Greg Cote

NFL Third-Quarter Awards: Easy call right now as Ezekiel leads the way

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) tries to break a tackle by Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo during the first half of an NFL football game Thurs., Dec. 1, 2016, in Minneapolis.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) tries to break a tackle by Minnesota Vikings strong safety Andrew Sendejo during the first half of an NFL football game Thurs., Dec. 1, 2016, in Minneapolis. AP

Every NFL team has now played 12 games in a 16-game schedule. I’m no mathemetician, but — let’s get right to the King Sport Third-Quarter Awards:

▪ MVP: Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys RB — The big race is now Elliott’s to lose. League rushing leader (on pace for 1,713 yards) has been catalyst for team with the best record, which tends to be the MVP recipe. But don’t discount QBs Derek Carr, Tom Brady or Matt Ryan.

▪ Offensive POY: David Johnson, Cardinals RB — Still liking the guy Miami faces Sunday. His 1,005 rushing yards and 704 receiving put him on pace for a league-leading 2,279 scrimmage yards. But keep an eye on Drew Brees, Ryan or Elliott.

▪ Defensive POY: Von Miller, Broncos OLB — Still out front, his  13 1/2 sacks leading league for team that wins with defense. But Oakland’s Khalil Mack is a making a big, serious run.

▪ Offensive rookie: Elliott, Cowboys RB — Give it to him now. His own teammate, Dak Prescott, is the only guy who might siphon a few votes.

▪ Defensive rookie: Joey Bosa, Chargers DE — Local product leads all rooks with  5 1/2 sacks at a headline-getting position, despite early holdout. No clear, standout favorite though.

▪ Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio, Oakland — Took a 3-13 team and in his second year has it 10-2 and headed to playoffs for first time since 2002. To me a no-brainer. Although Dallas’ Jason Garrett is favorite of many.

▪ Dolphins MVP: Jay Ajayi, RB — Has 908 rushing yards and 5.2 average. More important, his sudden emergence jump-started and drove the six-game win streak that saved the season. Also in the mix, Ryan Tannehill and defensive stalwarts Ndamukong Suh and Cam Wake.

THIS AND THAT

▪ Playoff update: Cowboys are only team guaranteed in so far. Patriots, Raiders and Seahawks entered Week 14 able to clinch. Only teams mathematically eliminated are Bears, Browns, 49ers, Jaguars and Jets.

▪ Dolphins on Sunday must try to stop the unstoppable in Cardinals RB Johnson. In his second season, he has 28 TDs and has topped 100 scrimmage yards in all 12 games — one short of record set by Old Cane Edgerrin James in 2005.

▪ Dallas rookie RB Elliott leads all players in early Pro Bowl voting at NFL.com with 681,361 votes. Dolphins’ Suh leads all defensive tackles with 184,749 votes. He’s only Miami player out front at his position, although Wake is second among D-ends.

▪ Packers QB Aaron Rodgers won his 14th consecutive December home game. Only Tom Brady (19, 2002-12) had more.

▪ Old Cane Frank Gore’s best case for Canton? The men he’s leapfrogged on career rushing list. The latest: Colts’ Gore moved past Tony Dorsett into eighth all-time with 12,789 yards.

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