Conventional wisdom says Peyton Manning is the NFL's MVP. So do his accomplishments.
But the Colts finished 12-4 last season with Manning throwing 29 touchdown passes instead of 49 plus whatever he throws Sunday. They will finish 12-4 or 13-3 this season and again be the third-seeded team in the AFC playoffs.
But where would Philadelphia have been without Terrell Owens?
Yes, Owens is hurt, making the Eagles' chances of getting to the Super Bowl a lot shakier. And yes, they probably would have had the best record in the horrible NFC even without him they didn't have Owens when they got to the conference title game the last three seasons.
Still, the V in MVP is ''valuable,'' not prolific.
Peyton is valuable, very valuable, although the $34.5 million signing bonus and his $98 million salary are part of the reason the Colts can't afford any defensive studs beyond Dwight Freeney.
Yes, he has made Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley into receivers as dangerous as Marvin Harrison. And you can argue that he's the most valuable mind: Manning called the draw to Edgerrin James for the 2-point conversion that tied the Colts' game with San Diego last weekend (Indianapolis eventually won in overtime).
He's also an exemplar of the wholesome image the NFL prefers. Owens' tempestuous times in San Francisco aren't easily forgotten.
T.O.'s value is not only in his own play, but in opening up things for the otherwise ordinary Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell and making this probably Donovan McNabb's best season.
Besides, it's fun to have an MVP who's not a quarterback; the last non-QB who won was Marshall Faulk in 2000, and quarterbacks have won it 13 times since 1987. No wide receiver has ever won it, and the last non-RB-QB to win was Lawrence Taylor in 1986. (In the ESPN-driven ''now'' culture, there are millions of fans who probably think ''LT'' is LaDainian Tomlinson.)
So even in 14 games, the MVP is ...
TERRELL OWENS, Philadelphia, who won't win the real award.
Runner-up: Manning. Honorable Mention: McNabb; Drew Brees, San Diego; Daunte Culpepper, Minnesota.
COACH OF THE YEAR
This usually goes to a man whose team does well when it's not expected.
That automatically eliminates Andy Reid and Bill Belichick, although they won it the last two seasons Belichick in 2003 after the Pats slid from a title to 9-7, then went 14-2; Reid in 2002.
Neither the Patriots nor the Eagles slipped this year, so it comes down to Marty Schottenheimer, who's improved the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-4, and Bill Cowher of the Steelers (6-10 to 14-1).
Both got lucky with QBs. Tommy Maddox was hurt in the second week, so Cowher got to play Ben Roethlisberger. Rookie Philip Rivers held out, so the Chargers had to play Brees.
Make it the guy whose team was thought to be so bad that the Manning family shunned it.
MARTY SCHOTTENHEIMER, San Diego.
Runner-up: Cowher. Honorable mention: Andy Reid, Philadelphia; Belichick; Jim Mora, Atlanta; Tony Dungy, Indianapolis (see Belichick and Reid); John Fox, Carolina (for not quitting on a 1-7 team.)
Special mention goes to Jim Bates, interim coach of Miami, who will be replaced by Nick Saban and his royal ''We.'' Always beware the royal ''We.''
PEYTON MANNING, Indianapolis. Runner-up: Manning. Honorable mention: Manning; Owens, McNabb and Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia; Brees, Antonio Gates, and Tomlinson, San Diego; Culpepper; Curtis Martin, New York Jets; Jerome Bettis, Hines Wards and Alan Faneca, Pittsburgh; Tiki Barber, New York Giants; Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina; Chad Johnson, Cincinnati; Derrick Mason, Tennessee; Eric Johnson, San Francisco; James, plus the Harrison-Wayne-Stokley combo, Indianapolis.
LB Donnie Edwards of San Diego didn't make the Pro Bowl, demonstrating how silly that voting can be. That's despite four interceptions in his last three games, which means he plays tough down the stretch, and five INTs and three forced fumbles on the season.
There are three other candidates, none named Ray Lewis, who a lot of fans and some television commentators assume is always the defensive player of the year.
One contender is Lewis' teammate, safety Ed Reed. The others are Pittsburgh's James Farrior and the Colts' Dwight Freeney.
