Mark Craig: It's time for awards, and for new categories

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 26, 2012 - 7:02 AM

Who is the Most Valuable Manning? Which team had the biggest collapse? Answers ahead.

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Peyton Manning has looked like the Manning of old, and he has turned the Broncos into Super Bowl contenders.

Photo: David Zalubowski, Associated Press

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Let's take a break from discussing the NFL MVP, Comeback Player of the Year and any other awards that are within Adrian Peterson's Kung Fu grip.

Here are some other "awards" to consider as we take a spin around the league during a regular season-ending week that features 15 teams still alive for the postseason and nine games with playoff implications:

Most Valuable Manning: Once upon a time, the Broncos were 2-3 and Peyton was the old, noodle-armed, runner-up Manning. Today, Denver is 12-3 while hopes of an All-Manning Super Bowl are as off target as Eli's completion percentage (56.1) since the Giants were 6-2.

Worst Collapse By a Team Still Barely in Contention Award: Eli's Giants, who are 2-5 their past seven games. No, wait. The Bears, also 2-5 since a 7-1 start. Flip a coin. Or, better yet, first one to lose Sunday wins.

Worst Dream Team EV-er Award: E-A-G-L-E-S!

Big, Big, Huge Mistake That Everyone Saw Coming But Them Award: J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!

Most Dangerous Team Award: Yeah, the Broncos are riding a 10-game winning streak. Yeah, the Packers are 9-1 since a 2-3 start. Yeah, the Redskins are 6-0 since a 3-6 start prompted coach Mike Shanahan to say, "Now we get a chance to evaluate players and see where we're at." But Seattle has won four straight, including the past three by a combined score of 150-20. The Seahawks are also 7-0 at home.

Most Confusing Team Award: If anyone can figure out the 49ers, give Jim Harbaugh a call. They're consistently inconsistent. They've lost or tied every third game this season.

Most Unreasonable Pressure Award: Beat the Redskins on Sunday and the Cowboys claim the NFC East based on the third tiebreaker (common opponents). Lose and Tony Romo's reputation for choking in December grows another layer of scar tissue, regardless of how he plays. For the record, the Cowboys are 3-1 this month with Romo passing for 10 touchdowns and one interception and earning a 112.0 passer rating. In Sunday's loss to the Saints, Romo threw for 416 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Who's The Dummy Now Award: Who says you can't lose Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Gary Brackett, Melvin Bullitt and Pierre Garcon and still be successful? Not 34-year-old Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, who had a chance to jump ship in Indy but stayed put last offseason. Today, Wayne has topped 100 catches (102) for the fourth time in six years and is part of the league's most amazing story this season.

Maybe This Might Work After All Award: It's not often that a 9-4 team fires its offensive coordinator. But that's what the slumping Ravens did to Cam Cameron on Dec. 10. Tempo, or lack thereof, was considered Cameron's downfall as the offense consistently had to wait too long for play calls. Proper tempo is considered a strength of former Colts coach Jim Caldwell, who replaced Cameron. In Caldwell's first game with a full week to prepare, the Ravens offense responded with season highs for total yards (534) and rushing yards (225) in a 33-14 rout of the Giants.

The Ha! In-Your-Face Award: Remember last year when the Steelers announced that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had "retired"? Remember a few days later when Arians took his job in Indianapolis? The Steelers hired Todd Haley as offensive coordinator, a move that clearly has not set well with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Meanwhile, Arians took over as Colts interim coach when Chuck Pagano left the team to battle leukemia for three months. On Sunday, the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs while Arians improved his interim record to 9-3 and clinched a playoff berth in time to hand the Colts back to Pagano on Monday.

Who Invited the Kids Award: If Robert Griffin III and Christian Ponder make the playoffs, half of the 12-team field will have either rookie or second-year quarterbacks. The most impressive might be the least talked about: Cincinnati's Andy Dalton. He has led the Bengals from a 3-5 to a 9-6 record this season and back-to-back playoff berths for only the second time in franchise history (1981-82 was the other).

Best Potential Playoff Matchups Award: How about Peyton Manning against the Colts? Or the Colts against their former hometown, Baltimore? Or Peyton vs. a Patriots team that has defied parity by winning the AFC East for the ninth time in 10 seasons? Or, wait. How about the Vikings traveling to Atlanta? In a tight game against the Falcons, the Vikings have the best kicker in the league. What could possibly go wrong there, eh?

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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