Mike Sando's MVP Watch
Matt Ryan has charged up the MVP Watch list after two sensational performances helped his Atlanta Falcons clinch home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
Ryan's seven touchdown passes against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions earned him a meaningless game in Week 17. That should enhance Ryan's MVP credentials, but with nothing on the line, the Falcons could wind up resting starters to some extent. It's tougher maintaining momentum when the parachute has already been deployed.
Ryan's development has allowed the Falcons to flourish as more of a pass-oriented team. Their identity has changed. This is now Ryan's team, not a team that tries to grind it out on the ground. Ryan has 4,481 yards passing and 31 touchdowns. He ranks third behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in Total QBR. He's one of five qualifying quarterbacks with a passer rating in triple digits.
Why not Ryan for MVP? Pat Yasinskas answered that question on the NFC South blog. Check it out.
The schedule has been fabulously friendly to Manning and the Broncos. Only the Atlanta Falcons, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals have played easier ones to this point in the season, based on opponents' winning percentage. Life in the AFC West accounts for some of that. Manning has certainly taken advantage. The Broncos are on a 10-game winning streak. They have won each of those games by at least seven points. This is Manning's longest winning streak since his Colts won 13 consecutive games in 2005. The Broncos are looking to become the seventh team since 1970 to finish a season with at least 11 consecutive victories. Only the 2-13 Chiefs stand in their way.
Week 16 vs. CLE
2. MATT RYANQuarterback | Atlanta Falcons ... Next Game: 12/30 vs. TB ... Last Poll: 6
Ryan has seven touchdown passes without a pick over the Falcons' past two games. The ratio is 11-1 over the past five games. An easy schedule has certainly helped the Falcons claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC. However, a team can only defeat the opponents on its schedule. The Falcons are 4-0 against teams that currently have winning records (Denver, Washington, Dallas and the New York Giants). Ryan has seven touchdown passes with one interception in those games. Ryan completed his final 10 passes against the Giants and his first 10 against Detroit to threaten Donovan McNabb's record (24 completed passes in a row).
Week 16 at DET
3. TOM BRADYQuarterback | New England Patriots ... Next Game: 12/30 vs. MIA ... Last Poll: 2
There's much to like about Brady's 32-8 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions, but the ratio looked a lot better when it was 29-4 a couple of weeks ago. Brady has four interceptions over his past two games, a primary reason the Patriots lost to San Francisco before struggling to put away Jacksonville. Brady had 19 touchdowns with just one interception over his previous seven games. He ranks 15th in Total QBR (56.3) and 21st in NFL passer rating (70.9) over the past two weeks. The Patriots lost ground in the AFC playoff race as a result. Brady has had consecutive games with two-plus picks for the first time since 2009. He needs three scoring passes in Week 17 to break a tie with Brett Favre for the most seasons with at least 35 scoring passes. Each has had three. Brady has 20 touchdowns without a pick against five-plus pass-rushers.
Week 16 at JAC
Rodgers needs at least three scoring passes without an interception to join Brady as the only players with a plus-30 differential in back-to-back seasons. Brady has done it twice. Rodgers has been shredding standard pressure during the Packers' four-game winning streak. His 91.4 Total QBR score against four or fewer rushers over that span leads the NFL. Rodgers ranked 17th (68.5) by that measure previously this season. Rodgers has 20 touchdown passes with four interceptions in 10 career games against Week 17 opponent Minnesota. Favre, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr are the only other players with 10 more touchdowns than picks against Minnesota.
Week 16 vs. TEN
Peterson needs 102 yards against the Packers to become the seventh back with at least 2,000 yards in a season. He has averaged 113 yards rushing per game in 11 games against Green Bay. Peterson had 210 yards against the Packers earlier this season. O.J. Simpson (1973, vs. Patriots) and Jamal Lewis (2003, vs. Cleveland) are the only players with a pair of 200-yard games against the same opponent in the same season. The Vikings' playoff push has helped raise Peterson's profile. However, he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry with no touchdowns against Houston. This was the second time in 2012 that Peterson has had 25 carries for 86 yards and no scores. Minnesota is 2-0 in those games, having beaten two playoff-bound teams in the process (San Francisco, Houston).
