By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
It being the holiday season and all, why not give out some football-related gifts? And if you don’t get anything, that doesn’t mean we here at Patriots Daily don’t love you. Mostly.
MVP: Drew Brees, Saints
Brees is the league’s leading passer, completing 70 percent of his passes for 3,832 yards at 8.9 YPA, 32 TDs, and a passer rating of 112.3. More importantly, along with coach Sean Payton, he has changed the culture of the Saints, who’s been decent from time to time before his arrival, but never, ever as good as they are now. He has led New Orleans to an unbeaten record through 13 games while not only posting the stats listed above but providing vocal leadership to every nook and cranny of the team (check out his Ray Lewis-esque motivational speeches he delivers to the entire team prior to every game sometime). With all due respect to Peyton Manning and Brett Favre, both of whom are worthy choices as well, it’s Brees’s year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Charles Woodson, Packers
The former Heisman Trophy winner, who was buried in the morass of Oakland a few years ago but has been reborn as the leader of the Green Bay defense, has eight INTs , four forced fumbles, two sacks, 61 tackles and scored two touchdowns all while covering (usually one-on-one) the opponent’s best receiver. The Packers are second overall in defense this season, third against the pass. Last year, the Packers were 22nd in defense and blew seven games in which they led in the fourth quarter en route to a 6-10 record. The change to a 3-4 scheme and the import of master defensive coordinator Dom Capers have been huge reasons for the improvement this year and the best player of this new-fangled group is Woodson.
Rookie of the Year: Percy Harvin, Vikings
Adrian Peterson may be Brett Favre’s most valuable weapon in Minnesota, but the electric Harvin isn’t far behind. The rookie from Florida has 48 catches for 681 yards (14.2 YPA) and six TDs to go with two kick returns for touchdowns, one for 101 yards and an average of 29 yards per return. The Vikings are loaded on offense and it would have been easy for Harvin to remain in the shadows of guys like Peterson, veteran deep threat Bernard Berrian and breakout receiver Sidney Rice. But he’s embraced his role as an all-around threat and has contributed to his team’s success more than any other rookie in the league.
Coach of the Year: Sean Payton, Saints
We’ve always known Payton to be an offensive guru, going back to his assistant days in Dallas (where he developed Tony Romo), and throughout his time in New Orleans, where he led the Saints to one NFC Championship games and has always had an offense in the league’s top 10. But this year, knowing that as great as his offense was, it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t do something to fix the defense. So he brought in highly regarded coordinator Gregg Williams and this year, they are allowing just 21PPG , a number that’s inflated a bit thanks to 53 points given up in the past two weeks. The results speak for themselves, which is why Payton should be a shoo-in for this honor.
Knucklehead of the Year: JaMarcus Russell, Raiders
Oakland is 31st in the league in passing (144.6 YPG), 31st in the league in scoring (11.9 PPG) and 31st in the league in total offense (246.2 YPG). Russell, the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, has completed just 48 percent of his passes in 10 games, thrown just two TDs against 10 picks, fumbled seven times and been sacked 30 times. he was benched in favor of no-name Bruce Gradkowski, who immediately won two of three starts before getting injured last week against Washington. In that game, Russell threw for just 74 yards and was sacked six times in the second half. He was benched again for this week’s game against Denver in favor of scout team leader Charlie Frye. Reports of laziness, missing meetings, being late for practice and being overweight and out of shape have followed him around all year. But when he was interviewed on the topic a couple of weeks ago, he refused to give Gradkowski any credit for the team’s better fortune since his benching, said he thought he was doing a pretty good job and believes he’s the team’s quarterback of the future. If anyone can think of a better candidate for this gift anywhere in the league than Russell (with the possible exception of his coach and his owner), feel free to let us know.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. New Orleans: Another close call for the Saints, but they managed to edge out the Falcons and are now 13-0 and have won more games in one season than any other team in franchise history. And, just to pile on, forgotten man Reggie Bush showed up with two touchdowns against Atlanta.
2. Indianapolis: Uh oh. The Colts win one with Peyton Manning throwing four TDs but mostly playing substandard (20-of-42, 220 yards, three INTs, 65.6 passer rating) and the defense leading the way over Denver. At this point, the only questions about Indy are whether it will rest guys instead of go for 16-0 and whether or not another early, unexpected playoff exit is in the cards.
3. San Diego: That’s 16 December wins in a row and counting for the Chargers, who it says here are Super Bowl bound. Last week, they pulled out a close game in the fourth quarter on the road against a pretty good Cowboys team and now get two of their last three at home. Not ready to declare them champs-to-be. But it’s hard to bet against them right now.
