NFL Nation: Eric Dickerson

GREEN BAY, Wis. – No offense to Eric Dickerson, but Eddie Lacy would rather not wear goggles on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Green Bay Packers running back has an irritated left eye that he said was from his contact lens. He's had to go with just one contact this week but hopes to be able to wear both for Sunday's game. He said Thursday that there's no way he's wearing goggles.

"I refuse," Lacy said before backtracking slightly. "I don't want to say I refuse because I might, because I think it will be better than wearing contacts, but that's kind of old school."

And when Lacy thinks of goggles …

"That's what I get, Eric Dickerson," he said.

Lacy needs something to help his vision. As he leaned against a table in the middle of the Packers' locker room, he closed his right eye and tried to make out quarterback Scott Tolzien's nameplate across the way.

"Let's just say I'm very blind," Lacy said. "I can't see Scott's name over there."

Lacy needs just 60 yards to top the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. He's coming off a 15-carry, 97-yard game in Sunday's loss at the Buffalo Bills, a game in which he touched the ball only five times in the second half.

When asked whether he thought coach Mike McCarthy should have stuck with the running game more, Lacy said: "That ain't none of my business, bro. I do what's called."

Here's the full injury report from Thursday:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Sometime in his first several days as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator, Norv Turner walked past a picture in the team offices of Adrian Peterson from his record-breaking 296-yard game during his rookie season. Peterson could be seen racing down the San Diego Chargers' sideline, on the way to a game-clinching 46-yard touchdown.

The coach of that Chargers team was Turner. And when he looked at the picture, he saw himself watching Peterson run by.

"I’ve seen him at his best first-hand," Turner said. "I don’t know how you can compare guys at that level because they all have their own way of doing things."

Turner started his NFL career with the Los Angeles Rams when Eric Dickerson was still there. He was Emmitt Smith's offensive coordinator in Dallas, and had LaDainian Tomlinson on those Chargers teams. His legacy in the NFL has been made primarily through his contributions to the downfield passing game, but when Turner's teams have been at their best, he's had a dominant running back, too.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesAdrian Peterson rushed for 296 yards against Norv Turner's Chargers in 2007.
He knows what an asset Peterson can be to him in Minnesota, and Turner has made ingratiating himself to Peterson one of his early goals with the Vikings. Peterson was a staunch supporter of former coach Leslie Frazier, and reserved judgment on the Vikings' hiring of head coach Mike Zimmer until he saw whom the team would bring in as its offensive coordinator. When Turner was hired, Peterson praised the move. The two also talked recently on the phone, Turner said.

"He was excited. It was a very casual conversation," Turner said. "At this time of year, you don’t talk football, but I think players and coaches know about players and coaches in the league. He’s talked to people I’ve coached and been with. I think he understands that the biggest thing to me is we’re trying to win. He’s at a point in his career where he’d like to go, No. 1, be in the playoffs, and No. 2 have success in the playoffs and ultimately win a championship. I think he’s at a point in his career where he’s done a lot of things in individual goals and accomplishments. And he expressed that whatever it takes for us he wants to do."

Under Turner, the Vikings' plan for Peterson could look slightly different than how the 2012 NFL MVP has been used in the past. He talked about wanting to get Peterson the ball in space more often, which could sound like sweet poetry to Vikings fans who have wondered why Peterson hasn't been used as a receiving threat more over the years. The best season of Peterson's career as a receiver, not surprisingly, came in 2009, when he caught 43 passes for 436 yards from Brett Favre, who used running backs as receivers with great success during his career.

"He’s run the ball in closed-in quarters with a lot of defenders there and he makes a lot of long runs, making people miss or running over people," Turner said. "It’s hard to do, but we would like to get him in space and getting the field spread a little bit better for for him."

If Turner is able to get Peterson in the open field more often, either by throwing him the ball or by reducing the number of defenders in the box, it could help take some of the wear off a running back who just had his third surgery in as many years and will be 29 in March. Peterson has logged more carries against eight-man fronts than any running back in the NFL the past two years, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Under previous offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, Peterson played in a system that often employed two tight ends or bunched receivers close to the line of scrimmage, inviting defenders to crowd the box. Rather than creating more traffic -- some of it there to help Peterson -- Turner wants to see if he can make the running back's yards easier by isolating him against defenders.

And when it's time for Peterson to do his heavy work, Turner wants much of it to come at the end of games. It was no accident that during his MVP season, Peterson logged a NFL-best 361 yards in the final 10 minutes of games his team was leading, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2013, Peterson had just 56 yards in those situations; third-string running back Matt Asiata, who filled in for Peterson in two games he missed because of injury, had 99.

