Sportsnet.ca takes a look at the burning questions heading into the final week of the NFL regular season.
WHO SHOULD BE NAMED THE NFL’S MVP?
Lowe: Peyton Manning for MVP
Peyton Manning is the NFL’s most valuable player in 2012, hands down.
Coming off an entire year away from football and four neck surgeries, Manning has transformed the Broncos into Super Bowl contenders.
The former Colts quarterback has taken a team that squeaked into the playoffs last season, losing four of their final five games, and turned them into the team to beat in the AFC.
The Broncos haven’t lost since falling to New England on Oct. 7 and haven’t won by less than a touchdown during that ten-game winning streak. Manning has catapulted a Broncos’ passing game that ranked 31st in the NFL in 2011 into the sixth-best passing team in 2012.
Denver’s top two receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, combined for 1163 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011. With Manning under centre, the pair has racked up a whopping 2,300 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns through 15 games.
To cap it all off, Manning, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, is having the best statistical season he’s had in years. His 34 touchdown passes are Manning’s highest total since throwing a record-breaking 49 during the 2004 season (and the most by a Broncos QB ever), while his quarterback rating of 103.7 is the third-highest of his career, and his highest since 2006. Manning needs only 346 yards to set a new career-high for passing yards in a season.
While Adrian Peterson is having a remarkable season, the Vikings have yet to clinch a playoff berth while Broncos have and can clinch a first-round bye in Week 17, and possibly home field advantage.
Manning is the only logical choice for MVP.
Simmons: AP has got to be MVP
Peyton Manning has done a miraculous job this season but there’s no question the NFL’s MVP should be Adrian Peterson.
Remember, Manning inherited a roster that went to the playoffs last season. They had Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and Demaryius Thomas already in place while Peterson’s Vikings had just three wins in 2011.
No one expected Minnesota to be in the playoff race this season. Coming off a major knee injury, AP was expected to be eased into action.
He did just the opposite, single-handedly carrying the Vikings offence into contention in a year when they were supposed to be rebuilding.
Not only that, Peterson hardly got any help from the quarterback position and it’s not like he’s working with an all-star cast of receivers, especially now that Percy Harvin has been shut down for the year. Christian Ponder, Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins don’t scare anyone.
Despite the lack of a pass game, Peterson couldn’t be stopped this season and leads the NFL in rushing. He’s a virtual certainty to finish with over 2,000 yards just 12 months after tearing major ligaments in his knee.
He had 100-plus yard rushing efforts in eight straight weeks during the season and scored nine touchdowns over that stretch. There were games where Peterson was averaging more than 10 yards per carry, an unprecedented season for a runner coming off an ACL injury.
We always knew Peterson was a great player but this season has vaulted him to all-time great status. He is this era’s version of Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.
Peterson is undoubtedly the most valuable player to his team. Without Peterson, the Vikings wouldn’t be able to function.
Who will be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2012?
WHO WILL WIN OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?
Lowe: Andrew Luck is 2012’s top rookie
Coming off their worst season since going 1-15 in 1991, not much was expected of the 2012 Indianapolis Colts. Other than coveted No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck, there was not much to be excited about in Indianapolis. Many experts had the Colts last in the preseason power rankings.
That hasn’t seemed to bother Luck.
Luck has taken an average team and launched them into the playoffs and has done it with virtually no weapons.
Luck has taken a rag-tag cast and transformed them into a top 10 offence in 2012. The Colts offensive arsenal includes 34-year-old Reggie Wayne (in his twilight years), fourth-year receiver Donnie Avery (having a career year with 781 yards) and rookies Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard and T.Y. Hilton.
Even with a questionable offensive line, Luck has not only broken Cam Newton’s rookie passing yards record, he also leads the team with five rushing touchdowns. Luck’s ten wins are the most by any quarterback drafted first overall in the Super Bowl era.
More incredible is Luck’s play in the clutch. The Stanford product has orchestrated four fourth-quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives in just his first season, tied for most by any quarterback since 1970.
But here’s the kicker: Luck has had almost no help from his defence.
The Colts have one of the league’s worst defensive units, ranking 30th against the run and 19th against the pass. Indianapolis currently ranks 27th in sacks in 2012 and have only 10 interceptions, fourth-worst in the NFL.
Andrew Luck has taken the team from the land of misfit football players and brought the Colts back to the playoffs.