4. Minnesota: Good bounce back win for the Vikes with a beatdown of the struggling Bengals. Brett Favre didn’t follow up his stinker in Arizona with another one and looks good to go given Minnesota’s final three opponents (Carolina, Chicago, the Giants). That dream NFC Championship matchup between the Vikings and the Saints still may happen.
5. Philadelphia/Green Bay: A tie here just because I’m not sure I really trust either team. The Eagles, as awesome as they look right now, can never be fully trusted when the heat is on thanks to their coach and quarterback, while the Packers are still very young and inexperienced despite winning five straight since their putrid loss to theBucs and having a fairly favorable schedule (at Pittsburgh, vs. Seattle, at Arizona) down the stretch.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Tampa Bay: The Bucs, now 1-12, didn’t make a first down until the middle of the third quarter in last week’s 26-3 loss to the Jets, and it was on a penalty. Quarterback Josh Freeman has thrown eight picks in his last two games and coach Raheem Morris told the Tampa media that he doesn’t really like being a head coach. Yikes.
2. St. Louis: It’s getting harder and harder to stick up for my favorite bad team, especially after a 47-7 loss to at Tennessee in which they started their third-string quarterback, a sixth-round rookie named Keith Null, who was coached at West Texas A&M by the immortal Ryan Leaf, and tossed fiveINTs in his pro debut.
3. Detroit: This week’s You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me stat involves the Lions, whose 48-3 loss at Baltimore last week, in which they allowed 548 yards (308 rushing), was their worst loss in 18 years. For a team that hasn’t even won 30 percent of its games this decade, that’s no small feat.
4. Cleveland: Congrats to the Browns, who move out of the top spot on our terrible teams list thanks to their 13-6 win over Pittsburgh, a game that may actually have made EricMangini feel like he has more than a two percent chance of being back next year.
5. Kansas City: The Chiefs appear to be the leaders in the clubhouse for Bad Team Most Likely to Turn Things Around Fastest. But they will have to get more out of $60 million man MattCassel, who has one TD and seven INTs in his last three games, to do it.
- Brandon Marshall, Broncos: What a turnaround for this guy. From slacking off in practice in an attempt to get himself traded and a subsequent suspension during training camp to a record-setting 21 catches against the Colts, good for 200 yards and two TDs. Great stuff.
- Steve Smith, Giants: The other Steve Smith caught seven more passes against the Eagles, setting a new franchise mark for receptions in a single season with 85. And he still has three more games to add on to it. If he keeps this up, pretty soon, the one in Carolina will be the other Steve Smith.
- DeSean Jackson, Eagles: Jackson completes our all-receiver trifecta edition of What’s Trendy thanks to a six-catch, 178-yard night against the Giants, complete with a 60-yard TD and a 72-yard punt return for another score. With that performance, he tied a league record with eight touchdowns of 50 or more yards in one season. Tremendous.
- Carson Palmer, Bengals: Palmer has appeared to be slipping somewhat in recent weeks and against the Vikings last week he fell flat, managing just 94 yards on a jaw-dropping 25 pass attempts. Cincinnati has a very god running game but it will go nowhere in the playoffs if Palmer puts up stats like that.
- The Giants Defense: On the opposite end of the spectrum from Smith, this group has allowed 32 points per game over its last eight games, likely the biggest reason why the G-Men are a an awful 2-6 over that stretch.
- The Steelers: Sure, there have been crippling injuries on both sides of the ball for the defending champs. But the Steelers added to their list of miserable losses (the Chiefs and the Raiders for starters) with a 13-6 stinker to the woeful Browns in which they averaged just 3.5 yards per play, their lowest in 25 games.
Best wishes and deepest condolences to the family of Bengals receiver Chris Henry, who has passed away this morning in a Charlotte, N.C., hospital after suffering serious injuries following a domestic dispute with his fiance. He was 26 years old. It seems Henry’s fiance got into her pickup after the dispute and Henry jumped onto the flat bed as she was driving away. At some point, he was thrown from the vehicle and found by police about a half mile away unconscious and having sustained life-threatening injuries. Henry is on injured reserve for the Bengals after dislocating his forearm earlier in the year. Once one of the league’s leading knuckleheads, having been arrested five times and suspended by the NFL twice, once for two games, the second time for eight, for various indiscretions including assault, a DUI and drug related circumstances. The Bengals even released him once, only to bring him back at the behest of team president Mike Brown and despite the objections of head coach Marvin Lewis. Henry had seemingly cleaned himself up prior to this year, having not been in trouble at all since signing a two-year contract before last season. He had 12 catches for 236 yards and two TDs before suffering the season-ending injury on Nov. 8. Sadly, seeing Henry’s name attached to such a story is hardly surprising given his past issues. But he clearly had been on the right track of late, which only makes the situation more upsetting. What a terrible, tragic turn of events.