Turner reminisced about Smith's days of being one of the game's great closers, churning through tired defenses and running the clock out with first downs for the Cowboys, and wanted to get the Vikings back to a point where Peterson could do the same thing. That makes sense for any running back, and the Vikings have been built to play with a lead.

The difference is, when they've fallen behind in recent years, they haven't had the passing game to make the game close and make Peterson effective again.

"You have to be good in enough things so that when a team overplays the run, you can throw it," Turner said. "Having a runner like Adrian can and should able to help a young quarterback. It can be a hindrance sometimes because if you aren’t giving him the ball, it's like you aren’t trying to win. Those are things that I’ve tried to manage."

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 25-3 victory over the Houston Texans:

What it means: The Colts didn't wait until the second half to get going offensively. They started on their first offensive series of the game. The Colts mixed up the run with the pass to go 80 yards on 11 plays on their opening drive. The drive ended with quarterback Andrew Luck finding receiver Griff Whalen for a 14-yard touchdown. That was the first time the Colts scored a touchdown in the first quarter since doing it against Denver on Oct. 20. Slow starts have been a problem the past seven weeks for the Colts, but they went into the half with a 20-3 lead. They were 5-of-8 on third down in the first half after going 0-for-6 in the first half against Cincinnati on Dec. 8. The one downside about the Colts on offense is that they started the game 5-for-5 on third down but failed to convert on their final 10 attempts.

Whalen steps up: Whalen has been an afterthought this season after having a strong training camp. He was elevated from the practice squad Saturday because of the injury to fellow receiver LaVon Brazill (foot). He took advantage of the opportunity. Whalen, a college teammate of Luck's at Stanford, caught four passes for 45 yards, returned three punts for 67 yards and a kickoff for 22 yards.

Being honored: Former Colts running backs Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk were inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime. Dickerson rushed for 5,194 yards and 32 touchdowns during his five seasons with the Colts. He won the league's rushing title in 1988, when he gained 1,659 yards to go with 14 touchdowns. The Colts traded Dickerson to the Los Angeles Raiders following the 1991 season. Faulk rushed for 5,320 yards and 42 touchdowns to go with 297 receptions and 2,804 yards in his five seasons with the Colts. He was traded to the St. Louis Rams after the 1998 season because he thought he deserved a raise. Dickerson and Faulk join Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Chris Hinton, Ted Marchibroda, Jim Harbaugh, the 12th Man, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James in the team's Ring of Honor.

Injuries: Colts guard Joe Reitz left the game in first half after being tested for a concussion. Starting running back Donald Brown sat out the second half with a stinger. He ran for 38 yards on five carries. Linebacker Daniel Adongo (hamstring) and safety Sergio Brown (groin) also left the game.

What's next: The Colts go on the road to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The Colts and Chiefs have a chance to face each other in the playoffs in Indianapolis.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Adrian Peterson had just gotten done with his second consecutive game of more than 30 carries, lugging the ball a career-high 35 times in the Vikings' overtime win over the Chicago Bears. He had run for 211 yards -- the fourth-most of his career -- despite playing another game with a strained groin that again appeared to keep Peterson from breaking away when he had the chance. And as usual, Peterson wanted more.

"I condition real hard, and actually, I get stronger as I go," Peterson said. "I could have went for 50, maybe 55 carries."

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsDespite battling a groin injury, Adrian Peterson had his best rushing day of the season, racking up 211 yards.
Peterson's belief in himself is almost purely based in can-do optimism, but it only crosses over into defiance when it's suggested to him that something might have been difficult. It's what made him the third-fastest running back in NFL history to rack up 10,000 yards on Sunday, in just his 101st career game. Only Jim Brown and Eric Dickerson reached the plateau sooner. And when Peterson was asked what he would have said if someone had told him at age 16 what he'd do, he said his reply would have been, "You're right.

"I would have believed it," he said. "This has been my mindset since I was young, to be the best to ever play. You have got to believe it in order to accomplish it. So if you had told me that, I would have been like, 'Hmm, he is thinking what I'm thinking."

Peterson has a long ways to go to reach the lofty records he wants to hit, but in a season where he's been hampered by leg injuries, he's got 1,208 yards through 12 games. That might register as a disappointment after Peterson talked of following up a 2,097-yard season with 2,500, but he's still on pace for more than 1,600 yards this year, and could win another NFL rushing title.

It also helps that the Vikings seem to have no plans to marginalize Peterson. They are now 5-0-1 in games where he's carried at least 30 times, and coach Leslie Frazier said, "I can't imagine ever getting away from Adrian being the featured guy in the offense, so long as we can put some more pieces around him."

Frazier played with Walter Payton, and hesitated when asked if he thought Peterson could be the greatest of all time.

"In raw numbers, sure," Frazier said, before adding, "We watched Mr. Payton play, and I've talked to Adrian about that a few times. Adrian is, in today's football, the best running back in pro football. Walter, he's pretty special. That would be a good argument to have."

