Week 8 Review by Haiku and the Mid-season NFL Awards

Derek Carr and the 6-2 Raiders are for real. (Getty Images)

Derek Carr and the 6-2 Raiders are for real. (Getty Images)

– Bill Annechino

Titans 36 Jaguars 22 (Thursday)

Did anyone watch?
Thursday night football must go
Jags fired the wrong coach.

Patriots 41 Bills 25

Dildo on the field
Only see that at the Ralph
Fan must have farted.

Redskins 27 Bengals 27 (London)

Two ties in two weeks
Soccer also ends in ties
Fitting for Wembley.

Chiefs 30 Colts 14

Colts’ offense falls flat
Kansas City looking good
Did you watch this game?

Raiders 30 Buccaneers 24

Carr is really good
Taking NFL by storm
Is he MVP?

Saints 25 Seahawks 20

Seahawks’ luck runs out
Hard to win without the refs
Saints are tough at home.

Texans 20 Lions 13

Brock Osweiler sucks
Detroit sucked a little more
Don’t watch Texans games.

Jets 31 Browns 28

Browns can’t buy a win
Terrelle Pryor is legit
They are not this bad.

Panthers 30 Cardinals 20
Panthers get a win
Still three games out of first place
Need a Falcons loss.

Broncos 27 Chargers 19

Broncos have six wins
Tied with Oakland for West lead
They play Oakland next.

Falcons 33 Packers 32

Both teams needed wins
Only one could pull it out
Glad they didn’t tie.

Cowboys 29 Eagles 23

Thank God, a good game
Primetime games have really sucked
Dak wins the first round.

Joey Bosa has been explosive. (Getty Images)

Joey Bosa has been explosive. (Getty Images)

Defensive Rookie of the Year
1. Joey Bosa
2. Keanu Neal
3. Jalen Ramsey

Joey Bosa has been one of the most impactful defenders in football this year, so I am forgiving him for the fact that he has only been playing since week 5. Through his first three games, Bosa had 20 pressures, which put him in the top 25 of all NFL players, most of whom had a 4 game advantage over him. In fact, Pro Football Focus already has him rated as the second-best edge defender in the NFL after Von Miller, so you could say that his career is off to a good start. That level of dominance eclipses anything else we’ve seen a rookie do defensively this year. Keanu Neal, meanwhile, has established himself as a top-10 safety in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. This has to be considered ahead of even the most optimistic projections for him coming out of Florida. If you watch the Falcons play, you will see Neal making the kind of plays that you would typically expect from a veteran, and that’s possibly the biggest compliment that you can pay a rookie safety: you plug him in and forget that he’s a rookie. As for Jalen Ramsey, that pick from me is more due to things that aren’t possible to quantify. For example, Ramsey is already being asked to follow a team’s best receiver around as if he is a shutdown corner. He has the look of a player that is going to be very good, and this is an offensive-slanted rookie class, so take my third pick for what it’s worth.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
1. Dak Prescott
2. Jack Conklin
3. Ezekiel Elliott
4. Carson Wentz
5. Hunter Henry

This vote is a little less rooted in advanced stats or player ratings, and more based on what I’ve seen out of these players. Dak Prescott is the clear frontrunner for me because he has shown the best ability to play within himself and do things that lead his team to wins. Wentz started the year off on fire, but he’s since cooled off. He has some accuracy issues that I simply haven’t seen with Prescott. Meanwhile, Elliott and Conklin have ranked among the league’s best at their positions, rookie or otherwise. Pro Football Focus has Conklin rated as the 4th best tackle in football already, which is tremendous. Conklin has been a huge part of what Tennessee has been able to do on the ground this year. Truth be told, if this was a fair award, Conklin would win the rookie of the year due to being a contender for the All-Pro team, which Prescott won’t sniff. Quarterback is an infinitely more difficult and flashy position than tackle, though, so Prescott gets the nod. Elliott, meanwhile, has a chance to rush for 2,000 yards and is almost certainly the best pure running back in football right now (apologies to Le’Veon Bell, but it’s true). Carson Wentz slots in at 4th on my ballot because even though he hasn’t been as good as Prescott, he has still been pretty good, especially for a rookie. Hunter Henry comes in at 5th, and if you have Michael Thomas here, I wouldn’t fault you. For me, it came down to what they’ve been at their peak, and the degree of difficulty involved. Thomas fits right into a New Orleans passing attack that’s among the best in the league. The Phillip Rivers-led San Diego passing attack is no joke, either, but it isn’t what Drew Brees has cooking in Louisiana. Henry was drafted to replace a legend, and has outplayed Antonio Gates this season. For me, he belongs on the ballot.

