NFL Predictions: Week 15 Awards Watch

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IDecember 11, 2013

NFL Predictions: Week 15 Awards Watch

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    Wasn’t last week fun?

    A record number of touchdowns, more snow than the Himalayas and great individual performances despite those less-than-favorable weather conditions.

    Speaking of favorable, here is a breakdown who we feel are the front-runners for the NFL’s seven individual awards (courtesy of the Associated Press each year) and who is also under consideration.

    We’ve been doing this every Wednesday morning all season, and we’ll soon find out just how accurate our forecasts have been. Once again, we’ll chime in on the perceived leader for the award at this time. There will also be four more thumbnails on other possible candidates, as well as a list of five men who are strong contenders as well.

    It figures to be quite the entertaining stretch run for not only the playoffs, but these seven honors as well.

Most Valuable Player: QB Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    As long as the Denver Broncos remain vulnerable on defense, quarterback Peyton Manning will continue to be in attack mode on offense.

    John Fox’s team ran its record to 11-2 on Sunday courtesy of a 51-28 victory over the visiting Tennessee Titans. Manning and his team trailed Tennessee, 21-10, in the second quarter before outscoring their guests a combined 41-7 the rest of the afternoon.

    While Manning wasn’t super sharp (he did have 20 incompletions), he connected on 39 of 59 attempts for 397 yards and four touchdowns. He wasn’t sacked, didn’t fumble and didn’t throw an interception. All told, Fox’s club ran a total of 91 offensive plays.

    Manning has now thrown five times as many touchdown passes (45) as interceptions (nine) this season. He’s 478 yards short of 5,000 yards passing in 2013. The Broncos have already scored 515 points, an average of 39.6 per contest.

    Meanwhile, Denver has already given up 345 points (56 more than last season), an average of 26.5 per outing. Which means Manning and Co. will just keep on pitching.

    And as for the best of the rest, let’s not ignore some other great performances…


    2. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

    Less than a week after being humbled by the Seattle Seahawks in the Pacific Northwest, Brees gave the Carolina Panthers defense a dose of reality on Sunday night at the Superdome. The Saints quarterback has thrown 33 touchdown passes and has been picked off just eight times. It’s somewhat forgotten that Brees tied for the NFL lead with 19 interceptions in 2012.


    3. RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

    With second-year quarterback Nick Foles having a solid season, McCoy has taken somewhat of a backseat when it comes to attention. Emphasis on somewhat: The versatile runner piled up a team-record 217 yards rushing and two touchdowns on Sunday versus the Detroit Lions.

    “As a back, you’re so grateful and thankful for a guy to play so well because it makes the team so balanced,” said McCoy in regards to Foles via David Steele of “It’s not a problem with me if I don’t get the ball as much because No. 9 is putting it down, and vice versa if I get a chance to do my thing. It makes the offense a lot more balanced.”

    McCoy leads the NFL with 1,744 yards from scrimmage. More importantly, the Eagles lead the NFC East by one game with three games to play.


    4. QB Tom Brady, New England Patriots

    Where would this team be without its determined signal-caller? Brady helped rescue the Patriots on Sunday against the upset-minded Cleveland Browns. The Patriots have allowed 24 or more points in five straight games and yet the team is 4-1 over that stretch. And Brady will have to be even more productive down the stretch minus star tight end Rob Gronkowski.


    5. QB Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

    While it still appears to be a long shot for the Chargers to reach the playoffs, Rivers and his team refuse to go down without a fight. While many have asked why he’s not the front-runner for Comeback Player of the Year, he would certainly qualify for bounce-back player of 2013. After committing a combined 47 turnovers the previous two seasons, Rivers has coughed up the ball only 10 times in 13 games this year. He’s also completing 70.3 percent of his passes and has thrown for 26 scores in 2013.


    In The Discussion

      6. WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

      7. QB Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

      8. RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

      9. QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

    10. RB Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

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

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    Let’s take a closer look at the numbers that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has amassed in just 13 games this season.

    He’s thrown for 300 or more yards in 11 games and at least two touchdown passes in all but one contest.

    His 45 scoring strikes are tied for the fifth most in one season and are five short of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s NFL record of 50, set in 2007.

