Let’s review the first half of the season and hand out some awards:
▪ MVP: Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles.
Honorable mention: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Tyreek Hill, Geno Smith, Derrick Henry, Tua Tagovailoa.
There is plenty of credit to go around for the Eagles’ 8-0 start, but it starts with Hurts, who has made remarkable improvement in his third season. Hurts has 326 rushing yards and six touchdowns but now he is a polished passer. Hurts has 12 touchdowns against two interceptions, a completion percentage that has jumped 7 points to 68.2, and he is No. 2 in the league in yards per attempt (8.54) and passer rating (107.8). The Eagles love Hurts’s leadership, and he has them on course for big things.
▪ Defensive Player: Matthew Judon, LB, Patriots.
Honorable mention: Micah Parsons, Roquan Smith, Tariq Woolen, Quinnen Williams, Uchenna Nwosu, Nick Bosa, Sauce Gardner, Haason Reddick.
Judon’s 11½ sacks lead the NFL by three and are one off his career high. His 19 quarterback hits are second in the NFL behind Bosa (20). His 10 tackles for loss are tied for fourth, and Judon has added a forced fumble and three passes defended.
▪ Coach: Brian Daboll, Giants.
Honorable mention: Kevin O’Connell, Pete Carroll, Mike Vrabel, Robert Saleh, Mike McDaniel, Nick Sirianni.
Several terrific choices, but no one predicted that the Giants, the worst team in the NFL over the last five years, would be 6-2 coming off their bye. Daboll has done an impressive job getting the most out of Daniel Jones. The Giants are also No. 4 in the NFL in point differential in the fourth quarter (plus-25) and second half (plus-31). That’s a team that makes adjustments at halftime and plays for 60 minutes.
▪ Executive: Howie Roseman, GM, Eagles.
Honorable mention: Seahawks GM John Schneider, Bills GM Brandon Beane, Dolphins GM Chris Grier.
Just two years ago, the Eagles were 4-11-1. Now with a new coach and roster overhaul, the Eagles are 8-0 with the No. 2 scoring offense and No. 4 scoring defense. Roseman has had quite a run of success: Sticking with Hurts instead of getting in on Deshaun Watson, trading for A.J. Brown, and hitting home runs in safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, cornerback James Bradbury, and Reddick. The Eagles also have two first-round picks next year.
▪ Rookie: Tariq Woolen, CB, Seahawks.
Honorable mention: Sauce Gardner, Chris Olave, Kenneth Walker, Dameon Pierce, Garrett Wilson, Jack Jones, Devin Lloyd.
A 6-foot-4-inch corner, Woolen was just a fifth-round pick out of Texas-San Antonio, but he has started all nine games and is second in the NFL with four interceptions, including a pick-6.
▪ Best offseason acquisition: Tyreek Hill, WR, Dolphins.
Honorable mention: A.J. Brown, Christian Kirk, Haason Reddick, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Davante Adams, Von Miller, Za’Darius Smith.
Hill cost the Dolphins first- and second-round picks and a $120 million extension, but he has been as good as advertised. Hill’s 1,104 receiving yards are 237 more than anyone else, his 10 catches of 25-plus yards rank No. 2 (behind teammate Jaylen Waddle with 11), and he’s on pace for the first 2,000-yard receiving season in NFL history (2,085 yards).
▪ Worst offseason acquisition: Allen Robinson, WR, Rams.
Honorable mention: J.C. Jackson, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Russell Wilson.
Signed to a three-year, $45 million contract to replace Odell Beckham and Robert Woods, Robinson has just 25 catches for 248 yards and two touchdowns for the 3-5 Rams. Zebra Technologies, which powers NFL Next Gen Stats, says that Robinson isn’t getting open. He’s tied for the sixth-least cushion and fifth-lowest separation of all NFL receivers.
▪ Best offseason decision: 49ers keeping Jimmy Garoppolo.
The 49ers are 4-4 and sitting in the No. 7 playoff spot in the NFC, but they are trending upward with the addition of Christian McCaffrey. Their season would be lost if they hadn’t kept Garoppolo at the end of training camp. Trey Lance’s ankle injury was tough to take, but the 49ers are arguably bigger Super Bowl threats with Garoppolo.
▪ Biggest surprise: Geno Smith, QB, Seahawks.
Honorable mention: Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts.