Peterson seems intent on forcing his way into that argument. Has for a long time, actually.

"Jim Brown [and] Eric Dickerson are the guys that I looked up to, the guys that motivated me to be better than them," he said. "I still have a long ways to go. I've reached this mark and it's great, but I still have a long ways to go to surpass those guys, and that is what I look to do."

Colts will honor Faulk and Dickerson

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
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INDIANAPOLIS – Lost in the news of running back Ahmad Bradshaw deciding to have season-ending knee surgery Tuesday was that the Indianapolis Colts plan to add former running backs Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson to the Ring of Honor together during the Dec. 15 game against Houston.

They will be the 10th and 11th members of the Ring of Honor, joining Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Tony Dungy, Jim Harbaugh, Chris Hinton and Ted Marchibroda and the 12th Man.

Faulk, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1994 draft, rushed for 5,320 yards during his five-year career with the Colts. Dickerson rushed for 5,194 yards during his time with Indianapolis.

The city of Indianapolis also received some good news Tuesday, as it joins Minneapolis and New Orleans as finalists for the 2018 Super Bowl. Indianapolis hosted a successful Super Bowl in 2012.
We've only talked in passing detail about Adrian Peterson's attempt to chase Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record for a second straight season -- probably because there's been so much chatter about the topic in other places. Whether it's Peterson talking about wanting to run for 2,500 yards or experts saying he can't possibly duplicate last year's 2,097-yard season, the topic has been a frequent source of conversation heading into the season.

We won't belabor the point here today, other than to mention a couple unique things about Peterson's 2012 season that might, in fact, be unique -- as in, they can't be duplicated again.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Peterson ran for 1,019 yards after contact in 2012, for an average of 2.9 yards a carry. In other words, nearly half of Peterson's yards came on his ability to take a hit and keep running for an average of almost 3 yards. Essentially, after he took a hit last year, he was still better than the Raiders' Rashad Jennings, who ran for 2.8 yards a carry -- with or without contact! -- in 2012. And only one running back in the league -- Maurice Jones-Drew, with 785 yards after contact in 2011 -- has even come within 250 yards of Peterson's total since Stats & Information started tracking the statistic in 2009.

From 2009 to 2011, Peterson's post-contact average was 2.3 yards per carry. If he carried the same number of times in 2013 as he did in 2012 (348) and dropped back to his 2009-11 average, he'd run for 219 fewer yards. If we add the 2012 season back in, bumping Peterson's average after contact back up to 2.49, and assume he hits that figure this year on 348 carries, he'd run for 152 fewer yards.

Then there's this: Peterson had 27 runs of 20 yards or more in 2012. That was the most in football last year by 15. Since 2008, only five other running backs have even recorded half that many long runs, one of them being Peterson himself in 2008.

We can all remember the highlights of Peterson breaking one tackle and busting loose for 60 or 70 yards. If he can't do that with the same regularity this year, he'd have to find another way to make up for those yards -- most likely by getting more carries or increasing his productivity on his shorter runs. Considering he had the second-most carries of his career last year, and his highest yards-per-carry figure, it seems unlikely to expect Peterson to put up even bigger numbers without the efficiency afforded by a 70-yard romp.

Finally, we've got to consider this point: Of the 18 men in NFL history to carry more than 300 times in a season and average more than five yards a carry, only two -- Barry Sanders and Tiki Barber -- did it in back-to-back years. Sanders actually crossed the 2,000-yard plateau in his second trip over the 300-and-5.0 barrier, when he ran for 2,053 yards on 335 carries (an average of 6.13 yards per attempt) in 1997. And Barber did it at ages 30 and 31, when he averaged 5.21 and 5.08 yards per attempt in 2005 and 2006. But considering Peterson's 6.03 yards per attempt tied O.J. Simpson for the second most of anyone who carried more than 300 times in a season, it probably isn't realistic to expect him to do it again. No running back in history has ever crossed 1,500 yards a year after running for 2,000, and the drop-off in yards-per-carry is part of the reason why.

In all likelihood, topping Dickerson would likely require even more carries than Peterson got last year (Dickerson, it should be noted, carried 379 times when he set the record in 1984). When the Vikings drafted Cordarrelle Patterson and signed Greg Jennings in an effort to balance their offense, it's worth asking whether Peterson's workload might even drop this year.

After watching Peterson last year, it's awfully tough to say he's incapable of anything. If he's determined to break Dickerson's record -- as he certainly seems to be -- he'll probably give himself a reasonable shot. But as Dickerson has said, so many things would have to go right for Peterson to do it again. History, at least, is not on the running back's side -- not that he's ever been particularly concerned with that.

