The Schein Nine  

 

NFL midterms: Most exciting player? Top rookie? Best trade?

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The votes are in! The people have spoken!

OK, fine -- in the midterm midseason exercise below, I was the only one who voted. This is the Schein Nine, after all.

If you came to this website seeking escape from election fever, well, I'm sorry to inform you that we're not immune. My esteemed editors at NFL.com asked me to serve as the voice of the people in nine pressing "races" midway through the 2018 NFL season. Allow me to introduce the candidates ... and the winners!

1) Grizzled veteran QB I trust the most

The candidates:

-- Tom Brady, New England Patriots
-- Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
-- Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

And the winner is ...

I believe that Rivers and Brees are currently in the top four of the NFL MVP race. I'd rank it Patrick Mahomes, Todd Gurley, Rivers, Brees. Rivers has been consistently sensational, with at least two touchdown passes in every single game and passer ratings north of 100 in seven of eight (Week 4's 97.2 mark being the lone exception). Brees boasts eye-popping figures in areas like completion percentage (76.3) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (18:1). Both are still playing at Hall of Fame levels, piling up incredible numbers and stockpiling wins.

But when it comes to trust, it's always Tom Brady. Look at the very first drive of last Sunday night's marquee game against Green Bay (10 plays, no-huddle action, touchdown). Or the two drives after Aaron Jones' game-changing fumble (where Brady completed all five of his passes for 89 yards while directing a pair of TD drives). Or the Kansas City game (when Brady outdueled wunderkind Patrick Mahomes to hand the Chiefs their lone loss of the season).

Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time and -- amazingly -- he's still playing like it at age 41.

2) Top overall rookie

The candidates:

-- Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers
-- Quenton Nelson, LG, Indianapolis Colts
-- Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns

And the winner is ...

Nelson and James are my midseason picks, respectively, for Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year. Just eight games into Year 1, each first-round selection has significantly impacted his new team.

I'll give the slight nod to the James, who has been all over the field making plays in big spots for the 6-2 Chargers. How's this for a half-season stat line: 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6 passes defensed and a pick? Yeah, it's still inexplicable how this cat lasted until the No. 17 overall pick. What a blessing for the Bolts!

3) Top defense

The candidates:

-- Chicago Bears
-- Dallas Cowboys
-- Seattle Seahawks

And the winner is ...

The toughest category in this piece. There's no 1985 Bears or 2000 Ravens in the NFL this season. Heck, there's no 2017 Jaguars or Vikings. You can make the case there isn't a single defense you can bank on -- week after week -- in 2018. It was shaping up to be Chicago, but then Khalil Mack injured his ankle. And I just cannot get that Dolphins game out of my mind.

So, I'm rolling with Dallas. The Cowboys' front seven is amazing: DeMarcus Lawrence is a legit star; Jaylon Smith is becoming one, too. In the back end, Byron Jones is a vastly underrated cover man. Dallas ranks third in points allowed and fourth in total defense. The current 3-5 record is NOT on Rod Marinelli's group.

4) Dark-horse playoff candidate

The candidates:

-- Atlanta Falcons
-- Indianapolis Colts
-- Seattle Seahawks

And the winner is ...

Give me the Colts. I wish Frank Reich, who has done a wonderful job with this team, would've simply tied Houston. 3-4-1 would feel much better than 3-5. But clearly, he's perfectly content with that controversial overtime decision. And hey, if the Colts beat Jacksonville in the comfy confines of Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday -- and they should -- Indy can go on a run. Andrew Luck is back. The line is solidified. Marlon Mack can run. The defense is vastly improved. And the remaining schedule is relatively easy.

One side note: I expect the 4-4 Falcons to make a real push, too -- starting with wins over Cleveland and Dallas over the next two Sundays to hit 6-4. Matt Ryan has been fantastic. My only hesitation on Atlanta is the strength of the division and the conference. A 6-2 or 5-3 second half is realistic, but it might not be enough.

5) Best division

The candidates:

-- AFC North
-- NFC North
-- NFC South

And the winner is ...

The vote goes to the NFC North. Chicago is currently winning the division at 5-3. The defense is strong. Matt Nagy has rediscovered Jordan Howard. Mitch Trubisky hasn't even reached his stride yet -- that will happen in the second half. Meanwhile, the Vikings are hot on Chicago's heels at 5-3-1, especially now that they have Everson Griffen and Dalvin Cook back. Minnesota's passing attack has been fantastic, as Kirk Cousins has been worth every penny thus far and Adam Thielen has become an All-Pro receiver.

Sure, the Packers are 3-4-1, but they were a Ty Montgomery fumble away from beating the Rams in Los Angeles and an Aaron Jones fumble away from defeating the Patriots in New England. (OK, they could've won both.) While the Lions (3-5) inexplicably dealt Golden Tate the week after picking up "Snacks" Harrison, they remain a dangerous last-place team, better than the cellar-dwellers in the AFC North (Cleveland) and NFC South (Tampa Bay).

6) Most exciting player to watch

The candidates:

-- Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
-- Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
-- Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

And the winner is ...

No offense to the other guys, but this one's easy: It's my guy Patty Mahomes. In his first season as an NFL starter, he's putting up video game numbers that have us turning to the record books on a weekly basis. But it's not just the raw stats -- it's the feel, it's the excitement that he generates with that otherworldly skill set of his. It's the lefty throw in Denver. It's the rockets on the move. It's the edge-of-your-seat feeling that you don't know what will happen next. Patty Mahomes is the best show in sports right now.

7) Slept-on star

The candidates:

-- Terron Armstead, LT, New Orleans Saints
-- Trey Flowers, DE, New England Patriots
-- George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers

And the winner is ...

Kittle has been a top-two tight end in the NFL this year, alongside Travis Kelce. It's been a rough season for San Francisco, but the second-year pro is a huge bright spot. You can easily make an All-Pro case for the tight end who comfortably leads the 49ers in catches (41) and receiving yards (692). At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, the guy is averaging 16.9 yards per catch!

Stop sleeping on George Kittle -- he is indeed a star.

8) Unsung hero

The candidates:

-- Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
-- Akiem Hicks, DE, Chicago Bears
-- Ryan Kelly, C, Indianapolis Colts

And the winner is ...

Dalton has been so good for Cincinnati and the Bengals' explosive offense. He hasn't always received the best press, and he deserves to be recognized here. That said ...

My vote goes to Kelly. Nelson gets most of the attention on Indy's O-line -- SEE: Section 2 above -- and rightfully so. But Kelly has been an absolute rock in the middle of the Colts' offensive front. This is the best protection Andrew Luck has ever had in his pro career, and it starts with the pivot.

9) Best trade

The candidates:

-- Bears' blockbuster deal for Khalil Mack: Chicago sends two first-rounders, a third-rounder and a sixth-rounder to the Raiders in exchange for Mack, a second-rounder and a conditional fifth-rounder.
-- Patriots' bet on Josh Gordon: New England sends a fifth-rounder to the Browns in exchange for Gordon and a seventh-rounder.
-- Patriots' low-key pickup of Cordarrelle Patterson: New England sends a fifth-rounder to the Raiders for Patterson and a sixth-rounder.

And the winner is ...

The fact that New England has two of the three candidates in this section is a win for the Pats. But the Bears pulled off one of the greatest deals in sports history. A top-two defensive player in his prime! Certainly worth the price of acquisition.

And Mack, who's getting healthy again, is going to catapult the Bears into the playoffs over the next couple months. He immediately changed the entire feel of the organization, team and fan base.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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