MID-SEASON NFL AWARDS & RECOGNITION
5. Jeremy Shockey (NO)—When he was acquired in the off-season from the Giants, many lauded the move. On paper, it truly seemed like a “win-win” scenario for both teams. One expert even went so far as to say that the outspoken tight end would have the same type of impact on the Saints as Randy Moss had on the Patriots in 2007 (sorry, Mr. Jaworski). Thus far, having played in 5 of 8 games, Shockey has 200 receiving yards, zero touchdowns, and two lost fumbles. Recently, he lashed out at his new organization for rushing him back on the playing field after he suffered a sports hernia earlier in the season. Even with crucial injuries at skill positions, the 4-4 Saints have had little trouble moving the ball on offense. If Shockey doesn’t score a touchdown shut up soon, he might find out the hard way just how expendable he actually is.
4. Plaxico Burress (NYG)—Unlike his former teammate, Plax is actually a star player who has a great rapport with his quarterback. He’s very clutch, and there may not be a better red zone target in the NFL. The problem is that his lax personality is at bitter odds with Tom Coughlin’s militant coaching style. As we saw last year, the two can co-exist enough to win games, but I’m personally tired of hearing about their little squabbles. Keep it in-house, boys.
3. Adam Jones (DAL)—What a disappointment. There has already been too much ink spilt on this storyline so I’ll keep it brief. Maybe his suspension will be lifted, maybe not. It obviously matters to the depleted Cowboys’ secondary, but, to the rest of the world, Jones is just an easy target because he makes such dumb decisions. I’m over it
2. Terrell Owens (DAL)—Comparatively speaking, Owens has had a pretty quiet year. His frustration is understandable with Brad Johnson throwing like a punter, but he’s done a decent job of holding his tongue. Still, it’s annoying how much the media hounds him because they’re too lazy to look elsewhere for a story and know that any kind of sound bite TO gives them can be read into enough to make headlines. Although, to be fair, Owens brings a lot of it upon himself by acting like such an attention whore a social butterfly.
1. Brett Favre (NYJ)—First, it was the retirement/unretirement story. Then it was the big trade/ugly departure headline. Next, it was the Rodgers/Favre season comparison. Subsequently, it was the Romo/Favre injury conversation. Finally, it was the Millen/Favre controversy. Now, it’s the Favre turnover complaint. Is anyone else tired of this?
5. Terence Newman (DAL)—Granted, Dallas has had to get used to playing without their injury-prone cornerback, but the simple fact remains that he’s a difference-maker when healthy. Named to his first Pro Bowl last year, Newman has been playing at that level for several years. With Jones out and Henry ailing, the ‘Boys would love to have their second best defensive player on the field (yeah, he’s not better than Ware).
4. Carson Palmer (CIN)—No offense to Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he’s no Carson. I doubt the Bengals would be playoff-bound even if they had their Heisman winner in the pocket, but they’d have to be better than they are now. They still have two Pro Bowl caliber receivers on the roster.
3. Tony Romo (DAL)—The young gunslinger may only miss three games, but this is a pivotal stretch for a team that was already struggling to find its identity prior to Romo’s injury. With backup QB Brad Johnson misfiring the pigskin like a cross-eyed Chad Hutchinson, Romo needs to get healthy ASAP.
2. Bob Sanders (IND)—Like Newman, this defensive stud seems to spend just as much time on the sideline in street clothes as he does on the field making plays. The Colts have been just plain awful against the run this year, and the lack of Sanders is a big part of that. Fortunately, it sounds like he’ll return this coming Sunday against the Pats, but for how long?
1. Tom Brady (NE)—In one play, the Patriots went from Super Bowl favorites to neglected dark horses.
BIGGEST CONCERNS FOR PLAYOFF CONTENDERS
5. Redskins Defensive Line—I know that the Skins are sitting pretty right now at 6-2, but there has to be some concern about the fact that they’ve only recorded 10 sacks in 8 games. Ranked 28th in the league in pass rush, will they be able to get enough pressure on quarterbacks like Big Ben? I guess we’ll find out on Monday.
4. Steelers Offensive Line—On the opposite side of the coin, can the Steelers’ big nasties give Ben more time in the pocket? Halfway into the season, they’ve already surrendered 24 sacks (5th most in the league) and allowed countless other hits on their QB. Needless to say, if they continue to struggle at this rate, Ben might not be in any kind of shape for the playoffs.
