Giants’ Manning is NFL’s first-half MVP

We are halfway home in the NFL.

We hand out our midseason awards, SCHEIN 9 style.

Let the debate begin.

1. NFL MVP: Eli Manning

It’s been a wild, unpredictable year in the NFL. And there is no standout candidate for the prestigious award at the midway point. You don’t have the quarterback putting up eye-popping numbers. We don’t have an undefeated team. There isn’t a running back compiling gaudy statistics on a weekly basis.

I always make sure to stress the value in most valuable player. For example, Drew Brees received my vote for offensive player of the year in 2008 and was my choice at quarterback for first team All-Pro. I voted Peyton Manning league MVP. Manning had the Colts achieving. The Saints went 8-8.

I give you all of the above to set up the case for Giants quarterback Eli Manning as the MVP at the midway point.

He has everything I look for in a candidate.

The 6-2 Giants are the best team in the NFC. They are in the conversation for the best team in the NFL. Manning is the most important player on the team. His cool, calm demeanor is perfect for the New York glare and spotlight. And his teammates feed off of his poise. As Keith Bulluck told us on SNY the day after the Giants rallied to beat Dallas, “There was never a moment we thought we would lose that game. That mentality starts with Eli.” Down 10-0, down 20-7, Eli never flinched. He put the team on his back, and the Giants never flinched.

Remember all of that idiotic chatter about Tom Coughlin losing the Giants? Look at Eli’s numbers after the 1-2 start.

He has the value. And Eli, for some strange reason, doesn’t get enough credit for being great. Eli is sixth in the NFL in passing, third in touchdowns. These numbers shouldn’t be minimized on a team that believes in running the football, built for the cold weather in New York. Manning is putting up the requisite numbers even while playing with the third-leading rusher in the league, Ahmad Bradshaw. Do you realize that the Giants have the No. 2 offense in the NFL right now? You must consider an MVP candidate on the Giants. Look at what the Giants have done to opponents on the road, with Eli breaking the will of the Texans and Seahawks early in blowouts.

And I do not want to hear about the interceptions. Watch the games. Eli’s stat sheet says 11 on the season. I would say, on a very conservative guess, five or six of those passes went off the hands of the intended receiver. The number of picks should be cut in half. Manning is completing 65.7 percent of his passes, which would represent the best mark of his career.

Eli has been consistently great, ultra reliable. He has thrown at least two touchdowns passes in a game six times this season, including each of the last four as the Giants distance themselves from the pack. This is a tremendous stat proving that word again — value.

The Giants have talented and diverse receivers, but Eli has maximized the group, spending the offseason working with Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham. Eli has made Nicks elite and a sure-fire Pro Bowler.

Peyton is a candidate with the plethora of injuries on the Colts. Philip Rivers had done wonders on offense for the Chargers, but they are 3-5. Tom Brady is Tom Brady. Aaron Rodgers has dealt with injuries and has more yards passing than Manning, but Eli has been more consistent.

It’s early, but it is Eli’s award to lose halfway home in 2010.

2. Offensive player of the year: Roddy White

White has been a freak for the first-place Falcons. He has 58 catches, five touchdowns and 796 yards. And when you watch the games, he has been an absolute game changer.

Rivers and Arian Foster are heavily in the mix.

3. Defensive player of the year: Clay Matthews Jr.

He leads the NFL in sacks with 10.5. But Matthews is more than that. He is a great tackler. He makes key tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Matthews strikes fear in opposing offenses.

Ndamukong Suh and Haloti Ngata were also on my short list.

4. Coach of the Year:  Raheem Morris

I thought the Bucs would win five games – between 2009 and 2010. Tampa is 5-3 at the midway point. Morris finally took ownership of his staff and put the team in the hands of young Josh Freeman as the unquestioned leader. I think everyone who follows the league looks at the Bucs with a jaded view, wondering when they will collapse. Morris consistently has the Bucs ready, playing their best ball late in games.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is currently No. 2 on my list, and frankly more of a “1-A”. Separating Morris from Tomlin was rather difficult. Tomlin’s 6-2 start, while missing Ben Roethlisberger for the first quarter of the season, is incredible.

5. Offensive rookie of the year: Sam Bradford

I really wrestled with three names; Bradford, Mike Williams and Maurkice Pouncey.

Williams has been sensational. And consider the fact that he was a fourth-round pick after his botched exit from Syracuse. Williams has five touchdowns with 559 receiving yards.

I always like to look at the offensive line. I voted for Michael Oher last year. And Maurkice Pouncey, the young Steelers center, deserves consideration.

But I have to give the edge to Bradford, who has shown incredible poise for a young quarterback since Week 1, even in a loss against Arizona. The difference between Williams and Bradford is the ultra important position of quarterback. Bradford has 11 touchdowns against eight picks, guiding the first-place Rams to four wins — or three more than last year before Bradford arrived. Bradford has played strong, clutch football in the victories against Washington, Seattle, San Diego and Carolina.

6. Defensive rookie of the year: Ndamukong Suh

There is no other choice. Suh has been predictably unstoppable in his neophyte campaign.

7. Comeback player of the year: Brandon Lloyd

There is ambiguity on what a player is technically coming back from. It could be injury, poor performance or anything in between.

LaDainian Tomlinson has proved the Chargers wrong. Osi Umenyiora, benched last year, is starting and starring for the Giants. And if Mike Vick keeps winning, that’s a name to monitor for the second half.

But I’m going with a player who has morphed from bust, self-serving promoter, and afterthought to star. Lloyd, Kyle Orton’s go-to-guy in Denver, leads the league in receiving yards. Not bad for a guy who got thrown out of San Fran with his attitude, never lived up to his deal in Washington, was a non-factor in Chicago, and caught eight balls with the Broncos last year.

8. Surprise Player of the Year: Arian Foster

I knew he would be good. But the offense now runs through him in Houston. And let’s not forget that the organization thought so much of him that they spent a second-round draft pick on Ben Tate, hoping he could carry the mail.

Foster has given Houston attitude, pounding the opposition for 864 yards this season.

9. Biggest disappointment: Dallas defense

I like to toot my own horn that I had the Cowboys finishing in dead last in the NFC East when I made my preseason picks here on But I thought the Dallas defense would be good. They have disgraced the league with their gutless play and should be arrested for stealing money from Jerry Jones.