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NFL Midseason Superlatives: Who Is the MVP?

Traditionally, the halfway point of each NFL season is a time to check in on the various races for end-of-year awards, like MVP and Coach of the Year. Unfortunately, thanks to the bottomless greed of the league’s never-ending crawl toward occupying more and more of our calendar until we’re watching a Tuesday night doubleheader in honor of Arbor Day, we blew right past the actual halfway point of the 2023 season around 4 p.m. ET last Sunday, and we’re now something like 53 percent of the way through this season. So let’s not be so traditional. Consider these your halfway-ish awards-ish, featuring a few honors that will actually be handed out the week of the Super Bowl, and a few that won’t, but maybe should be:

Most Valuable Player: Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson

This one is pretty simple. Jackson is executing a new offense brilliantly, and he’s the most important player to both the Ravens run game and passing game. Jackson leads the NFL in completion percentage without being a checkdown merchant (he’s tied for 12th in average intended air yards), and he leads all quarterbacks in rushing by more than 100 yards. He’s got the Ravens ranked fourth in offensive DVOA and in command of the AFC North, which might be the best division in the league. Patrick Mahomes will always have an MVP case, Josh Allen has a decent one based on his stats—though his questionable decision-making and the Bills’ foibles hurt his chances—and it’s easy to see Joe Burrow surging into contention by the end of the year. The knock on Jackson will be that he has just nine passing touchdowns so far, but he’s trailing only C.J. Stroud for fewest interceptions thrown by quarterbacks with over 1,000 passing yards, and his contributions to the run game should be more than enough to make up for that.

Sneakiest Tank Job: New York Giants

Remember last January, when the Giants won a playoff game decisively against the Vikings, proving without a doubt that Minnesota’s strong record had been inflated by late-game flukes and random chance, and infusing New York with optimism for the future? That feels like a long time ago now. The Giants were far better than the Vikings that day, but lost in the celebration was the fact that New York hadn’t exactly gotten to 9-7-1 without a few lucky bounces of its own—the Giants benefited more than any other team, even the Vikings, from a combination of opponents’ dropped passes, dropped interceptions, and missed field goals, and fumble luck.

But life comes at you fast, and the Giants are now 2-7 and quarterback Daniel Jones is lost for the season with an ACL injury. If the season ended after Week 9, the Giants would have the fourth pick in the 2024 draft, but that could get better (worse?) once Kyler Murray starts playing for the Cardinals, the team currently with the worst record in the league. The Panthers don’t own their first-round pick and therefore have little incentive to lose games (in fairness, they may not need it), and the Bears have the same record as the Giants and an easier remaining schedule. Less than a year after that playoff win, Jones’s big contract extension, and Brian Daboll’s Coach of the Year victory, the Giants have the inside track to the first pick of the draft.

Fakest Record: Pittsburgh Steelers

Who are this year’s Vikings? The Steelers have the ninth-worst point differential in the NFL. They rank 26th in expected points added per play and 29th in success rate. They go three-and-out more often than any other team in the league, they can’t block, and their offensive coordinator is so derided that locals are chanting for his firing at hockey games. Also: The Steelers are currently the no. 5 seed in the AFC and, thanks to the fact that Kenny Pickett apparently turns into vintage Tom Brady in the fourth quarter, are two games above .500. This is some Mike Tomlin BS.

Coach of the Year: John Harbaugh

Baltimore is getting a lot of love here, but Harbaugh has a good case: He’s overseen the installation of a new offense that is humming, a defense that’s playing historically good football, and the repairing of relations between the franchise and its star quarterback. A fair criticism would be that Harbaugh has a lot of help. Jackson is the offensive engine, and Mike Macdonald’s fingerprints are most visible on the defense. But Harbaugh hired Macdonald and new OC Todd Monken in the first place, which is the kind of thing a good coach should get credit for, and making the bold decision to move on from veteran coordinators like Wink Martindale and Greg Roman isn’t terribly common, even if it was time.

