There’s a lot of football left, but with eight eventful weeks already in the books, it’s time to take stock. Which players are wowing their way to hardware? Which postgame press conference outfits dazzled? Which boneheaded play is bound to haunt us all for the rest of time? Ringer NFL experts Kevin Clark, Danny Kelly, and Robert Mays have some thoughts.
1. First-Half MVP
Kevin Clark: Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders. Tom Brady has played only four games, and while he’s looked good, he hasn’t made nearly the impact on the season that Carr has. Carr is the closest thing to Brett Favre we’ve seen in years.
Danny Kelly: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons. Ryan leads the NFL in passing yards (2,636) and passing touchdowns (19), is second in yards per attempt (9.4), has thrown just four picks, and has posted a 115.8 quarterback rating. Dude is balling out. Matty Ice has figured out the Kyle Shanahan offense and is carrying the defense-challenged Falcons to playoff contention.
Robert Mays: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots. It seems impossible that Brady could be the MVP after only four starts, but right now, I’m just not sure there’s a better choice. Ryan hasn’t played quite as well as his numbers might suggest, and it’s still tough for me to buy Carr’s Raiders as an honest-to-god great offense. Brady has New England humming, and as he nears his 40th birthday, he’s putting up per-game numbers that rival any season of his career.
2. First-Half Coach of the Year
Clark: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings. He lost his starting quarterback, replaced that QB with Sam Freaking Bradford, has dealt with a slew of other injuries including ones to Adrian Peterson and key offensive linemen, and yet has his team looking like the top seed in the NFC, even amid recent stumbles.
Kelly: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots. It’s boring, I know, but the guy schemed his way to a 3–1 record without Brady. Offensively and defensively, Belichick continually finds ways to exploit opponents’ weaknesses, and when he was forced to play without his future Hall of Fame quarterback, he got the absolute most out of the talent available to him.
Mays: Zimmer. No Teddy Bridgewater, no Peterson, no starting tackles, no problem. Minnesota was the league’s last unbeaten team and remains a playoff threat because Zimmer has turned his defense into the most terrifying unit in the league.
3. First-Half Offensive Player of the Year
Clark: Carr. He’s the MVP, and his 17-touchdown, three-interception performance thus far makes him not only a winner, but the ringleader of the NFL’s most fun offense.
Kelly: A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals. He leads the NFL in catches (59) and yards (896), has made one-handed circus grabs a regular occurrence, and is still somehow underrated. No one can match up with this guy; he’s an offensive powerhouse with unequaled body control and hands.
Mays: David Johnson, RB, Cardinals. Even as the rest of Arizona’s offense has crumbled around him, Johnson has continued to look like a Terminator in a helmet. He’s on pace for a ridiculous 2,224 yards from scrimmage — which would be the 20th-highest total since the merger — and has scored a touchdown once every 19.5 carries. This dude is not made from the same stuff as the rest of us.
4. First-Half Defensive Player of the Year
Clark: Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos. The Broncos defense is still good enough to make the team a contender, and that has everything to do with the disruptive Miller, who is following up his dominant Super Bowl with perhaps his best season yet.
Kelly: Miller. He remains unblockable as a pass rusher, and with 8.5 sacks through eight games, is far outpacing his numbers from last season. With J.J. Watt on the sideline, there’s not a better defensive player active right now.
Mays: Miller. Sack numbers can occasionally be deceiving, with players racking up monster games against awful tackles and going quiet for weeks at a time. But Miller’s 8.5 actually undersell how good he’s been. He’s been a constant terror for the Denver defense and looks every bit the player he was during last year’s playoffs.
5. First-Half Offensive Rookie of the Year
Clark: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys. Elliott already has almost 800 yards, and his only competition for the award at this point is Carson Wentz, who has cooled considerably while Elliott continues to tear up the league. The Cowboys may have to reduce his workload — he has 159 carries already — but 1,000 yards is a virtual lock. And so is a playoff spot.
Kelly: Elliott. He has lived up to the hype and then some. The fourth overall pick is leading all NFL rushers with 114.1 yards per game, has scored five touchdowns, and looks every bit the capstone piece to the foundational running game that Dallas has been building for the past five years.
