As Alex Smith and Ben Roethlisberger match up in Week 13, the focus for both will be to pick up a win for their respective teams. Smith will be trying to keep Washington in the playoff race in the NFC East, while Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh are working on a perfect season.
Yet, the two will have their performances -- as they have been all season -- linked to an end-of-season award: Comeback Player of the Year.
The reason for Smith's consideration is well-documented. Returning from a gruesome leg injury in 2018 that some saw as career-ending and life-threatening, the moment he stepped on the field in Week 5 was enough for many to declare him the winner.
Yet, Roethlisberger's performance a year after missing nearly the entirety of the 2019 season with an elbow injury has pushed him to the forefront of the conversation. Leading Pittsburgh to a 10-0 record and playing very well in the process is more than enough for his name to be considered and has some believing he should be the Comeback Player of the Year.
Both have great stories, and both are deserving of the honor. But, there is really only one right choice, and it's Alex Smith. Here's why.
Obviously, the main reason both players are in consideration for the award is that they have come back from serious injuries. There's no discredit to Roethlisberger, as rehabbing an elbow injury of his severity -- especially as a quarterback -- is not easy. He worked hard and has rebounded in a spectacular way.
Still, while comparing injuries is hard, what Smith has overcome is second to none. Seventeen surgeries and a life-threatening infection were just the beginning of his journey back. Years of rehab followed, as did the psychological work of getting to a mindset where he was ready to be hit again.
Many never expected Smith to play football again, but he did that. For some, Smith taking a single snap was a win, and he did that and more. Now, he's the starting quarterback and is leading his team to wins. That's about as impressive as it gets.
Wins and stats are other important factors in the decision, as the full scope of a player's performance should be considered. It's hard to argue against Roethlisberger being ahead here. His team is 11-0 and he's thrown 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions. That's not just CPOY-worthy, but he should at least have a mention in the MVP discussion.
That dynamic was enough for NFL Network's Peter Schrager to declare him the winner after the Steelers advanced to 8-0. However, Smith's reemergence as the starter in Washington has helped him in this category.
Prior to him becoming the starter for Week 10, Smith didn't really have any numbers. He played -- which again is impressive on its own -- but there wasn't much on paper besides that. Now, he is accumulating the stats. He's thrown for over 1,000 yards, including 390 in one contest, and is 2-1 as a starter.
It's not what Roethlisberger has done, but it's still nothing to shrug at. That's even more true when one considers what Smith has at his disposal in Washington compared to the weapons in Pittsburgh. Those numbers will only grow as he plays the rest of the campaign.
He's not going to catch Big Ben, but he is producing. That combined with what his journey back to the field looked like, Smith is the easy choice. Again, to be clear, this is not to discredit Roethlisberger and his accomplishments. What he's done at the age of 38 is skillful.
It's more about what Smith has done. It's something straight out of a movie script.
So while Roethlisberger is more than deserving of consideration, it's Smith that should be the Comeback Player of the Year.