NFL Mid-Season Awards and Storylines: Which star QB is MVP at halfway point?

Week 9 of the NFL season is officially in the books, which means we’ve reached the halfway mark of the 2023 campaign with all 32 teams having played at least eight games.

So, what have we learned?

In an effort to take stock of the league standings, we’re handing out some mid-season awards for strong first-half performances before turning our gaze to what might await us in the second half of the season.

MID-SEASON MVP

Sadler: Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Whether through the air in an offensive clinic or on the ground in a statement win, the Ravens have proven in the first half of this season that they can win any way they want — and no matter the route to victory, Jackson has been the driving force. The odds-on favourite according to the betting lines at mid-season, Jackson is completing passes at a career-best rate (71.5 per cent) and has the 7-2 Ravens riding a four-game win streak to close out the first half of the season with a commanding two-win lead atop the NFL’s toughest division.

Johnston: Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Hurts was an MVP frontrunner until a late-season injury ruined his chances last year but he has picked up right where he left off. His passing has improved and although he’s rushing for fewer yards per game he’s still getting just as many touchdowns, currently tied for third in the NFL with seven, and has been doing this all while playing with an injured knee. The Eagles have a daunting upcoming schedule beginning Week 11 with consecutive games against the Chiefs, Bills, 49ers, Cowboys and Seahawks. If Hurts can use Philadelphia’s bye week to heal up and he continues thriving during that tough five-game stretch, it could be his award to lose. Losing a reliable weapon like Dallas Goedert is unfortunate news but Hurts has been heating up in recent weeks.

MID-SEASON OPOY

Sadler: Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers
As far as offensive production goes, McCaffrey has been as consistent as they come this season. He has yet to be held off the scoresheet this year, with 13 touchdowns (nine rushing, four receiving) through eight games and is currently the league leader in rushing yards.

Johnston: Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins
Hill is a unique talent and his numbers have shown it with him leading all players in targets, receiving yards, YAC yards, receiving touchdowns and receiving first downs. He is on pace to become the first player in NFL history to record more than 2,000 receiving yards in a single season. There are several concerns with this Miami team when it comes to the Dolphins being Super Bowl contenders but Hill’s connection with Tua Tagovailoa is not among them.

MID-SEASON DPOY

Sadler: Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
On a team brimming with defensive talent, Garrett stands out, a six-foot-four wrecking ball capable of wreaking havoc on — or leaping right over — opposing o-lines. With 9.5 sacks, 18 QB hits and 19 solo tackles through eight starts, he’s on his way to a personal-best campaign, is just a half-sack off pace of Danielle Hunter’s league lead in the category, and has already registered a career-high four forced fumbles.

Johnston: T.J. Watt, OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s hard not to admire what Micah Parsons is doing with Dallas this season but a traditional linebacker hasn’t won since Luke Kuechly a decade ago and I think it ends up going to an AFC player this year. Watt has 9.5 sacks just like Garrett and Las Vegas’s Maxx Crosby, but what sets Watt apart from those other top pass rushers is his versatility. Watt also has an interception this season, leads all non-defensive backs with six pass deflections, and has three fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for his first career touchdown – a game-winning TD no less.

MID-SEASON STANDOUT ROOKIE

Sadler: C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans
Through the first half of his rookie campaign, Stroud has already written his name into the NFL’s rookie history books several times over — including a few new records in Week 9 alone, which saw him put up the greatest single-game stats we’ve ever seen from a first-year QB.

Johnston: Jalen Carter, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
Stroud is the clear top rookie among the offensive standouts, but let’s give some props to the other side of the ball. The Eagles were fortunate to have this former Georgia Bulldog star fall to them at No. 9 in this spring’s draft as the rookie defensive tackle often resembles a man playing against boys even though he’s just 22. The Eagles are a team that relies on winning in the trenches and Carter has been a perfect fit with this group, at times outright dominant.

MOST IMPRESSIVE FIRST-HALF TEAM

Sadler: Philadelphia Eagles
Despite a series of injuries at secondary and along the offensive line, last year’s Super Bowl runners-up have wasted no time announcing their intention to get back to the game’s biggest stage, and they bring that urgency to the field each week. The Eagles are the league’s lone one-loss team at the mid-season mark thanks to a best-in-class run defence and a dynamic offence that has pushed (often literally) its way onto the scoreboard in the first drive of nearly every game this season.

Johnston: Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson is an MVP candidate throwing the ball better than ever and has adapted nicely to offensive co-ordinator Todd Monken’s system that can lean on a stable of running backs who can beat teams in a variety of ways. The defence allows the fewest points and second-fewest yards against per game and the team is heating up just as the weather begins to cool down, currently riding a four-game winning streak during which they’ve outscored their opponents 130-49.

TEAM OUTPLAYING OUR EXPECTATIONS

Sadler: Houston Texans
In a season projected to feature more moral victories than actual victories, the Texans find themselves sitting second in the AFC South with an .500 record thanks to their history-making rookie QB who’s launching the Texans back into relevance. There may still be several speedbumps ahead, but C.J. Stroud’s poise and quick chemistry with his weapons makes Houston a fun team to watch.

Johnston: Minnesota Vikings
This team began the season 1-4 and was losing star players and starters left and right yet somehow the Vikings occupy an NFC playoff spot and a 5-4 record at the halfway point. Josh Dobbs’ incredible Week 9 performance mere days after being acquired from Arizona via trade symbolizes what Minnesota’s first nine games were like. Whether or not it’s sustainable in Weeks 10 through 18 is an entirely different dilemma.

MOST DISAPPOINTING FIRST-HALF TEAM

Sadler: Buffalo Bills
It feels a bit wrong targeting a team above .500 here, but between the slow starts and struggles with inconsistency, something’s amiss in Buffalo — a team we’ve seen catch fire one week and go down in flames the next. At 5-4, they still have plenty of time to right the ship down the stretch but the pressure’s only going to get heavier if those struggles continue, and relief is still a ways away — their bye isn’t until Week 13.

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Johnston: Atlanta Falcons
This season has been one of wasted opportunities for the entire NFC South, really, yet if the Falcons end up missing the playoffs they’ll look back at untimely errors, turnovers, and specifically their back-to-back losses in Week 8 and 9 with regret. This team has a solid defence (although losing Grady Jarrett hurts massively) and some elite offensive talent and both have gone to waste in too many weeks.

TEAM TO WATCH DOWN THE STRETCH

Sadler: Cincinnati Bengals
It’s clear now that the only thing slowing down Cincinnati in the first month of the season was Joe Burrow’s calf, and now that he’s healthy the Bengals are looking better than ever. The only problem is, the rest of the AFC North got a head start on their victories — the Ravens are a full two wins ahead of the pack while the Steelers, Browns, and Bengals are gridlocked at 5-3 and sitting in the AFC’s three wild-card spots. The Bengals have the toughest remaining schedule according to opponents’ win percentage and no room for error in the second half of the season … but are you going to bet against Burrow? (Nope.)

Johnston: New Orleans Saints
One team has to win the NFC South and at this point it should probably be the Saints. It’s conceivable the Saints only have one game remaining against a team likely to qualify for the playoffs. They barely squeaked past the Bears despite forcing five turnovers, however things seem to be slowly coming together with Taysom Hill being worked into the offence seamlessly with Derek Carr starting.

SECOND-HALF STORYLINE TO WATCH

Sadler: The quest for 2,000 receiving yards
Tyreek Hill made history in Week 8 when he hit 1,000 yards on the season while Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown set a record of his own with a six-game run of 125-plus yards per contest. In this golden age of receiving talent, the focus now shifts ahead to the race for 2,000 and whether Hill (currently at 1,076 yards) or Brown (1,005) or both (!) can be the first NFLer ever to reach the mark.

Johnston: Chaos near the bottom of the standings
Between touted quarterback prospects USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye being at the top of many mock drafts and the fact so many teams have QB questions heading into next year, the jockeying for position among non-playoff contenders can end up shaping the NFL for years to come. Another interesting wrinkle this year is the fact Chicago holds Carolina’s first-round pick following their blockbuster trade earlier this year. If the season ended today the Bears would hold the No. 2 and No. 3 overall selections in the 2024 draft.

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