Columnists, Sports

First and Goal: Mid-Season Review and Awards Watch

We’ve made it to the halfway point of the 2019 National Football League season, but that statement isn’t as exciting as it should be.

The NFL this season has been sloppy and an unenjoyable mess for two major reasons.

We can start with the mediocrity of teams in the league; it is unfathomable that almost a third of the league looks hopeless on the football field. There are nine teams that sit at two wins right now (many of these teams have earned their wins against the Miami Dolphins or Cincinnati Bengals); when that many teams are losing that many games it’s simply a bad look for the league and makes the product boring.

The other reason this season has been below average is the officiating. We’ve been talking about it all season and yet incorrect decisions by referees continue to decide the outcome of games. A few weeks ago in Green Bay, Wisconsin, we saw one of the worst cases of officiating in a long time. The two phantom hands to the face calls on Trey Flowers in the fourth quarter, along with a missed pass interference call took the game out of the Detroit Lions’ hands and gave it to the Green Bay Packers.

That simply cannot happen in a multi-billion dollar industry.

Yet it’s the same story every week. An early whistle cost the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a blocked field goal return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter in a one-score game against the Tennessee Titans this week. The goal of officials is to be invisible on the field, but NFL officials continue to be in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The NFL is going to have a huge problem on their hands after the 2020 season when the player’s collective bargaining agreement expires. Players put their bodies on the line to play this game and they get robbed of victories by referees that aren’t even full-time employees of the NFL. Players aren’t going to want to play in a league where their hard work can be negated by a lawyer that calls football games in his free time. Can we really blame them?

Despite the problems the NFL has, it is still America’s most popular sport and there have still been bright spots. Heading into the second half of the season, all eyes will be on the MVP race, which has become a two-horse race between Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers due to Patrick Mahomes’ knee injury.

In the race for the coach of the year award, we see a face that the NFL knows all too well and a third-year head coach that is seeing surprising results.

MVP: Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers

Wilson continues to be one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the NFL and it doesn’t make sense why. After the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013 and came a yard short in 2014, Wilson was branded as a rising star in the league. However, the Seahawks as a team fell apart in the following seasons, but Wilson willed Seattle to the playoffs in a few of those seasons with a skeleton crew around him. He has had one of the worst offensive lines in the league, causing him to run for his life multiple times — and an abysmal running back committee that has given him no support.

Finally, Pete Carroll has assembled a roster around Wilson that can win games and now Wilson is being recognized as one of the best in the league.

Wilson leads the league in passer rating and touchdowns with 115.5 and 17 touchdowns while only throwing one interception. The magic of Wilson has been understated for years, but this year he is finally getting the praise he deserves.

For all the things Wilson has done, he still might not claim his first MVP award because of Rodgers’ explosive return from last season’s injury.

Rodgers has 16 touchdowns on the season and is second in the league with 2,324 passing yards. He has guided the Green Bay Packers to a 7-1 record, already surpassing last season’s win total of six. Every week he adds another throw to his career highlight reel and continues to show why he is one of the greatest talents in the 100-year history of the NFL.

Rodgers is the kind of player that whenever he is playing for the Packers, they always have a chance to win. His presence alone makes the team better, which makes him the perfect candidate for his third career MVP award.

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick and Kyle Shanahan

The first coach of the year candidate needs no introduction. The man in the hoodie is the greatest coach in the history of the NFL and yet, he only has three coach of the year awards.

Belichick and the coach of the year award is similar to Lebron James and the NBA MVP award in that these two men are so great at what they do that it’d be redundant to give them the award every year.

This year is different.

The defensive turnaround that the New England Patriots have had since the regular season of last year has been a showcase of coaching wizardry.

Last season the Patriots were in the bottom half of the league in yards per game and were routinely torched by the likes of Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill. This season, the Patriots have only given up more than 200 yards to an opposing quarterback only once: in the season opener to Ben Roethlisberger.

With New England at 8-0 and the defense on track to be one of the best in the history of the game, Belichick should be in consideration for an award that he never receives because of his greatness.

Over the past few years the award has been less of a coach of the year award and more of a “most improved team” award. This has been seen in the past few years with Matt Nagy winning last season, Jason Garrett in 2016 and Bruce Arians in 2014.

If that trend is to continue then there is no better candidate than San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers finished last season at a dismal 4-12 and lost franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a torn ACL in week three. Garoppolo’s return this season hasn’t set the world on fire, but he’s done enough to lead his team to victories with the help of the league’s second ranked defense.

Shanahan has come into his own as a coach in the NFL, in 2017 he helped San Francisco win five of its last six games to salvage a 6-10 season. Last year can be chalked up to losing a franchise QB for the season and missing a few pieces on defense, but now he has the 49ers at 7-0 with a chokehold on the National Football Conference West.

If there’s anybody on their way to earning the coach of the year award over Belichick, it’s Shanahan, barring a disastrous second half of the season.

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