NFL Nation: midseason 08
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
It's that time of year again. Yes, we're well aware that the Redskins and Cowboys are past the midway point, but we hated to jump the gun on the Giants and Eagles. To this point in the season, the NFC East has been both brilliant and baffling. Just when you think you know the Redskins, they go and crater on national TV.
The Eagles (5-3) cratered early, but have gained momentum heading into Sunday's game against the Giants. A victory would vault them into a second-place tie with the Redskins (6-3), who will play the Cowboys (5-4) after the bye.
It's hard to decide which has been the bigger story line: The meteoric rise of Jim Zorn or the fall from preseason grace by the Cowboys. But in the interest of your attention span, let's roll out the 2008 NFC Beast Middies -- or the NFCBMs.
|AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson|
|Coach Jim Zorn has guided the Redskins to a strong start.|
The halfway coach of the year: And our first Middie goes to Redskins first-year head coach Jim "Z Man" Zorn. Tom Coughlin has done a phenomenal job of guiding his players through some adversity (Osi Umenyiora, Plaxico Burress), but Zorn is the one who's caught everyone by surprise. When I talked to Joe Gibbs on Monday (you like how I did that?), he couldn't stop talking about the job Zorn has done. Zorn had the good sense not to blow up everything and make a bunch of changes. He's secure enough to surround himself with Gibbs holdovers, and he does a great job of empowering his staff. If you thought this team could be 6-3 after that opening game in the Meadowlands, meet me in Vegas next weekend. Zorn is the rare head coach who doesn't try to act like he has all the answers. His postgame news conferences feel like brainstorming sessions. I'm pretty sure he asked a reporter Sunday how he liked the Redskins' burgundy on burgundy look. That alone makes him worthy of a Middie.Rookie of the (half) year: Before the season, you thought Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson and Cowboys running back Felix Jones were the best candidates for a Middie. Neither of those players has disappointed, although Jones has missed three games with a hamstring injury. But for my money, no rookie has had a bigger impact than Redskins seventh-round draft pick Chris Horton. Fortunately for executive vice president of Danny Snyder's football team, Vinny Cerrato, Horton has helped take the attention away from those three second-round picks. If anyone spots Malcolm Kelly, send him back to Redskins Park. But the seventh-rounder Horton has been the team's best playmaker on defense -- outside of maybe London Fletcher. A scout told me recently that Horton was a "poor man's Troy Polamalu," which was definitely meant as a compliment. Horton is not particularly fast, but he always ends up near the ball. Watching him throw his body at Willie Parker on Monday was pretty entertaining.
Offensive player of the "year" award: We're going with Giants running back Brandon Jacobs here. Quarterback Eli Manning has been solid for the most part, but it is Jacobs who helps give the offense its smash-mouth identity. He may not have the raw power of Marion Barber, but he's more nimble and capable of making defenders miss. It also helps that Derrick Ward has been an excellent complement. And before you (Redskins fans) start firing off comments, remember that we have an MVP award coming up.
Most improved: This one's always a little awkward. It sort of sheds light on the fact that a player may have struggled in the past. For instance, we've eliminated Clinton Portis and DeMarcus Ware from the "Most Improved" category. And our winner is: Jason Campbell of the Redskins. Despite his poor performance Monday against the Steelers, Campbell has been rock solid for much of the season. He makes plays when the game is on the line and he has embraced Zorn's West Coast offense. Campbell's biggest strength is his knack for remaining calm at all times. You can't tell by his demeanor whether he's won or lost -- and that's a good thing.
The Rudy Ruettiger Award: We're pleased to announce that Jerry Jones will be installing a digital Hustle Board in his new stadium to honor Terrell Owens. The wide receiver can no longer beat press coverage, but he runs players down from behind after interceptions and blocks for teammates downfield. To be fair, Brad Johnson could turn Jerry Rice into Arnaz Battle, but we thought it was important to salute T.O. for giving that old college try while jousting with stalwarts Leon Hall and Rod Hood.
Defensive player of the "year" award: The Beast will take the easy way out and select co-defensive players of the year in Giants defensive end Justin Tuck and Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware. Tuck might not have the numbers Ware has, but his sacks and forced fumbles seem to come at crucial times. Ware has piled up some of his numbers after games have been decided. Tuck has gone from a shrinking locker room violet to a go-to quote for the leering New York press -- and at least one fledgling ESPN.com blog. Coughlin gets a lot of credit for how the team responded to the Umenyiora injury, but i
t was Tuck who set the tone in the locker room. He never flinched, and now the Giants are sitting at 7-1.
