By: Ryan Croke
The 2021 NFL Season is nearly halfway done, and it’s time we reflect on the events of this season with some awards given to various coaches, players, and teams whose performance so far has earned them recognition.
MVP – Josh Allen
The MVP race this year is currently between 2 superstar QBs who have been at the top of their game week after week so far. First, we have Kyler Murray, of the Arizona Cardinals, who hold a top record in the league going 7-1 so far, with their only loss coming against the Green Bay Packers, another top contender in the NFC. However, this loss was more than embarrassing for Kyler and the Cards, as Aaron Rodgers was throwing the ball without his 3 best receivers playing the game due to coronavirus concerns, and eventually, his tight end was forced to leave for injury. This loss is enough to blemish the great start to the year for Arizona and its superstar QB, but there is much more to be happy about. Murray has shown that he has it all, he’s extremely accurate and smart with the football, is more than capable of escaping the pocket under pressure and gaining yards on the ground, and has a knack for turning plays that seem lost into positive yardage. He is leading one of the most potent offenses in the league and finds a way to make each and every one of his receivers involved with the team’s success, and that is a quality that cannot be overlooked. Last year, Murray and the Cardinals had great success to start the year, although not to this degree, but ended up falling flat in the second half of the season. It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself.
The other candidate for this honor is Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, who has bounced back from a rocky week 1 against Pittsburgh to have a dominant start to this year. He and the Bills have punished opposing teams on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense, outscoring their opponents so far this year 229-109. Allen has found ways to incorporate every single member of his receiving core into the offense and is also one of the best quarterbacks in the league in terms of rushing ability. He boasts one of the strongest arms in football but is surprisingly precise with ball placement, and he’s one of the most well-rounded quarterbacks we have seen in the NFL in a long time. Josh Allen deserves the MVP.
Biggest Surprise – Mike Williams
If you told NFL fans that Mike Williams would be the biggest X-Factor on the Chargers’ offense this season, people would’ve laughed in your face. But that is the reality we live in, as Williams continues to dominate opponents, as he has 4 games this year with 7 or more receptions and over 80 yards receiving. He’s had a lackluster last 2 weeks, but considering he’s going against 2 of the best defensive schemes in the league in the Patriots and Ravens, there is little cause for concern. Williams is well on his way to 1,000 receiving yards this year, which is impressive considering he’s only caught 35 passes so far. He’s already got 6 TD receptions on the year, a side of Williams nobody saw coming. He is a borderline star receiver, and if he keeps this up for the rest of the year, he deserves that title.
Biggest Disappointment – Miami Dolphins
This award comes down to two worthy recipients, either of whom one could argue is the more worthy of the two, them being the increasingly disappointing Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins. These two teams have failed to live up to expectations, as the once Super Bowl favorite Chiefs have fallen to a disappointing 4-4 to start the year, while the Dolphins currently sit at 1-7, last in the AFC East, behind the pitiful Jets.
Kansas City has lost to several other AFC contenders, including a close loss against the Chargers and blowout defeats against Tennessee and Buffalo. The supposed juggernaut of the AFC has yet to flex their supposed strength, as Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce, what should be the most dangerous offensive trio in the league, have yet to show us what we know they are capable of. The good news for Kansas City is that the problems should be solvable, as if this team is as talented as we know them to be, they can definitely turn this around.
The same cannot be said for the Miami Dolphins, however, as cracks continue to form within the organization. This team was supposed to be a dark horse contender, but instead, they have fallen flat, even before Tua Tagvailoa went down with an injury. It’s clear that Miami has yet to fully gel as a team, and unfortunately, the time for them to gel has come and gone. We are in the thick of the season now, and they had their chance to get their act together. Head coach Brian Flores, a Belichick protegé, is on the hot seat right now, and some may argue for good reason. Flores still has plenty to offer for this Dolphins squad as a play-caller, they just fail to perform on Sunday, which puts his reputation in jeopardy. The Dolphins should be better than this, and when a talented team doesn’t live up to expectations, organizations panic, and the house gets cleaned. It’s likely this will be the case with Miami, either in the offseason or before the year is over, because this team has no business being 1-7. The Dolphins get this award over Kansas City for one reason: They’ve sealed their fate.
