Early Predictions for MVP and Other Regular-Season Awards
Training camps are now underway in the National Football League, and before you know it, the preseason will have come and gone and the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants will be lining up to get the 2012 regular season started on September 5.
That means it's time for sportswriters and talking heads across the land to begin making ridiculously early predictions.
Since I'd hate to be left out of the fun, here's a summertime stab at which NFL players will bring home the league's individual accolades when all is said and done.
Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
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The NFL MVP award might as well be called the NFL MVQ award.
Quarterbacks have dominated the selections in recent years, including in 2011, with winner Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers.
I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Bleacher Report's own Sigmund Bloom here.
Not only has Mr. Bloom boldly predicted that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will break Drew Brees' single-season passing record of 5,476 yards, he has predicted that the 13th-year veteran will eclipse 6,000 passing yards in 2012.
I don't know that Brady will reach those lofty heights, but I'm not ready to say he won't, especially after the team added wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney in the offseason to complement an already potent passing attack.
Given the plethora of weapons at his disposal and a suspect ground game, Brady and the Patriots are set to throw the ball early and often this season.
Furthermore, if Brady does make a serious run at Brees' yardage mark, the 34-year-old will be a near shoo-in for his third NFL MVP award.
Offensive Player of the Year: Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
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Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford finally showed what he was capable of if he can stay healthy in his third NFL season, throwing for over 5,000 yards while leading the Lions to their first postseason appearance in over a decade.
Stafford has the luxury of having the best wide receiver in the National Football League at his disposal in Calvin Johnson.
However, even "Megatron" may not be enough to put Stafford over the top in MVP voting should Tom Brady light up the scoreboard this year like he's playing Madden '13.
Nevertheless, if Stafford can stay healthy again, another 5,000-yard passing season is a distinct possibility.
Coupled with another playoff trip for Detroit, and that should be enough to net the 24-year-old the National Football League's equivalent of an "MVP runner-up" trophy.
Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
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This one is such a mortal lock that it wouldn't surprise me if they've already inscribed his name on the trophy.
After 14 seasons, four NFL MVP awards and a Super Bowl ring, quarterback Peyton Manning moved on from the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, signing with the Denver Broncos in what was easily free agency's biggest splash this year.
Manning missed all of the 2011 season while recovering from multiple neck surgeries. However, according to The Denver Post, Manning is making "steady progress" in his recovery and rehab from those surgeries.
If the 36-year-old is even half the passer this season that he was prior to the injury, Manning will win this award in a landslide.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Robert Griffin, QB, Washington Redskins
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Noticing a trend?
The National Football League is driven by quarterbacks. They're the highest-paid players in football. Every year, they also usually receive the lion's share of the hardware, where awards are concerned.
The 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year award will all but certainly boil down to a two-horse race between first overall pick Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and second overall selection Robert Griffin III.
Both just so happen to be (GASP!) quarterbacks.
Luck may be the more polished passer, but Griffin is more athletic and has a better supporting cast around him. He gets the nod here.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
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Finally—I get to talk about another position.
They'd probably give this award to a quarterback if they could, but unless Griffin lines up at cornerback for the Redskins, that's not going to happen.
If he does, give the man the award. He'll have earned it.
Otherwise, we'll go with Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly as the 2012 season's top newcomer on defense.
Kuechly appears set to start from day one for the Panthers at middle linebacker this year. After racking up a ridiculous 191 tackles at Boston College a season ago, Kuechly should make a big impact right away in Charlotte.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
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We'll close out this look at our predictions for 2012's individual award winners with the hardest race to handicap. There are any number of defensive stars who could vie for the title of the league's top defensive player this season.
The 2011 campaign was something of a disappointment for Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who missed four games due to injury and failed to top 100 tackles for the first time since 2005.
However, the Ravens are going to need the 37-year-old Lewis to bounce back in a big way this season, especially since 2011 winner Terrell Suggs is most likely done for the season after tearing his Achilles' tendon.
According to The Boston Herald, Lewis reported to training camp in Owings Mills, Maryland looking significantly lighter than his listed weight of 240 pounds.
A slimmer, trimmer, meaner Ray Lewis will not only pick up Suggs' slack, but win his third NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
I'm just kidding about the meaner part. Like Ray Lewis could get any meaner.