Defensive players seem to have no interest in tackling Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who is in the running for the NFL MVP and Come Back Player of the Year awards. Photo by Jeff Lewis
The 49ers have a great defense, run the ball as good as anybody, and now they have a playmaker at quarterback with Colin Kaepernick. Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
With two weekends of games left in the NFL’s regular season, the playoff picture is pretty much clear on the top end, but there is a log jam on the bottom end.
At the top end, the Atlanta Falcons nearly have the top seed locked up in the NFC, and the Houston Texans control their own destiny in the AFC. But those two teams may not have the inside track to the Super Bowl, even though they will have home field advantage if they hold on to the top spots.
The Texans have only made the playoffs once in franchise history, which was last year. Even with a 12-2 record this year, they have not proven that they can compete with the Super Bowl contenders, which was pretty clear two weeks ago when the New England Patriots blew them out. The Green Bay Packers also blew them out earlier this year.
This group of Falcons, led by quarterback Matt Ryan, has won a lot of regular season games, finishing with 11 or more wins in 2008, 2010, and 2011. But they failed to win a playoff game after each of those three seasons, and the eventually Super Bowl champions in each of the past two seasons blew them out in the playoffs.
The Falcons routed the Giants this past Sunday, but if these two teams met in the playoffs, would anybody take the Falcons? Luckily for them, the Giants are tied with four other 8-6 NFC teams, which will make it difficult for them to get in.
The Giants are in a three-way tie for the NFC East lead with the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. There is a possibility that only the division winner makes it into the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings are also sitting at 8-6, and they make it in if they win out. The Chicago Bears are also 8-6.
The San Francisco 49ers look like the team to beat in the NFC. They have one of the best defenses in the league, they have one of the toughest running games, and now they have a playmaker at quarterback with Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick is not as safe with the football as Alex Smith was, but Kaepernick has abilities that Smith has never had. This past Sunday night in a 41-31 victory over the Patriots, Kaepernick threw four touchdown passes. Smith has never done that in his career.
The 49ers look like the best team in the NFC, but the team nobody wants to play is the Seattle Seahawks (the two teams play this Sunday). They are like a team that does not realize that they are not supposed to be this good, and they just keep winning. They have the 3rd ranked defense, the 3rd ranked rushing offense, and quarterback Russell Wilson may be the best rookie in the league. Even better than the Redskins Robert Griffin III and the Indianapolis Colts Andrew Luck.
In the AFC the Patriots looked like they were clearly the best team in the conference, and maybe in the league, when they blew out the Texans two weeks ago. But after being down 31-3 against the 49ers, many people have had second thoughts. Even though they had a wild comeback to tie the game, some of the luster has worn off of them after the loss.
The Denver Broncos, winners of nine games in a row, may be the best team in the conference right now. Most of those victories came against bad teams, which had a lot of people questioning if this team was for real. Well after traveling to Baltimore and dominating the game from the start, there is no question that this team is for real.
Quarterback Peyton Manning gets most of the attention, but this team has the 4th ranked defense in the league.
As of right now, the Pittsburgh Steelers are on the outside looking in with a 7-7 record, one game behind the Cincinnati Bengals.
MVP and Comeback Player of the Year
It’s interesting that there are two players that are in contention for both of these awards.
Manning missed all of last season with a neck injury, which puts him in the running for the Comeback Player of the Year, but he has been so great that he is also in contention for the league’s MVP award.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson had a bad knee injury last season, which puts him in the running as the comeback player, and he has a shot of breaking Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record, which puts him in the running for the MVP award.
It is tough to say which player has had a better season. There are many defensive players that do not want any part of tacking Peterson, and defenders still cannot figure out how to stop Manning.
Do not be surprised if they split the awards. If Peterson continues on this tear, breaks Dickerson’s record, and gets the Vikings into the playoffs, it would be hard not to give him the MVP award over Manning, and also Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Every defensive player knows that Peterson is coming right at them and they can do nothing to stop him.
For the Comeback Players of the Year award, it is really a lock for Manning, because Peterson does not really qualify for the award. Manning missed all of last season, so he came back. Peterson injured his knee in the second to last game of the season, and he played in the first game of this season. So his injury only cost him one start. He did not miss any real time, so what did he really come back from? He was never gone.
Rookie of the Year
For the bulk of the season it was a two-man race between Luck and Griffin, the top two picks in last year’s draft. They were the marquee players in the draft, and so far this season they have lived up to expectations, as both of their teams are in the playoff hunt.
But this should not be a two player race, because Wilson looks like he is a better quarterback up to this point then both of them, and Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back Doug Martin is not just one of the best rookie running backs in the league, he is one of the best overall running backs in the league.
When comparing the three quarterbacks, Griffin is the highest rated with a 104.2 quarterback rating, which is second in the league. He is completing 66.4 percent of his passes, which is 6th in the league, and he has only been intercepted four times. He has 18 touchdown passes.
Luck has been a passing machine, which is great for the most part, but it is also bad. He has thrown for 3,978 yards, compared to only 2,902 for Griffin and 2,697 for Wilson. Luck also has 20 touchdown passes.
But the problem with the volume of passes that Luck is throwing is that on any given passing play, three things can happen, and two of them are bad. Luck has a lot of passing yards, but he also has a lot of interceptions. He has thrown 18 of them, which is tied for the most in the league, and his 22 overall turnovers is the most in the NFL. His completion percentage is 54.6 percent, which is not really good.
As for Russell, his stats are pretty good, as he has thrown 21 touchdown passes to only nine interceptions, while completing 62.9 percent of his passes, which is really good for a rookie, and pretty good overall. But he seems to have that “it” factor. He is a gamer, and he is leading a team that a lot of people are starting to think can make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Nobody is saying that about the Redskins or the Colts.
As for Martin, he has 1,250 yards rushing, 5th in the league, and ten touchdowns. Those are very good numbers for any running back, let alone a rookie. But his team is not in playoff contention, and even though he has been really good, he really is not going to come close to winning this award.