The only good thing about the expanded schedule is that we have an official halfway point in the season and we are there. It’s time for us to take a look at where the 2021 season stands and hand out some Midseason Awards.
1 – MVP
This race essentially boils down to the quarterback with the best season. Yes, there’s usually a narrative that builds around the award and yes, it helps if that player’s squad is winning a lot of games, but most of the time this thing is about statistics. But, there are some things to consider. Voters get fatigue and shy away from awarding the same player multiple MVPs, exceeding expectations coming into the year is a good way to get additional publicity, and setting records is a good short cut to the award.
Given all of that, I think this award comes down to three NFC quarterbacks – Kyler Murray, Tom Brady, and Matthew Stafford. Kyler Murray fits the mold of exceeding expectations and has his Cardinals with the best record in the NFL. He also missed the last game and the offense looked fine without him.
Tom Brady, defending his seventh Super Bowl championship, is in the midst of another great season. He’s breaking all of the all-time records and while everyone has now basically conceded that he’s the GOAT, he has fewer MVPs than Peyton Manning. The voters could be compelled to reward the guy who has it all with his 4th MVP, particularly if he finishes the year leading the league in yards and TDs.
Nipping at his heels in yards per game and TDs is Matthew Stafford, who the rest of the league found out is good at football. Freed from the cage in Detroit, Stafford leads the league in passer rating, QBR, and has a 23:6 TD:INT ratio. I think it may ultimately come down to who can get the top seed in the NFC but all of these guys are putting up great stats on very good teams.
My Pick: Stafford
2 – Defensive POY
For the first half of the season, this isn’t much of a conversation. The answer is Trevon Diggs, the Dallas cornerback. Diggs has a league leading seven interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, and a league leading twelve passes defensed. He’s easily the most impressive defensive player and has established himself as a top-of-the-line player this season.
The two players that might challenge Diggs down the stretch for the award both live in the AFC North. Myles Garrett currently leads the league in sacks and tackles for loss with 12 each. Right behind him, and with two fewer games played, is Pittsburgh’s TJ Watt, with 11.5 sacks and 11 TFLs. If either player breaks the single season sack record, they could take it away from Diggs. However, this is a midseason award and I’ll stick with the corner.
Midyear Pick: Diggs
End of Season Prediction: Garrett
3 – Offensive ROY
This isn’t much of a race at this point. Ja’Marr Chase, the wide receiver for the Bengals, is out to a huge lead with 44 catches for 835 yards and 7 scores. He’s been so good that not only does he have a chance to beat out five first-round quarterbacks for the award at the end of the season, don’t be surprised if he earns 1st team All-Pro honors as well.
Can anyone catch him? I think it would take an incredible performance by a quarterback down the stretch. Mac Jones could help the Patriots make the playoffs, and that might be the safest bet, but the last two weeks from Justin Fields has my attention. If Fields can put up good stats and help the Bears topple a couple of the playoff teams the Bears play in the second half, I could see the vote getting close.
My pick: Chase
4 – Defensive ROY
Another Cowboy leads this category and by a large margin. Micah Parsons has been flying around the field for Dallas on a much-improved defense. He’s already racked up 5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss and as long as the Cowboys keep winning, I don’t see how he loses his lead.
My favorite to unseat him would be Azeez Ojulari of the Giants. Ojulari has 5.5 sacks on the year but he’s starting from well behind Parsons on a name recognition standpoint and the Giants being, well, the Giants, aren’t helping his case. If he had a monster second half, he could at least push Parsons.
My pick: Parsons
5 – Comeback POY
Okay, one more Cowboy, let’s get this over with. When Dak Prescott battled Tom Brady and the Bucs on opening night, completing 42 of 58 for 403 and 3 scores, this award was over. Prescott is a likable guy playing on a team that gets a ton of coverage. They’re going to easily win the NFC East and host a playoff game. There’s zero reason to give this award to anyone else.
My pick: Dak
6 – Coach of the Year
This is a wide-open category. Generally, this award goes to the coach of the team that exceeds preseason expectations the most. Yes, you could make a case for a coach that is able to hold his team together through adversity or brings some new interesting concepts, but generally it’s about wins over preseason expectations.