Sorry for your loss – The Las Vegas Raiders Roster, Derrick Henry
It is impossible to say if Derrick Henry or the Raiders’ roster is more deserving of this award than the other. Henry just went down for the rest of the season with a fracture in his foot, likely a result of his incredible workload, as he averaged more than 27 carries per game in the 8 games he played this year. This was ultimately inevitable, as the Titans cannot get any offense going without him, and it’s been well known for years that when running backs have a certain workload, they tend to get injured long-term pretty easily. Hopefully, that’s not the case with Henry, who is the most dominant running back to grace the NFL since Marshawn Lynch. Henry was likely going to have a second consecutive 2000 yard season, but the Titans continue to rely too much on their powerhouse back, and they paid the price. Tennesee’s Super Bowl hopes are all but gone with this injury, but fans should have no sympathy for them. It’s their own fault Henry is out with an injury. Hopefully, he recovers quickly.
As for the Raiders’ roster, this team has had to endure a lot over the past few weeks. First, their head coach Jon Gruden got fired after emails leaked to the public in which he used incredibly offensive language that deservedly cost him his job. A coach being fired mid-season is usually a tough obstacle to overcome, but when that is followed by one of the team’s better young receivers in Henry Ruggs III being charged with a DUI resulting in death for driving over 150mph while intoxicated, a crime that finds him without a job and a possible jail sentence of up to 20 years, it’ll be a miracle if this team doesn’t collapse under the stress. They’re 2-0 without Gruden calling plays, but now, with the recent controversies surrounding Ruggs, this team will be pushed to their limits. They have the ability to adapt to the situation and have a successful season despite the recent tragedies, and while it may seem unlikely they do, this team has shown and continues to show incredible resilience. Don’t be surprised if the team’s surprise emergence continues and they make a playoff push. The Raiders’ roster is the rightful winners of this award, but the fact that King Henry will likely be a top 5 running back in terms of rushing yards come season’s end cannot be overlooked.
Most impressive – Baltimore Ravens, Cooper Kupp
Lamar Jackson’s teammates finally stepped up to the plate this year. Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews are both having career years. The defense is doing well despite big names like Matthew Judon leaving in free agency, and Lamar Jackson himself is having an absolute killer year, showing that he can in fact throw the ball to all the doubters. The Ravens have fired on all cylinders so far, even if they have suffered tough losses against Cincinnati and Las Vegas. I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Ravens, as one week they’re winning against the currently 0-8 Detroit Lions via a 66-yard field goal, the longest in NFL history, by Justin Tucker as time expires, and the next, they blowout a contending team in the Los Angeles Chargers 34-6. This team is a little inconsistent, but at their peak, they are a top 2 team in the AFC and are a force to be reckoned with. This is their year to win a Super Bowl with Lamar Jackson, especially if the Chiefs continue to play the way they have.
The other recipient of this award is LA Rams wideout Cooper Kupp, who currently leads the league with 924 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions, an incredible feat through 8 games. He is on pace to break Calvin Johnson’s record for receiving yards in a single season (1,946), and his play is a joy to witness. Of all the receivers in the league fans would expect to top the record, Cooper Kupp would be an outside-the-box pick, to say the least. But anything can happen on any given Sunday, and Cooper Kupp’s 2021 campaign so far is proof of that.
