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Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Dan Graziano's MVP Watch

By Dan Graziano

Russell Wilson has helped lead the Seattle Seahawks to the best record in the NFL.
 The pocketwatches really like "C'mon, Man!," so the Watch is always watching with them when the "Monday Night Football" pregame show is wrapping up. This week, as the predictions rolled in, the older of the two pockets noted how many of our analysts were picking the Saints on the road. Because the Seahawks have not lost a home game since before he knew what a football was, this surprised him.

"Daddy," he asked, his minute hand furrowed in confusion, "do you think the Saints can win?"

"I don't think so," the Watch replied, equally puzzled by the picks. "I kind of think Seattle might blow them out."

This jibed with what the young one thought, so it made him happy, and soon thereafter he was off to bed and sleeping the sleep of the reassured. Doubt had invaded his mind only briefly, which is longer than it ever apparently invaded Russell Wilson's.

Wilson and the Seahawks were bothered by Drew Brees and the visiting Saints in the same way lightning is bothered by an oak tree. The latest showdown between MVP Watch regulars was a wipeout, and it established Wilson as the clear top challenger -- if in fact there's ever going to be one -- to the man who has owned the No. 1 spot since August.
Peyton Manning
Denver Broncos
NEXT: 12/8 vs. TEN
CMP: 327
ATT: 480
PCT: 68.1
YDS: 4,125
TD: 41
INT: 9

Manning has a thing where he quizzes his receivers throughout the week, trying to trip them up. Like, they'll be walking down a hall and all of a sudden he jumps out and shouts, "What's it mean when I yell, 'Omaha!' three times and flap my hands twice while looking at the left guard?" Or they'll be sitting at home and they get a text that says, "Quick! What's the capital of North Dakota?" and they have five seconds to text back the answer. He adds up their scores in his head all week, and instead of gold stars they get touchdown passes. Last week, Eric Decker apparently got every question right and also got Manning's car washed for him. Nothing wrong with a little extra credit. And in case you're wondering, the answers to the questions above are (a) probably nothing and (b) Bismarck. Most people guess Fargo, but it's Bismarck.

Russell Wilson
Seattle Seahawks
NEXT: 12/8 at SF
CMP: 198
ATT: 305
PCT: 64.9
YDS: 2,672
TD: 22
INT: 6

There's just nothing not to like. He can run. He can throw. He can freeze a safety with his eyes and hit the guy who comes open in stride. If one of his throws bounces off a receiver's face mask, it lands in the arms of a fullback who can just fall into the end zone with it. He always signals before changing lanes, and he never takes the last buffalo wing. He's probably a great cook, and the kind of guy to whom you'd go for parenting advice even though you're not even sure whether he has kids. Wilson just turned 25 and the world appears to be all his. There were 74 players taken ahead of him in the 2012 draft, and right now he's got a better chance than any of them to be standing there, teeth chattering, around 10 p.m. ET on Feb. 2 as Roger Goodell hands him a snow-covered Super Bowl MVP trophy in the middle of a frozen New Jersey swamp.

Drew Brees
New Orleans Saints
NEXT: 12/8 vs. CAR
CMP: 323
ATT: 477
PCT: 67.7
YDS: 3,794
TD: 29
INT: 8

Before the game, they told Brees that Wilson used to idolize him as a quarterback who became an all-time great in spite of his height, and Brees thought to himself, "That's really cool. That makes me feel good." By halftime Monday night, Brees was thinking to himself, "Wait a minute. Did that kid just call me short?" And when the game was over, Brees balled up his socks and threw them across the room to the laundry cart as he always does, except this time they missed. This stopped everyone else in their tracks in amazement, but Brees just sat there thinking to himself, "Perfect. What else could go wrong tonight? Wait, what's Payton saying? Jimmy Graham broke the team plane? Jeez, there was a joke about that last week in the MVP Watch. Rats. MVP Watch. I'm probably going to be down to No. 3 in that now. That's just great."

Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers
NEXT: 12/8 at NO
CMP: 226
ATT: 366
PCT: 61.7
YDS: 2,616
TD: 19
INT: 11

Nobody could find Newton on Saturday night as the Panthers assembled for meetings at the hotel where they stay the night before home games. He was on the roof, shouting "War Eagle!" over and over again and pretending to rip open his shirt like Superman. Nobody who was watching from the ground could either make out for sure who he was or blame him, because things haven't been this exciting at Auburn since the semester Newton spent there. Eventually, he found his way to the meeting room, and nobody seemed too concerned. "One passing, two rushing?" he asked offensive coordinator Mike Shula. "Nah, let's reverse that this week, Cam, OK?" Shula answered. "Sure," Newton said, and resumed group-texting Charles Barkley and Bo Jackson to talk about how awesome that finish was.

