NFL Predictions: Week 4 Awards Watch

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor ISeptember 25, 2013

NFL Predictions: Week 4 Awards Watch

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    Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard has scored three touchdowns in his last two games.
    Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard has scored three touchdowns in his last two games.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    It’s once again time for a weekly look at the perceived front-runners for the National Football League’s seven major individual awards.

    There are three changes from last week’s list. But the one thing you can’t help but notice is that all of the leaders in these categories are driven by teams from the AFC.

    Why? Perhaps because four of the league’s seven 3-0 teams are from the conference, and 10 of the 16 clubs in the AFC are above .500. And in case you haven’t noticed—and it is early—the AFC has won 11 of the 14 head-to-head meetings with the NFC in 2013.

    Anyone have any thoughts on the seven subjects? I’m sure everyone has a few.

Most Valuable Player: QB Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    What a start.

    On Monday night versus the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was nearly flawless. It is worth noting that he did commit his first turnover of the season when he was sacked and lost a fumble.

    Well, so much for that little setback. Manning would complete 32 of 37 passes for 374 yards and three touchdowns in Denver’s 37-21 win.

    How sharp has Manning been this season? He has hit on 73 percent of his throws, completed passes to 10 teammates, and his 12 touchdown tosses have gone to five different players. Wideouts Demaryius Thomas (20), Eric Decker (19), Wes Welker (19) and tight end Julius Thomas (14) have all reached double digits in receptions.

    And we haven’t mentioned interceptions because Manning hasn’t thrown one yet.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

    Is it too early to mention that the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season is 50? Most football fans know that the mark was set by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in 2007.

    So after watching Peyton Manning in action so far in 2013, is he capable of topping that mark?

    Capable? Yes. But it won’t be easy. Manning would have to average three touchdown passes per game in his final 13 outings to get to 51 scores.

    But that’s the future. At present, the Broncos signal-caller is leading the league in nearly every passing category except one. That would be in the form of not throwing an interception.

    Manning leads the NFL in completion percentage (73), passing yards (1,143) and touchdown passes (12), to name a few. The Broncos lead the league in scoring with 127 points and in total offense, averaging 486.7 yards per contest.

    For now, there have been no challengers for this honor. But there’s an awfully long way to go.

    And that’s bad news if you’re not a fan of Manning and the Broncos.

Defensive Player of the Year: OLB Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs won two games and plummeted to the bottom of the AFC West standings.

    It’s worth noting that in the team’s season opener from a year ago, the club gave up 40 points in a 16-point loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

    That figure is brought up because after three games in 2013, all wins, these Chiefs have allowed a combined 34 points.

    A big reason for that turnaround has been the play of outside linebacker Justin Houston, who currently leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks. Add in 17 tackles, three passes defensed, a forced fumble and a pair of fumble recoveries, and the credentials are there.

    And if the New York Giants offensive line performs as it did a week ago, Houston and his teammates will have no problem adding to their defensive numbers on Sunday.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: WR DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    While Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel remains a viable candidate for this award, he comes off a rough outing against the New York Jets. So it’s time to throw a new face into the mix.

    The Houston Texans are off to a 2-1 start and are coming off a 30-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in which the team failed to score a touchdown.

    But it was rookie wideout DeAndre Hopkins who led the club with six receptions for 60 yards in the 21-point setback.

    The week before, Hopkins was the catalyst of the Texans' 30-24 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans. Three weeks into the season, the first-round pick leads all rookies in receptions (18) and receiving yards (243).

    Close on Hopkins’ heels are not only Manuel, but Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard and St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Chicago Bears rookie offensive linemen tandem of right guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: MLB Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Although the Buffalo Bills stand at 1-2, middle linebacker Kiko Alonso ranks No. 1.

    That’s No. 1 as in tackles for his team. The second-round draft choice leads the club with 27 stops as well as two interceptions. Alonso has also knocked down two passes, forced and recovered a fumble and registered one sack.

    Obviously, the Bills still have a long way to go on the defensive side of the football. Three weeks into the season, Doug Marrone’s club is tied for next-to-last in the NFL in rushing defense. And only four teams have allowed more total yards per game. But Alonso has certainly been a positive step.

    We are also still keeping an eye on Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu, who totaled 10 tackles and recorded his first career interception last week in his team’s 31-7 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Coach of the Year: Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins

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    Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

    It certainly doesn’t take an unbeaten record to qualify for early Coach of the Year consideration.

    But it doesn’t hurt.

    Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman was in this spot last week, and he has done nothing to hurt his chances.

    But the nod now goes to Miami Dolphins sideline leader Joe Philbin, who has the team off to its best start since 2002.

    After a road win over the Cleveland Browns, Miami has come up with a pair of four-point victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons, both playoff teams in 2012. The team appears to be having some issues on the offensive front, as the running game has yet to get going, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 14 times.

    The bottom line is that Philbin’s team finds itself tied with the New England Patriots for first place in the AFC East. But the Dolphins will certainly get a stern test Monday night against the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.

Comeback Player of the Year: QB Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    You have already heard the whispers as to whether the San Francisco 49ers kept the right quarterback this offseason.

    It’s a ridiculous bit of hindsight. But when one team starts 3-0 and the other opens at 2-2, there are bound to be critics.

    Enough of that silliness and onto the real focus here. Veteran quarterback Alex Smith continues to be efficient both with his arm and his legs. The former first overall pick has completed 61 percent of his passes for 669 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. And Smith also ranks second on the team with 114 yards rushing—this is despite being sacked 10 times.

    The Chiefs have yet to commit a turnover in three games, quite a turnaround for a club that gave up the football 37 times in 2012.

    Elsewhere, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who missed four games in November and December last season but returned for the final two weeks, is off to a phenomenal start as well. The former Pro Bowler leads the NFL in rushing yards (395) and total yards from scrimmage (514).