    For the 18th time in league history, a team has scored at least 500 points in a season. The Broncos have totaled 515 points in 2013 and need 74 points to tie the record set by Brady and the Patriots (589 points) in 2007.

    Denver has scored at least 27 points in every game in 2013 and 31-plus points in 11 of its 13 outings. Led by Manning, the Broncos’ offensive unit alone has totaled 61 touchdowns this season.

    Anything else need to be said? Not really, but here are some other notable offensive performers who are having terrific years.


    2. RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

    Just like Peyton Manning, you will find this productive performer in this slideshow more than once. McCoy has rushed for a league-best 1,305 yards, ranks second on his club with 40 receptions and leads the NFL with 1,744 yards from scrimmage this season. He’s already touched the ball 301 times in 2013 and figures to be very busy down the stretch.


    3. WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions

    Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has taken over the league receiving-yardage lead from Johnson, but that may be short-lived. Johnson has totaled 1,348 yards on 75 catches and has scored a dozen touchdowns, the latter the second most in the NFL this season.


    4. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

    The 13-year veteran showed the upstart Carolina Panthers that he can still get the job done against an excellent defense. Brees threw four touchdown passes in Sunday night’s 31-13 win and now has totaled 33 scores through the air in 2013. That means he’s just seven touchdown passes away from a third straight season of 40-plus scores.


    5. WR Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns

    There’s no hotter wide receiver in the league these days, although a lot of Gordon’s recent performances have gone to waste per se. The second-year pro has played in just 11 games this season but leads the NFL with 1,400 receiving yards. In his last four outings, Gordon has totaled 36 catches for 774 yards and five scores, but the Browns have lost each of those contests.


    In The Discussion

      6. TE Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

      7. WR Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

      8. RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

      9. QB Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles

    10. WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

Defensive Player of the Year: FS Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

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    How do you figure this?

    Didn’t free safety Earl Thomas and his Seattle Seahawks come up short on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers?

    Yes, Pete Carroll’s team was on the wrong end of a 19-17 score. But the Seattle defense did as much as it could. And Thomas continues to be the central figure for the league’s top-ranked unit in terms of fewest total yards and fewest passing yards allowed.

    Thomas is tied for the team lead in tackles (89) with linebacker Bobby Wagner, and 71 of those stops are of the solo variety. He has also totaled four interceptions (also tied for the team lead), knocked down seven passes and forced a pair of fumbles.

    For the record, the rangy pro is far from a lock to win this honor. But it’s worth noting that if Thomas pulls it off, he’ll be the first Seahawks player to earn the award since Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy captured the honor in 1992.

    The following defensive stalwarts have also made their marks this season.


    2. MLB Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

    The second-year performer had almost as many tackles (11) as the Panthers had points (13) on Sunday at the Superdome. But Kuechly and Co. were eating a little humble pie, Cajun style, in that loss to the New Orleans Saints. Let’s see how the productive defender and his team bounce back this Sunday versus the New York Jets.


    3. CB Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks

    If there is still a shutdown cornerback in the NFL (hard to believe given the current rules in the league), Sherman would certainly qualify. He’s tied for the team lead in both interceptions (four) and passes defensed and is one of the big reasons the Seahawks are the top-ranked pass defense in the league.


    4. OLB Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals

    There’s no Geno Atkins and there’s no Leon Hall and apparently there’s no problem in Cincinnati. The Bengals still rank eighth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed and fifth in the league in rushing defense. Burfict has amassed a team-high 139 tackles, more than doubling the total of teammate Rey Maualuga (63). The second-year pro has also totaled three takeaways and knocked down eight passes.


    5. DE Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams

    Jeff Fisher’s team only got to Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer once on Sunday, and Quinn was limited to just three tackles and zero sacks in the loss. Still, the explosive defender ranks second in the NFL with 13.0 sacks this season.


    In The Discussion

      6. OLB Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts

      7. DE Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets

      8. OLB Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

      9. DE J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

    10. DE Chandler Jones, New England Patriots

Offensive Rookie of the Year: WR Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers

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    Talk about a hot streak.

    You could make a case that the San Diego Chargers played their most complete of the game last week in dismissing the New York Giants, 37-14.

