Someone the other day asked which player I would choose as a midseason MVP, and I said I wasn't sure. He wasn't, either. The field seldom has been this broad. So we thought about it and decided that because we're almost halfway through the season it's time to make a decision.
So here's that decision.
But it's not just the midseason MVP who gets to step forward. It's everyone -- good and bad -- who deserves to be appreciated for what they've done ... and haven't done ... the first eight weeks of the season. So let's get to it and recognize the good, the bad and the Dallas Cowboys before someone blocks the next San Diego punt.
|Tom Brady has led the Patriots to the top of the NFL standings with a five-game winning streak. (Getty Images)|
Offensive Player of the Year: Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. He would be a serious candidate for league MVP, too, if the Chargers weren't floundering at 3-5. There is nothing this guy isn't doing. He throws for yards. He throws for touchdowns. And he puts his team in position to win games that they don't. I guess that's why they call it a team game. Anyway, look at what he has done through eight games: He's on target to throw for 30 touchdowns and more than 5,300 yards on a team fighting to survive. Don't blame Rivers for the Chargers' shortcomings or desultory start. He's playing the best football of his career.
Runners-up: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee; Manning, QB, Indianapolis.
Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay. He leads the league in sacks, he's among Green Bay's top tacklers and he missed a game. If you watched the season opener against Philadelphia you saw what makes Matthews special. He rushed the pocket. He chased down Kevin Kolb to tackle him from behind. And when the Packers absolutely, positively had to make a stop, it was Matthews who stuffed Michael Vick. Matthews has more sacks (19½) the past two seasons than anyone anywhere, and that includes DeMarcus Ware. Plus, his 17 sacks in his first 20 games are the most by anyone in league history to start a career. Clay Matthews is an all-purpose, every-down player, and he's only going to get better.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis. As far back as February's scouting combine the Rams knew he would be their pick, and now you know why. As long as his shoulder checked out -- which it did -- Bradford translated to a franchise quarterback you couldn't pass up. So the Rams didn't, and good for them. He's everything they envisioned, and maybe more. Already St. Louis has won more games than the past two years combined, and Bradford is doing it without the team's top two wide receivers -- both out with season-ending injuries. No sweat. In his past three-plus games, Bradford hasn't thrown an interception. With Bradford and an offensive line in place, the only thing that keeps this club from winning the division is a franchise wide receiver. Give the Rams time. They'll find him.
So who's the best team halfway through the season? None other than the New England Patriots. Read the Power Rankings >>
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Detroit. He was the best player in this draft, and the Lions lucked out because the team ahead of them, St. Louis, couldn't pass the chance to take a franchise quarterback. So the Lions did what they should have done and landed the best talent in the draft. Smart move. Suh has been an attack dog, fighting through double teams to produce a team-high 6½ sacks and return a fumble for a touchdown. Now think of that. The guy is on course to produce 14 sacks from defensive tackle. "I hate to use superlatives," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch told the Detroit News after the Lions' latest victory, "but [Suh] is one of the best in the game. There's never been a moment that's too big for him."
Coach of the year: Todd Haley, Kansas City. It's a close call, but look what Haley had to overcome: Entering this season his team had dropped 35 of its previous 41 games, a record of futility that not even Oakland could match. But Haley was adamant that a foundation was in place and that the Chiefs would start moving forward. And he was right. The club not only has more victories through seven games than in any of its past three seasons, but it has improved in nearly every phase -- none bigger than turnovers. The Chiefs have a league-low four; a year ago they committed 27. Furthermore, they're unbeaten at home through four games. A year ago they dropped their first four there. That deserves to be recognized. Todd Haley, stand up and be counted.
Runners-up: Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay; Bill Belichick, New England.
Assistant Coach of the Year: Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator, Kansas City. It has been years since the Chiefs did anything but bleed on defense, but that trend stopped the moment Crennel joined Patriots Midwest. I don't care that they rank 16th in overall defense; what matters is where they rank in points allowed -- fifth. A year ago they were 29th overall in that department and last in the AFC, with six games where they hemorrhaged 30 or more points and three where they surrendered 40 or more. Now they've kept all but one of their opponents to 20 or fewer and are riding atop the AFC West. Something has changed ... no, someone has made a difference, and Romeo Crennel is that someone.
Runners-up: Perry Fewell, defensive coordinator, N.Y. Giants; Dick LeBeau, defensive coordinator, Pittsburgh.
Most surprising team: Tampa Bay. I figured these guys liked it so much down south they would spend another season in the NFC South basement. I was wrong. They not only escaped the ground floor, but they're on the elevator going up to challenge Atlanta for first place. Talk about upsets. Raheem Morris was supposed to be out of his element when he took this job, but I would like to see who believes that now. Morris has the Bucs playing their best football in years, snuffing opponents with a defense that has more takeaways (18) than everybody but Pittsburgh and Washington and taking advantage of them with an opportunistic offense driven by the fourth-quarter heroics of its quarterback. I can't imagine the Bucs maintain this pace all season, but, then again, I couldn't imagine them where they are now.
Runners-up: St. Louis; Oakland.
