Week 12 of the NFL season is upon us, and we’re on the verge of the end of the regular season, which means the conclusion of games upon which voters for the NFL Awards judge their picks. This regular season has been a forgettable one for a few reasons, from the bevy of injuries we’ve seen to the ugly Myles Garrett helmet-swing last week, but some positive storylines have also undoubtedly emerged to captivate the league. Below, I’ll get into my picks for each of the NFL’s end-of-season awards.
MVP: Russell Wilson
I’ve made my argument for Wilson as MVP in a recent Quibbl, and I’ll summarize it again here. It’s obviously a neck-and-neck race between the Seahawks QB and Lamar Jackson at this point (OddsShark has Jackson at +125, Wilson at +200, and a trio of other candidates at +1200 to win the award), but I see reason to believe Wilson will emerge in this one. For one, this is Russ’ finest season in what’s shaping up to be a Hall of Fame career. He has the most wins by any QB in their first seven seasons, is one of two QBs in NFL history with a career passer rating over 100, and now has the highest passer rating and yards per attempt of his career behind a below-average offensive line, while his primary weapons include former late draft picks Tyler Lockett and Chris Carson. Russ has 26 total TDs (1 more than LJ), only three turnovers (2 fewer), and seven of the Seahawks’ wins have been by one possession or less. Jackson has a tough schedule the rest of the way (4th-hardest for fantasy points according to FantasyPros) and his production has been less consistent (five straight games with a passer rating under 100 in midseason). Russ should be able to add an MVP to his incredible resume at season’s end.
Coach of the Year: Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
There are pretty much two conditions for the NFL’s Coach of the Year when examining who has taken home the award: your team either has to win ten-plus games when they weren’t expected to, or they have to be the best team in the league by a wide margin (or both). Without a clear-cut best team in the league to this point in the season, my prediction has to go to the head man of one of the teams that’s in the running for that distinction: Kyle Shanahan of the 9-1 49ers. Ahead of the season, most were expecting improvement from San Francisco as they returned a healthy Jimmy Garoppollo after last year’s 4-12 debacle. OddsShark had the team pegged for 8.5 wins preseason.
What’s transpired since has been shocking as the Niners have already surpassed that total. They’ve benefited from a favorable schedule, but you play who lines up across from you, and the 49ers area a missed field goal against the Seahawks in overtime away from 10-0. Perhaps most surprisingly, it hasn’t taken a great performance from Garoppolo, who has 18 TDs and ten picks. Instead, the 49ers have rebelled against the shifts of the NFL, riding a dominant rushing game and a stifling defense to success. Their D full of highly-drafted pass rushers has been historically good, and would be earning more praise if not for New England’s excellence on that side of the ball. Credit Shanahan and GM John Lynch for the Niners going countercultural and winning that way, but props to Shanahan for all of his elaborate play-calling that has gotten the team to this point.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
The Niners sweep Coach and Comeback of the Year in my predictions, though it’s possible voters will only want to give them one of the two awards, which would make balloting very interesting. Anyways, Cooper Kupp is as close to Garoppolo here as Jon Gruden is to Shanahan for Coach of the Year in my opinion. Anyways, the NFL has an extensive history of giving this award to QBs coming off of an injury (six in the last decaade), which pushes Jimmy G ahead of Kupp in my opinion, while the 49ers have certainly exceeded expectations at 9-1 while Kupp has been a bright spot on a somewhat disappointing Rams team.
Garoppolo’s ten interceptions jump off of the stat sheet, and it’s well-established that this Niners team’s success has been derived largely through their run game and tremendous defense. Still, the former Eastern Illinois star has certainly been good, completing 68.8% of his passes for 2,478 yards and 7.8 yards per attempt. Jimmy G hasn’t been asked to do everything, but he’s worked well with a skill group full of unproven players at running back and wide receiver, while star tight end George Kittle has been banged up. Coming off of a torn ACL, Garoppolo is the favorite for an award with no marquee candidates this year.
