2012 NFL Season: Predicting Every Major Award Winner

Matt Stein@MatthewJSteinCorrespondent IIMay 16, 2012

2012 NFL Season: Predicting Every Major Award Winner

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    The 2012 NFL season is only a few months away, and with offseason training programs ready to be in full swing, it certainly feels closer than that.

    While we'll have to wait until the end of the 2012 season to get a taste of the major award winners, we can certainly do no wrong by giving you early predictions on the favorites for the awards. Here are predictions for every major award winner for the 2012 NFL season.

Coach of the Year

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    Winner: Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers

    After securing the top draft pick in the 2011 NFL draft, few thought the Panthers would do much of anything during the 2011 season. And for the majority of the year, they didn't.

    However, they won four of their final six games to finish the year 6-10, and I fully expect them to make a run at a playoff berth this year. They added talent through the draft in Luke Kuechly, Josh Norman and Joe Adams, as well as getting back Jon Beason from an Achilles injury that kept him out of the entire 2011 season.

    If the Panthers can get to the playoffs in just their second season under Rivera, the Coach of the Year Award should easily be his.


    Runner-Up: Chan Gailey, Buffalo Bills

    It is really difficult betting against Gailey after putting together such a stellar offseason, but there are still questions surrounding whether Ryan Fitzpatrick is a "big-time quarterback."

    If Fitzpatrick plays like he did during the first five games of the 2011 season, the Bills could tangle with the New England Patriots atop the AFC East. Should that happen, Gailey could be considered the top coach in the NFL.

Comeback Player of the Year

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    Winner: Jon Beason, LB, Carolina Panthers

    Don't worry, we'll get to Peyton Manning later in this award ceremony.

    Beason going down with an Achilles injury before the 2011 season was one of the biggest losses of the entire year for any team. Not only was Beason the leader of the Panthers' defense, but he was one of the best in the entire league at his position.

    He may start the year a little rusty after such an enormous amount of time away from the game, but don't expect Beason to struggle for too long. Throw in his new weapon in Luke Kuechly, and you have the makings of a superior linebacker corps in Carolina.


    Runner-Up: Eric Berry, S, Kansas City Chiefs

    Yes, I know Berry's teammate Jamaal Charles is going to be a huge contender for the Comeback Player of the Year Award, but I like Berry to have a more productive season that Charles.

    One reason is that Charles will be splitting carries with Peyton Hillis and maybe even Dexter McCluster. Berry is one of best playmaking safeties in the entire NFL and should make a case to make the All-Pro team in just his third year in the league.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    Winner: Mark Barron, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Barron is entering an ideal situation with Tampa Bay where he'll be able to start and contribute from day one.

    Many pegged Barron as one of the premier defensive players of the 2012 NFL draft, and his top-10 selection should prove that NFL teams felt the same way. While his ball skills will definitely get a workout in the pass-happy NFC South, that should only help boost his overall statistics.

    Don't be surprised if Barron racks up a ridiculous amount of tackles as a rookie, as well as numerous interceptions and sacks to bring home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.


    Runner-Up: Courney Upshaw, LB, Baltimore Ravens

    With Terrell Suggs suffering an Achilles injury, Upshaw is the likely candidate to replace some of his production. I'm sure he wasn't expecting to be counted on this much so soon in his career, but Upshaw certainly isn't one to back down from a challenge.

    While he'll definitely have an ultra-productive rookie campaign, playing alongside guys like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata will take away from his production and he'll have to settle with finishing second in this award.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    Winner: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins

    Of all the awards to predict, this was the toughest. The reason for that is there are so many offensive rookies who will get a chance to be a key member of their team's offense from day one.

    When it came down to biting the bullet, it was too hard to pass on Griffin. He'll beat out other rookie quarterback Andrew Luck because of the talent surround him and his ability to make huge plays with his legs.

    Look for Griffin to have a Cam Newton-like rookie season and take home Offensive Rookie of the Year.


    Runner-Up: Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

    I know, I know. No Luck and no Trent Richardson must mean I'm clinically insane.

    The problem with Luck and Richardson is that their franchises are going to be horrible, and while the Jaguars are no Super Bowl contenders, they'll at least be more competitive than the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns.

    On top of that, Blackmon will get loads of looks from Blaine Gabbert, who has no other weapons at wide receiver other than Blackmon.

Defensive Player of the Year

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    Winner: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants

    Few dominated the league like Pierre-Paul did last year, and at only 23 years of age, he's likely to be even better in 2012 than he was in 2011. That thought alone will keep many NFL quarterbacks up during Saturday nights.

    Pierre-Paul is an absolutely freak of nature athletically, and now that he has grown his understanding of the game, he's nearly an unstoppable force of nature. He also has the ability to impact the game in more ways than just rushing the quarterback, as he is dominant against the run and can even drop back into coverage.

    Pierre-Paul's 16.5 sacks in 2011 were just the beginning of his takeover in the NFL. Winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 will only cement his position as the best defensive end in the league.


    Runner-Up: Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens

    There may be other younger players vying for this spot (I'm looking at you, Patrick Willis), but no team needs a defensive player more than the Ravens need Reed. Remember, Terrell Suggs is out for a good portion of the season, Jarret Johnson is gone at outside linebacker, and Ray Lewis is not immortal.

    Reed has a knack for making big plays and playing better when his team needs him most. His 2012 campaign may turn out to be one of his best ever.

Offensive Player of the Year

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    Winner: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

    Rodgers won the 2011 MVP Award, but came up short on Offensive Player of the Year. This year, the roles will be reversed.

    Not only is Rodgers the most talented quarterback in the league, but he is also surrounded by a ridiculous amount of talent. He has one of the best receiving corps in the league, and if Jermichael Finley can reach his potential at tight end, the Packers' offense will simply be unstoppable.

    For those that thought Rodgers' 2011 campaign was other-worldly, his 2012 season may be even better.


    Runner-Up: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

    What do you get when you combine Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd?

    A ridiculous season by Mr. Brady is what you get.


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    Winner: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

    This was tough because we've already come to the conclusion that Rodgers is going to have an other-worldly performance in 2012.

    However, Manning is going to get the feel-good votes after missing the entire 2011 season, changing teams and leading the Broncos to the playoffs. While Manning won't put up nearly the numbers of some other quarterbacks in the league—namely Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees—he will prove to be more valuable to his team.

    As long as the Broncos finish the season atop the AFC West, it is hard to imagine Manning not winning the MVP Award.


    Runner-Up: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

    We've already said enough about how great Rodgers is going to be, and while he may feel snubbed this year, he'll have plenty of years to rack up the MVP trophies from here on out.