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NFL Predictions: Week 17 Awards Watch

Russell S. BaxterContributor IDecember 25, 2013

NFL Predictions: Week 17 Awards Watch

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    Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had a field day (night) against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
    Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy had a field day (night) against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    With only 16 regular-season games remaining in the NFL’s 94th campaign, we're down to the nitty-gritty when it comes to the league’s seven individual awards (as presented by the Associated Press).

    So, once again, here is the weekly breakdown of the leaders in the clubhouse. This week will also focus on the two other strongest candidates in each category, as well as the seven other top performers.

    The goal here is to predict in which direction the 50 voters are leaning, not necessarily to make our own selections.

    Of course, feel free to offer your own thoughts below. We only ask that you have a happy holiday season.

Most Valuable Player: QB Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos

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    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    As goes quarterback Peyton Manning, so go the Denver Broncos.

    Then again, Manning has certainly been a go all season.

    With a win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, the Broncos will secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC for the second straight year. Depending on what the Seattle Seahawks do against the St. Louis Rams this weekend, a Denver win ensures the Broncos of at least a tie for the best record in the NFL for a second consecutive season.

    When your team gives up 25.7 points per game, it’s imperative that your offense be pretty damn good. Manning has already thrown an NFL-record 51 touchdown passes compared to just 10 interceptions, which helps explain why his team is 18 points shy of setting a new league mark for points scored in a season.

    The feeling all along has been that Denver's inability to consistently stop the opposition has forced Manning and co. to keep their foot on the pedal all season. Things got worse on the defensive side of the ball this week as former Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller went down for the remainder of 2013 with a torn ACL in his right knee.

     

    2. RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

    Granted, second-year quarterback Nick Foles has had one of the hottest hands in the league this season, but where would Chip Kelly’s team be without McCoy, the NFL leader in rushing yards (1,476) and total yards from scrimmage (2,012)? The versatile performer figures to be extremely busy Sunday night in Dallas as the Eagles play for the NFC East title.

     

    3. QB Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers

    Winners of three straight, the Chargers could be in the playoffs by early Sunday evening. That would be a quite a coup for Rivers, who has done a much better job this season when it comes to ball security. In the process, he’s also managed to complete an NFL-best 69.7 percent of his passes, throwing for 29 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. The Bolts haven’t been to the postseason since 2009.

     

    In The Discussion

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

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    A year ago, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson finished just nine yards short of setting a NFL record for rushing yards in a season.

    Last Sunday at Houston, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning set a new league standard for touchdown passes in a season…with one game to spare.

    Now, the prolific signal-caller, who has thrown for 51 scores in 15 games, takes aim at another record when his Broncos face the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

    Manning has thrown for 5,211 yards in 2013 and needs 266 yards to eclipse New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees' single-season record of 5,476, set just two years ago.

    By the way, the AFC West champion Broncos have scored 572 points and 72 touchdowns this season. The NFL records in those categories belong to the 2007 New England Patriots, who scored 589 points and 75 touchdowns.

    Need we say more?

     

    2. RB Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

    Charles, who leads the AFC with 1,980 yards from scrimmage and has scored a league-leading 19 total touchdowns, was the Chiefs' lone bright spot in last Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He ran for 106 yards and the team’s only touchdown on 13 carries to go with five receptions for 38 yards. The productive runner could become the first Chief to lead the NFL in touchdowns scored since running back Priest Holmes turned the trick in 2003.

     

    3. RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles

    What a year it has been for both McCoy and the Eagles, who will be playing for the NFC East title Sunday night at Dallas. The five-year veteran leads the league with 2,012 yards from scrimmage, including 1,476 yards rushing—189 more than Jamaal Charles. It’s almost a certainty that McCoy will become the first Eagles player to lead the league in rushing since Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren in 1949.

     

    In The Discussion

    •   4. TE Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
    •   5. QB Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles
    •   6. WR Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
    •   7. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
    •   8. WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
    •   9. RB Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
    • 10. WR A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
    •  

Defensive Player of the Year: MLB Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

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    How does one total 24 tackles in one game?

    There’s at least one player who can answer that question, and he would be the leader of a Carolina Panthers team that has allowed the fewest points in the league this season.

    It’s been a banner year for Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who leads his team with 146 tackles (88 solo) and has totaled two sacks, four interceptions and knocked down seven passes as well. But he likes to give credit where credit is due.

    “It’s not me, it’s not Thomas (Davis),” said Kuechly via Jonathan Jones and Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. “It’s the coaches, (defensive coordinator Sean) McDermott, (linebackers coach) Al (Holcomb), it’s the D-line that help us do that.”