No receivers award – Mac Jones
One year ago, this award would’ve gone to Patriots QB Cam Newton. This year, it goes to Newton’s successor, rookie QB Mac Jones, who has had a white-hot start to his NFL career under Bill Belichick. His throws are accurate, on time, and easy to catch, yet nobody on the Pats can haul them in consistently. This team would not be only 4-4 if they did. The heartbreaker in overtime against Dallas would’ve been over had Nelson Agholor caught a ball while he was wide open with only the safety to beat and plenty of room to do so. But alas, Agholor didn’t catch it, as many of the Patriots’ receivers fail to catch Jones’ great passes each and every game. Mac’s play is encouraging for the franchise, and if they can get a quality receiver to help him out, he will only get better. Do your job, Bill Belichick, as you would say to yourself. Get your rookie quarterback someone to throw to. He deserves it.
Tough losses galore – Patriots and Lions
Dan Campbell’s Detroit Lions squad may be 0-8, but that doesn’t keep him from being one of the most likable coaches in the NFL. He pulls out all the stops on gameday, and his team gives it their all every game, taking several great teams down to the wire, but the troubling reality that his players simply aren’t good, save D’Andre Swift and maybe TJ Hockenson, has doomed the Lions to a winless campaign so far this year. They have lost in heartbreaking fashion, such as losing to the longest field goal in NFL history that bounced off the crossbar and in as time expired, the team’s defense collapsing in the final 30 seconds against Minnesota leading to another game-winning field goal as time expired, and taking a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the LA Rams to their brink with gutsy play-calling and all-out effort from the Lions’ entire roster, but failing to secure the win in the end, sum up what this year has been like for Detroit: Heartbreaking.
As for Bill Belichick’s evil empire up in the northeast, the Patriots have also suffered infuriating losses at the hands of teams that should be making short work of them. An overtime heart-wrencher against the Cowboys and a loss against the Bucs in Tom Brady’s return to New England that came down to a 56-yard field goal bouncing off the post in a torrential downpour are the most obvious examples of games that saw the Pats lay it all out on the line all for nothing. Regardless, the Patriots have proven that they are a talented team in these losses, while the Lions have proven something much worse: That they are cursed.
Biggest Baby – Vic Fangio
This award was created for the sole purpose of exposing Broncos coach Vic Fangio for the sorry coach he is. After having to play a real NFL team for the first time all year in the Baltimore Ravens, Fangio complained about opposing coach Jim Harbaugh for calling a run play on the last snap of regulation when the Ravens were up by 16 rather than kneeling it, as Harbaugh was apparently putting player safety at risk for, according to Fangio, the dumb purpose of tying an NFL record for consecutive games with 100+ rushing yards by a single team. If Fangio wouldn’t allow his players to try to make history by calling a simple short-run play at the end of a game, he has no business being a locker room leader that expects to lead a successful football team. Fangio had the respect of a small group of NFL fans that felt what he was doing in Denver was commendable, and this moment is sure to have lost the support of most of them.
Still Skeptical – Cardinals
The final award belongs to the Arizona Cardinals, who may have been the last undefeated team before losing to the short-handed Packers, but they are earning this award not only because of that loss, but because history tends to repeat itself. Granted, this Arizona roster is much better and playing like a legit contender this year, but they had a hot start to last year’s campaign yet ended up running out of steam in the final weeks of the season and missed out on the playoffs because of it. This team has it all, a great quarterback in Kyler Murray, a receiving core in which almost anyone can have a big game at any given time, and a running back tandem of Chase Edmonds and James Conner, both of whom have been quietly having great seasons. On top of that, their defense came to play this time around, and their defensive unit continues to hold some of the NFL’s better offenses to low point totals. However, their schedule is deceptively easy, even if they are in a division that would be the best in football if not for injuries to key players on the Seahawks and 49ers. People should be skeptical of Arizona until the season’s end, as they still have to prove they can hang with some of the NFL’s best, and we won’t fully know if they can until the playoffs begin.
This concludes the midseason NFL awards, be sure to check back when the playoffs are about to begin for the end-of-season awards, in which we will see what changed with the teams, coaches, and players who were honored today, and what teams will deserve recognition for their efforts in the latter half of the year.