Maybe it's best to treat Peterson's 2012 season for what it was: a singular act of brilliance by a running back driven to make a dramatic comeback from knee surgery, and not the new normal. Yes, Peterson will be healthier this season than he was last year. Yes, the Vikings will likely be willing to use him early in the season more than they were last year (the fact that Peterson didn't cross 150 yards until Week 7 makes what he did even more remarkable). But it's unreasonable to expect a running back to break tackles and explode for long runs with the regularity Peterson did last year.

If he does it again, and topples Dickerson in the process, Peterson will and should be celebrated for years to come. But last year should be enough to get him that anyway, especially considering how heavily history is stacked against him replicating it.

#NFLRank Nos. 51-60

August, 23, 2013
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The latest installment of #NFLRank (Nos. 51-60) is out and the NFC South has one player on the offense and two players on the defense. Let’s take a look.

Offense

Martin
51. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin

Stats & Info: Martin had 1,926 yards from scrimmage last season, the third-most by a rookie in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. In Week 9, Martin became the first player in NFL history with three rushing TDs of 45-plus yards in single game

Yasinskas comment: This ranking might be a little too low for Martin. He had a great rookie season and is only going to get better.

Defense

McCoy
McCoy
51. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy

Stats & Info: Since drafting McCoy in 2010, the Buccaneers defense has allowed 4 yards per rush with him on the field and 5 yards per rush when he is off the field.

Yasinskas comment: McCoy stayed healthy last year and ended up making the Pro Bowl. As long as he stays healthy, McCoy is one of the league’s best defensive tackles.

Johnson
55. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson

Stats & Info: Johnson led all defensive linemen in the league with seven forced fumbles last season. He also had 12.5 sacks, third among defensive linemen behind J.J. Watt (20.5) and Cameron Wake (15.0).

Yasinskas comment: Johnson has made Carolina fans forget all about Julius Peppers.

NFC South showing to date:

Offense

51. Martin

65. New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston

70. Carolina center Ryan Kalil

71. Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith

86. New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs

87. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

51. McCoy

55. Johnson

80. Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel

86. Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David


As Adrian Peterson's MVP candidacy grew more realistic this season, we debated what the award means here on the NFC North blog. Should it go to the player who provides the most value to his team -- i.e., does the most to help the team win -- as the "Most Valuable Player" descriptor suggests? Or should it go to the player who simply had the best season?

As it turns out, Peterson's season was so overwhelming in every facet that the Associated Press' 50-person electorate declined to split the hairs. Saturday night, Peterson was announced as both the league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. It was a fitting conclusion for the second-best season by a running back in league history, a catalyst for a team that flipped its 3-13 record last season to 10-6 and a playoff berth in 2012.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Jim MoneAdrian Peterson's dominating comeback lifted Minnesota to a huge turnaround and a playoff berth.
It was such a dominating performance that voters seemingly forgot -- or considered it moot -- that it all came within a 53-week period of Peterson tearing the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. As such, the AP named Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and not Peterson, its Comeback Player of the Year.

I probably overthought a set of statistics that connected the Vikings' record more closely with the performance of quarterback Christian Ponder than Peterson, whose production didn't waver much between their wins and losses. I still believe that Ponder's improved play over the final four games were a big reason the Vikings made the playoffs, but I agree with many of you that his earlier struggles would have buried this team were it not for Peterson's increasingly dominant play.

We could spend all night hashing through Peterson statistics, but there are two that I think best illustrate his season. He led the NFL with 27 runs of at least 20 yards, more than twice that of the next-highest player. At the same time, he led the league with 1,019 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Among other things, that means Peterson was by far the most explosive and the most powerful running back in the league this season. Those attributes are often mutually exclusive, but Peterson combined them both in a season that will go down in the ages.

To me, there was never a question about whether Peterson or Manning had the better individual season. Manning was the NFL's top quarterback, ranking No. 1 in Total QBR (84.1) and second in passer rating (105.8). Peterson's season qualified as one of the best of all time, and it shouldn't be diminished by comparing it only to his 2012 contemporaries.

You have to go back to a different era of football to find production that stacks up to Peterson's. For the most part, gone are the days when the running back is a playoff team's first option. But Peterson's total of 2,097 yards was the most in the NFL in 28 years, bested only by Eric Dickerson's 2,105 yards in 1984. Peterson had at least 150 yards in a game seven times, tying Earl Campbell's 32-year-old NFL record for 150-plus yard games in a season. And his average of 131.1 yards per game over a season puts him in some pretty heady company.

All four players who have had better per-game averages in a qualifying season are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Dickerson, O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Walter Payton.

Peterson provided us all with a season we won't soon forget. Sometimes, the obvious answer is the right one. I'll remember that next time.

