Is New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees gaining ground in the Most Valuable Player race?
Now that the first 12 weeks of this NFL season are history, it’s time to get down to brass tacks.
By the way, what exactly does that expression mean? Don’t worry, the answer is enclosed.
There are five weeks remaining in the regular season, and while players and teams are preoccupied with something like making the playoffs, we are here to make cases.
Per usual, we are breaking down the front-runners for the league’s seven individual awards (courtesy of the Associated Press each year) and who is in the running…or passing…or tackling.
You get the picture. So here are some thoughts on each honor and its perceived leader at the time. There are also some notes on four other possible candidates and we’ll throw out five other men who we feel are in the running.
But no running required here. Just sit back, have a happy Thanksgiving and feel free to offer your own thoughts.
The Denver Broncos owned a 24-0 halftime lead over the New England Patriots only to see it disappear more than two quarters later. Bill Belichick’s team came all the way back for a 34-31 overtime win.
On Sunday night in windy Foxborough, Manning didn’t look so valuable. He barely completed 50 percent of his passes and threw for a season-low 150 yards.
The Broncos’ signal-caller still owns the NFL lead when it comes to touchdown passes (36) and passing yards (3,722). This weekend, we will see if he can get back on track against the 9-2 Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
More importantly, we’ll see if he and his team will be in first place by themselves by Sunday evening.
As for some other stellar performances this season…
2. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The 13-year veteran is the only player to throw for 5,000-plus yards as well as 40 or more touchdown passes in consecutive seasons. Brees appears on his way to reaching those numbers for a third straight year, but the defenses of the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers await him the next two weeks.
3. RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
The league leader in rushing yards (1,009) and total yards from scrimmage (1,408) got a week off to get refreshed for the stretch run. This week, the Eagles (winners of three straight games) and McCoy welcome the equally hot Arizona Cardinals to town. Bruce Arians’ club owns the league’s second-ranked run defense.
4. WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
A year after setting a new NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards in a season, Johnson is making a second-half run at his own mark. The Lions’ wideout leads the league with 1,198 yards on 66 catches and is tied for the NFL’s top spot with 11 touchdowns. In his last five games, Johnson has totaled 42 receptions for an astounding 861 yards and seven scores.
5. QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Many people would love to give this spot to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers due to his team’s current struggles without him. But we’ll stick to fact rather than speculation. Brady helped orchestrate the great comeback in Patriots’ history on Sunday. In his last three games, the veteran quarterback has thrown eight touchdown passes and just one interception and New England owns a three-game lead in the AFC East with five weeks to play.
In the Discussion
6. QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
7. QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
8. QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
9. QB Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
10. RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
If you read the previous slide (and we assume you did), you know where we are going here.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson leads the NFL with 1,198 receiving yards. That’s old news considering he set an NFL record a year ago with 1,964 yards.
But there’s also one huge difference between 2012 and 2013. Okay, maybe two.
1. Despite the gaudy yardage total, Johnson only scored five touchdowns last season. Through 12 weeks of NFL 2013, the All-Pro wideout has reached the end zone 11 times, tied for the league lead in that category.
2. The Lions are tied atop the NFC North with a 6-5 record despite a two-game losing streak. That’s a big difference for a team that finished 4-12 last season and lost its final eight games.
And we won’t have to wait long to see Johnson and the Lions this week, as they host the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day.
Speaking of players who are having their days…
2. QB Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Five games to go, and Manning (36 touchdown passes) still has a shot at tying or breaking Tom Brady’s NFL record of 50 touchdown passes set in 2007. But the Denver quarterback has thrown for only three scores the last two weeks. Still, Manning is just one touchdown pass shy of the franchise record (37), set last season by…him.
3. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The prolific passer is completing 68.3 of his throws this season and has 20 more touchdown passes (28) than interceptions. Is Brees good for a dozen more scores this season? That would give him 40 touchdown passes for the third straight year, which would not only extend his own record but make him the first player in league annals to do it three times period.
4. RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have won three straight games following a 3-5 start, and McCoy has been their steady force. He’s the lone player to rush for 1,000 or more yards so far this season (1,009), and he leads the league with 1,408 yards from scrimmage. More importantly, he and his Birds are tied for first place in the NFC East.
5. RB Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
The last time we saw Lynch, he was busy scoring three touchdowns in the Seahawks win over the Minnesota Vikings. And this Monday night, he renews acquaintances with the New Orleans Saints for the first time since he knocked down all 11 defenders in one play in the 2010 playoffs. In all seriousness, Lynch ranks seventh in the league with 1,147 yards from scrimmage as is tied for the NFL lead with 11 touchdowns.
