King's Corner

December 27, 2004

HOT TOPIC

The NFL's annual awards will be announced by the Associated Press starting on Jan. 5. Here's who I think will get the major pieces of hardware:

MVP Peyton Manning, QB, Colts. More of a runaway than the Eagles in the NFC East.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer, Chargers. Edges the Pats' Bill Belichick with a career-best performance.

Offensive Player Manning.

Defensive Player Ed Reed, S, Ravens. Heir to Ray Lewis as the focal point of Baltimore's defense.

Offensive Rookie Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers. It might be unanimous.

Defensive Rookie Jonathan Vilma (above), LB, Jets. Signal-caller for a terrific unit.

BY THE NUMBERS

Dallas and Philadelphia have faced off 91 times in 44 seasons. The Eagles' 49--21 win on Nov. 15 was the highest-scoring game in the series, and Philly's 12--7 victory on Sunday was the lowest-scoring game between the two teams.

MATCHUP OF THE WEEK

Pittsburgh versus Baltimore (Sunday) and at Buffalo (Jan. 2). The Steelers' top-ranked run defense (80.9 yards per game) will be tested first by Jamal Lewis and then by Willis McGahee. When Pittsburgh lost 320-pound Pro Bowl nosetackle Casey Hampton because of a knee injury on Oct. 17, the run defense appeared to be in big trouble. But in stepped undrafted fourth-year player Chris Hoke (above), and in his first eight starts the Steelers allowed only 512 rushing yards. With great backs such as LaDainian Tomlinson and Corey Dillon looming in the playoffs, Hoke and his linemates figure to be challenged every week.

THREE POINTS

1. If I were a Titans fan, I wouldn't get apoplectic if oft-injured Steve McNair decides to retire. Billy Volek (left) is good enough to be at least a mid-level NFL quarterback, and with cap numbers of $1.3 million, $3.3 million and $3.5 million over the next three seasons, he gives overextended Tennessee the chance to spend money on players at other positions.

2. Peyton Manning is having a season for the ages, to be sure. But as too often happens, great years from other eras are forgotten. As a quarterback and defensive back, the Redskins' Sammy Baugh led the league in completions, interceptions and punting in 1943.

3. There is no question that the so-called "shutdown corner" will be devalued in the 2005 draft from recent years. The strict enforcement of the no-contact rule is making even Pro Bowlers such as Champ Bailey and Chris McAlister appear ordinary at times.

Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, every week at SI.com/football.

COLOR PHOTODAVID BERGMAN (VILMA) COLOR PHOTOTOM BRIGLIA/WIREIMAGE.COM (HOKE) COLOR PHOTONICK LAHAM/GETTY IMAGES (VOLEK)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)