We’re around the midpoint of the 2016 NFL season. Contenders and pretenders have for the most part separated from each other. Before we move further with the exciting second half, we thought it would be proper timing to do our best Kanye West VMA impression and designate who is worthy of some of the league’s individual awards so far. Of course, this isn’t leaving out our favorite moments in the first two months either. These are the men that are our picks to take home hardware in the winter, as we set overall expectations moving forward in the stretch run.
Who has the keys to the Car(r)? How do the Chargers feel about Joey Bosa right now? The midseason roundtable below answer these questions and more:
1. Who is the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year right now?
Robert Zeglinski: MVP: Derek Carr. Oakland has one of the league’s worst defense’s statistically but has a top five offense in DVOA efficiency, yardage, and scoring. Oakland’s rise to a true contender and first place in the AFC South is based in their attack and their quarterback continually shredding opposing defense’s. The narrative of Oakland’s 13-year playoff drought does help as well.
DPOY: *Yawn* Right now, Von Miller. It should be one of many individual trophies for him moving forward. Currently the league’s sack leader, Miller is just transcending and building upon last February’s Super Bowl MVP. With JJ Watt injured for the Texans and Aaron Donald dominating while mired in obscurity in Los Angeles, Miller is the best player on the only unit still carrying the Broncos to relevance.
Brian Hall: MVP: Matt Ryan. Ok, so here’s the thing: yes, Tom Brady has been stellar since his return from suspension. But did you watch the Patriots play before he came back? They were doing fine. Other than the one loss to Buffalo in which they were playing a rookie, third-string quarterback, the team was winning games easily without Tom Brady. If we’re really talking about the most “valuable” player, then it has to be Ryan. The Falcons have the best statistical offense in the league, and that’s due in no small part to Ryan’s performance up to this point (and yes, having Julio Jones helps).
DPOY: Cliff Avril. It might not seem like it with how bad the Seahawks have been offensively, but Cliff Avril has had a stellar season. For example, look at the tie-game against Arizona. Avril had two and a half sacks and was putting pressure on Palmer all night. Or look at the week prior, when Avril had two sacks and a forced fumble, and helped the Hawks beat the best offense in the NFL. Avril might not be the sexiest pick of the bunch, but he’s certainly deserving.
Cody Broder: MVP: Derek Carr. Not only has he thrown for over 2,000 yards with a 17-3 touchdown to interception ratio, he’s led the Raiders to a 7-2 record, with all but two of their wins decided by a touchdown or less. That’s clutch playmaking.
DPOY: Lorenzo Alexander. The Bills linebacker is currently second in the league in sacks and has forced multiple fumbles.
2. Who are the Defensive and Offensive Rookies of the Year right now?
Robert Zeglinski: OROY: Ezekiel Elliot has distanced himself so much as the favorite on offense, that to this point, it’s almost not worth mentioning other candidates. After a relatively slow start, the rookie has hit 90 yards in each of his last six games and is among the primary driving forces for the Cowboys’ return to contention. People said the age of the running back was dead, but Elliot is a throwback.
DROY: Chargers defensive end, Joey Bosa, whose played in almost less half the games of his other counterparts and has produced like an All-Pro in his limited playing time. A first year defensive end should not look as complete and experienced as he does, but here we are. He’s been the driving force behind the Chargers, well, charging back into the AFC West race from 1-4. How awful do you think the San Diego front office feels for setting him back with that hold-out fiasco in the summer? Probably not well.
Brian Hall: OROY: Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. Can you give the award to two guys? I’m going to say you can. The Cowboys have looked fantastic thus far, and the young backfield has matured right before our eyes. Elliott didn’t take nearly as long as Prescott to start looking like a premier player, and while the latter still makes some mistakes here and there, the tandem together has turned the Cowboys into a serious contender.
DROY: Joey Bosa. This should be obvious.
Cody Broder: DROY: Joey Bosa has been impressive in his limited playing time. He could very well lead the league in sacks by the end of the season.
OROY: Ezekiel Elliott. He is so far ahead of any other offensive rookie at this point. If there’s a quarterback bias, as we usually see with the MVP award, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dak Prescott got some attention too.
3. Who is the NFC favorite for the Super Bowl right now? Who is a team that’s a dark horse contender?
Robert Zeglinski: Favorite: Atlanta. While the defense isn’t necessarily up to snuff, I’m not sure there’s an opposing defense that can stop the Falcons offense. Matt Ryan and company are working on a different record breaking level. It’s not all lobs to Julio Jones like it’s been in the past few seasons. Mix in some Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman, Mohamed Sanu, and a great offensive line, and you have a buzz saw. Plus, the NFC is flawed overall, so the defense with a semblance of a pass rush featuring Vic Beasley and the ageless Dwight Freeney, makes this team a net positive in today’s league.
