The Jersey Rules Committee wishes you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons. We're going to incorporate sincerity into that statement by presenting to you our In-Season Jersey Rules champion in the second listing of the award.
Last year, an emergency session was called to deliver the first-ever in-season ruling due to a colleague's selection as the Sunday Night Football Fan of the Game. In that, he was given (we thought at the time) the ability to choose the jersey of whatever player he wanted. Naturally (foolishly?) he asked us for advice on who to pick.
The ruling was delivered right before the Steelers' Week 15 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, which, except for the venue, looked a lot like the Steelers' Week 14 win over the Bengals this season. In that spirit, we meant to deliver the latest ruling a bit ago, but we were otherwise predisposed with decidedly UN-holiday-like things.
We'll spare you the longform version of the rules, as you should be acquainted with them by now.
Here is a list of the names of the rules, and this link will take you to all of them explained more in-depth.
We determine four categories: Don't Buys, Qualifiers, Finalists and Champion. There is no set amount of members in the Don't Buys and Qualifiers categories, but there must be at least three finalists, including the champion. We are bypassing the Qualifiers for the purpose of creating a more concrete list for the holiday season.
Without further ado...
Do Not Buy
It's a painful list this holiday season, one that brings with it much sadness and hopes of being proven horribly, massively wrong.
Troy Polamalu - It really doesn't appear Polamalu will be back with Pittsburgh next year. Whether that's by his retirement, or by a release, Polamalu's $8.25 million cap number next year, and the relatively low amount of pain caused by a post-June 1 cut mix in with what looks to be a much lessened level of effectiveness in coverage to create a fairly obvious situation in which Polamalu may be playing his final two games in a Steelers uniform. We hope for the playoffs, and we also hope for the discovery of the fountain of youth.
Keep your Polamalu jerseys, they will make great throwbacks in five years.
Heath Miller - We're less inclined to believe Miller won't be back after a solid 2014 year, but financial situations being what they are, you never can quite tell, especially without being able to see young Rob Blanchflower on the practice squad. Still, we expect the Steelers to invest a high-to-middle round pick on a tight end, and that may be a part of a plan to get cheaper at the position. It's not a sure thing, mind you, but buying Miller's jersey now may not be a wise long-term investment.
Mike Mitchell - Not that we had recommended his in the past (Miller and Polamalu have both been Finalists in multiple years), but Mitchell's lack of production this season has been concerning. We can't say he has no future with the team but if you're talking long-term investments, Mitchell, who will soon have all his bonus money accounted for, thus making him a potential cap casualty, hasn't really done a whole lot. We hope for more (he did make a few plays this year).
This may have been the most Finalist candidates we've ever sifted through. Or maybe the "best" list of candidates. Either way, there are a lot of young, talented players on this team with bright futures, it makes us confident we really can't provide bad direction here.
Cameron Heyward - A third consecutive Finalist-or-Better placement, he really didn't need to add anything more to support his first championship won in July. Heyward has been steadily impressive this season and appears to be improving with each game. We even love the 15-yard personal foul penalty he got for yelling at an official for missing a blatant holding penalty committed on his teammate Sean Spence against Tampa Bay. People yell at officials all the time. It isn't as often you see them go after one for the sake of his guy. Not smart to get a penalty, but we like that kind of fire.
Kelvin Beachum - representing the reformation of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Beachum is an ode to past days when the Steelers seemingly grabbed great players late in drafts like they rolled off an assembly line. He was never supposed to be a tackle, but here he is, among the better ones in the game and is perhaps one of the league's most improved players this season.
Ben Roethlisberger - The Committee battled on this. There's the past reputation issues. There's the outstanding question of his contract. There's the risk of over-saturation. But, there's also his best season coming in 2014. There's the Colts and Ravens games. There's a pending contract waiting for him this offseason and we simply cannot believe the deal won't get done. Ben may be hitting his real prime and his offense has reloaded to make the last big deal of his career the most valuable.
Le'Veon Bell - Last year's December winner, he achieved that after an excellent performance in the second half of an eventual loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving. He had a touchdown removed on a garbage technicality, but the effort he displayed, and the shot he took, made him, as we wrote at the time, "a Steeler for life." This year, he made himself the best running back in the NFL, and perhaps the best young player in the league. Bell will obliterate the team's yards from scrimmage record, and very well could make a nice run at the league record over the next two games. A tall task indeed (he'll need around 500 yards) but it's getting harder to doubt him in anything he does.
And your Champion is...
Antonio Brown - The shortest member of The Big Three is having the biggest season. He's going to finish the year with the second-most receptions in league history. Marvin Harrison's 143 is going to be about as impossible to top as any record in the game, but he trails Herman Moore's 123 by eight catches with two games to go. He's caught at least five passes for at least 70 yards in each of his last 16 games, which is an NFL record. He's had 30 straight games with five catches and 50 yards, also an NFL record. He broke the franchise's single-season receptions record last week, and he'll break the yardage record after his first catch Sunday (he needs two yards to top his 1,499 from last year).
More than that, look at his third-down grab against the Bengals down the sideline. Look at a few of the catches he made with defenders draped on his back against Jacksonville. Look at him shatter the ankles of a Ravens defender who was cut after the game and take it to the house. This is not your Wes Welker Slot Receiving Running back. He is a bona fide NFL wide receiver, and he's the best in the game.
If you haven't already, get an Antonio Brown jersey.