We have more to cover than Rex Ryan’s shirts, so no chit-chat, we are going straight into OTC’s midseason awards.
5. Philip Rivers, Chargers QB
The number this guy is putting up are bonkers. He is on track to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing record with wide receivers named Ajirotutu and Buster (Davis). If the team was not 4-5, I would put him at either the top of 2nd, purely because of how astronomical his numbers are and the undeniable fact that without him, the Chargers are a one win team at best (thus far). A really outstanding season that we will talk more about later in the context of the AFC West.
4. Troy Polamalu, Steelers S
Yup, going with the defensive love. Last year the Steelers were missing Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu on defense and were a mediocre team at best. Aaron Smith went down again this year and while the Steelers have struggled with it a bit, they still look like one of the top teams in the league, and that is in huge part because of Troy Polamalu. If you take him out of this defense, it goes down the drain in a hurry, and that is not just hyperbole. He is easily the most valuable defensive player in the league (which is different from being the defensive player of the year), and I think he is the 4th most valuable player in the league right now.
3. Chris Johnson, Titans RB
Ho hum. Chris Johnson isn’t going to rush for 2000 yards. He will have to settle with the 1400 yard projection he is on and a major role in one of the highest scoring offenses in the league. The bottom line is that if you take Chris Johnson out of this offense, they become completely impotent. Young cannot throw without him, the Titans cannot move the ball without him, and the team cannot win without him. His stats are impressive, but his value to the team is equally impressive.
2. Michael Vick, Eagles QB
Plain and simple, the Eagles have not lost with him playing the entire game. He has recaptured that electricity he had in Atlanta, but is quietly learning how to be an efficient passer as well. Just watching that Colts game, he only made one or two throws that were not exactly where he wanted them to be, and that is a scary thought considering how many times he could have just run for the first down. Kevin Kolb is just fine, but the bottom line is that the Eagles are a mediocre playoff team with Kolb, and a contender with Vick.
1. Peyton Manning, Colts QB
This has never been close. There has never, NEVER, been a player more valuable to his team than Peyton Manning. Without him, the Colts win two or three games tops. He cannot be replaced. They replaced Austin Collie, Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, and Dallas Clark and they still win with Blair White, Jacob Tamme, and anyone you want to grab off the street. The offensive line sucks, the running game is often non-existent, the defense is mediocre at best, and if you tell your buddies you are betting against the Colts any weekend, they tell you you are crazy. They need to name this award after him when he retires. He wakes up in the morning and pisses excellence. I have nothing more to say. Anyone who would argue there is a more important player to their team is nuts.
Just a quick tangent I like to go on for all the Patriots fans: You lost Tom Brady, a man you claim is as valuable as Peyton Manning, and went 11-5 with the magnificently mediocre Matt Cassel. Conversation over. If you gave Peyton Manning’s teams the Patriots’ defenses in the good old days when these teams would meet in the playoffs every year, there is no chance Manning would lose, or come close to losing. Those games were never about Brady being better than Manning, because he isn’t. No one is as valuable as Peyton Manning. Maybe of all time.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
5. Jahvid Best, Lions RB
I love the kid, but this is as high as I can put him. I get that he is putting up with a mediocre run-blocking line, but given the hidden quality of this rookie class, I can’t move him any higher. He is a player for the future who is underrated catching out of the backfield, but the passing game has really made that team go more than Best of late. The loss of Stafford should actually damage his chances down the road, because no defense will respect Drew Stanton if Shaun Hill cannot get healthy.
4. Mike Williams, Buccaneers WR
Has anyone had a more anonymous really good season than Mike Williams? I mean it doesn’t help that his name sticks out less than Shannon Sharpe’s ability to pronounce names, but his numbers in a very middling offense are impressive. 36 catches for 559 yards and 5 TDs? Seriously? That projects to 72 catches, 1118 yards, 10 TDs and zero people who saw it coming. I only put him 4th because I think teams will start to gameplan for him and because I think the other guys will finish stronger.
3. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots TE
Ok, ok, I know his numbers are not as good as Williams, but he also has to compete for catches with Wes Welker, formerly randy Moss, and a far superior receiving corps. He is one of those rare rookie TEs who has all the physical tools AND can play smart and apply it. In other words, he is not Vernon Davis his first few years. He might be a little overrated by the end of the year, but he has been outstanding and is really pretty hard to gameplan against. He will continue to get his as the year goes on, perhaps unlike Mike Williams.
2. Colt McCoy, Browns QB
Right now, he is not there. By the end of the year he will have earned this spot beyond the shadow of a doubt. I had my doubts about Colt McCoy as a pro QB (he reminded e of Alex Smith), but it is clear that his leadership and playmaking are enough to get it done at this level. He has claimed a couple scalps of mediocre QBs you might have heard of too– Drew Brees and Tom Brady. I know he is not playing directly against them, but that is still damn impressive. He will climb to #2 as the Browns continue to play good football and inch closer to Cleveland’s Super Bowl title, which they will win in 2015. You heard me.
1. Sam Bradford, Rams QB
This is not close. If he was throwing to Donnie Avery, Michael Clayton, and anyone else you might have heard of, it would be different, but he isn’t. He is turning average receivers into stars and pulling the Rams, who won once last year, to a .500 record. He is everything they dreamed he would be, and there is no doubt that his full-season effort gets him a well-deserved nod as Rookie of the Year.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
5. Nate Allen, Eagles S
The stats are there, and I have admittedly not gotten to see him play much (he got hurt in the first half against the Colts), but he seems to be making a real impact on the Eagles secondary, which was mediocre at best last year. Think of him as being a little like Jairus Byrd from last year, except without the gaudy picks numbers. Pretty solid, but the stats seem a little inflated.
4. Eric Berry, Chiefs S
Ok, he still gets picked on sometimes, but he is an important part of a good defense and is more than holding his own. Stats lie sometimes, but Berry’s stats appear to be everything the Chiefs could have hoped for coming into the year, and they hoped for a lot. A rising star at safety without a doubt.
3. Ndamukong Suh, “House of Spears”
2. Ndamukong Suh, Actual Lion
1. Ndamukong Suh, Lions DT
Yes, he is that good. The real question is if he is a top 5 DT in the league right now, and I think the answer is yes. The Williams Wall is getting old in Minny, Haynesworth is a headcase, Wilfork and other NTs play a sort of different game, and the only guy I would put definitively ahead of him is Haloti Ngata of the Ravens. I mean have you seen this guy play? Coming into the draft, some people like Gerald McCoy more because he could rush the passer. Looks like Suh took exception to that, as his 6.5 sacks would imply. No rookie has been better. If they put the offensive and defensive rookies of the year head to head, I think I might even put him above Sam Bradford. That is how impressive he has been.
5. Minnesota Vikings
It is not so much that we thought they were fail-safe, but just how it has happened. They still have just about every ounce of talent they had last year, but cannot turn it into anything. Childress should have been fired already, results aside, and they are not deserving of the playoff spot they may end up grabbing.
4. Carolina Panthers
I thought it could work. They were supposed to have a really good offensive line with a solid defense to go with that running back duo, but they really do not have any of that. Williams and Stewart are hurt, both those units suck, and they are down to Tony Pike with a lame duck coach. I did not think they would be great, but i did not expect them to be THIS bad.
3. San Francisco 49ers
Watching this team play this year has felt like writing “I will not trust Alex Smith” 1000 times on a blackboard. The level at which he holds his talented team back is really impressive. Like imagine Ryan Fitzpatrick stats at QB for the 49ers. Ok, now imagine Bruce Gradkowski, Jon Kitna, or even Brodie Croyle starts at QB for this team. Now imagine Alex Smith starting. None of those QBs is really good, but they are all a huge upgrade over Smith. Failing to draft a QB in next year’s draft would be a failure of epic proportions. Now biting on local hero Andrew Luck may be a bad idea as well, but that is a topic for another day.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
So much for that experiment. Frankly, it has not been the fault of the receivers as much as the fault of the coaches and quarterback, but it is still unforgivable. I think Marvin Lewis should probably lose his job for allowing his run-first, hard-nosed team to turn so heavily to the passing game and forget about its roots. Their season pretty much ended on Monday night (where they played well after the first quarter) and if things go the way they should, a lot of old faces will be leaving the Natti.
