The Daily Illini

Column: Handing out the hardware

By Jon Gluskin

We’re already heading into Week 9, which means we’re just about at the halfway point of the NFL season.

The first eight weeks have been filled with everything we could have wanted – full of great, atrocious, gutsy, mind-boggling and inspirational performances.

Here are my first-half awards. Feel free to agree or disagree.

MVP: Edgerrin James. Edge is the reason the Colts are undefeated at 7-0. Defenses decided they weren’t going to let Peyton throw for another 49 touchdowns this season, so Manning has instead handed the ball off to his All-Pro running back, letting him do the work. James is running like the James of old, leading the NFL in rushing yards with 801 at an average of 4.9 yards a pop. He’s also found the end zone a total of eight times.

Offensive Player of the Year: LaDainian Tomlinson. No shock here, LT is having another spectacular season. The heart and soul of the Chargers has rushed for over 700 yards on the ground and 200 grounds through the air. Not only has he compiled 13 touchdowns rushing and receiving, but he’s also 3-for-3 with three touchdowns passing. An average of two touchdowns a game? That’s just nasty.

Defensive Player of the Year: Robert Mathis: It’s been Mathis, and not Dwight Freeney – leading the Colts’ No. 1 defense, giving up only 11 points per game. Mathis tied for the league lead in sacks with eight and has forced five fumbles. With offensive lines doubling up Freeney, the door for this third-year defensive end to make an impact has opened. He’s making the most of the situation.

Breakthrough Player of the Year: Carson Palmer. Not only has Palmer broken through this year, he’s exploded. In only his second year as a starter, he has been the spark of one of the NFL most prolific offenses. He’s got a rating of 104.1, leads the NFL with 2,037 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he’s only thrown five picks. He’s completed a sick 69.7 percent of his passes.

Coach of the Year: Tony Dungy. I know the Colts’ awards are getting repetitive but you have to give credit where credit is due. The Colts are far and away the best team in the league, with Dungy making the necessary changes due to defenses limiting the passing game. More importantly, he’s turned around a defense that was one of the worst last season and is now the best in the game.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Heath Miller. The big tight end out of Virginia has in seven games become Big Ben’s favorite red zone target. Miller’s caught 19 balls for 200 yards, and six touchdowns already. Tampa Bay’s Carnell “Cadillac” Williams and Miami’s Ronnie Brown have both put up strong numbers at running back, but Miller’s had an even bigger impact with his team.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Odell Thurman. The Bengals’ rookie middle linebacker has been a key to the Bengals’ defensive prominence this season. Thurman has 44 tackles, four interceptions, one sack and even a touchdown through his first eight games. The future looks bright for Cincinnati’s second-round pick out of Georgia.

Biggest Surprise: The New York Giants. Eli Manning has matured quite nicely for his team, and he’s led the Giants to the top of the NFC East at 5-2. Eli and newly-acquired Plaxico Burress have shown signs that they might be the NFL’s next great quarterback/wide receiver combination, and Tiki Barber has been running wild. They could very well be the Nifco’s Super Bowl representative.

Biggest Disappointment: The Minnesota Vikings. Their season essentially came to a fitting end last week, with quarterback Daunte Culpepper tearing three ligaments in his knee and being placed on injured reserve. The team had high hopes going into the season, but it’s turned into a nightmare. Let’s be honest, they scored more on a boat than they have all season.

The second-half of the season starts Sunday, and we will continue to see who really are the contenders and the pretenders. The playoff picture will become clearer and clearer.

Monday Night Football features the regular season game of the year, when Peyton finally looks to get that first win at Foxboro and beat Tom Brady for the first time -which he will.

As the Coors Light commercial goes, “Here’s to football!”

By the way, the Colts will go 19-0 and beat Atlanta 42-24 in the Super Bowl.

Jon Gluskin is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]

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