NFL Mid-Season Awards and Predictions

Rookie of the Year

Brad’s Pick: Marshon Lattimore, DB New Orleans Saints. The Ohio State product has solidified a defensive backfield that has been one of the NFL’s worst for years, helping the Saints return to relevance after three straight 7-9 seasons. Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt will get a lot of run in this space because, as offensive players, their statistics will catch the eye, but I’m going off the board because every snap a Houston QB not named Deshaun gets only further solidifies who should win this award. He won’t be eligible having played too few games, but we all know where that was headed before a freak injury in practice ended his season. So let’s give it to the rookie who took Mike Evans out of TWO games already and will probably bottle him up again when the Saints conclude their season in Tampa on New Year’s Eve. While we’re talking Saints’ rookies, I should also shout out RB Alvin Kamara who could also factor into this race by season’s end. Who dat?!?!?!

Chris’s Pick: Ryan Ramczyk, OL New Orleans Saints. It’ll never happen. Let me rephrase, it’s never happened. But I’m taking the Rookie of the Year award a different direction.

Historically, a quarterback, running back, or receiver wins the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. Defensively, linemen have won, but offensive linemen never win. It just doesn’t happen. Here at SportsIntel we’ve decided to just pick one rookie to rule them all, and knowing that, I’m going with Ryan Ramczyk, an offensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints.

Metrics for offensive linemen, if they exist, are horrible and often misunderstood, and it makes grading them against the tangible stats of other offensive (and defensive) players impossibly difficult. Still, I think Ramczyk has been one of the best things to happen to the Saints in the last few years and for most casual viewers his contributions have gone unnoticed this season.

In the 2017 draft, he was selected as the last pick of the first round, and many questioned why the Saints would take an offensive talent with such a high pick considering how solid their offensive line already was with talents like Terron Armstead and Zach Strief. The Saints certainly couldn’t have predicted the injuries to both Armstead and Strief this season, but fortunately for them, they did go with the best player available in Ramczyk.

This season Ramczyk, a former Division III player at one point in his college career, has had to play both left and right-side tackle for the Saints. He’s one of five New Orleans players to play 100 percent of their snaps thus far, and despite the injury issues plaguing his peers and him being a rookie offensive tackle being asked to cover multiple positions, the Saints have only given up 8 sacks on the year for 56 yards! That’s one helluva performance.

It’s hard to measure the value of an offensive linemen, and harder still to compare them to the more traditional stat categories of other players, but if you ask Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, I bet they’ll all tell you how immensely important a quality OL is to the team’s overall success. Ramczyk has proven in just eight games, he’s a big time player.

Danny’s Pick: Kareem Hunt, RB Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt, who was picked in the 3rd round, was not expected to make such big waves this season. When Spencer Ware went down in the preseason, Hunt’s number was called and he has responded in a big way. The Chiefs have to be thrilled with Hunt’s production. He’s averaging 5.2 yds per carry and is versatile out of the backfield with 32 catches at the mid-point this season. He is on pace for nearly 2000 total yards and 11 TDs and hasn’t fumbled since his first carry of the season. I think Leonard Fournette is a beast but he isn’t giving Jacksonville nearly the statistical production of Hunt.

MVP

Brad’s Pick: After KC’s Week 8 beatdown of Denver, I committed to Kansas City QB Alex Smith as my MVP. In the time since I wrote that, he has lost another game and finally threw his first pick, but I am sticking with the pride of Helix High (okay, maybe Reggie Bush is the pride of Helix High). Anyway, here is the case I made then: First in QBR (115.4), second in yards (2,181), third in TD passes (16), and—the one that will surprise you—first in the NFL in yards per attempt (8.4). Not convinced? Alex also has head-to-head victories over Carson Wentz, Tom Brady, and Deshaun Watson, the other top MVP candidates thus far. I’m not guaranteeing he will win MVP, but I’m giving him my mid-season MVP award (for whatever that’s worth). While it’s true that the Chiefs have lost 3 of 4, no individual loss is bad. They still control their division and will have a reasonable shot at locking up a first round bye as they trail Pittsburgh and New England—against whom they have a head-to-head win on the road—by only half a game. One final thought: Remember that guy who replaced Alex Smith in San Fran, effectively ushering in the Smith-Reid era in KC? Yeah, I think a lot of people would be fine with extending that guy a huge middle finger by making Alex the league MVP while he can only get headlines by suing the NFL.

