Daily Archives: January 7, 2010

FR: 2009 Awards

Most Valuable Player: QB Peyton Manning, Colts – This feels like such an unoriginal pick, but I’m convinced that if the Colts had just a good quarterback (even someone as good as Tony Romo) they would have been 9-7 instead of 14-2. Manning took an inexperienced receiving corps and made enough big plays for the Colts to go 8-0 in games decided by one score. That’s ridiculous. He’s a five-win player (at least), and no one else in the league provides that much of a bump to his team. If that ain’t valuable, I don’t know what is.

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Chris Johnson, Titans – I’ve always thought it was weasely not to make your MVP your offensive player of the year, but since this is a different award, we’ll pick a different winner. And Johnson, who ran for 2,006 yards, was the most dynamic and dominant offensive player in the league this year. Two thousand yards is a magic number, and Johnson got there at a rate that made it seem a foregone conclusion. That’s a ridiculous level of dominance.

Defensive Player of the Year: CB Darrelle Revis, Jets – The Jets were the league’s best defensive statistically both in terms of yards allowed and points allowed, and that was in large part because Revis flat shut down opponents’ No. 1 receivers. Revis’ six interceptions and 31 passes defensed don’t even begin to show how dominant he was. No other player was as reliably dominant on defense than Revis, and that gives him the nod.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Josh Cribbs, Browns – Cribbs is the best kick returner in the game right now, as he showed with two kick return touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 15 and four total returns (kick and punt) on the season. Plus, Cribbs is a terrific cover guy. There’s no one who makes more impact on special teams than Cribbs.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: OT Michael Oher, Ravens – He didn’t play the blind side for the Ravens, at least most of the year, but he stepped right in as a starter for a playoff team and played without many hitches. Oher has great size that helps in the running game and also the feet to be a solid pass protector. He had a great rookie season and looks forward to an even better career. Oher is a narrow choice over Minnesota WR Percy Harvin for this award.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Brian Cushing, Texans – We’ve already named Cushing the best No. 56 in the league, and now we’re giving him the nod as the best defensive rookie in the league this year, over S Jarius Byrd of Buffalo. Cushing was exactly what the Texans needed – a play-making outside linebacker to pair with tackling maching DeMeco Ryans in the middle. Cushing and Ryans will be the core of the Texans defense for the next few years, and that’s a big reason that Texans playoff talk is legit. Houston has never had linebackers of that impact before.

Most Improved Player: Miles Austin, Cowboys – Back at Pro Football Weekly, I wondered why the NFL didn’t have a Most Improved Player award, a la the NBA. That’s when PFW started offering that award. And were I to get a vote there, it would be for Austin, who exploded onto the scene with 81 catches, 1,230 yards and 11 touchdown catches. Austin is the prototypical guy who developed into a star – a former small-school player unearthed by Bill Parcells and signed as an undrafted free agent. Could Austin turn into the Rod Smith of this decade? So far, so good.

Comeback Player of the Year: Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers – With all due respect to Ricky Williams, who had a career type of year after several years either out of the league or as a reserve, the Caddy had the most profound return this year. After tearing the patellar tendon in one knee in ’07 and the other knee in ’08, Williams got healthy in the offseason and started from Game One this year. He finished with 821 rushing yards and 219 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns in a system designed for him to split carries. It’s a great story, and Cadillac deserves props for bouncing back.

Head Coach of the Year: Marvin Lewis, Bengals – Lewis took a team that was 0-8 in the first half of the 2008 season and led it to a division sweep and an AFC North title. Over the past two years, he’s also remade the team as a run-first offense and lockdown defense. The Bengals were more physical than traditional bullies Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and it showed in the results. For changing a mindset, Lewis earns this award.

Executive of the Year: Bill Polian, Colts – In a year of change, Polian came up big for the Colts. Rookies Austin Collie, Jerraud Powers, and Jacob Lacey all stepped right into the lineup and produced, and the head-coach succession from Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell went seamlessly despite issues on the coaching staff throughout the offseason. All that can be attributed to Polian, who sets the tone for the franchise.

Offensive Coordinator of the Year: Darrell Bevell, Vikings – Bevell doesn’t call the plays in Minnesota – Brad Childress does – but Bevell served as an important buffer between Childress and Brett Favre. And regardless of what you think of the coziness of that arrangement, the fact that Minnesota was second in the league in points scored means that it worked during the regular season.

Defensive Coordinator of the Year: Wade Phillips, Cowboys – Dallas allowed the second-fewest points in the league without big additions on defense. Instead, Phillips had his team continuing to develop – especially OLB Anthony Spencer. Phillips has long been one of the best defensive coaches in the league, and since he served as coordinator along with his head-coaching duties this year, we’ll give him the nod.

