Thursday, October 12, 2006

The NFL is One-Fourth Over. Let's Hand Out Some Hardware.

Week 5 of the NFL season is now a wrap, and that means that every team has played at least four games, and that means that the season is technically and officially a fourth of the way completed. Let's see how things have shaken out as we round the quarter mile marker, shall we?

Most Valuable Player
This isn't even debatable. Donovan McNabb is playing the best football out of anyone in the NFL right now. Expectations weren't exactly soaring for the Eagles or McNabb heading into the season, and yet you could make the case that there isn't a team in the NFL playing better than the Eagles. Throw out one quarter in the Meadowlands, and the Eagles are 5-0 and right there in discussions with the Bears as the best team in football.

McNabb is the reason the Eagles are playing the way they are: He's played virtually mistake free football in the Eagle's pass happy offense - no small feat, considering defenses know the Eagles are going to pass the majority of the time and no one on the Eagle's receiving corps is going to a Pro Bowl anytime soon. He's been accurate from the pocket, and scrambled only when he's really needed to - really, his decision making in regards to tucking the ball and running has really been flawless. And his stoic, unshakable, borderline too-cool leadership skills have the Eagles as confident as any team in the NFL right now. Statistically, he's been absolutely dominant - his 1602 pass yards are nearly 300 more than anyone else in the NFL and his 11 pass TDs and 14 total TDs are tops in the NFL. Plus his fantasy numbers are ridiculous; if he's not leading your league in total points, well...find a new league. Throw in the fact that he torched Dallas and by extension the man who successfully destroyed his team a year ago, and there isn't too much Donnie Mac hasn't done through five weeks.

McNabb still has to shake that "chokes in the clutch" moniker, but his 3 TD, 350+ pass yards performance against Dallas in a game as highly promoted as at least a playoff game should help to silence the critics - for now. Think of this way: Tom Brady excluded, is there a QB you'd rather have under center for your team? Palmer is a turnover machine, Manning is a notorious choke artist, Grossman is still too young and unpredictable. No, Donnie Mac is your man. He's the MVP in a landslide.

Least Valuable Player
Ahmad Carroll. When you are let go by the Packers because you can't cover anyone, that's it. There's really no worse fate, is there? Maybe an o-lineman cut by the Texans. When the group who is the absolute worst in its profession says "you aren't good enough, not even as a backup," well, really aren't good enough. The Packers don't even think highly enough of him to use him as a backup! That's just mind-boggling.

What's the real life equivalent of this? The Sports Reporters kicking you out? Getting bumped off your local sports station for the "Boom Goes the Dynamite" Guy?

Most Sickening Injury
Depends on your perspective: as a fantasy owner, hearing the news that Shaun Alexander had succumbed to the Madden Curse had to feel like a roller coaster bottoming out - only for going on six weeks now. In real life, though, Chris Simms getting his spleen destroyed would qualify as your winner in pretty much any year in which Joe Theisman didn't have his career ended.

Rookie of the Year
Tough one. Real tough. In a close decision, I'm going to have to give it to Mario Williams. He's really played extremely...sike! Ah, that'll never get old. You really thought I was going to try to make a case for him, didn't you?

It comes down to two guys: Reggie Bush or Laurence Maroney. Both already have memorable plays that we'll probably be seeing on highlight reels 15 years from now: Bush running back the punt to seal the deal against Tampa Bay; Maroney's video-game level stiff arm against the Bengals. Without them, both their teams would be considerably worse off. Neither has been used exclusively as a feature back yet, either: Deuce McCallister still gets to bulk of the carries in NO; Maroney splits time with Corey Dillon. Up to this point, Maroney has turned in the best single-game performance when he absolutely lit up the Bengals in a game in which the Bengals were supposed to assert their dominance over the "fading" Pats. But Bush is leading the NFL in catches as a running back, and he did make a game-winning play.

Through five weeks, I'll give the nod to Bush. His presence alone makes the Saints offense completely different. He has to be accounted for at all times. I have no first hand knowledge of this (somewhat surprisingly, not too may NFL teams have left their scouting reports laying on my couch), but I would imagine defenses are changed and geared around him much the same way team's handle Ron Mexico. When you can change a game just by being on the field, that's saying something. By simply lining up - either in the backfield, the slot, or a wideout - he's made the passing game easier on Drew Brees (not to mention Marques Colston, who we will get to later).

Bush has a Saints team no one expected much out of at 4-1; Maroney has helped lead the Pats to a 4-1 record as well. But c'mon, its the Pats. He has to be good, doesn't he? In a close one, Reggie gets the hardware.

