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By the time every NFL team has played eight games https://www.ramsfanstore.com/t-shirts , there are some heavily established favorites for The Associated Press NFL awards that are handed out on Super Bowl eve.Not this year.MVP? Lots of candidates — and not just quarterbacks.Coach of the Year? Nearly every division has a contender.Comeback Player? Some likely Hall of Famers are in the mix there.So the AP polled a few of the 50 voters for the awards, including genuine Hall of Famer James Lofton. The theme was clear: There isn’t much clarity as we head into the final eight weeks of the schedule.MVPThis honor has gone to a quarterback the past five seasons and 10 of 11. Two running backs, Adrian Peterson in 2012 and LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, broke through the QB domination in the past dozen years.Lofton and some others select Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.“So good you just can’t take your eyes off of him,” the CBS analyst says.“Maybe this opinion changes next week, given the stellar competition that includes (Todd) Gurley and (Drew) Brees,” adds USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. “Maybe not, as the kid keeps showing up. A first-year starter as quarterback? Hey, Mahomes is like the new Kurt Warner.”Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News opts for Brees. Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk prefers Gurley.Don’t forget about Tom Brady, Adam Thielen or Philip Rivers, and perhaps even a defensive force such as J.J. Watt.COACHAnother wide-open field headed by, according to Jenny Vrentas of Monday Morning Quarterback, Kansas City’s Andy Reid.“I selected Andy Reid … for his ability to seamlessly transition from Alex Smith to Mahomes,” Vrentas explains. “He’s been so invested in Mahomes’ development that he sits with him on the bench in between offensive series, going over what they see and how they’ll attack the opponent next. Reid has demonstrated an ability to keep his offense fresh and tailored to his players, updating his West Coast system with spread concepts pulled from the college ranks.”Bob Glauber of Newsday points to last year’s winner, Sean McVay of the Rams.“He’s one of the brightest minds in the game, and at 32, is proving not only to be a brilliant play caller, but an exceptional leader as well,” Glauber says.Not far behind in our little poll: the Saints’ Sean Payton, the Texans’ Bill O’Brien, the Bears‘ Matt Nagy Los Angeles Rams Hats , and the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn, whose team “plays a road game every week,” Lofton notes.COMEBACK PLAYERRarely has there been such an impressive group vying for an award no one really wants to win considering the implications of a comeback.From Watt to Peterson to Aaron Rodgers, from Andrew Luck to Carson Wentz to Deshaun Watson, from Odell Beckham Jr. to Richard Sherman — WOW!“It’s either Andrew Luck or Watt,” says Williams, “but Watt has returned to being one of the best at his position. He is playing at an All-Pro and Pro Bowl level. Luck is not one of the top-five quarterbacks in the NFL and maybe not in the top 10.”Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports goes for the Colts quarterback.“Can’t imagine the frustration he’s faced,” Adelson says. “A pro’s pro.”Vrentas picks Watt.“The surgery Watt had last October to put his leg back together after a tibial plateau fracture was so complicated that the surgeons couldn’t even be certain that it would work, and that his leg would be able to bear the full weight of his body while running full speed,” she explains. “Watt, who has nine sacks in nine games, was undeterred. He wasn’t back to full strength in the season opener but has steadily gotten better each week, a scary thought for opponents.”OFFENSIVE PLAYERAnother free-for-all, with Gurley, Mahomes, Thielen, Brees, Michael Thomas and James Conner getting consideration.“Before it’s done, he could wind up as MVP,” Bell says of Gurley, his choice in this category. “Ditto for Brees. Running backs don’t get the same love as quarterbacks in the pass-centric environment of the NFL. But if Gurley breaks LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-season TD record and the Rams keep winning big, people will have to take notice. Then again, Brees has a few records and has never been MVP.”Domowitch Los Angeles Rams Hoodie , a Brees supporter for MVP, puts Mahomes here. So does Williams.DEFENSIVE PLAYERThis category could be a two-horse race between a pair of thoroughbreds previously honored with the award: Aaron Donald and Watt.“Now that’s a man who don’t need no stinking training camp,” Bell says of Donald.Eric Adelson of Yahoo Sports prefers Donald, as well.