This has been a tremendous regular season. The 100th year of NFL football has been worthy of celebration.
But let’s be honest. By Sunday, there wasn’t a whole lot left to be decided in terms of the playoff scene, and as things stand, there isn’t much — or anything — truly on the line with most of the Week 17 matchups, either. Sometimes that’s just how it goes, with all but one division likely to be wrapped up by this weekend, and the playoff field almost entirely set, with just seeding at stake.
So with that in mind, I figured I might as well dish out my 2019 awards now. Not much left to wait for, with so many teams set to rest key players next week and so much already wrapped up. We’ve seen enough — more than enough, in most instances — to be able to sort out and make sense of the regular season, which teams and individuals are worthy of accolades and which might be getting coal in their stockings.
Time to take a look at some traditional, and not-so-traditional, awards.
Most Valuable Player: Lamar Jackson
It’s not really close. Jackson is a top-three QB and top-10 RB in the same package who completely transformed the DNA of a franchise as the most explosive player in the game. The Ravens quarterback is nearly perfect in the red zone (24 TDs and no picks, last I checked) and would easily have over 40 TD passes if not for all of the games he barely played and/or barely threw the ball in the second half (because of all the blowouts). He also would easily have over 4,000 yards passing if not for calling off the dogs while trouncing other teams. The Ravens had the NFL‘s top offense most of the season, and he is the reason why. Russell Wilson would be the MVP in any normal year — but what Lamar did this season was anything but normal.
Offensive Player of the Year: Michael Thomas
Thomas is a machine and was really the only explosive cog in that Saints passing game much of the year, with Jared Cook and others hurt. Everyone knows where the ball is going, and no one can stop it. He doesn’t get as much attention as many other players in the league, but Thomas is mounting a historic season in his own right, and doing it with two different QBs. The dude is gonna catch 150 balls.
Defensive Player of the Year: Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore is the best player on what was the best defense in the NFL for much of the season. A total game-changer who can take it to the house and negate a side of the field, Gilmore is the best corner in the game and does it without any BS. The Pats needed the defense to carry them this time around, and he is a big reason why they did.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Jacobs
Injuries slowed Jacobs down in the final quarter of the season but he was a workhorse and a central cog for a Raiders team that look like a playoff contender through 10 weeks. He is a complete back who frankly is probably still being underutilized by the Raiders, and he showed an ability to carry a team for a spell and gain tough yards. In a year in which there are not many standouts on his side of the ball, Jacobs has been the most consistent producer of the bunch. I came close to going with Kyler Murray here, and you can make a case for him as well especially given how little he has around him.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Nick Bosa
The perfect edge presence to put the 49ers defense over the top, Bosa is a difference-maker who brought a fierce presence from week to week. There was no adjustment to the NFL needed; he was a plug-and-play beast from Week 1.
Coach of the Year: John Harbaugh
The Ravens coach totally reinvented his team around Lamar, pushing the envelope on analytics and aggressive football. Harbaugh zigged when everyone else zagged, and ran the gauntlet of a ridiculously tough part of the schedule unscathed. You can make a case for Kyle Shanahan, who Harbaugh beat. Or Mike Tomlin, who he also beat.
Comeback Player of the Year: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill completely energized and transformed the Titans offense the moment he replaced Marcus Mariota, saving their season while reinventing himself as a brash, bold downfield passer. Tannehill made a strong enough impression that the Titans will fight to keep him around, and the franchise tag is very much in play.
Best Backup QB: Teddy Bridgewater
There were plenty of them that got a shot — more than ever it seemed. And many of them ended up as the long-term starter for their teams, but Bridgewater went back to the sidelines after Drew Brees returned from his hand injury. All he did in the interim is navigate New Orleans through a treacherous portion of the schedule, including a massive win at Seattle. He is going to be the most coveted free agent QB on the market in all likelihood, once the franchise tags are handed out.
Best Narrative: Year of the Backup QB
Hate to see guys get hurt, or benched, but enough QBs either thrived, or at least kept their teams alive, for stretches of the season that this wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
Worst Narrative: Tanking
It gets widely overused, and is wildly misunderstood. And if you don’t get why some teams are playing for the future in terms of roster construction, then please read up a bit. The team that was most labeled a tanker — the Dolphins — were still better than a handful of other bad teams by the end of the season. A team that clung to every old, injured and expensive player like a toddler hugs his binky in the crib ended up winning one of its first 15 games and seems to have less of a grip on modern roster composition and asset allocation than the average fan.
