This has been a Clint Eastwood season: the good, the bad, and the ugly, with not much in between.
There is a top tier of teams in the league, then the group of mediocre teams, and then the downright ugly ones. The parity that used to exist in the NFL has left.
All right, time for some midseason awards. These are not predictions; they are simply based on performance so far, individually and how they affect the success of their team.
Offensive MVP: Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts
Manning is having a career year. He is on pace to throw for more yards this season than he ever has. When you have a résumé like Manning, and this is a career year, it must be a big year.
Tony Dungy out, no problem for Manning. He is obviously still the same ol' Manning we are used to seeing. Maybe even better. He has led the Colts to a solid 8-0 record with a big-time matchup with Tom Brady and the Patriots next Sunday.
Being in the top three in every major quarterback statistic and not having a bad game so far, I give this to Peyton Manning.
Defensive MVP: Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
Allen is having a freakish year for the Vikings. Leading the league in sacks with 10.5, Allen is striking fear in the eyes of man tackles and quarterbacks. He has showed up biggest when it counts the most. Allen has recorded 7.5 sacks against the Packers this season.
Allen is getting it done in other areas too. He has forced three fumbles, recovered two, recorded a safety, and scored a defensive touchdown. Allen draws many double teams, which helps others on the defensive line to break through, making what is already the best defensive line in the NFL even better.
Allen has had his motor running on high this season and is a big contributor to the Vikings' success.
Others considered: Darren Sharper, Elvis Dumervil, Curtis Lofton
NFC Rookie of the Year: Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings
This was an easy choice. No rookie in the NFL has made such a large, immediate impact on a team as Harvin. His lightning-fast speed and playmaking abilities have only added another weapon to the Vikings.
Harvin is a big play guy. That is all he has done this season: make big plays. He has five total touchdowns, and two of them have been kickoff returns. Averaging about 31 yards per return, he sets things up nicely for the Viking offense.
Others considered: Jeremy Maclin
AFC Rookie of the Year: Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills
This was a tough choice between Byrd and Houston linebacker Brian Cushing, but leading the league in interceptions is too impressive to ignore. Byrd has come to the lowly Bills and at least added a defensive spark at corner.
Byrd is tied for first with Darren Sharper in interceptions with seven. He has also recorded 32 tackles and looks to be one of the few bright spots on the Bills team right now.
Others considered: Brian Cushing, Knowshon Moreno
Comeback POY: Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals
Is this even debatable? I sure don't think so. Benson is having the best year of his career and is the main reason that the Bengals are in the thick of the playoff race. He has established a solid running game for the Bengals to lean on with 837 yards and six touchdowns.
With 198 carries, he leads the NFL in that category by far. That just shows that he is the Bengals' workhorse, and he is able to handle the load this year. He has not disappointed either. He has held up nicely and is having a career year.
Other considered: Tom Brady
All right, enough with the individual awards—now on to the team predictions.
There are multiple teams that could make it to the Super Bowl and perhaps even win it. But here is my prediction:
New England Patriots vs. Minnesota Vikings
First, let's start with the Pats. They are hitting their stride at the right time. They have three tough games remaining on their schedule, with the Colts, Saints, and Texans, all on the road. This team is experienced and knows how to handle tough situations though.
I think they will get a bye in the first round of the playoffs and will be able to make it to the Super Bowl over the Colts and Steelers.
In the NFC, I'm going with the Vikes. They are going under the radar right now in the NFC because of the success of the Saints.
The main reason I went with the Vikings is because I like their chances of home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They have three teams that currently have a winning record left this season, those being the Cardinals, Bengals, and Giants. They go on the road to play Arizona but get New York and Cincinnati at home.
With games against the Lions, Seahawks, Bears twice, and Panthers, I see them ending with a 14-2 record at the worst.
Their NFC foe, the New Orleans Saints, have a tougher road ahead. They finish the season with games against the Patriots, at Atlanta, Dallas, and at Carolina. I think they will have a tougher time with Carolina than Minnesota will because that is a division rivalry and will be the last game of the season.
If they both end with the same record, they go to head-to-head. They did not play head-to-head, so it would be division record, and the Saints have a better chance of losing to Atlanta or Carolina than the Vikings do to Detroit or Chicago.
I will refrain from picking my winner yet. I still have to ponder my final decision.