MVP: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson deserves consideration after a stellar performance in taking down the previously unbeaten New England Patriots on Sunday night with a 37-20 victory.
But Wilson also delivered Sunday, showing again why he should be considered the leading candidate for the MVP award. He brought his team back after it fell into a 21-7 hole against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, engineering a would-be game-winning drive that resulted in a missed field goal as time expired and then an actual game-winning touchdown in overtime of the 40-34 win. It was a league-leading fourth time this season he produced a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Wilson has completed 68.3 percent of his passes this season, and he has thrown for 8.6 yards per attempt and 22 touchdowns against just one interception. His quarterback rating Sunday was 133.7. Since 2012, he has had 20 games in which he had a 130 quarterback rating or better. That tops Drew Brees’s 19.
Wilson is carrying a team with a defense that simply can’t shut down any opponent, and the Seahawks are very much in the playoff mix at 7-2.
Coach of the year: Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
This one is pretty easy. When Brees suffered a broken thumb, Teddy Bridgewater came off the bench and led New Orleans to a 5-0 record before Brees came back and threw for 373 yards in a 22-point win over the Arizona Cardinals.
It put on display just how well-coached the 7-1 Saints are, and it reminded that they are the most complete team in football. The defense allows just 19.5 points per game, stifling opposing running games and getting pressure on quarterbacks.
But what puts Payton over the top is his play-calling, which put Bridgewater in position to succeed by getting the ball out quickly and used creativity to take advantage of playmakers such as Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Taysom Hill. Bridgewater completed 67.7 percent of his passes and had nine touchdowns with only two interceptions.
With Brees back, the Saints have a great chance to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC as long as they can sneak ahead of the unbeaten San Francisco 49ers, who have one of the league’s toughest closing schedules. The Saints’ schedule is much more manageable.
Offensive player of the year: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
This is always a tough award to project, because the MVP honor almost always goes to the league’s top quarterback, so we’ll focus on the best non-quarterback here. Through nine weeks, that has been McCaffrey, who is the most complete running back in football.
He has helped the Panthers to a 5-3 start and five wins in the past six games behind backup quarterback Kyle Allen, and he is putting up historic numbers. McCaffery joined Jim Brown and Matt Forte as the only players to put up 150 or more yards from scrimmage in six of his first eight games in a season. He has rushed for 861 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and he has caught 42 passes for 363 yards and three scores. He’s on pace for a 1,500-plus-yard rushing season and more than 2,000 combined yards.
McCaffrey’s dual running and pass-catching ability has kept the Panthers in the wild-card race without injured quarterback Cam Newton.
Defensive player of the year: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
This is the most wide-open race of the awards. Sack leaders Shaquil Barrett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns and Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals play for losing teams. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (more on him later) and New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore probably deserve consideration, too.
But when in doubt, go with the best defensive player, and that’s Donald. He remains unblockable. With five sacks and two forced fumbles, he is unlikely to come close to last year’s 20½ sacks, but Donald continues to win the eye test. Even when he goes up against double- and triple-team blocks, he still wins.
Offensive rookie of the year: Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
A case can be made for Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, the draft’s No. 1 pick, who recently led a defense-starved team on a three-game winning streak. But we’ll go with Jacobs, who has helped the Raiders get off to a 4-4 start. His 120-yard game in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions was representative of what he has been doing all season, rushing for 4.9 yards per carry for a total of 740 yards.
He has helped Coach Jon Gruden establish a physical personality on offense, a big part of the Raiders’ surprising start.
Defensive rookie of the year: Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers
This is the easiest award to choose. The 49ers were the second-worst team in football last year, and thanks to the additions of Bosa and Dee Ford, they are 8-0 and the favorites to not just win the NFC West but compete for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Bosa entered the NFL with flawless technique and great pass-rushing ability, and he has recorded seven sacks and an interception while helping transform a defense that is allowing just 12.8 points per game. Many thought before the draft that Bosa was the best player in his class, and he has lived up to that billing.
Around the NFL
Can it get any worse for Adam Gase and the New York Jets? They lost a 26-18 disaster to the Miami Dolphins and have now have established themselves as perhaps the worst team in the NFL. The Dolphins are believed to be tanking to get the first pick in the 2020 draft, whereas the Jets were one of the busiest teams in free agency, paying top dollar for Le’Veon Bell, C.J. Mosley, Jamison Crowder and others. Sam Darnold looks lost at quarterback. The offense is hopeless. The locker room appears to be a mess. It’s a bad situation.
Give the Pittsburgh Steelers credit. They risked losing a high first-round pick when they traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick. They figured Fitzpatrick might be better than what they could have drafted if they ended up in the top 10 next year, and so far they are right. In his seven games with the Steelers, Fitzpatrick has four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The Steelers are now 4-4 after their win over the Indianapolis Colts.
The Houston Texans have a chance to take control of the AFC South. After beating the Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-3, in London, they watched as the Colts lost to Pittsburgh, with quarterback Jacoby Brissett suffering an MCL sprain in the process. Brissett could miss several weeks. The Jaguars, meanwhile, might be ready to have Nick Foles back at quarterback. Gardner Minshew II has been a great fill-in since Foles broke his clavicle, but he had three turnovers in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss and is now 0-4 against teams with winning records.