Most Random Quarterback to Start a Game: Clayton Tune

There have been some absolute randos playing under center this year. A combination of injuries, roster mismanagement, and the addition of the emergency third-quarterback rule has led to the likes of Tune, PJ Walker, Brett Rypien, Jaren Hall, Joshua Dobbs, Tyson Bagent, and, now, Tommy DeVito starting games and presumably messing up Immaculate Grid answers for decades to come.

So who’s the most random rando of all?

DeVito, who has played in relief for both Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor but will get his first start this week, would win this one if the Giants would let him throw the ball, but they won’t. So I’m giving it to Tune, who started for the Cardinals last week after Arizona traded Dobbs to the Vikings, and will now be benched for Kyler Murray. To Mr. Tune: Congratulations, it has been nice knowing you, even though I really don’t.

Coolest Play: 255-Pound Houston Texans Fullback Andrew Beck’s 85-Yard Kick Return Touchdown

This was sick.

Most Disrespectful to the 2007 New England Patriots: Josh McDaniels

Across the league, a major trend this season has been disrespecting the legacy of the 2007 Patriots. Bill Belichick, the leader of that team, which went 16-0 in the regular season, has suffered the two worst losses of his career. One offensive assistant from that team, Bill O’Brien, has current Pats quarterback Mac Jones looking worse than he did under Matt Patricia. The 2007 team’s offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, was fired in the middle of the night from his job as head coach of the Raiders. Respectfully, guys: You are all kind of making it seem like it was just Tom Brady all along.

Analytics Darlings: The Buffalo Bills

The Bills are 5-4, out of the current playoff picture and generally freaking out. Also: The Bills are second in the league in point differential, fifth in DVOA, and second in offensive DVOA. The numbers love these fellas! This does not make Bills fans feel better.

For more on this, check out The Play Sheet.

Rookie of the Year: Houston Texans QB C.J. Stroud

Technically, this should be Offensive Rookie of the Year, with a separate Defensive Rookie of the Year category that will probably go to Jalen Carter or Devon Witherspoon. But let’s just talk about Stroud: The no. 2 pick has been not just good for the Texans, but historically good. He started his career by setting the NFL record for most pass attempts (191) before his first interception, and most recently, he set the single-game record for passing yards by a rookie quarterback with 470 in Houston’s 39-37 win against the Buccaneers last week. Stroud has shown a rare ability to throw downfield and create explosive plays while protecting the football, and he’s putting together not just an (almost certainly) award-winning season but a special one in a historical context.

Hottest Take: Samuel L. Jackson

At what point do we start the Rams coaching conversation??!!

— Samuel L. Jackson (@SamuelLJackson) November 5, 2023

Before Sunday, actor Samuel L. Jackson had never tweeted about the Rams. But I guess if Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., is going to flex his posting fingers, it’ll be for something spicy, like firing the Rams’ 63-44 head coach, whose young squad is overachieving, if anything.

Moving the Ball at the Pace of Midtown Traffic at Rush Hour: The New York Jets

Here is the thing about the New York City area’s two professional football teams: They simply cannot move the football. The Jets and Giants are the two worst teams in the NFL by total offensive EPA. They have 10 combined passing touchdowns. They both rank in the bottom five in total offensive yards and yards per play. But the Jets get the nod here because they had eight weeks to make a move for a quarterback not named Zach Wilson and they didn’t, and now they haven’t had a touchdown drive of longer than one play in over a month. They chose this. Let New Jersey have them.

Most Likely to Possess the Football for Long Enough to Go to the Store: The Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles lead the league in longest average drive time at 3:16, but even that seems low to me. My impression of an Eagles offensive drive is essentially the steady shove of a tectonic plate, finished off with Jason Kelce burying people.

MVP (Most Valuable Pop Star): Uhh …

I don’t know what you want from me here. She left for Argentina. Travis Kelce has 72 receiving yards in his last two games combined!!! Give it to Hailee Steinfeld.

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