MINNEAPOLIS -- If you spend some time around Adrian Peterson, you learn to decipher his mood from small distinctions on his eternally optimistic face. Peterson has a genuine smile, the kind he displayed as a rookie in 2007 when he set the NFL's single-game rushing record.

There is a sardonic smirk that approaches a scowl. I've seen it at least once -- when his erratic performance in the 2009 NFC Championship Game contributed to a loss against the New Orleans Saints.

And then there is the conflicted grin, the kind we saw plastered on his face Sunday evening after he finished just short of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record. His 199-yard performance was critical to the Vikings' 37-34 victory over the Green Bay Packers, one that clinched the NFC's final wild-card spot. But it also left him eight yards shy of Dickerson's 2,105-yard mark, and Peterson was nothing if not honest when he said afterwards that he had "a bittersweet feeling inside."

Peterson seemed genuinely thrilled to be part of a playoff team for the third time in his career. But ever since tearing two knee ligaments exactly 371 days ago, Peterson had envisioned his season ending with team and individual accolades. When reporters entered the Vikings' locker room some 20 minutes after the game, Peterson was still in full uniform, accepting well-wishes and hugs from teammates and Vikings staffers who all knew how close they came to history. Then Peterson spent a good portion of his interview session toggling between disappointment and pride.

"The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that was nine yards short was, 'It is what it is. It wasn't meant to happen,'" he said. "Not to say it doesn't hurt, because it does. But ultimately we came in here and accomplished the ultimate goal of getting a win and taking our team to the playoffs."

How close did Peterson come? His final run of the regular season was a 26-yard scamper that set up Blair Walsh's game-winning 29-yard field goal. Had he scored a touchdown on that run -- by perhaps breaking one more tackle and running another 11 yards -- he would have finished the season with a new record of 2,108 yards.

"I'm not going to think about it that much," he said. "I'll still think about it a little bit, but ultimately it is what it is."

Now comes a question we can't answer for another six weeks: Will 2,097 yards and a playoff berth be enough to make Peterson the NFL's MVP? We've spent a good portion of this season debating the value of running backs versus quarterbacks, and it's worth noting that for all of Peterson's yardage, the Vikings wouldn't have won Sunday were it not for a number of clutch throws from quarterback Christian Ponder. Those who favor quarterbacks for this award will no doubt lean toward the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning.

Peterson didn't leave any doubt about his position, however.

"I can't say I don't want to [win it]," he said, "just like I wanted to break the record. Either way, in my heart, I'm the MVP, and that's all that matters."

He didn't break the record. He might not win MVP. But Peterson could say one thing for sure Sunday night: He is a playoff participant. And that's worth smiling about. Right?
It has been a special season in Denver thus far. Could it also be historic?

The Broncos, who clinched the AFC West on Dec. 2, are 11-3, have won nine consecutive games and are on pace for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They are widely considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Denver has been dominant on both sides of the ball. Although Denver’s season has been a team effort, the work of two players, in particular, stands out: quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Von Miller.

Manning and Miller have arguably been the best offensive and best defensive players in the NFL this season. Both are leading candidates for major hardware: Manning is in the mix for the NFL MVP award; Miller is a top candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award.

If both players win, it will, according to ESPN Stats & Information, be just the second time in league history that teammates have won the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. San Francisco’s Steve Young won the NFL MVP and cornerback Deion Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 1994. The 49ers went 13-3 and ended up winning the Super Bowl.

Let’s look at Manning’s and Miller’s candidacies:

Manning: This is shaping up as a close, intriguing race. There is no runaway MVP choice; Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson and New England quarterback Tom Brady are competing hard with Manning. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers could also make a case.

Still, there is reason to think Manning -- in his first season with the Broncos -- has a chance to win his fifth MVP award.

Brady is having a strong season, but the Broncos are 11-3 and the Patriots are 10-4. If the Broncos finish with a better record, Manning could have the edge. Coming back at age 36 from a neck injury that kept him out last season, he's had an immense impact on his new team.

Like Manning, Peterson is coming off a major injury, so the two will fight it out for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award as well. Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady, Peyton Manning
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady, left, and Peyton Manning are in another tight competition for MVP honors.
Interestingly, Dickerson was not the MVP that year. Miami quarterback Dan Marino won the award. Marino had a monster year, breaking six NFL season pass record, including most touchdowns and most passing yards.

Manning is not having quite that type of season. But his team is having a much better season than Peterson's, and Manning’s stats are strong.

Consider these numbers supplied by ESPN Stats & Information: This is Manning's 12th season with 4,000 yards; he leads NFL in Total QBR, which measures the all-around impact of quarterback play; and his 11 wins are most by a player after missing an entire season. Denver hasn’t won this many games since 2005. If the season ended today, Manning would be the fifth player ever with at least 4,000 passing yards, 30 passing touchdowns and a 67 percent completion rate while throwing 10 or fewer interceptions. Three of the four previous players won the MVP award.

