The Brookys: Matt Ryan the NFL's MVP in a crowded field

SPORTS FBN-FALCONS-PANTHERS 34 CH
Matt Ryan has stepped up for the Falcons this season.

It's a new year for all of us, but a dark day for many among us. As the Mummers strut down whatever route it is they take these days, the Eagles will play their season finale at the Linc against the Dallas Cowboys. The game means as much as the late August one the Eagles won against Indianapolis with Sam Bradford at quarterback.

The worst news for all you NFL and fantasy football addicts out there is that the RedZone channel is about to go off the air until next September, and that's a fix that cannot be found in any other place. We do still have the playoffs, however, which is something the Eagles have not been able to say for the last three years.

And, of course, there are the awards, the least prestigious of which are the ones that are about to be handed out right here. We called them the Bobbys last year, but nobody showed up at 801 Market St. to pick up their awards. Apparently statues of overweight, gray-haired sportswriters sitting at their laptop are not as popular as they used to be. Hopefully we'll solve that problem by changing the name to the Brookys.

The envelopes, please.

Most valuable player

There may be more deserving MVP candidates this season than any other in the history of the league. The list includes Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas, Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, Le'Veon Bell in Pittsburgh, David Johnson in Arizona, Derek Carr in Oakland, Tom Brady in New England, and Matt Ryan in Atlanta.

Prescott and Elliott are the best rookie tandem in league history, but neither one is the MVP. Prescott had the benefit of a great offensive line and a boatload of weapons at his disposal. Elliott is the best rookie running back the league has seen since Adrian Peterson joined Minnesota in 2007, but he was not even the best running back in the NFL this season. In fact, he ranked third behind Johnson and Bell.

If Bell had not missed the first three games of the season because of a suspension, he would be my pick for the award. He's averaged 181.8 yards from scrimmage during Pittsburgh's six-game winning streak that catapulted the Steelers to the NFC North title, but his body of work was not big enough.

Johnson, who leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage, would have won the award if this were last season, but the Cardinals did not make the playoffs this season, so he will not be the MVP.

Rodgers also was sensational in getting the Packers back into the NFC North race after a 4-6 start, and Carr had a breakthrough season in Oakland that unfortunately ended with a broken leg last Saturday against Indianapolis. Brady was Brady, and it's hard to believe he has only won two MVP awards because he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He comes up short this season because of the four-game suspension that delayed the start of his year.

So that leaves Ryan as our MVP. At 31, the former Penn Charter star has led the highest-scoring offense in the NFL to an average of 33.5 points per game heading into the Falcons' finale against New Orleans. Atlanta can secure a first-round bye with a win over the Saints.

Ryan has completed a career-best 69.5 percent of his passes for 4,613 yards and has a career-high 34 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions. His 115.5 passer rating is the best in the league and would be the fifth-best in NFL history if he maintains it Sunday. Nobody has meant more to a good team this season than Ryan.

Coach of the year

There are some terrific candidates here, too. Adam Gase (Miami) and Ben McAdoo (New York Giants) led their teams to the playoffs as rookie coaches. Jason Garrett took the Cowboys from last to first with a rookie quarterback, and former Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is taking the Falcons to the playoffs in his second season. Jack Del Rio is taking Oakland to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and Mike Tomlin, who has never been named coach of the year, will take Pittsburgh to the playoffs for the seventh time in 10 seasons. It's also difficult not to acknowledge the work of Bill Belichick in a season that started without Brady for four games.

The Brooky goes to Garrett.

Defensive player of the year

A lot of people like gaudy sack numbers, but there's something to be said for having run stoppers who can make offenses one dimensional. One of the best in that department for a long time has been Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner, and he was great again this year. New York Giants second-year safety Landon Collins played a huge role in his team's having the most improved defense in the league.

The Brooky winner, however, is former Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, because he showed just how valuable he is to the Dallas defense when healthy.

Rookie of the year

Prescott showed remarkable poise in his first season and was by far the class of the league's rookie quarterbacks, even though seven others were drafted ahead of him. In any other year, this award would be his by a landslide. But Elliott is some kind of special and the main reason the Cowboys have a chance to win their first Super Bowl in 21 seasons.

Executive of the year

How do you not give it to Jerry Jones in a year when Dallas drafted Elliott and Prescott?

Thumbs up

We have heard a lot about Tom Brady over the years and not nearly as much about the New England defense. This Patriots team, however, has allowed a league-low 236 points, including an average of 12.2 per game during its current six-game winning streak. The last time New England allowed the fewest points in the league was 2003, when it won its second Super Bowl.

Thumbs down

Buffalo's Rex Ryan, Los Angeles' Jeff Fisher and Jacksonville's Gus Bradley were fired during the season, but more dismissals are sure to come this week. Marvin Lewis, after failing to make the playoffs for the first time in six years, should be out in Cincinnati because the resumé also includes a 0-7 postseason record. Mike McCoy, with a second straight losing season and a third straight year out of the playoffs, is probably gone, too. The feel-good story for Chuck Pagano might be over in Indy, and John Fox, after just nine wins in two seasons with Chicago, shouldn't feel comfortable either. San Francisco's Chip Kelly, meanwhile, has a chance to become the first coach fired in back-to-back seasons since Ray Rhodes was axed by Philadelphia in 1998 and Green Bay in 1999.

Sunday's best

Top early afternoon game: New England at Miami. The Patriots can clinch home-field advantage in the AFC with a victory, while Miami could move up to the fifth seed with a win and Kansas City loss at San Diego. The fifth seed would be huge for the Dolphins because it would send them to Houston instead of Pittsburgh for the wild-card round.

Top late afternoon game: N.Y. Giants at Washington. The Giants already have locked up the fifth seed in the playoffs, but coach Ben McAdoo said he plans on playing his starters. The Redskins, meanwhile, can clinch the sixth seed with a victory, provided Green Bay and Detroit do not play to a tie. Washington is trying to make the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 1991 and '92.

Sunday night: Green Bay at Detroit. The winner is in as the NFC North champ, with the loser only getting in if Washington loses to the Giants. A tie would put both teams in the playoffs, with the Packers claiming the division title. The Lions have not finished first since 1993, when Wayne Fontes was their coach and the NFC Central was their division. The Packers, meanwhile, are trying to win their fifth division title in six years and ninth in 15 years.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob