NaVorro Bowman 49ersNaVorro Bowman was already playing great football throughout the season. Most of the guys who cover the 49ers both in San Francisco and on the road named Bowman their MVP. But until he made history a week ago on national television, his name wasn’t in the discussion for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The last two weeks kind of woke everyone up, myself included. I didn’t even list Bowman in my top three when asked (by myself) to name the 49ers’ MVP a couple weeks ago. Now, I’d put him first. That’s how much of an impact he made when it was needed most, with his pick-6 against Atlanta to propel the 49ers into the postseason and yesterday against Arizona, where he registered two takeaways, nine solo tackles, a sack and a QB hit.

Just to get this out of the way early, Bowman doesn’t have much of a chance at winning the award. There are three guys who’ve played as well or perhaps better than anyone else but toiled for losing teams, and three players who play for winning teams and have received more DPOY consideration over the course of the 2013 season. Here’s who the 49ers middle linebacker is up against, followed by Bowman’s 2013 résumé.

J.J. Watt: 10.5 sacks, 80 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 35 QB Hits, 38 QB Hurries, 6 Batted Passes, 7 Missed Tackles, 67 stops, 112.6 Pro Football Focus overall score

Baseball fans who go crazy when Mike Trout finishes behind Miguel Cabrera in the MVP voting can easily get behind this guy. He’s still the best defensive player in the game, but will that be enough to sway the AP voters enough to make  Watt the second repeat winner (the first was Lawrence Taylor back in 1981-82) when his team had the league’s worst record?

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Robert Quinn: 19 sacks, 57 tackles, 7 FF, 2 FR, 1 TD, 21 QB hits, 51 QB hurries, 2 MT, 45 stops, 76.2 PFF

The 49ers shut Quinn down, but he was a monster against everyone else. But with another Robert coming through with similar numbers and the Rams finishing 7-9, he isn’t winning the award.

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Lavonte David: 144 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 INT, 2 FF, 1 FR, 5 QB hits, 17 QB hurries, 11 MT, 83 stops, 26.9 PFF

Hard to find fault with anything David has done … other than getting drafted by the wrong team. He’s only 23, so the voters will probably have at least a couple chances to reward him once his team starts winning. If the Bucs replace Greg Schiano with a decent coach, that could happen as soon as next year.

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Robert Mathis: 19.5 sacks, 59 tackles, 8 FF, 1 safety, 5 QB hits, 39 QB hurries, 7 MT, 44 stops, 30.7 PFF

He might have sewn this up with two sacks in the Colts’ last game of the season. The silly thing about awards voted on by people who haven’t watched all the games is that if Mathis would’ve gotten 2.5 sacks against Jacksonville, he’d have 20 sacks and would probably be a shoo-in. But with 19.5 sacks, he’s just one of the favorites.

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Luke Kuechly: 156 tackles, 2 sacks, 11 passes defensed, 4 INT, 0 QB hits, 8 QB hurries, 14 MT, 61 stops, 7.2 PFF

If Kuechly doesn’t rip the ball out of Vance McDonald’s hands on that deep pass at Candlestick, the 49ers might have earned the top seed in the NFC. Carolina was a great story in that they outpaced expectations more than any team in the NFL other than maybe the Chiefs, and in the end the Panthers’ defense turned out to be a lot better than Kansas City’s. Lots of great narrative to work with here.

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Richard Sherman: 8 INT, 24 PD, 49 tackles, 1 TD, 1 QB hits, 2 QB hurries, 5 MT, 11 stops, 10.9 PFF

He had at least two more interceptions than anyone else and played for the league’s best defense. The Seahawks also lost Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner for several games late in the year. But some people can’t stand Sherman and Earl Thomas will siphon away some votes, so it’s hard to imagine him leading the pack in a field this crowded.

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NaVorro Bowman: 145 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INT, 1 TD, 9 PD, 4 FF, 2 FR, 3 QB hits, 13 QB hurries, 1 BP, 13 MT, 67 stops, 19.5 PFF

Bowman had 27 more solo tackles and three more sacks than Kuechly, but will that be enough? The better question might actually be: will Bowman and Kuechly split the vote as the two premier middle linebackers of 2013? Bowman has good numbers across the board, but doesn’t lead the league in any one category. Unless the voters are REALLY paying attention to what Bowman does on every play (good luck), it appears he’ll get some votes but not enough to break the top two or three.

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As anyone can see, this race is completely wide open. Bowman came through with one of the best finishes imaginable: 21 tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and recovery (on the same play against Arizona), two passes defensed, two interceptions and a touchdown on national television over his past two games. But Mathis has the sack number, Kuechly has the underdog story, Sherman has the interceptions, and since none of these guys are overwhelming favorites we might see Watt beat everyone out for this award when the vote is announced even though only five players from losing teams have won the award in 42 years.

Since I’ve watched every second of every 49ers game this season (and not a lot of the rest of the teams, besides a game here or there and some RedZone when the 49ers are on the road), my ballot would like like this:

  1. J.J. Watt
  2. NaVorro Bowman
  3. Robert Mathis
  4. Lavonte David
  5. Luke Kuechly
  6. Robert Quinn
  7. Richard Sherman

In a year with so many good candidates who play for winning teams, it seems like Watt should be the winner even though he was on the worst team. Watt, Von Miller and Aldon Smith are the three most talented defensive players in the NFL. Watt was the only one who played a full season, and he was incredible despite the chaos that surrounded him in Houston.

Not that 49ers fans are going to care too much what I think, since I’m just an independent blogger who doesn’t have a vote (for obvious reasons). Here’s my prediction for how the Associated Press voting will shake out:

  1. Robert Mathis
  2. Luke Kuechly
  3. J.J. Watt
  4. Richard Sherman
  5. Lavonte David
  6. NaVorro Bowman
  7. Robert Quinn