We’re midway through the 2012 NFL season, and it’s all gone exactly according to plan. Let’s check off some of the no-brainers we’re dealing with eight weeks in.
1. The Colts and Dolphins would both be playoff teams if the postseason started this weekend.
2. With big Super Bowl hype in both Philadelphia and Dallas this summer, the defending champion Giants are the only team in the NFC East with an above .500 record.
3. Christian Ponder is 5-3 as a starter in Minnesota, while his 2011 NFL Draft first round buddies Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert have combined for just three wins this season.
4. The third and fourth leading rushers in the league are … Alfred Morris and Stevan Ridley.
5. Reggie Wayne — not Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald — leads the league in receiving yards.
Had all those back in August? Of course you did. Eight weeks into the season, let’s break out the red carpet, get a celebrity host (a Kardashian sister? Ed Hochuli? Ragnar?), and give out some hardware.
2012 MIDSEASON AWARDS:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
Boring pick? Maybe. But even I — someone who continuously says “Let’s see him do it in January”, whenever Ryan’s mentioned in the same breath as the Mannings, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, and Brady — has to give Ryan his due. The Falcons are 7-0 for the first time in franchise history, they’ve scored at least 23 points in every one of those wins, and the Falcons have looked even more impressive in their four road wins than their three home victories. None of this will matter — the stats, the September and October wins, the media love — if Atlanta doesn’t make a run in the playoffs. Ryan is 0-3 all-time in postseason games.
Runner Up: J.J. Watt, Defensive end, Houston Texans: A defensive player hasn’t won the MVP award since Lawrence Taylor took home the hardware in 1986, but Watt has a legitimate case. The Texans defense lost stars DeMeco Ryans and Mario Williams this offseason and linebacker Brian Cushing suffered a season-ending injury in Week 4. No problem. With Watt leading the charge, the Texans D hasn’t let up. The second-year defensive lineman leads the league in sacks with 9.5, is the only non-defensive back in the Top 10 of pass deflections, and his unit is ranked third in the league.
NFL DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: J.J. Watt, Defensive end, Houston Texans
Runner Up: Daryl Washington, Linebacker, Arizona Cardinals: Who?! Exactly. Washington isn’t the sexiest choice for defensive player of the year, but he certainly is in the conversation. The Arizona Cardinals are 4-4 and fading fast, but the defense is the only reason they’re even in the playoff conversation. Daryl Washington is the leader of the unit. The Cardinals defense hasn’t given up more than 21 points this season and Washington — the roaming linebacker — leads the team in tackles and sacks. He doesn’t get the same media love as a Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis, but he’s certainly in the same league as those two and countless others. He’ll get his proper respect come awards season this year.
NFL OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Andrew Luck, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Robert Griffin III has been a revelation in the nation’s capital and the subject of nearly as many marketing campaigns as Peyton “Papa John” Manning, but Luck’s my rookie of the year at the midway point of the season. If the playoffs were to start this weekend, the Colts — a team that went 2-14 a year ago — would be one of the AFC’s two wild card teams. He’s already led the Colts to three late fourth quarter or overtime wins and he’s the leader in a locker room full of veterans. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, he’s led the Colts to the highest winning percentage (.571) by a rookie quarterback who was a No. 1 overall pick through Week 8 in NFL history. He’s the man in Indy. And it didn’t take long.
Runner Up: Robert Griffin III, Quarterback, Washington Redskins: Griffin’s been everything for the Redskins this season. If they fielded an NFL defense each week, who knows just how competitive this team could be? In eight games, Griffin’s completed 66.8 percent of his passes, tossed for nearly 2,000 yards, and is on pace for a 1,000 yard rushing season. He’s only turned the ball over five times and has led his team on multiple fourth quarter game-winning drives. If Luck wasn’t in the picture, he would be the winner. Something tells me these two will be linked together for quite some time.
NFL DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Chandler Jones, Defensive end, New England Patriots
The Jets took Quinton Coples a few picks before Chandler Jones in April’s first round, but the Patriots seem to have gotten the more dynamic pass rusher eight weeks into the season. Jones has been an elite pass rusher for New England, recording six sacks midway through the season.
Runner Up: Casey Hayward, Cornerback, Green Bay Packers: Hayward’s got four interceptions in Green Bay’s last four games and is among the league leaders in the category. Charles Woodson plays more safety than cornerback, but his loss to the lineup due to the collarbone injury is softened a bit with Hayward playing so well in his first year.
