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Bleacher Report's Preseason NFL Award Predictions

Ty SchalterNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 3, 2013

Bleacher Report's Preseason NFL Award Predictions

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    NFL players will always say, "It's not about individual awards," and that they "only care about winning."

    Those cliches are cliches for a reason: Nobody (including that player's coach) wants to hear a player say he'd rather go to banquets and put trophies on his mantle than win.

    Even if NFL players don't like winning awards (and I suspect most don't mind it much), football fans and media love handing them out.

    For fans of strong teams, postseason awards are like the cherry on top of a treat of a season. For fans of teams that didn't win often, their standout players winning—or even being nominated for—awards are rare points of pride.

    On the doorstep of the 2013 NFL regular season, Bleacher Report's award-winning crew of 12 NFL lead writers got together and submitted secret ballots for 22 different postseason prizes.

    From the NFL MVP to the biggest rookie bust, top B/R NFL writers projected winners for all the major NFL individual and team awards, along with a few we made up for the occasion.

    Vehemently disagree (or agree) with the choices? Let us know in the comments.

    Here are the 12 NFL lead writers serving on Bleacher Report's blue-ribbon panel:

    Matt Bowen—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Mike Freeman—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Ty Schalter—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Michael Schottey—National Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Matt Miller—National Lead NFL Draft Writer (Twitter)

    Erik Frenz—AFC East Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Andrea Hangst—AFC North Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Chris Hansen—AFC West Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Brad Gagnon—NFC East Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Zach Kruse—NFC North Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Knox Bardeen—NFC South Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

    Tyson Langland—NFC West Lead NFL Writer (Twitter)

Most Valuable Player

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    The Voters' Selection (tie): Tom Brady (New England Patriots QB)—three votes; Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers QB)—three votes

     

    The King is dead. Long live...uh, the Kings?

    Our panel did not pick reigning MVP Adrian Peterson to repeat. In fact, he received just one vote.

    Instead, Brady and Rodgers tied with three votes apiece.

    For an award whose candidate pool is usually just a precious few players, our expert panel was split a surprising number of ways. Not only was there a tie at the top, but eight different players received at least one vote.

    A Brady MVP win would be his third, an incredible achievement. Though Brady will have to adjust to a new cast of offensive weapons, that's nothing new for him. He and the Patriots are always changing pieces around, and they're always in the mix to come out of the AFC.

    Rodgers has won the MVP once before, in 2011. He and his Packers are out to prove the upstart quarterbacks (like Colin Kaepernick, who received one vote) don't have his number just yet—and that their teams don't have the Packers' number, either.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints QB)—one vote

    Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco 49ers QB)—one vote

    Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos QB)—one vote

    Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings RB)—one vote

    Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers QB)—one vote

    Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons QB)—one vote

Offensive Player of the Year

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    The Voters' Selection: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers QB)—four votes

     

    Though Aaron Rodgers split our MVP award with Tom Brady, the Green Bay Packers quarterback gets the Offensive Player of the Year honors all to himself.

    Rodgers led the NFL in passer efficiency rating (108.0) and touchdown percentage (7.1 percent) in 2012—and both of those figures were significantly lower than those of 2011. If rookie tailback Eddie Lacy really can bring a semblance of balance to the pass-happy Packers offense, Rodgers could put up bonkers numbers in 2013.

    Rodgers has to deal with an unstable offensive line yet again and the loss of trusty wideout Greg Jennings. However, Rodgers' talented arm, legs and head always let him overcome adversity, and the development of wideout Randall Cobb should be a major boon to Rodgers' production.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Tom Brady (New England Patriots QB)—two votes

    Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco 49ers QB)—two votes

    Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints QB)—one vote

    Robert Griffin III (Washington Redskins QB)—one vote

    Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions WR)—one vote

    Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings RB)—one vote

    Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons QB)—one vote

Defensive Player of the Year

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    The Voters' Selection: J.J. Watt (Houston Texans DE)—eight votes

     

    Everybody's runaway Defensive Player of the Year last season, J.J. Watt is our experts' seemingly easy pick to repeat. In just his second season, Watt stunned the NFL with 20.5 sacks from the 3-4 defensive end position and earned the nickname "J.J. Swat" with 16 passes defensed.

