One of the many unwanted side effects of the NFL’s relatively new 17-game schedule is the loss of clear quarter marks for the regular season. When teams played only 16 games, we’d reach that benchmark after four weeks. Now? The math says it comes somewhere between the start of Week 4 and the end of Week 5, which has created an issue for an old staple of the NFL content machine: the first-quarter awards.
“The Five-Seventeenths Awards” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but we’re not going to let some awkward math get in the way of a good content format. Most teams have played five games, so now seems like a good time to check in on the NFL’s eight major award races—based solely on how players and teams have performed to this point in the season.
MVP: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
The Vegas favorite to win league MVP is also my pick for the award a quarter into the season. Allen already had a lead in that race before Sunday, but he extended it in a 38-3 drubbing of the Steelers that might have been even more lopsided if Sean McDermott didn’t start playing backups early in the fourth quarter. Before that point, Allen and Co. had put on a laser show.
He completed five passes of 20-plus air yards, including two deep touchdowns to Gabriel Davis.
98-YD TD and this one-handed grab… TOTW Gabriel Davis? #Madden23 pic.twitter.com/ix1mX5XQw5— Madden Ultimate Team (@EASPORTS_MUT) October 9, 2022
And while you wouldn’t know it by watching those clips, Allen did all that during a very windy day in Buffalo. Allen’s counterpart, Pittsburgh rookie Kenny Pickett, struggled to throw into gusts of wind that reached 20 mph, which only highlighted how special no. 17’s performance was. It was as if the two were playing in different atmospheres.
how windy was it in buffalo today? pic.twitter.com/I60xrSdXfO— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 10, 2022
That element-defying ability makes Allen uniquely valuable to the Bills (if he wasn’t already). Among active players, the fifth-year pro leads the NFL in career pass attempts in games with wind speeds of 20 mph or more. He’s thrown more such passes than Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or any other aging quarterback you can think of. You have to be able to throw into the wind to play in Buffalo. And Allen is freaking good at it. He’s averaging 0.18 EPA per play in those windy conditions, which trails only Patrick Mahomes and Brady among passers with at least 50 attempts, according to TruMedia.
With Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts putting up underwhelming stat lines in Week 5, Mahomes is the only real threat to Allen’s claim as MVP favorite, but no other quarterback is doing the heavy lifting that Allen has over the first five weeks. James Cook’s meaningless touchdown run early in the fourth quarter Sunday was Buffalo’s first offensive touchdown of the season that did not involve Allen in some way. Allen leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns, so the volume stats are there. He’s first in EPA per dropback and third in ESPN’s QBR, so he’s been efficient, as well. And the Bills are atop the AFC standings and have the NFL’s best point differential.
We still have a long way to go before this award becomes official, but through one quarter of the season, Allen is a no-brainer pick.
Coach of the Year: Brian Daboll, New York Giants
In a just world, Philadelphia’s Nick Sirianni would probably be the correct choice for this award. But this world isn’t just, and coach of the year typically goes to the guy whose team does the best relative to preseason expectations. And with the Giants sitting at 4-1 after an upset win over the Packers in London, Daboll is the clear favorite.
The Giants did not have any offensive talent to spare coming into the season, and a rash of injuries has left the rookie head coach with a roster that would struggle to score points in the XFL. New York was without its top four receivers on Sunday, meaning Daniel Jones, who was dealing with a balky ankle himself, had to throw passes to David Sills V, Marcus Johnson, and Daniel Bellinger. Of course, having Saquon Barkley in the backfield can make up for a weak receiving corps, but we’ve seen many Giants coaches try and fail to get the 2018 no. 2 pick going. Daboll has had no such issues. After racking up 70 yards and a score against Green Bay, Barkley is second in the NFL in rushing and is on pace for more than 1,800 yards on the ground. But forget about the numbers—Daboll has Barkley making plays like this again:
We need to talk about the creativity of OC Mike Kafka to get Saquon Barkley the rock!— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) October 9, 2022
⚖️ Line Unbalanced Wildcat
Weak QB Pin & Pull pic.twitter.com/FkkgRxDN4q
For that, and the mini Wildcat revival we’re seeing in New York, Daboll deserves a trophy.
