1. Who is your Non-Peyton Manning MVP pick for the 2013 season?
RICHARD BOADU: It's got to be Tom Brady. Sure, Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy both had great seasons. Yes, I'm fully aware that Cam Newton played well also, but Tom Brady did what he always does, more with less. No Gronk, no Hernandez, no problem. He just led his team to another division title with no name wide outs and running backs who liked sharing the ball. The AFC championship game is going to be Peyton and Brady and we'll see who the post season MVP will be.
RICARDO HAZELL: My non-Peyton Manning MVP for this season has to be Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles. The man is sporting the second best regular season QBR of all time with a sparkling 119.2. Only Peyton Manning has a better all-time mark with a 122 quarterback rating. But wait, in the words of any random late night TV spokesperson you can think of, there’s more. During the preseason head coach Chip Kelly was very non-committal on whether or not Foles or veteran Michael Vick would be the starter. I gave that a major side-eye considering Foles’ starts last season were calamitous at best. Vick would eventually earn the starting job, but would go down early in the season. Since that time Nick Foles has led an Eagles team that was dead in the water prior to his first start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on an 8-2 record, a divisional title and a playoff berth. 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions is such a pristine TD-to-INT ratio that none dare even attempt to match it. Masterful ball-handling and veteran poise in the pocket are other accolades that make Nick at Night my hands down non-Peyton Manning MVP.
DJ DUNSON: A few weeks ago, I forecasted Foles as my MVP Not-Named-Peyton pick and I was being fitted for a straightjacket by Ricardo. I can’t argue with the pick because it’s mine, but just for the sake of it I’ll go with Russell Wilson. The Seahawks go as Wilson does and they’ve been banging on NFC foes from the beginning. The Seahawks’ conservative power-run scheme doesn’t do his candidacy much good. Though. However, when you factor in that he’s been throwing to a hodgepodge group of receivers that rivals Tom Brady’s sorry group, his candidacy gains a little more credibility.
2. Who felt more dejected between the Cowboys watching Kyle Orton’s game-ending pick on the final drive of their season, the Bears watching Aaron Rodgers uncork a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb on 4th & 12 or the Steelers watching helplessly after Ryan Succop missed a 41-yard field goal in the waning seconds of regulation?
BOADU: The Bears. They aren't used to this. Tony Romo is one of the highest rated QBs in the 4th quarter, but he's also the least trusted QB. Romo is damn good, just not when it counts. Cowboys fans have been strapped to a chair and forced to watch the Romo 4th quarter loop every season. The Bears were riding high when Josh McCown was tossing the ball around. They were at home. Aaron Rodgers was supposed to be rusty. The Bears had hope. The Cowboys don't even have hope when Romo is under center.
HAZELL: The team that was the most dejected after Week 17 has to be the Dallas Cowboys. Like no other team in the history of the league, the Dallas Cowboys feel as if it is their destiny to win. That’s a hard thing for rational people to stomach considering the fact that the franchise has a win-loss record of 136-136 since 1996, and have only won one playoff game in that span as well. The glory days of their five Super Bowl trophies appear to cloud their judgment like a moonshine-sipping hillbilly with a crush on his cousin. Talk about a franchise suffering from affluenza. When QB Tony Romo had back surgery on Friday the whole of Cowboy nation was filled with dread at the very thought of facing the high-powered Eagles without him. However, as back up Kyle Orton amassed first half stats that easily rivaled those of Romo. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys were celebrating as if they just got a 100 percent tax break. But woe unto those who were counting chickens before they hatched. The Cowboys, with the ball on their own 32 yard line, were primed to march to within field goal range and win the game by 1 point. There was no Tony Romo to blame this time as Kyle Orton threw his second interception of the game to Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykins and the rest his history.
DUNSON: The Cowboys have seen the axe coming for weeks and they were already maimed by Romo’s season-ending back surgery. Chicago has also gotten acclimated to disintegrating down the stretch, but Pittsburgh fans are unfamiliar with the feeling of close, but no Cuban cigar. Watching the Powder Blues escape had to give the Steelers blue ball syndrome. The Chargers held a 24-14 lead with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. Kansas City’s kicker(a Pittsburgh native) lined up and missed the game-winning field goal kick with fewer than eight seconds remaining in regulation.
Unfortunately, the officials missed an obscure rule which prohibits teams from lining up more than six players on one side of the ball. The Chargers had seven to the right of where the ball was snapped. The penalty would have given them a five-yard penalty and a second attempt. To make matters worse, the Chargers got another break when Kansas City's game-winning fumble return for a touchdown was overturned by officials who incorrectly Chargers safety Eric Weddle down.
3 Which Wild Card team in either conference has the best chance of reaching the Super Bowl?
BOADU: The San Francisco 49ers. The Saints can't win on the road. The Chiefs are overrated. The Colts don't have the offensive line. The Eagles, Chargers and Bengals aren't quite there yet. The Packers could cause some damage if they get passed the 49ers, but the smart money is on the boys in the bay. Kaepernick is back to being his old self. The defense is just nasty. The 49ers are the only team with a chance in hell to beat the Seahawks at home.
HAZELL: Though many prognosticators are already sold on the return of Aaron Rodgers being the impetus to leading the Green Bay Packers on a long playoff run, the San Francisco 49ers are clearly the best wild card team in either conference and will demolish the Green Bay next week on their way to a playoff run that could easily find them in the Super Bowl. Who’s going to stop them? The Seattle Seahawks? Perhaps, but no wild card team in the NFC is as versatile on both sides of the ball as the Niners. They can run the ball with a surging Frank Gore, Colin Kaepernick can make all the throws, and they have deep threats on the edges and in the slot with Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis, respectively.
The defense can punch you in the mouth upfront and can play man-to-man as well as zone. The Niners are the clear wildcard favorite to reach Super Bowl XLVIII. The Kansas City Chiefs haven’t shown the ability to win big games during the season and that trend will likely continue during the playoffs. The Philadelphia Eagles, while having an explosive offense, can’t stop a nosebleed with an infinite roll of toilet paper. The Chargers and Bengals are notorious at losing just when you think they’re on the verge and the Indianapolis Colts have little else in their arsenal after QB Andrew Luck and WR T.Y. Hilton and running the ball has been a curse for them all year.
DUNSON: The Philadelphia Eagles have been soaring higher than a backstage contact smoke from Snoop Dogg at South by Southwest. The defense isn’t terrible and they can play in any type of weather because their offense isn’t predicated around airing it out. Lesean McCoy is putting defenders on skates and if it comes down to a matchup against Seattle in their Thunderdome, their silent play calling system should benefit them.