If that’s the metric, Kliff Kingsbury is out in front with his Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals sit atop the NFL at 8-1, already matching the over/under win expectations from the preseason. The Cardinals schedule in the second half of the year has a couple of big games against other NFC contenders. If they seal up the #1 seed in the NFC, Kingsbury wins the award.
The biggest challengers to Kingsbury would be Mike Vrabel if his Titans can hold on to the #1 seed in the AFC and Brandon Staley if he can get his Chargers to win the AFC West. Of those two, I like the newness of Staley to be the tiebreaker. He’s also a bit of a darling to the media, giving thoughtful answers to their questions. Don’t underestimate that.
Midyear pick: Kingsbury
End of year prediction: Staley
7 – Biggest Surprise
As a team, it’s the Cardinals, but overall, it has to be the scrum in the AFC. Of the 16 teams in the conference, 11 have a winning record at the halfway point of the season. Every team in the AFC North owns a winning record. Every team in the AFC West owns a winning record. That’s insane.
The Titans own the best record at 7-2 followed by the Ravens at 6-2 and then it’s 9 teams with 5 wins. Nine! The AFC playoff race will be a while lot of fun to track in the second half. Here’s how I have it shaking out.
Division winners: Bills, Ravens, Titans, Chargers
Wildcard: Browns, Chiefs, Patriots
8 – Biggest Disappointment
Besides the officiating leaguewide, which we’ll just call ineligible to win an award, it’s got to be the Miami Dolphins. This was the year that it was all going to come together for the Dolphins to get back to the playoffs. The Patriots would be starting a rookie QB and while the Bills were heavy favorites to win the division, the Dolphins looked like a sneaky pick to challenge them, building on their 10-6 campaign from a year ago.
Instead, the Dolphins sit at 2-7, a half game back of the Jets for last in the AFC East. To make matters worse, the Dolphins traded their 2022 1st round draft pick to the Eagles to trade up for Jaylen Waddle. The young receiver is off to a nice start with 56 catches but that 2022 first rounder is going to be worth a whole lot more than Jaylen Waddle if the Dolphins continue this trend. As it currently sits, the Dolphins surrendered the 3rd overall pick.
I’m not sure anything else comes particularly close. Washington’s defense can make a case. Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers and whatever he is doing out there should at least be mentioned. Both Washington and San Francisco were at least trendy picks to win their division before the year started and they only have five wins between them.
My pick: Dolphins
9 – Offensive POY
For a number of years, this award seemed to just go to the MVP of the league as well. I strongly believe this award should be separated and made into a non-QB award. Right now, this award would go to Cooper Kupp. Through 9 games, Kupp has already put together numbers that most receivers would consider a good season – 74 catches, 1,019 yards, and 10 scores. All of those marks lead the league. He’s on pace for 139-1,924-19. He’s been fantastic and he’s doing it for one of the Super Bowl favorites.
The only guy that I think could have competed with Kupp for this award was Derrick Henry. The big back was on pace to take home his third straight rushing title before injuring his foot.
My pick: Kupp
10 – Justin Freaking Fields
As always, this space is dedicated to Justin Fields. With two strong performances in the two weeks leading up to the bye week, Fields is starting to get on track. The Bears have a difficult schedule down the stretch, but he just put up strong performances against two good defenses (okay, the Steelers defense is much better than just “good”).
Let’s see what kind of momentum Fields can build in the second half of the year and demonstrate to whoever is making decisions in the future on how to build around this supernova talent. For now, I leave you with this moment of bliss:
Justin Fields vs the Steelers:— PFF (@PFF) November 9, 2021
291 passing yards (career-high)
45 rushing yards
And a breakdown of the throw:
Justin Fields' go-ahead TD was even more impressive from the all-22 angle. Didn't realize he threw his guy open because the TV angle didn't show the route that was run. pic.twitter.com/AdYCOjnxFe— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) November 9, 2021
What are your thoughts on the NFL this week? Sound off below in the comments and be sure to find me on Twitter @gridironborn.