Most Embarrassing Moment of the Year
Getting benched for Joey Harrington. Yea, sure, Culpepper is hurt or whatever, but I'm not sold that that is the sole reason he's watching from the sideline. His play has been atrocious, especially considering the weapons he has around him. I'm curious if he is really hurt or if he is just suffering from David Carr Syndrome (crappy lines regularly gets you killed; shatters any remaining confidence to take more than a three-step drop). But the fact remains, the spastic Joey Harrington took his job. And that's exactly what Harrington is, a giant spaz. He's like a five year old who just sucked down a case of pixie sticks. Calm down, Joey. That's neat you got a uniform and everything; we see you. Sheesh.

Coach of the Year
Art Shell. Ah man, that one will never get old either.

Through five weeks, this award belongs to Sean Payton, although I'm willing to listen to arguments for a handful of other coaches. Payton inherited a team that was in complete disarray after last season. Granted, they got rid of Aaron Brooks and the Katrina tragedy is now somehow benefiting them (which is insane in its own right), but Peyton has the newly thrown together Saints off to a 4-1 start.

Think about it: his two best players are rookies: Bush and Colston. They signed a quarterback that they weren't even sure was going to be able to throw on opening day. He's managed the potential cat-fight between Deuce and Bush immaculately (haven't heard a peep out of either one of them). And can you name one player on their defense? I'm serious, off the top of your head, name one. The only one I can think of is Scott Fujita, and that's only because Joe Theisman called him Scott Fajita on national television (I really, really wish I was making that up). Oh, and Mike McKenzie, but really only because of his hair.

Now, they haven't exactly knocked off the NFL's elite, but they did shut down Atlanta, which no one else has been able to do this year. The fact that the entire nation is cheering for them may help, but it also puts a level of attention on the Saints that no other team has to deal with. All told, I'd say Payton has handled an unprecedented situation with aplomb (I really like that word, and I hope to use it again someday).

Worst Coach of the Year
Tom Coughlin. When two of your best three players, in a nine-month span, say the other team straight up outcoached you, something isn't right there. Shockey's comments were especially alarming, because he said the Seahawks were in defenses the Gaints had never seen before. NFL coaches tend to pride themselves on staying in the office until 4 in the morning, pouring meticulously over game tape, so that they know exactly what is coming every week? Having zero social life and working 25-hour days are sort of a badge of honor for people in this line of work, correct? So not only did Shockey say the other coach did a much better job, he made Coughlin look like an absolute jackass to all of his peers and called out his work ethic as well. This can't end well. Man I'm pumped.

His old-school disciplinarian shtick seems to be wearing thin, too. I have no problem with discipline, but it seems like Coughlin is a jerk just because he's in charge; there doesn't seem to be a well thought out reason behind his actions. The Giants just don't seem motivated to play for him; the Giants don't even start to try until the second half. If Coughlin is coaching the Giants at this time next year, I'll be quite stunned.

On a personal note, Coughlin has this annoying habit, after every questionable call or poor decision by one of his players, to throw his hands up in the air and make a face like Jeremy Shockey just farted in his face. Plus, he's usually screaming something to the effect of "Ahhh, what the hell do ya mean?!?! C'mon...No! No way! Ahhh!" That's annoying as hell to watch, I can't even imagine seeing it everyday in practice and film sessions. Maybe Shannon Sharpe had it right last year when he said "I'd rather die in an abandoned building and not have my family know what happened to me than play for this guy."

(On a random note that has nothing to do with Tom Coughlin, Mark Schlereth just said that if the Steelers lose this week, they are done and you can "put a stamp on them." Why would we do that? So we can mail them somewhere? Don't you mean "put a fork in them," Mark?)

The "Where The Hell Did He Come From?" Award.
Several worthy candidates here: Greg Jennings from the Pack, Jericho Cotchery of the Jets, Mike Furrey with the Lions, but I'm giving this to Saints rookie Marques Colston. The seventh-round pick out of Hofstra is 6th in the league in total recieving yards and his three touchdowns are just one off the league lead. He seems to be Drew Brees' favorite target, and the main reason the Saints felt comfortable trading away Dante Stallworth. Also, I didn't think the Saints had won enough awards yet.

My question is this: how do guys this good fall this far in the draft? Colston came in and producred right away. No one in the NFL saw this potential? Not even a hint? I think the NFL needs to reevaluate its evaluation process.

Honorable mention to Bernard Berrian. Five plays of 40+ yards. As Kenny Maybe would say, "But not all in one game, that would be a record or something." But at least I'd heard of Berrian before. Colston, I mean, Where they hell did he come from? A little place I like to call The Hof.

