The NFL postseason awards look pretty clear-cut this year. Who’s really going to argue against Adrian Peterson for MVP? Or Bruce Arians to be Coach of the Year? But between the need for proper due diligence and some performances that at least deserve a tip of the cap, there’s still plenty to talk about, so let’s dive into a look at the races for MVP, Coach of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
MVP: Adrian Peterson (RB, Minnesota): The 2,097 yards and carrying a team with Christian Ponder as its quarterback into the playoffs are reason enough to make Peterson the only reasonable choice for MVP. Let’s add in the fact that this had to be accomplished in one of the league’s best divisions and that this wasn’t some chintzy 9-7 playoff team that backed in on the last game. Peterson had to carry the Vikes to ten wins and beat Chicago, Houston and Green Bay down the stretch, while avoiding a trap spot on the road in St. Louis. He did it all.
Peterson’s division rival, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, built a resume that was almost as good as last year’s, when he brought home MVP. Rodgers finished with the passer rating in the league, and his 39-8 TD-INT ratio isn’t that far off 2011’s historic 45-6 ratio. In spite of being sacked more times than any quarterback in the league, Rodgers still was in the top five for yards-per-attempt, a clear indicator of his willingness to stay in the pocket for as long as possible, find a receiver downfield and take the hit. In a lot of years, this showing would have been good enough for another MVP trophy.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady each had huge years, and both look destined for an AFC Championship Game showdown, although for MVP consideration, Manning grades out with the advantage. While Brady has more raw yardage and each are +26 on their TD-INT numbers, Peyton has a solid edge on completion percentage, while still having a better yards-per-attempt number. We can add that New England’s ability to support Brady with the running game improved markedly this year, while Manning had a much greater burden on his shoulders in Denver. In the rivalry between the two great veterans, give the edge here to Manning while still keeping him behind the Peterson-Rodgers duo out of the NFC North.
I’m not sold on Matt Ryan’s case for the MVP and I’m not holding Atlanta’s past postseason losses against him. Ryan’s case—leading the way for a team that was built on the passing game to a 13-3 record and #1 seed in the NFC is legitimate. But when you go inside the numbers, the 14 interceptions are a little high and in both QB rating and yards-per-attempt, he’s behind Manning and Rodgers. It’s not a drastic difference, but enough that I think you have to knock Ryan off the list.
Coach Of The Year: Bruce Arians (Indianapolis): Just like Peterson for MVP, you can make Arians’ case airtight in a single sentence and then add on. He led a Colts’ team that was a complete disaster last year to an 11-5 record and did it with a rookie quarterback. Then let’s factor in that Arians wasn’t even the head coach, only getting the job after Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia. With Pagano back on the sidelines for the season finale, Arians will be the only man to ever get Coach of the Year and still be an assistant for the playoffs during the same season.
Just as Green Bay’s quarterback can’t be overlooked for the high spots in the MVP race, nor can their coach. Mike McCarthy led a team that was riddled with injuries everywhere except center, had a win taken from him in Seattle and still pieced together an 11-5 campaign. Mike Shanahan in Washington put together a power running game with Alfred Morris to support the incomparable Robert Griffin III and stole an NFC East crown. How about Leslie Frazier in Minnesota, who found a way to give Peterson enough help to win, something not easy to do in a league that no longer favors running backs? If not for the inspirational story in Indianapolis, any of these three would have been a solid choice.
Defensive Player Of The Year: J.J. Watt (DE, Houston)—The Texans play a 3-4 scheme. I point this out because in a 3-4, the schemes are essentially set up for the outside linebackers to be the playmakers. Former New York Giant great Lawrence Taylor was the proto-type and best ever and someone like Demarcus Ware in Dallas is a good example today. The role of the defensive linemen in the 3-4 is usually to tie up blockers, to prevent them from locking in on the linebackers. So what did Watt do in the thankless role of a 3-4 defensive lineman? He merely led the league in sacks, with 20.5. Book him for the award.
Comeback Player Of The Year: Peyton Manning (QB, Denver)—I really consider this one a no-brainer. Peterson is going to get votes and may even win the award, because of his return from ACL surgery. But I can’t get past the fact that Peterson played all but one game last year. His recovery was amazingly fast, but isn’t the nature of the Comeback Player award supposed to be out a player who…well, who comes back? Manning came back from four neck surgeries, missed an entire year and led a team to the status of Super Bowl favorite in the playoffs. And from a purely political standpoint, isn’t splitting the MVP and Comeback Player awards kind of the cheap way of making sure everyone stays happy? I thought so.
Rookie Of The Year: Robert Griffin III (QB, Washington)—This is another debate that really is no debate at all. I know Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson have had great years. I know that as a Redskins fan, who has said openly that I consider RG3 to be a transformational figure in the history of western civilization, I don’t have a lot of credibility when it comes to sober analysis on any topic regarding him. But consider that he’s third in the NFL in quarterback rating, trailing only guys named Rodgers and Peyton . He’s only thrown five interceptions all year, and that hasn’t come at the expense of going down the field—RG3’ 8.14 yards-per-attempt leads the NFL. He’s fourth in completion percentage and if you haven’t noticed, he’s known to run pretty well.
Frankly, I’d like to make a case for him as MVP, but Washington passes less than all but two teams, so I can’t get there. I will say that given what he did for a desolate franchise, he deserves this award in a runaway and a top four finish in the MVP voting, with a good case for being as high as second.