    And rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen continues to be a big part of what Mike McCoy’s team is evolving into, especially as of late.

    “Keenan has gotten better every week,” said McCoy via Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune. “And we’ve talked about it every week with him about continuing to build and taking it one day at a time...The kid’s learning to be a pro, and he’ll tell you that he has a long way to go…”

    After totaling back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, Allen caught three passes for 59 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory over the Giants. The third-round pick in April has totaled 61 receptions for 902 yards and five scores this season.

    Allen needs just 98 yards to become just the 17th rookie in NFL history to total at least 1,000 yards receiving and the first Chargers rookie to achieve the feat since talented wide receiver John Jefferson in 1978.

    You could wish Allen luck but these days, he doesn’t seem to need a lot.

    Speaking of a lot, as in other quality rookies on this side of the ball…


    2. RB Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals

    The first running back taken in April’s draft came up with 148 yards from scrimmage in his team’s 42-28 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Bernard is the Bengals’ second-leading rusher (620 yards) and second-leading pass-catcher (47 receptions) and has totaled 1,023 yards from scrimmage and scored seven touchdowns this season.


    3. RB Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers

    The powerful runner leads all rookies with 887 yards on the ground, more than half of what the Packers have run for in 2013, and he has given the team some much-needed offensive balance. Lacy has totaled 20 or more carries in eight of his last 10 games and is also tied for the team lead with seven touchdowns.


    4. WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings

    The third of the Vikings’ three first-round picks this year opens more eyes on a weekly basis. One week after running 33 yards for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears, Patterson took a short pass and turned it into a 79-yard score in the team’s wild loss at Baltimore. He’s scored five touchdowns three different ways this season.


    5. QB Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Greg Schiano’s team has won four of its last six games following that 0-8 start and the third-round pick from North Carolina State has been a big factor. Glennon is completing 60.6 of his passes and has thrown for more than twice as many scores (15) as interceptions (seven)not bad considering he didn’t play a down the first three weeks of the season.


    In The Discussion

      6. WR/KR Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams

      7. G Larry Warford, Detroit Lions

      8. RB LeVeon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

      9. WR Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys 

    10. RB Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams

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

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    There’s a familiar issue surrounding the Buffalo Bills defense once again.

    When will it learn to consistently stop the run?

    Despite the efforts of rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso, this shortcoming has unfortunately made for some long afternoons for head coach Doug Marrone and his team.

    The second-round pick has amassed a team-high 131 tackles and remains tied for the club lead with four interceptions. But the Bills are also a mere 26th in the NFL versus the run. And it’s worth noting that in the previous four seasons (2000-12), Buffalo ranked no higher than 28th in the league in rushing defense.

    While Alonso remains the leader in the clubhouse for this honor, it will be interesting to see how he and his team fare down the stretch.

    Meanwhile, there are some other impressive rookie defenders on this list as usual…


    2. DT Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers

    The red-hot Panthers were cooled off in a big way at the Superdome last Sunday night as the New Orleans Saints rolled to a 31-13 win. New Orleans barely attempted to run (17 carries), but Lotulelei and his linemates didn’t generate a lot of pressure on quarterback Drew Brees, who threw four touchdown passes. Carolina now ranks No. 1 in the NFL in rushing defense.


    3. OLB Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams

    It has been an impressive year for St. Louis’ second first-round draft choice in April. Ogletree ranks second on the team with 94 tackles, third on the club with eight passes defensed and second with four forced fumbles.


    4. DT Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets

    Rex Ryan’s team snapped an ugly three-game losing streak courtesy of a 37-27 win over the visiting Oakland Raiders. Richardson totaled just two stops on Sunday but remains fourth on the team with 66 tackles and has chipped in with 3.5 sacks.


    5. DE Ziggy Ansah, Detroit Lions

    The Lions’ unpredictable defense was buried under an avalanche of LeSean McCoy on Sunday, as the Philadelphia Eagles’ running back ran for 217 of his team’s 299 rushing yards. Due to the blizzard-like conditions, we’re pretty sure Ansah had three tackles in Detroit’s 34-20 loss. In all seriousness, the rookie now leads his club with seven sacks this season.