The MVP after nine weeks: Clinton Portis is a no-brainer. A running back can set the tone for a team, and Portis' rugged style resonates throughout the organization. He committed himself to getting in better shape this past offseason and it's paying huge dividends. If the season ended today, Portis would be the odds-on favorite for league MVP. Who else are you going to pick? Albert Haynesworth? Nope, Portis is the man and he's poised to take home the MVP hardware.
The defining moment at the midway point: I thought Manning's pass to Amani Toomer on fourth down against the Steelers in Week 9 was brilliant. He took a penalty when things didn't look right to him at the line of scrimmage and then he lofted a perfect pass to Toomer. Manning is still capable of making poor decisions, but when the stakes are high, who would you rather have at quarterback? You don't have to answer that.
The Moving Van award: Cowboys coach Wade Phillips has lost key players to injury, but the slide began before Tony Romo went down with a broken pinkie. Phillips' refusal to hold anyone accountable in public has helped create a locker room of thin-skinned players. With the exception of Jason Witten and Patrick Crayton, it doesn't seem like players are truly bothered by losing. That's a reflection of a head coach who would rather coddle huge egos than hold their feet to the fire. If the Cowboys fail to secure a wild-card spot, Phillips will be gone.
Best under-the-radar player: The Giants player who benefits the most from Plaxico Burress' antics is Domenik Hixon. Eli Manning and Hixon bonded while Burress was injured during training camp. And when Burress was suspended against the Seahawks, Hixon replaced him and had a 100-yard receiving day before being sidelined with a concussion. Hixon has excellent speed and he did a great job of working on body control during the preseason. I sense that Manning takes a great deal of pride in the fact that the Giants have succeeded when Burress hasn't been available.
The NFC East punting award goes Down Under *: Step right up, Eagles punter Sav Rocca. Your mighty Australian leg has bailed the Eagles' offense out numerous times this season. Following in Mat McBriar's footsteps, Rocca combines a powerful leg with a cunning ability to make balls stay out of the end zone. The young Rocca will join the Beast soon for an exclusive interview. If you have any questions for him, please utilize the comments section. McBriar is out with a broken foot -- hence the asterisk.
Most compelling story line for the second half: Can Tony Romo overcome his injury and breathe life back into the Cowboys? Is this a sleeping giant or a collection of individuals that will never be on the same page? My guess is the latter. We'll be here to document all of it for you.
Best offensive player: Ronnie Brown, Dolphins.
In five of his games he carried 14 times or fewer, yet he still has 465 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, second only to Tennessee Titans goal-line specialist LenDale White. Brown also has 143 receiving yards and a touchdown pass.
|Doug Pensinger/Getty Images|
|Joey Porter is on pace to set the single-season sacks record.|
Best defensive player: Joey Porter, Dolphins.
There was temptation to go with Jets anchor Kris Jenkins, but Porter is playing like the NFL's defensive MVP. He leads the league with 11.5 sacks, putting him on pace to break Michael Strahan's season record.
Best coach: Bill Belichick, Patriots.
He's working without his superstar quarterback, his top three running backs and a defensive captain. Yet even with a quarterback who hadn't started since high school, Belichick has the Patriots two games over .500.
Best front office: New York Jets.
They hit on a series of free agents, including guard Alan Faneca, linebacker Calvin Pace, and fullback Tony Richardson. They traded for Jenkins and were aggressive in landing quarterback Brett Favre. The Jets' draft mostly has been barren, with fourth-round pick Dwight Lowery the lone contributor so far.
Most overrated player: Brett Favre, Jets.
Overrated doesn't equal bad. Favre is an active legend who isn't as good as his larger-than-life reputation anymore. The more he manages games as opposed to dictating them, the better the Jets will be.
Most underrated player: Matt Cassel, Patriots.
Tom Brady's understudy is doomed by comparisons. No, Cassel hasn't maintained the Patriots' high-octane offense. But take a look at his numbers: 67 percent completions, seven touchdowns, seven interceptions, 83.4 passer rating. He hasn't been nearly as awful as many think, and he's steadily improving.
Biggest surprise: Greg Camarillo, Dolphins.
Unrecruited out of high school and not invited to the NFL scouting combine, he wasn't expected to make the roster this year. But Camarillo leads Miami with 43 catches for 483 yards and a touchdown.
Biggest disappointment: Patriots pass protection and Jason Peters, Bills.
Only the doormat San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals have allowed more sacks than the Patriots, who boast three Pro Bowl linemen. Peters, the Pro Bowl left tackle who sat out training camp because of a contract dispute, has been mediocre on a team that desperately needs better.
