It’s rare that one game has such a big impact on the NFL awards races. But what the Los Angeles Rams did to the Seattle Seahawks last week was rare.
A 42-7 win over the Seahawks practically won the Rams an NFC West title, and it helped three Rams get closer to major individual awards too. Running back Todd Gurley got a lot of MVP buzz on Sunday after an enormous game. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald probably took an insurmountable lead in the defensive player of the year race. And Sean McVay eliminated any doubt about who will be coach of the year.
Let’s look at all three Rams and their arguments to win:
Gurley: I think Tom Brady would have won MVP with or without the comeback against the Steelers. History, going back more than two decades, shows that voters will only select a non-quarterback if he’s a running back who rushes for 2,000 yards or sets a major record (that’s been the case for every MVP award since 1993). Gurley will do neither. And when Brady led a last-minute drive to beat the Steelers, he practically clinched the award. I know a lot of people want to tout Gurley for MVP, and I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve it. However, if we’re being realistic, it would take a miracle these last two weeks to knock off Brady.
However, Gurley might win offensive player of the year, especially after gaining 180 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns last week. Offensive player of the year is still a quarterback award too, with seven of the last 10 OPOYs being quarterbacks, but voters sometimes throw a bone to other deserving players. This could be like DeMarco Murray’s win in 2014, when he had a great MVP case but wasn’t going to win MVP over a quarterback so he got OPOY instead. It could come down to Gurley vs. Antonio Brown for OPOY, and unfortunately for Brown he’s injured as voters start to make their final decisions.
McVay: I’ll start by saying that I know McVay will win coach of the year and it will probably be unanimous. And it’s deserved; he has had a great season. But I do have an argument against him as coach of the year.
I think we give McVay a little too much credit because he’s compared to Jeff Fisher. We all agree Fisher was terrible and probably the worst coach in the NFL last season. That staff had Jared Goff and Case Keenum at quarterback (both are probably top-15 MVP candidates this season), Gurley at running back (another MVP candidate), and had one of the worst offenses we’ve seen in a long time. McVay came in and changed it all. Does the improvement make McVay the best coach, or the one who engineered the biggest improvement? New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick or Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn’t start with the low Fisher-level bar and raise a team up. They’re just good every year. We ignore those coaches for this award, and that’s not fair. It’s an award given out almost every year, in every sport, not to the best coach but the coach whose team beats preseason expectations by the largest amount.
Let’s frame this another way: Would you say McVay is the best coach in the NFL? Probably not, it’s Belichick. If you had to pick one coach to win a game for you, would it be McVay or Belichick? Again, it’s Belichick. Belichick was the best coach last year and the best coach this year, while the Rams went from the worst coach and improved probably 25-30 spots in that ranking. Belichick still ranks No. 1 on the list of NFL coaches (and he has done a marvelous job this season, they’ve improved dramatically from the first four weeks, and that’s coaching), yet he won’t win because he wasn’t cleaning up a Fisher-sized mess. We punish coaches for being great every single year when it comes to coach of the year awards. It’s illogical.
All that said, McVay obviously will win the award and they probably started engraving the trophy sometime during the first half of that win over Seattle.
Donald: I’m torn a bit here, because there has been some unbelievable cornerback play this season, and that position is horribly underserved in the defensive player of the year award history. Great corners don’t put up big stats because offenses scheme away from them. Erasing half of the field matters more than counting stats though.
But Donald is a remarkable football player, and I’m glad to see he’ll get his first DPOY award this year. He had one of the best games you’ll see from an interior defensive lineman last week. He had three sacks and seemed to blow up just about every play. The Seahawks couldn’t move the ball, and the biggest reason was Donald. Donald is just 26 years old and might have a J.J. Watt-like run of DPOY honors coming. I don’t think there’s much doubt after Sunday that he’s going to win this season’s award.
Here is this week’s MVP ballot:
1. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady — I think Brady has the award wrapped up, when you look at the history of the voting. There has to be a little bit of concern about how he’s finishing, however. The last three weeks, Brady has two touchdowns, four interceptions and a 75 rating. That’s only notable because no 40-year-old quarterback, aside from Brett Favre in 2009, has come remotely close to playing as well as Brady has this season. It’s at least worth keeping an eye on.
2. Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson — I’ll keep Wilson here because I don’t like how we overreact to single games when discussing the NFL. Wilson didn’t do much last week, but if you look at the entire season, nobody has meant more to his team. They’re 8-6, and what’s their record without Wilson?
3. Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley — Gurley has been great all season, and sits at 1,817 yards from scrimmage with 17 total touchdowns. I’ve said it often, but the most damning criticism of Jeff Fisher’s staff is they turned Gurley into a below-average player last season.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown — It’s not his fault, but a calf injury ruins Brown’s MVP dreams. We can argue if he deserves the award, but we all know he’s got no chance to win anymore. No receiver has ever won, no receiver has even gotten a vote since 1998, and it was going to take something special for Brown to break through.
5. Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford — Quick, who is the Lions’ second-best player? If you said cornerback Darius Slay, that’s the right answer, now who is their second-best offensive player? Receiver Marvin Jones, I suppose? Point being, the Lions are 8-6, and the only reason they’re close to a playoff race is that Stafford is having a fine season.
Here are how the other awards stand:
Defensive player of the year: One problem with a cornerback trying to knock off Aaron Donald is that there are many great cornerbacks. The voters who would be inclined to go outside of the norm and vote for a corner might split their votes. The latest corner who deserves a nod is Xavier Rhodes of the Minnesota Vikings, who plays for a fantastic defense and basically erases No. 1 receivers. Picking just two cornerbacks for the All-Pro team will be just about impossible.
1. Los Angeles Rams DT Aaron Donald
2. Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey
3. Minnesota Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes
Coach of the year: At some point, we should mention Doug Marrone of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sure, he stepped into a spot in which he was taking over a phenomenal defense. He also has managed everything well, and he also deserves some credit for Blake Bortles’ improvement. There are a lot of NFL coaches having remarkable years.
1. Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay
2. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick
3. Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer
Offensive rookie of the year: Alvin Kamara returned from a concussion and scored another touchdown, because that’s what he does. Kareem Hunt’s reemergence late in the season makes the race interesting, though.
1. New Orleans Saints RB Alvin Kamara
2. Kansas City Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt
3. Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette
Defensive rookie of the year: Marshon Lattimore is another one of those great cornerbacks who should get consideration for defensive player of the year. He grabbed another interception lats week and has transformed the Saints defense this season. He should be a lock for this award and if he doesn’t win unanimously, I’d have to wonder if the dissenting voters have watched the Saints this season.
1. New Orleans Saints CB Marshon Lattimore
2. Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt
3. Buffalo Bills CB Tre’Davious White
– – – – – – –