Inside the NFL: Manning heading toward MVP award - The Buffalo News
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Inside the NFL: Manning heading toward MVP award

Quarterback Peyton Manning has been so great for so long that his performances almost get taken for granted.

Manning is the obvious favorite at midseason to win the NFL Most Valuable Player Award, but that doesn’t do justice in characterizing his first eight games. He’s on pace for 58 touchdown passes. The record is 50 by Tom Brady in 2007. He’s on pace for 5,838 passing yards. Drew Brees’ record is 5,476, set in 2011.

Offensive numbers usually dip a bit the second half of the season. Brady had 30 TDs at midseason in 2007. Nevertheless, Manning has room for his pace to slow and still break two of the NFL’s greatest records.

More passing again is a major NFL trend in 2013.

Teams are averaging 36 pass attempts a game. The full-season record is 34.8 in 1995. The third highest total was in 2012. The fourth highest was in 2011. There are 12 quarterbacks on pace for 4,000-yard seasons. The record of 11 was set last season.

More passing also means more sacks.

Kansas City is on pace to equal the team record (since 1982) of 72 sacks, set by the Chicago Bears in 1984. The 20-sack mark has been hit only nine times in the last 32 seasons. Four players are on pace for 20 this year - Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis (11.5), Kansas City’s Justin Houston (11.0), Buffalo’s Mario Williams (11.0) and St. Louis’ Robert Quinn (10.0). Total sacks in the NFL are on pace to be the most since 1984.

No. 2 in the MVP race from this perspective is New Orleans’ Brees, followed by the Colts’ Andrew Luck and San Diego’s Philip Rivers.

All those QBs are more valuable than Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, who’s having a great year. He’s on pace for 2,036 yards from scrimmage, which would be 51st all-time. But he has 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the first eight games. Only O.J. Simpson (1975) and Jim Brown (1958) have ever done that.

Other midseason leaders:

The NFC race: It is wide open, with Seattle (7-1) the slight favorite because it has the best home-field advantage. Seattle hosts New Orleans (6-1) on Dec. 2 and visits San Francisco (6-2) on Dec. 8. All three of those teams are going to win at least 12. Green Bay (5-2) is a legitimate contender as the fourth best NFC team.

The AFC race: Denver (7-1) is the favorite, despite Kansas City’s 8-0 record. San Diego is the wild-card in the battle for home field, because the Chargers still face both the Broncos and Chiefs twice. Indianapolis (5-2) has beaten Denver, Seattle and San Francisco. Wow. But the Colts’ passing game now has lost Reggie Wayne, on top of reliable tight end Dwayne Allen. And running back Trent Richardson is averaging a measly 3.0 yards a carry. How heavy a load can Luck carry? Cincinnati (6-3) must carry on without its best defensive player, defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who was lost for the year Thursday. New England (6-2) is a shell of its former self. The NFC is deeper than the AFC. Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans and Green Bay all look better than whoever is the second best team in the AFC.

Coach of the year: Kansas City’s Andy Reid – 2-14 to 8-0. We can’t see the Chiefs falling apart because their schedule isn’t that tough. If they do, the Saints’ Sean Payton would be next in line, followed by the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis and New England’s Bill Belichick.

Defensive MVP: Houston’s J.J. Watt is the leader to make it two straight defensive MVPs. Watt only has 4.5 sacks but he remains a monster vs. the run and the pass. The Texans’ defense is No. 1 in the NFL in yards allowed. Second choice is the Colts’ Mathis, who is critical to a Colts’ defense that is not awesome. Don’t count out the Texans just yet if they can survive a must-win vs. the Colts tonight. Buffalo’s Williams is going to have a tough time getting this award because the Bills are losing and the defense ranks too low in overall yards. A note on Mario: He has 9.5 sacks with the game either tied or within one score.

Offensive rookie of the year: It’s a neck-and-neck race between Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy and Cincinnati’s Giovanni Bernard. Lacy is averaging 75 yards a game and has three TDs. Bernard is averaging 70 yards a game and has six TDs. Watch out for Washington TE Jordan Reed in the second half.

Defensive rookie of the year: Buffalo’s Kiko Alonso has a great shot. He’s tied for second in tackles with Dallas’ Sean Lee at 81. Alonso has four interceptions. Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is playing great. Cleveland’s Barkevious Mingo has four sacks. Richardson is playing 80 percent of the snaps and Mingo’s at 60 percent. Alonso has been on the field for every play.

Comeback Player: Dallas’ Lee played only six games last year due to a dislocated toe. Like Alonso, Lee has four interceptions. He’s an every-down inside linebacker in Monte Kiffin’s defense. ... Consideration will go to Tampa’s Darrelle Revis and the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy. McCoy, who missed eight games last year, leads the league in rushing.

Offensive assistant: San Diego’s Ken Whisenhunt, who with the help of QB coach Frank Reich has revitalized Rivers. San Diego has gone from 31st on offense to fourth. Cincinnati’s Jay Gruden and San Francisco’s Greg Roman excel.

Defensive assistant: Kansas City’s Bob Sutton. The Chiefs have gone from 25th in points allowed and 26th in sacks to first in both categories. Those in the running include Cleveland’s Ray Horton, Cincinnati’s Mike Zimmer, New Orleans’ Rob Ryan and Seattle’s Dan Quinn.

Most disappointing team: New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons.

Most disappointing player: Tennessee’s Chris Johnson makes $9 million a year, the third highest salary in the league among running backs. He has just 366 yards and no rushing touchdowns. He’s averaging 2.39 a carry the past four games. And unlike Buffalo’s C.J. Spiller, he can’t blame injuries.

Player spotlight

Dallas DT Jason Hatcher. He had a good year on a bad defense last season but has played even better in his sixth season this year. Hatcher leads all defensive tackles with seven sacks. He had four last year and 4.5 the year before. Hatcher went to Grambling as a tight end but converted to defensive line in his sophomore season. He was picked late in the third round. He’s a big body, at 6-foot-5 and 295, and he benefits from the presence of DeMarcus Ware to his outside.

Onside kicks

• Buffalo’s Mike Williams was put on Tampa’s injured reserve list this week because he needs surgery to repair a torn hamstring. Williams had 22 catches for 216 yards and two TDs, despite the dysfunction at the QB position for the Bucs. Williams initially hurt the hamstring in Week Four.

“Mike had a hamstring injury that he tried to play through, but just wasn’t effective doing it,” coach Greg Schiano said. “He’ll get surgery now, and it’ll be repaired. He’ll be fine, but it’ll be a little bit of a recovery.”

• Bills Marcell Dareus, Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson and Aaron Williams will sign autographs at the New Era Flagship Store, 160 Delaware Ave., from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. The cost to get a poster and an autograph from the Bills is $25, and the proceeds benefit Kids Escaping Drugs. Tickets go on sale at 3 p.m. Monday at the store.

• There have been 34 interception returns for touchdowns, the most at midseason since 1970.


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