Chris’s Pick: I hate being agreeable, so I won’t be. I like Alex Smith for the above-mentioned reasons but I happen to think there is a Super Bowl contender out there that isn’t in the race because of their starting QB. The Los Angeles Rams wouldn’t be 6-2 without Todd Gurley’s stellar play. We all knew the guy could run from a highlight filled 2015 season, but he’s also improved his pass catching ability in 2017 and it’s evident. I called him a true dual-threat earlier in the season, and I think the Rams live and die by his play moving forward. With that said, the catastrophe that was the Ram’s 2016 season is a distant memory for Gurley as he reaches the mid-season marker as the league’s fourth leading rusher with 686 yards, his team’s third best receiver with 338 yards on 29 receptions, and the league’s leader in combined rushing and receiving touchdowns with 10.

A quarterback’s impact on his team is undeniable, but I think it’s also undeniable how important Gurley is to this team’s success and I think they’re far from done.

Danny’s Pick: To be honest I’m normally not much of a homer and I don’t love my pick, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Russell Wilson will win the MVP with a huge run in the second half of the season. Russell Wilson is good QB, but he isn’t great, but he is capable of getting really hot (if you don’t believe look at the second half of the 2015 season). With Richard Sherman out for the year, a beat up Legion of Boom, and a non-existent running game this is Wilson’s team for the rest of the 2017 season. It is probably shocking to many that the Seahawks currently have the 4th best passing offense in the NFL. Russell Wilson currently has the league’s best fourth quarter passer rating while on pace for career highs in TDs and yardage. He is also the only legitimate MVP candidate that is leading his team in both passing and rushing yards. Add in that his offensive line has been among the most inept in football one could argue that no other player is more important to his team’s success than Russell Wilson.

Carson Wentz and Drew Brees will give Wilson a run for his money. Wentz’s performance has been refreshing for a league that is looking for a next generation of QBs as players like Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers, and Brees age. Wentz is an easy favorite, but of the QBs mentioned he is surrounded by the most talent. His future is bright, but I still give the edge to Wilson with Brees shortly behind him. It will be a fun second half of 2017.

Defensive Player of the Year

Brad’s Pick: Calais Campbell, DE Jacksonville Jaguars. The 10th-year all-pro is having the best season of his career in his first year with the Jags. He’s registered a career high 11 sacks and the season is only halfway done! Jacksonville is sitting at 5-3 and boasts the NFL’s stingiest defense allowing just 14.6 points per game just one year removed from a 3-13 squad that surrendered 25 points per contest. The biggest difference? I would argue it’s the addition of the 6’8 Miami Hurricanes product. He announced his presence in the AFC South in his very first game by setting a team record for sacks in a game with four and his veteran leadership is helping the upstart Jaguars contend for a playoff spot.

Chris’s Pick: Calais Campbell is the obvious choice, and I completely agree with all points made by Brad. That said, Joey Bosa, DE Los Angeles Chargers, is my guy. The AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2016, Bosa is an absolute monster for opposing teams, and I’m giving him the edge mostly because I think he’s more valuable to the Charger’s defensive success. Calais Campbell has been a revelation in Jacksonville, but he also doesn’t drop back into coverage, and if he wasn’t there tomorrow, I believe the Jaguars would still be a nightmare for offensive lines everywhere with their pass rush. I believe the Jaguars have the best secondary in the NFL and while my next statement is akin to the ‘chicken or the egg’ dilemma, I have to believe the Jaguars secondary has helped Campbell get to the quarterback. Conversely, the Chargers are a good defense with a decent secondary, but I’m not sure Bosa benefits from their pass coverage successes as much.

