Adrian Peterson led the Vikings into the playoffs.
Black Monday was significant as seven head coaches around the NFL were fired, but it is also the day that media voters cast their votes for the major NFL awards for the 2012 season.
Since the season is over, the 50-designated Associated Press voters will decide who is the next Most Valuable Player, NFL Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year.
We will give a brief salute to the players that had a noteworthy season, but the real purpose of this installment is to go out on a limb and predict whom we believe will win each of the major awards.
The 2012 NFL has been a very memorable one. Inspiring at times, surprising at other times, but very seldom dull. For those players that have excelled all year long, we salute your play and ability to play through a long and grueling season.
Robert Griffin III scores a huge TD against Dallas in Week 17.
For the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, we trimmed the field last week down to three finalists. They are Washington QB Robert Griffin III, Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck and Seattle QB Russell Wilson.
How fitting that all three quarterbacks were able to lead their team to playoff appearances. The trio of rookie quarterbacks from the 2012 draft class will be one of the most memorable in NFL history. Considering that all three teams failed to make the playoffs in 2011 but all three made the postseason being led by a rookie is what will be hard for future draft classes to duplicate.
What is a shame is that Washington RB Alfred Morris has to be overlooked as he was as much of a factor for the Redskins down the stretch as anyone else on the team.
But due to the outstanding play of the three rookie quarterbacks, we can't endorse him for the Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Morris wound up rushing for 1,613 yards, which means that he finished No. 2 to Adrian Peterson in the NFL. Morris also finished with the third-best rookie rushing totals in the history of the league, trailing only Eric Dickerson (1,808 yards) and George Rogers (1,674 yards).
As for Luck, Griffin and Wilson, here are just a few of their accomplishments.
Wilson tied Peyton Manning's all-time NFL rookie record by throwing 26 touchdown passes. He also led all rookies in making so many defenders look foolish when they tried to lay a hand on him.
Luck set an NFL all-time rookie record with 4,374 passing yards. He also set a record with seven comeback wins in the fourth quarter of games this year.
Griffin III set an NFL all-time record for lowest interception ratio per passes attempted at just 1.3 percent (with a minimum of 300 pass attempts). Griffin had a five-game span with a QB passer rating of 127.7, which is the highest five-game rating by a rookie in NFL history.
Griffin led the NFL with an average of 8.14 yards per pass attempt. He also led the entire NFL with an average of 6.8 yards per rushing attempt (based on a minimum of 100 rushes).
You could make a case for any of the three quarterbacks to win the award. Washington and Seattle had the great running game, which meant that Luck had to do more on his own. Griffin and Luck were drafted No. 1 and No. 2 overall with the intention of starting from Day 1. Wilson had to win the QB job from two veteran quarterbacks.
In my opinion, Griffin came out early this year and established that he was the best quarterback of the three. Luck had a number of strong games and great comebacks, but his interception total and lower pass completion percentage brought his overall value down.
Wilson came on like gangbusters in the second half of the season. Pete Carroll kept Wilson under wraps in the first half of the season, which was what he needed to do to win games with the rookie. But in so doing, it ultimately prevented Wilson from putting up bigger numbers.
Finally, the Washington offense turned the ball over just 14 times this year, fewest in the NFL. That is a direct reflection on the solid decision-making skills of Griffin. Griffin was also the only rookie that won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month award twice this season, which is symbolic of how well he played all year long.
After weighing all the evidence and watching Griffin gut it out in Week 17 with the season on the line, the choice here is for Robert Griffin III to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Casey Hayward intercepted six passes to lead all rookies.
For the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, we reduced the field last week to five finalists.
Our five finalists are Carolina Panthers LB Luke Kuechly, Green Bay Packers CB Casey Hayward, Seattle Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Lavonte David and St. Louis Rams CB Janoris Jenkins.
As wide open as the race for DROY award has been, where has Tennessee LB Zach Brown been all year? He came up with two interception returns for touchdowns in Week 17 against Jacksonville. If he made more of an impact earlier in the year, that final performance might have been able to put him over the top.
Some of the NFL defensive rookie accomplishments from 2012 included:
Luke Kuechly leading the entire NFL with 164 tackles. While Kuechly led the category, there were three other rookies not far behind that all finished in the top 10 in the NFL this year. They are: Indianapolis LB Jerrell Freeman (145), Bobby Wagner (140) and Lavonte David (139).
Kuechly also led all rookies with three fumble recoveries.
New England DE Chandler Jones and Buffalo CB Stephon Gilmore tied for the rookie lead with three forced fumbles.
Seattle LB Bruce Irvin led all rookies with eight sacks on the year.