3. Broncos Defensive Line & Secondary—You wouldn’t expect a defense with Champ Bailey and Dre Bly at cornerback to be so porous. They’ve sacked quarterbacks 17 times but only recorded 2 interceptions, while allowing 12 passing touchdowns (4th most in the league). Their high-scoring offense will be enough to beat other defensively-challenged teams, but they’ll be less fortunate against franchises like New England (as we saw a couple of weeks ago).
2. Colts Offensive Line—The problem in Indy has been injuries. As the O-Line gets healthier, the overall play of the rest of the once-dominant offense will improve dramatically. Peyton feels pocket pressure well, but he doesn’t have the escapability of someone like Big Ben (who isn’t exactly fleet of foot either).
1. Chargers Defensive Line & Secondary—With a freak athlete like Antonio Cromartie, the Chargers’ struggles on defense have been surprising. We knew the pass rush would take a hit without Shawne Merriman in the lineup, but did anyone really think San Diego would be tied for giving up the most passing touchdowns in the league? If they’re going to climb back into the playoff picture, they’ll need to make some changes.
BEST CASE FOR MORE TOUCHES
5. Jamaal Charles (KC)—With LJ being disciplined, this is a perfect time to see what the rookie can do. The former track star is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and is a proven receiving threat. Charles could take it the distance any time he gets the football, so why not run more plays for him? I know fumbling was a concern during training camp, but thus far he hasn’t coughed it up once.
4. Darren McFadden (OAK)—I know he’s been banged up, but there have been opportunities to get the youngster in there that have been ignored in favor of Justin Fargas. Call me crazy, but I’d want someone out there who could give my terrible team a spark.
3. Ted Ginn, Jr. (MIA)—Well, that was definitely the Ted Ginn of the Buckeye days on display last Sunday. Keep getting him the ball!
2. Leon Washington (NYJ)—This guy is as exciting as they come. Thomas Jones has played better than expected, but you still have to find ways to get this guy more involved in the offense.
1. Darren Sproles (SD)—I’ve been a huge Sproles advocate since his junior year at K-State. He may never be a 30-carry back, but how about 7-10 carries and a few screens per game? He’s already playing his heart out for you in return duties, and LT might benefit from a lighter load until he gets healthy.
MUST PLAY BETTER TO REACH PLAYOFFS
5. Marion Barber (DAL)—It pains me to include him here, but I’ve got to be honest. It’s true that he plays as hard, if not harder, as anyone on the field, but it’s also true that he needs to hold onto the darn football. He’s fumbled as many times as Chris Perry and only lost one fewer. I expect the Barbarian to remedy this in the second half of the season.
4. Ryan Grant (GB)—What happened to the fantasy stud from last year? Rodgers has done an admirable job of weathering the storm, but Grant has to make this team two-dimensional if they want to be taken seriously.
3. Brett Favre (NYJ)—The Jets can thank their light schedule for their 4-3 record. In reality, they haven’t played well enough to be in the playoff picture. Their woes all start with the quarterback, who may still be learning the playbook but needs to toss fewer passes up for grabs.
2. LaDanian Tomlinson (SD)—Again, I know a large part of his struggles have been due to the injury bug, but his team needs a better effort from their star if they want to make the playoffs. Last week’s effort was a start, despite the loss.
1. Derek Anderson (CLE)—Yes, the Browns could still make the playoffs. They’ve proven that they can hang with anyone when they’re clicking together (i.e. routing of Giants), but they’ve lacked consistency. On the field, Anderson needs to forget about his job security and just focus on making accurate reads/passes. He’s better than this.
NEW IMPACT PLAYERS FOR THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON
5. Donnie Avery (STL)—He’s already hit the league like an earthquake the last couple of weeks. I look forward to seeing some aftershocks.
4. Kevin Curtis (PHI)—McNabb’s number one receiver from last year returns from injury just in time to help his team surge toward the playoffs. DeSean Jackson will be a better complement to Curtis’ skill set than Reggie Brown ever was.
3. Willis McGahee (BAL)—As he gets healthier, you should expect to see a return to form. FB McClain has struggled lately, which opens the door even more for McGahee to assume a full-time role.
2. Roy Williams (DAL)—Once he gets the playbook down and Romo returns to the lineup, look out!
1. Marques Colston (NO)—The Saints offense hasn’t exactly struggled without its leading receiver from last year, but he’ll definitely play a large part from here on out. The bye week comes at a good time, as it gives Brees and Colston more time gel.
