure. We all thought he would bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season, but it’s a little surprising he’s turned into The Incredible Hulk. If he can maintain any semblance of this type of production, the DPOY award is his in a runaway.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
3. Cam Newton – Prior to this week I might have had him at #1. However, after failing to come through in the big moment yet again, many of the preseason questions about Newton have started to resurface. In many ways, Newton has indeed been a huge success thus far in his rookie season. Last year, Carolina’s offense was lucky to make it out of the huddle without losing yards or turning the ball over, much less score any points. With Newton at the helm, the Panthers are 5th in the NFL in total offense, have nearly as many passing yards as they had all last year, and score about 10 points per game more. This offensive improvement is no coincidence. Newton can definitely play. Still, the sheer volume of numbers (1847 yards passing, 210 yards rushing, 13 total TDS) belies some crucial problems that threaten to relegate Newton to Vince Young status. Through 6 games his 9 INT’s are tied with Rex Grossman for the most in the NFL. He also ranks 24th among 33 qualified players in completion percentage and 25th among 33 qualified players in QB Rating. And, of course, there’s the little matter of not winning any games. So there’s definitely a lot of good, but definitely a lot of bad. We’ll see if this latest hiccup is just a bad game or if teams are starting to figure him out.
2. Andy Dalton – Lost amongst the Cam Newton hysteria is the fact that Dalton has actually been the better QB thus far. Looking past the big yardage difference, where Dalton’s 1311 yards ranks him well behind of Newton, we see that The Ginger One has the same amount of TD’s (7), four less INT’s (5), a higher completion percentage (62.4% to 58.5%), and a higher QB Rating (84.3 to 78.3). With the Bengals now at 4-2 and Dalton looking more and more confident every week, it’s to start considering the possibility that Mike Brown got something right. (And followed it up by refusing to trade Palmer even though having Dalton makes him irrelevant. What an idiot.)
1. A.J. Green – Never before have so many Bengals been praised for something other than making a good plea bargain. Again, most people are going to tend to over-praise the QB’s, but Green’s impact on the Bengals offense has been striking. After watching the type of impact that a tall, athletic receiver like Randy Moss or Calvin Johnson can have, it’s no surprise that Dalton is performing so well when he has a target like A.J. Green. I’m not saying he’s the next Moss or anything, but I’m not saying that he’s not either. Green’s 453 YDS and 4TD’s would be impressive enough on their own, but add in the troubled history of rookie receivers and it’s clear that A.J. is a special talent.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
3. Ryan Kerrigan – Kerrigan has been a huge addition to the Redskins defense and has made a surprisingly quick transition to OLB in their 3-4. Thus far, Kerrigan has notched 2 sacks, grabbed 1 interception (and returned it for a TD), and forced 2 fumbles.
2. Von Miller – Miller came into the NFL with an awful lot of hype, but he has thus far lived up to it by recording 5 sacks in his first 5 games. Sadly, the Broncos still suck.
1. Aldon Smith – A lot of credit for the 49ers surprising defensive success goes to Patrick Willis, and rightly so. However, it would be an injustice not to mention Aldon Smith. San Francisco hoped Smith would be the answer to their mediocre pass rush, and with 5.5 sacks already, he has more than delivered. Eventually, he’ll need to expand his game in order to reach the DeMarcus Ware level, but this is certainly an excellent start.
Coach of the Year
3. Hue Jackson – There’s a lot of people I could have placed here, but Jackson’s work this year has to be mentioned. Unlike some other surprise teams, the Raiders aren’t winning games with smoke and mirrors. They do one thing and they do it well. Jackson’s ability to minimize their limitations and stick with their strengths is commendable and unfortunately rare in today’s NFL.