Most effective acquisition: Kris Jenkins, Jets.
The hefty nose tackle is the main reason the Jets own one of the NFL's top defenses. They're second in sacks and fourth in run defense. The Jets gave up third- and fifth-round picks to pry Jenkins from the Carolina Panthers, and he's playing like two players.
Biggest bust acquisition: Ernest Wilford, Dolphins.
On the first day of free agency, the Dolphins gave Wilford a four-year, $13 million contract with $6 million guaranteed. He has been a healthy scratch for five games and has one reception.
Best offensive rookie: Jake Long, Dolphins.
The No. 1 overall selection -- and highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history -- has started every game at left tackle and hasn't looked out of place since leaving Michigan.
Best draft value: Dwight Lowery, Jets.
Taken in the fourth round out of San Jose State, he has started all eight games and unofficially leads the Jets with 43 tackles along with nine passes defended. Also worthy of mention is Dolphins guard Donald Thomas, a sixth-round pick who was their opening-day starter.
Worst draft value: Vernon Gholston, Jets.
The former phenom from Ohio State has made zero impact despite being taken sixth overall. Gholston has struggled with the transition from full-time defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. He hasn't started a game and has four solo tackles.
Best undrafted rookie: Dan Carpenter, Dolphins, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots.
Carpenter came to camp from Montana and beat out veteran Jay Feely for th
e job. Carpenter has made 86 percent of his field goals, but hasn't been tested on a long one yet. Green-Ellis began on the practice squad, but injuries gave him a shot at running back. The Ole Miss product has two starts and three touchdowns.
Least-represented team in this report: Buffalo Bills.
The Bills are pretty good in most facets, but they're not consistently mind-blowing anywhere. Their top offensive players -- quarterback Trent Edwards, running back Marshawn Lynch, receiver Lee Evans -- have produced dazzling games, but they've also disappeared at times. Injuries and recent shaky play have tempered enthusiasm. The draft class has provided negligible impact.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
With the season at its halfway point -- or pretty close to it -- it's time for the midseason NFC South awards.
|Drew Brees has completed 69 percent of his passes and thrown 15 touchdowns so far.|
Most valuable player (offense): New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. There's really no one else to consider here. Brees has been putting up numbers that could make him a candidate for the league's overall MVP. The bottom line here is that the injury-plagued Saints are 4-4 almost entirely because of Brees. Take him away and they'd be 0-8.
Most valuable player (defense): Atlanta defensive end John Abraham. Some people (mainly Carolina coach John Fox when he's defending Julius Peppers) like to say it's not all about sacks. Point taken. But Abraham has 10 sacks and has had a huge impact even with the Falcons wisely limiting his number of snaps.
Most valuable player (off the field): Carolina cornerback Ken Lucas. He might have made the biggest play of the entire season back in August. After getting punched out by teammate Steve Smith, Lucas instantly forgave the wide receiver -- and truly meant it. In the process, Lucas might have saved Smith's career, the jobs of coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney and set up the Panthers for a big season.
Best rookie: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. No need for an explanation.
Best rookie not named Matt Ryan and not taken in the first round: Atlanta middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. Carolina's Charles Godfrey and Tampa Bay's Jeremy Zuttah deserve mention, but Lofton has taken over as the quarterback of Atlanta's defense.
Most disappointing rookie: Tampa Bay receiver Dexter Jackson. The Bucs got their backs up right after the draft when some in the media suggested Jackson would be nothing more than a return man in his rookie season. Guess what? Jackson now doesn't even have that job, losing it to undrafted rookie Clifton Smith.
Best comeback: Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. His name has become synonymous with Tommy John, and that's a good thing.
Best individual performance that amounted to nothing: New Orleans' Reggie Bush against Minnesota. In a Monday night game at the Superdome, Bush returned two punts for touchdowns and the Saints still squandered the game.
Worst-laid plans: New Orleans' overhaul of its defense looked brilliant back in the offseason. But even though linebacker Jonathan Vilma has helped, injuries have made this defense look too much like last year.
Best reclamation project: Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Bryant. The guy was out of football last year and has become the team's No. 1 receiver. The Bucs have taken some grief for giving players too many chances. This is one case they can point to as a success story.
Best coaching job: Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden. Seriously. Yeah, you can say all you want about Gruden's offense and its inability to go downfield. But Gruden's found a way to win six games with rotating quarterbacks and Joey Galloway out for much of the time.
