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NFL morning after: J.J. Watt remains the NFL’s best defensive player

J.J. Watt


In the 1996-97 NBA season, Michael Jordan averaged an NBA-high 29.6 points a game and played in all 82 games as the Chicago Bulls went a league-best 69-13, and everyone knew he was the best basketball player in the world. But Jordan didn’t win the MVP that year. The award went instead to Karl Malone, mostly because Jordan had just won his fourth MVP the year before and the voters figured it was time to give the award to someone else.

I have a feeling the same thing is going to happen to Texans defensive end J.J. Watt with the defensive player of the year award this season. I’m not sure if Watt is going to win the trophy for the third time this season, but I am sure Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player. If Watt doesn’t win the award this year, it’s mostly because the voters think it would be nice to see a little variety rather than giving it to Watt for the third time in the last four years. It’s not because there’s actually a better defensive player than Watt.

Are there other candidates? Sure. Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly have both had good years for the Panthers. Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones has had a good year. If you’re looking for a dark horse candidate, Ziggy Ansah of the Lions has really come on of late.

But none are as good as Watt. In yesterday’s win over the Saints, Watt logged two sacks and two tackles for loss and was hitting Drew Brees as he passed all day. The Texans’ 24-6 win was the first time the Saints have ever failed to score a touchdown in any game with Brees as their quarterback. Watt now leads the league with 13.5 sacks, and he has 70.5 sacks in his 75 career games. Since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, only Reggie White has reached 70 sacks faster.

It’s entirely possible, however, that Watt won’t win the defensive player of the year. It’s an award that the voters like to spread around. White -- who played 15 NFL seasons and is regarded by many as the best defensive player ever -- only won it twice. But whether Watt gets another trophy to put on the mantel in his luxury log cabin is unimportant. We all know who the NFL’s best defensive player is.

Watt was the most impressive player on the field on Sunday. Here are my other thoughts:

What, exactly, has Jeff Fisher done in St. Louis? When you look at where the Rams were before Fisher became their head coach in 2012, where they’ve been over the last four years and where they are now, what has Fisher accomplished? Following yesterday’s 31-7 loss to the Bengals, the Rams are 4-7 on the season and 24-34-1 overall with Fisher as their coach. In his 21 seasons as a head coach in the NFL, Fisher has finished with a winning record six times. Fisher got testy with reporters after yesterday’s game, but Fisher really should look in the mirror. It’s completely reasonable to ask why his job should be safe.

Adrian Peterson continues to amaze. If you can’t root for Peterson anymore because he was convicted of abusing his son last year, I can’t blame you. Being a great player and being a great person are two unreleated things, and Peterson is a great player despite his personal flaws. Yesterday he gained 158 yards on 29 carries, giving him six 100-yard games this season, a league high, and 48 100-yard games in his career, the most among active players. Peterson’s Hall of Fame career is going strong, and the Vikings are heading toward the playoffs.

Tevin Coleman’s problems with fumbling continue. Coleman, the Falcons’ rookie running back, fumbled four times last year at Indiana, which was a concern heading into the draft. Now he has lost three fumbles this season in just 78 touches. If Coleman can’t hold onto the ball, he’s not going to last long in the NFL.

I love Mike Tomlin’s two-point conversion strategy. There are 31 NFL coaches who only go for two when they need it, and then there’s Tomlin, who goes for two any time he thinks there’s a matchup advantage. That’s the smart strategy, and the Steelers tied an NFL record yesterday with their sixth two-point conversion of the season.

The NFL’s catch rules had me feeling sorry for Mike Carey. Carey, the former Super Bowl referee who quit his job as a ref to work as an analyst for CBS, was thoroughly confused by close calls during the Steelers-Seahawks game. The NFL’s catch rules are confounding, and Carey couldn’t figure out the calls, and it was a little rough having to watch him be so wrong before such a large audience.

Washington showed everyone. Heading into this season, we all thought the NFC East was a three-team race among the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys, and that Washington was a distant fourth. Instead, it’s Washington in first place after Week 12. Jay Gruden said after yesterday’s win over the Giants that he knew what kind of team he had: “I’ve had a good idea,” Gruden said, “it’s just a matter of showing everyone else how far they’ve come.” They showed everyone, alright. The NFC East is a bad division, but someone has to make the playoffs, and it’s looking like that “someone” will be Washington.

The AFC playoff race just got more interesting. The Patriots appeared poised to walk away with home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. But the Broncos’ win last night dropped New England to 10-1 and improved the Broncos to 9-2. With the Bengals also at 9-2, the race for home-field advantage in the AFC may go down to Week 17.