If in a normal season, it takes four games to truly know what a team is or isn't, I think in the Year of Covid-19, we can extend that to eight games — and even that's dicey with Covid lists and what feels like more injuries to key players.
But we're now halfway (past for some) to the postseason for the NFL, so let's take stock of where we are, and where we're going, for the Patriots and the NFL by giving out the awards and offer up some projections for the postseason.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
NFL: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
He's the best player in the NFL by far. Only Aaron Donald is close. He can singlehandedly turn a game or a play around. You could certainly make the argument that some players (like Alvin Kamara or Dalvin Cook) are more valuable to their teams than Mahomes is to the Chiefs, but he's just special.
Patriots: (tie) DT Lawrence Guy, C David Andrews
I went with just Guy after four games but I learned my lesson (finally) on Andrews with his IR. If the Patriots don't have Andrews, they can't run the ball. If they don't have Guy, they can't stop the run or get any movement in the line to generate pressure (Jets game). You simply can't win football games like that, which makes them immensely valuable in my book. No, I won't apologize for taking big-boned men. They make football go.
NFL: Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals
I'm sorry, but if Murray goes on to be the NFL's first 4,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher, he deserves some hardware. Lamar Jackson gets the pub because he's on the East Coast, but Murray is the realization of the two-way player dream. He's light years better than Jackson as a passer. Murray is electric.
Patriots: LG Joe Thuney
What a sad state of affairs. There are no receivers or tight ends you would put up for this. Damien Harris and James White really don't have enough work. So where do you go? Outside of the Buffalo game, when he was obviously trying to recover from an injury, Thuney has been the team's best and most consistent offensive player. Plus, he played a great center in a game.
NFL: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams
The man leads the league in pressures (48) and sacks (10) while getting the undivided attention of everyone on offense. What a freak this guy is, and amazing to watch.
Patriots: CB JC Jackson
Again, slim pickings here since no one knows what the heck has gone on with Stephon Gilmore. Jackson would be a lot better (like Gilmore last year), if the Patriots had any pass rush. Still, he has five interceptions and one in four straight games.
NFL: Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers
I didn't think Herbert would be this good, this fast in the NFL. He's a completely different QB than he showed at Oregon, and you can chalk it up to the teaching/system at both places. Shane Steichen has done an excellent job (like Arthur Smith with Ryan Tannehill, Brian Daboll with Josh Allen) of perfectly tailoring the scheme and plays to Herbert's strengths — and minimizing his weaknesses.
Patriots: OG Michael Onwenu
Even New England didn't know he was going to be this good, or else they would have taken him before the sixth round. As long as keeps his weight in a good place, Onwenu has the look of a future All-Pro at guard or right tackle.
NFL: Antoine Winfield, S, Bucs
Despite all the headlines, Tampa is being carried but it's defense, not TB12 and the offense, and Winfield has been a vital addition to that group.
While I'm very excited about Kyle Dugger and his potential (certainly as a rusher) I can't in good conscience put any name down here due to the lack of consistent contributions. Pretty sad after you trade out of a spot where you could have had an impact player, and none of your first three draft picks have really done anything.
COACH OF THE YEAR
NFL: Brian Flores, Dolphins
If this Tua thing works out — and despite initial appearances, there is a long way to go on that (wait until teams have tape on him and the remedial passing offense the Dolphins are using) — the Dolphins could be really dangerous in the second half of the season. It starts with Flores' defense (they actually have talent ... funny how that goes) and how the team has taken on his personality.
Patriots (assistant): Mick Lombardi, WRs
He might not have done great work with N'Keal Harry yet, but Damiere Byrd has assimilated himself well, and Jakobi Meyers has taken another step — even Isaiah Zuber has done well in his handful of plays each game. Not bad considering the QB issues on this team. This is a far cry from last season, when many people (including the QB) were not happy about Joe Judge splitting time between WRs and STs.
NFL: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Sorry, but I'm not just giving this to Alex Smith because he went to hell and back. You have to come back and play really well, and Smith is just not that good. Roethlisberger's career was at a bit of a crossroads but he has the Steelers 8-0 and dealing well with shifting personnel and persona (from offense to defense).
Patriots: Nick Folk, K
Not a whole lot of options here but I did consider Damien Harris and he'd probably get it with more playing time, but I like the idea of Folk. He was an injury replacement last year, and largely written off when the Patriot drafted Justin Rohrwasser. When the rookie struggled, the Patriots brought the vet back and Folk has largely been very good ever since.
Most surprising NFL team: Cardinals.
We knew Arizona was going to be a real factor this season, but not sure they'd beat the 49ers and Seahawks before the midway point.
Most disappointing NFL team: Cowboys.
Yes, they lost Dak Prescott but this team wasn't improved before that and should really be 1-8 if it wasn't for the miracle — that was luck, not skill. It makes me question what Mike McCarthy was studying during his year off. It certainly wasn't the right things. He hasn't reinvented himself at all and he looks like Jason Garrett II at this point.
Team that will surprise from here: Dolphins.
Outside of the Chiefs, every game is winnable for the Dolphins down the stretch as FootballOutsiders.com has them for the 31st-ranked schedule down the stretch. If I was a betting man, I could put some money down on the Dolphins reaching the Super Bowl. It's not out of the question if Tua hits.
Team that will disappoint from here: Bills.
Yes, there's no love lost between #BillsMafia and myself (the feeling is mutual), and I don't think all that much of Josh Allen, though he is improved after being propped up by Brian Daboll. But there are some serious cracks here. The defense can't stop the run or get that much pressure. The linebackers are slow and the secondary is average. And if you can make Allen feel the pressure of the moment, he will crumble — he and the Bills are great frontrunners. The Dolphins are much mentally tougher, and the Bills smell like a team that's going to go one-and-done again.
Coaches fired (following Bill O'Brien and Dan Quinn): Adam Gase (Jets), Doug Marrone (Jaguars), Matt Patricia (Lions). Very possible but depends on finish: Vic Fangio (Broncos), Anthony Lynn (Chargers), Matt Nagy (Bears).
AFC Playoff teams: Chiefs, Steelers, Bills, Titans, Ravens, Dolphins, Colts.
NFC Playoff teams: Saints, Packers, Seahawks, Eagles, Bucs, Rams, Vikings.
Super Bowl: Chiefs over Seahawks.
1. I have no clue who ordered the Code Red or what the reason was, but when you fire your PR person in the middle of the season — as the Texans did this week — you better have a serious issue. And there's no way that happened in Houston with Amy Palcic. She is literally one of the very best at what she does, and the NFL is much better when she's in it. To cite "culture fit" is an insult. If Palcic is not a fit for your culture, then you have a culture problem, not the other way around. She has already hired an attorney. Stay tuned for more from that clown show. The Curse of Jack Easterby lives on.
2. Trouble in Chicago? Matt Nagy has given up playcalling for the skidding Bears. “It allows me to really look at all three phases from the head-coaching position and focus on that," Nagy told reporters. This isn't going to help when it comes to Nagy's future beyond this season.
3. DeAndre Hopkins is absolutely right: receivers should get yards for pass interference. In fact, it should also be given to the QB and put into the team stats both ways. The Patriots should have been docked 41 yards for Jason McCourty's tackle/coverage last week against the Jets.
4. For the second week in a row, the must-see game of the week would have shocked you before the season. Last week it was Miami at Arizona — Tua Tagovailoa vs. Kyler Murray. This week it's Dolphins vs. Chargers — Tua vs. Justin Herbert. That's a very good sign for the NFL, and another one that shows how much work the Patriots have to do at the position,.
5. Week 10 NFL Picks vs. spreads
I really thought I was turning it around. Sigh.
Last week: 3-10. Best bet: 0-1
Total: 43-61-3 (.416). Best bet: 2-5-1.