QUIET STRENGTH AWARD (FORMERLY KNOWN AS “THE MARVIN HARRISON AWARD”)
5. Michael Griffin (TEN)—The former Longhorn safety has quietly progressed from a rookie playing special teams last year to a play-making starter for the number one defense in football this year.
4. Greg Jennings (GB)—With the insertion of Rodgers at QB, Jennings has really flourished. In this breakout season, he’s easily eclipsed Donald Driver as the number one receiver for the Pack. Still, you never see him begging for recognition to reporters or having run-ins with the law. In fact, in an era plagued by contract hold-outs, Jennings recently asked that his contract extension be worked out in the off-season so it wouldn’t be a distraction now.
3. Andre Johnson (HOU)—Another player who gives wide receivers a good name is the star for the Texans. When the Houston offense was sputtering at the start of the season, he wasn’t making waves calling out the coaching staff or burying his quarterback. Now, 8 weeks in, he’s the number one receiver in the league. And this from a kid from Miami!
2. Nnamdi Asomugha (OAK)—He’s the rare shutdown corner in the league this year. Quarterbacks just give up on passing to the receiver he’s covering, but you don’t see him grandstanding or asking to be traded mid-season despite playing for the Raiders.
1. Matt Schaub (HOU)—The former Cavalier has been on fire the last few weeks. Really, since the loss at Tennessee in week two, Schaub has played like a Pro Bowler. The reason he tops my list here is because he was called just about every name in the book those first two weeks. No one seemed to realize that he’d gone against two of the most dominant defenses in the league (PITT,TEN). Still, he hasn’t come out roaring about vindication and having the last laugh, which is what most of us would do in his situation. Instead, he’s just let his play do the talking—and it’s spoken volumes.
5. Steve Slaton (HOU)—Who here had the former Mountaineer pegged as an NFL starter when he was lumbering along in his senior year of college? He doesn’t even list the statistics from that year on his personal website! Since claiming the starting job for the Texans, though, Slaton has kept defenses honest—which has clearly opened up things for Schaub and the passing game.
4. Chris Horton (WAS)—When the Skins drafted him in the 7th round (249 overall), I’m sure they were thinking special teams. Yet, since he was forced into the lineup due to injuries, he’s done nothing but make plays. Halfway into the season, his statline reads: 37 tackles 3 interceptions 1 fumble recovery. This guy is looking like the 2008 draft’s Marques Colston.
3. Steve Breaston (ARZ)—Let’s be honest here: Breaston was a great RETURNER at Michigan. As a receiver, he left a lot to be desired. However, when Anquan Boldin went down early this season, Breaston stepped up his game and is now playing the best football of his life. Twice he’s eclipsed the century mark, and another two times he’s had over 75 yards receiving. In fact, he’s played so well that he’ll remain a large part of the game plan from this point on, even with Boldin back in the lineup.
2. Joey Porter (MIA)—This guy carries his own baggage. The former Ray Lewis combatant was ripped to shreds last year for signing a huge free agent contract with the Dolphins and then playing like a dud. This year, however, he’s gone above and beyond even the highest of expectations. The guy runs his mouth a lot, but this year at least he’s backing it all up and then some on the field.
1. Kyle Orton (CHI)—OK, how many of you thought any Bears quarterback would be playing this well? Orton has been poised, accurate, and even consistent since winning the starting job in the preseason. I have to admit that I thought Lovie Smith had made a serious blunder in not drafting or trading for a QB, but he’s proving me wrong so far.
5. Chris Perry (CIN)—The Bengals drafted him high, kept him on the roster for years as he suffered injury after injury, released their previous starter, and handed him the reins this season just so he could perform like that?
4. Adam Jones (DAL)—I’d rank him higher, but did we really expect him to succeed?
3. Braylon Edwards (CLE)—Dude, help your poor QB out and catch the darn thing already!
2. Vince Young (TEN)—First things first, I’m rooting for him. I want Young to prove the doubters wrong and pop back into the starting lineup better than ever. I wish he could be at the helm right now with his team 7-0. He’s just not ready at this point. I hope he’s able to use this down time to get his life together and grow as a professional.