Executive of the Year: Howie Roseman, Philadelphia Eagles
After snubbing Hurts for MVP and Sirianni for coach of the year, it’s time I show some love to the NFL’s last undefeated team of 2022. The Eagles ran their record up to 5-0 on Sunday with a laborious 20-17 win in Arizona. It was an ugly win that raised some questions about the league’s best team (by record, at least), but it did serve as yet another testimonial for Roseman’s team building.
As good as Hurts has been this season, the offensive line is the engine that’s made the offense go. That group entered Sunday’s game without starting left tackle Jordan Mailata, and it lost center Jason Kelce and guard Landon Dickerson to injuries during the action. That obviously had an effect on an offense that managed just 20 points against an undisciplined Cardinals defense, but contributions from offseason pickups helped to make up for the sputtering attack. Safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, whom Roseman landed in August in exchange for two Day 3 picks, came up with a big interception. Haason Riddick, a cheap free-agent signing, extended his sack streak to three games and is now up to 4.5 sacks on the season. Rookie first-round pick Jordan Davis was stout against the run once again, and free-agent pickup James Bradberry’s name was rarely called, which is always a good sign for a cornerback.
Every big offseason swing Roseman took—including A.J. Brown, who was quiet on Sunday but played a major role in the team’s first four games—has been a home run. He’s built the NFL’s most complete roster, one that’s been good enough to propel a good-but-not-great quarterback into the league’s MVP discussion. Hurts will ultimately decide how far this Eagles team can fly, but it’s clear that Roseman has put enough talent around his quarterback to finish this season on top.
Assistant Coach of the Year: DeMeco Ryans, San Francisco 49ers
If the Panthers were smart, they wouldn’t have let Ryans board the plane back to San Francisco on Sunday without an offer to coach the team next year. I’m sure that would probably violate some tampering rule, but the 49ers defensive coordinator is worth the trouble. In just his second year calling defensive plays, Ryan has San Francisco off to a historic start—and that unit has kept the team afloat while Kyle Shanahan has tried to navigate this awkward transition back to Jimmy Garoppolo.
After Sunday’s lopsided 37-15 win in Carolina, Ryans’s defense leads the NFL in just about every major statistical category, including yards allowed, points allowed, DVOA, EPA, and success rate. Sure, Ryans is working with a stacked roster—though Sunday’s game saw several key contributors, including Nick Bosa, leave with injuries—but he’s getting the most out of his stars and pushing all of the right tactical buttons.
This will almost certainly be Ryans’s final year as 49ers defensive coordinator. He nearly landed a head-coaching job this past offseason after his first year on the headset. San Francisco won’t be lucky enough to keep him this time around.
Offensive Player of the Year: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore’s win over the Bengals on Sunday night wasn’t an MVP showcase for Jackson, who was without top receiver Rashod Bateman, or a particularly efficient night for the Ravens offense. But it was more proof that the unit’s success is wholly reliant on the brilliance of its quarterback.
This was Jackson’s worst outing of the season as a passer—and that includes last week’s game, which was played in a rainstorm. The Ravens quarterback threw for only 174 yards and one touchdown against Cincinnati and missed on two deep balls that might have put the game away early in the fourth. But in crunch time, offensive coordinator Greg Roman put the ball in Jackson’s hands and asked him to win the game. And he did. After two quick passes and a modest scramble to start the drive, the Ravens play caller started spamming QB keepers, and despite knowing what was coming, the Bengals were powerless to stop it.
There is only one QB who can manage a game winning drive in such an effortless and unstoppable fashion.— Dale (@DaleFromDaFlock) October 10, 2022
His name is Lamar Jackson pic.twitter.com/YfBZKSH1ck
Jackson is averaging nearly 75 yards a game on the ground. His 12 touchdown passes rank second behind only Allen. He’s on pace to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 1,000, a feat that has never been achieved in the history of the league, according to Stathead. We have, quite literally, never seen a season like this at the NFL level.
Defensive Player of the Year: Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys
I’m not old enough to know what it was like to watch Lawrence Taylor play football week in and week out, but I imagine it looked similar to what we’re seeing out of Parsons in Dallas this season. The second-year pass rusher/linebacker added two more sacks to his season total on Sunday, bringing him up to a league-leading six sacks on the year.
