First, let me vent on any coach of the year award. It's the most flawed award in sports.
Unlike any other award, it doesn't go to the best performer in that category. The best coach rarely gets it. It almost always goes to the coach whose team exceeds preseason media expectations the most. If the media expected your team to be 4-12, and it goes 10-6, it must be because the coach was a magician, not because of flawed preseason predictions. If MVP were decided this way, Nick Foles would beat Peyton Manning because we expected Manning to do well before the season started but didn't expect anything out of Foles. Poor, poor logic.
Bill Belichick is the best coach in the NFL. He's the best coach since Bill Walsh, maybe the best since Vince Lombardi or maybe the best ever. And he's doing a remarkable job this season.
The Patriots, since last year, have lost Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo and Sebastian Vollmer. On Sunday they also played without receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and offensive tackle Nate Solder, who were inactive. They played without running back Shane Vereen and receiver Danny Amendola for long stretches this season. Most teams would crumble if they lost half of that star power.
And on Sunday the Patriots went on the road and beat the Baltimore Ravens, the defending Super Bowl champs who led the race for the final AFC wild-card spot, 41-7. The Patriots are 11-4 and still in the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. It's simply amazing. And it starts with Belichick, the best coach in football.
There are other good candidates for the award. Andy Reid has done a great job with the Chiefs, but it has to matter a bit that they do not have one quality win all season. Ron Rivera's Panthers are doing well, but Rivera's candidacy is based on the Panthers being 7-9 last year, and a big part of that 2012 record was that Rivera helped blow almost every close game Carolina played in. Chip Kelly has been very good in Philadelphia, but he has benefited from being in a bad division. Bruce Arians has the Cardinals in the mix for a playoff berth, and that's impressive too.
They're all very good. None have been better than Belichick. Hopefully, the best coach in the game gets the award that is supposed to go to the best coach in the game. It would make sense.
Here are the rest of this week's winners and losers:
Luke Kuechly: Cam Newton came up big on Carolina's last drive, leading the Panthers to the doorstep of a NFC South title with a 17-13 win.
But Newton wouldn't have had that chance if it wasn't for Kuechly, the Panthers' fantastic middle linebacker.
Kuechly played perhaps the best game a defensive player has had in the NFL this season. He had 24 (!!!) tackles. He also had an interception. The Panthers held the great Saints offense to just one touchdown.
If the Panthers clinch the division title with either a win at Atlanta or a Saints loss to Tampa Bay, Kuechly will have more than earned his share of that championship. He's one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the NFL.
Giovani Bernard: Another player who will get a chance to shine in the playoffs is Bernard, the Bengals' rookie running back. His 41-yard catch and run against Minnesota was a thing of beauty, as he made several Vikings defenders miss.
It's rare when a player can make his peers look silly, but Bernard has done that a few times this season. His athleticism makes you wonder how good he'll be once he really gets the NFL game down.
Cordarrelle Patterson: Speaking of rookies whose ceilings seem unlimited, Patterson won't get much attention for his game on Sunday because the Vikings were picked apart 42-14. But the rookie receiver is coming on strong late in the season. He had 140 receiving yards, 54 rushing yards and a touchdown and another 8 yards receiving. He's not quite there yet, but he has been very effective over the last few weeks, is a thrill to watch every time he touches the ball and you get the feeling that with a productive offseason, Patterson might be a breakout star in 2014. Keep an eye on him.
Week 17: I hope you didn't make plans for next Sunday, thinking that there wouldn't be much to be settled in Week 17.
More than half the league has a lot to play for. There are 17 teams that are playing in the regular-season finale for a No. 1 seed, a bye, a division title or a playoff berth.
In the AFC: Denver (No. 1 seed), New England (No. 1 seed, bye), Cincinnati (bye), Indianapolis (bye) and the Dolphins, Chargers, Ravens and Steelers are alive for a wild-card spot.
