WASHINGTON – For those unfamiliar with my NFL Recap process (it’s been four years I’ve been doing this now), Week 9 is when we look back at the first half of the NFL season and take part in a year-in-review of sorts. Every team has played at least eight games and we now have a pretty good sense of who’s good and who’s bad, who’s contending and who’s pretending. Think of it as halftime for the season. So at the half, I’ll share my picks for the following categories in my best Jim Nantz voice:
Most Surprising Team: Miami Dolphins
I was really tempted to take the Vikings here, but the Dolphins get the edge because they don’t have nearly the star power Minnesota has. The Vikes have Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Jared Allen. On Miami’s roster, only Reggie Bush has that kind of talent. The Dolphins are above .500 at a time when I wasn’t sure they’d have more than a win or two and they’re doing it with a rookie QB (Ryan Tannehill) without a legit No. 1 receiver.
Honorable mention: Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts
Most Disappointing Team: New Orleans Saints
This one’s pretty self-explanatory, right? I was one of the few who thought the Saints would be adversely affected in a big way by the Bountygate sanctions, but I didn’t think they’d tank this badly. I mean, these guys are on pace to finish 6-10 just a year removed from a 13-3 season. If I were Sean Payton, I would make sure my next contract includes an ownership stake in New Orleans. Not the Saints…I mean the city.
Honorable mention: Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers
Most Surprising Player: Alfred Morris
Morris quickly ascended from a 6th-round pick to one of the league’s leading rushers with 793 yards at 4.8 yards per carry. Not bad for a kid from Florida Atlantic who was the 7th player at his position taken in the draft. Yes, the play of RGIII has helped open things up for him, but if you’ve seen Morris finish a run, you know he’s a legit threat in his own right.
Honorable mention: Russell Wilson
Most Disappointing Player: Cam Newton
To say Newton is in a sophomore slump is an understatement. He’s upside down on his TD/INT ratio (just six to eight) and sporting a very Kordell Stewart-esque 77.7 QB rating. Not to mention the incessant pouting (which I actually did mention in the Week 7 recap) after just about every loss. Whoever ends up being the new general manager in Carolina is going to have a decision to make on Cam. After his stunning rookie year, it’s stunning that the scenario is even on the table.
Honorable mention: Michael Vick, Tony Romo, Mario Williams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Robert Griffin III
Even though he’s been less than stellar in his last two starts, RGIII has been the most dynamic and electric player in the league. Without him, the Redskins would surely be winless. His eight touchdown passes won’t make you forget about Kurt Warner any time soon, but he’s on pace for over 1,000 yards and double-digit scores on the ground. I know Andrew Luck has looked better in recent weeks, but Griffin just has more ways to hurt you.
Honorable mention: Andrew Luck, Doug Martin, Alfred Morris
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Chandler Jones
Pats coach Bill Belichick needed to restore some luster to his reputation as a defensive genius, and he might have done that by taking Jones with the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft. Jones has six sacks and three forced fumbles at the season’s midway point and he looks poised to make a run at the single-season rookie record for sacks.
Honorable mention: Luke Kuechly
Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers
He stumbled out of the gates (as did the Packers as a whole), but he’s righted the ship and looks just like the guy who dominated his way to MVP honors last season. Rodgers leads the league with 25 TD passes and holds the league’s second-highest QB rating. And that’s with his top two receivers banged up. Just wait until he gets Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson back after the bye week…Tom Brady’s 50 TD season might not be safe.
Honorable mention: Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt
Here’s the easiest choice of them all. Watt leads the league in sacks with 10 1/2 and has a stunning 10 passes defensed – a number best suited for defensive backs, not defensive ends. He bats passes into the air with stunning regularity (earning the nickname “J.J. Swat”) and he’s established himself as an impact player at a position (3-4 defensive end) typically reserved for anonymous grunts. If he stays healthy and under the employ of defensive guru Wade Philips, this will be the first of many DPOY awards to come.
Honorable mention: Nobody. Watt is that far in front of the pack for this award.
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin
No Troy Polamalu. An old, injured James Harrison. With little more than Ben Roethlisberger on offense, Tomlin has done a masterful job of keeping his Steelers on pace for another trip to the playoffs, despite the onslaught of injuries and a tough schedule.
Honorable mention: Leslie Frazier, Joe Philbin, Sean Payton (yes, seriously)
Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson
Peterson gets the slight nod here because he recovered from a potentially devastating knee injury in far less time than it took for Manning to return from his multiple neck surgeries. That’s not a knock on Manning – it’s just that Peterson’s feat is just that impressive. What feat, you ask? Oh, Peterson just leads the league in rushing yardage, yards per carry and runs of 20 yards or longer. No big deal.
Honorable mention: Peyton Manning
MVP: Peyton Manning
Manning isn’t just back – he’s back in a big way. He’s the league leader in passer rating and is on pace for over 4,000 yards and 40 TDs. His precedessor couldn’t muster those numbers if you gave him two years to do it. Finally paired with a good defense and a solid ground game (and again playing in what figures to be an easy division), Manning has as good a shot at winning a 2nd Lombardi Trophy as ever.
Honorable mention: Matt Ryan, Robert Griffin III (yes, I’m serious about that too)
Well, that’s it for the awards portion of the ceremony. Now for the entertainment:
Chiefs 13 Chargers 31
One stat and one stat alone blew my mind after this game: Kansas City became the first team in NFL history to play a full eight games and never lead in any of them. Yes, you heard right. Never lead in any of them. Firing people doesn’t punish that level of ineptitude. It almost rewards it.
Panthers 21 Redskins 13
Three thoughts on this game:
Now that is what a throwback uniform is supposed to look like. Someone please make sure Pittsburgh sees this.
Washington hasn’t won the game immediately before Election Day since 1988. I’m not making a political statement here, just pointing out how inept this team has been for most of the last two decades.
Philly is mired in the longest losing streak of the Andy Reid era. Reid’s Wilfred Brimley mustache is so long it’s getting crooked. Nothing’s going right in the City of Brotherly Love these days, which is why Reid will be coaching the San Diego Chargers this time next year. You heard it here first.