Again, the vote will be close, but there is no doubt Manning will be in the MVP conversation. If history is any indication, it could come down to Manning and Brady. The last time a non-quarterback won the award was in 2006, when San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson won. A quarterback has been shut out just four times in the past 20 years.

Miller: Denver took Miller with the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2011. Last season, he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He could easily win the Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season.

Miller was considered a top-flight pass-rusher as a rookie. However, he has worked to improve his overall game. He is now strong in coverage and against the run in addition to being a complete terror as a pass-rusher.

“To me, Miller is the best defensive player in football,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Still, the chase for top defensive honors this year is as close as the MVP race. Miller is competing with a pair of fellow 2011 first-round picks -- Aldon Smith of San Francisco and J.J. Watt of Houston -- and Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

When asked about his chances of winning the award, Miller said he wants it, but his plan is this: “I’m just going to keep on playing with a fanatical effort and a relentless pursuit to the ball.”

It’s working.

Miller has 16 sacks, 3.5 off the pace set by Smith and Watt.

Watt is leading the league with a combined 37 sacks and tackles for losses. Miller is second with 29; Smith is third at 21.5.

Because Watt has made several big plays and is the best player on a strong defense on a winning team, he is probably the leading candidate for the award. But Miller has his supporters, too. In the end, I think Manning’s chances of winning may be higher than Miller’s, but both have made major impacts in Denver’s success in 2012.

Peterson, Johnson and 14-game seasons

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
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As Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson and Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson pursue single-season yardage records for their respective positions, one matter of historical importance hasn't gotten much attention: The NFL's shift to a 16-game season in 1978 gave players two extra games to set season records.

Peterson is 294 yards away from breaking Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. Johnson needs 182 receiving yards to eclipse Jerry Rice's record of 1,848 yards. Both Dickerson and Rice set their marks in 16-game seasons. So I thought it was worth looking at a rarely-used but perhaps more appropriate apples-to-apples comparison: Average yards per game.

The bottom line: Peterson isn't likely to hit that NFL record, but Johnson has an intriguing chance to exceed it.

O.J. Simpson averaged 143.1 rushing yards per game during his 2,003-yard season in 1973. Peterson would need 478 yards in two games, leaving him with 2,290 rushing yards on the season, to break Simpson's record. (Full list here, courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.)

On the other hand, as the chart shows, Johnson is 329 receiving yards away from exceeding Charley Hennigan's record of 124.7 receiving yards per game, set in 1961.

My calculator tells me that 329 yards over two games is an average of 164.5 yards per game. That sounds like a lot, and it is. But it's worth noting Johnson has seven career games of more than 160 receiving yards, including three this season.

We'll monitor both possibilities, but I'm most intrigued by Johnson's chances. And oh, you can see for yourself if Johnson will have a chance by watching Saturday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons on ESPN.

Wrap-up: Vikings 36, Rams 22

December, 16, 2012
12/16/12
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A few thoughts on Sunday's events in St. Louis:

What it means: The Minnesota Vikings remain in the NFC playoff race with a takedown of the St. Louis Rams, just their second road victory in seven attempts this season. Almost as important: Tailback Adrian Peterson is now 188 yards away from a 2,000-yard season and 294 yards from breaking the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season.

Playoff implications: At the moment, the Vikings have the seventh seed in the NFC's six-team playoff format. That could change later Sunday if the Dallas Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. If that happens, the Vikings would move up to the No. 6 seed. But for the moment they lose the tiebreaker with the 8-6 New York Giants, based on each team's conference record, but hold the edge over the 8-6 Chicago Bears because of their superior division record. The Vikings would also lose the tiebreaker to the Seattle Seahawks, currently 8-5, if it comes to that, and the 8-6 Washington Redskins. So Vikings fans should root for the Redskins to win the NFC East and for the Giants to keep losing. The Giants finish the season at the Baltimore Ravens and at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.

PetersonWatch: Peterson started this game slowly, averaging a yard per carry in his first nine attempts before capitalizing on a Rams blitz for an 82-yard touchdown run that opened the floodgates in the second quarter. It was Peterson's second 82-yard run of the season, and he also added a 52-yard scamper to push his total to 212 yards on 24 attempts. Peterson's season total of 1,812 yards is already a career high and it puts every imaginable goal within reach. To break Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 yards in a season, he'll need to average 147 yards over his last two games. He has six games this season of at least 150 yards.

PonderWatch: Peterson will get most of the attention, but quarterback Christian Ponder did his part in building the early lead. He converted a fourth-and-1 on the Vikings' opening possession with a 3-yard run, and later he capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown scramble. You saw Ponder at his mobile best on that play, pulling away from a free rusher -- Rams defensive lineman Robert Quinn -- and weaving his way into the end zone. Ponder finished with 131 passing yards, but this was not a negative game by any means -- a step forward from his recent outings.