1. Dallas Cowboys
I am actually not sure if I have to say anything here, purely because of how predictable it is. This team was supposed to be good and it sucks something awful. End of story.
However, this does give me a chance to point out that Jason Garrett is not the man for the job. I have no idea if he is a big motivator or extremely popular in the locker room, but watching him systematically rip the franchise’s heart out by refusing to run the ball tells me all I need to (and want to) know. Cowboy haters should hope for a strong finish by the Boys so Garrett can stick around.
The Chargers and Bears did not make that list for one reason. We knew there were issues. They are not disappointing, they are exactly what we thought. The Chargers have an injury bug, their classic slow start, and bad offseason karma to deal with, and yet are still probably going to win the division. If you were disappointed by their early season struggles, you are delusional about Chargers football, because that happens every year. The Bears are not disappointing because we knew they were not good going in. Their offensive line finally exposed itself, and if not for playing that game in Toronto, they would have fallen to the lowly Bills. They are not disappointing because we weren’t expecting anything of them.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
This is my big mea culpa of the season so far. I should not have written them off because of their injuries from last year, and they prove me wrong every week. I could not get a solid 5th surprise team so I thought I would take this chance to formally say “my bad”, though I thought the 2 weeks at #1 in our rankings would have done the trick.
4. St. Louis Rams
They are not good, but they are way better than we thought they would be. Credit Sam Bradford on offense, and Steve Spagnuolo with making that defense a pretty solid force so far this year.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I have been torn on the Bucs for a while now. On the one hand, they seems to be in just about every game, but sometimes they let teams hang around and give themselves a shot to lose. I like Josh Freeman in the 4th quarter, but will remain skeptical of him until I can see something in quarters 1-3. The defense has been pretty decent too as Raheem Morris at least seems to have the youth movement under way. I am still not sure what exactly to make of this team, but they have been surprising at the least.
2. Oakland Raiders
Somebody break up the Raiders! Ok, they have not really done anything all that impressive yet, but anything is a start for the Raiders. I am not picking them to win the division or anything, but they have not imploded or killed themslves too much this season (Janikowski in Arizona aside), and that in itself is impressive for the Raiders. They are not fixed quite yet, but they are very watchable and have given Bay Area football fans something to cheer about.
1. Cleveland Browns
Quick, name a Browns wide receiver not named Massaquoi. Ok, name 3 defensive players. Can’t do it? Alright now tell me which loss was less of a big deal in hindsight: at Tampa by 3, vs KC by 2, or at Baltimore by 7. Yeah, the Browns could be 5-3 right now instead of 3-5. Their other 2 losses were to the Steelers and Falcons too, so don’t let anyone tell you they are getting lucky. Seriously, how has this team faced the Saints, Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Bucs, Chiefs, and Falcons already? None of those teams has more than 3 losses! Most people would put 6 of those teams in the top 12 too. I cannot say enough about the job Mike Holmgren has done, and Eric Mangini is once again looking like a genius as the Browns defense is pretty good. Let’s hope he isn’t the Scott Skiles of the NFL, where he gets his teams to play great defense for a year, then wears them down.
Oh yeah, and they get the Jets this week. Watch out.
The notables here are here for teh opposite reason of the disappointing notables. We thought the Chiefs and Lions would be good, and they are. The Lions have done it mostly without Matthew Stafford too, which makes it all the more impressive. The Chiefs are probably going to choke away the division lead, but could still be one of those scary playoff teams that can run it so well and defend so well that they become dangerous. Congrats to both teams.
5. Felix Jones
I do not blame him for not getting carries, but I do blame him for not seizing the day when he does get carries. Huge disappointment in what many felt would be a breakout year.