    In The Discussion

      6. SS Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints

      7. FS Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers

      8. LB Paul Worrilow, Atlanta Falcons

      9. FS Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals

    10. SS Johnathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars

Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Only 15 times in NFL history has a team won eight more games than it did the previous season.

    That includes Andy Reid’s 2013 Kansas City Chiefs. The AFC West contenders ran their record to 10-3 last week thanks to a 45-10 win over the Washington Redskins.

    Last season, the Chiefs were a stunning 2-14. Now they’re very much in the playoff hunt thanks in part to Reid, who saw his club snap a three-game losing streak last week.

    In case you are curious, the best any team has ever done in terms of more wins the following season was 10. The 1998 Indianapolis Colts finished 3-13 and then 13-3 in 1999, while the 1-15 Miami Dolphins of 2007 were 11-5 and AFC East champions in 2008.

    That means if Reid and the Chiefs run the table, the team will set a new league mark in terms of improvement.

    Stay tuned, folks.

    Elsewhere, there are a few other good men doing some terrific coaching work as well…


    2. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles

    The Eagles are now the league’s hottest team via their five-game winning streak and now sit by themselves atop the NFC East. Kelly’s offense leads the league in rushing, and only two clubs have gained more total yards per game. And slowly but surely, the Philadelphia defense is getting better.


    3. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

    Sunday’s 27-26 win over the Cleveland Browns ensured another 10-win season for the Patriots and Belichick, who have now reached double digits in the victory column an impressive 11 consecutive years. But now the team has to deal with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, whom quarterback Tom Brady was just getting used to seeing again.


    4. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers

    The third-year head coach slips a little bit this week, as it was his pride and joy that was exploited on Sunday night at the Superdome by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and friends. Now we’ll see if Rivera can have his team ready for a game with the Jets knowing a rematch with the Saints is just ahead.


    5. Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals

    The 8-5 Cardinals are aiming for their first winning season since they were NFC West champions in 2009. The team’s 30-10 victory last Sunday over the St. Louis Rams ended an eight-game losing streak to division rivals. And Arians’ influence on veteran quarterback Carson Palmer is very evident.


    In The Discussion

      6. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks

      7. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints

      8. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

      9. Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins

    10. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars

Comeback Player of the Year: RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

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    He leads the NFL in rushing yards as well as total yards from scrimmage. And his Philadelphia Eagles have doubled their win total from 2012.

    Sounds like running back LeSean McCoy, who missed four games a year ago, is the comeback story on one of the NFL’s comeback teams.

    A year ago, the former Pro Bowler played in a dozen contests, amassed 1,213 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns.

    One season later and with one additional game played, McCoy has totaled a league-best 1,744 yards from scrimmage and scored eight times. On Sunday versus the Detroit Lions, he set a new franchise record with 217 yards on the ground.

    And if the Eagles continue to roll, McCoy may get the chance to add some postseason records to his resume.

    Here are also a few other notable veterans on the comeback trail…


    2. CB Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins

    Think the Atlanta Falcons could have used their former Pro Bowl cornerback this season? Grimes has totaled 44 tackles, leads the club with four interceptions and has knocked down a team-high 15 passes this season. And his Dolphins could be playoff-bound in 2013.


    3. QB Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

    The veteran signal-caller continues to be efficient, and the Chiefs have now won 10 games this season under his direction. Smith has thrown three times as many touchdown passes (18, a career high) as interceptions (six), and the passing game is becoming a bigger part of the Kansas City attack as the season wears on.


    4. SS Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

    We saw the athletic defender do his thing on Sunday, picking off Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and returning the theft 19 yards for a touchdown. Polamalu is tied for the team lead with nine passes defensed and leads the Steelers with three forced fumbles.


    5. WR Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers

    As the Chargers remain in contention for a postseason appearance, Royal has enjoyed a very steady year. Rookie Keenan Allen may be the team’s hot wide receiver these days, but you can’t dismiss Royal’s comeback year in which he has 37 receptions, seven for touchdowns.


    In The Discussion

      6. CB Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

      7. RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars

      8. CB Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens

      9. CB Terrell Thomas, New York Giants

    10. OLB Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens