NFL Awards Watch: Week 14
The pulse of the NFL season changes weekly. Every Wednesday, SI.com will break down the front-runners for the major NFL awards.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (last week: 1): Peyton put a bow on this award by torching a really good Titans' pass defense on Sunday despite bitter cold in Denver. Will Manning be a unanimous choice? Unless Drew Brees lights the league on fire the last three weeks -- don't rule it out -- anyone voting for someone not named 'Peyton' ought to lose his or her vote. Manning lost a split-decision MVP last year. This year, he should win in a knockout.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (2): A brutal week in Seattle left the door open for Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Nick Foles to get back into the discussion, but Brees orchestrated a decisive beatdown of the Panthers and Newton in Week 14. Coupled with a listless Wilson performance on the road in San Francisco, Brees has this No. 2 spot on lock at this point. It'll be once again a bridesmaid for Brees, though, with Manning assaulting the record books.
3. Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia (NR): The incredible interception streak -- or lack thereof -- ended against Detroit, but the momentum is squarely on the side of Philadelphia's second-year quarterback. He's only started seven of his team's games, making his place on this list seem dubious, but the Eagles took off when Foles became the full-time starter (Foles has played in 10 of his team's 13 games overall). His passer rating (120) is tops in the league, six points ahead of Peyton Manning, and he has an absurd 20:1 touchdown to interception ratio this season. If finishes the season as hot as he began, even in just 10 starts, Foles will have a remarkable case.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (1): Much like the MVP race, the questions that now remain for Manning are how many records will he break and will he finish with the greatest statistical season ever by a quarterback? He has three games to throw five touchdowns and tie Tom Brady's record for a single-season. Manning has thrown multiple scores in every game this season but one and has at least five touchdown passes in two games this season. He's going to get the record. Manning is also 954 yards shy of Drew Brees' yards record, and with Manning averaging nearly 350 yards per contest, he's safely on pace to get there. It does, however, appear that Aaron Rodgers' passer rating record and Brees' completion percentage records are not in reach for Manning.
2. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns (NR): Gordon has gone from one record-setting day to the next and is in line to break the single-season record for receiving yards per game if he keeps it up. He has an astonishing 774 yards over the last four games, an NFL record, and is averaging 127.3 yards per game, just below the 129 yards per game record held by Wes Chandler. Perhaps even more incredible is that he's leading the league in receiving despite sitting out the first two games of the season with a suspension. Remember too, Gordon played most of the season with a combination of Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell at quarterback, yet is averaging almost 20 yards per reception. He's having a season for the ages.
3. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints (NR): A case can be made for Calvin Johnson and Drew Brees on this list, but what Graham is doing at the tight end position is historic. If Graham hadn't missed a game, he would be a near certainty to get to Rob Gronkowski's touchdown record for a tight end. Even with injuries, Graham is on pace to get there, needing just three touchdowns in the final three games to tie the record. The Saints' dynamic converted basketball star is 10th in the league in receptions and has a per catch yards average ahead of electric receivers such as Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton. For as great as Megatron has been, Graham has been just as unstoppable and because of his position, creates more problems for opposing defenses.
1. J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans (1): The Texans stink, but don't blame Watt. The Texans lost to the Jaguars this week (again!), but in the Week 12 loss two weeks ago to the Jaguars, Watt posted the highest grade ever by a 3-4 defensive end according to Pro Football Focus (https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2013/12/05/3tfo-texans-jaguars-week-14/). By PFF's grading, he's blowing the rest of the league out of the water on the defensive side of the ball. To put his season in perspective, he's graded out at 89.7 for the season -- that's his cumulative score for the season. Calais Campbell and Cameron Jordan, both of whom have been outstanding this year, were at 27.2 and 26.6, respectively, heading into Week 14.
2. Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona Cardinals (3): It's time to start taking a serious look at Dansby for DPOY. Against the Rams, Dansby had eight tackles, a sack and an interception returned for a touchdown. He leads the NFL in solo tackles, and has six sacks, three interceptions and a pair of defensive touchdowns. All this as the signal-caller and leader on the NFL's hottest defense. Dansby benefits from the outstanding play of Arizona's dominating trio of defensive linemen, but he's having a truly great season for an inside linebacker and deserves to be recognized.