The Jumping in the Pool and Getting Wet Award.
Terrell Owens blowing up in the sideline against the Eagles. Well, it wasn't really a blowup, but he did scream "Why am I even here?!" and "Are you fucking kidding me?!" Mild, for T.O.'s standards for sure, but I mean...we all know what's coming here, don't we? I, for one, am so excited for it I can barely sit still. I feel like its Christmas, except I'm not sure when its coming.

Nothing will top last year - that is like the Citizen Kane of destroying a team - but T.O. is gonna lose it at some point this year. But with Owens casually throwing Bledsoe under the bus, it's going to happen soon. Plus, the Eagles showed how to completely dismantle Bledsoe - not that it was the world's biggest secret, but still - when they pressured the hell out of him up the middle. Not everyone has the talent to do that, but if you can, Dallas is screwed. Except more warbling passes in TO's direction that are easily picked off. And if they switch over to Romo, even better. Throw in Bill Parcels and Jerry Jones, and this is the perfect storm.

Comeback Player of the Year
See Hernia, Sports and/or McNabb, Donovan and/or Player, Most Valuable.

Biggest Home Field Advantage
I was reading somewhere, I forget where now, that Seattle - with all the claims that they pump in fan noise - is the only team in the NFL with a distinct homefield advantage. How ridiculous is that? Have you seen a single game played in New Orleans? The energy in that place is ridiculous. The Saints are basically up a touchdown before the game even starts, and they may as well have Katrina herself playing defense for them. I would go as far as to say that no team in the history of the NFL has had a bigger homefield advantage than the Saints. Now, can the fans keep that up all year? Maybe not, but I wouldn't bet against them.

(Before writing this, I had no idea how much I loved the Saints. I don't even think I like them this much, really...but I have no way to account for me basically turning this into a Saints love-fest. I would apologize, but I think all those Saints really should win those awards. Trust me, I'm at a loss as much as you.)

Trend That's Got to Stop
Teams with athletic QBs running the option from the shotgun. Namely, Atlanta and Tennessee. It might be working right now (for Tennessee, I am using "work" fairly loosely), but sooner or later, both Vick and Vince Young are going to take some vicious shots that are going to knock them out for a game - or possibly longer.

If you are going to run the option in the NFL, you have to do it with a glorified running back playing QB. You can't put your franchise QB in harms way that often and that regularly. Everyone knows this, even the league office. (Why do you think quarterbacks are protected the way they are? I mean, those alleged roughing the passer calls are shameless.) Vick is already a walking emergency room waiting to happen. VY's been doing it since college, but not with these lighting quick maniacs coming out of nowhere. If either of these teams keep this up, its going to end badly.

Sure, its fun as hell seeing Vick and VY in open space. And neither of them can really throw the ball, so watching them in the pocket is like slamming your head against a know what? Run the option.

Trend That Needs to Continue
The Bears and/or the Colts need to keep winning. Preferably the Bears, but I'll take the Colts if it comes down to it. One of those two needs - needs - to go undefeated this season and then win the Super Bowl, if only so that those jackasses from the '72 Dolphins can't get together and pop their champagne bottles. That tradition gets under my skin like you few other things.

They are basically the equivalent of those losers who were good in high school and spend the next 40 years sitting on the same bar stool reliving the glory days with the same group of losers and anyone unlucky enough to accidentally sit next to them. Shut up; we are aware you used to be good, and we really respect and admire the accomplishment. Now go away. Please.

It is fairly improbable that either team runs their record to 16-0, but I can hope, can't I? The Colts, although they seem to be barely hanging on this year, are regular season Adonises, but they'll probably blow it in the playoffs. Damnit. The Bears, with that D, the new explosive offense...they at least have the capabilities to make it interesting.

You'd be hard pressed to find a team with a more favorable schedule. Since they still have their bye upcoming, the Bears need to win 11 straight games. Nine of those games, the Bears could probably win without scoring an offensive touchdown: @ Arizona, San Fran, Miami, @ NYJ, Minny, @ St. Louis, Tampa Bay, @ Detroit, Green Bay. That's nine teams that almost certainly aren't making the playoffs. Only the Vikings and the Rams even have a winning record at this point.

Two games stick out as possible pitfalls: at the Giants in Week 10 and at New England in Week 12. As long as they come to play early against the Giants, I don't see a problem there. That New England game is scary, though. Both teams are accustomed to playing in cold climates, though, so NE loses that advantage. It'll be a good game, that's for sure.

Could this be the season one team goes winless (the Raiiiiiidas) and one team goes undefeated? We shall see, we shall see...

Read the Rest After the Jump...