The 2012 NFL season has already provided for more truly memorable moments than entire seasons have in the past. Due in large part to the presence of the mostly incompetent ‘replacements refs’ through the league’s brief referee lockout, the first half of the season has been equal parts enthralling and chaotic.
There have been overtimes, converted onside kicks, last-second ‘Hail Mary’s, controversial calls and even a sequel to the ‘Music City Miracle’ – all of that coming from the Titans 44-41 victory over the Lions during week three. A brawl almost broke out in the Rams-Redskins game. The Panthers have been running the option with Cam Newton. If Bill Belichick had ripped off his sleeveless hoodie to reveal a Patriots uniform underneath and caught a game-winning touchdown pass from Ton Brady, I would not have been the least-bit surprised.
Not only were the games extremely entertaining, but the storylines were as intriguing as ever. Peyton Manning has reclaimed his spot on the league’s Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks, while rookie Robert Griffin III is making a case for his inclusion. The two pre-season Super Bowl favorites, the Packers and the Patriots, did not have a winning record through week six. The presumably lowly Cardinals were undefeated going into their fifth game. The ‘Bountygate’ punishments handed out to the winless Saints have proven to be worse than the experts previously thought. On top of all that, SportsCenter has barely mentioned New York Jets QB Tim Tebow for the last few weeks, which has to be some sort of record.
To celebrate the madness that has occurred throughout the first half of the season, here are my NFL mid-season awards, as well as a few predictions for the second half.
MVP- Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: Ryan has bolstered the explosive Falcons offense, while leading them to the league’s only undefeated record at the halfway mark.
Offensive MVP- Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos: Any doubts of whether or not he could come back at full strength have been proven wrong.
Defensive MVP- J.J. Watt, Houston Texans: Between his record-setting sack numbers and pass deflections, he has single-handedly shut down opposing quarterbacks.
Offensive Rookie of the Half-Year- Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins: Griffin narrowly edges the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck due to his near league-leading passing efficiency and threat as a runner.
Defensive Rookie of the Half-Year- Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers: Kuechly is third in the league in tackles and the only playmaker in the Panthers’ defensive backfield.
Best head coach- Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have gone from being the worst team in the NFL to being in the thick of the AFC playoff race due in large part to Pagano, who has been fighting leukemia for most of the season (which is now in remission). Credit also goes to interim head coach/offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who has filled in for Pagano during his temporary absence.
Best team- Atlanta Falcons: Who else could it be? Everything is clicking on all cylinders for the league’s only undefeated team.
Now for some less formal awards!
Craziest moment- Goldengate (the end of the Packers-Seahawks week three Monday Night Football Game, a.k.a. the moment the replacement refs had gone too far): I was watching this live, and I have never seen anything else like it. This was the only moment that simultaneously caused Twitter to explode and smoke to come out of commentator Steve Young’s ears.
Wildest game – Tennessee Titans versus Detroit Lions, week three: As I mentioned before, this game featured just about everything you could imagine. One stat I failed to mention earlier was the NFL record five touchdowns of 60 yards or longer scored by the Titans.
Best special teams player turned social media phenomenon – Greg “Legatron” Zuerlein: The rookie out of the small Missouri Western State became a hit on the internet after breaking multiple kicking records early in the season.
Predictions for the second half:
AFC Champion- Houston Texans: Their combination of suffocating defense and explosive offense is too much for the rest of the weak AFC to handle.
NFC Champion- San Francisco 49ers: As great as the Falcons have been, I have to stick with my preseason prediction and pick the 49ers to use their pounding running game and stifling defense to win the conference.
Super Bowl Champion- In a closely fought battle between two great defenses, the Texans superior offense will be the difference against the less potent 49ers.
Photo courtesy of CNN.