Add in the fact that Joey Bosa is setting a blistering pace as he’s already the fastest player to reach 19 sacks in his first 20 games, (I know, part of this accomplishment includes achievements from last season) and six of his eight and a half sacks on the year have come in the last four games, and I think momentum will see him find continued success as he heads into the second half of the season. Oh, and Calais Campbell himself has nothing but good things to say about the young defensive end.

Danny’s Pick: I played middle linebacker back in my day and I continue to believe that the position is often underrated. They don’t get rack up the money stats (sacks or interceptions) but they are often the QB of the defense placing other players in position to make plays and they rack up huge a number of tackles. The best two MLBs in the league continue to be Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner. Luke Kuechly should be in the Defensive player of the year because he does more pre-snap than any defensive player in the league and continues to be a tackling machine. He is prone to concussions which causes me to wonder how many more years we will have the privilege of watching his genius. When Kuechly is not on the field it is obvious how much the Panthers defense misses him. He may not be the sexiest pick, but he does more for his team than anyone else in the league.

Biggest Surprise Team

Brad’s Pick: Los Angeles Rams. After starting the 2016 campaign at 3-1, it seemed as though the Rams were finally turning the corner on a rebuild that had been ongoing since 2004. Then the team collapsed winning just once more over the final 3 months of the season to finish at 4-12 and costing Jeff Fisher his job. (Technically Fisher was fired after Week 14.) Enter 31 year-old Sean McVay. LA tabbed the Redskins’ OC for their head coaching job and few knew what to expect. Vegas had the O/U at 5.5 and I, along with numerous other publications, took the under. Boy was I wrong! As I wrote earlier this week, the Rams lead the league in scoring and have already topped last year’s total. If this holds up, they would be the first team in NFL history to go from worst to first in scoring in one year. How’s that for surprising!?!?

Chris’s Pick: Here I’m taking the New York Jets. There were two teams in the off-season that everyone pegged as entering rebuild mode, some headlines even read ‘tanking’. The Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. I didn’t think the Bills were tanking, but I didn’t think the Jets were above it. They were seemingly jettisoning all of their veteran talent while looking for very little in return. Despite the purge in New York, Josh McCown and this Jets team are 4-5 with a win over Jacksonville and the Bills. Now, I don’t think they’re going to the playoffs this season (that would be crazy), but of all the teams in the league I thought this one was actively trying to lose, apparently the men on the field had other plans.

Danny’s Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars. We’ve been hearing they were going to be good for years. Everyone expected it to happen under Gus Bradley last year, but they under performed and if you are like me you wrote them off as a franchise that was on its way to competing with the Browns for its level of mediocrity. The additions of Calais Campbell, who is an absolute beast, and Leonard Fournette have sparked this team that should win a bad AFC south.

Biggest Disappointment Team

Brad’s Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe I bought too much into the Hard Knocks hype, but to me this squad has underperformed in a way that gets a lot of people fired. The season started a week late due to Hurricane Irma and the Bucs seemed relatively unfazed as they got off to a 2-1 start. Then a self-inflicted loss to the Patriots started a losing streak that torpedoed the season. From DeSean Jackson’s disappearing act to Jameis Winston’s banged up shoulder to Vernon Hargreaves inability to cover, nothing has gone right for the Bucs.

Chris’s Pick: Cincinnati Bengals. I know, I know. Big expectations, poor follow through. I’ve mentioned this once before in regards to the Bengals. But I honestly get sucked into this trap every season with this team. Andy Dalton’s numbers have been generally good, A.J. Green is a top-tier receiver in this league, and I was interested to see how Joe Mixon performed this season. I thought they would be an improved team in 2017, and possibly fighting for a playoff spot. I had these guys as a darkhorse coming into 2017, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. They’ve been awful and I can only point at the coaching here. Swapping out the offensive coordinator wasn’t enough, Marv has got to go.

Danny’s Pick: Atlanta Falcons. This is a team that perhaps has more offensive talent than any team in the league and they just look mediocre coming off a devastating Super Bowl loss last year. The defense has digressed, the offense has digressed, and I don’t think this team is going to make the playoffs. I believe it is going to take at least ten wins get into the playoffs and even that might not be enough.