All are deserving, and Farrior is tempting he's been in the NFL for eight years with relatively little acclaim. Edwards has had the same experience over nine years, and he was a fourth-round pick while Farrior was a first.
EDWARDS, San Diego
Runners-up (tie): Reed, Baltimore; Farrior, Pittsburgh. Honorable Mention: Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis; Patrick Kerney, Atlanta; Bertrand Berry, Arizona; Shaun Rogers, Detroit; Brian Dawkins and Jevon Kearse, Philadelphia; Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh; Cornelius Griffin and Antonio Pierce, Washington; Richard Seymour, Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi, New England.
No quarterback ever has been chosen offensive rookie.
BEN ROETHLISBERGER, Pittsburgh.
Runner-up: Michael Clayton, Tampa Bay; Honorable Mention: Kevin Jones and Roy Williams, Detroit; Steven Jackson, St. Louis; Chris Cooley, Washington; Lee Evans, Buffalo; Keary Colbert, Carolina; Larry Fitzgerald and Alex Stepanovich, Arizona.
There are a lot of good rookies on defense this year, especially at safety, where four guys have been real standouts: Madieu Williams of Cincinnati, Michael Boulware of Seattle, and two New Yorkers taken in the fifth round Erik Coleman of the Jets and, until he was hurt, Gibril Wilson of the Giants. Another who deserves special mention is Randall Gay, a free agent who didn't start at cornerback at LSU last season, but did much of the year for the Patriots, who always find these players.
The winner is another Jet, their first-rounder, JONATHAN VILMA, who has provided speed at middle linebacker the team has rarely had.
Runner-up: D.J. Williams, Denver. Honorable Mention: Dunta Robinson, Houston; Chris Gamble, Carolina; DeAngelo Hall, Atlanta; Jared Allen, Kansas City; Kenechi Udeze, Minnesota; Vince Wilfork, New England; Tommie Harris, Chicago; Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby, Arizona; Sean Taylor, Washington; and Teddy Lehman, Detroit.
Comeback from what? Injury, illness, a bad year?
MARK FIELDS, Carolina, who missed the Panthers' Super Bowl season battling cancer, gets it for a REAL comeback.
Runner-up: Willis McGahee, Buffalo (injury). Honorable Mention: Michael Vick, Atlanta (injury); T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati (injury); Drew Brees, San Diego (benching).
CHUCK BEDNARIK AWARD (for two-way players)
TROY BROWN, RICHARD SEYMOUR, MIKE VRABEL, DAN KLECKO, New England.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR (and CENTURY)
SCOTT PIOLI, New England.
Runners-up: Joe Banner, Philadelphia, who wisely broke his own mold to sign Owens and Kearse; and Tom Donahoe, Buffalo.
INTERIM COACH OF THE YEAR
JIM BATES, Miami.
ASSISTANT COACH OF THE YEAR
ED DONATELL, defensive coordinator, Atlanta.
He was fired by Green Bay after being blamed for allowing the fourth-and-26 conversion in Philadelphia that ended up knocking the Packers out of last season's playoffs.
CONSULTANT OF THE YEAR
JIM FASSEL, Baltimore.
Turned Kyle Boller into a promising young QB.
DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams based on current level of play:
1. Pittsburgh (14-1). Just keeps going.
2. New England (13-2). Belichick calls win over Jets best of season.
3. Philadelphia (13-2). Back to third despite losing the JV was playing.
4. Indianapolis (12-3). If Peyton carries Colts to Super Bowl, he's really MVP.
5. San Diego (11-4). Indy loss could easily have been a win.
6. Green Bay (9-6). Packers are 8-2 since 1-4 start; Favre always gives them a shot.
27. Miami (4-11). ''We'' (Nick Saban) will have something to work with.
28. Tampa Bay (5-10). Predictably, Griese is starting to slide.
29. New York Giants (5-10). Should have won in Cincinnati.
30. Tennessee (4-11). No one left to use.
31. Cleveland 3-12). Hung in at Miami.
32. San Francisco (2-13). Back to the bottom.
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