XLV: Will Clay Matthews win DPOY award?

DALLAS -- He had three sacks after one game, six after two and by the end of Week 5, Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews led the NFL with 8.5 sacks. That white-hot start positioned him as the early favorite for defensive player of the year, and we’ll find out later Monday if that momentum was enough to catapult him to the award.

Hamstring and shin injuries contributed to a midseason slowdown, and Matthews finished the season trailing three other players in total sacks. But first impressions are powerful and, in what might be a preview of this year’s voting, The Sporting News last week awarded him its version of the award.

The NFL and Associated Press will announce the official award sometime after 7 p.m. ET on the NFL Network. If The Sporting News voting (right) is any indication, Matthews is competing with two players the Packers will face Sunday in Super Bowl XLV, and if you’re a voting analyst, you might suggest that Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison could take votes away from each other.

Miami Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake will get some attention, as will Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware -- who actually led the league with 15.5 sacks. But Matthews played at an elite level for most of the season, helping the Packers' defense rank No. 5 overall in the NFL. And although the voting took place before the playoffs began, Matthews’ most recent tear -- he has 3.5 sacks in the playoffs – validates the suggestion that since-healed injuries played a role in his fall-off during the second half of the season.

I don’t think anyone could protest if Polamalu or even Harrison wins the award, but anecdotal evidence suggests Matthews is the front-runner. It would be the second consecutive year a Packers player has won the award; cornerback Charles Woodson received it in 2009. For those who have asked, a team has produced at least two consecutive DPOY award on three other occasions -- most recently the Baltimore Ravens in 2003 (linebacker Ray Lewis) and 2004 (safety Ed Reed).

We’ll keep you updated.

Earlier: ESPN.com columnist Rick Reilly offers a much more, uh, pleasant profile of Matthews than he did of the last NFC North player he wrote about.