4. Mike Singletary
He is not entirely to blame for the 49ers mess, but he has a share. Troy Smith needed to be starting 3 weeks ago, but if he goes with Alex Smith one more time, he will get rightfully fired. I thought he would calm down and be the wise coach on the sidelines, but he has kept his style and it does not work. I mean the last madman coach to win a Super Bowl was Jon Gruden with the Bucs. Since then Cowher, Dungy, Belichick, Coughlin, Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton. Those are all fairly calm guys on the sideline, with the exception of Cowher who was loud on the sidelines but the epitome of solid, unlike Singletary.
3. Ryan Mathews/Shonn Greene
Mathews was hurt and Greene got LT’d, but still. These were supposed to be the big breakout RBs of the class and they have done next to nothing.
2. Donovan McNabb
Quietly, Donocan McNabb’s career has come to a halt. He had that 400 yard game against the Texans, but since then, he has had one genuinely good game (vs GB) and it came on 26/49 passing. He was supposed to be a reason for hope in Washington, not the next NFL QB to fill a coffin. He got pulled from that Detroit game because he was not playing well, and regardless of if Rex Grossman is better (he isn’t), McNabb is done. He isn’t even really hurt, he is just done.
1. Carson Palmer
Speaking of done. Carson Palmer is, by far and away, the biggest disappointment, They went out and got him Jermain Gresham, Jordan Shipley, and Terrell Owens, and he cannot turn it into anything? He has also had about 30495 dropped interceptions that, along with mop up yardage, keep his stat line looking respectable. He played well against Pittsburgh, but that does not negate his poor play the rest of the year. Carson is done as a semi-elite QB, and has been since he tore his ACL. I want to feel bad for Bengals fans, but the Tank Johnson and Pacman Jones signings, plus the Andre Smith draft pick, plus their refusal to do what they do best makes it hard to do.
5. Aqib Talib
I know this one seems random, but he has quietly become a shutdown guy. I am not calling him the next Revis, but he has been a big part of that Bucs defense.
4. Mark Sanchez
I thought he would regress a lot this year. Now he has struggled the last few weeks, but otherwise he has had a great year. He has been a big reason the Jets are good, rather than being a piece that holds them back. A surprise to me, at least.
Hillis and McFadden are both Pro Bowlers this year out of Arkansas
3. Kyle Orton
I understand some objections to Orton’s placement here. The argument would be that his passing numbers are up because they are always down and need to throw. However, this could not be further from the truth. Orton was best in the first few weeks when Denver was competitive (476 yards vs Indy comes to mind), and has really dropped off of late as the team has gotten worse. Whatever ails Denver, it is not Kyle Orton, who shook off all that Tebow talk and really cemented a place for himself in the league.
2. Arian Foster
I almost put Darren McFadden here, but you get the feeling with McFadden that it is about time. Foster, however, has been a revelation for the eternally 4-4 Texans. He has naturally dropped off a little as teams have set out to stop him, but he is still churning out yardage. Sadly, he would probably be the odd man out of the Pro Bowl right now with Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden and our #1 biggest breakout…
1. Peyton Hillis
Who knew? Hillis was recently compared to Mike Alstott on First Take “because of his number”. Or because Alstott was the last white running back to be even somewhat relevant. Hillis not only has that downhill running style that Holmgren loves, but he has surprisingly good hands to go with it. No one pegged him to outdo Arkansas teammates Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, but at least for right now, he is doing exactly that. He is a huge part of what they are doing in Cleveland.
And 3400 words later, we get to the heart of the article. Don’t worry, it is not going to drag on. I am going to make my projections for the rest of the season, and get you back to work instead of wasting company money here.
Format: Team Name (current record, projected record, Playoff Spot)
New York Giants (6-2, 12-4, NFC East Winner)- They might be the best team in football right now. We will know more after they travel to Philly in Week 11.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-3, 11-5, Wild Card #1)- Undefeated when Vick plays an entire game, but the problem is that Vick is very injury prone.
Washington Redskins (4-4, 5-11, None)- The schedule is about to get very tough, and I expect an implosion.
Dallas Cowboys (1-7, 3-13, Top 5 pick)- A tough schedule combined with a dead team means a high pick for the Cowboys.
Green Bay Packers (6-3, 11-5, NFC North Winner)- They are getting hot just as Green Bay is starting to get freezing.
Minnesota Vikings (3-5, 10-6, Miss Wild Card)- Sidney Rice returns soon, and the schedule sets up for a major run by the Vikes.
Chicago Bears (5-3, 5-11, None)- I PROMISE this is not just Chicago hate. Look at that schedule and find me a win. Try.
Detroit Lions (2-6, 4-12, Top 10 pick)- One of the best 4-12 teams around, but that schedule is brutal, and Stafford is gone. Look out next year.
Atlanta Falcons (6-2, 12-4, NFC South Winner)- I am not huge on this team, but the schedule sets up nicely and they are almost impossible to beat at home.
New Orleans Saints(6-3, 11-5, Wild Card #2)- If they get it together it will be scary, but it hasn’t happened yet. We will see after the bye week when Bush and possible Thomas are Healthy.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3, 10-6, Miss Wild Card)- Schedule just does not shake out quite right to pull this off, but a great season for the Bucs.
Carolina Panthers (1-7, 2-14, #2 pick)- Nothing on the horizon except a new coach.
St. Louis Rams (4-4, 7-9, NFC West Winner)- A curse in disguise. They needed that high pick to be long-term relevant.
Seattle Seahawks (4-4, 6-10, None)- They cannot win away from home and have a lot of tough games left.
Arizona Cardinals (3-5, 6-10, None)– Told you Derek Anderson would be back. This team is awful.
San Francisco 49ers (2-6, 4-12, None)- I reserve the right to say 6-10 and drop the others if Troy Smith returns full time.
New York Jets (6-2, 11-5, AFC East Winner)- It will not be easy. Or pretty. Or fun. But it will happen.
New England Patriots (6-2, 11-5, Wild Card #2)- That first game vs the Jets will haunt them.
Miami Dolphins (4-4, 7-9, None)- Tough sledding ahead for the Fins. The Henne benching is ridiculous. He isn’t that great, but I blame the coaches for throwing it so much.
Buffalo Bills (0-8, 1-15, #1 pick)- Either this week vs Detroit, or next week @ Cincy. If not, then it gets very tricky.
Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 12-4, AFC North Winner)- Ed Reed’s return has made all the difference. Even with the tough schedule, I could see 12-4.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2, 12-4, Wild Card #1)- I was having flashbacks during that Bengals game, but I still think they are an elite team when healthy.
Cleveland Browns (3-5, 7-9, None)- A huge improvement here that Cleveland can look forward to.
Cincinnati Bengals (2-6, 3-13, Top 5 pick)- Their remaining schedule is beyond difficult and they are done it seems.
Indianapolis Colts (5-3, 11-5, AFC South Winner)- All these injuries are starting to pile up. 11-5 is their worst record in 8 years and they may miss the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans (5-3, 10-6, Miss Wild Card)- They have a definite shot at the division crown, so they should not be slept on.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4, 7-9, None)- Inconsistency is their middle name.
Houston Texans (4-4, 5-11, None)– Their schedule is absolutely nuts and Jacksonville owns them.Tough year for the Texans.
San Diego Chargers (4-5, 11-5, AFC West Winner)- Put it in the bank. No, I am not kidding. 7-0 the rest of the way.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-3, 10-6, None)- It was promising, but they will have to wait for next year.
Oakland Raiders (5-4, 8-8, None)- They made big strides, but not enough of them. How about the sneaky quality of the AFC West!
Denver Broncos (2-6, 3-13, Top 5 pick)- I feel like I have said Top 5 pick about 10 times. This team is done.
That was fun, now go enjoy some Thursday Night Football (if you get NFL Network).