Nine weeks down, nine to go.
As the days grow shorter and the temperatures outside ever colder, half of the NFL regular season is in the books. Every team has played at least eight of the 17 games needed before we can crown the 14 playoff teams that will fight for the chance to make it to Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
With every passing week, it has become clearer which teams are real contenders and pretenders. Amidst all the noise, here are the three non-quarterback playoff candidates who have emerged through nine weeks of football.
T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tune into any Steelers game on Sunday afternoons or follow the chorus on social media and you will inevitably hear the same three words: “Fire Matt Canada!” The Steelers’ present record of 5-3 would contradict these chants amid their offensive woes. In fact, Mike Tomlin would almost certainly deserve a nod for Coach of the Year should he lead the Steelers into the playoffs.
Watt, coming off of a frustrating season in which he was limited to 10 games amidst a bevy of injuries, has bounced back at a near-MVP level for Teryl Austin’s 13th-ranked defense, finding himself in a dead tie with Maxx Crosby and fellow AFC North rival Myles Garrett for second in the sack column with an exceptional 9.5. He was trending toward breaking the sack record through Week 5 before cooling down a tad.
Should the Steelers continue to fight past their 29th-ranked offense and ride Watt and the rest of the Steelers’ defense to the postseason, Watt earn significant MVP consideration.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) November 1, 2023
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Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan’s unit started this season 5-0, having scored 30, 30, 30, 35, and 42 points in all five wins, respectively. Since then, the 49ers have baffled many onlookers amidst a three-game backslide that dropped them to 5-3. The skid puts San Francisco on even ground with a divisional rival and upcoming Thanksgiving night opponent, the Seattle Seahawks.
McCaffrey was traded in the middle of Oct. 2022 to the 49ers. In the full year that has since elapsed, he has proven to be an MVP-caliber player all on his own, taking a significant load off of the Mr. Irrelevant-turned-starter, Brock Purdy. In all eight 49er games this season, McCaffery is showcasing himself as Mr.-Do-It-All once again in the backfield, tallying 944 scrimmage yards and 13 total touchdowns.
As the 49ers figure to be players in January once again, expect McCaffrey to receive serious consideration for MVP, a feat not accomplished by any running back since Adrian Peterson shocked the world with his Comeback Player of the Year run in 2012 following a 2011 ACL tear.
3. RB Christian McCaffrey (SF):
17 consecutive games with a TD!? CMC is teaching everyone who didn’t take him 1.01 this season to put some respect on his name!
54 yards and a TD on the ground and 6 catches for 64 yards through the air. SHEESH! 💪
The Niners offense runs… pic.twitter.com/NfmfUwgD06
— Joshua Cho (@jbchoknows) October 30, 2023
Tyreek Hill, Miami Dolphins
What is there not to like about this year’s Miami Dolphins? Despite their Frankfurt stumble against the Chiefs last Sunday, Mike McDaniel’s team currently has control of the AFC East, scoring an eye-popping 31.7 points per game. That includes an absolute stomping of the Broncos in Week 3 where they became the first to score 70 in a game in nearly six decades.
No wide receiver has ever won MVP. Hill’s presence and stats within this Dolphins offense would offer a glimmer of hope to the idea that a player in that position can finally win the award. The 29-year-old is playing at a career-best pace, having already hauled in eight touchdowns this season and cracking the quadruple-digit mark in receiving yards on his way to challenging Calvin Johnson’s record of 1,964. Through it all, Hill is averaging an astonishingly impressive career-high 119 receiving yards per game.
The sky is the limit for these Dolphins, and Hill is quite deserving of the first-ever MVP trophy awarded to a receiver.
Tyreek Hill has been named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month🐆
Here are his stats in October:
– 36 receptions
– 602 yards
– 4 TDs pic.twitter.com/OLQcYCJ5Gq
— King of Phinland🐬👑 (@KingOfPhinland) November 2, 2023
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