Best performance by an assistant coach: Atlanta offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. He doesn't have a lot of talent to work with, but Boudreau has been able to keep Ryan upright and allow Michael Turner to run for a bunch of yards.
Best unsung player: Carolina strong safety Chris Harris. He seems to force a fumble every week and he's been a big help to rookie Charles Godfrey at free safety. Harris has put himself in place for Pro Bowl consideration.
Halfway home in the AFC South, the division is packed with surprises.
The title is all but sealed up by undefeated Tennessee, which has Vince Young on the bench and Kerry Collins in the huddle. Peyton Manning has not been himself as the Colts have stumbled. The Jaguars can't run the ball or establish a defensive identity. Despite a major offseason emphasis, the Texans continue to give the ball away.
|Jamie Squire/Getty Images|
|Albert Haynesworth is setting himself up for a big payday.|
Thanks to readers for your input Tuesday.
Without further delay, here are the first annual AFC South Blog midseason awards:
MVP: Albert Haynesworth, defensive tackle, Tennessee.
The best player on the best team, Haynesworth demands constant attention by multiple blockers. His six sacks are the second most for an interior lineman and barring injury he's lining himself up for unrestricted free agency if it's what he wants. If and when he gets it, somebody is going to make him the highest-paid defensive player in football. Also considered: Houston receiver Andre Johnson.
Top Offensive Player: Andre Johnson.
A singular offensive force in this division, he's surpassed Reggie Wayne as the most dangerous pass catcher. He's on pace for 10 100-yard games, 120 catches and 1,664 yards. And he has room to play even better -- he struggled with a couple catchable balls in a loss at Tennessee and a lost fumble near the goal line against Miami that could have been a killer. Will he do with fill-in Sage Rosenfels in the coming weeks what he's been doing with the now-injured Matt Schaub? Also considered: Titans running back Chris Johnson.
Top Defensive Player: Cortland Finnegan, cornerback, Tennessee.
The fiery Finnegan is tied for the league-lead with four interceptions, has a team-high 12 passes defended and is fourth on the team with 46 tackles. He's as fierce against the run as he is against the pass and his spunk helps set the tone for the Titans defense, though he's got to be careful about taking it too far and drawing unnecessary penalties. Also considered: Texans defensive end Mario Williams. (MVP was ineligible.)
Top Rookie: Chris Johnson.
I was among those who mistakenly thought, "This guy better be an awfully good situational player to be worth the 24th pick in the draft." Yeah, he's situational alright, as in effective in any situation. The Titans haven't lined him up wide and thrown to him like a receiver as much like we expected, because they haven't had to. He's a complete running back, who sure doesn't seem to be at risk of wearing down. He's accounted for 60 percent of the team's rushing yards, 35 percent of the team's total offensive yards and 32 percent of the team's touchdowns. Also considered: Houston running back Steve Slaton.
Coach of the Year: Jeff Fisher, Tennessee.
Unless the Titans wind up undefeated, odds are he loses out to a Mike Smith or John Harbaugh in the league award at the end -- it seems to always go to the breakout guy. But come on, no one expected him to be guiding a team that's forgotten how to lose. He's pushed all the right buttons so far.
Biggest Surprise: Kerry Collins, quarterback, Tennessee Titans.
His numbers aren't going to get you real excited unless you are willing to focus on 7-0 as the starter and an interception percentage on par with Donovan McNabb, behind only Jason Campbell. The surprise is the steady and reliable play and leadership for a team that expected Vince Young to be its pilot. How many teams in the league could have had a seamless transition to the backup after a week, better yet done so and emerged as the best team in the league? Also considered: Tennessee running back LenDale White, Indianapolis safety Melvin Bullitt.
Biggest Disappointment: Marvin Harrison, wide receiver, Indianapolis.
While he has shown flashes, the evidence through eight games is that Harrison is not the same. A lot of people are wondering if at least some of his snaps in the offense when only two wide receivers are on the field should be going to Anthony Gonzalez. Harrison's 27 catches account for 14.8 percent of the team's receptions. The lowest in his previous 11 seasons was 18.1 percent, all the way back in 1998. He's certainly suffered from Peyton Manning's inconsistency after two summer knee surgeries and a missed training camp as well as the injuries on the offensive line that meant more protection problems. Also considered: Manning, Young, Indianapolis running back Joseph Addai.
Best addition: Chris Carr, returner, Tennessee.