Calvin Johnson
Detroit Lions
NEXT: 12/8 at PHI
REC: 72
TGTS: 132
YDS: 1,299
AVG: 18.0
LNG: 87
TD: 12

Did you know that, in 2007, a Seattle man name Jason Burrows had his middle name legally changed to "Megatron," so that his real name is now Jason Megatron Burrows? Found that out at this link, which also includes interesting name-change information having to do with Optimus Prime and Peyton Manning. It has almost nothing to do with Calvin Johnson other than that Megatron is as you know his nickname, but there's not a lot to say this week about ol' Calvin. He saw just 10 targets in the Lions' easy victory over the Packers, his lowest such number in a game since Oct. 13. It was a rare Lions game in which it didn't feel as though they desperately needed him. But when you catch 10 balls for 101 yards and a touchdown and it seems like just a normal day, you're a top-five MVP Watch candidate.

Tom Brady
New England Patriots
NEXT: 12/8 vs. CLE
CMP: 286
ATT: 471
PCT: 60.7
YDS: 3,267
TD: 19
INT: 8

He has nicknamed wide receiver Julian Edelman "Minitron," which is ... well, it's just terrible. Two Reliant Stadium security guards got fired after having their pictures taken with him on his way out of the stadium Sunday, which isn't Brady's fault but doesn't exactly indicate that everything he touches turns to gold the way it used to. It has been a tough kind of year for Brady, but it's absolutely turning around. He has 10 touchdown passes in his past four games after only throwing nine in his first eight, and his team is making its annual run at a first-round playoff bye. We should all have such rotten years. It helps that Rob Gronkowski is back and dominating attention from defenses. It also helps that Gronkowski doesn't need Brady to make up a nickname for him, because Brady obviously stinks at that. "Minitron?" Sheesh.

LeSean McCoy
Philadelphia Eagles
NEXT: 12/8 vs. DET
ATT: 232
YDS: 1,088
AVG: 4.7
LNG: 41
TD: 5

McCoy would be a lot higher on this list if Chip Kelly had remembered in the fourth quarter Sunday that he was on the team. The Watch is loving Kelly. He's super smart, has lots of great ideas about how to play offense, and his team is really fun to watch right now. But if the Watch had the league's second-leading rusher on his team and a 10-point lead with 13 minutes to play, "Throw deep to Riley Cooper" and "Spread it out and give it to Bryce Brown" would be easy options to skip past on the play sheet. The Watch gets that Kelly has his own style and the Watch digs that. Science, smoothies, running stadium stairs and still somehow never losing weight ... all cool. But Kelly also has McCoy, who can help you run the clock down while also offering the possibility of a very long touchdown. The latter obviously appeals to Kelly. The former needs to start.

Nick Foles
Philadelphia Eagles
NEXT: 12/8 vs. DET
CMP: 124
ATT: 196
PCT: 63.3
YDS: 1,791
TD: 19
INT: 0

Those familiar with the plot of "Damn Yankees" can join the Watch in positing Foles as Joe Hardy, who sold his soul to the devil to transform into the unlikely hero who could lead the Senators to championship glory. Were it a football story instead of a baseball one, the team would be one that had never won the Super Bowl, Hardy could plausibly be the quarterback who began the season on the bench, and his exploits would be impossible to believe. Something like 19 touchdown passes and no interceptions in eight games. Stuff at which the audience would marvel and chuckle at the same time, knowing it's just a show and nothing like that could ever happen in real life. The Watch just can't figure out who Applegate is in this latest retelling. Can't really be Kelly or Michael Vick. Donovan McNabb? Probably not. Merrill Reese? Maybe. A scheming Joe Banner, who's plotting to turn Hardy back into frumpy old Joe Boyd at the worst possible moment in the Week 17 game against the Cowboys? The mind boggles.

Tony Romo
Dallas Cowboys
NEXT: 12/9 at CHI
CMP: 285
ATT: 440
PCT: 64.8
YDS: 3,140
TD: 24
INT: 7

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K. Due to the Redskins' collapse, the Giants' inability to answer the bell in time and the fact that no one seems to want to buy into the Eagles, there is a groundswell of downright positive predictive feeling toward Romo and the Cowboys among the local and national NFL cognoscenti as December dawns. Romo is doing little to combat this vibe, operating the Dallas offense efficiently and leading long scoring drives in the fourth quarter. And everyone knows the Watch is no Romo-hater. But let's be honest here: Romo beating the Giants and the Raiders the past two weeks is kind of like Charlie Brown practicing with Linus or Snoopy. Until you actually see him kick that football away from Lucy, are you really supposed to believe it's going to happen?

Vontaze Burfict
Cincinnati Bengals
NEXT: 12/8 vs. IND
TACK: 88
AST: 43
FF: 1
FR: 2
PD: 6

Extensive research by the tireless MVP Watch staff has confirmed that no player named Vontaze has ever won an MVP award in any of the major American pro sports leagues. So history is not on his side. But if history were on his side, and if it were carrying a football, Burfict likely would tackle it. He's leading the league in tackles and came up with 13 of them on a bad ankle Sunday in a big victory in San Diego. The Bengals defense has weathered the loss of superstar lineman Geno Atkins better than anyone could have expected, and Burfict is a big part of the reason why.