The pulse of the NFL season changes weekly. Every Wednesday, SI.com will break down the front-runners for the major NFL awards.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (last week: 1): Manning has owned this spot dating back to his Week 1 demolition of the defending Super Bowl champions when he threw seven touchdowns. Denver wound up slipping up a few times along the way, but Manning was the catalyst for the league’s best offense and top seed in the AFC. His 55 touchdowns are a single-season record and he broke — albeit somewhat controversially — the single-season yardage record as well with 5,477. This award with be Manning’s fifth, most in the history of the league, but it will certainly mean more to Manning if he can finish this season with a Super Bowl ring to go along with it.
2. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (2): Nick Foles’ numbers are stunning, but he would not have achieved them without the help of McCoy. Arguably the league’s most versatile weapon, he led the NFL in rushing and yards from scrimmage, setting an Eagles record. But the Eagles didn’t just constantly feed him the ball — McCoy averaged 5.1 yards per carry, good enough for second-best among regular starters. It’s hard to imagine the Eagles winning the NFC East — even in a down year — without the magnificent performance of McCoy as an all-purpose weapon.
3. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers (NR): Don’t be fooled by the record or the narrative surrounding Rivers, who’s coming off some inconsistent seasons under Norv Turner. Rivers nearly broke the single-season completion record, was second among regular starters in passer rating and tossed 32 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. Rivers also lead four game-winning drives and aside from that awful pick-six against Houston, played extremely well late in games for the Chargers, leading them to the playoffs.
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (1): I was shocked to see not one other SI.com expert picked Manning for this award given the season he had. There’s no question Manning had the best season of any offensive player in the league, considering he had one of the greatest seasons ever at the quarterback position (although, as I argued Tuesday, it’s not even his best year). Think about this: Peyton Manning attempted nine more total passes than Drew Brees, but threw 16 more touchdowns, 315 more yards and two fewer interceptions. It wasn’t just an incredible offensive season for Manning, but it was light years ahead of anyone else at the position.
2: LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles (2): Beyond Manning, there’s such a dropoff that whomever you put second really ought to be third with blank in second. But that’s not a slight to the seasons that guys like McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Josh Gordon and others had. McCoy, in particular, was brilliant. His make-you-miss runs are reminiscent of Barry Sanders and no one in football is more dangerous in the open field. If not for a few blowouts and the competency of Bryce Brown as a No. 2 running back, McCoy could have really had a historically great season. To have 2,146 total yards on 366 touches and just one fumble is also truly an amazing feat.
3. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (3): To me, McCoy and Charles are interchangeable here. Charles’ 19 total touchdowns lead the league, and he was a tick behind McCoy in rushing yards and total yards, all while playing one game fewer than McCoy. His 70 receptions was good for 17th best in the league at any position and led the Chiefs in every conceivable offensive category. He was the Chiefs offense, and found ways to affect the game every week, whether it was with 20 carries or 10 catches.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Robert Quinn DE, St. Louis Rams (1): In a passing league, the most important thing a player can do defensively is put pressure on the quarterback. No one was better at doing that in 2013 than Robert Quinn. He had five multiple sack games this season and two games where he recorded three sacks. His defensive effort turned multiple games for the Rams who have one of the most ferocious pass rushes in the league. Robert Mathis was the only player to have more sacks and more forced fumbles than Quinn.
2 Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers (3): Carolina hung its hat on its defense and Kuechly was the biggest reason why. He finished with 156 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks and seven passes defended. The Panthers finished second in points allowed, yards, and against the rush, plus sixth against the pass. Kuechly possesses tremendous range and burst, allowing him to make plays in both phases of the game with equal dexterity. The Panthers boast one of the best defensive lines in football to keep opposing linemen off their linebackers, but Kuechly has incredible instincts which he uses to shoot gaps and make plays at the line of scrimmage. He’s the best inside linebacker in football.