Lavonte David came up with 19 tackles for loss this year. That led the Bucs and all rookies as well.
Casey Hayward led all NFL rookies with 21 passes defended. Hayward also led all NFL rookies with six interceptions. He finished tied for the No. 5 ranking in that category.
Janoris Jenkins had three interception-return touchdowns in 2012, one short of the NFL record. He wound up tied with Chicago CB Charles Tillman for the NFL lead in the category.
Undrafted rookie free agent LB Vontaze Burfict signed with the Bengals and wound up leading the team in tackles (127).
For finishing in the top 10 in the NFL in two different categories, our projected DROY award winner is Casey Hayward. Hayward has been consistent all year long. His play has helped turn the Packers defense around, and his play will be on display throughout the playoffs.
Peyton Manning wins our NFL Comeback Player of Year Award.
For the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award, there were only two candidates that we have been taking seriously for the last two months. They are Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning and Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.
There have been a number of readers that have commented that they felt this award should be shared between the two players since they are both so deserving. It is hard to deny that it would be a satisfying result if they could be voted in as Co-Comeback Players of the Year.
If the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP wind up going to other players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, there is strong sentiment for Peterson and Manning to be awarded with some type of hardware.
In a recent episode of NBC's Pro Football Talk, Peter King from Sports Illustrated was on the show, discussing Peyton Manning. Here is what King had to say about Manning:
What Peyton Manning did in 2012 was unprecedented. He had four neck procedures in the span of two years, plus a neck fusion. Who has ever done that and gone out and played the next year? He played great for a brand new team, and learned a new offense in Denver.
Peterson is also very deserving of the award. To think that it was one year ago that he went down with a major knee injury, and all that he has accomplished in that time period is just amazing. The relentless way that he attacks the defense when he runs with the ball is fun to watch, but it must not be that fun to deal with in person.
For Peterson fans, don't feel too bad for how the Comeback Player of the Year Award goes down here. Your guy will be getting his just due.
Manning led the Denver Broncos to the best record in the AFC, and they are currently riding an 11-game winning streak. He has overcome great obstacles to come back at his age and perform like he did many years ago.
The hours of dedication, hard work and perseverance have been rewarded by declaring that Peyton Manning should win the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Bruce Arians deserves to win the NFL Coach of the Year Award.
For the NFL Coach of the Year, we opted last week to prefer the coaches of the teams that were considered to have been a major surprise in 2012, as not much was originally expected out of any of these teams.
The coaches we considered last week for the award were Pete Carroll (Seattle), Bruce Arians (Indianapolis), Leslie Frazier (Minnesota) and Mike Shanahan (Washington).
In Week 17, all four coaches stepped up and won, which makes our job of singling one of them out all the more difficult.
An overview of all four coaches is in order:
Pete Carroll opened himself up to jeers due to the nature of their 2012 draft class and allowing a total of three quarterbacks to compete in training camp for the starting job. It looks like Carroll knew what he was doing all along, and he has the last laugh on the rest of the NFL.
Bruce Arians completed a remarkable turnaround by leading the Colts for the vast majority of the season (when head coach Chuck Pagano came down with leukemia). Arians was new to the team, yet he found a way to take a roster that had lots of turnover and rally the team to play together as one. An inspirational tale if there ever was one.
Leslie Frazier: Few NFL analysts took the Vikings' playoff chances seriously. The offense was Adrian Peterson, as all of the other weapons couldn't be relied on or trusted to produce much if anything. The defense continued to play better down the stretch, and Frazier got the most out of his team by defeating Houston and Green Bay with its playoff chances on the brink of elimination.
Mike Shanahan was willing to mortgage the future in order to draft Robert Griffin III. He had the coaching ability and foresight to turn sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris into the No. 2 running back in the NFL. He was able to win the NFC East with two rookie quarterbacks and one great rookie running back. This is typically not a winning formula, but Shanahan made it work.
For coming into an awkward situation and making the best of the opportunity, our projected winner of the NFL Coach of the Year is Bruce Arians.
Adrian Peterson might wind up with multiple major awards in 2012.
Our 2012 finalists for the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award are: Denver QB Peyton Manning, Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson, Detroit WR Calvin Johnson, New England QB Tom Brady and Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers.
Calvin Johnson set a new NFL single-season receiving record with 1,964 yards. He wasn't able to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark like Adrian Peterson did in Week 17, but Johnson has been performing at a high level all year long in Detroit, even if few of his teammates were able to keep pace with him. Johnson also set a record with 11 games this year of at least 100 receiving yards.
Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing with 2,097 yards. His total is the second highest in NFL history, falling just nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's record. He was tied with Buffalo RB C.J. Spiller for the highest average per rush attempt for all running backs with an average of 6.0 yards per rush. Peterson also had 27 rushes that went for at least 20-plus yards, which is best in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers finished the season as the top-rated QB in passer rating with a score of 108.
Peyton Manning was tied for the highest pass completion percentage with Atlanta QB Matt Ryan at 68.6 percent. Manning led all quarterbacks with a Total QBR score of 84.1.
Kudos to Green Bay WR James Jones for leading all NFL receivers with 14 touchdown receptions. Houston RB Arian Foster led the NFL with 15 rushing touchdowns.
New Orleans QB Drew Brees led the NFL with 43 touchdown passes and also threw for an NFL-best 5,177 yards. Brees won this award in 2011. Tampa Bay WR Vincent Jackson led the NFL with an average of 19.2 yards per reception.
As for the 2012 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award, my runner-ups are New England QB Tom Brady and Detroit WR Calvin Johnson.
The 2012 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award goes to Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson. He performed above every other offensive player in the league. By getting his team into the playoffs, that sealed the deal for this award.
J.J. Watt should be awarded the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Our 2012 NFL DPOY award finalists are: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt, Denver Broncos LB Von Miller and San Francisco 49ers LB Aldon Smith.
The 2011 winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award was Baltimore LB Terrell Suggs. As for strong defensive performances in 2012, we will take a moment to acknowledge some great accomplishments during the season:
NFL sack leader: J.J. Watt with 20.5. Watt edged out Aldon Smith by one sack and Von Miller by two sacks to win the category.
NFL leader in tackles: Carolina LB Luke Kuechly with 164. Kuechly beat out San Francisco 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman, who had 149.
NFL passes deflected leader: Seattle CB Richard Sherman (24) edged out Pittsburgh CB Keenan Lewis (23).
NFL interceptions leader: Chicago CB Tim Jennings (nine) beat out New York Giants CB Stevie Brown and Seattle CB Richard Sherman (eight each).
NFL co-leaders in interception returns for touchdowns: Chicago CB Charles Tillman and St. Louis rookie CB Janoris Jenkins tied for the league lead with three each.
NFL leader in forced fumbles: Chicago CB Charles Tillman (10).
NFL leader in fumble recoveries: Five players were tied with four each. They are: Houston LB Tim Dobbins, New England DE/LB Rob Ninkovich, Chicago CB Kelvin Hayden, New England NT Vince Wilfork and Chicago DE Julius Peppers.
For the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, there is one player that continued to stand out above the rest of the league: J.J. Watt.
Not only did Watt lead the league in sacks, but he also finished tied for No. 10 overall in passes deflected with 16. That is a category usually reserved for corners and safeties. Many of his deflections wound up being interceptions for Houston, and the Texans benefited all year from his playmaking ability.
The combination of 20.5 sacks and 16 pass deflections mean that Watt's total is the most by a defensive linemen in the past decade, as per this past week's episode of NBC's Turning Point. His 81 tackles were only three off from leading the entire Houston team, which is amazing for a defensive end. He also came up with a staggering total of 23 tackles for a loss.
In addition, Watt forced four fumbles and recovered two others. He is the one person that was the most dominating on defense in the NFL in 2012, which is why he gets the nod here as the 2012 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Adrian Peterson finishes just nine yards shy of the all-time NFL rushing record.
The biggest award of them all, the NFL MVP, has gone to quarterbacks for the past five years. Will that trend be broken in 2012?
The last five winners were Tom Brady (2007 and 2010), Peyton Manning (2008 and 2009) and Aaron Rodgers in 2011.
From our weekly presentations, we narrowed the field down last week to five finalists, which are: New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt.
From this group, my runner-ups would be Manning and Brady. They have guided their teams to first-round byes and have turned in fabulous seasons. They continue to excel and play quarterback at a very high level, as they did back in their 20s.
But the 2012 MVP award deserves to go to a non-quarterback this year. That non-quarterback is Adrian Peterson.
In Week 17, Peterson registered his seventh game of at least 150-plus rushing yards this season. Despite facing defenses that stuffed the box to shut him down, Peterson was able to find ways to run through and around defenses for the second-greatest rushing total in NFL history.
His devastating knee injury just one year prior makes his season even more impressive. He set a new standard for how badly an athlete can want something and set their mind in a way that allows them to block out the pain and continue to rehab and get back in playing shape.
Well, that is it. Thanks to all the readers that have been following this series along every week. Now we have to sit back and wait until Feb. 2 to see who actually winds up winning all seven awards. In the interim, feel free to share your opinion and go on record with your choices.