The midseason report

As the midway point of the 2009 season begins to sneak up on us, let’s take a look back and hand out some hardware for the best — and worst — of the season’s first half.

MVP: Darren Sharper, Saints

I handed this one out this morning to the Saints’ Darren Sharper over Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Cedric Benson and Brett Favre. Sharper makes the Saints a Super Bowl favorite instead of just another playoff contender. Argue away.

Runner-up: Manning, Colts

Coach of the Year: Josh McDaniels, Broncos

In the middle of August, if someone had told me that the Broncos — stuck in a mess of a situation with WR Brandon Marshall — would be sitting in first place with a 6-1 record, I wouldn’t have bought it. But they’re the best of the west at midseason because McDaniels found a way to hold his team together — and move forward.

Runner-up: Marvin Lewis, Bengals

Assistant Coach of the Year: Gregg Williams, Saints

Williams’ defense in New Orleans isn’t going to lead the league in total defense, but his scheme is predicated on ball disruptions (pass breakups, sacks, QB hits, interceptions, forced fumbles), and they’re making game-changing plays. As I wrote about Sharper, without Williams and this defense, the Saints would be a sexy pick that wouldn’t have the defense when it counted — in January.

Runner-up: Cam Cameron, Ravens

Rookie impact: Percy Harvin, Vikings

What’s special about Harvin this season, more than his ability to work in the slot of the Vikings offense with Brett Favre, is his impact on special teams. Harvin has provided scores and set up the Minnesota offense with short fields. Adrian Peterson gets a lot of credit as Favre’s right-hand guy, but it’s Harvin who’s pilling up hidden yardage that leads to scores.

Runner-up: Johnny Knox, Bears

Rookie bust: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders

It might be unfair to single out DHB because of the situation he was drafted into, but that doesn’t hide the fact he hasn’t produced at all this season. To put it into a better context, 49ers rookie WR Michael Crabtree has 11 receptions in his first two NFL games, while DHB has five receptions in eight games for the Raiders. Can we now call him a reach at No. 7?

Runner-up: Andre Smith, Bengals

Free-agent sleeper: Brian Dawkins, Broncos

Dawkins wasn’t wanted in Philly, but he has again become a defensive leader, this time in Denver — in charge of a unit that ranks first in total defense. Dawkins continues to make an impact no matter what uniform he’s wearing — an invaluable commodity in the secondary.

Runner-up: Jim Leonhard, Jets

Defensive Player of the Year: Darren Sharper, Saints

Can Sharper take home two awards in one season? Seven interceptions and three TDs through seven games -- he has the numbers right now.

Runner-up: Jared Allen, Vikings

Free-agent bust: Michael Vick, Eagles

Vick’s signing this summer was the biggest NFL story in the last five years, but he has become nothing more than a sideshow in Philly. Talk of the wildcat, exotic formations and big plays have been replaced by minor appearances without results. He has basically become the Eagles’ third-string QB.

Runner-up: Terrell Owens, Bills

Surprise player: Brett Favre, Vikings

The thing about Brett that should surprise all of us is how he’s protecting the football: only three interceptions in eight games compared with 16 touchdown passes. He’s playing better than he did for the ’07 Packers — and has two big wins over his former team to show for it.

Runner-up: Miles Austin, Cowboys

Surprise team: Denver Broncos

As we talked about with McDaniels, this team was written off too soon, and we can’t talk about the Broncos without mentioning Kyle Orton and Mike Nolan’s defense. A loss last week on the road to the Ravens isn’t going to change my mind about this club.

Runners-up: Houston Texans

Biggest disappointment (player): Shawne Merriman, Chargers

“Lights Out” has been anything but. There were plenty of rumors floating around about Merriman at the trade deadline, and I can see why — he isn’t dominant anymore. Through seven games, Merriman has totaled just 25 tackles and two sacks for a defense that’s giving up over 132 yards a game on the ground.

Runners-up: Packers offensive line

Biggest disappointment (team): Tennessee Titans

The Titans bounced back with a win over an average Jacksonville team on Sunday, but that doesn’t hide the fact this team is a long way from last year’s 13-win squad. A 59-0 beating at New England doesn’t help. Is V.Y. the answer?

Runners-up: Washington Redskins

Biggest disappointment (coach): Eric Mangini, Browns

The mess that exists in Cleveland right now leads back to Mangini, and his team is worse on the field. I can’t see him back on the sidelines next season, and don’t be surprised if the new GM sends him home this season.

Runner-up: Jim Mora, Seattle

The sophomore slump: Matt Forte, Bears

Forte has struggled behind an offensive line in Chicago that isn’t getting the job done, and his numbers pale in comparison to last season. Through seven games, Forte has only 408 yards on 118 carries — good for an average of 3.5 yards per carry. And two of his touchdowns came last week against Cleveland. Not good.

Runner-up: Eddie Royal, Broncos

The High Five: My top teams

1. New Orleans Saints
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. New England Patriots
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Minnesota Vikings

The Low Five: My bottom-feeders

1. Cleveland Browns
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Detroit Lions
4. St. Louis Rams
5. Kansas City Chiefs

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

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