Head of the class?
The day's biggest showdown might be the Giants and Steelers, where two of the league's best comeback artists, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, left, and New York QB Eli Manning, go head to head.
The two have been linked since getting drafted in 2004. Roethlisberger (taken 11th) admitted he tried to outshine the younger Manning (taken first) but appreciates their place in history.
After all, both have two Super Bowl rings.
"As I've gotten older, it's more neat to see (Manning's) success, to see him getting two Super Bowls, because I think it just adds to the legacy of our draft class," Roethlisberger told the Newark Star-Ledger.
"And all four quarterbacks — Matt Schaub, Philip (Rivers), myself and Eli — that were drafted there, I hope we can play well enough that one day they talk about us as maybe the best quarterback draft class of all time."
Roethlisberger makes an interesting point.
Their four combined rings are more than the much-hyped 1983 class of John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino and Ken O'Brien.
Times wires contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Throughout the first half of the season, there have been plenty of story lines and surprises. And, believe it or not, none involve Tim Tebow. The Saints have struggled to overcome the bounty scandal, but Peyton Manning has made a Mile High rise in his comeback with the Broncos. The real refs are back, but several stars, such as Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, have been lost to injury. A few more sat due to suspensions for (they say) using Adderall, which is apparently all the rage these days. Touted picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have been as advertised as has Bears combustible QB Jay Cutler, who is calling out linemen and carving up defenses for the NFC North leaders. The picks for the NFL's top awards.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt deserves some consideration for his disruptive domination. But let's face it: This is typically an offensive award. The Broncos' Peyton Manning, who leads the league in quarterback rating (109.0) might get into this mix. But for now, this one goes to Falcons QB Matt Ryan, above, the best player on the league's best (and only remaining undefeated) team.
Offensive player of the year
The Vikings' Adrian Peterson is a "freak of nature," his QB, Christian Ponder, says, returning from reconstructive knee surgery to lead the league in rushing. The Texans' Arian Foster continues to be a workhorse back. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is carrying an injury-riddled, aging team on his back. But the Packers' Aaron Rodgers, above, the reigning MVP, gets the nod, leading the league with 21 touchdown passes and sitting right behind Manning in quarterback rating (107.9).
Defensive player of the year
This one is a slam dunk. Watt, above, has been larger than life for the Texans, racking up a league-high 91/2 sacks and 10 pass deflections. The second-year star out of Wisconsin has made Houston forget about its former top pick, end Mario Williams, who returns today for the first time since signing a megadeal with Buffalo.
Rookie of the year
The Bucs have exciting running back Doug Martin, above, the first-round pick from Boise State who earned offensive rookie of the month honors for October. The Redskins' Alfred Morris, as the Bucs can attest, is a handful. The seventh-round pick from Florida Atlantic leads rookies with 717 rushing yards. This award, however, is likely to go to Griffin or Luck. Both can seemingly do it all, and whoever ends up with more wins could get the top prize. On the defensive side, Patriots end Chandler Jones leads rookies in sacks (six) and forced fumbles (three).
Coach of the year
Lovie Smith has the Bears, surprisingly, on top of the NFC North with his defense a big reason. The Giants' Tom Coughlin could win this award more often than he does, and the defending Super Bowl champs have won six of seven. But while the Falcons' Mike Smith hasn't proved it in the playoffs yet, he knows how to win in the regular season and could get top honors if he keeps them on top.
1. Falcons 2. Texans
3. Giants 4. 49ers
Eagles (3-4) over Saints (2-5)
Eagles QB Michael Vick's job could be on the line. And he plays like it, leading his team to a huge win in the Superdome on Monday.
Comparison of the week
Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III has been compared with the Panthers' Cam Newton since his college days.
The two exciting, dual threats won Heismans, were drafted high and dubbed franchise quarterbacks. But as Griffin (taken second overall in April) faces Newton (taken first overall in 2011) today, he would rather be compared with different kinds of quarterbacks: winners.
"We do run similar schemes," Griffin told the Washington Post. "But I'd rather be compared to Aaron Rodgers or a guy like that; someone who's won Super Bowls. You want to go out there and win, and that's our biggest goal. It's not about me versus Cam Newton. It's about us getting the win and getting to 4-5 going into the bye week."
The Broncos' Peyton Manning could again put himself in the record books today against the Bengals. He seeks to pass for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns for the fifth consecutive game. That would tie Hall of Famer Steve Young for the longest streak in NFL history. Young did his in the first five games of 1998.