Most disappointing team: Dallas. The Cowboys were supposed to be the first host team to make it to the Super Bowl, and maybe they get there -- only it won't be without tickets for admission. They're not just bad; they're dysfunctionally bad, with everything so gawd awful that Wade Phillips this week promised to go back to the basics -- something he should have thought about in August. The quarterback is hurt. The offense is one-dimensional. The offensive line stinks. The pass defense couldn't stop JaMarcus Russell. And the head coach is walking the plank. Welcome to Dallas, where the Big D stands for Dead Team Walking.
Runners-up: Minnesota; Cincinnati.
Most surprising player: Arian Foster, RB, Houston. I didn't know who he was, either, until he shredded the Colts for a franchise-record 231 yards rushing in the season opener. That was supposed to be an anomaly, but anomalize this: He leads the league in first downs, is second in yards, is tied for second in rushing TDs and is tied for fourth in receptions by running backs. People always said the only reason Houston was a Texas Fold 'Em was because it lacked a decent running game. Well, now it has one, and look no farther for an explanation of why the Texans are pushing Indianapolis in the AFC South.
Most disappointing player: Randy Moss, WR, Tennessee. Do I need to explain? He couldn't fit in with New England. He couldn't fit in with Minnesota. Now he's working on his third team in a month, and that's not how future Hall of Famers are supposed to be treated. But Randy Moss is a different guy. You take the bad with the good, and there's a whole lot of bad -- one reason the Vikings surrendered after 26 days. When Bill Belichick decided he had had enough of Moss I should have signaled a red alert. I mean, Belichick put up with Corey Frickin' Dillon, for crying out loud, as well as three years of Moss. Moss is a big-play receiver with a big-time attitude, and that was OK as long as he had Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots to protect him. Now he has been exposed. Again.
Best free-agent pickup: Jason Babin, DE, Tennessee. The guy has been a modern-day Moses wandering the deserts of the NFL. He made stops in Houston, Seattle, Kansas City and Philadelphia before landing with the Titans this spring. Now he's having such a good season that he not only leads the Titans in sacks (seven) but has more sacks than all but three guys in the NFL -- including Julius Peppers (two), another free agent who pulled down considerably more money. Babin was an under-the-radar signing who already has more sacks than in any of his previous seven seasons and more than his past four combined.
Best trend: Pushing the envelope with fourth-down conversions. Everyone's doing it. Bill Belichick goes for fourth-and-1 in San Diego when he leads by 3 with two minutes are left. Not a good idea. The same weekend Kansas City's Todd Haley goes for it on fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 2 with two minutes left in the first half of a game he trails. He makes it. More than that, he wins the game. A rarity? Not anymore. More and more coaches are taking chances on fourth downs, with Haley leading the charge. Already he has tried 11 fourth-down conversions, making it on six of them, and that average not only will have you hitting cleanup in the Kansas City Royals' lineup; it will launch you into first in the AFC West.
Runners-up: Stiff fines and possible suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits. It's about time; No midseason firings of head coaches.
Worst trend: Officiating. All together now: When is a catch not a catch? When it's Calvin Johnson in the end zone at Chicago. And when is a fumble not a fumble? When it's Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone at Miami. Oh, sure, officials ruled that Big Ben coughed up the ball. They just couldn't decide who recovered it. One hint, guys: It's usually the player holding the ball. The league office later declared that officials were correct in making no call, an indication that maybe it's not just Wade Phillips' players who need to brush up on the fundamentals.
Runners-up: Serious injuries. And two more regular-season games will solve this? Please; Little or no movement on the CBA front. Can you say, "lockout?"
Best moment: Donovan McNabb's triumphant return to Philadelphia. Philadelphia fans stood and applauded the quarterback before his Oct. 4 game there. Classy. Maybe you didn't like McNabb when he was an Eagle, but you can't deny what he did for the club ... and what he did was put it back on the map. That's what happens when you go to five conference championship games in eight years and reach the Super Bowl for the first time in over two decades of franchise history. So McNabb didn't have a great game or produce outrageous numbers. He won, and he was applauded by an electorate that appreciated what it no longer had.
Runners-up: Tony Dungy welcomed back to Indianapolis for a Ring of Honor ceremony; Rookie quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Max Hall beating the defending Super Bowl champions, with Hall winning in his first pro start.
Worst moment: The benching of McNabb. Sitting him down was bad enough. What followed was worse. First, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he benched McNabb because backup Rex Grossman was more "comfortable" in the two-minute drill. A day later, he said it was because McNabb's "cardiovascular endurance" wasn't what it should be. The day after that, Shanahan's son, offensive coordinator Kyle, said it had more to do with "hamstring issues." Let's see, that's three different explanations in three days. "All I know," said one head coach, "is that they basically called McNabb fat and stupid, and that's not right." I'll second that. The Redskins brought in McNabb to solidify the most important position on the field. Then they took it away from him but can't decide why. Somebody please explain.
Runners-up: Brett Favre carried off the field on a cart in New England; Tennessee defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil giving officials "the Hawaiian peace sign," as commentators described it, during a loss to Denver.