Halfway through an NFL season with the usual mix of drama, intrigue and — OK, way too many boring matchups that have turned off television viewers — a look at the best and worst from 2016:
MVP.: Derek Carr, QB, Raiders: Tom Brady may wind up with the award by the end of the season and Matt Ryan is making a strong push, too, but Carr earns our nod at the midway point. He’s carrying the 6-2 Raiders on his back with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions and a bunch of clutch performances. Carr’s play is especially noteworthy in light of the Raiders’ woefully underachieving defense.
COACH OF YEAR: Bill Belichick, Patriots: Sometimes we take Belichick’s brilliance for greatness because he has been so great for so long. But getting to 3-1 without Tom Brady and setting the stage for Brady’s return from suspension could prove to be the difference maker in a potential Super Bowl run, especially if the Patriots wind up with home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
COMEBACK PLAYER: Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons. After producing some of the weakest numbers of his career in 2015, including just 21 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions, Ryan has dominated so far this season with 23 TDs and just four picks. If the Falcons really are a different team than the one that faded to black the second half of last year, then Ryan will be the difference.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys. He plays behind the best offensive line in football, but Elliott has been spectacular nonetheless, and might be the single biggest reason the Cowboys are in good shape for a playoff run. With 799 yards in seven games, he’s on pace for 1,825 yards, which would break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record of 1,808.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Von Miller, LB, Broncos. The successful transition from an aging Peyton Manning to an inexperienced Trevor Siemian is done in large part because of Denver’s great defense. Miller is a generational defensive player who makes it all work.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE: Elliott.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE: Joey Bosa, DE, Chargers. A training camp holdout didn’t help, but it’s obvious Bosa has the kind of speed and burst that only a handful of prospects possess. He plays for a team that needs plenty of help around him, but Bosa is a franchise building block.
ASSISTANT COACH: Bob Sutton, Chiefs defensive coordinator. The Chiefs are still without their best pass rusher, Justin Houston, but Sutton has done terrific work in allowing opponents a combined 137 points. He’s one of the least appreciated assistants in the business, but the NFL coaching fraternity knows how good he is. Sutton is to the Chiefs what Rod Marinelli is to the Cowboys.
IDENTITY CRISIS: The NFL’s flagging television ratings have been a huge story so far this season, with plenty of reasons put forth for the drop: poor quarterback play, poor prime time matchups, oversaturation of the product with games on Sunday, Monday and Thursday, protests during the national anthem, concerns about concussions and other dangers associated with the sport, and the presidential election. The election will be over on Tuesday, and divisional races are beginning to heat up, so we’ll see if this is an anomaly or the start of a legitimate downward trend.
RISING STAR: Marcus Peters, CB, Chiefs. The second-year defender leads the NFL with five interceptions and is a big reason the Chiefs have survived the injury-related absences of star pass rusher Justin Houston and running back Jamaal Charles.
FALLING STAR: Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets. At 31, he’s in severe decline and teams that once shied away from throwing in his direction are now targeting him as the Jets’ weak link.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Cowboys. With Tony Romo suffering yet another injury during the preseason, the Cowboys looked to be in trouble. But rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has been terrific in Romo’s absence, and the Cowboys may have found their quarterback of the future.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Jaguars. This was supposed to be the year team owner Shahid Khan’s patience paid off, but the Jaguars have been total flops yet again. Blake Bortles has regressed, the offseason spending spree on free agents like Chris Ivory, Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson was a bust, and the Jaguars will soon be looking to replace Gus Bradley.