Offensive Rookie of the Year Watch
The MVP Watch is boring me. If the top of it is without mystery, which it is, I think it's more fun to use this space every week to gauge how different races are going. This morning, it's the Offensive Rookie of the Year race, which is probably still a two-horse race. Though if DeMarco Murray continues his climb up the rushing-yardage list, it could be three.
Keep in mind that the 50 voters for the Associated Press NFL awards get one vote per category. I've often railed against this, favoring the baseball system, in which the voters vote 1 through 10 on things like the MVP and Cy Young Award. I'm giving you the top five here in my opinion, but letting you know the bottom four when we vote on Jan. 2 won't matter.
1. Carolina QB Cam Newton. Thirteen rushing touchdowns, with three more Sunday at Tampa in the rout of the Bucs. Wow. And the two 400-yard passing games to start the season. Very, very impressive. It's still very possible I could go Andy Dalton, but as of this morning, I'm leaning toward Newton.
2. Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton. Dalton's won three more games than Newton and been slightly more efficient, until his bad performance at Pittsburgh Sunday. Both teams stunk last year --Cincinnati was 4-12; Carolina 2-14 -- and I think the fact that the Bengals are playoff contenders in Dalton's rookie year and the Panthers are improved but not contending is a big part of the closeness of this race after 13 weeks.
3. Dallas OT Tyron Smith. An above-average right tackle from day one, and he's missed only three offensive snaps all year.
4. Oakland G-C Stefen Wisniewski. Terrific young talent on a line that has needed him at center and guard. Telling that a guard picked in the second round in 2011 will probably turn out better than a guard picked second overall by the Raiders in 2004, Robert Gallery.
5. Dallas RB DeMarco Murray. He still has time to get higher in the race, but he'll probably have to average 125 rushing yards a game to make up for his late start.
"Three weeks, three different quarterbacks. But the same team.''
-- Houston coach Gary Kubiak, on winning in consecutive weeks with Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates the starting quarterbacks.
"I've been telling you the same thing since we were 0-5. You just don't want to listen to me. This is a good football team, and I love coaching those guys. I have fun with them every day. We broke this down way back when we were 0-7 and said we had two seasons. November was good to us, and now we want to start good in December."
-- Miami coach Tony Sparano, about his players, after the Dolphins broke to a 34-0 lead and crushed the Raiders. Miami started 0-7 and is 4-1 since.
"I can take getting beat by a better football team, which they were.''
-- Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris, on the Carolina Panthers.
Now, this is a correction from my post of Monday morning. When I saw the quote used from his press conference after the 38-19 loss to Carolina Sunday, the quote read, "I can take getting beat by a better football team. I wish they were.'' Obviously, that makes it seem like Morris is giving the Panthers no credit for the victory. I have since listened to the audio from the press conference, and though it is difficult to hear, Morris does say, "I can take getting beat by a better football team, which they were.''
I regret the error. I'll also post a correction in next Monday's column, so those who don't re-read the column will understand that a mistake with the quote was made.
"We're in great shape ... one win away from feeling a lot better."
-- Chicago coach Lovie Smith, after the 10-3 home loss to Kansas City, conjuring memories of Kevin Bacon ("All is well! ALL IS WELL!'') in "Animal House.''
The Bears visit Tebowville this weekend, and if their quarterback is no better, they'll lose their third in a row.
Jay Cutler's last 27 drives before leaving the lineup with an injured thumb: six touchdowns, six field goals, 10 punts, one interception.
Caleb Hanie's first 27 drives as starting Chicago quarterback: two touchdowns, three field goals, 12 punts, six interceptions.
Bill Parcells used to say, "God's playing in some of these games.'' Maybe he was playing in February and March, which is when the NFL makes up the schedule every year, and maybe he fancied seeing Peyton Manning and Tom Brady playing a whole lot.
It's getting a little freaky now: 2012 will be the 10th consecutive season the Colts, in the AFC South, and Patriots, in the AFC East, have played each other.
For teams in the same conference but different divisions, scheduling is done on a rotating basis. Every three seasons, you play each team in a different division in your conference. In 2003, 2006 and 2009, the AFC East teams played the AFC South teams, and will do so again in 2012.
In every other year, you play one team in the other two divisions you're not assigned to play that year. So in every other year, New England had to finish in the same position in the AFC East standings as Indy did in the AFC South. And every year, they were the same.
This is the 10th season of the two-conference, four-division NFL format. And it's the first time in those 10 season that Colts, who will finish last in the AFC South, and the Patriots, likely to be first in the AFC East, will not finish in the same position in the standings.
For the record, New England is ahead in this one-decade series 5-4 in regular-season meetings and 2-1 in the playoffs. And yes, no two non-division foes have played each other this many times in a decade -- 13 times in 10 years -- which, as of next year, the Colts and Pats will have done.
Ever notice going to New Orleans is like going to a foreign country?
I mean, in a very good way.
Had the good fortune last Monday of going to New Orleans and spending some time with Steve Gleason, the former Saint now suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. We ate lunch at a place called Cochon, a New Orleans fixture for its interesting fare. I noticed that all four beers on tap were local, including the Tin Roof Brewery's Voodoo Bengal brew; nine of the 18 beers in bottles were locals, including Lazy Magnolia Pecan Ale. On the table that afternoon: fried rabbit livers, fried alligator and creamy grits. We passed on the shaved hog head with beets.
The bars and restaurants in the French Quarter are more Americanized, but it's still one of the most walkable American cities, alive from late morning to early morning. Never fails that when I go to the city I feel as though I'm in a European city as much as an American one. The narrow streets, the city dwellings, the strong local accents.
Walking the 10 blocks to the Superdome, beer was sold on the sidewalk and enjoyed by those walking to the game.
I don't remember the last bad day I had in New Orleans. I don't think there's ever been one.
"#Lions C Dominic Raiola went off in locker room afterwards, mostly using expletives, clearly the frustration is mounting."
-- @paulapasche, Lions beat writer for the Oakland (Mich.) Press, leaving the locker room after the Lions' loss to the New Orleans Sunday night.
"No one saying the Bears will be fine with Caleb Hanie anymore.''
-- @greggrosenthal, of Pro Football Talk and Rotoworld, after another awful Hanie performance in the 10-3 loss to Kansas City Sunday.
"Happy 30th Birthday Britney!''
-- @Lane_Kiffin, to Britney Spears, on her 30th birthday, Friday.