|Turnaround artist Jim Harbaugh has turned the Niners into a 7-1 team. (Getty Images)|
Halfway through the season, this much is certain: The NFL's record of shutouts for franchises belonging to Super Bowl host cities will remain intact. Sorry, Indianapolis, but wait 'til next year.
Another certainty is that if nothing changes between now and February, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and his teammates walk off with most of the hardware. Nobody is better than the Packers or their quarterback, and it's there we might as well start with our midseason awards.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay: He leads the league in touchdown passes, completion percentage and passer rating and is second in third-down and fourth-quarter passing. He recently completed his eighth consecutive game with a passer rating of 111 or better, is on schedule to throw 48 TDs and, oh, yeah, hasn't lost in 14 games. Granted, he has a strong supporting cast, but Rodgers is a cinch for the award -- not because he's the best player in the game, but because he makes everyone around him better.
First runner-up: Eli Manning, QB, N.Y. Giants: He keeps producing fourth-quarter comebacks and with what? Victor Cruz? Jake Ballard? Bear Pascoe? This is the quarterback the Giants envisioned in 2004.
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Second runner-up: Matt Forte, RB, Chicago: He not only leads the Bears in rushing and catches, he has more yards from scrimmage than anyone in the NFL. Now I know why the Bears refuse to go away.
Offensive player of the year
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay: I don't need to make the case for him again, do I? He's the best quarterback in the game on the best team in the game. Green Bay has the league's 30th-ranked defense and 31st-ranked pass defense, yet it can't lose. Why? You're looking at him.
First runner-up: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans: He's on schedule to break Dan Marino's record for passing yardage. He's second only to Rodgers in TD passes. He has touchdowns in 36 consecutive games, completes 71 percent of his passes, leads the league in third-down throws and has the Saints on top of their division. Your witness.
Second runner-up: (tie) Forte and LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia: Forte is responsible for 45 percent of the Bears' offense, for crying out loud. The only thing he hasn't done this season is gain a new contract from the Bears. McCoy is tied for the league lead in touchdowns, leads it in rushing and leads it in first downs. In short, he's a load.
Defensive player of the year
Darrelle Revis, CB, N.Y. Jets: In a passing league, you better have someone who can shut down the big play, and the Jets do. Revis is the Jets' best player, and one of the top players anywhere. A year ago, he was hampered by injuries. Now he's not ... which means now you're seeing why the Jets paid him all that money.
First runner-up: DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas: Every year, it's the same story with the guy: A relentless pass rusher who's among the league leaders in sacks. I'm still waiting for someone to block him.
Second runner-up: Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota: He's pushing offensive tackles around again and leads the league in sacks.
Coach of the year
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco: The 49ers haven't had a winning season since 2002. Now they have more victories than the rest of the NFC West combined and could clinch the division by Thanksgiving. Go ahead and cue Al Michaels again. Do you believe in miracles?
First runner-up: Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati: The Bengals were supposed to be a league doormat. Rookie quarterback. Rookie wide receiver. Rookie offensive coordinator. Yeah, sure. They're tied for first in the AFC North.
Second runner-up: Chan Gailey, Buffalo: He passes on quarterbacks in the draft because he believes in Ryan Fitzpatrick, then he goes out and beats New England and Philadelphia and Kansas City -- all division winners. I still think the Bills are a year away, but that they're in the picture at all is a testament to Gailey.
Assistant coach of the year
Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator, Houston: The Texans tried playing the 2010 season without a pass defense, with predictable results: They lost eight of their last 10. So they hire Phillips, and, just like that, a club that allowed 24 or more points in all but two starts a year ago is first in defense, second in pass defense and first in the AFC South ... and that's without their best player, linebacker Mario Williams.
First runner-up: Vic Fangio, defensive coordinator, San Francisco: When Harbaugh moved over from Stanford, he took Fangio with him. Now you know why. Defense is behind the club's resurgence, with San Francisco ranked first in points allowed and first vs. the run.
Second runner-up: Rob Chudzinski, offensive coordinator, Carolina: I was convinced the Panthers were toast because the lockout would penalize a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. Wrong. Newton plus Chudzinski's game plans make the Panthers Must See TV.
Offensive rookie of the year
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina: He's far, far better than I imagined, combining for 18 touchdowns on a team with only two victories. In half a season, Newton has done the unthinkable == namely, make Carolina worth watching. Newton is so dynamic, you wonder what happens when the Panthers discover a defense.
First runner-up: Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati: He doesn't produce the big numbers, the 60-yard throws or the nifty runs that Cam Newton does. He just wins. I don't care that his defense is superior. Dalton does what he must to put the Bengals on top ... and I mean on top of the AFC. You can look it up. He's 6-2. Newton is 2-6. Plus, he's 4-1 on the road.
