Monday, January 27, 2014

The 2013-2014 SuiteSports NFL Awards

We're not going to hold you in suspense. Peyton Manning is our MVP, and he should be yours too.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Super Bowl week is now upon us, and SuiteSports will do its best to bring you Super Bowl-y content every day from here on out. But today, we wanted to focus on the incredible season that's been.

With that in mind, editors Jeremy Conlin and Joe Parello make their picks today for the 2013-14 NFL Award winners. Some of them, like MVP, were no-brainers, but what about Defensive Player of the Year and Coach of the Year? Those were a little tougher, as several deserving candidates emerged throughout the course of 2013.

So who did our editors go with? Find out below.

Offensive Player of the Year (Non-QB)

Jeremy's Pick: Jamaal Charles, HB, Kansas City

We opted to exclude quarterbacks from our Offensive POY ballot, simply because we want to write about players other than Peyton Manning. He'll get his due down at the end, so there's no use repeating it here.
Charles gets my vote over LeSean McCoy (spoiler alert: Joe picked him) for two reasons.

First, McCoy's rushing yardage paced the league by a fair margin this year (more than 250 yards more than the runner-up, Matt Forte), but only because he led the league in carries. His yards per attempt (5.1) was outstanding, but not substantially better than Charles (5.0), and fell 2nd in the league to the criminally underrated DeMarco Murray (led all rushers with at least 160 carries at 5.2 per carry). McCoy finished the season with 52 more carries than Charles, but playing more is not playing better.

Where Charles separated himself was as a receiver. McCoy, in his defense, had a very, very good year as a receiver out of the backfield, finishing with 52 receptions for 539 yards. But Charles had the best receiving season of any running back in the league, finishing fifth among running backs in receptions with 70, and leading all running backs in receiving yards (693) and receiving touchdowns (7). Touchdowns are often a misleading stat, often more a virtue of opportunity than ability (in other words, scoring a lot of touchdowns often means you're simply on the field near the goal line more than your competitors, not that you have a particular penchant for scoring). But that wasn't the case with Charles' receiving touchdowns. Four of his seven scores through the air went for 15 yards or more, including scores of 71, 49, and 39 yards.

Joe's Pick: LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia

Hard to argue with Charles, who had more touchdowns, but McCoy really made Chip Kelly's offense lethal at the NFL level. He led the league in yards rushing and, more impressively, did so while averaging a league-leading (among players with 250 carries or more) 5.1 yards per carry. Yes, as Jeremy mentioned DeMarco Murray averaged more yards per carry, but did it on nearly 100 fewer carries. Is working slightly more efficiently really better when you're doing it so much less?

As for McCoy vs Charles, there McCoy wins by working better (5.1 YPC to 5.0) and by working more (314 carries to 259). He also wins the total yardage battle at a league-leading 2,146, vs Charles' 1,980.

Now, you can attribute a lot of McCoy's success to Kelly's scheme and the stellar play of Nick Foles next to him, but I would say the exact opposite. No way the Eagles' patch-work offensive line and inexperienced quarterback excel the way they did this season without the best play-making back in the league behind them.

All you need to do is watch the Eagles once to realize how valuable McCoy is to everything they do offensively, and at only 25-years old, Shady is just getting started.

Defensive Player of the Year

Jeremy's Pick: Luke Kuechley, LB, Carolina

My pick for Defensive Player of The Year always seems to be a middle (or inside) linebacker, simply because the elite ones are capable of influencing a defense in more ways than any other position on the field. An elite pass rusher (like Robert Quinn or Robert Mathis) can be neutralized by power running action straight at them. An elite cornerback (like Richard Sherman or Darrell Revis) only influences one player on the opposing offense, and more often than is given credit for, is fortunate to have great rangy safeties that can cover up the rare mistakes that come with playing such aggressive coverage. An elite interior lineman (like Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh) very seldom are able to dominate a game as a pass rusher.

Truly elite inside linebackers can do it all. They can stuff the run in the hole, they can string out runs to the sideline, they can sit in the middle in Cover 2, or they can run with a tight end down the seam of the field. No linebacker in the league checked all of those boxes like Luke Kuechley did this season, anchoring the NFL's second-best defense.

Joe's Pick: Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle

Kuechley had a great year, and probably did so with slightly less talent around him than Sherman, but Seattle's brash corner was the most impactful defensive player in the league. A league-leading eight interceptions are certainly not what you'd expect from the best cover corner in the game (Because uh, nobody throws at him), but that's how many Sherman grabbed this year, and did so while only facing a league-low one target per 9.5 plays in coverage.

That means Sherman had to make targets happen, and if you watch this video, you get the feeling he's playing chess while all other NFL defensive backs are playing checkers. He talks about how the best corners in the league get interceptions because they're the best at baiting quarterbacks into poor decisions, something he says puts him ahead of Darelle Revis in the race for best corner on the planet, and I'm inclined to agree.

