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First and Goal: Mid-season awards watch

We’re a little more than halfway through the pandemic season, and, against all odds, the NFL’s plan to play seems to be working. There have been hiccups here and there, but nothing disastrous has happened yet. 

Will that hold as we head into the dark winter months? It’s not for me to say, but a league shutdown in December or January wouldn’t be shocking.

Now that we’ve gotten the serious talk out of the way, let’s talk about who is in line to win some of the league’s awards this season.

Most Valuable Player

The obvious choice here is Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The 25-year-old phenom has had a steady start to the season, but has returned to putting up video game-like statistics over the past two weeks. Mahomes has nine touchdowns in his last two games while throwing for 788 yards on a 70 percent completion clip.

Mahomes claimed his first MVP award in the 2018 season when he was just 23, and he seems to be on his way to winning it for the second time in his young career. His ability to protect the ball while still being a gunslinger — he has one interception despite having the fourth-most pass attempts — puts him a step above everyone else in the league.

Besides Mahomes, the next choice would have to be Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Wilson, who has famously never won an MVP award despite being a consistent top-level player, has been on fire this season. He leads the NFL with 28 passing touchdowns in eight games, putting him on pace to beat the single-season record of 55 set by Peyton Manning.

The most amazing aspect, however, is that Wilson’s completion percentage is the third best in the league at 71 percent. Anyone watching the Seahawks this year knows Wilson has been throwing up deep bombs to wide receiver D.K. Metcalf multiple times per game. 

To maintain such high accuracy while throwing deep passes is stunning. 

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who is known for throwing short, dink-and-dunk passes, has a completion rate of 74 percent and it’s a major event when he throws more than 10 yards down the field. 

Wilson is regularly chucking deep passes that are being caught in extremely tight windows, and it’s amazing to watch.

The race for MVP has been fascinating to follow this year. Like every season, it’s been a group of quarterbacks in contention for the award. This season, however, is seeing a new player stepping into the race who is trying to be the first non-quarterback to win the award since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook has been on a warpath since missing Week 6 with an injury. Cook now leads the league in rushing yards and touchdowns despite playing one less game than his peers at the position. 

In the past two weeks, he has five rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown, all while leading his team to two crucial wins as the Vikings try to claw themselves into a playoff spot.

Cook is averaging a staggering 122.6 yards per game and yet he has only the fifth-most carries by any running back. His six yards per rush attempt is good for third best in the NFL, and he’s only fumbled the ball once. As the league becomes more passing-oriented each year, it’s good to see players like Cook and Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry keeping the running game alive.

Coach of the Year

There’s one choice for this and it’s a no-brainer. Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores has done an excellent job guiding the Dolphins through a relatively short rebuild. The Dolphins have looked like a real football team since he’s taken the reins in Miami. 

Miami has put the league on notice in the last two weeks with two impressive wins over the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. 

Flores can’t be praised enough for the job he’s doing. Everyone was questioning switching from journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to rookie Tua Tagovailoa, but the young quarterback has played well in his past two games. 

Miami’s defense has played exceptionally well too, and the Dolphins could easily snatch a playoff spot this season or, if all the cards fall in their favor, a division championship with a win at their Week 17 matchup against the Buffalo Bills.

There’s really no other competition for this award, and even if the Dolphins don’t make the playoffs, a winning record should easily qualify Flores.

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