Well, we've hit midseason-ish. I know some teams haven't played eight games yet, but it doesn't really matter, because it's time to start evaluating them! Hey, the Pro Bowl is open for voting and that's a SEASON long award. I'm not jumping the gun! Here are the guys who have played the best this season from my view - I've included the primary backup for every position except quarterback and gave two backups for the offensive line (I couldn't decide between Roethlisberger and Stafford - I refuse to put Tom Brady in anything, only partially because I think he's a system quarterback). I also provided specific teams for both the defensive fronts, because I hate comparing them and hate seeing teams which would actually stink because you have Dwight Freeney playing defensive end in a 3-4, for example. Yuck. So here's the team, have at it.
QB – Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay
Any debate on this one, really? Rodgers is ridiculous.
RB – Adrian Peterson, Minnesota; LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia
Peterson is performing up to his standard, unlike a certain back down in Tennessee, and he’s doing it on a bad team with a sketchy offensive line. McCoy is the pass-catcher and change of pace guy. McCoy is a great back and a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s system, he’s an underrated blocker and he’s got a great motor… this team is going to love him giving Peterson a break.
FB – Vonta Leach, Baltimore
This is always a tough position to pick because it’s underutilized nowadays and these guys get no credit at all. However, I have to go with Leach because he is the best, and when the Ravens want to run, they can, and a lot of it is due to Leach.
I’m picking three guys here because of the proliferation of three wide receiver sets, and also because Welker almost always plays in the slot. He’s the slot guy, and no one can deny the talent and the production this year, despite getting handle by the Steelers and the fact that he’s a little snot. Megatron is Megatron – he’s the best receiver in the league and has been since 2008… if you look at the things he’s done on teams utterly devoid of talent on all levels, there’s not discussion. Wallace is now a complete receiver having an amazing year, and he stretches the defense to open things up for the other guys.
Jimmy Graham is ridiculous. He’s playing like Antonio Gates without the constant injuries (sorry to use the stereotype comparison, but it’s true) and provides a really great inside threat. Pettigrew comes in after Graham. I almost gave it to Miller, but the Lions offense doesn’t function as well without Pettigrew as a tough, consistent option over the middle and his superb blocking – if you get a chance to watch a Lions game, watch Pettigrew. He’s a damn good player.
Gross gets the LT start over Long. The Dolphins have been struggling mightily, and while that isn’t Long’s fault and he’s been up to his usual standard, the Panthers’ offensive line has been back to playing very well. They’ve adapted to Newton’s odd style and Gross is definitely the key to that. They’re fifth in rushing average and only 21st in quarterback hits while protecting a guy like Newton. Gross is having a great year. Houston is also playing well for the Texans, who have often been successful on offensive because the protection is so good. They run behind him a lot, and he deserves a spot. Long is the swing tackle.
Levitre has been the key to Buffalo’s offensive line. He leads all linemen in Pro Football Focus’s offensive line ratings and needs the credit for Buffalo’s amazing line play. Iupati has been awesome this year. He’s a monster and did a great job against the fearsome Lions front. The 49ers are running well and the pass protection has been good, and Iupati is their best player by far, not to mention being a physical specimen. Joseph is a similar player to Iupati in terms of physical talent, but Joseph plays mean, which I have to like. He’s also playing very well this season – he’s had injury problems and has struggled when not healthy or has missed games, but when he’s healthy he’s as good a road-grader as there is in the league.
C – Chris Myers, Houston
With Mangold out and Pouncey playing down a bit, Meyers runs away with this award. Though Scott Wells in Green Bay has been having a great year Meyers has been destroying defensive lines to allow his running backs, whomever, they may be, to run all over the competition.
Defense – These are never easy to do because I hate reading all-pro teams that have a ton of 3-4 and 4-3 players all mixed up, so I’m going to do a team for both fronts. The secondary will be the same for each.
JPP is having an awesome season. He’s an absolute prototype of what the position is supposed to be, and he gets sacks as well as stops the run. He’s in. Babin has fulfilled expectations with his move to the Eagles, and he’s the first end off the bench in the rotation.
RE – Jared Allen, Minnesota
Allen is, much to my dismay (I hate the man) having a monster season. He has 12.5 sacks in eight games, and has also knocked down five balls and intercepted one. He’s a beast this year, despite the rest of his line being worse than in previous seasons.
People have been complaining about Suh’s lack of production compared to last season. It’s worth noting that his production hasn’t been bad, it just hasn’t been ridiculous. He’s also getting double or chipped on every play, but that doesn’t mean his ferocity doesn’t set the tone for his teammates, and his presence makes everyone else better because of the attention he draws. Examine last week’s game against the Broncos. Suh had no sacks. He was doubled almost every play. The rest of the team? 1 sack for Tulloch, 2 strip sacks for Avril, 1 sack for Corey Williams, 2 sacks for Lawrence Jackson, and 1 sack for KVB. Ngata has to be here, because he and Suh are the two best interior linemen in the league. I know he mostly plays end in the 3-4, but does anyone doubt he can play next to Suh in a 4-3? Of course not. Rubin is putting up great production on an underrated defense, and he helps the rotation.
There might be a few guys with more tackles, but Greenway is a solid tackler and a smart player as well – he’s rarely out of position and rarely makes mistakes and has played very well this year. Daryl Smith is having an overlooked season; he’s sixth in tackles at his position, but adds six pass deflections, two sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception. That’s a hell of an effort for the guy. Briggs is himself, and always makes the plays, in addition to being decent in pass coverage as well as stopping the run – he’s blocked three passes and has an interception as well as a forced fumble.
