Who Are the Favorites for Every Major NFL Award After Week 9?
Some of the early-season favorites for major NFL awards took a step backward in Week 9, while other players took a major step forward and narrowed the gap.
Week 9 was filled with record-setting performances, with all-time rookie records falling in addition to franchise records being set.
Notable performers included Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck and Oakland Raiders QB Carson Palmer both throwing for over 400 yards, Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin rushing for 251 yards and Chicago Bears CB Charles Tillman forcing four fumbles. There were other big performances, but these were the four that stood out.
Let's see how the action from Week 9 has impacted each of the major NFL award races.
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III has been cruising along as the leading candidate for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. That all changed in Week 9.
Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck had a huge statement game when he torched the Miami Dolphins' defense for an NFL all-time rookie record 433 passing yards.
Luck's performance eclipsed the prior mark of 432 yards that was just set last year by Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. Interestingly enough, the No. 3 rookie QB on the all-time list is Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill with 431 yards.
Luck has now led his Colts team to a 5-3 record. The Colts have taken the NFL by surprise, and much of the credit has to go to Luck, who plays more like a veteran than a rookie. If the regular season were to end today, the Colts would be facing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. How ironic would that be?
With his performance on Sunday, Luck has effectively closed the gap that existed with RG3. Griffin was facing a weak Carolina Panthers team who entered the game 1-6 and had a shaky defense to say the least.
Griffin was only able to lead Washington on one touchdown drive. His stock for OROY took a tumble on Sunday. It is not out of the question that some voters view Luck as the current favorite.
To the extent that voters look at win/loss records as a key factor in their decision, Luck clearly holds the advantage over Griffin.
Another huge rookie performance that warrants attention is Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin. Martin set a Tampa Bay franchise record by torching the Oakland Raiders with 251 rushing yards. Martin is now tied for No. 3 all-time for the highest rushing total by a rookie in a single game.
Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson holds the rookie record with with 296 yards, followed by DeMarco Murray with 253 yards and then Martin and Mike Anderson, who are knotted at 251 yards.
The big game for Martin has now vaulted him to the No. 3 overall rusher in the NFL with 794 yards on the year. Martin is just one yard ahead of Washington Redskins RB Alfred Morris. It looks like Morris and Martin will battle it out for the rookie rushing title.
To sum up the first nine weeks, the race appears to be headed by Luck and Griffin, with Martin and Morris following closely behind. The next tier would be Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, Cleveland Browns RB Trent Richardson and Cleveland Browns QB Brandon Weeden.
With eight weeks left to play, this race should be quite exciting as we finish out the season.
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
Last week, we broke down the 2012 NFL draft class by showing which players were leading in all of the various statistical categories. You can find that link right here.
Since the New England Patriots duo of DE Chandler Jones and S Tavon Wilson were on their bye week, the rest of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year candidates had an opportunity to steal the spotlight.
The only potential contender for the DROY that truly stepped up in Week 9 was Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly came up with a total of 15 tackles in the game, nine of which were of the solo variety. He also made one tackle for a loss.
Kuechly's game was so big that he vaulted up to No. 3 in the entire NFL for tackles with 77. He also leaped over Indianapolis Colts LB Jerrell Freeman and Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner to take over the lead in the 2012 rookie class.
Cincinnati Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick finally made his NFL debut. Since he missed so much of the season, he has no chance for DROY consideration.
After nine weeks, the race for DROY comes down to the following candidates:
First Tier: Chandler Jones, Luke Kuechly and Tavon Wilson
Second Tier: Seattle LB Bruce Irvin, Buffalo CB Stephon Gilmore, St. Louis CB Janoris Jenkins, Seattle LB Bobby Wagner, Minnesota S Harrison Smith, Indianapolis LB Jerrell Freeman and Green Bay CB Casey Hayward
NFL Comeback Player of the Year
Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning and Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson are the clear favorites for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award. This duo is running away with the race.
Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles had been in the running, but the Chiefs have imploded, and Charles' performance suffered as a result.
Manning continues to lead his Broncos to wins, as Denver has now won three straight and four of its last five games. He has thrown three touchdown passes in five straight games, and his passer rating was over 100.0 in all five games.
Manning has an outstanding touchdown-to-interception ratio of 20:6. He is ranked as the No. 1 QB in the NFL with a passer rating of 108.6.
Peterson, on the other hand, leads the NFL in rushing with 957 yards. To be closing in on 1,000 yards at the Week 9 mark, following his horrific knee injury last year, is nothing short of amazing.
Either player would be able to win the CPOY award almost any other year on their own merit, but since both of them are doing so well in 2012, voters will be torn between which player to vote for. Both players are clearly deserving.
There is no one else who is relatively close to Manning or Peterson at this point in the season. That is how dominating both of them have been in their performance this year.
NFL Coach of the Year
Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith saw his team challenged by the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9, but Smith and the Falcons found a way to pull away in the second half. Atlanta is now a perfect 8-0 for the first time in franchise history, and Smith has his team believing that it will continue to win.
The Falcons don't blow every team out of the water, but they find ways to win close games. That trait can certainly reward them in the postseason. We have all witnessed our share of teams that blew out a number of teams in the regular season, only to be eliminated in the first game of the postseason.
The biggest challenge for the Falcons, of course, will be to win in the postseason. That is still the big hurdle for the Falcons organization. Until they win a playoff game, people will question how good this team really is.
We still have two teams with one loss in the 2012 season after nine weeks. The Houston Texans' Gary Kubiak and Chicago Bears' Lovie Smith have both done solid jobs and will be in the running for consideration.
The Bears' defense is especially playing out of its mind. The Bears are as much of a threat to score when their defense is on the field as their offense is.