Roster-wide contributions: Vikings place-kicker Blair Walsh drilled five field goals, including three of at least 50 yards. He has now converted 29 of 32 attempts this season. Defensive end Everson Griffen, in coverage on a zone blitz, intercepted a Sam Bradford pass down the seam and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. And the Vikings played an exceptionally clean game as a team, committing no turnovers and only three accepted penalties. That's the way this team has to win on the road.

What's next: The Vikings will need to find a way to win at the 12-2 Houston Texans in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.

NFC North third quarter Stock Watch

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
12:45
PM ET
We've posted quarterly Stock Watches in October and November, and now it's time for the third installment of a once-weekly feature.

FALLING

1. Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings quarterback: Ponder has brought the franchise to a crossroads as it nears the end of his second season. The hope was that Ponder would demonstrate steady improvement and establish himself as a long-term starter by the end of the season. Instead, he is still turning in clunkers that are every bit as bad as his worst games as a rookie. Among many abominable numbers, here is perhaps the most eye-popping: Ponder has completed only four passes this season that traveled more than 20 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information. There are extenuating factors involved, including a weak group of wide receivers, but Ponder is also facing defenses that are aligned more often in run-stopping schemes than any quarterback in the NFL. In short, Ponder has offered no indication through 22 career starts that he can be a long-term starter. Barring an immediate turnaround, the Vikings will have a much tougher decision this offseason than they could have possibly hoped.

2. Detroit Lions drafting philosophy: The apparent end of receiver Titus Young's short tenure has intensified scrutiny on the Lions' four drafts under general manager Martin Mayhew. Of the 29 players selected over that time, seven are currently starters and three more are valuable backups or special-teams players. That's not a horrendous ratio, but what stands out is that Mayhew has taken some risks that have not panned out. Young's character issues were well-known in college. The same goes for the concussion history of tailback Jahvid Best. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley is emerging as a playmaker, but not after experiencing some of the maturity issues he displayed in college. Injuries have stunted the growth of safety Louis Delmas, receiver Ryan Broyles and cornerback Dwight Bentley, and Mayhew can't be blamed for those. It should also be noted that 2012 first-round pick Riley Reiff appears ready to step in as a starter. But it's clear that after four years of drafting, Mayhew's roster still has some notable holes.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesVikings running back Adrian Peterson is on pace for 1,928 yards this season.
3. Defensive nucleus, Chicago Bears: The Bears laughed off preseason concerns that their best defensive players were too old in a collective sense, and during a 7-1 start, their defensive veterans -- most notably cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs -- were the talk of the league. The Bears were also emboldened by the emergence of two younger players, defensive tackle Henry Melton (six sacks) and cornerback Tim Jennings (eight interceptions). But their core has started to break down during a 1-3 stretch. Linebacker Brian Urlacher might miss the rest of the season because of a hamstring injury. Tillman has been dealing with a foot injury and has managed just one forced fumble, his specialty, in that stretch. Briggs has an ankle injury and hasn't caused a turnover in six weeks. Defensive end Julius Peppers, meanwhile, has two sacks in his past five games. The Bears will need to accelerate their restocking efforts this offseason.

RISING

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings tailback: Quite simply, Peterson is having the best season of his Hall of Fame career -- and he still hasn't reached the one-year anniversary of knee reconstruction surgery. He is on pace for 1,928 yards, a total that would put him among the seven-best seasons for a running back in NFL history. Given Peterson's competitiveness, you know he is gunning for a 2,000-yard season and hasn't ruled out the possibility that he could break Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 yards in 16 games. To do so, he'll need to average 165 yards per game over the Vikings' final four. It sounds impossible, but what about this season has seemed probable for Peterson? He continues to run with power, averaging an NFL-high 3.2 yards per carry after first contact, which is twice the NFL average. Speed? Peterson has a league-leading 17 rushes of more than 20 yards. Only one other NFL player has double-digit runs of that length (C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills).

2. Calvin Johnson, Lions receiver: Somehow, Johnson is on pace to set an NFL record for receiving yards in a season despite playing on an offense where most of the other pass-catching threats have been injured -- and with a running game that hasn't made teams pay for ignoring it. The Lions lead the NFL with 547 passing attempts and rank No. 25 with 295 rushing attempts, and yet Johnson has caught 86 passes for 1,428 yards with four games left to play. It's true that some of those yards have come late in losses, most notably a 207-yard effort in Week 10 against the Vikings. He also has managed only five touchdowns after catching 28 in his previous two seasons combined. But for the most part, Johnson is one of the few Lions players who has maintained his performance level from last year's 10-6 team.

3. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers linebacker: Yes, I know Matthews has missed the Packers' last three games because of a hamstring injury. But hopefully those three games have generated a better appreciation for his impact on the defense. The obvious concern was making up for his pass rush, but I think you've seen how important Matthews' tackling in the run game and overall playmaking is. At the time he was injured, opponents were converting 34.9 percent of third-down opportunities. Since then, they are 46.1 percent. It's also worth noting that the Packers have given up two of their three biggest games against the run with Matthews sidelined. Overall, opponents have racked up 457 rushing yards in those three games -- at 5.5 yards per rush. If you didn't know it before, you should agree that Matthews is more than a pass-rusher.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge for the Week 13 games:

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Elsa/Getty ImagesCam Newton is just 54 yards shy of eclipsing 500 rushing yards for the season.
Newton making history: Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is 54 yards short of 500 rushing yards. If he reaches it, he will become the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 500 yards in each of his first two seasons.

Enjoying the road: The Panthers have a chance to win their third consecutive road game, at Kansas City on Sunday. Carolina has won its past two road games after ending a streak of four straight road losses. The Chiefs are 0-6 at home this season. That’s their first 0-6 home start since 1976. Kansas City never has started 0-7 at home.

Next man up: Call it back luck that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a league-high $37.89 million in salaries on injured reserve this season. That total is led by the high salaries for guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, linebacker Quincy Black and offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood. But also give credit to the Bucs for having a winning record and being in the playoff hunt, despite missing a bunch of key ingredients.

Strength on strength: Denver’s defense has allowed a league-low eight completions on throws of more than 20 yards downfield. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has completed a league-high 22 passes of more than 20 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Headed for the record book: Tampa Bay rookie running back Doug Martin is second in the NFL with 1,382 yards from scrimmage. No rookie has led the league in yards from scrimmage since Eric Dickerson in 1983. Martin needs 59 yards to break Warrick Dunn’s franchise record for yards from scrimmage by a rookie.

Rams regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
1:00
PM ET
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 31
Preseason Power Ranking: 17

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Jay Drowns/Getty ImagesSam Bradford could not build on a promising rookie campaign and struggled in his second season.
Biggest surprise: The Rams ranked eighth in sacks per pass attempt, one spot ahead of the 13-3 San Francisco 49ers, even though they rarely forced opponents into obvious passing situations. Chris Long broke out with a career-high 13 sacks. Long had been improving since moving to the left side. There were indications he might hit double digits for sacks if the Rams forced opponents into obvious passing situations frequently enough. Long came within a half-sack of matching his combined total for the 2009-10 seasons.

Biggest disappointment: Failing to build on Sam Bradford's promising rookie season. Bradford was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year after setting rookie records for completions (354) and pass attempts (590). Only Peyton Manning had thrown for more yards than Bradford as an NFL rookie. There were challenges this season with the lockout, a tough early schedule and all that goes with learning a new scheme. Bradford and first-year coordinator Josh McDaniels liked their chances, but the offense suffered huge setbacks when injuries sidelined Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola in the season opener. The Rams approached the season eager to see how Jackson, Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Mike Hoomanawanui and Lance Kendricks functioned together. That group never took a snap together. Bradford completed only 53.5 percent of his passes. He took 36 sacks in 10 starts and threw for only six touchdowns.

Biggest need: Offensive playmakers. Bradford completed only 1 of 16 attempts in goal-to-go situations. For perspective, consider that Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman, another young quarterback facing struggles in 2011, completed 14 of 20 passes with eight touchdowns in these situations. Picking up Brandon Lloyd by trade helped, but the veteran receiver might wind up being a one-year rental. Lloyd's contract expires in March. The man influential in bringing him to St. Louis, McDaniels, might not be back. The Rams need to draft a difference- maker at receiver. That could be tough to justify with so many needs elsewhere on the roster.

Team MVP: Jackson was an obvious choice. If only he hadn't strained a quadriceps while breaking a 47-yard touchdown run against Philadelphia on his first carry of the season. That injury limited Jackson to six carries over the first three games. Jackson still topped 1,100 yards for the season. He joined Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson and LaDainian Tomlinson as the only players with seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He rushed for 159, 130 and 128 yards during a three-game stretch when the Rams went 2-1.

Starting over up front: The offensive line was supposed to be a strength for St. Louis after the team signed guard Harvey Dahl in free agency. Dahl held up his end, but the rest of the line fell apart. Rodger Saffold will be back at left tackle or somewhere along the line. Dahl will return. Right tackle Jason Smith, chosen second overall in 2009, will not return at his current salary. Center Jason Brown lost his starting job during the season. Left guard Jacob Bell took a pay reduction and a one-year deal right before the season. The team has not developed young depth on the line. How will the team protect Bradford?

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