Play of the Year: Brandon Stokely carom TD catch against Cincinnati, Week 1 – The play that we’ll all remember from this season is the bizarre way the Broncos won in Week 1 in Cincinnati. Ironically, while the play sparked the Broncos to a 6-0 start, Denver missed the playoffs, while Cincinnati rebounded to win the AFC North. But regardless of that, this is the play that highlight makers will feature from 2009.

Game of the Year: Colts 35, Patriots 34 – No game caused more discussion – just mention 4th-and-2 and you’ll still get an argument – and no game went further to determine the hierarchy in the AFC. This Sunday-nighter gets the nod.

Offensive Performance of the Year: Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 503 yards and last-second TD pass to win against Green Bay in Week 15 – Pittsburgh desperately needed a win, and Roethlisberger delivered against a defense that entered ranked No. 1 against the pass. The performance included a perfect throw to Mike Wallace on the game’s final play to give Pittsburgh the win. It wasn’t enough to get the Steelers into the playoffs, but it was enough to give Roethlisberger the nod here over Brandon Marshall’s 21 catches against the Colts, Miles Austin’s 250-yard receiving game against the Chiefs, Jamaal Charles’ 256-yard rushing game against the Broncos, and Jerome Harrison’s 286 rushing yards against the Chiefs.

Defensive Performance of the Year: Charles Woodson Week 12 against Detroit – On Thanksgiving Day, Woodson had the ultimate stat-filler’s day – seven tackles, one sack, four passes defensed, one forced fumble, two interceptions, and one interception return for a touchdown. That dominant performance shone a light on the fine season Woodson had overall. So we give him the nod over four-sack days by Elvis Dumervil, Antwan Odom, and Brian Orakpo.

Crazy Kicker of the Year: Hunter Smith, Redskins – Smith had a rushing touchdown, a passing touchdown, and an interception thrown on the ugliest play of the year. No kicker was involved in more crazy plays than Hunter the Punter.

Transaction Bingo player of the year: DT Orien Harris, Bengals – Harris, who played in 2008 with the Bengals, was traded from Cincy to St. Louis in exchange for RB Brian Leonard. He then went from St. Louis to Detroit in exchange for WR Ronald Curry, again before the season. But he was waived after Week 1 by Detroit without seeing action, and then the Bengals signed him in mid-October. He was released after playing one game, and then re-signed once more by Cincinnati so he could play two more games. Harris edges out Marcus McCauley, who spent time on four rosters – Detroit, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and Washington.

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FR: Wild-card round

Here is our Football Relativity comparison of the 12 playoff teams from the NFL at the end of the regular season. Note that these teams would have fallen between the 10 and 6 levels in the Week 16 comparison of all 32 teams. We leave some levels blank to show the gap between teams. We’ll make actual picks of the wild-card games Friday.

10 – San Diego Chargers – It’s the Chargers that look like the best team entering the playoffs. An 11-game winning streak will do that, but it’s not just smoke and mirrors. San Diego has an elite quarterback in Philip Rivers, a terrific group of receivers, a solid offensive line, and a defense that has come around as the season progressed. Plus, the Chargers have finally experienced a modicum of playoff success the last two years. PK Nate Kaeding’s postseason meltdowns are a concern, but on the whole San Diego is a dynamic team.

9 – Indianapolis Colts – The Colts mailed in the final two weeks of the year, and so momentum is off the board. But the talent is still there, and Peyton Manning is still head and shoulders above anyone else in the league as an impactful quarterback. The thought of the Colts matching up with the Chargers troubles me, but it would be no surprise if the Colts make it all the way to Miami. For that to happen, youngsters like WRs Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon and CBs Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers will have to perform at a high level, but their track record this season suggests this is possible. The Colts aren’t a perfect team, but they’re a very good one. 

8 – New Orleans Saints – The Saints are still the class of the NFC despite a three-game losing streak at the end of the season. No team in the NFC can put up 35 points more easily, and the Superdome home-field advantage is huge. The question is on defense, especially in the secondary, but the Saints have shown the ability to create turnovers in that area. With the Saints offense, getting one turnover is even more lucrative, and the Saints have more return touchdowns than any other defense in the playoffs. All those are good things. New Orleans must protect Drew Brees, and that puts a load on OLT Jermon Bushrod, who has fallen off during the season. But if the Saints can address that issue, they should still be able to sprint into the Super Bowl.