From the underdog teams, we are amazed at how the duo of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians have combined to turn around the Indianapolis Colts to a 5-3 record. The Colts are playing inspired football and have now won three games in a row. The team is fully behind head coach Pagano as he fights the good fight in his battle with leukemia.
There is no telling how far a team that is this motivated can go, but you can tell by watching the players in the video that they are committed. They can become a dangerous team, especially with a gifted QB like Andrew Luck to lead them.
NFL Offensive Player of the Year
As we cited earlier, Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning is rated No. 1 in QB passer rating, and Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is the NFL's leading rusher. Maybe they can split the Comeback Player of the Year Award with the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
Denver fans are probably thinking that Manning should qualify for CPOY, OPOY and NFL MVP, but that would be overkill. There are too many other players who are having an outstanding season to think that one player is going to sweep the major awards.
This week, we will break up the OPOY conversation into two groups—quarterbacks and everybody else. Perhaps you are one of those NFL fans who's tired of seeing the QBs win the major awards.
For the quarterbacks under consideration, you have Manning, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, New England QB Tom Brady and New York Giants QB Eli Manning.
As for the rest of the NFL OROY candidates, some other strong performers to consider are:
Touchdowns: Houston RB Arian Foster (11), Green Bay WR James Jones (eight), Cincinnati WR A.J. Green (eight), Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin (eight), Chicago WR Brandon Marshall (seven), New England TE Rob Gronkowski (seven), Denver WR Eric Decker (seven) and New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (seven).
Leading WRs with catches of 20-plus yards or more: Denver WR Demaryius Thomas (17), Indianapolis WR Reggie Wayne (15) and Detroit WR Calvin Johnson (15).
Leading RBs with runs of 20-plus yards or more: Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson (11) and Buffalo RB C.J. Spiller (seven).
That gives you a number of names to track, but with eight weeks left in the 2012 season, the OPOY is literally a wide-open race.
NFL Defensive Player of the Year
Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt has been the consensus favorite for NFL Defensive Player of the Year for weeks now. He didn't hurt his chances at all by abusing Buffalo Bills T Chris Hairston in Week 9.
Watt was credited with five QB hits on Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, often causing him to throw the ball sooner than he wanted. Watt also added one sack and two tackles for a loss.
Watt leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks and is tied for No. 8 in the league with 10 pass deflections.
Who can realistically challenge Watt for the DPOY? Green Bay LB Clay Matthews has been in the running all year, but he hurt his hamstring in Week 9. Matthews might be forced to miss the next game or two, which won't help his cause for the DPOY.
Obviously, the NFL DPOY award is for one player, but if there were a team award, you'd have to reward the Chicago Bears. The Bears' defense continues to score touchdowns and create turnovers, helping the Bears cruise to a 7-1 start to the 2012 season.
Is there a legitimate Bears player for DPOY, or do they cancel each other out with the voters? Part of the problem is that they have so many guys who are having a great year in 2012. We will highlight CB Tim Jennings, CB Tillman, LB Brian Urlacher, LB Lance Briggs, DE Julius Peppers and DT Henry Melton.
Why these six players? Jennings leads the NFL in interceptions (six) and is tied for the lead in pass deflections (15). Urlacher leads the Bears with five tackles for a loss. Briggs leads Chicago with 48 tackles.
Tillman leads the NFL with seven forced fumbles. Melton and Peppers are tied for the Bears' team lead with five sacks. Tillman and Briggs are tied for the league lead with two interceptions returned for a touchdown.
To give you a better idea of how efficient the Bears' defense is playing right now, look at Briggs leading the team with just 48 tackles.The NFL leading tackler is Minnesota Vikings LB Chad Greenway with 94.
That is almost double the number of Briggs. The Bears' defense just doesn't spend very much time on the field because it is too busy scoring touchdowns, creating turnovers or forcing punts.
Tillman could teach a clinic on how to force fumbles, as he wound up with four forced fumbles on Sunday, which is the first time someone has done that in the NFL since 1992.
Elsewhere in the NFL, two other players are tied with Matthews at No. 2 in sacks. They are Denver LB Von Miller and Dallas LB DeMarcus Ware.
The San Francisco 49ers' defense is still very strong, giving up a ridiculously low average of 12.9 points per game. The Bears are No. 2, allowing 15 points per game. The 49ers who have the best chance to challenge for the DPOY are LBs NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.
NFL Most Valuable Player
As for the favorite for NFL Most Valuable Player after the Week 9 games, the race seems to be headed up by a group of eight players.
The leading eight are Denver QB Peyton Manning, Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson, Houston RB Arian Foster, New England QB Tom Brady, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, New York Giants QB Eli Manning and Atlanta QB Matt Ryan.
In a second tier of MVP candidates, we have Houston DE J.J. Watt, Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch and Cincinnati WR A.J. Green.
The way that rookies like Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck and Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin have been blowing up lately, it is not out of the question that they could generate more consideration.
As the past five years indicate, this award seems to be designated for quarterbacks, but there are just too many weeks left in the season to think that somebody from a different position can't make a strong bid.
As for the quarterbacks we mentioned up top, Peyton Manning owns the top QB passer rating and is completing the highest percentage of passes in the league. Peyton also has the highest average yards per pass attempt. Brother Eli Manning is second in the NFL in passing yards, followed by Tom Brady. Aaron Rodgers leads with 25 touchdown passes.
The top-five QBs, according to ESPN's Total QBR Rankings, are: P. Manning, Brady, Ryan, Luck and Rodgers.
The NFL MVP race is still wide open, and with so much time left in the season, it will be very interesting to see who can separate from the pack down the stretch.
We will see you next week with our Week 10 installment.