Mays: Elliott. Yes, the Dallas line is fantastic, but Elliott is on pace for 1,826 yards, and that’s hard to discount no matter the circumstances. Elliott’s teammate Dak Prescott also has a claim to the award, but Sunday night’s win over the Eagles — in which neither Prescott nor the line played particularly well — gave Elliott the edge in my mind.
6. First-Half Defensive Rookie of the Year
Clark: Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers. Bosa missed all of September, yet he’ll still end up being one of the most dominant pass rushers (rookie or not) of the season. His four sacks have returned a sputtering Chargers team back to relevance.
Kelly: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars. There haven’t been many bright spots during Jacksonville’s typically ugly start, but Ramsey looks like the league’s next superstar shutdown cornerback. He erased Amari Cooper in Jacksonville’s Week 7 matchup with the Raiders, and he’s also one of the sassiest trash talkers the NFL has ever seen.
Mays: Bosa. As with Brady, saying that Bosa, who first played in Week 5, has been better than anyone else in this class feels silly, but he’s been that great in limited time. He has four sacks and 26 total pressures in just four games, and he’s given the Chargers defense a desperately needed jolt. At this point, he’s already among the most dangerous pass rushers in football.
7. Most Ridiculous First-Half Story Line
Clark: The “Are anthem protests hurting TV ratings?” talk. No. No. No.
Local ratings are mostly flat, according to network executives, and so are the national ratings during afternoon windows. In fact, the same amount of people are tuning in to NFL games, only for less time. The national windows are down, so if the “boycotters” are out there, they’re boycotting only night games.
Kelly: Jared Goff, backup quarterback. As much as we all love watching Case Keenum and the Rams work toward an inevitable 7–9 finish, the fact that Goff hasn’t thrown a pass is plain annoying, especially considering how well fellow rookie signal-callers Wentz and Prescott have played.
Mays: The Cowboys building the best offense in football with a rookie QB. Even after Prescott’s worst outing as a pro, on Sunday night against the Eagles, I still can’t believe how great Dallas has looked with the rookie at quarterback. The Cowboys have rolled over teams, and that dominance has made me change my mind about Tony Romo’s job security about 30 times.
8. Most Memorable First-Half Play
Clark: Stephen Hauschka’s missed 28-yard field goal to clinch Seattle’s 6–6 tie against Arizona. This was the best moment of the best game ever played. There have been plenty of great games, but in 10 years, when we look back at the big, dumb 2016 season that was full of bad football, we’ll remember this one with a special fondness.
Kelly: The 6–6 tie. That was the worst, most unbelievable ending to any game in the history of the NFL. There’s no way it was real. Hauschka’s 28-yard try wasn’t even fucking close!
Mays: Aaron Rodgers’s latest magic trick. This might be an odd choice, considering it wasn’t even a completion, but the play I’ve rewound the most so far this season was Rodgers launching a ball 72 yards while drifting to his left. The footage legitimately looks doctored.
9. Best First-Half Postgame Press Conference Attire
Clark: Aaron Rodgers’s The Big Lebowski nod.
Cam Newton has had some good ones, but no one has committed to a bit quite like Rodgers, who went with “The Dude” look as an homage to the Coen brothers’ classic.
Kelly: Cam Newton’s Mr. Peanut ensemble.
This one’s impossible to top. The top hat and glasses were so ridiculous that at first, no one even noticed that Cam was also wearing a leather T-shirt.
Mays: Newton’s cheese shoes.
Making me pick between Cam’s outfits is just cruel. I’m tempted to go with the “Picasso Does Mr. Peanut,” look that Danny chose, but Cam’s Week 8 ensemble — in which he looked ready to terrorize Gotham City while wearing shoes made of pepper jack cheese — is probably my favorite.
10. Most Memorable First-Half Coaching Decision
Clark: Jack Del Rio going for two to beat the Saints in Week 1. The Raiders hadn’t been The Raiders for more than a decade, and then Del Rio decided to go for two with 47 seconds left to slip past the Saints 35–34. His team has been rolling ever since, and that Week 1 result on the road set the tone: The Raiders are going to be aggressive, have lots of fun, and just win, baby.
Kelly: Ditto. Del Rio thumbed his nose at convention and said, “Screw it — Just win, baby!” And he did.
Mays: Ditto! In a way, Del Rio’s ballsy move set the tone for Oakland’s 6–2 start; I don’t know how sustainable their heart-attack-inducing model is, but it sure seems like the Raiders expect to win every game.