I am back again for the 2nd Annual Outsports NFL Awards. This year was a lot harder to pick than last year’s awards given this year’s competition. We still have a very wide open NFL season that is still far from over. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly from the 2016 NFL season.
Most Valuable Player
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
This year’s MVP race is as wide open as any in recent memory. Last year’s race was not nearly as exciting, with Cam Newton winning in a landslide. The MVP award generally goes to a quarterback, though Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has an argument for the award.
However, I’m going to go traditional and pick the quarterback on the best offense in the NFL, Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons. He has 34 touchdowns, good for third in the NFL, and only has seven interceptions. Only three quarterbacks who have played all 15 games have fewer. The Falcons went from not making the playoffs in 2015 to a potential first-round bye in 2016. If most valuable means the player that adds the most value to a team, Ryan has a very good argument. Take him away from the Falcons and Atlanta is not where they are today.
New England Patriots
There were cases for several teams to win this award, but it is hard to pass up the 13-2 Patriots on this one. The team lost in the AFC Championship last year and had a chip on their shoulder all year, especially after the Deflategate suspension cost Tom Brady the first four games of the season. Since going 3-1 without their future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, they have gone 10-1. This team from top to bottom is resilient. Brady has only thrown two interceptions. LeGarrette Blount leads the league in rushing touchdowns, and their defense is playing as good as any defense in the league. They will be a tough team to beat come playoff time and they are currently my Super Bowl favorite.
Most Surprising Team
The only team that has matched the Patriots’ 13-2 mark is the Dallas Cowboys. Despite having rookies at running back and quarterback, this team has made a nine-game swing from the year before, by far the biggest improvement in the league. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott have been a big part of the change, but improved play from their defense has helped immensely. Byron Jones is one of the top secondary players in the league, and linebacker Sean Lee is second in the league in tackles. It’s hard to believe that this team only won four games last year with most of the same pieces. They also continue to have the best offensive line in the NFL and they are the team to beat in the NFC.
Most Disappointing Team
Several teams came into the league with high expectations this year, only to fall flat, and the Cardinals were definitely one of those teams this year. This award could have easily gone to Carolina or Denver as both of last year’s Super Bowl participants failed to even make the playoffs. This has not happened since 2003, but Arizona believed to have improved this past offseason, poaching linebacker Chandler Jones from the Patriots and returning all of their key pieces. The Cardinals simply did not play to their potential. Carson Palmer had a down year, as did Larry Fitzgerald, Tyrann Mathieu, and Michael Floyd, who was released by the team a few weeks ago after a DUI arrest. David Johnson seemed to be the only bright spot for the team this year, as he carried the momentum from his stellar rookie year. This team still is very talented and should be able to contend next season.
Most Surprising Player
Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Hill was a nobody when this season began. Nobody thought that Kansas City’s fifth-round rookie from South Alabama would score 11 touchdowns en route to his first Pro Bowl appearance. When Hill is on the field, he is dynamic and changes the entire Chiefs offense. He can return kickoffs and punts, run the ball, and act as a receiver. He has touchdowns in all three of those facets and he has one more game to throw for a touchdown. If the Chiefs let a defensive tackle throw for a touchdown, I’m sure they can let Hill throw one too.
Most Disappointing Player
Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams made a bold decision by moving to Los Angeles, and they continued the theme by trading up 14 spots to get the first overall pick and draft Jared Goff. The Rams thought his blond locks and his California looks would sell tickets, but he could not even win the starting job out of training camp. In fact, it took the Rams nine games to finally hand the ball to their first overall pick. They were 4-5 when Goff took over as the starter. The team is now 4-11 heading into their final game of the season. His quarterback rating is 25.0; to put that in perspective, Brock Osweiler, the runner-up for this award, had a QBR of 54.6, and he was benched. Goff will get some time to develop, but his first season did not fulfill the Rams’ expectations, nor did it sell tickets.
Kansas City Chiefs 30, Denver Broncos 27 - Week 12
Last year, I picked the Week 12 Sunday Night Football game, where Brock Osweiler led his Broncos to an overtime win against Tom Brady and the Patriots. This year, I did the same in picking the Week 12 Sunday Night game in Denver. This game had everything. It had a safety to begin the game, a punt return from Tyreek Hill, a rushing touchdown from Hill, and a receiving touchdown from Hill to bring the game to overtime.
In OT, the teams traded scoreless possessions and needed all 15 minutes to decide a winner. Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos kicked the game-winner off the left upright and clinched the victory for Kansas City. This game ended up being very significant in the standings. If this game went Denver’s way, they would still be in the playoff race for a wild card and Oakland would be division champs already. Now, Oakland has to win in Denver to clinch the division championship on Sunday. This game had a major impact on the whole season and featured the most exciting finish of the year and it was, without a doubt, the game of the year.
Rookie of the Year
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Elliott has a very good case for MVP but he is a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year. He leads the league in rushing yards with 1,631, while nobody else has more than 1,300. He has 15 rushing touchdowns, best among rookies in the NFL. No other rookie has more than six. He is a major reason why the Cowboys have been the top team in the NFC this year and he definitely has more left to do in his rookie season before it is over. He has definitely had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history and it is the start of a hopefully brilliant career for the young running back.
Comeback Player of the Year
Jay Ajayi, RB, Miami Dolphins
Last year, in Ajayi’s rookie year, he sat out a good chunk of the season with an injury as he was backing up Lamar Miller. When Miller jetted to Houston in the offseason, Ajayi still was not trusted to be the starter. The team signed former Texans running back Arian Foster and deactivated Ajayi in their first game against Seattle, despite being healthy. Since then, he has been on a tear, rushing for 1,213 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns. He has three of the four 200-yard rushing games this season and has taken the league by storm. There aren’t any more questions at running back in Miami. They have their guy.
Hot Player of the Year
Von Miller, LB, Denver Broncos
Last year’s Super Bowl MVP is this year’s Hot Player of the Year, which is definitely much more of an honor than being Super Bowl MVP. He’s the best linebacker in the NFL and he definitely has a unique style. He’s second in the NFL in sacks and he definitely deserves to be the Hot Player of the Year for 2016.