We have some exciting stories unfolding in the NFL, none more so than what's happening right here. Let's start with our top four as we review Week 12 (minus, of course, the latest Best Game of the Year between the Patriots and Saints in New Orleans tonight) ...
TOP STORIES, 2009
1, Brett Favre. Duh. The Vikings going 10-1 with a 40-year-old who's on pace for a 35-4 TDs-to-INTs ratio and possibly win his fourth MVP, 12 years after winning his third? People would laugh if Hollywood proposed this story.
2. The Colts going 11-0 while becoming the first team in NFL history to win five consecutive games while trailing in the fourth quarter. I've moved the Vikings ahead of the Colts in my power rankings, but I have to keep Peyton Manning a tad ahead of Favre in my MVP vote.
3. Heading into this month, the Titans were 0-6 and coming off a 59-0 beatdown in New England. Now, they're 5-6 and heading to Indianapolis in a game that right now I think they'll win. They would be back to .500 with three of their last four games at home.
4. The Bengals. We can't forget this downtrodden franchise climbing to the top of the rugged AFC North.
MVP: TOP THREE
1. Peyton Manning. He's thrown two interceptions in each of his last three games. Favre has thrown only three all season. But I'm sticking with Manning for now because Favre has the better team around him. Manning is carrying all the Colts' bit players along for this magical ride. Favre is doing a lot. More than we expected. But Peyton still leads by a nose.
2. Brett Favre. He's played 11 games and hasn't had a bad one. At some point, opponents are going to have to shift their game plans from stopping Adrian Peterson to stopping Favre. I know that's not a great plan, but neither is letting Favre beat you week after week.
3a. Drew Brees. He's 10-0 heading into tonight's game. He's not as efficient as he was earlier in the season, but he's still having a great year.
3b. Chris Johnson. As the Titans climb back into this season, we can't ignore this guy. He's the best running back in the league right now. Sorry, Adrian.
HALL OF FAME: Randle has a shot this year.
Having had a voice in this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame voting, I can tell you first-hand how difficult it is to select a class.
I found cutting the field of modern-era finalists from 15 to 10 to be rather easy. But then I found cutting the field of modern-era finalists from 10 to five to be extremely difficult.
The Hall announced 25 finalists for the 2010 class last week. Next month, that number will be trimmed to 15 modern-era finalists and Seniors Committee nominees Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little. The Vikings probably will have two players -- Cris Carter and John Randle -- make the final 15 modern-era players.
They made the top 10 this year, which generally means they'll be back in the top 15 the following year. Carter is probably considered by most people to be the next likely Viking to get in. Having participated in last year's discussions -- which including former Viking Randall McDaniel finally getting in -- I think Randle will be the next Viking to make it to Canton. Randle was a defensive tackle who redefined his position. Plus, there seems to be an effort to get more defensive players into the Hall.
Carter will get there eventually. But as a receiver, it will take time for the numbers to fall the right way for him to get in. This year, he'll be in a mix of receivers that includes Tim Brown, Andre Reed and Jerry Rice. Rice is a lock, of course, but the other three -- Carter, Brown and Reed -- will draw votes from each other.
With first-year eligible candidates Rice and Emmitt Smith being locks, that leaves Carter and 13 other modern-era candidates fighting for that final five. Hall rules state a maximum of five modern-era candidates can get in each year.
After Rice and Carter, I think the guy with the next best chance to get in is tight end Shannon Sharpe, the best pass-catching tight end the NFL has ever seen. I also think LeBeau is a virtual lock. He deserves to be in. I don't think Little will get in, but you never know when it comes to a Seniors nominee. Those presentations are among the best and have a tendency to sway a lot of voters.
POWER RANKINGS: Vikings No. 2 (and climbing?)
1. Saints. They're 10-0, but I think they're going to lose tonight. Of course, that's my upset special, and they haven't been all that special this year.