Dark horse: In normal seasons, I wouldn’t figure the Lions to be in this kind of position. But, Matthew Stafford and his space and pace offense that has performed at a top 10 DVOA efficiency of late, has made me a believer. After their thrilling win over the Vikings, that’s now five fourth quarter comebacks for each of their wins, to launch Detroit into position for an increasingly mediocre NFC North. Given how almost every NFC team possesses some kind of fatal flaw – such as a mediocre offensive line or defense – if Lions can make the dance, they’ll make some noise in January.
Brian Hall: Favorite: The Falcons. I know a lot of people want to think about Atlanta blowing a hot start two years in a row, but it’s rare that a team does that back-to-back. I expect the Falcons to make it to the playoffs with little issue.
Dark Horse: Green Bay. It’s weird that Green Bay is a dark horse. It’s weird that Minnesota has looked better with Sam Bradford. But not every team in the NFC East can claim a wild card spot, and Green Bay has been able to hang around thus far to claim that spot.
Cody Broder: Favorite: Dallas. With its young core, Dallas is the real deal. They have a dominant offensive line and talent at the skill positions. To add to the positives, they rarely turn the ball over. However, they just lost Morris Claiborne, who was having a breakout year, so their better-than-expected defense may falter in the coming weeks.
Dark horse: New York. It seems like over their bye week, many people have lost track of the Giants. They have talent on the defensive side of the ball and an offensive with explosive weapons if Eli Manning can consistently deliver the ball. You saw all of this in their win 28-23 over the Eagles on Sunday. Watch out.
4. Who is the AFC favorite for the Super Bowl right now? Who is a team that’s a dark horse contender?
Robert Zeglinski: Favorite: The Patriots are not only the AFC favorite, they’re the clear Super Bowl favorite. Nobody else in the league can touch them at their best. Oakland is still a year or so away on defense. The Steelers look like they’re in shambles. And most other AFC contenders have more problems than that. Bill Belichick’s ‘Death Star’ won’t be denied.
Dark horse: It feels like the Chiefs are in this position year after year. Never quite good enough to win the AFC West, but enough pieces to be a possible force come playoff time. Last year, they just happened to run into the Patriots in Foxborough, never ideal. If they run into some better match-ups in January, this defense featuring Tamba Hali and Marcus Peters as well as the running game will be something to be reckoned with.
Brian Hall: Favorite: New England. Not much to say. The Patriots are clearly the best team so far, and are the obvious Super Bowl choice.
Dark Horse: Tennessee Titans. Hey, so the Titans are pretty ok this year! DeMarco Murray is back to the form he showed in Dallas, and Marcus Mariota has quietly become a competent signal caller. If the Titans can keep improving, they could sneak into the playoffs as a wild card.
Cody Broder: Favorite: New England. Brady. Gronk. Defense.
Dark horse: Kansas City. Nick Foles started over Alex Smith this week. Will Smith see that role again? Foles provided enough of a game managing spark in the Chiefs’ 19-14 win over the Jaguars. Not only can a quarterback change help this team make the leap, but they’ve reeled off four wins against solid enough teams in the last month.
5. Best game to this point of the season?
Robert Zeglinski: I want to be trendy and cool, because I know what these two are going to say. Contrary to popular belief, there has been a lot of good football this year. Raiders-Falcons would normally take the spot for me. But it has to be Seahawks and Cardinals on ‘Sunday Night Football’. When was the last time you saw two kickers miss chip shot field goals back-to-back that would’ve won the game on consecutive possessions? When was the last time all of social media openly reveled in such an ugly but well played defensive game? The humor and deadpanning alone involved vaults this game to the top, even though there have been better played games.
Brian Hall: How do you measure greatness? Is it by the coolest thing that happened? The most entertaining game? The best show of quality? This game – make no mistake – was bad. But it was the only time this year that people weren’t complaining about the quality of the league or the number of taunting penalties or anything of the sort. This was just pure torture that everyone suffered through together, making jokes and memes for the next week. And in the end, that’s the great thing about the NFL anyway.
Cody Broder: Call me crazy, but that Cardinals-Seahawks overtime tie a few weekends ago was a throwback, wasn’t it? Let’s see more old-fashioned, hard-nosed football, and let’s start ending these bad boys on penalty kicks!
(Photos: USA Today/Getty/The Big Lead)