And for that, he should win rookie of the year. He’s done more with less.
Simmons: RGIII is at the top of his class
Sure, Andrew Luck has done a heck of a job turning the Colts around and he’s going to be a great player for a long time.
But he’s not the rookie of the year, I’m not even sure he should finish second — that should go to Seattle’s Russell Wilson. This year’s award should be going to Robert Griffin III.
While Luck’s story has been heartwarming, the facts just aren’t there. Luck has been great in the fourth quarter but he’s been a turnover machine and, outside of Green Bay, the Colts have hardly beaten any opponents of substance this year.
The Colts rookie leads the league with 18 interceptions, while RGIII has thrown just five. Luck ranks fifth-worst in the league in passer rating (75.6) where Griffin is in the top three with an astounding 104.1.
The Redskins may have started slow, but RGIII’s dynamic playmaking ability has the team back in contention. After years of mediocrity, the Redskins are now a legitimate contender.
Teams don’t know how to game-plan in order to stop this special talent. Just ask the Saints and Giants, who had absolutely no answer for the Heisman Trophy winner. Teams couldn’t figure out how to stop him in college and they’re having the same problem in the pros.
He’s not only a candidate for Rookie of the Year, RGIII could be the league’s MVP in just his first season.
Who will be the 2012 NFL offensive rookie of the year?
WHO WILL TAKE THE NFC EAST TITLE SUNDAY NIGHT?
Lowe: Cowboys will take the NFC East
Robert Griffin III and the Redskins shellacked the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, beating Dallas by a final score of 38-31. While many expect more of the same Sunday night when the teams meet again to decide the NFC East title, the Cowboys will surprise.
Since that meeting, Dallas has won three of four and the credit goes to Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and the Cowboys’ passing game.
After Thanksgiving, the Cowboys passing attack has accounted for 81 per cent of the team’s total offence. And in a month where he usually struggles, Romo has thrown 10 touchdowns and only one interception, with Bryant becoming Romo’s new "BFF" with 431 yards and six touchdowns.
The Cowboys were down 28-3 to the Redskins at one point in their last matchup, but Dallas’ offence always seems to bounce back.
It’s true, the Dallas’ offence is incredibly one-sided, but the good news for the Cowboys is the Redskins have one of the worst pass defences in the NFL, ranking 30th in yards allowed and have given up the 3rd most passing touchdowns in 2012.
And if there were ever a time to beat RGIII and the Redskins offence, it would be now. Since throwing four touchdowns against the Cowboys, Griffin has only thrown that many in the three games he’s played since and hasn’t had a completion percentage higher than 66 per cent, something he did seven times prior to meeting the Cowboys.
Not to say that Griffin is dwindling, but the rookie phenom has slowed markedly in his last three starts and with his knee still in question, the Cowboys time to take advantage is now.
Simmons: Redskins will prevail in NFC East
Tony Romo may be on a roll but can you really trust him?
Don’t waste your time, the eventual NFC East champions will be the Washington Redskins.
In the first matchup on Thanksgiving, the Redskins went on the road and rolled past the Cowboys on a short week where Robert Griffin III lit up the Dallas secondary.
RGIII threw for 300-plus yards and four touchdowns and Rob Ryan’s defence had no answer to stop him or the Redskins’ other top rookie, running back Alfred Morris. With game heading to FedEx Field, expect another strong showing from the Redskins.
During the team’s winning streak, RGIII has developed into one of the most dangerous weapons in the entire league. And it doesn’t help that Dallas’ top defender, DeMarcus Ware, is said to be banged up heading into their biggest game. Doesn’t exactly give you confidence that Dallas can stop the electric RGIII.
Dallas has certainly played better of late, winning three of their last four. But we all know what happens to the Cowboys in big games — they find ways to lose. We’ve seen it so many times and it’s hard to expect Romo to shine on the biggest stage, despite his recent hot streak.
Don’t think they have the secondary to consistently deal with Washington’s deep passing game, which was certainly a problem in their Week 12 loss. Expect RGIII to take his shots down the field and test Dallas’ group of inconsistent safeties.
The Redskins are the pick here. RGIII should be the third rookie this year to lead his team to the playoffs.
Who will win the NFC East title?
Geoff Lowe and Jeff Simmons contribute to the NFL page on sportsnet.ca.