The NFL Bandwagons: Week 9 Edition
In golf, the halfway house is where golfers go during the middle of their round to take a bathroom break and simply relax. It is here that guys look back on the shots they misplayed during the front nine and, using the miscues as motivation, mentally regroup and prepare for a solid showing in the final nine holes.
In the NFL, there is no hypothetical halfway house. Players still find a way to treasure the little downtime they do have around Week 9, however. Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant used to celebrate the midpoint of the season by hitting up the strip-club but, seeing that the prima donna is rightfully being treated as an infant by owner Jerry Jones, that is no longer the case. Saints quarterback Drew Brees has reportedly been cutting out pictures of league commissioner and Public Enemy No. 1 Roger Goodell, placing them on practice dummies at the Superdome, and continuously nailing each one with a football. And, last but not least, word on the street is that Russell Wilson and Tim Tebow have begun to build an ark in wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Wilson and Tebow may be two of the most religious players that the league has ever seen, but even they need a miracle from the man above to accomplish anything off the field this time of year. You see, the NFL is very unique. With 17 regular season weeks on the schedule, you don't have to be a math major to figure out that the middle of the season occurs in Week 9, which took place this past weekend. Unlike other sports, there is no All-Star Weekend or Home Run Derby in football. Yes, exactly two-thirds of squads have already had their one bye week to ice injuries and rest up, but the point is that the constant, painful, and grueling battle that is the National Football League takes an unfathomable toll on bodies week-in and week-out. Unable to take any mulligans, coaches must reenergize their team quickly and get them geared up for the home stretch if they want any shot of making the playoffs.
Luckily, us fans do have a little break before Thursday night's barnburner between the Colts and the Jaguars. I believe now would be an appropriate time to recap Weeks 1 through 9 of the NFL, identify some studs and some duds, and hand out awards that are solely distributed for one's performance (or lack thereof) in the first half of the year. Before Eagles coach Andy Reid gets fired, or worse, gets another cheesesteak stuck in his mustache, let's get rolling.
Most Valuable Player: Matt Ryan, Falcons: For those shaking their head at this selection with guys like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers on the brain, I command you to stop. I agree, Peyton and Rodgers have both been sensational this year. Neither the Broncos (5-3) nor the Packers (6-3) are undefeated though, while Atlanta is looking down at everyone else with an 8-0 record and a four-game cushion in the NFC South. It definitely aids Ryan that the Falcons explosive offense has more playmakers than Broadway, but that should not take anything away from him. Ryan's completion percentage (68.9 percent) is third to only Manning and Alex Smith, two guys that make fellow lame-arm Chad Pennington look like all he did was take deep shots down the field. Week 9's win over the Cowboys marked the first time that Ryan failed to throw a touchdown pass this season. Consider that the definition of a one game aberration.
Coach of the Year: Lovie Smith, Bears: This was my toughest choice by far. I thought about Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, as his squad has overcome the absences of stars Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, and Rashard Mendenhall while currently riding a three-game winning streak. I tossed around the idea of Gary Kubiak of the Texans, whose defense ranks third in the league and is 7-0 against AFC foes. Finally, I settled on Bears headman Lovie Smith as my pick for Coach of the Year through 9 weeks. Try to remember that Chicago's offensive line still has more holes in it than a collection of Dunkin' Donuts baked goods. What Lovie has done with nurturing the Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall relationship (Marshall is on pace for just under 1,600 receiving yards and 14 scores) and taking charge of a defense that is without question the most intimidating and opportunistic (seven TD's off interception returns alone) in the NFL is equal parts mind-boggling and remarkable. Actually, it's more than that: it's Ditka-like.
Rookie of the Year (Tie): Andrew Luck, Colts and Doug Martin, Bucs: The eternal comparison between former Colts great Manning and current rookie phenom Andrew Luck is inevitable. If you ask me, the bar that had been set for the kid before his career even began was way higher than any we saw in this summer's Olympics for a gymnastic event. All Luck has done so far is throw for 300.5 yards per game while showing off the poise and composure of a ten-year veteran. On Sunday, the first-overall pick torched the Miami Dolphins secondary to the tune of 433 yards and 2 touchdowns. Oh yeah, and if the season ended today, Luck's Colts would be traveling to Denver for a divisional playoff matchup with Peyton and the Broncos! And if Luck has been just fabulous so far, what is the proper word for describing Bucs RB Doug Martin? The Boise State product received over 20 carries just once in the first 7 weeks. In Weeks 8 and 9, however, Martin cradled the rock a whopping 54 times and has scored 7 rushing touchdowns in Tampa's last 3 games. His 251-yard, 4-TD performance versus the Raiders on Sunday goes down as one of the craziest individual performances, ever. Can you say Ray Rice 2.0?
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. "Swat" Watt, Texans
Comeback Player of the Year (Tie): Adrian Peterson, Vikings and Peyton Manning, Broncos
Biggest Disappointment of the Year (Tie): Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles
Breakout Player of the Year: A.J. Green, Bengals
Breakout Team of the Year (Tie): Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings
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