Offensive Player of the Year: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
I’ll be brief here because Jackson’s heroics have been discussed ad nauseam by myself and others. Simply put, the Offensive Player of the Year goes to the best player outside of the MVP in any given season, and as OddsShark’s MVP odds show, nobody is particularly close to Jackson and Russell Wilson right now. So, since I’m backing Wilson to win MVP, Jackson is the selection here.
And where to start with LJ’s season? The Ravens are 8-2, Jackson has 25 total TDs with only five picks, is 10th in the NFL in rushing yards while asserting himself as a bona fide passer in the league, and he’s the first player in league history to post two games in a season with a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Jackson may never throw for 5,000 yards in a season, but he doesn’t need to. He’s taking the league by storm, and the player many thought would fit best at wide receiver is your NFL MVP joint front-runner.
Defensive Player of the Year: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
This one is a shocker, and would have been completely unthinkable at the beginning of the season when Fitzpatrick was on the Miami Dolphins. When the Steelers, fresh off losing QB Ben Roethlisberger for the season and heading into a season full of uncertainty, dealt a first-rounder for Fitzpatrick after Week 2, the move drew plenty of criticism. It’s safe to say almost ten weeks later that GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin look like geniuses for the transaction, as Fitzpatrick has almost single-handedly transformed Pittsburgh’s season, as they sit at 5-5 with a shot at the playoffs.
The Steelers are second in the league with 26 takeaways and wouldn’t be near that total without Fitzpatrick, who has five interceptions, two forced fumbles and recovered fumbles, and a pair of touchdowns this season. It’s difficult to rack up counting stats from the safety position, but Fitzpatrick has done exactly that, and has a signature play with his 96-yard pick-six against the Colts. He’s tenth in the AFC with eight passes defended and has 33 solo tackles to boot. While Aaron Donald of the Rams has been as dominant as ever, I think the voters opt for freshness and reward Fitzpatrick’s season-changing efforts for the overachieving Steelers.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders
This one could come down to the wire between Jacobs and the Arizona Cardinals’ Kyler Murray, but I had to get the Raiders on here somewhere. The silver and black are perhaps the feel-good story of the season, sitting at 6-4 in a playoff spot after all the drama and criticism the team has been through, from the Antonio Brown and Vontaze Burfict fiascos, to the outcry over Jon Gruden’s contract and his decision to trade Khalil Mack, to the decision to snag defensive end Clelin Ferrell 4th overall in the draft, ahead of where most projected him to come off the board.
It’s been the team’s second first-round pick, the one that came from Chicago in the Mack trade, that it seems they’ve hit paydirt on. The highly-drafted running back is a dying practice, but Jacobs has justified the Raiders’ selection, as he currently sits fourth in the NFL in rushing with 923 yards on 4.8 yards per carry with seven touchdowns. Jacobs has been a workhorse from day one and is a big reason why Oakland has enjoyed the success it has. Murray has come on strong of late and now has seventeen total TDs against only five interceptions, but I’m docking him because the Cardinals have lost four straight and are out of the playoff race.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers
Another piece of hardware goes to the Niners, and this one is the biggest lock of them all. Bosa, the Draft’s second overall pick, has already emerged as perhaps the most feared player on a historically good defense, and currently sits at -275 to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year, per Bovada. Bosa has 21 solo tackles, seven sacks, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble, and an interception he returned 46 yards to stuff the stat sheet like no other defensive rookie. He’s rotated heavily with the Niners other highly drafted star pass rushers including Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead, but that has only helped Bosa, it seems.
The Ohio State product wasn’t always the favorite for this award – the Steelers’ Devin Bush took the lead midseason – but Bosa reclaimed poll position with two straight dominant weeks against Washington (three tackles for loss, one sack) and Carolina (three sacks). Bosa will be a force for years to come in the league.