NFL Awards Watch: Week 16
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): With the touchdown record in hand and the yardage record all but in the bag, the only part of the story left to be written is whether or not this is the greatest season ever by a quarterback. That, of course, will be up for debate no matter what happens the rest of the way, but Manning's postseason success this year could be the deciding factor. With a first-round bye in hand, it's possible Manning may not even play the entirety of Denver's Week 17 game against the Raiders, although you can bet Manning wants to get that yardage record.
2. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (NR): Whether it has been Mike Vick or Nick Foles under center for the Eagles, the constant in the NFC's most explosive offense has been the man they call Shady. Not since Barry Sanders have we seen a running back with the stop-and-start escapability and dynamic big-play ability of McCoy. No one can make a three-yard run seem extraordinary like he can. Philly's feature back is leading the NFL in rushing and yards from scrimmage, and after demolishing Chicago's pathetic defense in Week 16, has the Eagles primed to nab the NFC East and the No. 3 seed in the NFC. He's the biggest reason no one wants to play Philadelphia in the playoffs.
3. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers (NR): Carolina's defense is really, really good, but the biggest difference between last year's Panthers and this year's version is Newton is making the plays in big spots. Since a disappointing loss on the road to New Orleans, the Panthers have looked like the best team in the NFC, and Newton's game-winning drive Sunday put Carolina in a position to snag both the NFC South and a first-round bye. You can certainly make a case Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Jamaal Charles belong on this list, but after what Cam did Sunday, he is every bit as deserving.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (1): Manning joked after Denver's win over the Texans that he wasn't worried about the touchdown record because Tom Brady would probably break it next year anyway. Peyton's affability aside, 51 touchdowns with one week to play is something to marvel at and Manning is just 265 yards away from tying Drew Brees' yardage mark. If Manning does sit out against Oakland the final week of the season, he's still the first player ever to throw for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdown passes in the same season -- and he would have only played 15 games.
2. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (NR): Even with a midseason swoon, McCoy has been the league's most productive running back despite upheaval at the quarterback position and an entirely new scheme being installed in Philadelphia. He ran for 10 percent more yards per game than his closest competitor, Adrian Peterson, and only DeMarco Murray has a higher per carry average. McCoy was also tops among starting running backs, averaging 10.5 yards per reception. McCoy isn't having an all-time great season like Manning, but he's been one of the most explosive offensive players in football this season.
3. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (3): Even during a disappointing week for the Chiefs, Charles shined. He rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries for the Chiefs and added another five receptions. He's the entire Chiefs offense and his numbers are every bit as good as McCoy's.
1. Robert Quinn DE, St. Louis Rams (1): Quinn may have sewn up the DPOY with a three-sack game against the Buccaneers. The MMQB's Greg Bedard made the case last week, as he has previously this season, that Quinn is the best edge rusher in the league and that was before he wrecked Tampa's offensive line. Quinn now has 18 sacks and seven forced fumbles this season, including three games this season with a trio of sacks. He continues to lead the league in the MMQB's Pressure Points metric, and not even J.J. Watt's advanced metrics powerhouse season can topple Quinn's pass-rushing prowess.
2. J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans (2): With the way Quinn is taking down quarterbacks and the way Richard Sherman is catching passes from them, Watt is going to have a hard go of it for DPOY, but that doesn't make him less deserving. He's still having the best year of any interior lineman rushing the passer and remains an elite run defender. No one disrupts games the way Watt does and his 9.5 sacks, six passes defended and three forced fumbles are a testament to that. But with the rest of the team failing to pull their weight, it's often hard to notice Watt's dominance.
3. Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers (NR): In what has been a loaded year for linebackers between Karlos Dansby, Lavonte David and Kuechly, the Carolina second-year player has been superlative. His game against New Orleans Sunday was indicative of the kind of range, instincts and skills Kuechly possesses. Kuechly notched 26 tackles on 81 offensive plays for the Saints, which means that on more than one out of every three plays, Kuechly either made or assisted on the tackle. The maturation of the former Boston College standout has elevated the Panthers defense to elite status, and while Kuechly won't win this award this season, it seems inevitably his at some point soon.
1. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers (1): If not for Eddie Lacy, it's hard to imagine the Packers would have won any games without Aaron Rodgers under center; Lacy's been that good for Green Bay. On Sunday, in a loss to Pittsburgh, the former Alabama workhorse had 15 carries for 84 yards and a pair of scores. If not for an untimely pick-six from Matt Flynn and a preposterously porous Green Bay defense, Lacy could have been a bigger part of the offense early on. An ankle injury knocked him out of the game in the second half, and whether Lacy's ankle is good to go for Week 17 or not, this award should be his.
2. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers (2): Allen has scored five times in the last three games, but has just eight catches and 114 yards. In some ways, he's a victim of his own success. He's become the focal point of the passing attack and has likewise borne the brunt of opposing team's game planning. That has opened up the field for Ryan Matthews to play well, but Allen's production can't match Lacy's, particularly when you consider teams are stacking the box against Green Bay. Allen made a strong push to get into this race and would need a monster Week 17 to have a chance to topple Lacy.
3. Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis Rams (NR): Back-to-back 100-yard games from Stacy coupled with a late-season swoon from Giovani Bernard has made this list even more interesting. Stacy has four 100-yard games this season and has become the focal point of the St. Louis offense. Even in just 11 starts, Stacy has 958 yards and seven touchdowns. It's easy to imagine if he'd been starting from Day 1, Stacy would rightfully be in the discussion atop this list.
1. Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets (1): Richardson isn't a flashy DPOY, but here's a snapshot of how good he's been: Sunday's win against the Browns was just his first negative Pro Football Focus grade this season. Even that was because he is still evolving as a pass rusher (in other words: he's not done much this season) and had a couple costly penalties. Richardson is already an elite run defender and if the Jets had an edge rusher more worthy of concern, you get the feeling Richardson would start to eat up the one-on-one blocking he'd face more regularly.
2. Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina Panthers (2): Drew Brees and his high-powered offense were stymied against the Panthers because Carolina's front seven is among the best in the league. You want to know why Luke Kuechly has a million tackles (rough estimate) this year? Lotulelei eats up blockers and keeps his middle linebacker clean to make plays. As he evolves in this defense, expect the Panthers to also find more ways to use Lotulelei -- at Utah, they'd occasionally drop him in coverage and he's such a great athlete, he actually covered running backs in the flat.
3. Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills (3): This list seems incredibly boring without Tyrann Mathieu, and perhaps he should be on it even though he's out for the year. On the other hand, Alonso's impact early in the season cannot be forgotten when he was a way-too-early candidate for DPOY -- not just rookie -- through the first month of the season. Buffalo's defense mauled Miami in Week 16 and Alonso continued to rack up tackles like few other players in the league. Green Bay's Micah Hyde could creep onto this list if he keeps playing well on both defense and special teams for the Packers. He's become Honey Badger Lite in Green Bay.
1. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles (3): No, Kelly hasn't revolutionized the league like Cris Collinsworth's occasional bouts of hyperbole would make you believe, but the Eagles offense is rolling and the defense has improved. This Philly team went from an undeniable mess to a legitimate darkhorse in the NFC with a quarterback who didn't even start the season under center. After a trouncing of the Bears Sunday night, Philadelphia can capture the NFC East title by beating the Tony Romo-less Cowboys in Week 17. Even Kelly's biggest supporters couldn't have seen this coming.
2. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots (NR): It seems as though the league habitually underrates how good Bill Belichick is, as he's constantly at his best when adversity is likewise at its pinnacle. The Pats were decimated by injuries this season, yet New England still has a chance to be the AFC's top seed after one of the most convincing wins of the year. Even as Tom Brady struggled early in the season with an unproven group of receivers, Belichick had the Patriots winning. It's amazing the way he can cobble together a gameplan with a group of players he seems to just plug and play.
3. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs (2): As uninspiring as Sunday's loss to the Colts was, the Chiefs didn't have much to play for. The five seed is essentially theirs and the Colts are the inevitable four seed, leaving the Week 16 matchup as a playoff preview. That being said, Kansas City has lost four of its last six games, all to teams either in the playoffs, or still with playoff hopes. It's exactly the kind of late-season struggles Reid needed to avoid after starting the season so hot. Are the Chiefs really good or just really good against bad teams? We may not know the answer until playoff time.