Falcons' Matt Ryan wins MVP; Cowboys' Dak Prescott Rookie of the Year

Falcons' Matt Ryan wins MVP; Cowboys' Dak Prescott Rookie of the Year

HOUSTON -- Matt Ryan and the Dallas Cowboys were big winners Saturday night.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback was voted The Associated Press 2016 NFL's Most Valuable Player and top offensive player. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott took Offensive Rookie of the Year and Jason Garrett was selected Coach of the Year by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the league.

On the eve of the Super Bowl in which he will face off with two-time league MVP Tom Brady, who finished second in this year's balloting, Ryan easily outdistanced Brady 25-10 for MVP. He beat Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers 15 to 11 for Offensive Player of the Year.

Ryan, of course, was not on hand at the "NFL Honors" TV show. But in a taped acceptance speech, he said:

"I just want to say thank you. This is an incredible honor for me. Obviously, there are so many other great candidates and players who had amazing seasons.

"I want to thank all my teammates. Obviously, without them, none of this is possible. We've had so many guys on our team make great plays and have great seasons for us, so thank you to those guys."

Garrett drew 25 votes for best coach, beating out New England's Bill Belichick (14).

"This is an extension of our football team and I really accept it on their behalf," said Garrett, who took over as Dallas coach in 2010. "I coach with some really great guys and I'm really fortunate to coach with so many great players that go about it the right way, and it's really just an extension of that. It's a team award."

Prescott, in a two-man race with his running back, Ezekiel Elliott, won 28 to 21. The QB brought the RB onstage to share in his special moment.

"He deserves it just as much as I do from his yards, his catches," Prescott said. "The way we handled things in the backfield is always together."

Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, apparently headed to San Francisco after the Super Bowl to be head coach of the 49ers, took the assistant coaching award.

Packers receiver Jordy Nelson , returning from a devastating knee injury, was selected Comeback Player of the Year.

Oakland edge rusher Khalil Mack slipped past 2016 Super Bowl MVP linebacker Von Miller for Defensive Player of the Year, 18-17.

San Diego lineman Joey Bosa won top defensive rookie honors in a landslide.

"I don't really set goals like this for myself very often, awards," said Bosa, who missed the first four games after a holdout. "But I definitely wanted this one. I'm really happy I got it done."

Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Giants quarterback Eli Manning shared the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

"Quite simply this is the most meaningful honor an NFL player can receive, and I am flattered beyond words that the selection committee deemed me worthy of it," Fitzgerald said. "More than anything it is a reflection on my parents whose words and example taught my brother and me the value of service and the importance of giving back."

Manning called it "an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with Walter Payton."

"None of us do what we do on behalf of charity or in our communities to get recognized," Manning added. "We do it because we truly care. You want to make a difference in people's lives and in our communities. But to be recognized and know that people do notice your work is nice."

Eagles-Cowboys scouting report: Agholor, DGB should get plenty of targets

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Eagles-Cowboys scouting report: Agholor, DGB should get plenty of targets

Eagles vs. Cowboys
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Eagles favored by 5; over/under 43 (as of Friday)

The Eagles are favored in Week 17 because it means absolutely nothing to the Cowboys. At 13-2, Dallas has already locked up the top seed in the NFC and homefield advantage until the Super Bowl.

Will Cowboys starters sit?
Dallas has little reason to risk injuries for Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, any of the offensive linemen or important defensive players like Sean Lee. That doesn't mean they'll all sit, but if they play it likely won't be for the whole game. It will probably resemble a preseason game for the Cowboys.

But Prescott and Eliott want to play. Keep in mind the Cowboys, with the first-round playoff bye, won't be playing next weekend. Sitting two full weeks could mess up Dallas' timing.

"We're trying to stay sharp, trying to have a sharp edge every week so we can go into this playoffs like a high-octane machine," MVP frontrunner Elliott told the Dallas Morning News this week. "We're not taking weeks off. We're not looking at it as games that aren't meaningful. Every game we play is meaningful."