    Luke Kuechly, last season's Defensive Rookie of the Year, is gunning for a similar second-year breakout. His stunning three-turnover preseason performance against the Baltimore Ravens helped earned him a second-place finish in our voting.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers MLB)—two votes

    Justin Houston (Kansas City Chiefs OLB)—one vote

    Earl Thomas (Seattle Seahawks S)—one vote

Rookie of the Year

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    The Voters' Selection (tie): EJ Manuel (Buffalo Bills QB)—five votes; Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams WR)—five votes

     

    Though the Associated Press divides its best-recognized Rookie of the Year awards by offense and defense, our panel picked an overall Rookie of the Year award—and split it.

    Manuel has the best opportunity to win overall honors. He's the only rookie quarterback with a solid grip on a starting job. As long as Manuel can stay healthy, he'll be the top rookie by default, if not by merit.

    Austin, the most electrifying skill-position prospect available in the draft, should have no problems contributing right away, if his 81-yard punt return against the Broncos is any indication. For a St. Louis Rams team desperate to get playmakers around inconsistent young quarterback Sam Bradford, Austin could be huge.

    Don't sleep on either Giovani Bernard or DeAndre Hopkins, either. Both figure to have prime roles from Week 1 on, and both have the explosive tools needed to make an instant impact.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals RB)—one vote

    DeAndre Hopkins (Houston Texans WR)—one vote

Offensive Rookie of the Year

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    The Voters' Selection: Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams WR)—five votes

     

    As noted with the overall Rookie of the Year award, Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel has a great opportunity to put up numbers. Our panel seems to think he's less likely to actually light up the scoreboard, though, as Manuel received only two votes here.

    St. Louis Rams receiver/returner Tavon Austin carries the day, again with five votes, but in second place this time is Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy. 

    Lacy, who has had an outstanding training camp and preseason, might end up being a better offensive starter than Austin, whose impact will partly come from special teams and specialized packages.

     

    Others Receiving Votes

    Eddie Lacy (Green Bay Packers RB)—three votes

    EJ Manuel (Buffalo Bills QB)—two votes

    Giovani Bernard (Cincinnati Bengals RB)—two votes

Defensive Rookie of the Year

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    The Voters' Selection: Jarvis Jones (Pittsburgh Steelers OLB)—five votes

     

    Jarvis Jones had a chance to be the first Pittsburgh Steelers rookie to win a Week 1 starting job since 2001, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. As our panel voted, the talented pass-rusher was still listed behind Jason Worilds on the official depth chart, but there's no question the 6'2", 245-pounder will get plenty of chances to attack opposing quarterbacks.

    With five votes, Jones beats out fellow outside linebacker (and Georgia alum) Alec Ogletree, who mixed some disappointing play and blown assignments with eye-popping splash plays this preseason.

    San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Manti Te'o, who's finally out from under the glaring eye of the news media, got a vote from one of our experts.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Alec Ogletree (St. Louis Rams OLB)—three votes

    Kenny Vaccaro (New Orleans Saints S)—two votes

    Sheldon Richardson (New York Jets DE)—one vote

    Manti Te'o (San Diego Chargers ILB)—one vote

Coach of the Year

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    The Voters' Selection: Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints)—five votes

     

    No one in the NFL is better set up for an attention-getting season than New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. As I discussed on Bleacher Report's NFL Summit video series, Payton's year-long "Bountygate" suspension gave him the rest and relaxation no NFL head coach has ever had.

    It also, presumably, put a massive chip on his shoulder.

    If Payton can get back on the same page with Drew Brees, the Saints will take a lot of people by surprise—but not our experts.

    Among the usual cast of Belichickian characters receiving votes, the state of Ohio is surprisingly well represented in our Coach of the Year voting: Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski each got a nod.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers)—two votes

    Bill Belichick (New England Patriots)—two votes

    Rob Chudzinski (Cleveland Browns)—one vote

    Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals)—one vote

    Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks)—one vote

Comeback Player of the Year

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    The Voters' Selection: Darrelle Revis (Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB)—six votes

     

    The math is simple here: Darrelle Revis was the best cornerback—and one of the best defensive players—in the NFL. Then, he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

    If he comes back and plays anywhere near his usual level, he's a lock for Comeback Player of the Year—hence, a pack-leading six votes from our experts.

    There's plenty of reason to believe Revis won't get right back to Revis as usual, though, from his first-ever team change to his failure to play a snap of preseason ball.

    Garnering two votes each were Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins pass-rusher, and Alex Smith, the Kansas City Chiefs' new quarterback. Smith was "Wally Pipped" out of a job by Colin Kaepernick last season, but he's been showing well this preseason as new head coach Andy Reid's field general.

    Two other cornerbacks got one vote each: Brent Grimes of the Miami Dolphins and Lardarius Webb of the Baltimore Ravens.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins OLB)—two votes

    Alex Smith (Kansas City Chiefs QB)—two votes

    Brent Grimes (Miami Dolphins CB)—one vote

    Lardarius Webb (Baltimore Ravens CB)—one vote

Best Quarterback

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    The Voters' Selection: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)—six votes

     

    Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady continue to slug it out in these awards. But aside from sharing our preseason MVP trophy, Rodgers is getting the better of Brady.

    In a testament to his proven arm, legs and brain, six of our panelists voted for Rodgers as Best Quarterback of 2013, despite big question marks surrounding his pass protectors and receiving corps.

    New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, the Denver Broncos' Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons each eked out one vote.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Tom Brady (New England Patriots)—three votes

    Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)—one vote

    Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos)—one vote

    Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)—one vote

Best Running Back

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    The Voters' Selection: Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)—eight votes

     

    How could anyone in good conscience vote against Adrian Peterson after his stunning comeback and spectacular, all but record-breaking 2012 season?

    Well, four of our panelists did.

    C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills, Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars and LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles all look primed for explosive years. The experts who voted for those players know running backs who have historic years, like Peterson, historically take a step back the next season.

    The other eight experts took a lesson from last year: Don't ever bet against the man they call "All Day."

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    C.J. Spiller (Buffalo Bills)—two votes

    Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville Jaguars)—one vote

    LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles)—one vote

Best Wide Receiver

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    The Voters' SelectionCalvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)—seven votes

     

    Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson's assault on the record books didn't garner as much attention as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's—not surprising, since Johnson wasn't bouncing back from a season-ending knee injury.

    Nevertheless, Johnson racked up an NFL-record 1,964 yards on 122 catches in 2012, establishing himself as the best in the business. Even so, Johnson only broke the plane of the end zone five times, as quarterback Matthew Stafford's play took a step back.

    Could the 6'5", 239-pound Johnson have upside he hasn't yet hit? Seven of our experts seem to think so.

    Three gave votes to third-year star A.J. Green, who's developed into a stud in his first two seasons in the NFL. If quarterback Andy Dalton can improve his play, Green could reach up and snatch the torch from Johnson years before the Lions wideout is ready to pass it.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    A.J. Green (Cincinnati Bengals)—three votes

    Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals)—one vote

    Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons)—one vote

Best Tight End

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    The Voters' Selection: Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints)—10 votes

     

    How did New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham run away with the Best Tight End vote? His eight-vote margin of victory over Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (the only other player receiving votes) is tied for the biggest landslide win of these awards.

    The 6'7", 260-pound Graham is a terrifying physical threat. He's too big to cover with a defensive back, too fast to cover with a linebacker and has too great of a rapport with quarterback Drew Brees to consistently shut down.

    With the return of Saints head coach Sean Payton, Graham could put up record-breaking numbers this season.

    Witten, still a great receiver at age 31, could give Graham a run for his money if Graham falls short of our lofty expectations.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Jason Witten (Dallas Cowboys)—two

Best Offensive Lineman

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    The Voters' Selection: Duane Brown (Houston Texans)—five votes

     

    After two straight seasons of tearing through the regular season and failing to make a deep playoff run, something's not quite right about the Houston Texans.

    Whatever it is, it isn't left tackle Duane Brown, who's been one of the best two-way tackles in football for two seasons running.

