NFL Awards Watch: Week 15
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): Thursday's loss to the Chargers shocked the NFL world, but it doesn't lessen Manning's impact this season. The 2013 SI Sportsman of the Year could finish with pedestrian numbers in the final two weeks and still have one of the best seasons ever at the position. The success of his season will still be measured by the Broncos' postseason run, but with Denver still fighting to hold onto the No. 1 seed in the AFC, expect Peyton to keep his foot on the gas in Weeks 16 and 17. His play the last month should have opened the door for other contenders, but no one has truly stepped to the fore and claimed a place in the conversation.
2. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (NR): Peter King made the argument for Charles after a five-touchdown day against the Raiders. When you look at the Chiefs, they're winning because they have a pressure cooker of a defense and elite special teams, not the offense. That being said, Dwayne Bowe has been a disappointment this season and the rest of the Chiefs offense is average at best. That leaves Charles to do the heavy lifting, and in the last month he has 10 touchdowns, while averaging 8.6 yards per touch. Without Charles, the Chiefs would have essentially nothing offensively. More on his year later.
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (2): There's really no other way to say it: The Saints have been brutal on the road this season. An embarrassing loss to a dome team well out of the playoff race this late in the season when the division and a first-round bye are on the line is bad enough. When your franchise quarterback and MVP candidate is out there throwing interceptions and hurting the team, it's even worse. Lose on the road to Cam Newton and the Panthers this Sunday and someone else will be in this spot.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (1): Even with Manning showing signs of being human the last month, he's still on pace to shatter several NFL single-season passing records. He needs just three touchdowns to tie Tom Brady's record and 665 yards to get to Brees' mark. The yardage mark will be tougher than the scoring record, and yet it would only require Manning to hit his per game average over the next two contests.
2. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns (2): Wes Chandler's per game receiving yardage mark may be off the table for Gordon after a sub-par game (by Gordon's standards), but the Browns' dynamic receiving talent has scored a touchdown in five straight games despite catching passes from Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden. His 122.3 yards per game is by far the best in the league, and Gordon is also tops in total yards despite playing just 12 games. When you consider the surrounding cast, the changes at quarterback and the schedule Cleveland has played, Gordon's season is one of the best in recent memory for a wide receiver.
3. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (NR): A forgettable week from Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham allowed the AFC's most versatile offensive weapon to sneak into the mix. Charles has as many receiving touchdowns as Keenan Allen, Vincent Jackson and Alshon Jeffery, while also leading the league in rushing touchdowns. His 18 total touchdowns is more than Eli Manning and Robert Griffin III have through the air. Charles also ranks fourth in rushing yards and second in total yards to LeSean McCoy (by just 14 yards).
1. Robert Quinn DE, St. Louis Rams (3): Watt has deservedly spent most of the season at the top, but Quinn earned some accolades with his performance against the Saints in an upset win. Furthermore, Quinn, unlike Watt, has seen his stellar defensive performances change games, translating into wins. Against New Orleans, the former first-round pick had five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble, to add to his league-leading seven on the season. One of his seven hurries led to a Drew Brees pick. He's the best edge rusher in football, and continues to lead all players in total Pressure Points according to the MMQB. Quinn is also the top 4-3 DE by a mile according to Pro Football Focus.
2. J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans (1): Watt's own personal performance is overshadowed by how awful both his defense and his team overall have played this season. It's rare you find a Defensive Player of the Year on a team who also got the No. 1 pick locked in before the season was over. That being said, Watt has been a dominant force for the Texans with a league-leading 42 quarterback hits (Quinn is second best with 27), 10 sacks and 17 tackles for loss (second, behind Quinn's 18). He creates pressure like a pass-rushing defensive end or outside linebacker, but stops the run like a 350-pound nose tackle. What he's done the past few years at his position is nothing short of remarkable.
3. Karlos Dansby, LB, Arizona Cardinals (3): Perhaps no player in the league affects more facets of the game defensively than does Dansby. His 17 passes defended is sixth best in the league and four better than the next closest linebacker. Leading Arizona's suffocating defense, Dansby is second in the league in solo tackles, to go with 6.5 sacks, three interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. Dansby is the beneficiary of the stellar talent around him, but he still has to make the plays and he has when the Cards have needed it.
1. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers (2): At this point, I'm not sure it's fair to have a No. 1 and 2 because Lacy and Keenan Allen are 1a and 1b. Lacy is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week after he pounded the Cowboys for 141 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score (on 21 carries). His 60-yard scamper to open the second half turned the game around for the Packers. Even more amazing is Lacy's game hasn't been hampered by the loss of Aaron Rodgers. In games with Rodgers, Lacy was averaging 87.2 yards per game. Without his quarterback, Lacy is averaging 83 yards per game. Three of Lacy's four 100-yard games this season have come without Rodgers on the field, as have his two longest runs of the year.
2. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers (1): As the Chargers pounded Denver, they used the passing game as a weapon to keep the Broncos defense honest. It worked and Allen scored twice, once on a catch-and-run capped with an acrobatic and powerful dive into the end zone. You can't go wrong with either Allen or Lacy at this point, and both are potentially deserving of this award. Both the Chargers and Packers are still alive in their respective playoff chases. Whoever makes the bigger positive impact on his team's chances ought to win this award.
3. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (3): In primetime, with Lacy and Allen already setting the bar high for Week 15, a clunker against a division rival was not what Bernard or the Bengals needed. Bernard, who does appear to be evolving into the Cincinnati feature back, piled up just 33 yards on 13 carries, although he did score. It would be tough for Bernard to really challenge Allen or Lacy given how well the two have played lately, but Bernard could certainly make a go of it with two sensational performances down the stretch. He is the type of explosive back who can go on a tear.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets (1): Doug Farrar wrote last week that Richardson was justified in stating that he should have gone No. 1 overall. Instead, he fell to New York where he has spearheaded one of the best defensive front sevens in the league. His play at 3-4 DE has been superb and his ability to fight off double teams while still making stops in the run game has been remarkable. With Mathieu out with an injury, it seems clear this award belongs to Richardson, who may well be right about deserving to be the top pick in the 2013 draft.
2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers (2): Carolina's defense was back to mashing against the Jets and Lotulelei, as usual, was part of the reason why. His ability to eat up blocks in the middle has allowed Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson to fly off the edge, while also keeping the Panthers linebackers clean to make plays. With run-stuffers Richardson and Lotulelei, the DROY is bereft of the usual pass rushers and coverage aces, but it's not lacking for impact players. Both players are major cogs in really, really good defenses.
3. Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills (NR): Alonso is not the force he was to begin the season, but he remains the top defensive players in Win Percentage Added, and has been a tackling machine all season. Alonso is already one of the best cover linebackers in the game and has stepped in to be an every-down player for the Bills defense.
1. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers (NR): The Packers lost arguably the best quarterback in the game, yet have found a way to go 2-0-1 in the last three games and now control their own destiny in the NFC North (the Packers owe a hat tip to the Lions for blowing an eminently winnable game Monday). Green Bay has been devastated by injuries and yet has won enough games to put it in a position to not only make the playoffs, but win its division. The 23-point comeback in Dallas wasn't all on Tony Romo and Jason Garrett's incompetence, as McCarthy -- who calls the plays -- helped the Packers score on all five second-half drives. If Green Bay wins out, McCarthy ought to be the choice here.
2. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (2): After losing to the Broncos three weeks ago, the Chiefs have ripped off two blowout victories and appear to be clicking on all cylinders heading into the playoffs. Winning at least one of the Broncos games would have solidified Reid's place at the top of the list. Even so, a turnaround of the order Kansas City is poised to pull off is almost unprecedented and Reid is one of the biggest reasons why the team will do it.
3. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles (1): If you want to be taken seriously in the NFC, you can't lose to a cellar-dwelling team with a backup quarterback and its third-string running back. And the Eagles didn't just get beat by the Vikings; Philadelphia got steamrolled. With the Bears looming Sunday night and a Week 17 matchup with Cowboys ahead, we'll find out what Chip Kelly and his Eagles are made of.