The case for Robert Mathis: His move into the primary pass-rushing role for the Colts was a fascinating one. With Dwight Freeney leaving town there were legit questions about Mathis' ability to plug-and-play with Chuck Pagano's defense. Mathis answered those easily, putting up the best stats of his career and totaling 19½ sacks. His previous high was 11½ (he had that at midseason). Mathis was an absolute terror for opposing quarterbacks and the best pass rusher in the AFC, hands down. The Colts' defense was improved in 2013 for sure but it still isn't the most talent-rich unit on the planet. Mathis made Pagano's scheme go and helped push the Colts to an AFC South title.
The case against Robert Mathis: A good crop of other candidates on bad teams, most notable Robert Quinn and J.J. Watt. Even recency bias won't work against Mathis, since he compiled four sacks in the final three games of the season. The Colts won a lot of games and they're a rejuvenated team with Andrew Luck under center. But let's be clear: That defense isn't all that great. Mathis makes it tick.
Why Mathis Was Our Choice: Those 19½ sacks on an 11-win team. That's a really impressive performance, especially from a guy who spent most of his career playing second banana to another pass rusher. The one moment that really stands out from Mathis' season? Sacking old teammate Peyton Manning in a prime-time game:
The Colts would eventually upend the Broncos in that game and it was kind of "the moment" when everyone was willing to get on the Mathis bandwagon.
Will Mathis win the hardware? This might be the toughest award to predict, honestly. Mathis is a worthy candidate but you can make a case for Luke Kuechly, Quinn, Watt or even Richard Sherman. My guess would be yes because Mathis plays for a team with a ton of wins and piled up big stats. But it'll be close.