NFL COACH OF THE YEAR: Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins
If the playoffs were to start this weekend, the Miami Dolphins — a team that was the laughingstock of the league during this summer’s “Hard Knocks” series — would be one of the AFC’s two wild card teams. Miami’s 4-3 and is two tough overtime losses to the Jets and Cardinals away from being 6-1 on the year. A rookie quarterback, new coordinators on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and no big names at wide receiver — the Dolphins are getting it done in the wide-open AFC. Philbin’s the main reason why.
Runner Up: Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons: They’re not doing it with fireworks and they’re doing it with a hint of media skepticism, but they’re doing it. That’s what matters. They’re 7-0.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos
Manning threw three interceptions in the first half of Denver’s Week 2 loss in Atlanta. He’s thrown just one since. Denver’s red hot and the schedule only gets easier from here on out. Manning’s numbers? 2,113 yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a 109 QB rating. He silenced his critics after he took a beating in Weeks 1, 2, and 3 against the Steelers, Falcons, and Texans. Now, he’s just rubbing it in.
Runner Up: Adrian Peterson, Running back, Minnesota Vikings: Peterson could give Manning a fight for this award come January. The one-time All-Pro tore both his ACL and MCL in his left knee on Christmas Eve. Less than a year later, he’s second in the league in rushing yards (775) and has scored 4 touchdowns. The Vikings are 5-3 and in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt. Peterson’s been the same guy he was before the injury.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Ryan Grigson, General Manager, Indianapolis Colts
A football lifer, Grigson’s done a tremendous job in his first season as the Colts’ GM. In hiring Chuck Pagano, Greg Manusky, and Bruce Arians, he brought in the right coaches to right the ship. In Andrew Luck, he drafted the right man to lead the franchise into the future. In keeping veterans Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, and Reggie Wayne — he ensured the transition from the Manning to Luck era wouldn’t be as drastic as imagined. A+ job from Grigson.
Runner Up: Rick Smith, General Manager, Houston Texans: Smith traded away DeMeco Ryans, let Mario Williams walk for $100 million, and waived media favorite Eric Winston last off-season. The Texans have only gotten better in the process.
And now, for the five awards that really matter …
The Honey Boo Boo Award: (Given to the most confusing media obsession of the year)
Winner: Tim Tebow, New York Jets, Quarterback: Tebow was the first backup quarterback to attract 200 media members for a March press conference in NFL history. What was the point? Who knows? Tebow’s done next to nothing since joining the Jets and from despite weekly “his role is expanding this week” stories out of New York each Thursday, that hasn’t been the case. For my dollar, Tebow’s not the best backup QB in New York. That goes to Giants backup David Carr, a guy who’s press conference didn’t generate quite the same buzz.
The Derek Zoolander Award: (Given to the best dressed man in the NFL)
Winner: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Quarterback: So, his team is 1-6. So, he can’t seem to win games in the clutch. So, his press conference demeanor is deplorable. So what? The man can dress! Check out this sweater! And this vest/blazer combo! If this whole football thing doesn’t work out — or if he just gets bored of it — I have no doubt last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year can go the Zoolander route.
The Oceans 11 Award: (Given to the guy stealing the most money this season)
Winner: Scott Pioli, Kansas City Chiefs, General Manager: The Chiefs are 0-4 at home, 1-6 on the road, and have not led for a second of any NFL game this season. Scott Pioli is making big, big money and has done nothing to justify his seven figure salary. They team doesn’t have a franchise quarterback (though they’re paying one like he is), they’ve got a slew of old Cleveland Browns on the field and on the staff (not the ‘50’s Browns), and the fans are beside themselves. Pioli’s got some gig.
The “Pack of Crazed Dogs” Award: (Given to the best NFL Films sound byte of the season)
Winner: J.J. Watt, Week 7: I loved this one. J.J. Watt on Ravens All-Pro running back Ray Rice: “I’ve eaten burritos bigger than you.” Amazing.
The Worst Prediction of the Year Award:
Winner: Ryan Kalil, Offensive Tackle, Carolina Panthers: Kalil’s a good dude. Boldly guaranteeing a Super Bowl championship for his Panthers before the season wasn’t a good prediction. Carolina’s 1-6 on the year. Maybe next season, Ry.