“A game wrecker on every down,” Adelson says.Adds Glauber: “Donald is a disruptive force in the middle and already has 10 sacks. The only problem for him — and the Rams — is that teams will often go to great lengths to shut him down. Thus, the constant double teams he has to fight through.”Lofton likes what Khalil Mack has done in Chicago: “Mack turned the Bears from pretenders to contenders.” But this train could be a runaway for Donald and Mack.OFFENSIVE ROOKIENo contest.“He’s the only good thing going for an awful Giants team,” Glauber says of Giants RB Saquon Barkley. “Until the Giants figure out their quarterback situation, he’ll be wasted in this offense.”But not lost in the awards prognostications.“On pace for more than 2,000 total yards — on a bad team,” Adelson notes.DEFENSIVE ROOKIEChargers safety Derwin James has gotten lots of love, but there’s no runaway leader.“Darius Leonard and Denzel Ward make this an interesting race for the award down the stretch,” Williams says.Glauber leans to Leonard: “Halfway through the season, he not only led all NFL rookies with 88 tackles, he led all NFL players in that category. He also has four sacks and three forced fumbles and has already won defensive rookie of the week honors twice.” As the NFL’s regular season came to a close, the annual purge of head coaches led to a unified search for the eight teams looking for a replacement: find the next Sean McVay. In the most simplified way, these teams may see themselves as the 2016 Los Angeles Rams team, a poorly-coached group with remarkable under-performance and an abysmal record to boot. Their goal is to be more like the 2017 Rams club, who saw one of the greatest single-season offensive turnaround the league has ever seen, as well as winning seven more games than the prior season.And while the Kliff Kingsbury’s and Matt LaFleur’s of the world were getting hired to “be the next Sean McVay,” the sharpest point of criticism was that the prototype himself hadn’t even won a playoff game. A few weeks later, McVay is looking to be the youngest Super Bowl-winning head coach, all while beating some of the most experienced head coaches in the league.A head coaching job in the NFL is a hard job to keep. Twenty of the current thirty-two head coaches have been hired in the last three offseasons. Coaches have a remarkably short leash for a league that doesn’t boast a lot of season-long parity.Say what you wan’t about Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. Despite having the constant vote of confidence from owner Jerry Jones, Garret has had his share of ups-and-downs since taking over in 2010. He’s the 5th-longest tenured head coach in the league today (tied with Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll) and the 2nd-longest in the NFC (again https://www.ramsfanstore.com/Ethan-Westbrooks-Jersey , tied with Carroll). McVay and the Rams beat Garrett and the Cowboys 30-22. This was McVay’s first playoff win as a head coach, and the first Rams playoff win in 15 years.For the NFC Championship, McVay and the Rams took on the New Orleans Saints, coached by Sean Payton. Payton was hired back in 2006, making him the longest-tenured coach in the NFC and 2nd-longest in the NFL. For reference, the top song on Billboard at the time of his hire was Laffy Taffy by D4L, soon to be replaced by Grillz by Nelly and the other half-dozen people who were featured in that song. Payton’s resume boasts a Coach of the Year Award, several division titles, as well as a Super Bowl. Again, McVay and the Rams came out on top, erasing a 13-0 deficit and winning, 26-23.Sean McVay has already accomplished a lot in his second season as a head coach. His sharpest criticism, which was that he hadn’t won in the playoffs, has been put to bed. But for his final act, to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as the confetti flies inside the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he has to face his toughest test. Bill Belichick and the Patriots are like the final boss of North American sports. In the 19 years of the Belichick era, the Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl 9 times. He has an entire hand’s worth of Super Bowl rings. He’s been named Coach of the Year 3 times, though it’s easy to argue that hes often overlooked, seeing as his bar is his own past accomplishments. While some instances may skirt the rules, Belichick’s gameplanning is the stuff of legends. Countless times over the years, we’ve heard stories about the Patriots isolating and shutting down their opponents’ greatest offensive threat and exploiting defensive weaknesses. And with the extra week to prepare, it would be fair to assume that both coaches will be operating at their best. That’s exactly what McVay needs to be if he is going to become a Super Bowl-winning head coach.
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