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December 06, 2001

NFL MVP still unclear
By Dan Patrick

I have more questions than answers this week.

What will A-Rod do for tax shelters? Will Steve Trachsel and Kevin Appier win as many games next year as Mike Hampton? Will Mario Lemieux win the scoring title despite sitting out a third of the season?

Marshall Faulk
MVP candidate Marshall Faulk begins to celebrate the first of his four rushing TDs on Sunday.

Those questions can wait. On to more pressing matters. Who is the best player in the NFL? Which is the best team? It's been a while since we were this deep into an NFL season but knew so little about it.

Well, we do know some things. The Chargers are a mess. The Patriots cannot run the ball. And the next coach of the Redskins is guaranteed to be underpaid. But back to the interesting stuff, the stuff we don't know yet.

So who is the best player, this year's MVP? I see it coming down to four players -- two young guys in their second season, one classic veteran whose talents are obvious to everyone and one journeyman QB who has emerged as a top player in his 13th season.

  • Marshall Faulk -- Unless he got hurt and missed the last two games, Faulk would seem to be the favorite. Granted, he has a lot of talent around him. Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce at wide receiver provide plenty of distractions for opposing defenses. You can't focus on just stopping the running game against the Rams. Kurt Warner obviously completes the passing game threat, yet Faulk is also part of the St. Louis aerial assault.

  • Donovan McNabb -- Can you name his wide receivers? Can you name his starting running back? Can you name anyone else on the Eagles' offense? And this is the guy the city didn't want -- now, they can't do without him.

  • Rich Gannon -- Yes, he's a 34-year-old journeyman on his fourth team, but where would the Raiders be without him? Still in Oakland, I guess, but maybe not headed for the playoffs and certainly not on top of the division. His season is really much more than his statistics.

  • Daunte Culpepper -- Like Faulk, Culpepper is on a team with abundant talent. Robert Smith is a tremendous running back who has stayed healthy this year. And receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss are a quarterback's dream. But Culpepper stands out because he was the big question before the season and he has answered quite loudly: the Vikings have a quarterback.

    So in my search for MVPs, I have found that it might be a two-or three-headed candidate even though we have completed Week 15.

    As for best team, that is not a lot clearer than who the MVP is.

    After stomping the Vikings, are the St. Louis Rams the team to beat again? Faulk is healthy and the kicking game is back with Jeff Wilkins looking strong. Bud Carson has the defense playing a bit better and, like last year, that defense looked OK Sunday because they played with a healthy lead for nearly the whole game.

    Despite the whupping they took from the Rams, you can't really dismiss the Minnesota Vikings, either.

    After they thrashed the Jets on Sunday, the Oakland Raiders have to be taken more seriously than ever. The Jets were playing for their division lead but the Raiders wouldn't even let them in the game. They looked like the old Raiders, playing relentless defense.

    Or is it the Denver Broncos? Mike Shanahan has lost starting QB Brian Griese and RB Terrell Davis but still has 10 wins.

    Or is it the Tampa Bay Buccanneers who looked so tough in beating the Dolphins in Miami?

    Or maybe it's the Baltimore Ravens, who have been rejuvenated by the good-enough play of QB Trent Dilfer. As we know, they already had one of the best defenses in the league.

    Or what about the Tennessee Titans, who are just a good, solid football team that is unbeatable at home?

    One thing is clear: It seems that most of the good teams are in the AFC. But that could change Sunday.

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