Super Bowl Prediction

Brad’s Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers-New Orleans Saints. While we obviously know more at the midpoint of the season than we did back on Opening Night, I don’t believe anyone can say with confidence that there is a favorite in the NFC. We have certainly seen the next generation of QBs begin to assert itself, but I think the old guard still has a ring or two left in them collectively before they pass the baton. Every team has shown at least one weakness and there are likely still some high-impact injuries out there, but I believe the Steelers and Saints each have enough defense to complement a prolific offense capable of getting white-hot at the right time. The way the NFC lines up, the only cold weather game out there would be Philly and there is no guarantee that they will have home field. The way the AFC is shaping up, it looks like “the usual suspects” will be the only real contenders and Pittsburgh simply plays better defense than KC or New England.

Chris’s Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers-Los Angeles Rams. I kinda just feel like being sensational. And I believe in Sean McVay. I think many in the mainstream media are writing them off as a long shot for the Super Bowl. Not me. A trend I’ve noticed with this team is their ability to play decent teams close, win or lose, and dominate bad teams as they should. I’ll admit, the 49ers game is the exception to this pattern, but still, I think my observation fits. There should be some hiccups for a new coach, and young players, and the Rams are still winning despite them. No, dominating, despite them. As Brad’s mentioned, they were the worst statistical offense in the NFL last year, and now they’re the best. That’s a damn head scratcher, but certainly not a fluke. I think they’re living up to their potential. Another intriguing bit about the Rams is their success on the road. They’re 4-0 on the road and being comfortable with the uncomfortable is surely an asset in the second half of the season heading into the playoffs. Sean McVay has Jared Goff and this offense dialed in, and Aaron Donald and the defense have stepped up at times to keep this team in close games with key turnovers. I’m looking for the Rams to continue their offensive success and contend for the NFC Championship, then the Super Bowl.

Like many, I think the Steelers are the most balanced team in the AFC. They’re an effective offense with experience, and their defense has been fantastic for the most part. Big Ben hasn’t been fantastic because of turnovers, but he’s a big game player and can never be discounted. Le’Veon Bell has turned it on to the tune of 760 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground, and you can add another 219 yards receiving to a dominant first half. Antonio Brown has been exceptional and JuJu Smith-Schuster has turned heads in his rookie debut. Heading into the second half of the season, they should feel confidant considering the opposition, with the exception of their December meeting with New England.

While I’ve covered my picks, I feel compelled to mention the first place Philadelphia Eagles and red-hot Carson Wentz here as well. They’ve been very successful in the first half of the season, but I think their schedule becomes significantly tougher heading into the playoffs and I think fatigue will become a factor for them as the season wears on. Their performance against Denver proved they are for real, but sustaining that level of performance as the post-season pressure mounts is another matter entirely. Wentz will turn a lot of heads if he can continue to be the best QB in the league and keep his team winning down the stretch.

Danny’s Pick: Kansas City Chiefs – New Orleans Saints. This might be partially wishful thinking, but I think both these teams have as good a shot as any in a wide open field. I think Drew Brees is the only NFC QB, other than Russell Wilson, who has led his team to a Super Bowl victory (yes Aaron Rogers has too, but he is unlikely to get back on the field this year). Brees continues to play great football and is getting great support from the defense. I think Brees’ previous playoff experience is what will lift them past Philly and LA. I think the Rams and Eagles are more talented, but I believe experience and urgency matter and neither of those two things exist for the Rams and Eagles.

In the AFC, it is a tighter race. I think most people agree that there is a three horse race between the Chiefs, Steelers, and Patriots. Some would say it is a two horse race between the Patriots and the Steelers. I think the Chiefs will come out on top partially due to this current rough patch they are going through. Some of the Chiefs flaws have been exposed over the past month and they have a couple of weeks to remedy those flaws and get hot come playoff time. The Steelers are the most complete team in the AFC, but I don’t think Ben Rothlisberger is consistent enough at this point to win two playoff games against great competition. The Patriots defense is going to kill them in the post season.

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