Where has the time gone? We’re already at the midway point of the 2014 NFL season and we’re still trying to process what we’re seeing. Could the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks miss the playoffs? Will the Detroit Lions hold off the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North? Can the Buffalo Bills make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years?
These are questions that will only be answered at the end of December, but what we do know is who have been the most impressive players and coaches up to this point. Act 1 of the season has reached its end, but now, we’re about to get into the dog days of November and finally, the playoff atmosphere of December football.
If the season were to end today, who would we recognize as the best in football? Who’s done the best coaching job? Who’s been the top rookie? All individual awards will be addressed, as we hand out the midseason NFL awards. We’ll even make up a few.
10. NFL Rushing Title – DeMarco Murray
Well, there’s no special thought put into this one; just going by numbers. DeMarco Murray has out-rushed several teams by himself. He has set an NFL record, going eight straight games with 100 yards or more on the ground, breaking Jim Brown‘s record of six.
Through eight games, DeMarco Murray has 1,054 yards, and is starting to make people wonder whether he can reach Eric Dickerson‘s record of 2,105. If his workload remains high and he remains healthy, he definitely has a chance.
9. General Manager of the Year – John Elway
Has there been one individual who’s meant more to an organization than John Elway? When Elway was a player, he made the Broncos a contender year after year. When he retired, the franchise slipped to the middle of the NFL pack.
When Elway took the reigns as VP of Football Operations in Denver, the franchise again got a huge shot in the arm and Elway has them as a consistent contender again. Sure, it really started with Elway luring Peyton Manning to play for the Broncos, but Elway has been constantly recruiting great players to play for his Broncos since signing Manning.
After losing 43-8 in last year’s Super Bowl, Elway knew there were several holes on the Denver defense that were exposed by Seattle. He didn’t stand pat and let himself get too comfortable, even though it would have been easy to do so after a 13-3 season, the offense putting up historical numbers and making it to the Super Bowl.
Instead, Elway went out and made the team’s defense tougher, and added leadership. He brought in Aqib Talib from New England, longtime Cowboy DeMarcus Ware and T.J. Ward to toughen up Denver’s secondary. Ware adds a presence alongside a healthy Von Miller.
On offense, Elway let Eric Decker walk to the New York Jets and replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders, who has blossomed in the Denver receiving corps, arguably their best target after Demaryius and Julius Thomas.
Elway made the team more balanced, tougher, grittier and his team looks like the NFL’s best at the season’s midway point.
8. Fantasy Player of the Year – DeMarco Murray
When you’re the top workhorse in the NFL, odds are good things are happening when you get the football. On top of Murray leading the league in rushing yards, he has seven scores on the ground. He’s not letting anybody down.
7. Offensive Player of the Year – Peyton Manning
How is it possible that at the age of 38, Peyton Manning seems to be playing the best football of his career? At an age where the typical athlete would heavily regress, Manning looks like he’s going to top what he did last year.
The weapons he has around him certainly help, as he has the best receiving corps in the league and his offensive line is healthier this season.
He has thrown 22 touchdown passes to just three interceptions and while 2,134 yards don’t have him on pace for him to break his own record, his QBR is at Madden-like levels, at 119.0. He gets the job done and he makes his offensive unit the most potent in all of football.
At the rate he’s going, you’d be really shocked if the Broncos don’t make it back to the Super Bowl and you’d suspect they’d be even hungrier to make up for the egg they laid last February.
6. Defensive Player of the Year – J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt was supposed to get a huge boost from Jadeveon Clowney, whom the Texans selected first overall in this year’s draft. Unfortunately, Clowney hasn’t been healthy, so Watt has been carrying a huge burden in leading the Texans’ defense.
Houston’s defense is the reason they started strong and are within the playoff hunt, and it’s because Watt really does it all for them. He has seven sacks, 32 tackles, a winning record seven passes defended, an interception, a forced fumble and three recovered fumbles. Most importantly, Watt leads the way for his unit, and makes everyone around him better, as offences are forced to account for him at all times.