Defensive Player of the Year
1. Von Miller
2. Aaron Donald
3. Bobby Wagner
4. Eric Weddle
5. Aqib Talib

Von Miller and Aaron Donald were the two easiest names to put on this list. Von Miller has continued his dominant run from last season and emerged as the premiere defender in football, especially with J.J. Watt out for the season. Donald, meanwhile, is the best interior defender by a considerable margin, but has had the misfortune of playing at the same time as J.J. Watt and Von Miller turning into a superhuman this season. He will have to settle for 2nd place, which really isn’t that bad. Another odd-but-true statistic going in favor of Miller over Donald is that 22 of the last 25 DPoY award winners came from a team that finished either 1st or 2nd in their division, which I think Denver may have a better chance of doing than Los Angeles. Bobby Wagner, meanwhile, has finally put his total package of athleticism and playmaking ability together and emerged as the best linebacker in football. If you watched the Arizona/Seattle Monday Night game last week, you saw the sort of impact that Wagner can have (even though his most memorable plays in that game were technically special teams). Eric Weddle remains as the best safety in football and has been the lynch pin for a Ravens defense that has no business being as good as they are. Even on the wrong side of 30, Weddle diagnoses a play pre-snap better than any defensive back in the NFL and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Those things matter to me. Rounding out my ballot is Aqib Talib, who has probably been the best cornerback in the league this year. He is one half of the duo that makes up Denver’s “No Fly Zone”, and if you wanted to stick Chris Harris on this list in Talib’s spot, I wouldn’t hold it against you. For me, it comes down to Harris playing most of his snaps in the slot, whereas Talib is usually on an island outside with the other team’s best receiver. His unique blend of physicality and playmaking skills make him, to me, the best cornerback in the NFL right now.

Offensive Player of the Year
1. David Johnson
2. Julio Jones
3. Ezekiel Elliott
4. A.J. Green
5. Rob Gronkowski

Offensive Player of the Year is an award that typically goes to the best non-quarterback offensive player in football. As such, none of the players on my ballot appear on my MVP ballot, for the sake of covering a few more players for this column, mostly. David Johnson is leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage, and anyone who has watched a Cardinals game this year knows that their entire offense flows through Johnson. Of any non-quarterback, there is no player in the league who means more to their team’s success than David Johnson, and he is in the middle of the breakout season that pretty much everyone knew was coming. Julio Jones is a force of nature, and recorded a 300 yard receiving game this season. When you watch Falcons football, it is impossible not to see where Julio is at all times, and not just because he’s huge. The man sucks an entire defense towards him, like a black hole. With apologies to Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, Julio is the best receiver in the NFL right now. We have already covered what Elliott is, so let’s talk about A.J. Green. In what may be a lost season for Cincinnati, Green has continued to remind us why he’s the most underappreciated player in football. Unlike some of his receiver peers, he is not a diva and he is not flashy off the field. Once he gets on the field, he’s a different story. Possibly the most athletic receiver in the league right now, Green is one of the best I have ever seen at going up and high-pointing a football, and his hands are out of this world. His Hail Mary last week is the perfect A.J. Green play. Rob Gronkowski, meanwhile, is the greatest tight end to ever play football and the dominant playmaker for the Super Bowl favorite. No big deal. What separates Gronk from a lot of these tight ends today is that he’s also probably the best blocking tight end in the game. You could make the case that, due to having to deal with dominant edge rushers and handling them as well as being his team’s biggest receiving threat, no player has a greater degree of difficulty than what Gronkowski does every week. And you might be right.

