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NFL Report: Rewards for best (and worst) of 2012 season

PETERSON’S FEAT

IS WORTHY OF MVP

BY STEVE DeSHAZO

THE FREE LANCE–STAR

Just two months ago, the Chicago Bears were 7–1 and considered playoff locks. The Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals were 3–5 long shots, with their coaches feeling the heat.

Things look a bit different today, don’t they?

Halftime adjustments are a big key to any game, and the final eight games of an NFL season are always more interesting than the first eight. That’s why Tom Brady and Peyton Manning wear rings and Tony Romo doesn’t.

Even if the Redskins hadn’t reaffirmed their long-suffering fans’ faith, it was a memorable NFL regular season. So before the playoffs begin and coaches file for unemployment benefits, let’s recognize the best (and worst) of 2012:

MVP: Adrian Peterson.

Peyton Manning played well enough to win this award for the fifth time, but no one carried his team more than Peterson. A year after a devastating knee injury, he barely missed Eric Dickerson’s rushing record, but lifted a team with an erratic young quarterback and a so–so defense into the playoffs. He had at least 199 yards in three of his last five games, facing defense stacked to stop him.

Runners-up: Manning; Tom Brady; Matt Ryan, Falcons.

Offensive player: Aaron Rodgers.

In a year of remarkable offensive numbers league-wide, he led the NFL in passer rating (108.0) and threw 39 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions, while playing behind a porous line that allowed 51 sacks.

Runners-up: Peterson; Manning; Brady; Calvin Johnson, Lions.

Defensive player: Von Miller, Broncos.

Manning gets most of the hype in Denver, but Miller registered 18 sacks, forced six fumbles and returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown—all for a team that allowed the AFC’s fewest points.

Runners-up: J.J. Watt, Texans; Aldon Smith, 49ers; Richard Sherman, Seahawks; Charles Tillman, Bears.

Coach of the year: Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians.

They have to share this honor after helping the Colts go from 2–14 to 11–5 with a rookie quarterback. It’s the league’s best story: Indy dedicated its turnaround to Pagano as he recovered from leukemia. Arians did such an exceptional caretaking job that he’ll be interviewed for openings elsewhere.

(Distant) runners-up: Pete Carroll, Seahawks; Mike Shanahan, Redskins; John Fox, Broncos.

Offensive rookie: Andrew Luck.

Redskins fans won’t like this, but Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris are a package deal, each helping the other. And Kirk Cousins won a game that RGIII missed.

Luck’s 76.5 passer rating and 18 interceptions are ugly, but he led seven game-winning drives and four fourth-quarter comebacks as a rookie.

Runners-up: Griffin/Morris, Redskins; Russell Wilson, Seahawks; Doug Martin, Buccaneers.

Defensive rookie: Bobby Wagner, Seahawks.

He made a team-high 140 tackles and three interceptions for the league’s stingiest scoring defense.

Runners-up: Luke Keuchly, Panthers; Chandler Jones, Patriots; Casey Hayward, Packers.

Comeback player: (tie) Peterson and Manning.

Both had fabulous years after career-threatening injuries. How can you choose?

Executive: Pete Carroll.

In just three seasons, he has overhauled the Seahawks into a young, bruising, dangerous team. He took some heat for drafting Bruce Irvin No. 15, but Irvin has eight sacks. And Wilson was a third-round steal.

Runners-up: Shanahan/Bruce Allen, Redskins; John Elway, Broncos.

Most disappointing:

Team—Eagles. Player—Mark Sanchez. Coach—Rex Ryan. Rookie—Dontari Poe, Chiefs NT.

    COUNTING DOWN

    1. Broncos (13–3)

    They are the team to beat.

    2. Patriots (12–4)

    Defense keeps improving.

    3. Falcons (13–3)

    Ended on a down note.

    4. Seahawks (11–5)

    Everything but home field.

    5. Packers (11–5)

    Another dose of Peterson.

    6. 49ers (11–4–1)

    Akers’ kicking is erratic.

    7. Texans (12–4)

    Schaub needs to deliver.

    8. Redskins (10–6)

    Familiar playoff foe awaits.

    9. Colts (11–5)

    Homecoming for Pagano.

    10. Vikings (10–6)

    Haven’t won outdoors.

    11. Ravens (10–6)

    Will Lewis’ return help?

    12. Bengals (10–6)

    Last playoff win: 1990.

    13. Bears (10–6)

    Best coaching vacancy.

    14. Giants (9–7)

    Few changes expected.

    15. Panthers (7–9)

    C’mon, let’s keep playing.

    16. Saints (7–9)

    Payton, stability return.

    17. Cowboys (8–8)

    No panic (so far).

    18. Steelers (8–8)

    Defense No. 1, but aging.

    19. Rams (7–8–1)

    Two first-round draft picks.

    20. Dolphins (7–9)

    Sticking with coach, QB.

    21. Chargers (7–9)

    Should be attractive gig.

    22. Buccaneers (7–9)

    Defense needs an upgrade.

    23. Browns (5–11)

    New coach will need time.

    24. Jets (6–10)

    What to do with Sanchez?

    25. Bills (6–10)

    Can anyone win here?

    26. Titans (6–10)

    Growing pains for Locker.

    27. Cardinals (5–11)

    Andy Reid’s next job?

    28. Lions (4–12)

    Lost final eight games.

    29. Eagles (4–12)

    Likely to pursue Chip Kelly.

    30. Raiders (4–12)

    Four assistants fired.

    31. Jaguars (2–14)

    GM fired; is Mularkey next?

    32. Chiefs (2–14)

    Major overhaul required.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

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