While the defence is a lowly 28th against the pass and 13th against the run, they come up with timely plays and turnovers. They’re strong on third down, making stops when they have to.
5. Offensive Rookie of the Year – Sammy Watkins
The Buffalo Bills traded up to get Sammy Watkins at fourth overall, giving up the ninth overall pick as well as their first and fourth rounders in next year’s draft. So far, it looks like that high price was well worth it.
Sammy Watkins has been just the playmaker everyone expected him to be, premature celebrations and all, with 38 catches for 590 yards and five touchdowns. He has been the most dynamic offensive weapon the Bills have had in ages. An important note is, he’s done all this with E.J. Manuel and Kyle Orton as his quarterbacks!
His great hands, his elusiveness in space, and his breakaway speed make him a valuable asset for Buffalo and one of their bluechip pieces for the future. He’s a huge reason the Bills have been able to rally for late wins and why they have a winning record and are threatening for a playoff spot.
4. Defensive Rookie of the Year – C.J. Mosley
The Baltimore Ravens’ defense has resurged this season after a letdown in 2013. One of those reasons is because they made a serious commitment to rebuild their defense, highlighted by selecting C.J. Mosley in the draft’s opening round.
Mosley already has 72 tackles on the season, as well as two interceptions and a forced fumble. He’s quickly become a very reliable player for Baltimore. Having veteran leadership around him, such as Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata helps, but Mosley’s ascension can’t be ignored.
3. Comeback Player of the Year – Rolando McClain
There certainly are other strong candidates, such as Julio Jones or Jeremy Maclin, but consider where Rolando McClain was earlier this year. He was in constant trouble with the law, and he had retired from the league! He was called by the Cowboys after yet another long-term injury suffered by Sean Lee.
McClain has filled that role extremely well, considering all the circumstances. The Cowboys are among the league’s top teams through the first half of the season, and while DeMarco Murray and the offense are a huge reason, the Cowboys’ overachieving defense can’t be ignored.
McClain has forced a fumble and come up with two interceptions, as well as 38 tackles.
2. Coach of the Year – Bruce Arians
This is probably the easiest award to decide. When you lose several of your defensive starters to injury, when the defense is the strength of your team, and your starting quarterback gets injured, making way for Drew Stanton, and you still find ways to win games, the coach has to be doing something right.
It makes you wonder why Bruce Arians had to wait so long for an NFL coaching job. He went 9-3 in the 2012 season as interim head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, getting them to the playoffs in what was supposed to be a transition year for Andrew Luck. He was awarded the AP’s Coach of the Year award, yet he was the last coach hired heading into the 2013 season.
Arians then surprised people by leading the Cardinals to a 10-6 season last year and Arizona was the first team in two years to beat the Seahawks in Seattle. Now this year, with his team decimated by injuries, he has still managed to lead the Cards to a 6-1 start, first in the NFC West ahead of Seattle and San Francisco. His team’s only loss was to the league’s best team in the Denver Broncos.
This one really is a no-brainer.
1. Most Valuable Player – DeMarco Murray
The Cowboys are 6-2 and it’s clear they’re at their best when DeMarco Murray is touching the ball at least 25-30 times a game.
It’s clear this team goes as far as he can carry them.
This is the toughest call, given how well Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers have played, but in what is a passing league, the fact that Murray is able to carry the Cowboys the way he does as a running back, proves his value.
Yes, the Cowboys’ offensive line is one of the league’s best, but the biggest difference between this year’s Cowboys and those of recent years is that they understand DeMarco Murray bearing the load gives them their best chance to win. Murray has yet to be shut down in any game this season, while the other MVP candidates have had their shaky games. If you were to nitpick, Murray’s seven fumbles lost are troublesome, but the good has outweighed the bad by a mile.