2. Vikings. I'm impressed by the Colts' 11-0 record, but it's time to acknowledge that the Vikings are the better team. If the Colts and Vikings were to meet on a neutral field, who would win? While it's hard to imagine Manning not having a great game, I think the Vikings would win because of a better defense, a better running game and better overall talent. Plus, right now, Favre would be less likely to make a bad throw than Manning. How weird is it to say that?
3. Colts. The flip side of all these comeback wins is a team that's struggling early on with its defense, turnovers and lack of a running game.
HELP ME DEFINE HARVIN
I did a column for today's paper in which I asked a lot of people who Percy Harvin reminds them of. I got more responses and blank stares than I could fit in a 22-inch column.
It's fascinating to me that the NFL is 90 years old and players can still come along who don't really fit any kind of mold left by thousands of players who came before them.
Harvin is one of those players. He's got a unique combination of running back-return-receiving skills. We've seen running backs who can catch, but not a lot of receivers who can be a running back, like Harvin.
The first person I asked was well-respected NFL reporter and long-time Hall of Fame voter Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. He mentioned three former running backs: Gary Anderson, Eric Metcalf and Joe Washington.
Vikings director of college scouting Scott Studwell couldn't think of anyone from his playing era to compare Harvin to. But he said the one name that kept popping up before the draft was Panthers All-Pro receiver Steve Smith. That was a good comparison.
"Both are short receivers, strong kids, well-built," Studwell said. "I don't think people realize how big Percy is. He's almost 200 pounds and very strong. He has great contact balance."
Former Viking Bob Lurtsema compared Harvin to Rocky Thompson, the Giants' 1971 first-round draft pick. I have to admit I don't remember Rocky. He didn't have much of a career, but coming out of college, he was considered a similar all-around threat.
"Rocky had the speed and the flash," Lurtsema said. "But he wasn't a Percy Harvin. This kid is special."
Favre said Harvin is heading "toward a league of his own." He also mentioned Wes Welker, adding that Harvin is stronger than Welker but is a long way from deserving to be mentioned alongside a veteran such as Welker.
Harvin himself said he thinks he compares to Marshal Faulk before adding, "I think I'm different."
Anybody out there have a player they can compare Harvin to? I'm not looking for players he was better than or not as good as. Just someone who possessed a similar skill set that meshes the running back/receiver/return positions.
. I think the turnover gods caught up to Miami. A record-low 13 last year has been followed by 17 through 11 games this season.
. Another sign the Vikings' run defense is pretty good. A week after running for a franchise-worst 4 yards against the Vikings, the Seahawks ran for 170 against St. Louis.
. Thank goodness St. Louis doesn't need a stadium. The Rams have lost 11 consecutive games at home. That's tough to do in the NFL.
. Is it time to bench Jake Delhomme and his 18 interceptions? Yes.
. Is it time to bench Jay Cutler and his 20 interceptions? No. He's young, he's the future and he's got little help around him.
. Chris Johnson became only the third back to rush for at least 125 yards in six consecutive games. The other two? Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson.
. The Colts have 11 wins for the seventh consecutive year. Wow.
. I take back all the bad, mocking things I've said about Vince Young this season. His game-winning drive against Arizona was amazing. He went 99 yards in 18 plays and threw a game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal as time expired. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 94 yards and ran for the other five yards on the drive. It literally gets no better than that drive right there. Young has won his last nine starts.
. What was Andy Reid thinking? Opening a game against Washington with an onside kick? You kidding me? All that did was give an inferior opponent momentum.
. Why do I think San Diego is a sleeper team in the AFC? Probably because it has won six in a row.
. I like Lovie Smith, but after watching that team on Sunday, I can't imagine he survives being fired after the season. I also think Mike Shanahan had to be watching somewhere and thinking the Bears will be calling him for an interview in about five weeks. At the very least, offensive coordinator Ron Turner will take the fall for a miserable season that got a lot worse on Sunday.