Predicting Half Way Through the Season Who Will Win Each NFL Award
Prior to a new NFL season kicking off, people are quick to throw out all sorts of predictions.
Whether it's due to preseason hype or expectations resulting from the previous year, experts and fans alike are quick to offer their foresight for the upcoming season.
Now, with the 2012 season at its halfway point, things are beginning to come into focus. There's a clear separation between the league's top-tier teams and the bottom-feeders, and the race for postseason awards is starting to condense to a handful of qualified candidates.
Let's take a stab at predicting the seven major postseason awards.
Coach of the Year
Winner: Mike Smith (ATL)
Through eight weeks of the 2012 season, the Atlanta Falcons remain unbeaten. While they haven't been as dominant as the 2011 Green Bay Packers—who went 15-1—they are certainly one of the best teams in the league.
And the more games the Falcons win, the more postseason awards they'll earn.
Chicago head coach Lovie Smith and Houston head coach Gary Kubiak are certainly deserving of consideration up to this point. And if the Falcons lose a game, and the records even out, this could be a close call. But for now, the Falcons remain undefeated, so Smith is the obvious choice.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: DE Chandler Jones (NE)
Chandler Jones was one of the hottest names coming into the 2012 NFL Draft. Jones ultimately fell to the New England Patriots with the 21st overall pick, and he's been stellar thus far in his first season.
Jones has recorded six sacks and three forced fumbles half way through his rookie season, assisting in the Patriots' defensive turnaround. Patriots safety Tavon Wilson has also played his way into the conversation, although he's been overshadowed by Jones.
Green Bay cornerback Casey Hayward is an early candidate for the award with four interceptions, as is Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechley. However, at this point, Jones has not only been the best rookie pass rusher in football, he's been one of the NFL's best pass rushers, period.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: QB Andrew Luck (IND)
When a team spends the No. 1 overall pick on a quarterback, he's expected to be a franchise player. Sometimes that top pick ends up being JaMarcus Russell. And other times, you hit the jackpot with an Andrew Luck.
So far, the Colts have been one of the league's biggest success stories. Despite head coach Chuck Pagano battling leukemia, Luck has put the Colts on his back and carried them to a 5-3 record. Luck and Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III have put up similar numbers this season, but Luck has the edge in the most important statistic—wins.
But all of a sudden, the race to be offensive rookie of the year isn't just a two-quarterback race. Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has been sensational lately, rushing for 386 yards and scoring six touchdowns in his last two games.
However, Martin will need to keep up his record-breaking pace if he wants to pass Luck.
Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: QB Peyton Manning (DEN)
All eyes were on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning coming into the season. Tim Tebow had been shipped to New York and the Broncos were headed for an offensive overhaul.
And through eight games, Manning is on pace to throw for over 4,800 yards and 40 touchdowns. Manning's 108.6 passer rating leads the NFL, while his 20 touchdown passes trail only Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Tebow gave Broncos fans reason to be excited last season during Denver's playoff push, but Manning has Denver fans thinking Super Bowl this year. If Manning and the offense keep up this pace, the Broncos could very well earn a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's comeback from a torn ACL has been almost freakish, but his stellar play has been dwarfed by Manning's excellence so far this season.
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: DE J.J. Watt (HOU)
Typically, defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme are "space-eaters," gobbling up blockers to free up outside linebackers to get after the quarterback. However, Houston's J.J. Watt, a defensive end in the Texans' 3-4 defense, is putting up some incredible numbers this season.
Watt has recorded 10.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries through eight games. Watt's season is already drawing comparisons to Bruce Smith, likely the most dominant defense end in a 3-4 scheme in NFL history.
Houston is certainly in the conversation as to which team has the league's best defense, along with the Chicago Bears. But as things currently stand, not even Bears cornerback Charles Tillman can edge Watt for the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews may be the most disruptive player in football, but there are far better defenses in the league than that of the Packers. It's likely going to come down to Watt or a Chicago Bear for this award.
Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: Matt Ryan (ATL)
As the Atlanta Falcons currently sit at 8-0, quarterback Matt Ryan is clearly in the conversation for the NFL MVP award. If he doesn't win the MVP, he'll most certainly be a finalist for the Offensive Player of the Year.
Ryan is having the best season of his career in 2012. His 68.9 completion percentage is by far the best of his career, and he's thrown 17 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions. Ryan's 103.0 passer rating trails only Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers atop the league.
Right now, Ryan, Rodgers and the Manning brothers are the front-runners for MVP. There could always be co-MVPs, but in all likelihood, one will be named MVP, leaving the other three to duke it out for Offensive Player of the Year.
Ultimately, I don't think the Falcons will go undefeated, and I think Rodgers or Peyton Manning will win the NFL MVP. Still, Ryan is carrying the Falcons into the stretch run of the season.
Most Valuable Player
Winner: QB Aaron Rodgers (GB)
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers got off to a slow start this season. Rodgers had thrown only three touchdowns and two interceptions through the Packers' first three games this season.
But since then, Rodgers has thrown 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions in the past six games. His 25 touchdown passes lead the NFL, while his 107.4 passer rating trails only Peyton Manning atop the league leaders.
Rodgers is the reigning MVP and, if the Packers are able to keep their momentum as the season progresses, he may win his second MVP award in as many seasons.
After throwing 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions last season, Rodgers will need to have a similar statistical line this season in order to repeat. Peyton and Eli Manning, as well as Matt Ryan, will be breathing down Rodgers's neck, but Rodgers is currently the best player in football. Period.