Carr has been a consistent contributor to solid field position for the Titans. His 28-yard average kickoff return doesn't include anything longer than 52 yards. It's the reason the Titans are one of three teams who start an average drive after a kickoff across the 30-yard line. Too, Carr is symbolic of the Titans' roster-building approach. They targeted the versatile defensive back as veteran depth and special teams help, singing the restricted free agent to an offer sheet the Raiders didn't match. He's an inexpensive role player who fills many roles, supplementing a roster built primarily though the draft. Also considered: Tennessee
guard Jake Scott.
Worst addition: Jerry Porter, wide receiver, Jacksonville.
The Jaguars signed the free agent to a big-dollar contract, waited on his after summer hamstring surgery, then said he simply wasn't a big part of the plan. An offense lacking big plays could really use some deep balls -- supposed to be what he brought to Florida -- to back people off in order to find room to run more effectively. David Garrard tried to throw to him for a crucial two-point conversion late Sunday in Detroit to no avail. Three catches for 44 yards aren't what the team had in mind when it went out and got him. Also considered: Texans running back Chris Brown, Jaguars defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Most missed: Marcus Stroud, defensive tackle, Jacksonville (trade to Buffalo).
The Jaguars shipped the massive defensive tackle to Buffalo, overestimating their ability to replace him. Without him, Jacksonville doesn't cave the pocket from the middle and is overly reliant on rush from the edge, something that has not shown up often enough. Also considered: Indianapolis guard Jake Scott (free agent to Tennessee).
The Colts may well have had trouble stopping the run this season even with their two largest interior defensive linemen contributing. But Pitcock retired, never reporting to camp and Johnson got into trouble, getting himself cut. (The team deserved credit for sticking to its hard-line policy with him). The two developments meant Indianapolis went into Week 2 minus the top two run-stoppers it projected into the middle of their defense.
You've heard of getting ahead of the curve? Well, we jumped out a bit two weeks ago when we presented our near-midseason awards on a slow Saturday during the bye week. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we're kinda out of juice now that the actual midseason has arrived and the bosses want a true slate of midseason awards to coincide with the midpoint of the season.
So here then are the first updated near-midseason awards at midseason in ESPN.com Blog Network history:
|David Stluka/Getty Images|
|No, there's nothing wrong with your computer screen: Kyle Orton is the NFC North's midseason MVP.|
Rookie of the year: Chicago tailback Matt Forte
He hasn't had a 100-yard game since the opener, but Forte's steady work has put him on pace for an 1,100-yard season. His best contribution might be as a receiver, where he is more comfortable than anyone could have imagined. UPDATE: Obviously, we knew it was a matter of time before Forte got his second 100-yard game. It came Sunday against Detroit, putting him on pace for a 1,280-yard season.
Coach of the year: Chicago's Lovie Smith
Green Bay's Mike McCarthy got consideration for navigating the Packers through the Brett Favre mess. But Smith's decision to start quarterback Kyle Orton, and his willingness to trust him with a wide-open offense, has put the Bears in the thick of the division race. UPDATE: Smith will really earn this award if the Bears hold on to first place with backup quarterback Rex Grossman at the helm.
Yin and yang executive award: Green Bay's Ted Thompson
Clearly, Aaron Rodgers was ready to assume the team's quarterback position. And clearly, Thompson should have ended the Brett Favre saga sooner. You can only wonder how much of the Packers' penalties and other sloppiness can be traced to a distraction-filled training camp. UPDATE: Thompson is so confident in Rodgers that he's already made him a very rich man. And the Packers still have a limp in their gait.
Quietest 684-yard performance: Minnesota's Adrian Peterson
Yes, he has five touchdowns -- including a 54-yard jaunt last Sunday at Soldier Field. But his production hasn't translated into victories; only one of his four 100-yard games have come in a win. UPDATE: Darn! We thought this would happen but didn't write it: Peterson's 139 yards Sunday against Houston gave him a second 100-yard game in a Vikings victory. Another lost scoop.
Offensive player of the year: Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings
Jennings is the NFL's most explosive receiver, leading the league with 685 receiving yards and 12 receptions of at least 20 yards. Defenses should know by now that he's Aaron Rodgers' favorite receiver. UPDATE: Jennings has slumped to second in the NFL with 764 yards, but he has managed to save face by maintaining his league lead with 14 receptions of 20 or more yards.
Defensive player of the year: Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson
It's been nothing short of miraculous: Woodson is tied for the NFL lead with four interceptions despite playing the past six games on a fractured toe. He's hardly practiced but his coverage hasn't suffered. (Ask Dallas' Terrell Owens.) UPDATE: Woodson is back to practicing on a limited basis but it hasn't affected his performance on Sunday.