Lofton just quietly plies his trade in the middle of the Falcons defense. While the unit as a whole has struggle, Lofton hasn’t. He leads the defense, calls the plays, and has done it to the tune of 64 tackles (fifth in the league among linebackers), five passes deflected, and an interception. Tulloch has given the Lions a thumper in the middle who’s also underrated in pass protection. He’s a high motor player and has also invented "Tebowing," which I think we can all support.
LE – Justin Smith, San Francisco
Smith is a veteran who’s been plying his trade for long time, and he’s an excellent 3-4 end who leads one of the league’s best defenses. His efforts have made guys like rookie Aldon Smith (having a great season for a rookie) and the devastating combo of Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis better.
RE – Haloti Ngata, Baltimore; Brett Keisel, Pittsburgh
He’s Ngata. He simply destroys, whether it’s offensive lines or Ben’s nose. Keisel missed some time, but immediately dominated upon his return and showed the level of play Steelers fans come to expect from him. He’s an excellent player and leads by example, and the Steelers are lucky to have him.
I don’t think there can be any discussion about the putting Ware and Woodley here, though Woodley started a bit slow. He’s been dominant since his struggles, and Ware is the only thing on the Cowboys defense worth watching (though that Sean Lee kid seems like a player). Suggs is the next guy off the bench; he’s having a good year and has even made some plays in pass coverage, oddly enough coming in the games when he hasn’t had sacks.
This is a big play group. Bishop is having an incredible year, with 65 tackles and 3 sacks. He can do it all and he’s a big hitter as well, which I like having in the middle. He’s work well next to London Fletcher, who is always consistent as well as being a great leader. Fletcher is also excellent in pass coverage, and has seven pass deflections to go with two picks. Barnett got dumped by the Packers in favor of A.J. Hawk, and has gone and helped Buffalo to become good, somehow. He leads that defense and brought them experience and a high motor which has led him to 58 tackles, five pass breakups, an interception, and a forced fumble. Well done, sir.
Taylor is simply shutting people down left and right, and he’s doing it just as well as Revis, though Revis has more picks. This has been a tough category to pick, because there are a lot of deserving players, including Brandon Flowers out in KC, Jonathan Joseph in Houston, or Woodson in Green Bay (whom I didn’t choose because I think he’s lost a step and got most of his picks off Cam Newton in his first game). I went with Houston third, though, because he has developed magnificently in Detroit. He’s got four picks, a lot of pass deflections, and isn’t afraid to tackle. He’s done well blanketing the top receiver of Detroit’s opponents, so he’s in.
FS – Ed Reed, Baltimore
I wish he wasn’t so good, and that’s all I can really say about him. No one on the Ravens scares me more, except maybe Ngata. This was closer than you think, though, because Reggie Nelson has been having a great year in Cincinnati, and has been huge for making that defense so good. Apparently Jacksonville is just hell – even more so than Cincy.
Holy crap, where did this guy come from? He’s been spectacular this year, making splash plays like Troy Polamalu is supposed to be doing, with four picks, a forced fumble, and numerous pass deflections, as well as ranking tied for third in the league in tackles. While Barnett has been the leader of the Buffalo defensive resurgence, Wilson is the motor. I almost put Kam Chancellor in as the backup safety (seriously, he’s been really good for Seattle this season, though he’s trapped out there in with a bad coach and terrible front office), but I went with Troy, despite his lack of splash plays. He hasn’t come down with them like usual, but he’s still flying all over the place and dictating what offenses can do, as well as making his usual tackles, so he’s here.
Kicker – Josh Scobee, Jacksonville
He’s made every attempt, and won a game by himself. He’s also attempted the most fifty-plus yarders and made them all, so he’s here, narrowly moving above Green Bay’s Mason Crosby, who also hasn’t missed despite playing in Green Bay and sank a 58 yarder.
Punter – Shane Lechler, Oakland
He’s the best, and even throws touchdown passes? Whoa. Seriously though, an average over 50 yards and great accuracy. Hands down.
Kick Returner – Joe McKnight, New York Jets
He’s got a 40 yard average and a touchdown on 13 returns. Twelve have gone more than 20 yards. Good enough for me.
Punt Returner – Patrick Peterson, Arizona
15 returns, 19.1 yard average, 2 touchdowns. That’ll do, rookie.
Head Coach – Chan Gailey, Buffalo
Look, I wanted to give this to Jim Schwartz (I refuse to give this thing to damn Michigan graduate Jim Harbaugh), but somehow Buffalo is 5-2 with absolutely no one on the team and beat the Patriots. They’re just playing hard every week and coming up with big plays when it counts. Well done, coach.
Offensive Coordinator – Joe Philbin, Green Bay
I know his team is stacked, but also consider these numbers – the Packers average 6.8 yards per play, 9.9 per pass. That’s absurd. The team’s 1,703 points from 2007-10 were the most in franchise history over a four-year span, while the 83 turnovers were the fewest in a four-year period. They lead in points per game. They have the ball for 32:12, so they’re getting good long drives. They’re fifth in third down conversions. You can’t take game-planning or play calling out of that, no matter how good your offensive talent is, so he gets the nod.
Defensive Coordinator – Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati (4-3); Dick LeBeau, Pittsburgh
I almost gave this award to Gunther Cunningham in Detroit and Vic Fangio in San Francisco, because they’ve done an amazing job. Zimmer, however, doesn’t really have the superstar like Detroit has, and they’ve been playing well above their talent level. LeBeau has kept the Steelers reloading, and the development of the cornerbacks has taken an easily beatable pass defense to one that just stomped the Patriots into the dust, and is handling the absence of guys like Brett Keisel (briefly), James Farrior, and James Harrison masterfully.
Special Teams – Joe DeCamillis, Dallas
This is a hard category to figure, but this guy has an excellent reputation. Mat McBriar is an amazing punter, and Dan Bailey has been kicking very well. Their coverage teams are also solid, so I’m going with DeCamillis.