Sam Bradford has remade his career nicely in Minnesota. (Getty Images)

Sam Bradford has remade his career nicely in Minnesota. (Getty Images)

Comeback Player of the Year
1. Sam Bradford
2. Jordy Nelson
3. Victor Cruz
4. Jimmy Graham
5. Andrew Luck

Jordy Nelson has returned to more or less the player he was before his ACL tear, although it’s tough to say for sure because of the decline in Rodgers’ play up to this point. Jimmy Graham has continued to come back stronger and stronger from his torn patellar tendon, which has been the hardest injury to come back from, as Victor Cruz can attest to. Andrew Luck had a lost season to injuries last year, but has rebounded in a major way this year and shows no signs of any lingering effects. None of these players have done what Sam Bradford has, however. Bradford was all-but written off as a first round bust: a guy who could never stay healthy or effective. After Teddy Bridgewater’s injury, the Vikings traded for Bradford, and all he’s done up to this point has been playing essentially flawless football for a team that many think will make the Super Bowl.

Most Improved Player
1. Lorenzo Alexander
2. Jay Ajayi
3. A. J. Bouye
4. Melvin Gordon
5. Jadeveon Clowney

Lorenzo Alexander has gone from a career journeyman to the NFL’s sack leader in Rex Ryan’s aggressive pressure system. Jay Ajayi started this season as Arian Foster’s backup, possibly due to concerns with his attitude. Since Foster’s injury, Ajayi has become one of the only players in NFL history to run for 200 yards in two straight games. If you told me that you knew who A. J. Bouye was before this season, I would have called you a liar. According to Pro Football Focus, he has been the best cornerback in football this season, and if you watch Texans games, this will come as no surprise. Bouye has a nose for the football and always seems to be at the center of plays. Melvin Gordon has shed the possible “first-round bust” label he was given last season to lead the league in rushing touchdowns so far this year. He has shown all the signs of a player who “gets it”: he is trusting his blocking more, being more patient as a runner and knowing when and how to hit holes. Jadeveon Clowney is finally healthy and showing why he was the first overall pick in the draft several years ago. He hasn’t quite lived up to his star potential in terms of counting stats yet, but the advanced stats like Clowney a lot, and it’s a shame that he couldn’t have had this relative breakout season with J. J. Watt next to him.

Assistant Coach of the Year
1. Jim Schwartz
2. Kyle Shanahan
3. Jim Bob Cooter

You know what Kyle Shanahan is and what he does. He takes over an offense and turns their number one receiver (known as the “X” receiver in his scheme) into a dynamo. Think of players like Pierre Garcon in Washington and Travis Benjamin in Cleveland and remember the target totals that those receivers saw in the Shanahan offense. When he made his way to Atlanta, many people correctly assumed that him and Julio Jones were a match made in high-usage heaven. Those people have been absolutely correct. Watching Shanahan call a game is a little bit like watching someone play Madden in that he calls his best player’s number early and often. In Shanahan’s case, however, it usually works. Not to be lost in all this is what he did for Devonta Freeman’s career, turning a guy who some people thought was on the way out of Atlanta into one of the best running backs in the league. Matt Ryan’s resurgent campaign is also a testimony to the Shanahan offense. Jim Bob Cooter has turned Matt Stafford into a viable MVP candidate, and he has done this mostly without the services of Calvin Johnson. By turning Stafford into a low-risk, West Coast passer, Cooter has turned Detroit into one of the league’s most efficient offenses, and should be recognized for that. Jim Schwartz is the pick here, though. Schwartz was out of football last year after being passed over for the Buffalo job in favor of Rex Ryan. After Philadelphia hired him, those of us in the know predicted that he would have success. After all, Philly has a lot of personnel that fit right into a Jim Schwartz defense. I’m not sure any of us knew it would go this well, though. Football Outsiders has the Philadelphia defense ranked as the best in football, according to their DVOA statistic. For all this, Jim Schwartz is my pick for the assistant coach of the year.