Week 16 at HOU
6. J.J. WATTDefensive End | Houston Texans ... Next Game: 12/30 at IND ... Last Poll: 5
Watt leads the NFL in sacks with 20.5 after the 49ers' Aldon Smith failed to collect any for a second consecutive week. He needs 2.5 sacks against Indianapolis in Week 17 to break Michael Strahan's single-season record since 1982, when the NFL made sacks an official category. Watt leads the NFL in tackles for loss (20). He also ranks second in passes defensed (15, including passes batted at the line). Watt had three sacks against the Colts in Week 15. He has disrupted a league-high 35.5 percent of opponents' drop backs this season, defined as plays when a defender has a sack, pass defensed or interception. Seattle's Richard Sherman ranks second at 22 percent.
Week 16 vs. MIN
Wilson now ranks seventh in NFL passer rating (98.0) and eighth in Total QBR (70.0) for the season. He ranks third in both categories -- 101.5 rating, 75.6 QBR -- from Week 2 to present. Much gets made of Wilson's success at home. He ranks among the NFL's top five in road QBR after Week 1 (78.8). Only Ryan (85.4), Brady (81.5) and Manning (80.2) rank higher among quarterbacks with more than four road starts during that time. Ben Roethlisberger (72.8), Drew Brees (69.9), Rodgers (69.8) and Robert Griffin III (69.6) are next. Wilson needs one touchdown pass against St. Louis in Week 17 to tie Manning's rookie record of 26, set in 1998. Manning also had 28 interceptions that season. Wilson has 10, including one on a dropped pass.
Week 16 vs. SF
8. VON MILLERLinebacker | Denver Broncos ... Next Game: 12/30 vs. KC ... Last Poll: 8
Miller ranks third in sacks (17.5) and fifth in tackles for loss (14). The Broncos have held their opponents to a 25.1 QBR score through Week 16, easily the lowest for any team's opponents. Houston (35.1), Chicago (35.3), Arizona (37.5), Green Bay (40.8) and Cincinnati (42.2) rank next. Denver allows 5.37 yards per drop back. Only Pittsburgh's defense (5.31) allows fewer. Miller had one sack against Week 17 opponent Kansas City when the Broncos and Chiefs played at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 12. He has 5.5 sacks in the Broncos' last three home games. The Broncos lead the NFL in QBR allowed (17.7) when rushing five-plus defenders. The Chiefs' Brady Quinn ranks 38th among 38 qualifying quarterbacks in QBR against added pressure (10.1).
Week 16 vs. CLE
Griffin has been most consistent among the top rookie quarterbacks this season. His QBR for Weeks 1-7 (71.8) is nearly identical to his QBR from Week 8 to present (70.1). The respective figures for Wilson (41.7, 88.7) and Andrew Luck (73.0, 58.4) reflect gaps in their levels of play. Griffin has joined Randall Cunningham (1990) as the only players in NFL history with at least 3,000 yards passing and 750 yards rushing in a season. Griffin averages 10.1 yards per attempt against five-plus pass-rushers, best in the NFL by at least a yard. He leads the NFL in passer rating (140.6) and QBR (97.7) against such pressure. He also leads the NFL in completion percentage (50.0) on passes traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Griffin faces the Cowboys in Week 17. He had four touchdown passes against them earlier in the season, including two traveling more than 20 yards downfield. While Griffin's value is obvious, his backup, rookie Kirk Cousins, was very good (76.3 QBR) while leading Washington to a key victory in the one game Griffin missed to injury.
Week 16 at PHI
10. MARSHAWN LYNCHRunning Back | Seattle Seahawks ... Next Game: 12/30 vs. STL ... Last Poll: 7
Lynch has continued to play at a high level as the season has progressed. Why, then, does that little red arrow to the right show Lynch trending downward in the MVP Watch race? Seattle is running more of its offense through its quarterback. Wilson's decision-making on option runs was the key to Lynch gaining 241 yards on only 21 carries (11.5-yard average) during blowouts in Weeks 14-15. Lynch used more conventional running to gain 111 yards on 26 carries against San Francisco on Sunday night. Lynch has now topped 100 yards rushing in each of his past three games against the 49ers. He has nine 100-yard games this season, tied with Peterson for most in the NFL.
Week 16 vs. SF