3. Robert Quinn DE, St. Louis Rams (2): I wanted to make a case for Cameron Jordan after he dominated the Panthers' game defensively, but when you consider the gap between Jordan and Watt, it seems a fool's errand. Instead, Quinn remains on the list despite a quiet game against the Cardinals. Still, for the season, Quinn leads the league in forced fumbles and is second in sacks. He's also been in the top-three in MMQB's Pressure Points stat all season. He's been the most dangerous edge rusher in the game this season.
1. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers (2): This award has been Lacy's for most of the last two months, but Allen has wrestled it away with an outstanding stretch as the Chargers' top receiver. He had just three catches for 59 yards against the Giants, but scored twice and is showing why he ought to have been a higher pick despite injury and speed concerns coming out of Cal. With a shootout all but assured this week against the Broncos, expect Allen to continue to be targeted regularly by Philip Rivers.
2. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers (1): It wasn't as though Lacy played poorly against the Falcons. In fact, had Green Bay's defense been able to do anything against Matt Ryan in the first half, Lacy likely would have topped 100 yards and gotten his usual 20+ totes. But playing from behind, the Packers had to eschew the running game. Even so, Lacy finished with 90 yards and a score on 23 total touches. With a sieve-like Cowboys defense looming, Lacy has a chance to really do some damage and get back atop this list.
3. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (3): Bernard had one of his best games of the season against the Colts with 148 yards on just 16 touches. His 99 yards rushing were by far his best mark of the season. The problem in this category for Bernard is he remains an ancillary piece on the Bengals offense, whereas both Allen and Lacy are the featured cog. Bernard probably deserves to be, at worst, the No. 2 option in the offense, but Cincy simply hasn't gone that way most of the year.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets (1): There isn't a rookie with eye-popping sack or interception totals as we usually see here, so one of the best run defenders in the league maintains the top spot. Mathieu was Richardson's biggest competition for the award, and he won't play the rest of the year due to a knee injury. Stout against the run, the Jets would still love to see some additional juice from Richardson in the pass rush.
2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers (2): Lotulelei didn't have an enormous impact against the Saints, but the injury to Mathieu and a quiet game from Kiko Alonso keeps Lotulelei at this spot for now. He'll get another chance against Brees in two weeks, a game sandwiched by the Jets and Atlanta, two games which Lotulelei should dominate against the run.
3. Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals (3): This will be the last week for Mathieu on this list as Kiko Alonso was already hot on his tail. It's disappointing to see such a dynamic player lost for the year with an ACL injury. Mathieu, for all his struggles off the field at LSU, seemed to have found a niche on the field the Cardinals. It's a shame to see that gone, especially for a player as fun to watch as the Honey Badger.
1. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles (2): The biggest difference between Chip Kelly and Andy Reid for this award is we knew the Chiefs had a talented roster and an identity with Jamaal Charles and that defense. But who or what were the Eagles? Chip Kelly has, without one of his top receivers, gone on to turn Nick Foles into one of the most efficient QBs in the league. LeSean McCoy blossomed into the most dynamic running back since Barry Sanders and the Eagles are leading the NFC East, poised to run away with it considering how the rest of the division is playing. Kelly has, above all else, given the Eagles an injection of life and a direction, an identity on which they can hang their hats. That's a Coach of the Year performance.
2. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (1): It's hard to bump Reid down after the Chiefs blew the doors off the Redskins in Week 14, but it's more a credit to what Kelly has done with the Eagles. I still think Reid has a good chance to win this award.
3. Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears (NR): Riverboat Ron turned into Rowboat Ron after a sorry performance against the Saints. On the flip side, the Bears flattened the Cowboys with a backup quarterback playing like the Midwest version of Nick Foles. Trestman has somehow coaxed a Rich Gannon-esque season from Josh McCown, who has actually outplayed incumbent Jay Cutler this season. Trestman might be higher on this list if Robbie Gould makes a 47-yard field goal in Minnesota, but the bone-headed decision to kick it on second down as opposed to trying to get a few yards closer is on the head coach.