While the NFL and his defense lawyers continue to spar over the “Deflategate” scandal, Brady has shown that his quarterbacking skills remain in rare air for the undefeated Patriots (3-0). Brady tossed four touchdown passes in the season-opener against Pittsburgh, threw for more yards (466) vs. Buffalo than any other opposing quarterback in Bills history and then picked apart Jacksonville in a 51-17 rout. Brady hasn’t thrown an interception in 133 pass attempts and, at his current pace, has a legitimate shot at 6,000 passing yards.
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Offensive Player of the Year: Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers
If not for the stellar play of New England quarterback Tom Brady, Rodgers would be considered the leading contender for his third NFL Most Valuable Player award in five seasons. Rodgers should still be regarded as a strong challenger for the honor based upon his outstanding start. Even with top targets like wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams sidelined by injuries, Rodgers hasn’t skipped a beat for the Packers (4-0). Rodgers leads the NFL in quarterback rating (125.9) and has thrown 11 touchdowns without an interception.
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Defensive Player of the Year: Carolina CB Josh Norman
Entering the final year of his contract, Norman’s decision to decline a Panthers extension offer in hopes of securing a larger deal down the road should pay big dividends. Norman’s four interceptions are more than the total of 20 teams through Week 4. Norman returned two of those picks for touchdowns to help the Panthers (4-0) get off to their best start since 2003.
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Biggest surprise team: Atlanta
With a 4-0 start under new head coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons are just two wins away from matching last season’s win total. A more aggressive defense has shown vast improvement from the past two years while the offense ranks third in the NFL in scoring at 34.2 points a game. Wide receiver Julio Jones is a bona fide MVP candidate with a league-leading 38 catches for 478 yards and four touchdowns.
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Biggest surprise player: Green Bay WR James Jones
Jones may not have shown enough to stick with the New York Giants during the preseason but he has flourished since returning to the Packers following his release in early September. Jones, who played with Green Bay from 2007 to 2013, has picked up the slack created by injuries to wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams. Jones has 17 catches for 317 yards and four touchdowns in four starts. Not too shabby for someone who was a free agent for the entire offseason until being signed by New York right before training camp.
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Most disappointing team: Detroit
No 2014 playoff team has slid more than the Lions, which are 0-4 after posting an 11-5 mark last season. With star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh gone to Miami and weak-side linebacker DeAndre Levy (hip) sidelined, Detroit’s defense is allowing an average of 82 more yards and six more points than last year. The offense also is struggling to find an identity under embattled coordinator Joe Lombardi. The running game ranks last in the NFL with a 47-yard average and poor pass protection has made it difficult for quarterback Matt Stafford to get on a roll with Calvin Johnson (81).
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Most disappointing player: Miami DT Ndamukong Suh
This isn’t what the Dolphins were expecting when signing Suh to the richest free-agent contract (six years, $114 million) for a defensive player in NFL history. Suh has 10 tackles and no sacks for the NFL’s worst run defense. One of the biggest tasks for Dan Campbell, who was named interim head coach last Monday following the firing of Joe Philbin, is finding a way to help Suh regain the form that made him the NFL’s most physically dominant interior force while with Detroit.
Getty ImagesRob Foldy
Coach of the Year: Atlanta’s Dan Quinn
Quinn’s upbeat demeanor and coaching style – there was a live DJ playing tunes during offseason and preseason practices – have struck a chord with Falcons players. His hands-on work with the defense has resulted in a more aggressive unit that has forced eight turnovers through four games. Quinn’s hiring of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan also has helped rejuvenate the running game and gotten quarterback Matt Ryan back on track after a sluggish 2014 campaign.
Getty ImagesScott Cunningham
Assistant coach of the Year: Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips
Seemingly every team that has ever hired Phillips as a head coach or coordinator has shown defensive improvement in his first season aboard. That hasn’t changed in Phillips’ return to Denver. The Broncos (4-0) are allowing a league-low 275.5 yards a game and lead the NFL in sacks with 18.
Denver Post via Getty ImagesAAron Ontiveroz
Hottest seat: Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly
With the Dolphins firing Joe Philbin after a 1-3 start, there doesn’t appear to be another head coach in imminent danger of being dismissed during the regular season. However, Eagles owner Jeff Lurie may face a tough offseason decision if Kelly can’t get Philadelphia turned around following a 1-3 start. Kelly drastically overhauled Philadelphia’s roster during the offseason when given control over personnel decisions and has yet to see positive results on offense. It’s also fair to wonder whether Kelly becomes frustrated at a lack of NFL success and tries to return to the college ranks like Nick Saban did in 2007 following two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.
Getty ImagesRich Schultz
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Oakland WR Amari Cooper
The first wide receiver taken in this year’s draft at No. 4 overall, Cooper has splashed onto the NFL scene with his combination of quickness, precise route-running and sure hands. Cooper leads all NFL rookies in receptions (24) and yards (339) by a wide margin while quickly building strong chemistry with second-year Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
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Defensive Rookie of the Year: Atlanta OLB Vic Beasley
Beasley and Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters are the defensive rookies who have made the quickest impact. Beasley’s sack total of two is modest so far but should increase as he gains experience. Just his presence alone has already helped bolster a Falcons defense sorely in need of a pass-rushing threat since John Abraham’s release prior to the 2013 season.
Getty ImagesScott Cunningham
Comeback player: Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson
Peterson isn’t the most sympathetic figure as he missed 15 games last season stemming from his arrest on a child-abuse charge to which he ultimately pleaded no contest. But since his NFL reinstatement, Peterson hasn’t taken long to re-establish himself as an offensive force. Peterson has rushed for a league-high 372 yards and scored four touchdowns.