In the Discussion
6. TE Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
7. WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
8. QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
9. WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
10. RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Here is hoping that the former tackling machine from Boston College has a trophy case in his house or apartment.
One season after capturing NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has surged to the forefront of this year’s league Defensive Player of the Year rankings.
Seven straight wins and a team that has allowed the fewest points in the league certainly helps. And Kuechly is the ringleader of a unit that has given up only a dozen touchdowns in 11 games, including just two in the first half all season.
In a league where great defense has taken a bit of a backseat as of late, Kuechly is behind the wheel of a very talented unit.
Meanwhile, as for some other talented individuals on the defensive side of the ball…
2. FS Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
Absence may make the heart grow fonder. But in this forum, you “slip” to second in the face for the league’s top defender. Thomas, who leads the Seahawks in tackles, has a big task ahead this Monday night against the New Orleans Saints. And the 12th man better be around because Pete Carroll’s team may be a little short in the secondary, much to the dismay of wide receiver Golden Tate courtesy of KIRO-AM on Tuesday.
3. DE Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams
Quinn is quickly making his way up the charts. The third-year pro now ranks second in the league with 13.0 sacks and has forced a half-dozen fumbles this season. And last week versus the Chicago Bears, the explosive pass-rusher scooped up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
4. DE Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
Off back-to-back losses for the first time this season, the Jets are now below .500 for the first time all season. But there’s been nothing subpar about the play of Wilkerson, who has totaled 46 tackles, one interception and a team-high 10.0 sacks in 2013.
5. OLB Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts
The league-leader with 14.5 sacks, it’s hard to figure how much of an impact that Mathis is actually making these days. The Colts have split their last four games and have gotten off to miserable starts in each game, outscored a combined 93-12 in the first half over that stretch.
In the Discussion
6. DE Chandler Jones, New England Patriots
7. CB Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks
8. OLB Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs
9. DE J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
10. DT Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
In baseball, we hear it all the time. On a close play when it comes to a base runner, the tie goes to the runner.
Last Sunday at Lambeau Field, we saw two solid performances by runners and we still wound up with a tie.
The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers played five quarters last week and solved nothing with a 26-26 standoff. And while Adrian Peterson remains perhaps the best in the business, Packers rookie runner Eddie Lacy continues to impress.
The second-round draft choice from Alabama is closing in on a 1,000-yard season. Lacy’s 806 yards rushing currently ranks eighth in the NFL, and his 964 yards from scrimmage leads all rookies.
We won’t have to wait long to see if the Green Bay workhorse intends on adding to those numbers. Mike McCarthy’s team has a Thanksgiving Day date with the Detroit Lions.
As for a few other rookies who aren’t turkeys…
2. WR Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
The Chargers come off a huge road victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, a game which saw Allen snare nine passes for 124 yards. The third-round pick from the University of California leads all rookies with 50 receptions, good for 737 yards and three touchdowns this season.
3. RB Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
You could make a case that the first running back taken in April’s draft has been the most consistent of the offensive rookies. Bernard is second on the Bengals with 464 yards rushing, ranks second on the club with 42 receptions and is tied for the team with seven touchdowns.
4. QB Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A lost season in Tampa Bay has gotten somewhat interesting as the Bucs have suddenly won three straight games following their 0-8 start. Glennon has thrown 12 touchdown passes and just two interceptions in his last seven games after throwing for just one score while being picked off twice in his debut against the Cardinals in October.
5. WR/KR Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
Run Tavon run? Jeff Fisher’s team has won two straight games and scored a combined 80 points in the process. And the hot Austin has done his best Forrest Gump imitation in those victories, totaling four touchdowns three different ways (punt return, receiving and rushing) and those scores totaling 98, 57, 81 and 65 yards.
In the Discussion
6. RB Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
7. WR Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys
8. RB LeVeon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
9. RB Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
10. TE Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
When last we saw the Buffalo Bills, Doug Marrone’s team was manhandling the New York Jets, 37-14, in Week 11 at Orchard Park.
In that game, middle linebacker Kiko Alonso rang up 13 tackles, the sixth time in 11 games this season that the team’s second pick in the second round in April totaled 10 or more stops in a game this season.
At 4-7, Alonso and the Bills have a lot of teams to climb over if they are to make a run at the playoffs. But it’s not too late to think about a winning season. If Marrone’s team can run the tables, the Bills will finish above .500 for the first time since 2004.
You have to crawl and walk before you run. Of course, if you are running and have the football, chances are that Alonso will find you…and knock you down.
Meanwhile, there is no knocking the rest of these candidates.
2. DT Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
The Jets are in the midst of two consecutive losses, but the team’s first-round pick this spring continues to excel. On Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, he led the team with nine tackles. A big reason that the Jets are first in the league in rushing defense, Richardson is tied for third on the team with 59 stops.