Coach of the Year
1. Mike Zimmer
2. Bill Belichick
3. Jack Del Rio
4. Jason Garrett
5. Chip Kelly

This season’s head coach of the year award ballot is as loaded as I can remember in a long time. Bill Belichick navigated his team to a 3-1 start without Tom Brady, and then without Jimmy G. He has New England looking like the best team in the NFL, and it’s hard to argue that they might not be. With the addition of Martellus Bennett, Belichick has unleashed his 2-tight end offense at full force for the first time since Aaron Hernandez was around. Tom Brady is also playing the best football of his career right now, proving the Belichick is the greatest NFL coach of all time, and would be a sure thing to win this award any other year. “Black Jack” Del Rio has been aggressive on key 4th down calls this year, reminiscent of Ron Rivera’s transformation from a few years ago. He has Derek Carr playing the best football of his career, and has overseen Carr taking a massive statistical leap this season. He also has led the Raiders to a 6-2 record, which is their best start since the 2002 season when they went to the Super Bowl. When Tony Romo went down, most people were writing the Cowboys off due to Romo’s backup being unproven rookie Dak Prescott. As we know now, Prescott is no ordinary rookie and the Cowboys are far from written off. They are possibly the best team in the NFC right now, and their prolific offense, combined with a shockingly effective defense, has proven to be a winning formula. The Cowboys have done the best job of writing and executing game plans this season, with apologies to the Patriots. No team has played to its strengths better than Dallas. To watch a Cowboys game is to see a coach developing his rookie quarterback on the fly, using a combination of gradually more demanding throws and a strong running game to keep the offense on the field and not let a questionable defense see the field too much. Dominating the time of possession battle was going to be key going into this season, and Garrett has the Cowboys leading the league in this category. Most people are probably surprised to see Chip Kelly on this list, but I would tell those people to go take a look at the 49ers roster. Seriously, go do that. I’ll wait. This is the roster with the least amount of talent on it in the entire league, and Kelly has been getting points out of the offense. They even have a shut out win. Think about that: the 49ers, possibly the worst team in football, have a win in which they shut out their opponent. San Francisco is 22nd in points scored per game, which means they aren’t even bottom-10 in that statistic. They aren’t a good team by any means, but the ability of Kelly to coax points out of this offense, to me, is a task with a higher degree of difficulty than almost any coach in the NFL has had to deal with this year. But, there is one coach who has had a much greater challenge presented to them. The Minnesota Vikings were a popular dark horse Super Bowl pick this year. Then, at the end of training camp, Teddy Bridgewater suffered a knee injury that was so gruesome that some thought his leg may need to be amputated. Mike Zimmer came out and said that this team would weather the storm, and they would be better for it. Most of us wrote that off as typical coach-speak coming from a man who knew that his team’s season was over before it started. Zimmer had other plans, however. The Vikings traded for Sam Bradford and Zimmer used Bradford’s strengths, namely a strong ability to take care of the football, to pair with the most talented defense in football to create possibly the best team in the NFC. Losing your franchise quarterback and not skipping a beat is enough to hand the award to Zimmer at this point in the season.