Most Valuable Player: Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton
Can't say I envisioned writing these words, but Orton is the key to the Bears' success these days. His accuracy and quick adaptation to the no-huddle offense has caught opposing defenses off guard. Face it: with an injury-depleted defense and a mediocre running game, the Bears are a passing team. Gasp. UPDATE: And that means the passer isn't supposed to run. But Orton tried to get fancy the other day at Soldier Field and will miss a few games because of a sprained ankle.
Biggest swing and miss: Detroit's plan to run the ball
The Lions' conversion to a zone-blocking run scheme, a knee-jerk reaction to the pass-happy ways of former coordinator Mike Martz, has been a total disaster. Linemen aren't blocking it well, runners aren't finding the holes and coaches aren't mixing up the calls. Their average of 77.7 rushing yards per game is the third-worst mark in the NFL. UPDATE: That average is now down to 72.0 yards and is kind of like the stock market: No one knows where rock-bottom might be.
Best offseason acquisition: Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian
Berrian has given the Vikings exactly what they were missing last season: A receiver who could take advantage of the attention paid to tailback Adrian Peterson. Berrian's 517 receiving yards rank 10th in the NFL and put him on pace for a career season. UPDATE: Berrian now ranks 9th with 621 yards. He's only a few Gus Frerotte rainbows away from the first 1,000-yard season.
Worst offseason acquisition: Minnesota fullback Thomas Tapeh
The Vikings envisioned Tapeh as a long-term companion for Adrian Peterson and paid him top money for a fullback. As it turns out, however, the Vikings didn't know Tapeh had knee surgery a month before signing. He played in two games and already has been released. The Vikings could be on the hook for as much as $1.855 million. UPDATE: It turns out his name really wasn't Thomas. (Sarcasm alert.)
APB Award: Green Bay defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila
"KGB" has a half-sack to his credit despite playing in all seven games. The Packers are limiting his playing time to maintain his health, but it's time to start wondering if he has simply seen his better days
. UPDATE: The Packers agree. They released Gbaja-Biamila last Saturday.
Most patience: Readers of this blog
Thanks for sticking with us through FavreGate I and II, MillenGate, the Soldier Field fracas and the OCCASIONAL typo or misjudgment. Most of all, let's keep having fun. That's what football is about, right? UPDATE: You're right, it's "Rob" Bironas.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Analysis: All the concerns in Pittsburgh about Mike Tomlin possibly suffering a sophomore jinx should be put to rest. At 6-2, Tomlin is doing a masterful job in his second season with the Steelers and deserves some consideration for NFL Coach of the Year. Tomlin has an impressive demeanor that permeates through the rest of his locker room, as the team has handled injuries and adversity effortlessly. That's a major reason Pittsburgh has developed into one of the NFL's elite. John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens (5-3) also deserves a lot of credit for what he's done in his first season.
|G Fiume/Getty Images|
|In his first season as a starter, Joe Flacco has done what the Ravens have asked of him.|
Offensive Player of the Year: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Analysis: This was a tough category because there has not been a lot of consistent offense played in the AFC North. But Roethlisberger has been steady, although not spectacular. He's battled through shoulder and finger ailments to keep the Steelers on a roll. Despite a lot of pass protection issues, he's made the big plays when needed.
Defensive Player of the Year: Terrell Suggs, LB/DE, Baltimore Ravens
Analysis: This category, on the other hand, had at least a half-dozen quality candidates to choose from. Terrell Suggs has 36 tackles, seven pass deflections and two interceptions. Most notably, he knows what to do with the football: His interceptions became long, game-changing touchdown returns. Players like Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison also are on an incredible run together. Both Steelers linebackers come in a very, very close second and it would be hard to pick between the two.
MVP: Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh
Analysis: Harrison and Woodley get the sacks, but Troy Polamalu is the one player in the division -- and perhaps the NFL -- who brings an element to a defense that no one else has. Polamalu's 36 tackles, 8 passes defended and 3 interceptions are solid. But it's his ability to shadow the opposing team's best player and smarts to make sure Pittsburgh is playing its complicated scheme correctly that stands out most. He is the most dynamic player in the division, and the Steelers' top-rated defense wouldn't look the same without him in the lineup.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Analysis: This is not a strong year for rookies in the AFC North. Two first-round picks didn't make it through the first half of the season as Pittsburgh first-year running back Rashard Mendenhall (fractured shoulder) and Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers (broken jaw) are out for the year. Although Flacco's statistics (1,464 yards, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions) are not overwhelming, he has done a solid job of putting the Ravens in position to win five games. Flacco also is improving as the season goes on and should have an even better second half.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Keith Rivers, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
Analysis: Keith Rivers gets the nod here. But since he will not play another game this season, someone else eventually will take this mantle by season's end. Rivers had been playing well prior to his injury. He recorded 37 tackles and one interception in seven games before Steelers receiver Hines Ward broke his jaw with a crushing block in October. With Rivers out, a potential candidate to look out for could be Cleveland Browns rookie linebacker Alex Hall, who has three sacks in his first eight games.
