The Patriots haven't lost a regular season game later than November 7 since the 2009 season. Sunday night represents the best chance to have that date reset. This is their toughest late-season matchup since 2010 when they followed up a dud in Cleveland with a road win over the Steelers and a tight win over the Colts. Now, some edible observational nuggets to chew on and digest before kickoff.
With three regular-season games to go, my leanings on the Big Three awards for 2012 - MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year - are for Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning respectively.
First, Manning has a great case for MVP. After a 2-3 start, the Broncos are 10-3 now. He's had some incredible comeback performances. He's transformed a decent little team into a legit Super Bowl contender. But I believe Brady trumps him because: 1) Manning's the maestro of an offense that's scored 37 touchdowns; the Patriots have scored 49. Touchdown passes are immensely overrated (as are passing yards) 2) The stat that's never overrated is interceptions. Manning's got 10; Brady's thrown 4. 3) The Broncos and Manning lost head-to-head to Brady. Caveats! The loss wasn't through much fault of Mannings - Demaryius Thomas and Willis McGahee fumbles figured big, and QB vs. QB doesn't float too much with me. It's QB vs. Defense. Brady's played behind a makeshift offensive line, played under the pressure of knowing he had a crap defense for about the first eight games and would need to score about 30 and has yet to have the full complement of offensive weapons at his disposal.
As for Offensive Player of the Year, it's really easy to me. Even though Peterson doesn't carry the same burden of preparing for intricate defenses, getting the offense in and out of bad plays and leading a team the way an elite quarterback must, his 2012 performance at running back has been more outstanding than either of the two quarterbacks. A running back will never be more valuable than a quarterback. But his statistics can be more impressive and I believe Peterson's assault on 2000 yards is more impressive than anybody else's work.
And why Manning over Peterson for Comeback Player of the Year? To me, it's the enormity of Manning's injury - neck - and the time he spent away from the game. I didn't think his return to high-level football was a fait accompli. With Peterson - astounding as his performance and speed of recovery have been, ACLs have previously been conquered in the offseason (Wes Welker, Phillip Rivers). Manning is doing something unprecedented and doing it for a new franchise at an advanced age.
The NFL is insistent on foisting football on foreigners whether they like it or not. The Bills' annual game in Canada isn't in quite the same vein as the league's European invasion, but the observation of Bill defensive end Mario Williams is still priceless. Whenever you go and play somewhere else, even if its supposedly a home game, you cant really say its going to be that way. Youre going somewhere where some people might not even care much about football. So its not really that big of a deal because they dont really care who wins.
I think Aaron Rodgers is more physically gifted than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. I enjoy his personality. I love watching him play. But he's not exactly stoic about the challenges of playing elite-level football over a sustained length of time. Speaking to Alex Marvez of FOXSports.com, Rodgers said, I think this season more than any other has just been a mental and physical grind. I find myself more tired because of the actual preparation and extra study. Weve had to change up some personnel packages and plays to try and make things easier on some of the young guys who are playing more. Its been a lot of different guys playing.It has been frustrating at times with the lack of familiarity with some of the guys who have been out there. We havent had Greg (Jennings) and Jordy (Nelson) for too many games playing at the same time, which is difficult.
Difficult but also a fact of life. And that's why the Patriots current run of 10 seasons with 10-or-more wins (and 12 seasons either leading or tied for the lead in the AFC East) is so astounding. They don't even pay attention to attrition.
Is the AFC East the worst division in the NFL and when was the last time Tom Brady had a very good quarterback to compete against as a divisional rival? My answers are: Yes. And Chad Pennington?
If I'm the Patriots - and I'm not, by way of explanation - I would instruct Wes Welker to fair catch every punt and hit the deck every time Dashon Goldson or Donte Whitner are in his vicinity. He's taking absurd punishment the past few weeks and the little guy isn't showing the same reanimation skills he's had in past years. He's wearing down.
Please, please, please NFL...please don't turn well-meaning memorials for Sandy Hook Elementary into a contest to show who cares the most. Dignity. Not opportunity.