theScore's NFL monthly awards: Top players, teams, storylines, and more
theScore's NFL monthly awards series continues as we recap the best events and moments from around the league between Weeks 9-13.
Player of the month
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
Several quarterbacks - including MVP candidates mentioned later - put on a show over the last five weeks, but no one has been as productive as Prescott who's playing essentially mistake-free football. Since Week 9, the Cowboys star has completed 68.9% of his throws to go along with a league-high 16 touchdown passes and a 120.4 rating. He also passed for 1,597 yards - second-most behind C.J. Stroud - and had a league-leading 18 big-time throws, according to PFF. More impressively, Prescott only threw one interception and made two turnover-worthy plays in that span. Dallas' schedule will get harder in the season's final month, but if Prescott manages to keep his momentum, he could become the first Cowboys player to win the MVP since Emmitt Smith in 1993.
Team of the month
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers don't look anything like the team that lost three straight from Weeks 6-8. Kyle Shanahan's outfit has been on fire since its Week 9 bye, having won four in a row and outscored its opponents 134-49. And it's not like the Niners had an easy schedule - they've beaten the Jaguars, Seahawks, and Eagles. San Francisco's 42-19 blowout over then-one-loss Philadelphia is the best win any club has claimed this year. Maybe Deebo Samuel was right after all; the 49ers would've made the Super Bowl last season if Brock Purdy didn't get injured early in the NFC title game. Purdy has been the sport's most efficient passer, Christian McCaffrey is unstoppable, and the Niners boast a top-five defense. They're now only one game behind Philly for the conference's No. 1 seed.
Rookie of the month
C.J. Stroud, QB, Texans
Stroud has been one of the league's best
rookies quarterbacks this season and put on a show yet again over the past month. The No. 2 pick has tossed 1,740 yards - most in the NFL - and 11 touchdowns in his last five outings, including a single-game rookie record 470 yards and five TDs in a Week 9 win over the Buccaneers. The Ohio State product currently leads the league with 3,540 yards. It's a matter of when, not if, he will break Andrew Luck's rookie record of 4,374 yards. But Stroud could join the record books one more time along the way, as no rookie QB has ever topped the NFL in passing yards since the merger. He's on pace to finish with 5,015.
Coach of the month
Shane Steichen, Colts
Back in the offseason, it was hard to imagine the Colts being a playoff team. With first-year coach Steichen and rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis kicked off a rebuild after going 4-12-1 in 2022, and it was pretty clear this was a long-term plan. Then Richardson suffered a season-ending injury in October and the Colts lost three straight games. Season over, right? Well, Steichen didn't get the memo, as he's helped Indy win its last four games to hold the AFC's No. 7 seed with a 7-5 record. He has done a tremendous job at altering his offensive system to fit his players' strengths, putting backup QB Gardner Minshew in a position to make plays. The Colts have also stood out on defense and special teams, most recently blocking a pair of Titans punts in a thrilling Week 13 overtime win.
Under-the-radar player of the month
Ja'Quan McMillian, CB, Broncos
McMillian may be the best defender you haven't heard much about. The 23-year-old is making plays all over the field while lining up mostly as a slot corner. He barely played in the team's first three games, but Denver needed major changes after a 50-point loss to Miami, and increasing the second-year pro's workload proved to be one of its best decisions. Since allowing 70 points to the Dolphins, the Broncos are giving up 20 points per game, and McMillian has been one of their main contributors. A solid run defender, he put up 14 tackles, two forced fumbles, one sack, and one interception from Weeks 10-13. McMillian is also PFF's 18th-best cornerback on the season.
Who is McMillian? He joined the Broncos as an undrafted free agent out of East Carolina in 2022 and spent most of that year on the practice squad before making his NFL debut in Week 18. This year, McMillian made Denver's 53-man roster after a fierce position battle at training camp and is now a key playmaker in one of football's hottest secondaries.
All-NFL team of the month
Facts you should know
It keeps getting better. Texans fans should feel better about the Deshaun Watson trade each week. Watson hasn't been great on the Browns - to put it nicely - and will miss the remainder of the season due to injury. Meanwhile, not only has Houston found a stud QB in Stroud, but the team has done a great job at building a supporting cast with the picks it acquired as part of the Watson deal last year. The AFC South club turned those selections into defensive end Will Anderson, stud first-year receiver Tank Dell, starting guard Kenyon Green, and running back Dameon Pierce, among others. Oh, and the Texans still have Cleveland's first- and fourth-round picks in 2024.
Finally. It wasn't pretty, but Justin Herbert helped Los Angeles edge the Patriots in Week 13 for the Chargers' first win in New England since 2005. Drew Brees was their QB back then. Philip Rivers - the franchise's all-time passing leader - went 0-5 in road games versus the Patriots in his career. (How are the Chargers only 5-8 in the playoffs since 2002 despite having Brees, Rivers, and Herbert as QB1 in that span?)