2. Jim Schwartz – Lions fans are going to be upset that I didn’t rank him first, but he had quite a bit of talent to work with. Having Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson to work with certainly makes winning a bit easier. Still, this team hasn’t been a winner in over a decade and it means something that Schwartz was able to instill such confidence in his team. Without that, they might not have completed their epic comebacks against Minnesota and Dallas and they certainly wouldn’t be as strong a contender as they are now.
1. Jim Harbaugh – Other than Rodgers for MVP, this was the easiest pick yet. The fact that San Francisco is at 5-1 is impressive. Even more impressive is that they’re 5-1 despite an opponent’s record of 19-15 (with Dallas and Philly as 2 of their “easy” games). Somehow, Harbaugh has gotten solid production out of Alex Smith while turning the running game into one of the league’s best. It’s hard to believe in San Fran as a true Super Bowl contender, but the way Harbaugh has consistently outcoached his opponent forces you to believe for at least a second (and then quickly discard that belief).
Most Disappointing Team
Philadelphia Eagles – No question about it. Philadelphia spent approximately $73 billion in the offseason to buy their first Super Bowl, but instead bought a shocking 2-4 start. Apparently somebody forgot to tell them that offensive line is kind of important, because poor Michael Vick has been getting battered repeatedly in every game. Of course, when he’s not getting battered he’s throwing interception after interception and costing his team important games. Add in the inexplicable coaching decisions of the inexplicable Andy Reid and you have a genuine disaster brewing. A much-closer-than-it-should-have-been victory against Bad Rex and the Redskins gives the Eagles some hope of rebounding…some…not much.
Most Surprising Team
Buffalo Bills – You could persuasively argue for the Raiders, Bengals, Lions, or 49ers here; but Buffalo edges them by a nose. While other squads clearly had too much talent to be “shocking” or feasted on an easy early schedule, the Bills have neither going for them. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson were viewed as nothing more than barely adequate bridges to the future and the offense was deemed dead after a pre-season trade of Lee Evans. So much for that! Not only that, but Buffalo has gotten to 4-2 despite facing a stiff early schedule (opponents record of 21-14). Time will tell if they can maintain their success, but they’ve already accomplished a lot more than anyone thought was possible.
Most Disappointing Player
Matt Ryan – Seems to me that the artist formerly known as “Matty Ice” was supposed to have taken over the league by now. With all the “experts” elevating him to elite status, you’d certainly think that Ryan was in the class of Rodgers, Brady, and Brees. Umm, no. With the mighty Falcons floundering at 3-3 and Ryan struggling to get things going, I think it should be crystal clear to everyone that Matt Ryan is nowhere near the level of Aaron Rodgers. He is NOT an elite QB and he never will be. Sorry Cowherd, it’s the truth.
Most Surprising Player
Steve Smith – Deemed to be a dead man after catching only 46 balls for 554 YDS and 2 TDS last season, Smith has re-emerged as the dynamic force he was in his mid to late 20’s. Through six games, Smith has already surpassed his yardage total and TD total of last season by gaining 675 yards and grabbing 3 TDS. Even more important for Carolina, he has provided a reliable target to aid in Cam Newton’s development. Not bad for a 32 year old has-been!
Best Offseason Acquisition
Matt Hasselbeck – This is a really tough call between Hasselbeck, Carlos Rogers, Jason Babin, Darren Sproles, and others, but Hasselbeck’s dramatic discovery of the Fountain of Youth has to rank at the top. After the tumultuous Vince Young/Kerry Collins era, the Titans badly needed a solid presence to solidify this team. Even still, it seemed like too talent had been drained from the roster to be competitive. The sudden death of Peyton Manning certainly helped (A LOT!), but Hasselbeck deserves a ton of credit for taking this team to the top of the division. Much of his firepower went out the window when Kenny Britt went on IR, but I’m not counting them out just yet.