MICAH PARSONS WITH THE GAME-WINNER— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) October 9, 2022
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/mBU1Hrx82s
Let’s give some credit to Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who could have easily outsmarted himself and tried to turn Parsons into a positionless terror who lines up as an off-ball linebacker on early downs and then an edge rusher in passing situations. Instead, Quinn has allowed Parsons to focus on rushing the passer from the edge. And while the second-year pro has worked from various spots along the defensive line, all of his sacks and all but one of his QB pressures have come with him lined up on the edge, per TruMedia.
As cool as the idea of a two-position player is, every snap that Parsons drops into coverage feels like a lost opportunity for the Cowboys. Thankfully, Quinn hasn’t fallen into that trap too often.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans
With only one rookie quarterback playing this season—and not doing particularly well—the race for this award is wide open. Coming into Week 5, Saints receiver Chris Olave was the leader by default after putting together a solid September. But a new leader emerged on Sunday after Dameon Pierce delivered the Texans their first win of the season almost single-handedly—along with some help from a Jaguars offense that couldn’t get out of its own way.
The rookie back rushed for 99 yards and the game-winning score. The Jaguars just couldn’t tackle the dude, which is a relatable feeling for any defense that has gone up against Pierce, a fourth-round pick out of Florida. His 359 yards after contact are third in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. He ranks fourth in overall rushing yards and seventh in rushing yards over expected, per Next Gen Stats. Any metric you look at paints a clear picture: Pierce has been the best offensive rookie in the NFL.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Sauce Gardner, New York Jets
I know you’re probably expecting real analysis here, but my argument for Gardner comes down to one thing: His name is Sauce! That’s enough! As long as he isn’t a total disaster on the field, that should make him the favorite to win the award.
But, seriously, Gardner has been everything the Jets hoped for when they drafted him with the fourth pick this April. He’s been sticky in man coverage against some top receivers, including Ja’Marr Chase and Tyreek Hill:
Sauce Gardner battling with Ja'Marr Chase on this Go ball (and the snow angel celebration after) pic.twitter.com/ivhwyF8rTv— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 27, 2022
He’s been instinctive in zone coverage, and displayed the requisite movement skills to be a play-maker when he’s allowed to keep his eyes on the quarterback:
The all-22 angle shows just how crazy Sauce Gardner's COD skills are for a corner his size. Kid's different. pic.twitter.com/Mqiaxzo6BS— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) October 10, 2022
Even if Gardner were going by his birth name, Ahmad, he’d be the favorite for the award. The nickname ends the debate.
Comeback Player of the Year: Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
Here’s a sentence even I, a card-carrying member of Geno Nation, didn’t expect to be typing at this point in the season: Where would the Seahawks be without Geno Smith? If not for a woeful display of tackling on Sunday by Pete Carroll’s defense, which allowed Taysom Hill to score FOUR touchdowns in a 39-32 loss, I may have been forced to acknowledge Smith in the MVP section: The journeyman turned star threw for three touchdowns and averaged over 10 yards per attempt against a good Saints defense. Smith now ranks fourth in the league in EPA per dropback, first in completion percentage over expectation, and third in yards per attempt. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are averaging 25.4 points a game.
Beyond the numbers, it’s how the passing game has looked that is most impressive. Smith is managing Shane Waldron’s offense at a high level, and even when the scheme doesn’t provide obvious answers, the 32-year-old quarterback is finding solutions, whether they’re perfectly placed deep passes while under pressure …
GENO SMITH! Absolute dime to Tyler Lockett.— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022
: #SEAvsNO on FOX
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/X4lelc0SFE pic.twitter.com/q7bsLXUerr
or improvised throws after unscripted forays out of the pocket.
GENO SMITH DK METCALF— Sports ON Tap Seattle (@SONTSeattle) October 9, 2022
Seahawks 50 yard TOUCHDOWN! pic.twitter.com/l5xPpYzH3m
Even more impressive: Smith is making these highly difficult plays while avoiding egregious mistakes. His 33.3 percent sack rate on pressured dropbacks ranks as the eighth best in the NFL this season, per TruMedia, and among full-time starters, only Brady has thrown fewer interceptions. Outside of the fact that he’s Geno Smith, there’s no evidence to suggest that this is a house of cards that will come tumbling down any week now. This has been a legit performance by a quarterback who has had to wait eight years to get an opportunity to start again.
We’re almost at the point where we have to stop asking how long can Geno keep this up? and start wondering how long Seattle will wait before offering him a long-term deal.