    Five of our experts tabbed Brown as their Best Offensive Lineman, and no other player got more than two votes. Blindside protectors Ryan Clady of the Denver Broncos, the San Francisco 49ers' Joe Staley and Cleveland Browns stalwart Joe Thomas all got some love.

    In an interesting twist, Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey is the only voted-for lineman who doesn't play left tackle.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Ryan Clady (Denver Broncos LT)—two votes

    Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns LT)—two votes

    Mike Pouncey (Miami Dolphins C)—two votes

    Joe Staley (San Francisco 49ers LT)—one vote

Best Defensive Lineman

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    The Voters' Selection: J.J. Watt (Houston Texans DE)—10 votes

     

    J.J. Watt takes home yet another trophy, as a whopping 10 voters picked him for Best Defensive Lineman. Watt already holds our Defensive Player of the Year award.

    The only two experts who didn't take Watt over the field both picked the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware. Ware, who seems to be taking to new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's 4-3 alignment like a duck to water, still has the size and speed to disrupt offenses coming off the edge.

    Presuming Watt's numbers fall off a bit from his insane 2012 season and Ware finds the fountain of youth, this race could be closer than the vote tallies suggest.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys)—two votes

Best Linebacker

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    The Voters' Selection: Luke Kuechly (Carolina Panthers MLB)—six votes

     

    Carolina Panthers then-rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly took the NFL by storm in 2012 with a league-leading 165 combined tackles. He's followed it up with a dominant preseason that shows he's ready to take the next step in 2013.

    With Kuechly adding frequent takeaways and more maturity in coverage to his on-point tackling game, he easily could become the best linebacker in the NFL this season. He'll still face a strong challenge from five-time All-Pro Patrick Willis, who got four votes from our panel.

    Fellow up-and-comers Justin Houston and Bobby Wagner got one vote apiece.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Patrick Willis (San Francisco 49ers ILB)—four votes

    Justin Houston (Kansas City Chiefs OLB)—one vote

    Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks MLB)—one vote

Best Defensive Back

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    The Voters' Selection: Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks CB)—eight votes

     

    As evidenced in this B/R video segment where he played "Man on the Street" on Bourbon Street, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is intent on proving he's surpassed Darrelle Revis as the best cover cornerback in the NFL.

    With eight votes from our 12-person panel, a majority agree he's going to pull it off. One vote still went to Revis, despite the uncertainty surrounding his recovery from an ACL injury and changing of teams.

    Keep an eye out for the Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas, the only safety to crack this list, and Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who shut down Calvin Johnson on Monday Night Football last season.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals CB)—one vote

    Darrelle Revis (Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB)—one vote

    Earl Thomas (Seattle Seahawks S)—one vote

    Charles Tillman (Chicago Bears CB)—one vote

Best Special Teamer

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    The Voters' Selection: Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals KR)—five votes

     

    Best Special Teams Player is a broad category, but Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals already has one first-team All-Pro nod in his brief career: his rookie season of 2011. In 2012, Peterson regressed with a host of muffed punts and poor decisions.

    New special teams coordinator Amos James, though, told media he's keeping Peterson contained within "parameters" that should get his considerable talent back on a productive track.

    Devin Hester, once the most dangerous returner in football, will return to a pure special teams role. The two votes he received show our experts remember what a dominant weapon he was before the Bears tried to shoehorn him into an offensive role.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Jacoby Jones (Baltimore Ravens PR)—three votes

    Devin Hester (Chicago Bears PR)—two votes

    Blair Walsh (Minnesota Vikings K)—one vote

    David Wilson (New York Giants KR)—one vote

Biggest Disappointment (Player)

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    The Voters' Selection (tie): Mike Wallace (Miami Dolphins WR)—three votes; Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens QB)—three votes

     

    Shocking as it may seem to have the reigning Super Bowl MVP taking home a share of the "Biggest Disappointment" award, Flacco played out of his skin in the 2012 playoffs. His 2012 regular season was practically indistinguishable from his five-year career averages, per Pro Football Reference.

    If Flacco signs a $120 million contract extension and then completes about 60 percent of his passes for around 3,500 yards and about 20 touchdowns, our three voters will be right: Flacco will be considered a big disappointment. Since that's the level at which Flacco has always performed, this scenario isn't just possible; it's probable.