Biggest surprise: Mewelde Moore, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Analysis: Who would have thought coming into the season that a third-string running back would help carry Pittsburgh through the first half of the season? Moore has filled in admirably once starter Willie Parker (knee) and Mendenhall (shoulder) went down. Mendenhall is out for the year and Parker returned Monday after a four-game absence. Moore is second to Parker on the team in rushing with 320 yards and three touchdowns. He's averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has proven to be an added weapon, if needed.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Cardinals are the only viable team in the NFC West as the season hits its midpoint. We still found a way to honor the best -- and worst -- this division had to offer.
|Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE|
|Kurt Warner has guided the Cardinals to a 5-3 record.|
Most Valuable Player: Kurt Warner, Cardinals
The Cardinals might not be a .500 team without him. Warner has 16 touchdown passes against six interceptions. He's on pace for nearly 5,000 yards passing with a rating well into triple digits (104.2). A poor performance against the Jets is skewing his overall turnover stats, but Warner has otherwise done a much better job protecting the football. That makes him one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Defensive player of the year: Adrian Wilson, SS, Cardinals
Wilson's toughness gives the Cardinals an edge on defense. No player in the division does a better job disguising his blitz intentions before the snap. Wilson still makes mistakes in coverage, but there's no mistaking the toughness he brings to Arizona's defense. The knockout shot he put on Bills quarterback Trent Edwards showed why Wilson is the most-feared player in the division.
Coach of the year: Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals
The Cardinals own the only winning record in the division thanks in part to Whisenhunt's willingness to make bold decisions. The franchise wanted Matt Leinart to emerge as the starting quarterback. Whisenhunt went with Kurt Warner in a manner that helped coax smarter play from the freewheeling quarterback. Whisenhunt benched Edgerrin James. Whisenhunt is similarly bold with his in-game decision making. Sometimes the tactics backfire, but Whisenhunt plays to win and his team has responded.
Overall rookie of the year: Tim Hightower, RB, Cardinals
His breakout performance against the Rams in his first NFL start helped Arizona open a three-game lead in the division heading into Week 10. Hightower has seven touchdowns. He has been highly effective as a short-yardage runner. Chris Long (Rams), Donnie Avery (Rams), John Carlson (Seahawks) and Josh Morgan (49ers) have also had their moments.
Offensive rookie of the year: Donnie Avery, WR, Rams
Hightower gets overall rookie honors, but Avery is gaining on him. The speedy receiver has 17 catches for 317 yards and two touchdowns over his last four games. His 18.6-yard average during that stretch shows the big-play ability that made Avery the first receiver chosen in the 2008 draft. I didn't expect Avery to overtake Torry Holt so quickly.
Defensive rookie of the year: Chris Long, DE, Rams
Long is getting to the quarterback more than expected. He has shown the versatility to play on either side depending on how injuries affect the team's personnel needs. Long has four sacks. He is improving just about every week.
Breakout player of the year: Steve Breaston, WR, Cardinals
The Cardinals drafted Early Doucet in the third round to compensate for losing Bryant Johnson in free agency. They also hoped Breaston might challenge for the job. Breaston is on pace for 78 receptions and 1,006 yards. He has enjoyed big games with and without Anquan Boldin in the lineup. Breaston is fearless after the catch. His unorthodox approach can make him more difficult to defend.
Fired coach of the year: Mike Nolan, 49ers
His 2-5 record wasn't enough to keep his job, but it was more than enough to beat out the Rams' Scott Linehan. With Nolan and Linehan out, and with Mike Holmgren leaving Seattle after this season, Whisenhunt becomes the division's only incumbent head coach for 2009.
Interim coach of the year: Jim Haslett, Rams
The Rams became a competitive team overnight when Haslett took over for Linehan after an 0-4 start. St. Louis has lost its last two games and injuries are clouding the team's chances for a rebound, but Haslett seems to be doing a good job.
Thief of the year: Oshiomogho Atogwe, S, Rams
Atogwe has four interceptions in his last five games and 11 in his last 16.
Halftime performance of the year: Mike Singletary, 49ers
Nothing more needs to be said.
