Adrian Peterson breaks free from Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. (Brian Peterson / MCT )
Eric Dickerson is pulling for Adrian Peterson to become the seventh NFL running back to gain 2,000 yards in a season.
The former Los Angeles Rams great who owns the single-season rushing record also wants to see Peterson named both the league's most valuable player and comeback player of the year.
But Dickerson is a realist, too, and concedes both those awards will probably wind up in Denver with Peyton Manning, who has come back from a serious neck injury to lead the Broncos to an AFC West title.
"It's a quarterbacks league," Dickerson said Friday in a phone interview. "If a quarterback and a running back have the same type of year and you have to flip a coin, it will always go to the quarterback."
That was the case in 1984, when Dickerson set the rushing record with 2,105 yards. MVP went to Miami quarterback Dan Marino. From Dickerson's perspective, this year's pass is telegraphed. (A nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL vote on the award; The Times does not allow its reporters to vote on awards.)
"I feel like they're going to give it to Peyton," he said. "They're going to say, 'Aw, they made the playoffs.' But if you look at each guy and what they mean to their team, you could flip a coin there. Without Adrian, Minnesota wouldn't even be in the running. Who's their quarterback? [Christian] Ponder? No offense, but he ain't no top-notch quarterback. He might become one, but right now? Unh-uh."
As for comeback player? He points to Peterson, who last December suffered torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee, and who now leads the league with 1,600 yards rushing.
"Don't get me wrong, Peyton's a great player too," Dickerson said. "He's had one of those comeback seasons too. But Adrian's a running back and he's had a knee injury. That would be like a quarterback having a rotator cuff injury and then coming back and having the kind of season Peyton's having. It would almost be unheard of. You don't do it."
Taking nothing away from Peterson's phenomenal season, I believe Manning should and will be both MVP and comeback player of the year. I did not think he could return from those four neck procedures that sidelined him for the entire 2011 season. And the way he has rebooted his Hall of Fame career in Denver, at 36, surrounded by new teammates and coaches, is historic.
If Peterson wins one of the two awards, it will be comeback player of the year.
I also believe that New England's Tom Brady and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers will get MVP consideration.
Youth is served
Although the focal point of the resurgence in Indianapolis is rookie Andrew Luck, several Colts rookies have made an impact on offense. Among the other first-year standouts are running back Vick Ballard, receivers T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill, and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
Colts Coach Bruce Arians said that with young receivers in particular, he employs a keep-it-simple philosophy until late November, then opens the playbook wide. That's what he did as offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, where he was instrumental in the rapid development of receivers Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
"The biggest thing for them," Arians said, "is to keep them hungry, and put them in positions that are simple and where they can be successful, whether it be screens or routes that they run well and understand that they don't have a lot to think about.
"Just play as fast as you can play. Keep them out of complicated stuff as much as you can… until Thanksgiving. But by Thanksgiving, they should be ready to play."
They have winning down Pat
This might be tough for a lot of NFL fans to swallow, but the Patriots are undeniably at the top of the NFL heap. Yet again.
The team much of America loves to hate has lost three games by a total of four points, and has posted convincing wins over Denver, Indianapolis and Houston, among others. Who would want to play at Gillette Stadium at this time of year, where the Patriots have won 13 December games in a row?
Sunday night will be a huge test for San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers, who play at New England and are clinging to a tenuous lead over Seattle in the NFC West.