Now that all 32 team have finally played eight games, we can officially label this the halfway point in the NFL season.
The Chiefs remain the only unbeaten in the NFL, while the Broncos and Seahawks appear to be hot on their heels for the crown of the NFL’s top team. Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense are on an historic pace at the midway point, and the Chiefs’ defense looks like the best we’ve seen in some time.
Tom Brady and Eli Manning have struggled — though, to very different extents. Philip Rivers and Andy Dalton have impressed. And many star players have been forced to watch from the sidelines as injuries continue to grow league-wide.
With the midpoint of the season already here, it seems like an appropriate time to evaluate everything that’s happened in the first nine weeks and reassess. So, let’s see who is in the lead for every major award and what teams look like the top Super Bowl contenders.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Peyton Manning is putting up stupid numbers through eight games, and he’s on pace to destroy Tom Brady‘s passing touchdowns mark by season’s end, but Jamaal Charles still seems like the rightful MVP. No team would suffer more from the loss of one player than the Chiefs. Alex Smith has been mediocre and can’t carry the offense. The KC defense could hold teams to under 10 points, but, without Charles, the offense might be as anemic as the Jaguars.
Charles has not only been integral in the Chiefs establishing a solid ground game, he’s also been their most productive receiver this season. He is third in the NFL in rushing yards (725) and has the second-most receptions among running backs with 47, which leads the Chiefs. Without Charles on the field, the Chiefs wouldn’t just struggle to pound the ball on the ground, their passing attack would also take a sizeable hit. His numbers may pale in comparison to Manning’s or even Drew Brees‘, but Charles’ importance to the still unbeaten Chiefs is almost immeasurable.
Honorable Mention: Peyton Manning, QB; Broncos; Drew Brees, QB, Saints; Andrew Luck, QB, Colts; Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Offensive Player of the Year:
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
As mentioned above, with the sort of season Manning is having, records will be broken. He’s not only on pace for 58 touchdown passes, which will annihilate Brady’s mark of 50 (2007), but he’s also on pace to throw for almost 6,000 yards, which would squash Brees’ record of 5,476 (2011). It’s been overstated at this point, but Manning really is putting up numbers better suited for a video game. There’s really no contest for this award.
Honorable Mention: None
Defensive Player of the Year:
Tamba Hali, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
Teammate Justin Houston has been getting all the publicity for his outrageous sack totals early in the season, but, for my money at least, Tamba Hali has been the key to the Chiefs’ defense this season. He’s right up there in the sack race, compiling nine through nine games, but he also leads the NFL in forced fumbles (four), plus he’s recovered one and returned an interception for a touchdown. He really is doing it all.
Honorable Mention: Justin Houston, LB, Chiefs; Robert Mathis, DE, Colts; J.J. Watt, DL, Texans; Muhammad Wilkerson, DL, Jets
Offensive Rookie of the Year:
Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers
Last year, there was a surplus of contenders for this award. Without a stellar crop of quarterbacks standing out this season, though, there are but a few viable options this year. Keenan Allen has quickly become Philip Rivers‘ No. 1 option in the passing game, and he continues to shine in Mike McCoy‘s up-tempo offense — 34 catches, 527 yards and three touchdowns.
After falling to the third round in April because of knee problems, he looks like one of the steals of the draft at this point. Give Eddie Lacy another week or two, especially if he continues to produce without Aaron Rodgers, and he would probably get my vote. But, for now, Allen is the guy.
Honorable Mention: Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers; Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals; Zac Stacy, RB, Rams
Defensive Rookie of the Year:
Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills
Many questioned the Bills’ selection of Kiko Alonso midway through the second round of April’s draft. Those critics are rethinking their statements right about now. Alonso is second in the NFL in tackles with 89 and is tied for first with four interceptions — an unusually high number for a linebacker. He’s proven to be the lynchpin of the Bills’ better-than-expected defense, and he looks like a star in this league for many years to come. Jets’ defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson has had a similar type of impact and could easily overtake Alonso at some point. To this point, though, Alonso has been ever so slightly more impressive.
Honorable Mention: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Jets; Tyrann Mathieu, CB, Cardinals; Chris Jones, DT, Patriots
Comeback Player of the Year:
Darrelle Revis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Is there really another worthy candidate to consider? Brian Cushing would have made this a good conversation, but once he went out for the year, this became a one-man race. Revis isn’t even having that great of a season — albeit because he’s been largely misused — but he’s still the best the NFL has to offer this year.
Honorable Mention: LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles; Brian Orakpo, LB, Redskins; Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
Coach of the Year:
Rex Ryan, New York Jets
The Jets were supposed to be bad. Their locker room was supposed to be a circus. They were supposed to miss Darrelle Revis and lament the controversy between Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith. Heck, they were supposed to be even worse than the Jaguars. Instead, Rex Ryan has motivated his team to an incredible and unexpected turnaround, taking a winning record (5-4) into the bye week and looking like prime playoff contenders. Rex has turned all the expectations on their head and proven once again why he is such a great leader.
Honorable Mention: Andy Reid, Chiefs; Mike McCoy, Chargers; Bill Belichick, Patriots
Super Bowl Favorites (Final Four):
The Chiefs are the only undefeated left in football, but they have too many deficiencies to hold confidence in them come playoff time. The Patriots and the Bengals are the two other contenders, but both have some significant injuries on defense that will likely limit them come January. Meanwhile, the Broncos continue to look like the best team in the NFL, and Andrew Luck just continues to work his magic late in games. A rematch of Week 7’s epic showdown, this time in Denver, would make for quite the AFC Championship Game.
New Orleans Saints
The Seahawks were within moments of a trip to the NFC Championship Game last season, and they won’t let the chance slip through their fingers again this year. Russell Wilson is coming into his own at just the right time, and Percy Harvin‘s return will make this offense even more dangerous. The Saints will have a tough test with the 49ers, Panthers — yes, those Panthers — and the Packers given a healthy Aaron Rodgers, but Drew Brees still has the magic, and their defense looks good enough to hold up their end.