Biggest Regression: Baker Mayfield
Mayfield’s regression was a huge part of the Browns‘ decline, not that the coaching or play calling helped. He went from having one of the greatest rookie seasons ever to being outplayed by guys like Kyle Allen and Mason Rudolph for parts of 2019 while trying to do too much, turning the ball over a ton and not being able to make anything happen downfield. He did lead the league in national TV commercials. It’s time for a total reboot.
Favorite Fad: Minshew Mania
Remember that? Those heady, mustachioed days in Jacksonville, before we knew all the sordid details of their sweeping grievances with players, amid the furor of the Jalen Ramsey trade demands? Remember when the late-round pick had this awful team 4-4, only to be benched for Nick Foles after his first bad outing? Yeah, that was fun. Seems like eons ago.
It’s a tie between the last two teams to fire Tom Coughlin. The Jags thought $50 million guaranteed for Foles would prop them up, and misjudged who they were, again. The Giants would go 10 weeks without a win, yet were trading future third-round picks for free-agent grunts in the trenches. Godspeed to both. And good luck getting out of this mess in 2020.
Biggest Disappointment: Chargers
Yeah, there were other talented teams who fell apart, but for this team to be this pathetic in a weaker AFC is hard to figure. Sure, the yearly cycle of injuries had something to do with it, but that seems to be baked into all of their seasons. Something is off there. Expect them to be shopping for a new QB, and possibly much more, as they move to a new stadium.
Happy Trails: Eli Manning
It’s been real. Glad you got to go out with a bang winning your final home game. But it’s over. Eli’s three picks in that final game, and the expressions afterwards and victory lap or sorts on the way down the tunnel with his kids, told the story. There’s nothing left to be gained by keeping this going.
Worst Experiment: Reviewing pass interference
What a disaster. Did anyone enjoy this? It didn’t even work out for Sean Payton, the guy who pushed hardest for it. His team kept getting jobbed by it in huge games. Just go back to the old way. Heck, revert back for the postseason if at all possible. (The second worst experiment went down in Cleveland. More on that to come.)
Again!?: Falcons punting on first half of season
The Falcons managed to be basically eliminated from playing meaningful football games by Halloween, again, yet managed to tease just enough in the second to keep the owner wondering if he really does need to make seismic changes so his team actually shows up for September and October next year. It’s hard to figure out.
Must See TV: Jameis Winston
Win or lose, crazy stuff happens when Winston plays football. He can be the best QB in the game for a month and then throw three straight picks to start a game. Winston, of course, is generally unphased by any of this by now … which means he might keep throwing picks or TDs. Either way, he will keep chucking the ball all the way downfield.
Favorite Old Guy: Ryan Fitzpatrick
It just seems to make perfect sense that Ol’ Fitzy is out there slinging it deep into overtime in Week 16 with the hapless Bengals and Dolphins playing for nothing on the line. Like, it wouldn’t be right if FitzMagic wasn’t a part of this game. This game couldn’t happen without him. No idea where he ends up next year, but he is a helluva watch and still a gamer even when on Team Tank.
I Was Most Wrong About: Freddie Kitchens
I went back and read what I said at the spring owner’s meeting after hanging out around him. Yikes. He had me hoodwinked. I thought his — let’s call it, unique — perspective and background would work. And maybe if he had handed Todd Monken play-calling duties by around Week 6 it might have had a chance to be something less than a disaster. Instead, we got Odell Beckham, Jr. — probably justifiably so — after he butchered the calling and management of yet another game.
Best Game: 49ers-Saints
It was amazing to see the 49ers slug it out in a first-team-to-50 type game after just losing an uber-physical defensive struggle the week before in Baltimore. To go on the road again and find a way to win in the Superdome in a game like that … you tend to remember those. It seems about that time questions were rising about the Saints’ lack of big plays in the passing game, too, and Brees changed all of that in this one, but lost anyway after that wild George Kittle rumble down the sidelines. I hope they meet again.
Most Impactful Game: Redskins-Giants II
Yup, that oddly compelling game Sunday between these two dogs could have ramifications for years to come. The battle for the second overall pick gave the loser the right to select Chase Young second overall, in all likelihood, and he will be a generational talent. Washington, in losing, may be the big winner with Young set to chase Daniel Jones all over the field for a decade or more. Adding him to that young and talented Washington front seven could be a game changer.
Most Musical Chairs: Steelers
Follow me here: They went from Ben Roethlisberger to Mason Rudolph to Duck Hodges, back to Rudolph, back to Duck, and then back to Rudolph. All before Week 17. Not by design, and it’s a testament to Mike Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert that Pittsburgh remains in the playoff chase despite all of this. But that has to be some kind of a record.