With various annual NFL awards ballots already in hand, the end of the world as we know it looming on the Mayan calendar and the fast-approaching Fiscal Cliff, this might be the best -- or only -- time to examine honors candidates for the 2012 season.
The most interesting debate is over who deserves the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
The only real candidates are Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who also qualify as finalists in several categories.
Manning returned from a year off and four neck surgeries to lead the Broncos to a current nine-game winning streak. Peterson, against all odds, barged back from a devastating knee injury last Christmas Eve and is close to 2,000 yards rushing and could possibly set a new single-season record.
Along with the Comeback honor, Most Valuable Player, Offensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year are deserving of some debate.
As always, deciphering the meaning, or semantic difference, of these titles is part of the battle.
What, exactly, is the criteria for deciding who is MVP?
Like college’s Heisman Trophy, this most often goes to quarterbacks because they usually garner more credit or blame for the results of their team than they deserve. But that’s why they get the big bucks.
Only the center handles the ball more, something noticed only during fumbles on a snap. Until centers start winning something other than college’s Rimington Trophy (for best college center, of course), they can just put their heads down and snap the ball.
This year the unstoppable Mr. Peterson has crashed the MVP discussion, too. He gained all those yards -- 1,812 yards after 14 games -- behind an offensive line that is even more anonymous than some, and despite the fact he should be an easy target for opposing defenses as the Vikings’ only offensive threat.
Without him, surely the Vikings would not still be in the playoff hunt with an 8-6 record, which, put into perspective, is the same as that of the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys -- that troika of major media darlings from the NFC East.
But should Peterson’s singular impact on the teams’ won-lost record differentiate him in an MVP discussion? How many victories should be credited to Manning in Denver, Brady in New England, Rodgers in Green Bay or Brees in New Orleans? Hard to say.
That logic was used by one AP pollster in 2007 to vote for Green Bay’s Brett Favre as MVP for being the only discernible explanation for that team going 13-3. That selector named Brady Offensive Player of the Year for his historically prolific passing, including 50 touchdowns. But the selector was still ripped by Patriots fans for being the only one of 50 voters not to name Brady MVP. He countered that Brady, unlike Favre, was one of many stars on his offense. But Offensive POY and 49 of 50 votes for MVP wasn’t enough for greedy Pats fans.
With the usual absence of criteria, that MVP vote is once again a tough one. To that one, we’ll come back. On to the selections:
Comeback Player of the Year: Peterson for a combination of reasons -- improbable comeback physically as well as impact on team’s fortunes.
We are witnessing an unprecedented performance immediately after such a major injury, perhaps the most outstanding season ever by running back, all things considered.
In terms of dramatic comebacks by a star, this overshadows that of the great Gale Sayers. The Chicago Bears’ dazzling Hall of Famer was tearing up the NFL with magical moves in 1968 when his knee was blown out in a game against the San Francisco 49ers. He returned in 1969 to gain 1,032 yards. But, sadly, the pre-injury magic was not there even if the stats were impressive.
Overall, Peterson’s performance as a runner -- in a comeback effort or otherwise -- rates up there with the 1973 season by O. J. Simpson, who also was pretty much the only weapon on his offense with the Buffalo Bills when he gained 2,003 yards in a 14-game season. But he did have a great offensive line, nicknamed The Electric Company, for turning on The Juice.
Peterson boldly put Eric Dickerson’s league record of 2,105 yards (Los Angeles Rams, 1984) on his hit list. Those who doubted Peterson would even play at the beginning of this season are now considering the record a possibility. If Peterson breaks the record, he deserves to sweep the 2012 awards for comeback player, offensive player and MVP.
Coach of the Year: The final vote might come down to the game this Sunday night between Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers and Pete Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks.
In a season rife with the same second-guessers who thought Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow was as valid quarterback duel and that Philadelphia’s fragile Mike Vick should be a franchise cornerstone of the Eagles, Harbaugh and Carroll had the audacity to believe their eyes -- or their instincts -- and play the best quarterback on their respective teams, regardless of the blabbering backlash.
Harbaugh opted for multi-talented second-year athlete Colin Kaepernick even after highly respected veteran Alex Smith recovered from an November 11 concussion. That long-distance missile of a winning touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree last Sunday -- his fourth against the Patriots -- was evidence that Keapernick can do things Smith cannot. Carroll made his selection in training camp, naming third-round draftee Russell Wilson (Minnesota) the starter over expensive free agent acquisition Matt Flynn. The Seahawks are undefeated at home and have a three-game winning streak.
Defensive Player of the Year: Houston defensive end J.J. Watt. He is a dominant force in ways that go beyond the 19.5 sacks he has in 14 games, tied for the league lead with 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith, and within reach of Michael Strahan’s NFL single-season record of 22.5 sacks. Smith is in the conversation, but his effectiveness may be tied to that of teammate Justin Smith.
Offensive Player of the Year: Of course Peterson could easily qualify for this, but let’s not tax his knee with too much hardware. Give this to Denver’s Peyton Manning, proof that those measurables at the scouting combine cannot yield the true value of a quarterback. With the trend to faster, niftier athletes at the position, Manning may be the last great, so-called pro-style quarterback. His command of the game and of teammates is unprecedented. While some are shy to say so yet, Manning may someday be viewed as the best quarterback in NFL history. Super Bowl wins should not be the overriding criteria for individual honors. Super Bowls wins are a team accomplishment.
Rookie of the Year: Quarterback Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts.
He performed as advertised as the No. 1 pick and the Colts are 9-5, one win at Kansas City from joining the playoff field eight months after drafting Luck in what appeared to be a massive rebuilding project ahead. He has been the most consistent of what is shaping up from early returns as the best quarterback draft class in history, featuring eight who started as rookies this year, five on a regular basis. RGIII is wonderful in Washington, Wilson is steady, if not spectacular at times, in Seattle. But after missing the Heisman as a two-time runner-up, Luck wins this one.
Most Valuable Player: Brady takes a highly contested prize.
Peterson, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are in the conversation. Brady gets the call for being so relentless, regardless of who is plugged into his offense, who is on defense or even what the score is. No lead is safe when Brady is on the other side. Surely this award could go to Manning, who is 11-3 at Denver while Brady is 10-4 at New England. But Manning already received an award here and the Broncos made the playoffs last year with Tebow at quarterback. And perhaps a nod this time will stop Patriots fans from complaining.
At any rate, here’s hoping the Mayans are wrong and Plan B, Plan C or a plan of some kind will help us avoid that Fiscal Cliff.
Frank Cooney is the Publisher The Sports Xchange Inc. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org