CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- My midseason award winners for the Carolina Panthers (5-3):
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Cam Newton. Running back DeAngelo Williams was making a push for it after four games, but Newton separated himself from the field with the best four games of his career when it has counted.
Defensive MVP: Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. I know linebacker Thomas Davis leads the team in solo tackles, but when a team like St. Louis completely revamps its blocking scheme to account for last season's defensive rookie of the year, that's saying something.
Special teams MVP: Kicker Graham Gano. He's 12-for-12 on field goals, including 4-for-4 from 50 or more yards, and sends practically every kickoff through the end zone. No other candidates here.
Rookie of the year: Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The inside push and run-stopping ability of Carolina's first-round pick is a big reason the Panthers rank No. 3 in the league in defense.
Most fineable: Safety Mike Mitchell. The league has hit him up five times for about $45,000 so far.
Most likely to not get a Christmas card from NFL: Mitchell, again, after he said commissioner Roger Goodell pocketed all of his donations.
Biggest surprise: Wide receiver Ted Ginn. He was signed to be a kick returner, but has emerged as the team's No. 3 receiver and best deep threat, averaging 17.5 yards per catch. Cornerback Melvin White and safety Robert Lester deserve honorable mention.
Biggest disappointment: Linebacker Jon Beason. I'm not talking about Beason's play or the fact he was traded to the Giants. The disappointment is that he's not able to finish his career in Carolina. He's a class act.
Best postgame comment: Wide receiver Steve Smith predicting, after the loss to Seattle in Week 1, that Carolina would meet the Seahawks again deep in the playoffs. It may not happen, but it's more believable now than it was then.
Worst postgame comment: Smith calling an official "garbage'' after the 22-6 loss to Arizona in Week 5. First, it's not a good idea to call any official garbage, but particularly not after you've had your butt kicked.
Biggest win: Coach Ron Rivera and his players would say the next one. I'll say the 35-10 victory at Minnesota in Week 6. The Panthers were reeling from the loss to Arizona, and the Vikings were emotional over the tragedy around the death of Adrian Peterson's son. Plus, the victory started this current four-game winning streak.
Worst loss: Week 2, to Buffalo, 24-23. Had the Panthers not let this one get away in the final seconds, they may not have blown the Arizona game and could be on a six-game winning streak.
Best moment: Rivera appearing to shed a tear after the Panthers beat the New York Giants 38-0, ending a week's worth of speculation about whether he would survive past the upcoming bye.
Best-case scenario for second half: 5-3. The competition gets tougher, beginning with the next two games against San Francisco and New England.
Worst-case scenario for second half: 1-7. They do get the winless Bucs at home.
Most-likely scenario for second half: 4-4. Wins over Tampa Bay, New Orleans, the New York Jets and Atlanta. Losses to San Francisco, New England, Miami and New Orleans.