Halfway through the NFL season, nobody is surprised about who is sitting atop the NFL standings, but the Green Bay Packers may be the only thing not surprising about the NFL this season. Teams like the 49ers and Bengals are on top, the Patriots are fading, and the “Dream Team” Eagles are a mess.
And even without Peyton Manning, who would’ve guessed the Indianapolis Colts would be running away with the race for the first overall draft pick and the rights to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck?
Rookie quarterbacks and rookie coaches are thriving. Some forgotten players have been revived. Some coaches thought to be on the hot seat are having remarkable years. There’s a long way to go, of course, but it’s been quite an eventful first half of the NFL season.
Here are some well-earned midseason awards:
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
He’s having a scary good season, completing 72.5 percent of his passes and he’s on pace to top 5,000 passing yards and maybe throw 50 touchdowns. On top of that he has thrown just three interceptions and has the defending Super Bowl champions looking unbeatable at 8-0. But will they go undefeated in 2011?
Offensive MVP: Wes Welker, WR New England Patriots
Sure, you could find another quarterback to give this to, but he’s got 66 catches for 960 yards and five touchdowns, which is crazy considering he’s 5-9 and his quarterback – Tom Brady – isn’t having his finest season. He’s the most underrated and dangerous offensive weapon in the league.
Defensive MVP: DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys defense isn’t just built around him. He’s pretty much it. And he’s got 12 sacks, which puts him a half-sack behind Minnesota’s Jared Allen and on pace to break Michael Strahan’s single-season record, which he’s been aiming for for several years.
MVNP (Most Valuable Non-Player): Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Is there any doubt? Take him out of the Colts lineup and they look like a Division II college team trying to find a way to compete with the big boys. They’re 0-8 without him and everyone thinks they’d be .500 or better if he hadn’t missed the season with a neck injury.
Rookie of the Year: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Forget about the people – scouts, fans, personnel people, coaches, and others – who weren’t sure he’d be a big-time quarterback in the NFL. He’s simply changed the way rookie QBs are perceived. Sure, he’s struggled – a little – but he busted onto the scene with a pair of 400-yard games to start his career and he’s thrown just nine interceptions in eight games, which is probably nine fewer than most people expected.
Coach of the Year: Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
He didn’t have an offseason to install his system and inherited a quarterback in Alex Smith that most people thought was a bust, and somehow the 49ers are 7-1. And don’t chalk this all up to the weak NFC West, either. They’ve won at Cincinnati, at Philadelphia, and at Detroit and pounded the Buccaneers at home. Those are four big-time wins.
Worst coach: Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars
Playing quarterback roulette just before the start of the season was one good way to kill the year before it started, and it’s only gotten worse. Years of mediocrity have bottomed out with a 2-6 start, and everyone knows a change is needed before the rebuilding can start.
Biggest Bust: Donovan McNabb, QB, Minnesota Vikings
So, maybe his awful year in Washington last year wasn’t such a fluke. He was terrible from the start in Minnesota and not surprisingly lost his job to rookie Christian Ponder. It’s the end of the line for a player who never got the credit he deserved, and an unfitting end to an underrated career.
Biggest Surprise: The Buffalo Bills
Chan Gailey was a respected coach, but nobody thought he’d be able to turn QB Ryan Fitzpatrick into a dangerous weapon so quickly. Some even thought running back Fred Jackson might get pushed for carries by C.J. Spiller. No one thought, though, the Bills would be 5-3 and tied with the Jets and Patriots atop the AFC East.
Biggest Non-Surprise: DT Albert Haynesworth getting cut
How many teams have to give up on Haynesworth and his attitude and work ethic before the rest of the NFL finally gets the hint? Let’s see. There’s the Titans, the Redskins, now the Patriots … Hey Tampa Bay, good luck with that.
Game of the Second Half: Green Bay at Detroit, Thanksgiving afternoon
The upstart Lions, trying to prove they’re for real, standing in the way of what likely will still be the Packers’ perfect season – and in front of a national television audience? The turkey can wait until this one is over.
Super Bowl prediction (revisited): Green Bay Packers over Baltimore Ravens
My preseason prediction was for a Saints-Patriots Super Bowl and that still most definitely remains in play. The Patriots don’t look like their dynastic selves, though, and the Saints have been a bit up and down, too. Halfway through the season, it’s hard to ignore the Packers and their quest for back-to-back titles. Over in the AFC beware the Ravens, who have had their struggles but still remain 6-2 and have all the ingredients to rise above a tight and talented back.
By RALPH VACCHIANO