All he does is win. Following Kansas City's Week 12 result, Andy Reid claimed his 125th victory with the Chiefs to become the winningest head coach in franchise history. Reid is the only NFL coach to be the all-time leader in wins for two franchises (Eagles, 130 wins).
Stat of the month
The Patriots lost all four games they played this past month, making dubious history along the way. New England became the first team since 1938 to lose three consecutive contests despite allowing 10 points or fewer in each. Bill Belichick's outfit gave up 26 points over that span but scored only 13.
Between a Hail Mary pick-6, Bland's record interception return touchdown, and Kansas City lateraling a Tyreek Hill fumble for a wild TD, it was difficult to pick this month's best play. Ultimately, we gave it to Jevon Holland, who had a 99-yard defensive score after intercepting a Jets Hail Mary attempt at the end of the second quarter on Black Friday.
The WYD award
Monday's game between the Jaguars and Bengals featured a trick play that went terribly wrong. Cincinnati wide receiver Tyler Boyd attempted a pass across the field inside his 15-yard line but never saw defender Josh Allen, who easily intercepted the pass to help set up a Jacksonville touchdown minutes later.
Thankfully for the Bengals (and Boyd), backup quarterback Jake Browning and Co. bounced back to help Cincy upset Jacksonville.
The Browns are wasting an elite defense due to their offensive struggles. Things got worse after Deshaun Watson recently went down with a season-ending injury, leaving rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson and journeyman P.J. Walker as the team's options at the sport's most important position.
Robert Griffin III - a former Browns passer who's been an ESPN analyst since 2021 - came up with a possible solution for Cleveland while trying to open a door for a potential NFL return.
Cleveland eventually did sign a veteran quarterback with multiple seasons of experience as a starter in the form of ... Joe Flacco.
There's a lot of mediocrity in today's NFL.
Tom Brady has been retired for a few months now but recently stole the headlines again by strongly criticizing what he's seen on the field this season. The legendary quarterback particularly blamed bad coaching and the league's player safety rules for the NFL's subpar product.
Most surprising upset
Minnesota's 31-28 victory over Atlanta in Week 9 may not seem out of the ordinary at first, but take a closer look and you will see that a journeyman quarterback who had joined the Vikings only five days before was the star of the show. Joshua Dobbs began the Falcons matchup on the bench but took over after rookie Jaren Hall suffered a concussion. Dobbs then completed 20 of 30 pass attempts, led Minnesota in rushing, and accounted for three touchdowns, including a TD pass to Brandon Powell with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter to take the lead. After starting the season in Arizona, Dobbs' first appearance with the Vikings will go down as one of the season's most stunning moments.
Who's going to be named NFL MVP?
We haven't seen a race for the league's most prestigious individual award this wide-open in a while. Part of the reason is that this has generally been a relatively down year for quarterbacks. Former MVP winners Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have been good but not great by their standards. The same applies to Josh Allen, a top-three MVP finisher in 2020 and 2022. Injuries have affected the race, too, as Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow saw their seasons end prematurely.
Not every quarterback is having a down year, though, and the MVP award is still expected to go to a signal-caller despite historic campaigns from multiple skill-position players. Future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson was the last non-quarterback to take home the MVP in 2012. Here are this year's main candidates and how December can affect the race:
The 49ers guys: After Sunday's win over the Eagles, Brock Purdy became the new MVP favorite. Purdy may not even be the Niners' best player, but he quarterbacks arguably the league's No. 1 team and leads the NFL in most advanced stats, including EPA/play. San Francisco also rosters Christian McCaffrey, who's on pace to finish the season with 2,070 yards and 24 touchdowns from scrimmage.
Dak Prescott: The Cowboys star leads the league in touchdown passes and is second in EPA/play. His game has almost no flaws right now. However, the Prescott-led Cowboys were blown out by the 49ers and also lost their first meeting with the Eagles. Dallas and Philly play again in Week 14.
Jalen Hurts: A win over Mahomes and the Chiefs made Hurts the favorite a couple of weeks ago, but the loss to San Francisco hurt his case. The MVP runner-up in 2022 leads the league in game-winning drives and quarterbacks the team with the best record.
The Dolphins guys: Tyreek Hill and Tua Tagovailoa are on fire. Tagovailoa is top five in EPA/play and TD passes. Hill is on track to break the single-season yards record and become the first player ever to top 2,000 receiving yards. The star wideout currently isn't one of the main betting favorites for MVP, but that has to change if he makes history, right?
Mahomes, Stroud, and Jackson are relative long shots to win the MVP right now but could join the group with a perfect December.