In the NFC: Dallas and Philadelphia (winner gets the NFC East), Green Bay and Chicago (winner gets the NFC North), Seattle and San Francisco (NFC West), Carolina (NFC South, No. 1 seed and bye), New Orleans (NFC South or a wild-card spot) and Arizona (wild-card spot).
To understand how crazy this NFL season is, consider this: There are only 17 regular-season games to go after Sunday night, and the 49ers' possible outcomes range from the No. 1 seed in the NFC to completely out of the playoffs.
Get ready, next week is going to be fun.
Anyone who thinks Peyton Manning isn't the MVP: Boy, another tough day for the folks who need to fill air time with the ridiculous hot sportz take that Manning isn't the MVP.
Manning opened up the 5,000-50 club on Sunday. Manning is the seventh player in NFL history to get 5,000 yards in a season, and the first to do it while throwing 50 touchdowns. He threw for an even 400 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday. The fourth touchdown broke Tom Brady's 2007 record of 50 touchdowns in a season. He has 16 more touchdowns than anyone else in the NFL, 20 more touchdowns than third place and also has 430 yards more than Brees, who is second in the NFL in that category. We're watching something truly special this year.
Manning needs 266 yards to break Brees' single-season record of 5,426 yards, and the Broncos still haven't clinched the No. 1 seed in the AFC so he can't sit in Week 17. The Broncos play the Raiders and the Patriots play the Bills at 4:25 p.m. with the first seed still up in the air. So Manning will be playing as usual.
The 2013 MVP award was decided long ago. With one more good game, he might put the argument of greatest single season in NFL history out of reach, too.
Houston Texans: When Dallas completed that fourth down and goal pass to beat the Redskins, the Eagles lost a chance to win the division on Sunday night, and the Redskins lost a game – although they should be used to that this season.
Another loser? Houston, which would have clinched the first pick of the 2014 draft had the Redskins held on.
The Texans are 2-13 but still haven't clinched the first pick. If they win at Tennessee next week, and the Redskins lose at the Giants, there will be a mighty cheer in St. Louis. Because the Redskins would get the first pick ... which the Rams own because of the Robert Griffin III trade. The Redskins have played a weaker schedule than the Texans, and that's the tiebreaker for draft order. The Texans and Rams are the only two teams that are alive to get the first overall pick of next year's draft.
But, given the way the Texans rolled over in the fourth quarter on Sunday, maybe there's not much worry about them screwing up and winning next week.
Sean Payton: Payton is a great coach, maybe on his way to being one of the best ever, but he made a few big mistakes in a loss that could cost the Saints the division (and might even keep them out of the playoffs if they don't win in Week 17).
First, there was the fake field goal. On the first drive of the third quarter, the Saints spread out after initially lining up in field-goal formation and Luke McCown took the snap. The Panthers had plenty of time to adjust before the snap. And if you really want to go for it on fourth and 12, Drew Brees is a much better option than McCown. McCown's pass to Graham was covered and overthrown.
Then there was the second-to-last series. With one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, the Saints ran into the line three times for 2 yards when a first down would have ended the game. It was oddly conservative from a coach who isn't known for that. The Panthers forced a punt, then scored in the last minute to win.
Payton is still a great coach, but he might regret some choices from Sunday's game.
The weather in Carolina: One of the oddest stretches on Sunday came in the third quarter at Carolina. In an instant, the weather went from being fairly calm to a monsoon. The rain seemed to be coming down sideways, and in many places around the stadium there were waterfalls coming from the upper deck. Maybe a bad-weather Super Bowl wouldn't be so great.
Playoff plans: Not to be redundant, but it's amazing to consider that if the 49ers win as huge favorites on Monday night, the NFC will go into the final week of the season without a single division championship clinched. Not one team in that conference can start printing tickets for a home playoff game.
Maybe you think parity is a bad thing in the NFL but you have to admit, it's making for a great finish.
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