Yes, I know, just last week I said I was going to start a new weekly column (remember, the Seder Slate? No? Hm.), but seeing as it’s as close to the middle of the NFL season as it’s going to get – stupid odd number of games – I have to join in the fun of assigning end-of-season accolades entirely too early. I’m sure anyone who has watched ESPN or NFL Network in the last week has seen their fair share of these things, but here’s my pitch: I have no credibility, so I can make all sorts of claims without my reputation being at stake!
For instance, I hereby predict that the first coach fired at the end of the season will not be Dolphins coach Tony Sparano. I have a couple thoughts as to who it will be (Lovie Smith, Steve Spagnuolo, Jack Del Rio, and Gary Kubiak or Norv Turner if their teams miss the playoffs), but it would be a pretty big upset if Sparano wasn’t fired first since the Dolphins made a strong play to hire Jim Harbaugh last offseason with Sparano still under contract.
Here are my picks for the playoff spots, compared to my picks before the season (in parentheses):
1. Green Bay Packers (7-0) (Packers)
2. San Francisco 49ers (6-1) (Falcons)
3. New Orleans Saints (5-3) (Eagles)
4. New York Giants (5-2) (Rams)
5. Detroit Lions (6-2) (Cowboys)
6. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) (Saints)
1. New England Patriots (5-2)(Steelers)
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) (Patriots)
3. Houston Texans (5-3) (Chargers)
4. San Diego Chargers (4-3) (Texans)
5. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) (Jets)
6. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) (Ravens)
Postseason awards? I got your postseason awards right here!
Coach of the Year: After a 6-10 season (starting 0-5) and pretty much no change in the roster, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has turned his team around and has the Fighting Frank Gores in position to be the 2-seed in the NFC. How’d he do it? Alex Smith is 25th in the league in pass attempts, 14 behind both Tarvaris Jackson and Sam Bradford, both of whom have missed significant time with injuries.
Fantasy Bust of the Year: Chris Johnson, who has fewer rushing yards than Reggie Bush and as many as Jackie Battle, who had 13 carries for 37 yards through four weeks.
Rookie of the Year: I know, everyone wants on the Cam Newton bandwagon, but I’m hitching my wagon to the Red Rifle, Andy Dalton. Keep in mind that the Bengals shipped off T.O. and Ochocinco, had no legitimate quarterback that was willing to play for the team, and have Cedric Benson. Dalton has started 5-2 for a team that started 2-11 last year and had basically no established offensive weapons at his disposal (Newton has Steve Smith, Greg Olsen, and the Williams/Stewart tandem at running back).
Team to lose the most consecutive games: Going out of the box here, but I think that the Redskins have a legitimate shot at going 3-13 the hard way after starting 3-1. I know, I know, the Colts have a legitimate shot at 0-16, but if they win a game in the next couple weeks I think that the ‘Skins are in the catbirds seat for a strong finish.
Team to win the most consecutive games whose fans don’t smell of gouda: I’m seeing this year ending in a very similar fashion to last season for the Patriots. They ripped off eight straight wins after losing embarrassingly to the Browns in Week 9, and I see the Steelers game this past week as a similar motivator. The bigger advantage for the Pats is that while they played the Steelers, (last year’s) Colts, Jets, Bears, and Packers over the home stretch last year, this year they play nine teams with a combined record of 26-38.
Defensive Player of the Year: The Man, the Myth, the Legend, Tim Tebow. His completion percentage is below Rex Grossman, he’s been sacked 13 times and fumbled four times in two starts, and was directly responsible for two Lions touchdowns last week. Some quarterbacks have done worse, but not with the small sample that Tebow has.
Fantasy MVP: If you look at total fantasy points against a replacement-level player of the same position, while also taking into account draft position, this is where Cam Newton comes into play. Fred Jackson gets a strong Honorable Mention here, but Newton leads quarterbacks in fantasy scoring for the year after being essentially disregarded prior to the year.
Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning, and it’s not even close. The Colts were 10-6 last year, and their skill position players (Clark, Collie, Addai) couldn’t stay healthy. Now those guys are (for the most part) healthy, and a Curtis-Painter-led team is now 0-8 and a virtual lock to win 2 or fewer games. That’s at least an 8-game swing by losing one player. Keep in mind that the Patriots went 11-5 without Tom Brady in 2008 and you can’t say that the Packers would finish 2-7 if Rodgers was lost for the year after they almost beat the Patriots last year with Matt Flynn at quarterback.