Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay walks off the field after a 16-10 loss against the Seattle Seahawks at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Photo: Robert Gauthier/TNS
Photo: Robert Gauthier/TNS

NFL awards at season's midpoint

Now that all 32 teams have played eight games, minimum, it's time to take stock of the first half of the NFL season.

Best team: Philadelphia Eagles 

Green and mean, the Eagles (8-1) looked serious about reaching Minnesota this winter to claim their first Super Bowl trophy. 

Both Eagles lines were stout, despite the loss of an ace left tackle, Jason Peters, to injury. 

Carson Wentz became the most popular man in Pennsylvania — Wentz-ylvania — in addition to his home state of North Dakota. 

The quarterback, an MVP candidate as an NFL sophomore, praised the guidance of assistant coach Frank Reich, a former Chargers quarterback coach lauded by Philip Rivers. 

MVP: Tom Brady 

Wentz would be a good choice for this midseason award, as would Alex Smith, who piloted the injury-battered Chiefs to a 6-2 record against a tough schedule before their loss at Dallas. 

Brady's excellence shouldn't be taken for granted after it enabled the Patriots (6-2) to survive injuries to ace receiver Julian Edelman and No. 2 receiver Malcolm Mitchell, neither of whom played. 

This may be the least talented of coach Bill Belichick's defenses in New England, yet the Pats shared the AFC's lead at the midway point. Brady was their best player while playing the most important position. His 317 passing yards per game led the league. 

Top coach: Sean McVay 

What the high-scoring Los Angles Rams (6-2) accomplished in 10 months under McVay, a rookie head coach, wasn't only astounding. Their transformation from oafs to fast-breaking cool dudes could bode ill for coaches of other teams whose offenses appear clunky and unimaginative in comparison. 

The Rams have scored more points this season than they did all of last year. Three times, they exceeded 40 points. 

McVay's top pupil, quarterback Jared Goff, went from appearing lost as a rookie to rewarding L.A. for drafting him first overall in 2016.  

Top Defender: Calais Campbell 

There are other compelling candidates, such as the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders; and other playmakers such as Dallas Cowboys edge man Demarcus Lawrence, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, Denver Broncos edge man Von Miller and his protege Melvin Ingram of the L.A. Chargers. 

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who lost a few games to a calf strain, is perhaps the best player on the best team. 

However, end/tackle Campbell delivered an NFL-high 11 sacks and solid run defense as a newcomer to the Jacksonville Jaguars. As well Campbell, 31, earned praised from coaches and teammates for leadership that contributed to the Jags' long-overdue turnaround.  

Top rookie: Kareem Hunt 

The Chiefs turned to Hunt after their starting running back, Spencer Ware, fell to a knee injury in August. 

Hunt looked like he was made for the role. He fit into a clever offense that combined a West Coast design with college-style, belly-option plays. 

He led the NFL with 800 rushing yards and placed fourth at 5.2 per carry. He also caught 32 passes (10.3). 

Hunt played his college ball for Toledo, and was the sixth running back drafted in April. Taken before him in the third round was Alvin Kamara, who with the Tennessee Vols was a platoon player. 

Kamara thrived in the Saints offense designed by head coach Sean Payton and influenced by receivers coach Curtis Johnson, two former San Diego State aides. He rushed for 6.0 yards per carry and caught 38 passes for much-improved New Orleans (6-2).  

Biggest story: Trump and NFL clash 

Backlash grew to continued protests by players during the pregame national anthem _ protests whose ground zero was San Diego's Jack Murphy Field, where San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee before an exhibition in August 2016. 

President Donald Trump, an NFL antagonist decades ago as a team owner in the rival USFL, called on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners to require all players to stand during the anthem. Trump, who received 63 million votes in the presidential election, encouraged Americans to boycott the NFL if the league didn't fire or suspend players who kneeled or sat during anthem. 

Also equating the protests with disrespecting the U.S. military was former Los Angeles Dodgers' and national broadcaster Vin Scully, who recently vowed to never watch the NFL again due to the protests. 

Players said the protests were in objection to police brutality against African-Americans and social injustice. They said they meant no disrespect to either the U.S. military or the flag. 

Chargers left tackle Russell Okung penned a response to Trump's campaign against protesters, writing that players were unified not against Trump but social injustice. 

"As (Colin Kaepernick's) message has now been distorted, co-opted and used to further divide us along the very racial lines he was highlighting, we as players have a responsibility to come together and respond collectively," Okung wrote.

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