Upset of the year: Koren Robinson rejoining the Seahawks
Seahawks president Tim Ruskell has built his reputation on weeding out problem players from the locker room. He ran off Robinson three years ago after the troubled receiver blew a pair of .191s following a traffic stop.
Bringing back Robinson would have seemed unfathomable in August. A desperate situation at receiver convinced Ruskell to take another look.
Safe bet of the year: Cardinals will win the division
Only an injury to Warner can derail the Cardinals at this point, and even that might not be enough given the state of the division.
Posted by ESPN .com's Bill Williamson
What a first half of the season in the AFC West, huh?
The division has a combined 10 wins, the worst in the NFL. It's the only division in the NFL without a team with a winning record. The last time a team in the division won a game was Oct. 19 when Oakland had to go to overtime to secure a victory.
|Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI|
|Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler gets our nod for midseason MVP honors in the AFC West.|
We've seen a head coach fired. We've seen a defensive coordinator fired. We've seen a news conference for the ages.
We've seen Shawne Merriman, perhaps the best defensive player in the division, play just one game before he had to tap out because of a season-ending knee injury. We've seen Tony Gonzalez nearly get traded. We've seen Larry Johnson punished for off-field issues. We've seen a Super Bowl hopeful (San Diego) stumble to a 3-5 record.
Yes, we've seen a lot, and now the tough part commences. Picking midseason awards for this division.
Do I really have to? Here goes:
MVP: Denver quarterback Jay Cutler
Cutler is coming off his worst game of the season in which he threw three interceptions against Miami. Plus, the Broncos have lost four of their last five games. But Cutler has been mostly very good this season and he gets the edge over Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Based on record. Barely.
Offensive player of the first half: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers
Rivers and Cutler have been neck-and-neck all season and Rivers has been very good. There have been many games where he's played near flawlessly.
Defensive player of the first half: Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha
He has quietly become one of the better defensive players in the league. Opposing quarterbacks rarely challenged Asomugha. He is a true shutdown cornerback and has been one of the few bright spots for Oakland.
Offensive rookie of the first half: Denver wide receiver Eddie Royal
Royal barely edged out Denver teammate, left tackle Ryan Clady. Clady has been near flawless for the Broncos. He has not given up a sack and is a legitimate rookie of the year candidate. But so is Royal, who was taken with the No. 42 pick, 30 selections after Denver took Clady. Royal has been one of the better receivers in the NFL. He is also a return threat.
Both Cason and Flowers have been outstanding and have made major contributions to their respective defenses. Flowers is starting and Cason is playing in the nickel defense. Cason has shown maturity beyond his years and he has become a big-play threat. Flowers is getting better each week and he, too, is capable of making big plays.
Coach of the first half: Denver coach Mike Shanahan.
Yes, the Broncos have lost four of their last five games, and they are stumbling into the second half. But the Broncos are the only team at .500 in this division. So where else could this vote be?
Luckiest Guy award: Lane Kiffin
He was fired on the last day of September, and he doesn't have to be part of this division anymore. Maybe Kiffin is the coach of the year. After all, he is the only coach to start the season in the division and lose only three games.
Most memorable moment: Al Davis' news conference
All other news conferences to announce the firing of a head coach, in any sport, will be judged on Davis' infamous press briefing to announce the departure of Kiffin. Unbelievable theater.
Where is he award: Oakland receiver Javon Walker
Walker has been a major disappointment after signing a $55 million contract in the offseason. The receiver has just 13 catches this season has been a non-factor.
Most delicate body part of the division: The toe.
San Diego star running back LaDainian Tomlinson and Oakland rookie running back Darren McFadden have been hampered nearly all season with turf toe injuries. McFadden now has turf toe problems on both feet. Nothing is more annoying than having a toe keep a star player out of a game. That has been the case in an unforgettable and unimpressive first half in the AFC West.
1:00 PM ET Cleveland Baltimore 1:00 PM ET Dallas Washington 1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Tennessee 1:00 PM ET Jacksonville Houston 1:00 PM ET San Diego Kansas City 1:00 PM ET New York Miami 1:00 PM ET Chicago Minnesota 1:00 PM ET Buffalo New England 1:00 PM ET Philadelphia New York 1:00 PM ET New Orleans Tampa Bay 4:25 PM ET Carolina Atlanta 4:25 PM ET Detroit Green Bay 4:25 PM ET Oakland Denver 4:25 PM ET Arizona San Francisco 4:25 PM ET St. Louis Seattle 8:30 PM ET Cincinnati Pittsburgh