Awards time is right around the corner in the NFL, and the battles for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year each offer a number of worthy nominees. All, I suspect, will spark some of the healthiest and liveliest debate in recent memory.
Quality arguments can be made for Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Dwayne Bowe, Michael Turner, Devin Hester, Justin Tuck, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Clay Matthews, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison for the 2010 NFL Most Valuable Player award. But let's be honest: In the end, this will be a two-horse race between Brady and Vick.
That Vick's is an incredible story is debate-proof. When you combine his passer rating with his rushing accomplishments, he's having one of the great quarterbacking seasons of all time, and if we were talking Offensive Player of the Year, he just might get my vote. But when we talk most valuable, you have to ask this: Could the Eagles have been 10-6 with Kevin Kolb at QB, and just how much does it mean since there were six other teams in the NFC and six more in the AFC with equal or better records?
On the other hand, it seems clear the New England Patriots will finish the regular season as the best team in the NFL and that there isn't a snowball's chance in Hell they'd be there without Brady. Not only has he been the most valuable at any position this season, but is there another player in the league who has led and conducted an offense or defense as well as Brady, or done as much as Brady has to make the players around him better? Put it in this context: No offense to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, et al, and no pun intended, but is there one among you who wouldn't take the supporting casts of Vick, Rivers, Ryan, Bowe or Turner over that group? Not only is Brady the Most Valuable Player in the NFL in 2010, I don't see how the vote isn't unanimous.
Obviously I've already nominated Tuck, Peppers, Urlacher, Matthews, Polamalu and Harrison for Defensive Player of the Year, and while there have been some other excellent performances on defense this year, I think as individuals this group stands head and shoulders above the rest. The problem for Peppers and Urlacher and Polamalu and Harrison is that when it comes to this kind of voting, as teammates they will cancel each other out. Could Urlacher have dominated as he has without Peppers and vice versa? Same question for Polamalu and Harrison? Matthews is a playmaker and a difference maker, but too much of his production comes from the pass rush, and he's not the complete player the others are.
I've worked a number of games from the sidelines for Westwood One Radio's broadcasts of NFL games this year, including several Giants games, and I haven't seen a player tilt the field the way Tuck has. The stats his Giants coaches credit him with are mind-boggling, and I believe he's been the best and most valuable defensive player in the league this year.
Todd Haley, Steve Spagnuolo, Lovie Smith and Andy Reid all belong in any Coach of the Year conversation for the outstanding jobs they've done and accomplishing so much more than anyone expected of them this season. But I don't think they've done quite the coaching jobs or overcome near the odds that Mike McCarthy, Jim Caldwell, Mike Tomlin, Mike Smith and Bill Belichick have.
For overcoming unthinkable injury lists and keeping their teams in playoff contention, McCarthy and Caldwell get honorable mentions, and Tomlin's club hasn't skipped a beat despite playing without its quarterback the first four weeks and its two starting offensive tackles and best defensive lineman most of the season. Smith clearly doesn't have the best roster in the NFC, but he does have the best record and an exceptionally well-coached team. But much like the Brady résumé, look at whom Belichick is winning with, consider he's lost almost as many starters and key players to injury as the Packers and Colts, and that he has the best team in the NFL, and there is little doubt he is the 2010 NFL Coach of the Year.
The column above first appeared in the Jan. 9, 2011, print edition of Pro Football Weekly, which also features PFW's annual report for coaches, a postseason primer looking at all 12 playoff teams, staff Super Bowl predictions and previews of the four wild-card games. The print edition is on sale at retail outlets across the country, and you purchase a print or electronic (PDF) copy at PFWstore.com.