The Cowboys don't want a repeat of 2007, when they went 13-3 and were one-and-done in the playoffs. This is a team that hasn't made it past the Divisional Round since 1995, its last Super Bowl year.

There's been some back-and-forth reporting this week, but the latest from ESPN's Adam Schefter is that Tony Romo will play Sunday for the first time all season, though third-stringer Mark Sanchez will play as well.

Wentz makes it through
Carson Wentz injured his ribs in the only preseason game in which he played, so when he was named the Eagles' starter just before the season — for a team that knew it was going to lose its best offensive lineman to suspension — many wondered if he'd make it through his rookie year healthy.

He has.

This has not been a seamless transition to the NFL for Wentz. He dazzled early but has been mistake-prone since Week 7, with seven TDs and 13 interceptions.

Still, we all know Wentz's numbers would be better if he had a better supporting cast. And he's proven this year that even with little help around him, he can be a serviceable NFL quarterback. He's going to end the year with around 3,800 passing yards. 

Wentz is already a better quarterback than that bottom tier of starters — which includes anyone who's played QB for the Bears, Browns, Rams, Jets or 49ers, plus guys like Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian. You could argue Wentz is better right now than (or extremely close to) Blake Bortles, Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill.

There's a lot to like. The goal for Wentz in this game should be to end it healthy and avoid turning the ball over for the first time since Week 10 against Atlanta.

Wentz had one of his best games of the year when he faced the Cowboys in Week 8 in Dallas, going 32 for 43 for 202 yards and a TD. Many think the Eagles should have won that game, a 29-23 overtime loss. Had they won, think about how many things would be different right now. The NFC East race might be extremely tight. Wentz's confidence might have grown and perhaps he would be closer to Rookie of the Year than Prescott or Elliott.

Strong finish for skill guys
Knowing this game changes nothing for the Eagles — not playoff positioning, not their draft pick — they could experiment with different things in the season finale. This would seem like a good time to feed Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham even if they're not wide open or the best read on the play.

Wentz has targeted his tight ends a ton the last few weeks because Zach Ertz and Trey Burton are often the skill players most capable of quickly gaining separation. But if Agholor and DGB are going to be here another year or two (or longer), the Eagles should try to see what their ceiling on a Sunday is.

Why not target Green-Beckham 10 times, as long as he's not being beaten by the cornerback on every route? DGB has drawn more than five targets only four times all year. Two of those games resulted in his only two touchdowns, while another was his high watermark of the season with 82 yards.

The Eagles know what they have in Ertz and Jordan Matthews, who may not play after missing practice all week with that nagging ankle injury. They still have no idea what they have in Agholor and Green-Beckham.

Prepare for whoever
Jim Schwartz said this week that game planning will be more challenging than usual because the Eagles are preparing to face any of Prescott, Romo and Sanchez.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week that playing Romo isn't worth the risk. That's a sensible decision because Romo has been brittle for years now and another injury would cripple his already low trade value. If Romo does play, it probably won't be for the whole game.

If the Eagles face Sanchez, it should be a strong game for their defense. Sanchez has thrown one pass all season, and he's been a turnover machine throughout his career even when he's in a rhythm.

Plus, if Sanchez is on the field, it probably means the big guys like Elliott, Bryant and Jason Witten are not, which should make things easier on the Eagles' D.

The Eagles have been much better defensively at home, and it could mean ending the season on a high note for guys like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jordan Hicks and the safeties.

Is Elliott the MVP?
A lot of people have spent weeks diminishing Elliott's accomplishments because he has so much talent around him. He does. He has the best offensive line in the NFL. He plays with a QB who protects the ball and pass-catchers with all types of skills.

To me, he's still the MVP. This team is not close to 13-2 without him.