Worst Offseason Acquisition
Kevin Kolb – Everything about this deal has been a giant train wreck. The loss of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has left the Cardinals eminently vulnerable in the secondary, as is evidenced by their 20th ranked passing defense (that ranking despite facing Rex Grossman, Tarvaris Jackson, and Donovan McNabb!). The loss of their 2nd round pick leaves them incapable of adequately re-stocking the roster with good young talent. And, worst of all, Kevin Kolb has been an utter disaster as a QB. I suppose it’s only reasonable for Arizona to publicly hold out hope for Kolb, but I’ve not seen a single thing that would lead me to believe he will be a quality NFL QB. Through 5 games Kolb ranks 28th in passer rating (77.2), 22nd in completion percentage (58.7%), and has only 5 TD’s to 6 INT’s. All that with Larry Fitzgerald at his disposal. Just bad. Oh yeah, did I mention the massive $65 million deal they gave him before ever seeing what he could actually do? Smart move, guys.
Biggest NFL Myth
Colts would still be bad with Manning – I honestly can’t believe people are saying this. Maybe they’re just trying to overthink things or get attention with outrageous claims. Who knows? Whatever the case, it’s idiotic to actually believe this garbage. Let’s examine:
Week 1: 7-34 loss at Houston – This was absolutely going to happen after suddenly finding out the best QB in history was being replaced by Kerry Collins. This would be like Martin Scorsese being told 3 days before shooting “The Departed” that Leonardo DiCaprio would be unavailable and that he would be replaced by Channing Tatum. How do you think that movie turns out? Thought so. Even still, I can’t claim the Colts would win this with Manning. End Result: 0-1
Week 2: 19-27 loss vs. Cleveland – Indianapolis gives up two field goals on short drives via horrible Kerry Collins turnovers en route to surrendering a slim 3rd quarter lead. With Manning, the Colts get at least one or two TD’s instead of settling for four FG’s, don’t surrender at least one of those bad FG’s, and carry a much larger lead into the 4th quarter where Manning easily ices the game. End Result: 1-1
Week 3: 20-23 loss vs. Pittsburgh – If you don’t believe Peyton Manning accounts for at least three points then I don’t know what to tell you. Pittsburgh hasn’t been overly impressive this year and I doubt they could have stepped it up any more than they did. End Result: 2-1
Week 4: 17-24 loss at Tampa Bay – Indianapolis took a 17-10 lead into the 4th quarter where they absolutely imploded, running just 6 offensive plays and gaining only 4 yards the rest of the way. This is a win with Manning. End Result: 3-1
Week 5: 24-28 loss vs. Kansas City – The Colts opened up a 24-7 lead just before half and then gained a meager 69 yards the rest of the way. No way Manning gives up that lead. End Result: 4-1
Week 6: 17-27 loss at Cincinnati – The Colts had three turnovers and Painter was intercepted on the potential game winning drive. I wholeheartedly believe the Colts win this game easily with Manning, especially after how bad Painter was. Still, I’ll be conservative and say they still lose. End Result: 4-2
That’s a difference of 4 wins. 4 wins makes them the AFC South leader. 4 wins makes them one of the top teams in the AFC. So yes, Manning is a huge deal and the Colts would definitely be in their usual spot if he was still the QB.
Biggest Screw Job
Denver screwing Tebow – Never mind the fact that he should have been starting since Day 1 or that they should have at least made some sort of real commitment to either he or Orton by moving the other prior to the start of training camp. No, forget that screw job. I’m talking about the massive screw job Denver is giving to Tebow by dealing Brandon Lloyd the same week he’s scheduled to make his first start of the year. Lloyd may be a free agent after the season and he would likely walk without compensation, but you have to give your young starter a real chance to succeed. At this point, I feel totally confident in saying that Denver is trying to ensure Tebow’s failure. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps the current regime wants all Josh McDaniels vestiges gone. Perhaps they really, really want Luck. Whatever the case may be, I think it’s deplorable and I hope Tebow goes to a division rival in the offseason, turns into an MVP, and makes it his goal to step on the Broncos throats every time he plays them.