Awards Watch (cont.)
Defensive Player of the Year
1. James Harrison, LB, Steelers (1)
2. DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys (NR): A temporary bout of insanity caused me to drop the two-time Pro Bowler from the list last week, but the league's top sack artist made a resounding statement regarding his candidacy against the Giants. Ware recorded his third three-sack game of the season, and forced two fumbles as he harassed Eli Manning constantly off the edge.
3. Albert Haynesworth, DT, Titans (2): The league's top interior defender has been outstanding in the middle of the Titans' fourth-ranked defense. Haynesworth's superb play inside has helped the team hold opponents to only 14.1 points a game, which ranks as second-lowest total in the league.
4. Joey Porter, LB, Dolphins (4): The Dolphins' surprising resurgence has been keyed by energetic pass rusher's dominating play. Porter ranks second in the league with 17.5 sacks and has recorded at a least a partial sack in 12 of the Dolphins' 14 games.
5. Ed Reed, S, Ravens (5): The league's premiere ball hawk showed off his versatility with a sack and a fumble recovery against the Steelers. Though Reed doesn't have a high number of tackles, his uncanny ability to come up with timely turnovers makes him a viable candidate for the league's top defensive honor.
Coach of the Year
1. Tony Sparano, Dolphins (3): The rookie head coach has the team playing well in all three phases. With only two weeks to play, the Dolphins are in a three-way tie for the AFC East and eyeing their first division title since 2000.
2. Mike Smith, Falcons (3): The ever-optimistic coach has guided the surprising Falcons to a winning record in his first season at the helm.
3. Jeff Fisher, Titans (1): The decision to eschew a field goal attempt late in the Texans' game backfired, but it is one of the few gambles that hasn't paid off for the veteran coach this season.
4. Mike Tomlin, Steelers (NR): The team has bullied its way to an 11-3 record in spite of numerous injuries on both sides of the ball behind the urging of their no-nonsense coach. With a looming showdown with the Titans on the horizon, the Steelers may sneak into the AFC's No. 1 seed.
5. Bill Belichick, Patriots (NR): How many teams could withstand the losses of a league MVP (Tom Brady), a defensive captain (Tedy Bruschi), and a top ball carrier (Laurence Maroney) to win a division title?
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (1): Ryan has been amazingly consistent as a first-year starter. Although he still suffers from an occasional rookie mistake, Ryan is on the verge of becoming an elite quarterback in his first season.
2. Matt Forte, RB, Bears (2): The Bears' star has found it more difficult to find running room in recent weeks, but continues to make contributions as a multi-purpose threat out of the backfield. Forte's 1,115 rushing yards rank eighth in the league, and his 58 receptions lead all running backs.
3. Steve Slaton, RB, Texans (5): The electrifying runner has been on fire since mid-season with four 100-yard games in the past five weeks. Slaton's five 100-yard rushing games lead all rookies, and his 1,124 rushing yards are the seventh-highest total in the league. After getting off to a slow start, Slaton may prove to be the top runner in a talented rookie class.
4. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans (3): The Titans' speedster has been as good as advertised as a playmaker. Johnson has produced 11 runs over 20 yards, including four longer than 40 yards and found the end zone eight times as a runner on the way to racking up to becoming the league's seventh ranked rusher (1,159).
5. Ryan Clady, OT, Broncos (NR): While it is highly unlikely that offensive lineman would win an award that typically goes to skill position players, Clady's play has been so exceptional this season that he deserves consideration for the honor.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1. Jerod Mayo, LB, Patriots (1): The rookie stalwart has been outstanding in the middle of the Patriots' defense. With Bruschi out of the lineup, Mayo has picked up the slack as the team's top playmaker.
2. Curtis Lofton, LB, Falcons (2): The Falcons' unheralded star has been solid in his first season. Lofton is the team's leading tackler with 87 stops and ranks as the second-leading tackler among rookie defenders.
3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Cards (3): Since stepping into the starting lineup in the middle of the season, Rodgers- Cromartie has emerged as the Cardinals' most dynamic defender. The rookie has recorded three interceptions and added a blocked kick on special teams.
4. Kenny Phillips, S, Giants (5): The Giants' top pick has been superb manning the middle of the field. Though Phillips has only five break-ups and one interception, the rookie's penchant for delivering bone-jarring hits has made him feared defender in the Giants' lineup.
5. Chris Horton, S, Redskins (4): The Redkins' rookie ball hawk has been a key contributor to the league's fifth-ranked defense. Though his production has been hampered in recent weeks due to an injury, Horton's stellar play has been a vital addition to their aggressive defense.