3. DT Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
The first-round pick has brought a presence to a Panthers defense that has given up the third-fewest total yards in the league. Lotulelei has been an anchor in the middle, totaling 31 tackles and a pair of sacks for the league’s hottest team these days.
4. FS Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers
On Monday night, Reid totaled five tackles, and the Washington Redskins managed only six points. The first-round pick ranks third on the club with 51 tackles and has totaled nearly one-fourth (five) of the Niners’ 22 takeaways this season.
5. OLB Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams
When you play along middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, the odds that you will lead the Rams in tackles are indeed slim. But don’t say none, as Ogletree has totaled 75 stops this season, just seven fewer than Laurinaitis (82) in 2013.
In the Discussion
6. CB Marcus Cooper, Kansas City Chiefs
7. FS Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
8. DT Chris Jones, New England Patriots
9. SS Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints
10. DE Ziggy Ansah, Detroit Lions
Let’s be careful for a moment and try not to Reid into this too much.
In a league where it is all about “what have you done for me lately,” the Carolina Panthers and head coach Ron Rivera have done plenty as of late.
Let’s not forget that his team had to win five of its last six games a year ago to get to 7-9. So here is a tip of the hat to the current hottest team in the league as we bump Rivera up to the front-runner spot for Coach of the Year honors.
How long he remains there is anyone’s guess. But seven straight victories are hard to ignore. And you can bet that the New Orleans Saints, who lead Carolina by one game but still have two meeting with the Panthers on the schedule, have noticed.
It is safe to say that this has become s stacked category in recent weeks…
2. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Two straight losses after a 9-0 start are far from a disaster, especially when you won just two games the previous season. Still, Reid’s slippage to the second spot is more a tribute to Rivera and less a criticism of the Chiefs’ recent issues. But this week’s rematch with the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium should tell us a lot.
3. Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Once your team gets on the field, things change quickly. And while it was tremendous to see last week’s embrace between Arians and Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, the Cardinals wasted little time getting down to business. Arizona’s 40-11 victory was the club’s fourth in a row and gave the Cards two more wins (and counting?) than all of last season.
4. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Some want them to go away. Last Sunday night, the Denver Broncos were unable to put them away.
We have a tendency to both celebrate and resent excellence. But the bottom line is that the Patriots are not only on the verge of another AFC East title but a 13th consecutive winning season, one of the longest runs in NFL history.
5. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
How we missed you. The Seattle Seahawks own the league’s best record at 10-1 and have won six straight games. And Carroll’s team is getting healthier these days with the recent returns of tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and all-purpose weapon Percy Harvin. How about a quick show of hands for those looking forward to Monday night’s showdown with the New Orleans Saints?
In the Discussion
6. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
7. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
8. Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions
9. Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
10. Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last season, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy was limited to a dozen games. The versatile performer ran for only 840 yards and finished a disappointing year with just 1,213 yards from scrimmage.
However, let us fast forward to 2013 and a healthier McCoy. Just 11 games into this season, he leads the NFL with 1,009 yards rushing and 1,408 yards from scrimmage. Three years ago, he amassed a career-high 1,672 yards from scrimmage, a mark McCoy is certainly within range of this season.
More significantly, he and his Eagles are within range of an NFC East title for the first time since 2010. And that would be some comeback considering the Birds were grounded in the division basement with a 4-12 record a year ago.
And as for a few other performers on the comeback trail…
2. WR Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers
It’s so far so good for Royal, who caught 91 passes during his rookie season in 2008 with the Denver Broncos. The speedy performer is tied for the team lead with seven touchdowns, a career-high for the six-year veteran. More importantly, he has played in all 11 games this season, one more than all of his injury-shortened 2012 campaign.
3. QB Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Yes, the Chiefs have lost two straight games following their 9-0 start, and it could be three in a row if they don’t avenge an earlier loss to the Denver Broncos this Sunday. But for those critics of Smith who like to point out what he can’t do, he was a big part of his team putting 38 points on the board in last week’s heart-breaking loss to the San Diego Chargers.
4. OLB Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens
The defending Super Bowl champions have a Thanksgiving showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the Ravens need Suggs to get back on track, despite the fact that he still ranks second on the team with 67 stops. But the one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2011), who leads the team with 9.0 sacks, hasn’t gotten to the quarterback in his last three games.
5. SS Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Don’t look now, but the Steelers are making a playoff run, something many wouldn’t have thought possible after the team lost its first four games this season. Polamalu, who missed nine games last season, has begun to look like a Pro Bowler once again. He ranks third on the Steelers with 53 tackles, to go along with 2.0 sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles.
In the Discussion
6. CB Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens
7. MLB Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys
8. CB Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins
9. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
10. CB Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers