Packers LB Clay Matthews
This was a two-horse race between Matthews and Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Matthews has a league-high 10 1/2 sacks. Harrison has forced a league-high four fumbles. Both are pre-snap must-finds for the quarterback. The difference is, Harrison is part of the league's best linebacking corps, while Matthews is playing alongside Frank Zombo and Desmond Bishop. The one game that Matthews has missed this season - Week 6 vs. Dolphins - the Packers lost.
COACH OF THE HALF-YEAR
Mike Tomlin, Steelers
I gave a lot of thought to the coaches of the league's four rags-to-riches stories - the Chiefs, Bucs, Raiders and Rams. While they've all done an impressive job, there isn't a single quality-win scalp to be found on any of their belts. They've all benefited from toilet-paper soft early schedules. The Steelers won three of their first four games without their starting quarterback. Tomlin gets the nod here over the Patriots' Bill Belichick and the Eagles' Andy Reid.
Rams QB Sam Bradford
Rookie quarterbacks, especially ones who play for teams coming off one-win seasons, usually have that deer-in-the-headlights thing going on. But not calm, cool Bradford. The Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma has had an 84-plus passer rating in five of the Rams' last seven games and hasn't thrown an interception in a month. He's already guided his fast-improving team to three more wins than they had last year.
Lions DT Ndamukong Suh
The Lions have blown more high draft picks on guys who couldn't play than any team in league history. But they got this one right. Suh has been a disruptive force inside and already has 6 1/2 sacks He easily outdistanced Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas, who has four interceptions.
Eagles QB Michael Vick
A year-and-a-half after he was released from federal prison, Vick not only is a starting NFL quarterback again, but is the top-rated passer in the league. Also getting consideration were Seahawks wide receiver Mike Williams, who has 35 catches after being out of football for 2 years, and Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who has bounced back from a career-threatening knee injury to catch 44 passes in the first eight games.
BEST TRADE ACQUISITION
Browns RB Peyton Hillis
The Browns picked up Hillis from the Broncos to be the centerpiece of their downhill running scheme. For reasons known only to Josh McDaniels and his therapist, Denver had no use for the 250-pound running back. Browns general manager Tom Heckert was only too happy to give them quarterback Brady Quinn for Hillis, who already has rushed for 644 yards and seven touchdowns and is tied for eighth in the league in yards from scrimmage.
BEST FREE-AGENT SIGNING
Titans DE Jason Babin
Curiously set free by the Eagles last March, Babin signed a no-frills 1-year deal with the Titans and is having the best season of his career. Jeff Fisher has let him do what he does best, which is line up wide and go after the quarterback. He's tied for sixth in the league in sacks with seven.
WORST COACHING HIRE
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan
The mismanaged Redskins make the Keystone Kops look like a Special Ops unit. Owner Dan Snyder opted to bring in yet another big-ticket head coach and foolishly handed him the keys to the kingdom. Shanahan was last seen calling the starting quarterback he traded second- and third-round picks for a few months back fat and stupid after he benched him in favor of Rex Grossman.
Texans' Arian Foster
A year ago at this time, running back Arian Foster was an undrafted free agent on the Texans' practice squad. Now, he's the NFL rushing leader with 864 yards and nine TDs.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (TEAM)
Three months ago, Dallas owner Jerry Jones thought his team had a legitimate chance to become the first team in history to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium. After watching them impose their will on the Eagles in back-to-back weeks last January, so did I. Now they're 1-7 and just fired their coach.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (PLAYER)
Redskins' Donovan McNabb
McNabb's Easter Sunday trade to the Redskins was supposed to mark a new beginning for the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback. An opportunity to wave bye-bye to all of those nit-picking Eagle fans who constantly found fault with every low throw and conference championship game loss, and go some place where he would finally be appreciated for the elite quarterback he believed he was. But even in D.C., you've got to produce to be appreciated. He's 25th in the league in passing, has more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven), and may or may not still be the Redskins' starting quarterback.
Brett Favre's return
If Favre had only announced his retirement last January after the Vikings' NFC Championship Game loss to the Saints, he wouldn't be sleeping on the couch, you wouldn't be googling pictures of Jenn Sterger, Donovan McNabb would be playing for Brad Childress rather than getting benched by Mike Shanahan, and Favre's body would be feeling a helluva lot better than it feels right now.
REVISED SUPER BOWL PICK
Packers over Steelers
(from Packers over Bengals)
Before you ask, I'm under a doctor's care for the Bengals pick. Had the right division, but the wrong team. The Ravens and Steelers both are 6-2 and I'm fairly certain one of them will make it to Dallas. I'm giving the nod to the Steelers because of their defense and a slightly easier second-half schedule that should give them homefield advantage in the playoffs. The Packers keep losing key players, but as long as Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews manage to stay upright, I like them to win the NFC over the Giants and Eagles.