In the strangest of NFL seasons, awards favorites are beginning to emerge

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sportscasting.com

Jack McNaughton, Contributing Writer

This year has been a wild one for all sports, especially football.  The entire preseason training process was derailed by COVID-19, with no organized team activities or preseason games, and limited training camp.  This has led to a slew of injuries at the start of the season and some unexpected breakout performances.  Many of the expected award contenders entering the year have gotten injured or have simply underperformed, whereas unexpected players have impressed and surprised.

The MVP race has been fun to watch because of how close it’s becoming.  At first, Russell Wilson seemed to be the clear favorite; he was playing incredibly well and showed why he deserved his first career MVP votes.  Recently, he had a poor performance against the Cardinals where he had an ill-advised throw that was intercepted and effectively lost the game in overtime.  This allowed other QBs to re-enter the discussion.  

This isn’t the only time Wilson has had trouble keeping the ball for his team. 

“Russell Wilson is falling out of the NFL MVP race due to his many costly turnovers that are losing his team games,” said freshman Ryan Mondschein.  

Aaron Rodgers has also been playing outstandingly and has started to perform better recently, with Davante Adams returning from an injury.  He is one of the top picks for MVP, but even he has had problems: a terrible performance against the Buccaneers where he only threw for 160 yards on sixteen completions with no touchdowns and two interceptions. 

As a result, Josh Allen, who had been the dark horse for MVP, is starting to seem like a realistic candidate.  An amazing performance against Wilson’s Seahawks, in which he threw for 415 yards, had three passing TDs, and one rushing TD, has thrust him to the top of the discussion.  Allen would probably be the consensus favorite if it wasn’t for his game against the Titans.  He played like an average quarterback, but had two costly turnovers.  His Bills couldn’t beat a team who hadn’t practiced in two weeks due to a COVID outbreak in the Titans facility.  

Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes is also in the mix, showing he’s worth the $500 million he’s being paid.  A loss against the clearly inferior Raiders, along with a scare against another less talented team in the Panthers, are holding him back.  However, his league best Touchdown-Interception ratio is keeping him near the top.  

Mahomes, Rodgers, Allen, and Wilson will be racing for the MVP trophy all the way down to the end of this crazy season.

With this year’s onslaught of injuries, new paths have been paved for unexpected players to take the title of Offensive Player of theYear and Defensive Player of the Year.  Dalvin Cook has been one of the players to do just that.  He’s had injury trouble before, so his ability to stay healthy in a year like this has been surprising, considering all of the injuries we have seen.  Cook is leading in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, while also averaging the third most yards per run.  Alvin Kamara has been his main competition, but due to Michael Thomas’ return after injury, it is expected that his production will decrease.  Even if everyone was healthy, Cook still would be a top contender. 

“Dalvin Cook is literally running away with the OPOY title.  Unfortunate injuries to Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey lowered the competition, but Cook’s performance should not be taken for granted.  Without Cook, the Vikings could easily be competing with the Jets and Jaguars for the number one pick in the NFL draft,” said sophomore Samuel Kassan.  

As for DPOY, the clear front runner right now is Myles Garret, who has been outstanding thus far.  Von Miller and Nick Bosa each had promise coming into this year, but are both sidelined, leaving one true contender.  Aaron Donald was the pick of most experts coming into this season, and he hasn’t underperformed, but Garret’s production cannot be ignored.  He leads the league in sacks and forced fumbles, and has shown no signs of slowing down.  

Out of all players, this season has been specifically tough on rookies because of the lack of an offseason.  It made it hard on them to familiarize themselves with the teams’ playbooks, and even to build chemistry.  Only some were able to pull it off.  This is especially hard for QBs, the leaders of their offense.  

Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow, however, are making it look easy.  Burrow just led the Cincinnati Bengals to a 31-20 victory over the Titans, who lost in the AFC championship last year.  The Bengals were 2-14 last year, and Burrow has already guaranteed them a better record, currently sitting at 2-5-1.  This is exceptional, especially considering the talent around him, or lack of it.  Herbert is in a similar situation with the Chargers where he has a rough supporting cast, especially since Austin Ekeler went down in week four.  

“Herbert is all around a better QB; he has more touchdowns and only slightly fewer pass yards.  He also has the same amount of interceptions, although he has played fewer games.  It is undeniable that Herbert has been the better QB this season, and while one may argue that Burrow’s offensive line is terrible, Herbert’s is not much better,” said sophomore Alex Almahmoud.

Some believe that Burrow is better just for improving his team’s record from last season, whereas Herbert is on pace to have a worse finish than last season.  Burrow is doing this with an overall less talented team.  Also, Herbert has struggled to finish games: the Chargers have lost when having a sixteen point lead four times this season.  

Tua Tagovailoa is also an elite rookie quarterback, but he is largely out of consideration because he hadn’t started until recently.  Despite this, he is the most likely out of the rookie QBs to lead his team to a playoff spot.  It will be interesting to see if he can make up enough ground to catch Herbert and Burrow in the OROY race.  

On the defensive side, the award race is between Antoine Winfield and Jeremy Chinn.  Going into this season, the expected award winner was second overall pick Chase Young.  He has battled injuries, and though he’s been great, the other two have been better.  Chinn has four more tackles than Winfield, each has one interception, Winfield has one forced fumble, and Chinn has one more pass defended.  The statistics are mostly similar, but Winfield plays on a more talented defense, so Chinn’s ability to notch these stats with less help around him is certainly impressive.  

Comeback Player of the Year is always difficult to predict.  There are a variety of situations that qualify a player to be Comeback Player of the Year.  One of the prime candidates coming into this year was Cam Newton.  His 2015 year, in which he won MVP, was incredible, but he has struggled, and been hurt, ever since.  This was supposed to be his year to shine on a new team in New England with one of the best coaches of all time in Bill Belichick.  It has not gone as planned.  Fans are disappointed in his performance. 

“I thought the Patriots got a steal only paying him $1 million.  No one understood why he signed for so cheap and didn’t have many competing offers.  He has struggled heavily to throw the football and his athleticism that made up for it is fading with age.  He doesn’t have many weapons to get it to but he still is overthrowing balls and has been inaccurate.  I have hope that he can pull it together, but he has been a major disappointment so far,” said sophomore Joe Asselta.  

Although he has struggled at times, the Comeback Player of the Year as of right now has to be Ben Roethlisberger.  He has led the Steelers to an 8-0 start, the only undefeated record in the NFL, with help from a stout defense.  “Big Ben” was injured all of last year and already has the same number of wins as the Steelers last year had only half way through the season.  

Another candidate is Alex Smith, who has been out of the NFL for two years due to a gruesome leg injury.  He has just made it back and has started games for the Washington Football team.  Washington’s record isn’t great, but due to his division being abysmal, earning a nickname of “the NFC Least”,  there is still a possibility they can win it and secure a home playoff game.  If they are able to do this, then there is a real possibility that Alex Smith will win the award.  

All of these awards have been close, surprising races due to COVID-19 and injuries.  None of these awards have been won yet for any of these front runners.  It is only half way through the season, and there is still a lot of football left to play.