1. Derek Anderson (CLE)—Granted, he can’t control Edwards’ hands to make those easy catches, but he definitely can improve his accuracy. This is a guy coming off a Pro Bowl year. Get your act together!
WORST OF THE TALKING HEADS
5. Cris Carter—He was a great receiver, but I don’t think he’s cut out to be a studio guy. Watching him on ESPN is just painful. He looks so out of place that any time he tries to “get in” on a joke you can see him straining. Might be a good booth commentator because he’s knowledgeable, but not a studio man.
4. Shannon Sharpe—Great tight end, but might be better suited as a coach than a studio guy. Either way, some elocution lessons couldn’t hurt (just ask Kobe).
3. Keyshawn Johnson—He is always the most biased guy on ESPN. I know they brought him in to fill a void, but he doesn’t have Irvin’s energy or charisma. Maybe he’ll sign with the Dolphins and the studio will find someone who doesn’t suck the life out of the room.
2. Emmitt Smith—He was probably my favorite player growing up, but I really don’t think he’s cut out to be an
analyst. He always comes across as a nice enough guy, but his studio contributions are just so basic and minimal.
1. Tony Kornheiser—He’s gotta go. Please ESPN! I’d rather have the awful Dennis Miller back than this. Growing up in D.C., I stomached him when he wrote about my Washington Bullets for the Post. Then, in college, I tolerated him on PTI. But, now, it’s just too much. He isn’t nearly as funny as he thinks he is, he doesn’t know anything about the game that’s being played in front of him, and his “in-game analysis” consists of grabbing the easiest headline and running with it for four hours. I can still hear him pushing the Favre angle well into the night as Rodgers was dismantling the Viking defense a few weeks ago. The worst part of it all is that he dumbs down Ron Jaworski, who can be extremely insightful in the right environment.
BEST OF THE TALKING HEADS
5. Mike Tirico—The guy is an information machine. It’s almost like he tries to compensate for the lack of research Kornheiser does.
4. Jimmy Johnson—Sure, he probably acts like he cares the least about the games on Sunday, but he can dig into the psychology of a coach’s play-calling better than anyone.
3. Troy Aikman—Unlike Emmitt, he is actually well-prepared, observant, and insightful.
2. John Madden—Come on, who could hate on Madden?
1. Howie Long—I still don’t understand why he isn’t coaching somewhere. His analysis is rarely off the mark.
COACH OF THE YEAR
RUNNER-UP: Mike Smith (ATL)—With a rookie quarterback and an unproven running back, he’s already won as many games in a half season as the Falcons won all last year.
WINNER: Jeff Fisher (TEN)—There’s a reason he’s been in Tennessee for so long: the guy’s a heck of a coach. He’s 7-0 with an old Kerry Collins playing his most pivotal position on the field and one of the worst crops of wide receivers in the league!
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
RUNNER-UP: Chris Johnson (TEN)—Hey, a running back selected by Tennessee who actually looks like a gamer! Seriously though, he’s carrying this team on his back.
WINNER: Matt Ryan (ATL)—Quarterback is the hardest position to play in football. It’s almost unheard of for a rookie QB to come in and play on even an average level. Ryan is playing better than a lot of vets right now and is the biggest reason they have a winning record. His potential is limitless.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
RUNNER-UP: Drew Brees (NO)—He’s the kind of quarterback who could make practice squad receivers look great.
WINNER: Philip Rivers (SD)—I know that Brees is the sexy pick here, but Rivers actually has more touchdowns, fewer interceptions, a higher passer rating, and fewer fumbles. Oh, and like Brees, his favorite receivers have also been ravaged by the injury bug.
RUNNER-UP: Justin Tuck (NYG)—With Osi out, he’s more than picked up the slack for the defending champs.
WINNER: DeMarcus Ware (DAL)—He’s been the only consistently dominant player on the ‘Boys defense. Despite facing double teams on almost every play, he’s second in the league in sacks with nine and makes plays all over the field (resulting in his 44 total tackles).
RUNNER-UP: Jay Cutler (DEN)—Unlike Brees and Rivers, his team is actually in a position where it’d make the playoffs today. He’s made huge strides each year, but none has been larger than this season’s.
WINNER: Clinton Portis (WAS)—He’s been the single most dominant player on the field this year. Not only does he lead the league in rushing yards, but the next closest rusher (Adrian Peterson) is almost 300 yards behind! If the season were to end today, he’d be the MVP hands down.
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