3. Robert Mathis, OLB, Indianapolis Colts (NR): Statistically, Mathis had a better year than Quinn, but his impact certainly wasn’t equal. For instance, five of his 19.5 sacks came in two games against Jacksonville, games the Colts won by a combined 67-13. Mathis was a one-man wrecking crew against the Broncos in the Colts’ win over Denver, and was perhaps the most consistent pass rusher in the NFL this season, despite playing with almost no help in that department. In a season loaded with big-time defensive players, Mathis certainly belongs in the discussion, but his lack of marquee games hurt him.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1. Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers (1): It’s hard to go wrong between Lacy and Keenan Allen. Lacy gets the nod because of the adversity he dealt with while still performing. Even without Aaron Rodgers for seven games, Lacy rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns, second-most in the league. Lacy wound up fifth in attempts and eighth in rushing yards, a credit to how much Green Bay leaned on him in the absence of their star quarterback. Lacy also scored five touchdowns in the final four games as the Packers went 3-1 and bounded into the playoffs.
2. Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers (2): Had Allen been San Diego’s No. 1 option from Week 1 on, it’s likely he’d be atop this list because once Rivers found out what kind of talent Allen had, the passing attack went through him. Even in just 14 starts, Allen managed 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. His numbers did dip late in the season when teams began to plan for him — which is another reason he sits at second on this list — but both Allen and Lacy are future studs at their positions. It’s hard to imagine either Green Bay or San Diego making the playoffs without the contributions of their rookie playmakers.
3. Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (NR): Bernard was one of several rookie running backs suffering from a dearth of touches, particularly in comparison to his team’s options at the position. Bernard was lightning seemingly every time he touched the ball, yet the Bengals never consistently integrated him into the offense. He finished with 170 carries for 695 yards plus 56 receptions for 514 yards and eight total touchdowns. When the Bengals were trying to find a complimentary offensive weapon for A.J. Green, they should have focused more on their jitterbug rookie back.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1. Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets (1): Richardson was one of two rookies to make the SI.com All-Pro team and was one of the best run-stoppers in football this season. Fighting double teams constantly, Richardson was a force on the interior for one of the best rush defenses in the league. New York never really cut him loose as a rusher, but he certainly has the physical skills to be a special pass rusher as well. He is the thunder to Muhammed Wilkerson’s lightning in the best 1-2 defensive line punch in football.
2. Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals (NR): Mathieu’s season was cut short by a knee injury, but prior to that he was fast becoming one of the most versatile defenders in the NFL. The statistics don’t tell the whole story for Mathieu who played safety, corner, and even linebacker at times for the Cardinals. He turned into an All-Pro caliber corner in nickel situations, even making honorable mention for SI.com. Given how well Arizona’s defense played down the stretch, it’s scary to think how much better they could have been with the Honey Badger patrolling the defensive backfield as well.
3. Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills (3): Alonso started the year like gangbusters and fell off as the season went on. Still, he became one of the best cover linebackers in football and finished the season with 159 tackles and four interceptions — all four interceptions came in the first four weeks of the season. Alonso was a tackling machine for the Bills on what developed into a really solid defense. You’d like to see him make a bigger impact in the running game and making plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage, but he’s one of the best young linebackers in the game.
Coach of the Year
1. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles (1): No team was affected more by a coach in 2013 than Chip Kelly, who gave the Eagles an identity. Kelly turned Nick Foles from a middling backup to a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback playing at efficiency level matched only by Peyton Manning. Kelly injected life into Philly’s defense, despite many of its personnel flaws. And in Philadelphia’s biggest games this year, the Eagles came through, one of the biggest criticisms of the Andy Reid era. Even in a game the Eagles didn’t need in Week 16, they pummeled the Bears in a game that prevented the Bears from clinching the NFC North, and ultimately kept the Bears out of the playoffs.
2. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots (2): Perhaps no coach in the league could have steered the ship in New England this season as well as the future Hall of Fame coach. The Patriots, coming off a tumultuous offseason, faced the first four weeks without Rob Gronkowski, and integrated a host of new offensive players. Over the course of the season, New England lost more than a dozen of its premiere contributors on both sides of the ball including All-Pros like Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and others. To go 12-4, win the NFC East and snag a first-round bye with a roster of plug-and-play guys cannot be overlooked.
3. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers (NR): On the hot seat at one point, Ron Rivera became a potential COY candidate with a simple change of philosophy: trust your players and gamble a little more. He never really lived up to the “Riverboat Ron” moniker, but as the season wore on, it appeared he began to understand the mistakes he’d made in the past. Helping lead one of the best defenses in the league and as Cam Newton has grown, the Panthers developed into a legitimate NFC contender.