Smith is one of the most improbable stories in recent NFL history — winning his first starting job in seven years and playing like a different quarterback from the one who struggled as a youngster with the Jets. Smith leads the NFL with a 73.1 completion percentage, has 15 touchdowns against four interceptions, and is an MVP candidate for the 6-3 Seahawks.
▪ Biggest disappointment: Russell Wilson, QB, Broncos.
Honorable mention: Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, Derek Carr, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford.
A shocking drop-off in statistics and production for Wilson, who ranks outside the top 25 in passer rating (83.5), completion percentage (58.8), and touchdowns (six), while the Broncos rank 32nd in red-zone touchdowns (35 percent). Wilson is looking more like a creation of Pete Carroll and the Seahawks than a true superstar.
▪ Most exciting team: Dolphins.
Honorable mention: Chiefs, Bills, Eagles, Ravens.
McDaniel’s offense is a pinball machine when Tagovailoa, Hill, and Waddle are healthy. The Dolphins are 6-0 in games Tagovailoa has finished, averaging 27.5 points. They are tied with the Chiefs for the most passes of at least 20 yards (36), and Hill and Waddle are first and fifth in the NFL in receiving yards, combining for 1,916. The Dolphins had a 21-point fourth-quarter comeback win over the Ravens, and a 14-point comeback win over the Lions.
▪ Most disappointing team: Packers.
Honorable mention: Broncos, Raiders, Rams, Colts, Buccaneers, Cardinals.
The 3-5 Broncos are painfully dysfunctional under Wilson and new coach Nathaniel Hackett. But it’s hard to top the shocking first half of Rodgers and the Packers, who are 3-6 and ranked 27th in points. Rodgers has won 13 games three straight years and was MVP the last two. Now he’s losing to the Jets, Commanders, and Lions.
▪ Team no one wants to face in the second half: Cowboys.
Honorable mention: 49ers, Bengals, Titans, Dolphins.
The 6-2 Cowboys have a terrific defense (No. 3 in points allowed) and a lot of talent on offense that helped them go 4-1 in Dak Prescott’s absence. Now Prescott is back and getting into the flow of things again. Watch out for the Cowboys.
Teams are seeing gains on ground
A couple of other nuggets on the season:
▪ Teams have never been better at running the football, with the league averaging 4.54 yards per carry, the best in league history through nine weeks and significantly better than in any other season in the Super Bowl era (second-best is 4.35 in 2020). But leaguewide scoring is still down 3 points from last year and 7 points from 2020. Passing the ball, not running the ball, leads to points.
▪ The lack of scoring maybe has to do with a lack of penalties? This season has seen 1,700 fewer penalty yards than at this point last year, 3,000 fewer than in 2019, and 2,000 fewer than in 2018. But there have been almost the same penalty yards called this year as in 2020, the highest-scoring season ever.
▪ Per data from NFLPenalties.com, false start penalties are up 19 percent from 2020 but static from last year. Offensive holding is about the same. Defensive holding is up 40 percent from last season, but defensive pass interference is down 17 percent. Unnecessary roughness has been static for the last three years, but roughing the passer is surprisingly down about 31 percent from last year.
Carroll and Wilson airing grievances
When Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were squabbling behind the scenes in their final years together in New England, they at least remained civil in public and kept most of their true thoughts to themselves, leaving the rest of us to fill in the gaps. But Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson aren’t trying to hide that there was tension in their final years together in Seattle.
Carroll encouraged Seahawks fans to boo Wilson loudly before the game against the Broncos in Week 1. And after the win, instead of resorting to the usual clichés, Carroll acknowledged that it was “really rewarding” to beat his former quarterback.
Now last week, Carroll took an unprovoked shot at Wilson during his weekly radio show when praising Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith.
“If you notice, Geno’s going off the wristband, and that’s a big help,” Carroll said. “We never did that before. There was resistance to that, so we didn’t do that before.”
The person who would have resisted the wristband, of course, would be Wilson, who was Carroll’s quarterback from 2012-21. Wilson shot back on Wednesday that the Seahawks made the playoffs in eight of his 10 seasons and reached two Super Bowls, with one win.
“Won a lot of games there without one on the wrist,” Wilson said from Denver. “I didn’t know winning or losing mattered if you put a wristband on or not. But I think you do what it takes to make sure we’re rolling and moving and everything else. A few times I’ve definitely worn a wristband with the game plan and what we have called.”