Some have made the argument that anyone who's run behind Dallas' O-line the last few years has succeeded. That's true, but it's in relative terms. Elliott has 1,994 yards from scrimmage and 16 total TDs this season. Is that the same thing as Darren McFadden rushing for 1,089 yards and three TDs last year for a 4-12 team? Um, no.

Let's say the Cowboys never drafted Elliott. Let's say they entered 2016 with Alfred Morris and McFadden as the main RBs. In that scenario, Dallas is probably closer to 10-5 than 13-2. 

Just look at the impact Elliott makes game after game after game, changing the momentum and allowing Dallas to control the ball with powerful first-down runs and big gainers. Elliott has had at least one 20-plus-yard run in 10 games this season. He's scored in 10 games this season. 

He's been consistent, durable, dynamic, and in a year with no other clear MVP frontrunners, the award should be his. Tom Brady missed four games and would have probably needed to go 12-0 to win it. David Johnson's team didn't win enough games. Le'Veon Bell's late-season push fell just short. Derek Carr got hurt. No receiver had a truly dominant year. Matt Ryan has had a heck of a season, but does anyone really think he's been so much better than other QBs to deserve the MVP?

Elliott's biggest competition for MVP might actually be Aaron Rodgers. He's led the Packers to five straight wins and can seal the NFC North with a win over the Lions Sunday. If he does so with a huge statistical game and Elliott either sits or has a modest afternoon at the Linc, Rodgers could win it. 

Rodgers has surged up the odds leaderboards and is now just 3/1 to win MVP, behind only Elliott (2.25 to 1) and Ryan (2.5 to 1).

Prediction
Because I don't expect the Cowboys' starters to play the entire game, I think the Eagles have a productive defensive game and get the win to finish 7-9 and 6-2 at home.

Unlike the last two seasons, winning in Week 17 wouldn't hurt the Eagles' draft positioning because they have the Vikings' pick, which looks like it'll fall around 15th.

I foresee good games from Wentz and the defense, leading to a second straight divisional win over a team that will still be playing while Wentz is back in the Midwest hunting.

Eagles 24, Cowboys 13

Report: Tony Romo will play vs. Eagles on Sunday

Report: Tony Romo will play vs. Eagles on Sunday

It looks like the Eagles will face Tony Romo in Week 17 after all.

Romo is "expected to see game action" against the Eagles this Sunday at the Linc, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Todd Archer.

How much Romo plays remains to be seen. Reports surfaced Thursday that third-stringer Mark Sanchez and backup RB Darren McFadden would take the bulk of snaps for the Cowboys on Sunday. At 13-2, Dallas already has homefield advantage locked up through the Super Bowl and thus has little to play for.

But Romo does have something to play for. He's auditioning for a starting job elsewhere in 2017, and a good game might impress QB-needy teams like the Broncos, Jets, 49ers, Bears, Texans or Browns.

"Anything is possible in this last game," Doug Pederson said Friday. "I would expect … it doesn’t surprise me, obviously. Knowing where they’re heading, going into the postseason, obviously getting [Romo] some snaps would be beneficial. That would be something I’d even consider if we were in that situation, of doing that with our backups."

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said earlier this week that the risk of playing Romo outweighed the reward. That was a logical take considering the series of injuries, mostly back injuries, Romo has suffered in recent years. He hasn't played in a regular-season game since Thanksgiving 2015, when he broke his collarbone.

The Cowboys have not publicly disclosed their plans for Sunday. Head coach Jason Garrett has remained quiet and running back Ezekiel Elliott evaded the questions when asked earlier this week. 

"We haven't decided how that's going," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan told reporters Thursday.

"It's never bad to get reps in games, but again, that question is for someone other than me. You could argue both reasons why you would or wouldn't, but we've got to go play the game. If you spend a bunch of time concerned about things that could happen negatively, you get consumed by that, but I think we do a good job and Coach Garrett does a great job of just focusing on getting ready to play and focusing on the right things, and that's what we're doing."