Quarter-season winner: New England quarterback Tom Brady . . . Midseason winner: Brady . . . With top targets Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman sidelined by injury and the Patriots losing two straight games, Brady has fallen behind Newton in the MVP race. However, Brady’s misfortune shouldn’t diminish what Newton has accomplished, especially considering the latter also had to deal with the absence of his top receiver (Kelvin Benjamin) for the entire season. Newton has evolved as a quality passer to complement his running skills with a career-high 25 touchdown throws already this season. Newton’s play also is the key reason why Carolina (12-0) has a legitimate shot at a perfect regular season record.
Getty ImagesStacy Revere
Offensive player of the year: Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer
Quarter-season winner: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers . . . Midseason winner: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers . . . Based on his 2015 campaign, Palmer will also be a strong candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Palmer has shown no ill effects from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that ruined what was unfolding as a banner season in 2014. He has fueled Arizona’s top-ranked offense with a league-high 55 completions of 20-plus yards. Palmer also is on pace to shatter franchise records for TD passes, pass yards and passer rating as the Cardinals (10-2) chug toward the NFC West title.
Getty ImagesMichael B. Thomas
Defensive player of the year: Houston defensive end J.J. Watt
Quarter-season winner: Carolina cornerback Josh Norman . . . Midseason winner: Oakland safety Charles Woodson . . . New York Giants LB Lawrence Taylor is the only three-time winner of this award. Watt will likely become the second to accomplish such a prestigious feat. Houston’s rally in the second half of the season is being led by Watt, who has an NFL-high 13.5 sacks while also leading all D-linemen in tackles with 59.
Getty ImagesBob Levey
Biggest surprise team: Tampa Bay
Quarter-season winner: Atlanta . . . Midseason winner: Oakland . . . The NFL’s worst team last season at 2-14, Tampa Bay (6-6) has put those memories to rest with an unexpected playoff push. The defense is markedly improved from 2014 and rookie quarterback Jameis Winston has made tremendous strides under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Getty ImagesMichael Hickey
Biggest surprise player: Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin
Quarter-season winner: Green Bay wide receiver James Jones . . . Midseason winner: Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman . . . After gaining less than 500 yards in two injury-plagued seasons, it appeared Martin might never regain the form of his outstanding 2012 rookie campaign. In fact, the Bucs decided last spring not to pick up the fifth-year option on Martin’s contract. Tampa Bay should be regretting that choice now. Martin has rebounded with 1,133 rushing yards, which ranks second in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson (1,182). Martin, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent during the offseason, also has taken some of the pressure off rookie QB Jameis Winston with his productivity.
Getty ImagesCliff McBride
Biggest disappointment: Dallas
Quarter-season winner: Detroit . . . Midseason: Baltimore . . . Barring a miraculous rally to win a second straight NFC East title, this will be remembered as a 'what-could-have-been' season because of Tony Romo’s shoulder injuries. But the Cowboys’ problems go beyond their starting QB being hurt for all but four starts. Two of the biggest: Dallas never adequately replaced DeMarco Murray at RB and the tepid production of defensive end Greg Hardy wasn’t worth the headaches and distractions he brought to the franchise based upon his off-field actions.
Getty ImagesRob Carr
Biggest disappointment player: St. Louis quarterback Nick Foles
Quarter-season winner: Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh . . . Midseason: Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck . . . When making an offseason trade to acquire him from Philadelphia, the Rams hoped Foles could recapture the magic of his 2013 season when he threw for 27 TD passes with just two INTs. Foles, though, has slipped to the point that he was replaced by journeyman Case Keenum as a starter on two separate occasions. Foles has seven TD passes and 10 picks in 11 games for the NFL’s 32nd-ranked passing offense.
Getty ImagesDilip Vishwanat
Coach of the Year: Carolina’s Ron Rivera
Quarter-season winner: Atlanta’s Dan Quinn . . . Midseason winner: New England’s Bill Belichick . . . Carolina being undefeated this late in the season shows how far Rivera has come as a head coach during his five seasons with the Panthers. A defense led by the NFL’s best LB duo (Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis) is getting outstanding play from its secondary with CB Josh Norman and safety Kurt Coleman enjoying career years. The offense is humming with QB Cam Newton now considered the front-runner for MVP honors. The only downside: Such success means that Panthers assistants like coordinators Mike Shula (offense) and Sean McDermott (defense) may be getting head-coaching opportunities elsewhere in 2016.
Getty ImagesRonald Martinez
Assistant Coach of the Year: Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips
Quarter-season winner: Phillips . . . Midseason winner: Phillips . . . This is the only award where my winner has remained the same throughout the season -- and with good reason. Denver’s defense continues to hum in Phillips’ first year back with the Broncos. Denver (10-2) leads the league in fewest yards allowed per game at 284.7 and most sacks with 41.
Denver Post via Getty ImagesJohn Leyba
Hottest seat: St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher
Quarter-season winner: Philadelphia head coach Chip Kelly . . . Midseason winner: Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell . . . No other current head coach who has stayed with the same team has gone for four seasons without reaching the playoffs. Fisher is on the verge of suffering that ignominy with the Rams (4-8) having lost five straight games to fall out of the postseason picture. St. Louis’ offense remains a mess, with Fisher firing the offensive coordinator he chose (Frank Cignetti) before his first season was completed. Should the Rams move to L.A. as expected in 2016, there’s a good chance Fisher won’t be going with them.
Getty ImagesAndy Lyons
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston
Quarter-season winner: Oakland wide receiver Amari Cooper . . . Midseason winner: Cooper . . . After a disastrous Week 1 NFL debut that included his first career pass attempt being intercepted and returned for a TD, Winston has made rapid progress in eliminating turnovers. Winston has thrown just four INTs in the past eight games to help put Tampa Bay (6-6) in playoff contention. His five rushing TDs also are tied for the franchise’s single-season record by a QB. Winston is the crown jewel of an outstanding rookie class that includes three other starters in left tackle Donovan Smith, right guard Ali Marpet and LB Kwon Alexander (although he will miss the final four games while serving a PED suspension).
Getty ImagesDon Juan Moore
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters
Quarter-season winner: Atlanta outside linebacker Vic Beasley . . . Midseason winner: New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams . . . One of the best complements that can be given to a first-year player is that he doesn’t look like a rookie. Peters is one of the few defensive standouts in the 2015 draft class who deserves such praise. Peters leads all rookies in INTs with five and already has tied Kansas City’s rookie record for passes defensed with 18. Peters’ play has helped the Chiefs (7-5) rally from a 1-5 start into playoff contention.
Getty ImagesThearon W. Henderson
Comeback player: New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul
Quarter-season winner: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson . . . Midseason winner: Arizona running back Chris Johnson . . . Just the fact Pierre-Paul is back on the field -- let alone playing well -- is an amazing feat. Pierre-Paul’s NFL future was uncertain after a July 4 fireworks accident resulted in hand damage that necessitated the amputation of his right index finger. Although he has yet to register a sack in four starts since returning, Pierre-Paul has shown noticeable game-to-game improvement -- highlighted by a six-tackle performance in last Sunday’s OT loss to the New York Jets.