North Pole Awards: Which NFL players, coaches caught Santa's attention?
All eyes are on Santa Claus as he prepares for his worldwide Christmas journey.
He’s already given NFL fans a major gift. The NFL will feature two primetime Christmas Day games featuring four teams with postseason aspirations.
The Cleveland Browns face the Green Bay Packers in the early window. The nightcap features the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Cardinals.
With the NFL joining the Christmas slate, it's a good time to provide a few Santa-inspired superlatives for the 2021 season.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE: Remember these Christmas Day games?
Here are the North Pole award winners for this NFL season.
Santa’s Favorite Helper: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Jonathan Taylor has quickly become a fan favorite in Indianapolis. The second-year running back carried the Colts to new heights this season. Taylor leads the NFL with 1,518 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
He’s dominated opposing defenses with eight 100-yard games. His best effort came Week 11 against the Buffalo Bills. Taylor tallied 32 carries for 185 yards and four touchdowns against arguably the NFL’s top run defense.
Reindeer Games: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Baltimore Ravens, Week 2
This superlative recognizes the top game of the 2021 season. So far, the Week 2 clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens stands alone. The stars were out as Patrick Mahomes dueled with Lamar Jackson.
Mahomes threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson matched him with 346 total yards and three touchdowns of his own. Both offenses were electric all night. The game came down to a critical fourth-and-one with 65 seconds left. The Ravens were aggressive and Jackson gained two yards to escape with a 36-35 victory.
Could a rematch be on the horizon? The Chiefs sit atop the AFC with 10 wins. The Ravens are fighting for a playoff spot at 8-6 overall.
Mrs. Claus’ Biggest Surprise: Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are close to clinching a playoff spot this season. A big reason for their success is cornerback Trevon Diggs. In his second season, Diggs took a giant leap forward defensively. Entering Week 16, he led the NFL with 10 interceptions and is showing no signs of slowing down. His ability to pinpoint the football frustrates opposing teams.
Diggs has made quarterbacks pay for mistakes. As a former receiver, Diggs has an advantage with gifted hands and a special understanding of the route tree. Those elements have allowed him to grow leaps and bounds this season.
Elf on the Shelf: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
This superlative goes to the top NFL player that is currently on injured reserve. Tennessee Titans star Derrick Henry injured his foot in a Week 8 game against the Indianapolis Colts. Henry was on pace for another 2,000-yard campaign; he already collected 937 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as the Titans’ offensive engine. The Titans were also leading the AFC with a 6-2 start at the time of the injury.
The Titans have since struggled to find a rhythm. A lot has been placed on quarterback Ryan Tannehill to carry the offensive load. The Titans are 9-5 overall but have lost three of their last four. If the Titans can make the playoffs, there is a chance Henry could return.
North Pole Wonder: Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots
A lot of credit goes to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. He took a chance on rookie quarterback Mac Jones and named him the starter in training camp. The decision paid big dividends as Jones is blossoming into an NFL star. Entering Week 16, Jones had the Patriots atop the AFC East and completed 69% of his passes for 3,168 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
He is the leading Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate by a wide margin. The Patriots are knocking on the door of a playoff berth. With a talented defense, Jones could be the North Star the Patriots need to make a possible Super Bowl run.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Brandon Staley, HC, Los Angeles Chargers
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Santa is known for making his list and checking it twice, and the NFL’s nice list is expansive. Los Angeles Rams star Cooper Kupp doesn’t get enough credit for his incredible production. Kupp leads the NFL with 122 catches, 1,625 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is averaging 116.1 yards per game and is a matchup nightmare in the slot. The Rams have 10 wins partly due to Kupp scorching defenses all season.
In the same city limits, Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley continues to impress in his first season at the helm. The Chargers are fourth in total offense and averaging 27.1 points per game. A lot of that goes to Staley having the Chargers prepared in a tough AFC West.
Cordarrelle Patterson has finally found a coach to unlock his capabilities. The former Pro Bowl kick returner is showcasing his potential with the Atlanta Falcons. He’s accounted for over 1,000 scrimmage yards (565 rushing, 524 receiving) and 10 total touchdowns. The Falcons deploy him across the formation as he is a key playmaker in the offense.
Urban Meyer, ex-HC, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jon Gruden, ex-HC, Las Vegas Raiders
Antonio Brown, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is a lot to unpack with Urban Meyer. The former Jacksonville Jaguars coach was fired earlier this season after a multitude of offenses. He failed to travel back with the team after a road game, he argued with team personnel and reportedly kicked a player. The Jaguars finally ended the experience and turned their attention to the 2022 season. The team can save their long-term future with Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, but they need the right structure to do it.
The Urban Meyer fiasco took some heat away from Jon Gruden. However, his racist, homophobic and sexist comments in emails won’t dissipate so easily. Gruden resigned due to his role in those emails. The Raiders have been through a lot this season but a clean slate free from Gruden may be the perfect Christmas gift.
Antonio Brown rounds out the prominent naughty list. Brown made headlines by using a fake COVID-19 vaccination card to continue playing. The NFL investigated the violation and suspended Brown for his actions. However, his antics put a lot of people at serious risk. With COVID-19 cases rising across the globe, there is no room for any funny business. Brown will return to the Buccaneers this season, but he can’t escape the naughty list.