    The Miami Dolphins made free agency's biggest "splash" signing when they lavished a $60 million contract on Wallace. Even before then, though, I explained why Wallace's limited tools, underwhelming production and poor attitude made him likely to be this year's biggest free-agent bust.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Arian Foster (Houston Texans RB)—two votes

    Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB)—two votes

    Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers QB)—one vote

    Darrelle Revis (Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB)—one vote

Biggest Rookie Bust

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    The Voters' Selection: Geno Smith (New York Jets QB)—seven votes

     

    New York Jets second-round rookie quarterback Geno Smith's inability to clearly separate himself from disgraced former starter Mark Sanchez gave him plenty of separation in the "Biggest Rookie Bust" award. With seven votes, Smith handily outpaced hyped-up pass-rushers Ezekiel Ansah, Jarvis Jones and Dion Jordan.

    Even though Smith has the starting job heading into Week 1, his disastrous three-interception preseason game against the rival New York Giants indicates he's unlikely to play well.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Ezekiel Ansah (Detroit Lions DE)—three votes

    Jarvis Jones (Pittsburgh Steelers OLB)—one vote

    Dion Jordan (Miami Dolphins DE/OLB)—one vote

Best Team (by Record)

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    The Voters' Selection (tie): Atlanta Falcons—two votes; San Francisco 49ers—two votes; New England Patriots—two votes; Seattle Seahawks—two votes; Pittsburgh Steelers—two votes

     

    Talk about indecision!

    When asked to pick which team would finish the 2013 season with the best record, our 12-writer panel deadlocked in a five-way tie.

    Six panelists liked the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks enough to vote for them, despite all three playing in highly competitive divisions—including, of course, the Seahawks and 49ers together in the NFC West.

    No one's ever looked foolish getting on the New England Patriots' metaphorical bus, as two of our experts did. Two more liked the Pittsburgh Steelers to bounce back from a disappointing 2012.

    The Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos round out the nominations with one vote each.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Cincinnati Bengals—one vote

    Denver Broncos—one vote

Biggest Surprise Team

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    The Voters' Selection: Cleveland Browns—five votes

     

    After a strange 2012 season that involved great promise (first-round rookie quarterback and running back, surprisingly strong receivers and defense, great offensive line) and great pain (a lame-duck coaching and executive staff, poor start for the rookies, a 5-11 record), the Cleveland Browns were our panel's pick to surprise with an excellent 2013 season.

    With a new coaching staff built to maximize the underrated talent on defense and get the most out of enigmatic second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden, the Browns could take the AFC North by surprise.

    Close on their heels were the Kansas City Chiefs, whose radical offensive makeover and defensive restocking appear likely to pay dividends under new skipper Andy Reid.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Kansas City Chiefs—four votes

    New Orleans Saints—two votes

    Miami Dolphins—one vote

Biggest Disappointment (Team)

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    The Voters' Selection (tie): Indianapolis Colts—four votes; Baltimore Ravens—four votes

     

    After a stunning run to an 11-5 season, the Indianapolis Colts decided to push all their chips to the center of the table. Spending big money in free agency and targeting starters in the draft, the Colts theoretically upgraded nine starting positions in the offseason.

    However, the Colts got historically lucky on that 11-5 run. Their win-loss record looked a lot better than any advanced measurement of their performance on the field, like Football Outsiders' DVOA. Even if the Colts' upgrades work out (and many of them, like right tackle Gosder Cherilus, have big question marks), the Colts are primed to take a big step back.

    The Baltimore Ravens are the defending Super Bowl champions. Whether you think they're in for a massively disappointing season or a surprisingly good one depends on your point of view. With the massive fire sale of veteran leaders on both sides of the ball, it's easy to project a major drop-off.

    With some savvy free-agent pickups like defensive lineman Chris Canty and inside linebacker Daryl Smith, though, the Ravens might not fall far from last year's 10-6 regular-season record.

    Unfortunately for the Ravens, they won't be compared to last year's regular-season record, but last year's Super Bowl championship.

     

    Others Receiving Votes:

    Houston Texans—two votes

    Dallas Cowboys—two votes

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