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Question: Why is it that every sports analyst has Matt Ryan locked in for Offensive Rookie of the Year? Matt Forte is the reason Chicago is only a game behind Minnesota in the division. Compare their stats and it's not even a challenge. Forte's rushing numbers: 248 attempts, 1,012 yards, 4.1-yard average, and six touchdowns. Forte's receiving numbers: 48 catches, 358 yards, four touchdowns. Ryan's passing numbers: 203-of-333, 2,625 yards, 13 touchdowns, six interceptions, 91.2 passer rating. Forte is third in total scrimmage yards in the NFL. These are very similar to the numbers Adrian Peterson put up as a rookie last year. Forte can run downhill and around the edge. He is a receiver out the backfield and a solid blocker. The Bears would not be in position for a division title right now with the way the defense has performed at times. Forte gives us an opportunity to manage the clock and have an actual threat to give Kyle Orton an opportunity for single coverage and be versatile with the no-huddle offense which suits our quarterback best. So, Mr. Carucci, why is everyone forgetting about arguably the best rookie of 2008? -- Javier G., Chicago.
I'm not sure that "everyone," as you put it, is forgetting about Forte.
His production, as you point out, is impressive and it's pretty hard to ignore what it has meant to the Bears' 6-6 record. But it's also hard to ignore that a number of other rookie running backs have performed well this season, including: Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Houston's Steve Slaton, Detroit's Kevin Smith, Carolina's Jonathan Stewart, Baltimore's Ray Rice, and Arizona's Tim Hightower.
You also have to be realistic about the criteria for offensive-rookie-of-the-year honors. It's a little bit of a stretch to make a side-by-side statistical comparison between a running back and a quarterback. As strong as Forte's numbers might be, it's hard to make the argument that they overshadow those of Ryan. When you judge a rookie quarterback, you have to take into account the difficulty of the position and the typically unrealistic expectations for a first-round pick at the position (third overall, in Ryan's case). And for Ryan to perform as well as he has, while leading the Falcons to an 8-4 record, is absolutely stunning.
Given the Falcons' myriad issues of a year ago, their turnaround is nothing short of miraculous. The fact a rookie quarterback has had a lot to do with that is what makes Ryan a likely hands-down choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Question: You wrote: "If the league's MVP award recognized a player for classiness, then I suppose Eli Manning would be the obvious choice." Is this the same Eli Manning who thought himself so special as to circumvent the whole draft process and who publicly stated he would refuse to go to San Diego if they drafted him? Is this the same guy who thinks he is better than the other thousands of would-be players who would give up body parts to be part of the NFL? Okay, John Elway did the same, but please don't call Eli classy. A really good quarterback (so by definition very valuable) on a great team, but NOT classy. Calling this guy classy is plain wrong. Will you please address this? -- Kareem M.
However, I think the way Manning has conducted himself since does qualify as classy. He has represented himself, the Giants, and the NFL extremely well.
Manning also has made a key contribution to the Giants' 11-1 season, but, as was addressed previously in this space, he might not have the statistics to qualify as league MVP on a team whose success also is heavily driven by its defense and running game.
Question: What about the Ravens? They had Pittsburgh dead to rights back in the beginning of the season with the young Joe Flacco. Now, the offense is starting to click and history shows that the Ravens and Steelers usually split. The Ravens' defense is starting to come together and have not allowed an offensive touchdown in over eight quarters. They also had the Titans, but an invisible penalty gave that game away. I am a believer. Watch out AFC! -- Jeff.
I'm a believer, too. I think the Ravens will make the playoffs, although I'm not yet convinced they'll do so as AFC North champs.
For now, the Steelers look like the better team, but I always reserve the right to have my mind changed through the final four weeks of the season. We're going to get plenty of answers about how the Ravens stack up to the Steelers -- and the rest of the AFC, for that matter -- in their Dec. 14 rematch. I can't wait to see it.
Question: What do you think of the Broncos' chances of getting to the second round of the playoffs? I am a Bronco fan but even I know their defense is atrocious. -- Peter M., Spokane, Wash.
First, I find it amazing that you or anyone else can discuss the Broncos' advancing in the playoffs because given their erratic season. It's remarkable that they're virtually assured of a postseason berth ... let alone a division championship.
But one of the benefits of playing in the horrendous AFC West is that seven victories puts you three games ahead of your nearest challenger with four games left in the season.
It's also one of the curses, because a team with as many young players as the Broncos have can easily get carried away with its success. The Broncos already have demonstrated an inability to handle success, following a surprising win (such as the one they had at Atlanta) with a shocking loss (such as the one they had at home against Oakland).
After their huge Week 13 upset of the Jets at the Meadowlands, the Broncos certainly could do their credibility a huge favor by beating the Chiefs in Denver. However, when I think about that atrocious defense you mentioned, I find it hard to envision the Broncos making it past their first playoff game.