Executive of the Year
1. Jerry Jones
2. Howie Roseman
3. Bruce Allen

Everyone rags on the Redskins for having a bad owner, and Dan Snyder probably deserves a lot of the criticism he gets. Let’s be fair for a second, though, and ask ourselves how many situations the Redskins have correctly handled lately. After the season Kirk Cousins had last year, there was a lot of external pressure to sign him to a long-term contract. Bruce Allen made the correct decision in signing Cousins with the franchise tag in order to give themselves another year to evaluate Cousins, which may end up allowing them to sign him to a much more reasonable extension than they would have if they gave in to the hype surrounding a surprise division title last season. They also made their team infinitely better in the offseason, when they signed Josh Norman. A player of Norman’s caliber rarely hits the open market, and Washington was smart to lock him up when the opportunity presented itself. Howie Roseman’s power struggle with Chip Kelly was well-documented. On the losing end, no one would have blamed Roseman if he decided to take his talents elsewhere. However, when the Kelly situation soured, Roseman was there to pick up the pieces. In addition to getting rid of a lot of the mistakes of the Chip Kelly era, Roseman was responsible for hiring Jim Schwartz, as well as making the trade that brought Carson Wentz to the Eagles. But really, this award has to go to Jerry Jones, right? In addition to absolutely stealing Dak Prescott in the 4th round of this year’s draft, Jones made the decision to draft Ezekiel Elliott, which many thought was a poor use of resources. The argument was that the Dallas offensive line is built to make anyone into a star, and that they were decent last year with Darren McFadden, so why waste a premium draft pick at a position that wasn’t a glaring need? But Jones remembered the 13-3 season from 2 years ago, and correctly recalled that a workhorse running back was at the center of that campaign. Elliott has been the key to the Cowboys’ offensive gameplan this year, and Jerry Jones deserves a lot of credit for making a difficult decision on draft day.

Most Valuable Player
1. Tom Brady
2. Drew Brees
3. Derek Carr
4. Andrew Luck
5. Dallas Offensive Line

Here we are, the Most Valuable Player award. At this point, you’ve sorted through over 3,000 words, as well as numerous haikus to get here. This is the ultimate individual honor in the NFL, and I think this year has a race as good as any we’ve seen in recent memory. The Dallas offensive line has been floated before as an MVP pick, and for good reason. We have already covered Ezekiel Elliott’s rushing dominance, what Dallas has been able to do with time of possession, and the emergence of their rookie franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott. None of that happens without strong offensive line play from the best offensive line in the NFL. Andrew Luck has bounced back in a major way this year from a lost season in 2015 due to injuries. The Colts have famously given him very little help along his offensive line, investing high draft picks in receivers that they didn’t need and trading picks for the likes of Trent Richardson. Even now, the Indianapolis running game is being headed by Frank Gore, who is so far past his prime that it’s a little sad. In spite of all this, Luck hasn’t skipped a beat. He has thrown 16 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions thus far, and he is doing all of this on a team that has no threat to run the ball. It speaks to the strength of this year’s field that I have Luck at 4th on my ballot at the midway point. Derek Carr has taken a major statistical leap this season. He has thrown 16 touchdowns against 3 interceptions, which would speak to a level of efficiency that we have never seen from Carr. In his third year, the game has started to slow down for him, and he is the operator of a high-powered offense. His 513 yard/4 touchdown/no interception masterpiece against Tampa Bay this week only solidifies his place among the NFL’s elite passers. Many people will say that he is the frontrunner for the award after this game, and I can’t blame those people one bit. I just happen to feel that there are 2 quarterbacks who have been even better this year. Drew Brees has been great for so long that he has become underappreciated. Did you know that Brees has never won a regular season MVP award, despite having passed for 5,000 yards four different times, as well as missing out on a sixth time by 48 yards. This year, he’s on pace to throw for 5,600 yards, and lead the NFL in touchdowns. He also has only thrown 5 interceptions, which means that Brees is playing the best football of his career this year. In any other year, this would be enough to land Brees his first MVP, but this is no ordinary year. Tom Brady missed the first four games due to a suspension that you may have heard about. If we were to project his numbers from the 4 games he’s played over a full season, he would throw for 5,276 yards, 48 touchdowns and no interceptions. 2007 was Brady’s masterpiece, the finest quarterbacking season of all time, but 2016 is shaping up to be on par with that season, and may just be enough to win an MVP award in a season that he missed the first quarter of. Some people may argue that Brady is not the greatest quarterback of all time, but those people are wrong. From my eyeball test, these 4 games have been the greatest 4 game stretch of quarterback play that I have ever seen. In Tom We Trust, go Patriots.

Bill Annechino– Bill Annechino (Twitter)


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