Sherman also led the league quarterback rating against, completion percentage against and coverage snaps per reception allowed.

By pretty much any metric, Sherman is the best corner in the game, and the fact that only Revis is even in the same ball park (with a quarter of the interceptions, no less) tells me this supposed "classless thug" impacted the game like no other defensive player in 2013.

Coach of the Year

Jeremy's Pick: Bill Belichick, New England

He's not going to be the most popular choice. Andy Reid is the consensus pick (thanks to Kansas City's phenomenal one-year turnaround), and not far behind him is the feel-good pick of Riverboat Ron Rivera and the new coach on the block who everyone seems to like (and is damn good at the same time) in Chip Kelly.

But Belichick was the best, and I'm not saying that because I'm a Patriots fan. (Okay maybe a little.)

Reid helped facilitate a big turnaround in Kansas City, but the driving force for the Chiefs this year was their defense and special teams, not their offense (which is what Reid runs on a day-to-day basis). Reid inherited a great deal of talent on defense and didn't have much to do with molding it into the top-five unit it became. He did an exemplary job, but not the best.

Rivera is the new-age, analytic-friendly choice, but how much credit do we want to give to a coach for finally doing (a) what he should have already been doing, and (b) things other coaches around the league already do? I say not much.

Kelly holds a soft spot in my heart, and his offense blitzed the league this year like not even his most hopeful supporters (me) could have expected, but he wouldn't be in the conversation if Philadelphia hadn't made the playoffs, and Philadelphia wouldn't have made the playoffs if they had played in any other division in football.

Belichick wins because he did the most with the least. Yes, he had Touchdown Tom Brady. But every other relevant player on the team, save for Chandler Jones (who is a good defensive end and that's about it) missed substantial time. The team's three best defensive players - Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Aqib Talib - missed a combined 25 games. Their two best offensive skill players - Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen - missed a combined 17. Julian Edelman went from a career high of 37 receptions (four years ago) to 105, fourth-best in the NFL.

Belichick patched together a team that by all rights probably shouldn't have even won 10 games. Somehow they won 12 despite Tom Brady's worst statistical season in a decade. Disregarding how teams performed last season, and focusing only on the talent that was on hand, Belichick did the most to maximize that talent.

Joe's Pick: Andy Reid, Kansas City

No coach in the league did a better job of dealing with injuries and um, incarcerations, than Belichick, but Andy Reid's extreme makeover NFL edition gets my vote for the year's best coaching job.

As beat up as New England's defense and offensive skill players were, they still had the most important thing you can have in the modern NFL: An elite quarterback.

The Chiefs had no such luxury, but Alex Smith did look like one at times throughout the year. You could make the case that guys got healthy at the right time for Kansas City and that a turn around was inevitable, but teams don't go from 2-14 to 11-5 on accident.

Under Reid's watch, the Chiefs went from dead-last in the league in points scored to seventh. That's absurd! Yes, the defense was great, but that kind of a jump in offense in the mark of a great offensive coach getting a hold of some serviceable parts. The addition of Alex Smith wouldn't have meant much if Reid didn't know how to use him, but he certainly did, as the Chiefs had the league's lowest interception rate on offense, due to their propensity for throwing shorter, high percentage routes.

Oh, and when they did throw deep, they were usually on isolated outside routes, passes that are likely to either end with a completion or incompletion, rarely with a turnover.

By minimizing turnovers, maximizing Jamaal Charles, turning his defense loose with Tamba Hali and Justin Houston in his now infamous "Wide-9" technique and making his special teams the league's ultimate X-factor, Reid is my guy.

Most Valuable Player

Jeremy's Pick: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver

This doesn't even really warrant an explanation and I feel rather silly bothering to offer one, but here we are.

Plain and simple, Manning had the most productive season in the history of the quarterback position. Whether you want to call it the best season in the history of the position depends on how much weight you put on things like degree of difficulty - either based on the quarterback's surrounding talent, or the defenses against which he posted his historical numbers.

But in a quarterback league, where nine of the last 12 MVP winners have played the position, picking anyone but the guy who just put together the most productive season in the history of the position (and playing for the league's best or second-best team in the process) would be a joke.

Joe's Pick: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver

Many years in the NFL you can debate the MVP award between two or three candidates and never get a satisfactory answer (define "valuable"). This is not one of those years.

Peyton Manning has had, arguably, the greatest season any quarterback has ever had. I ranked his 2013 season No.2 on my list of the best QB seasons of All Time, but that was only because he hadn't finished the journey with a championship yet. Now, he's a step closer to a title, and this is only a regular season award, so I don't see much room for argument.

It's a no-brainer, though I'm sure many sports contrarians will come up with reasons why Josh Gordon was more valuable to his non-playoff team.

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