7 – Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles – And now we have the clump in the NFC. The Vikings have a bye, but the way their defense has gone lately is problematic. CB Antoine Winfield isn’t healthy enough to play well (maybe a bye will help, but we’ll see), and that makes the Vikes vulnerable to the pass. On offense, Adrian Peterson’s numbers have fallen off over the second half of the season, and that points to a problem on the offensive line. The offensive tackles are big – maybe too big, because they seem to be wearing down as the season progresses. All those factors, plus Brett Favre’s less than stellar late-season record over the past several years, make the Vikings the most vulnerable of the four teams with a bye. The Cowboys may be the beneficiary of that – if they can get past the Eagles in round one. Dallas now has a third impact front seven player in OLB Anthony Spencer (joining NT Jay Ratliff and OLB DeMarcus Ware), and that has added a scare element to the defense. The Cowboys’ cornerbacks aren’t phenomenal, but Dallas generally generates enough pressure to cover for that. On offense, the Cowboys have a playmaker in Miles Austin, a security blanket in Jason Witten, and an offensive line that seems to have rallied in recent weeks. While the Cowboys’ recent playoff history is awful, there are a lot of pieces in place in big D. The same is true in Philly, where the Eagles had a six-week winning streak until their stink bomb in Dallas last Sunday. Again, this is a team that can get on a roll with a win. To do that, they’ll need some big plays from DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, and the rest of their young offensive weapons. They’ll also need their blitzes to be more fruitful than they were last week against the Cowboys. Whichever team wins this game is going to be a real threat in round 2, which makes the matchup so good.

6 – Green Bay Packers – I almost included the Packers with the group above, but I still have lingering questions about their offensive line. It’s been better (much better) lately, but it’s still not good. Maybe OK, but not good. And that could prove to be a fatal flaw in the playoffs. But everything else is there – a top-flight QB in Aaron Rodgers, a stacked group of receivers, a good running back in Ryan Grant, and a defense that’s playing better and better as the weeks go by. It’s entirely conceivable that the Packers could run through the NFC bracket, but it’s also conceivable to see them lose in Arizona this week. Regardless, this team will be fascinating to watch.

5 – Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots – The Cardinals would probably rate even with the Packers if not for the injuries that could hold Anquan Boldin and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie out of this week’s game. Regardless, the Cards have the talent to win not only this week but for weeks to come. Even without Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston are a scary pair of wideouts, and Beanie Wells gives Arizona a run-game dimension they didn’t have last year. And on defense, the Cards can generate pressure with Darnell Dockett and even S Adrian Wilson. It still sounds weird to say, but the Cards could repeat as NFC champs – if they can win this week. New England, like Arizona, has a big injury to overcome with Wes Welker out for the playoffs. That’s a huge blow, because Welker was a receiving threat, and he was also basically the Pats’ running game. Maybe the returning Fred Taylor can help move the chains, but that’s a concern. New England could have some Brady-to-Moss big plays, but I don’t foresee enough of those plays to carry them four games in a row. And New England’s defense just isn’t enough of a lockdown unit to carry the team in games where the offense is struggling. A first-round win is likely, but the Pats don’t look like they can go to San Diego and win when they’ll need to.

4 – none

3 – Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens finished just 9-7, but they let games slip away by missed field goals (vs. Minnesota) and missed touchdowns (vs. Pittsburgh). And the truth is that the Ravens are a little closer to an 11-5 quality team than a 9-7 group. That makes them a scary postseason opponent. The Ravens have a dynamic running game with big-play threat Ray Rice and big load Willis McGahee, running behind a big-time offensive line. Joe Flacco had a good season even though he doesn’t have big play threats. Still, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap are solid. And the Ravens still have a stud front seven that can generate pressure. The problem is pass defense, because the corners are subpar and S Ed Reed has missed time. That makes them susceptible to a Randy Moss type receiver, which is exactly what they must face in round 1. Reed will be back, and that among other things gives the Ravens a chance, but ultimately the cornerback shortcomings may prove to be the difference this Sunday.

2 – none

1 – Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets – These two teams are the least threatening to make the Super Bowl this season. That’s because the way they play – good defense and good run game – isn’t usually sustainable for a four-week run unless that defense is elite (Ravens in 2000 or Steelers in 2005 special). The Jets aren’t that. They have a top-level corner in Darrelle Revis and good statistics, but that defense isn’t going to win four games all by itself. And while the running game featuring Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene is good, eventually the Jets will have to rely on rookie QB Mark Sanchez, and when that happens Sanchez is far more likely to cost them a game than win them one. They’d have to hold Sanchez to limited passes (15 or so) in all four games to win, and that’s just not realistic. The Bengals have a more reliable quarterback in Carson Palmer, and a solid run game in Cedric Benson, but they got a bad matchup in round 1 because instead of counterpunching against a faster-paced team they’re going to have to slug it out. Cincy will probably have to put eight in the box to stop Jones and Greene and then dare Sanchez to beat them. The Bengals do have the corners in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph to win most 1-on-1 matchups, but that’s a risky strategy. Cincy is a good team that has had a good season, but without Antwan Odom, Rey Maualuga, and the late Chris Henry, they don’t have the playmakers to strike fear now that the second season is here.

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