Grass vs. synthetic turf
Packers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was the latest player to call for the NFL to ditch synthetic turf surfaces and install natural grass in all 30 stadiums. Campbell and the Packers lost linebacker Rashan Gary to a torn ACL last week. Currently, half of NFL stadiums have natural grass and half have synthetic.
“This is two weeks in a row we’ve had players get injured on turf fields,” Campbell tweeted. “The turf is literally like concrete, it has no give when you plant.”
Except the NFL argues that the difference in injuries between natural and synthetic surfaces has become negligible. Citing injury data tracked from a third-party company contracted by the NFL and the Players Association, the NFL believes that synthetic surfaces have become, generally, just as safe as natural grass. The data related to lower-extremity injuries to the knee, ankle, and foot.
“What we’ve seen over the past few years is a narrowing of the difference in injuries that can be attributed to the surface between synthetic and natural grass, to the point where in 2021 there wasn’t a statistically meaningful difference between the rate of injury,” NFL senior vice president Jeff Miller said. “This preseason in 2022 we didn’t see any meaningful difference in the rate of injuries. And so I think the question we’re thinking about with the PA and the experts is how to drive down the injury rates in both places.”
While natural grass certainly has more “give” than most synthetic surfaces, plenty of noncontact injuries still happen on grass. And as fans in Pittsburgh, Washington, and other cold-weather cities know, grass surfaces don’t always grow well late in the season.
“That field is terrible,” former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor said of Heinz Field in 2008. “Maybe they should try to invest in FieldTurf next year or in the future.”
In case you had any doubt that the Commanders are still loathsome, the team responded Thursday night to an announcement from the D.C. attorney general by referencing the August shooting of running back Brian Robinson. The Commanders attacked the AG for seeking “splashy headlines, based on offbeat legal theories, rather than doing the hard work of making the streets safe for our citizens.” Team president Jason Wright later apologized (never mind the fact that D.C. police have made arrests in the shooting), but the Commanders still clearly haven’t learned anything. That whole organization needs to be wiped out … It seems that the Texans and receiver Brandin Cooks are mending fences. Cooks was upset last week when he wasn’t moved at the trade deadline, tweeting, “Don’t take a man’s kindness for granted. Covered for the lies for too long, those days are done. Crossed the line with playing with my career.” The problem was likely the contract Cooks signed in April that guarantees him $18 million next year. Cooks was made inactive for the Nov. 3 game against the Eagles, and was replaced by Laremy Tunsil as a game captain. Cooks has been back at the Texans’ facility since last Friday, but let’s see if he gets his captaincy back for Sunday’s game against the Giants … Hope NFL owners, particularly the one in Carolina, are noticing that interim coach Steve Wilks is 2-3 with the Panthers after they benched their quarterback and traded Christian McCaffrey … Nothing is going right for Josh McDaniels and the Raiders, who put Darren Waller (hamstring) and Hunter Renfrow (oblique) on injured reserve on Thursday. The trio of Waller, Renfrow, and Davante Adams have been on the field together for just 62 snaps all season, per The Athletic … Brady threw an interception in Week 1, and since has thrown 373 passes without one. The NFL record is 402 passes without an INT, set by Aaron Rodgers in 2018 … Did you know: Brady is throwing the ball even more this year than he did last year, when he set a personal record with 719 pass attempts, the second-most in NFL history? Brady, at age 45, is on pace for 751 passes, which would break Matthew Stafford’s NFL record of 727 … Bills quarterback Josh Allen hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season of 2018, when he sat out four games because of an injury to his throwing elbow, the same injury he is dealing with now. The Bills play the Patriots in 2½ weeks on a Thursday night … The Patriots already honored Richard Seymour this year for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Now this Sunday, the Raiders invited Seymour to light the Al Davis Memorial Torch before their game against the Colts. Seymour spent his last four seasons with the Raiders, and of course their coach is McDaniels … Per Zebra Technologies, seven of Patrick Mahomes’s 20 interceptions since the start of 2021 have hit off his receivers’ hands … Per multiple reports, the Panthers turned down a 2023 second-round pick, and first-rounders in 2024 and 2025, for pass rusher Brian Burns. They should have taken that deal without thinking twice … Seahawks linebacker Josh Onujiogu, a Wareham native and undrafted rookie out of Division 3 Framingham State, was bumped up from the practice squad last week and made his NFL debut, playing 11 defensive snaps, six special teams snaps, and finishing with three tackles in the win over the Cardinals.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.