Second runner-up: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati: He leads all rookie receivers in catches and leads the Bengals in touchdowns. He's the reason the Bengals didn't blink on Chad Ochocinco, and smart move, guys.
Defensive rookie of the year
Von Miller, linebacker, Denver: OK, so he can struggle in pass coverage. But he's a tireless pass rusher off the edge and should be one of the game's top playmakers for years. You wonder why Denver took him instead of Marcell Dareus? Roll the tape. That's not a knock on Dareus. It's a testament to how well Miller pushes the pocket.
First runner-up: Aldon Smith, LB, San Francisco: I saw him crush opposing tackles in Detroit and was convinced. The 49ers wanted someone who was quick off the edge. Smith is, tying Miller with a rookie-high 6.5 sacks.
Second runner-up: Marcel Dareus, DL, Buffalo: Buffalo can thank Denver for Dareus being there with the third pick. Some considered him the best player in the draft. The Bills saw someone who could rescue the league's 32nd-ranked defense. They were right.
Comeback player of the year
Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco: The 49ers were so down on the guy they drafted Colin Kaepernick to take his place, and you can't blame them. Smith hadn't panned out in six years. Ah, but that's why he's my first choice. He's having a superb season, not so much by what he's doing as what he's not == namely, making mistakes. His two interceptions are the fewest of any starting quarterback. Plus, he's 7-1 and keeping Kaepernick nailed to the bench.
First runner-up: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit: A year ago, I wondered if this guy was an injury waiting to happen. Coach Jim Schwartz insisted he wasn't, that Stafford would be fine once this season got going. Score one for Schwartz. Stafford is the league's fourth-rated quarterback, with 19 TDs and only four interceptions.
Second runner-up: Steve Smith, WR, Carolina: Once, he wanted out of Carolina. Then he changed his mind. Good thing. His career has been revitalized, with Smith second only to New England's Wes Welker in receiving yards. He also has as many catches in eight games as he had in 14 last year.
Best free-agent pickup
Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans: Maybe one reason Philip Rivers is struggling in San Diego is because he lost one of the team's top playmakers. Sproles leads the Saints in rushing, receiving, gains 7.1 yards a carry and is tied with Jimmy Graham for the team lead in touchdowns. Tell me Rivers doesn't miss him, because he does.
First runner-up: Johnathan Joseph, CB, Houston: Philadelphia could've saved itself a bundle of money by going after this guy, and the Eagles might have been better off. Adding Joseph helped Wade Phillips plug holes in the league's leakiest secondary.
Second runner-up: Paul Posluszny, LB, Jacksonville: All the guy does is make tackles. He did it in Buffalo. He's doing it here.
Worst free-agent pickup
Tarvaris Jackson, QB, Seattle: I'm sorry, but when you have a choice of quarterbacks, I don't pick Jackson until I'm convinced there are no other options. The Seahawks jumped at the chance. They would've been better off keeping Matt Hasselbeck. Jackson graded his first half as an F. I'd say that just about sums it up.
First runner-up: Ray Edwards, DE, Atlanta: The Falcons needed a bookend pass rusher for John Abraham, and they paid Edwards $11 million in guaranteed money to be that guy. If he doesn't get another sack this season, he shall have been paid $5.5 million per sack. Not good.
Second runner-up: DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina: The Panthers paid a lot to keep him from going to Denver. They shouldn't have. Williams might be a security blanket for Newton, but he's an expensive one. He has one more touchdown than a dead man.
Most surprising team
San Francisco: Not only are the 49ers winning; they're winning with Alex Smith. That wasn't supposed to happen, and that's not just me. Anyway, they're the second best team in the game. Amazing.
First runner-up: Cincinnati: If the season were to end today, the Bengals would be the AFC's first seed. Honest.
Second runner-up: Buffalo: The Bills have been a last-place fixture in the AFC East, but not now. Now they're in a three-way tie for first, and I don't care that it lasts. I just care that it happened.
Most disappointing team
Philadelphia: The Eagles made a zillion moves in the offseason to acquire the talent necessary to catch Green Bay. But it's not the Packers they're chasing. It's the Giants and Cowboys. More proof that chemistry always wins out over talent.
First runner-up: San Diego: I can't explain Philip Rivers' mistakes, either. All I know is that they blew two games they shouldn't and now are in a flat-footed tie with Oakland and Kansas City.
Second runner-up: St. Louis: The Rams won seven games last year and appeared poised to have their first winning season in eight years. Yeah, sure. Theyíre 1-7 and stuck in last in the leagueís worst division. I understand they have injuries, but so does virtually everyone.
Pick I want back
St. Louis to win the NFC West: I thought this would be the season the Rams make their move because I thought they had the best quarterback in the division. I was wrong. San Francisco does. And he's coaching the 49ers. All together now: Same ol' Rams.