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Ruts and Colts

Neil reflects on Week 16 of the NFL and picks his star men of 2012

Neil Reynolds Posted 24th December 2012 view comments

We will eat, drink and be merry with our friends and families during the festive period.

But the NFL teams across the United States will still be working as they gear up for the final week of the regular season next weekend.

We enjoyed a fun seven hours in the Sky Sports studios on Sunday night, witnessing Cincinnati defeat Pittsburgh and Baltimore conquer the New York Giants.

Pagano: the Indianpolis cheif is ready to return after battling leukaemia

Pagano: the Indianpolis cheif is ready to return after battling leukaemia

And these are the things that caught my eye in NFL Week 16 action...

Colts complete turnaround

The Indianapolis Colts have been one of the fairytale stories of this 2012 NFL season and they wrote themselves a happy ending on Sunday as they qualified for the playoffs with a 20-13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

More importantly, they welcome back head coach Chuck Pagano on Christmas Eve as he has successfully battled and beaten leukaemia and is ready to resume his duties in Indianapolis. As Pagano prepares to take charge once more, we should pay tribute to Bruce Arians, who has done a wonderful job as his stand-in.

But the real star of the Colts - who were the worst team in the NFL with just two wins a year ago - is quarterback Andrew Luck, who has not looked at all like a rookie.

Luck has gone over 4,000 yards passing this season and set the rookie record for passing yards on Sunday night, but his most telling record is the most wins ever for a first-year passer with 10.

No matter what happens to the Colts when the playoffs begin, they are already big winners and can consider this season a huge success.

More than a one-man team

I thought that Adrian Peterson might top 100 rushing yards for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday but I didn't expect his playoff-chasing club to beat the Houston Texans on the road. But the Vikings did find a way to come up with a valuable 23-6 win - and they did it with their star man being held in check.

Peterson was still a key factor in the game, but he didn't totally take over as he rushed for just 86 yards on 25 attempts. Instead, the Vikings turned in the total team performance to overcome the Texans.

Christian Ponder (pictured) played mistake-free football at the quarterback position and the defence was stingy and aggressive throughout the game, keeping the Texans out of the end zone and limiting their favoured hosts to just two field goals.

With one weekend of action left before the playoffs begin, Peterson may have fallen off the pace in terms of breaking the single season rushing record, but the Vikings will feel good about themselves after showing they can win a big game without being forced to rely solely on their star man.

Traditional play-off teams fall flat

The Pittsburgh Steelers crashed out of the AFC playoff picture on Sunday night with a 13-10 defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, while the New York Giants have found their hopes hanging by a thread after their total capitulation against the Baltimore Ravens.

That is not the kind of late-season form you expect to find from two clubs who are traditionally powerhouses in their respective conferences.

The Giants have been flat on too many occasions this season and Sunday's loss in Baltimore was no different. There has just been that spark missing from them this season and it will be right when they are on the outside of the playoff party looking in.

As for the Steelers, they have talent but have been undone by turnovers in recent weeks - you can't make as many mistakes as Pittsburgh have and expect to be in the playoffs.

Flacco delivers

I have been critical of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in recent weeks but I have not been alone in that respect - this is a player we expect much more from at this stage of his career but there has just been too much inconsistency.

But Flacco was on his game on Sunday as the Ravens clinched the AFC North Division with a 33-14 hammering of the Giants. Flacco undid the Giants with accurate throw after accurate throw and looked extremely impressive.

Now we need to see him continue that form in the off-season. The one thing that has never wavered during his shaky period is Flacco's confidence. So he will feel he can get the job done when the playoffs begin on the first weekend in January.

Seahawks send a message

The Seattle Seahawks booked their playoff berth on Sunday night with an emphatic 42-13 win over the San Francisco 49ers and no one is going to want to play Pete Carroll's men in the post-season.

In the past three weeks, the Seahawks have put 58 on the Arizona Cardinals, 50 on the Buffalo Bills and now, most impressively, 42 on the 49ers.

This Seahawks team is for real and, again, they certainly don't have the look of being led by a rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson.

Awards time

As they won't let me have a vote in the United States (not that I have ever asked!), I have decided to come up with my own awards as the 2012 regular season draws to a close...

Most Valuable Player - Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings

This has been a truly special season for the man they have dubbed 'Purple Jesus.' Even with opposing defences keying on him, AP has been unstoppable.

Comeback Player of the Year - Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

After four career-threatening neck operations and going 610 days without throwing a competitive pass in the NFL, the four-time NFL MVP is back to his best and has the Broncos in the Super Bowl hunt.

Coach of the Year - John Fox, Denver Broncos

Fox has guided the Broncos to a second straight AFC West crown and has handled the arrival of Peyton Manning perfectly. Fox has been flexible and adaptable working with Tim Tebow and now Manning.

Team of the Year - Indianapolis Colts

They were the worst team in football a year ago but now the Colts are young, exciting and playoff-bound. Their emotional story has also captured the hearts of America with head coach Chuck Pagano sidelined while battling leukemia.

Offensive Player of the Year - Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

This is really a consolation prize for not being considered quite good enough to win the MVP award. But that should not detract from Brady's outstanding season in New England and he remains, in my mind, one of the best ever.

Defensive Player of the Year - JJ Watt, DE, Houston Texan

Strong against the run and devastating as a pass rusher, Watt is virtually impossible to block. He has also batted down a lot of passes and has the Texans in the playoffs.

Rookie of the Year - Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins

Truly sensational as both a passer and a runner, RGIII has breathed new life into the Redskins and looks set to be a genuine NFL superstar for the next decade or more.

Comments (3)

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Jack Traisneau says...

great writing Neil, personally i agree with all the awards especially RG3 and peterson however coach fox and denver have had perhaps the easiest schedule of any playoff team, i think pete carroll and mike smith are worthy winners, colts being team of the year was a great pick, their draft class this year is one for the ages.

Posted 13:12 26th December 2012

Les Crowder says...

Hi Kevin Being a lifelong Redskins fan, I am delighted by the way they have turned their season around, to be genuine superbowl contenders. What I don't understand is why the Skins are not already the NFC East champions. Even if they lose to the Cowboys, and the Giants beat the Eagles, surely the Skins will still have the better division and conference records?

Posted 12:41 24th December 2012

Chris Jones says...

Great column as always Neil, however i do disagree with your rookie of the year, surely this has to be Andrew Luck? Breaking Cam Newton's passing record and leading a very poor indy team with no head coach for most of the season to the play-off's from a 2-14 season last time out surely takes the nod? I also disagree on RG3 being a future superstar, i think next season defences are going to figure him out and the style he plays tends to lead to an injury ridden if not explosive career. Luck certainly is more suited to a long superstar career and could be one of the best ever. All that being said i do believe this has the potential to be the best class of quaterback rookies of all time beating the 83 (elway, marino, kelly etc) and 04 (roethlisberger, manning, rivers) classes..................................

Posted 11:32 24th December 2012

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