Individual and offbeat award contenders
Nine weeks into a season hardly is a time to select winners for the prestigious awards The Associated Press will hand out on the NFL Honors show the night before the Super Bowl. So much can (and will) change over the next two months.
Still, here's how the first half of the season went down in the seven award categories, along with some other offbeat offerings.
Peyton Manning owns four of these, the only player with that many. At the pace he is going, the brilliant Broncos quarterback could wind up a unanimous choice. The league's Comeback Player of the Year in 2012, his revival after multiple neck surgeries would be complete with another MVP plaque - and a Super Bowl ring, of course.
No contest right now: Andy Reid.
Fired by Philadelphia, he took over the Chiefs, 2-14 a year ago, and has them at 9-0, the only unbeaten team in the NFL. Their defense is fearsome, the offense functional, the coaching impeccable.
Runners-up: Rex Ryan, New York Jets; Bill Belichick, New England; Ron Rivera, Carolina.
Impossible to look past Manning here. The numbers are phenomenal: 237 for 333 for a 71.2 completion percentage, 2,919 yards, 29 touchdowns, six interceptions, a 119.4 QB rating. And the kind of leadership expected from Hall of Fame-quality players.
Trying to separate Chiefs linebackers Houston and Hali is as difficult as trying to block them. Both are versatile big-play guys on a defense that turns around games with takeaways and stinginess at the most critical times. They're reminiscent of some of the Steelers' most dynamic LB combinations.
Runners-up: J.J. Watt, Houston; Richard Sherman, Seattle; Robert Mathis, Indianapolis.
Always the toughest award to choose, as last year epitomized when Manning beat out Adrian Peterson, who won MVP. The field is more wide open this year, ranging from players who got benched and lost their jobs in 2012 (Alex Smith in San Francisco, now the starter for undefeated KC; Knowshon Moreno in Denver) or were injured (Dallas linebacker Sean Lee, Tampa Bay cornerback Darrelle Revis).
Too close to call right now, although leaning toward Moreno.
No lineman has won this award, but there are a few who deserve consideration this year: D.J. Fluker in San Diego, David Bakhtiari in Green Bay, Larry Warford in Detroit, and Travis Frederick in Dallas.
From the more glamorous positions, look to Cincinnati RB Gio Bernard, Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy, Detroit TE Joseph Fauria, St. Louis RB Zac Stacy, San Diego WR Keenan Allen, Jets QB Geno Smith, and Buffalo QB EJ Manuel.
Bernard gets the edge for excitement quotient alone.
Plenty of contenders here, but one who stands above the rest is Buffalo LB Kiko Alonso. The second-round pick - personnel people questioned his size for the pros, not his skills or determination - is among the league leaders in tackles and big plays. That includes four interceptions, as much as anyone through Week 9.
Runners-up: Safeties Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona, Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans, and Eric Reid, San Francisco; DT Sheldon Richardson, Jets.
People want to point to the teams lighting up the scoreboard, and with good reason. But the most impressive work on that side of the ball has been done by Ken Whisenhunt in San Diego. The revival by Philip Rivers, the development of Ryan Mathews and rookie Allen, and the big season from veteran WR Eddie Royal all stem from the work of the former Cardinals coach.
Runners-up: Adam Gase, Denver; Pat Shurmur, Philadelphia.
When your defense is turning an offensive league upside-down while slamming quarterbacks to the ground and picking off passes or grabbing fumbles, there's no real competition. Kansas City's Bob Sutton, who could have four All-Pro defenders this season.
Runners-up: Ray Horton, Cleveland; Sean McDermott, Carolina.
So many to choose from, but how can anyone ignore what the Chiefs have done? Yes, we expected improvement. But this?
Runners-up: Panthers, Jets, Chargers.
So many to choose from, but how can anyone ignore what has happened to the Falcons. Yes, injuries have played a major part, but they were struggling even before the roster was ravaged.
Bernard's scintillating go right, cut back left, elude half the Dolphins and somersault into the end zone 35-yard TD run. Every Bengals fan must be drooling in anticipation of what lies ahead for Bernard.
Runners-up: Cordarrelle Patterson's 109-yard kickoff return; Calvin Johnson's leaping TD reception over three Bengals.
The fantasy players and those with a hunger for toteboards instead of scoreboards would go for Denver's 51-48 win at Dallas. We like some defense with our action, so the Monday night upset the Jets pulled off in Atlanta fits the bill, with comebacks galore on both sides and a last-second field goal to win.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org