    Even more significant is the fact that the Panthers are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The steady Kuechly is a major reason as to why this club could be on the verge of its first division title since 2008 as well.

    All in all, not bad for a second-year player who was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year last season.

     

    2. DE Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams

    One week after sacking New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees twice in a win, Quinn added to his stellar season by taking down Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon three times in the Rams' 23-13 win last Sunday. The third-year defender leads the NFL with 18 sacks to go along with 52 tackles and seven forced fumbles.

     

    3. CB Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks

    Despite the fact that his team lost its first game in Seattle in two seasons last Sunday, Sherman did his best to keep the Seahawks’ 14-game home winning streak alive. He had two of the team’s four interceptions of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer and has picked off a league-high eight passes in 2013. Sherman has also amassed 47 tackles and totaled 15 passes defensed.

     

    In The Discussion

    •   4. FS Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
    •   5. OLB Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals
    •   6. OLB Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    •   7. OLB Robert Mathis, Indianapolis Colts
    •   8. ILB NaVorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers
    •   9. DE Muhammad Wilkerson, New York Jets
    • 10. DE Mario Williams, Buffalo Bills

Offensive Rookie of the Year: RB Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    One can only imagine what an entire season of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and running back Eddie Lacy would have added up to for the Green Bay Packers in 2013.

    Unfortunately, all we can do is imagine since Rodgers has been sidelined for more than half the season by a broken collarbone.

    Meanwhile, the Packers rookie running back has enjoyed quite a debut campaign. Lacy ranks eighth in the league with 1,112 yards rushing and leads NFL all rookies with 10 touchdowns. He totaled 20 or more carries in nine of his last 12 outings and scored at least one touchdown in eight of his last 10 games.

    The second-round selection has not been a huge threat as a pass-catcher, but has totaled 33 receptions for 242 yards. All told, Lacy leads all rookies with 1,354 yards from scrimmage.

    The workhorse back hurt his ankle in the second half of last week’s 38-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. While everyone waits to see if Rodgers will be available this week, the Packers are also concerned about whether they will have Lacy at their disposal against the Chicago Bears' league-worst run defense.

    Stay tuned.

     

    2. WR Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers

    The third-round pick from the University of California has scored at least one touchdown in three straight games. With 66 catches for 957 yards and eight scores this season, he’s on the verge of becoming the 17th rookie in NFL history to total 1,000 or more yards receiving. The Chargers finish their season at home against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

     

    3. RB Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals

    The first running back taken in this year's draft has been a big piece of the puzzle in Cincinnati, which wrapped up its first division title since 2009 last Sunday. Bernard ranks third on the team with eight total touchdowns and second in both rushing yards (673) and receptions (51). His 1,136 yards from scrimmage are third-best among NFL rookies in 2013.

     

    In The Discussion

    •   4. RB Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
    •   5. RB LeVeon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
    •   6. WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
    •   7. WR Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys 
    •   8. QB Mike Glennon, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    •   9. WR/KR Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
    • 10. RB Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals

Defensive Rookie of the Year: OLB Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams

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    Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    Surprise!

    The names Kiko Alonso and Sheldon Richardson have been atop this page all season. But it’s time to throw a new one into the ring when it comes to the front-runner for this honor.

    The St. Louis Rams made a pair of first-round selection in the 2013 NFL draft. The majority of the publicity went to wide receiver Tavon Austin, who the team moved up to the eighth spot to select via a trade with the Buffalo Bills.

    The other guy was outside linebacker Alec Ogletree, who leads the Rams with 109 tackles this season, including an impressive 91 solo efforts. That’s quite a feat considering middle linebacker James Laurinaitis had led the team in tackles in each of the previous four seasons.

    Ogletree has been consistent, and besides his impressive tackles total, has knocked down nine passes, forced six fumbles, totaled 1.5 sacks and returned an interception 98 yards for a score.

    Now, let’s see if he and his team can close out 2013 with a win at Seattle.

     

    2. DT Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets

    Only two teams in the NFL have given up fewer rushing yards than the Jets, but Richardson is one of the catalysts on a promising defensive front. The 13th overall pick in this year's draft ranks fourth on the team with 76 stops—12 for losses—and has also totaled 3.5 sacks. Richardson even has a rushing touchdown on his resume.

     

    3. MLB Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills

    Don’t get me wrong. Alonso has been atop of the defensive rookie rankings for the vast majority of this season and the second-round draft choice has totaled an impressive 145 tackles this season, tops among his team. It’s simply a case of both Ogletree and Richardson being better than Alonso, which is high praise. But as we shall see down the road, this could be a very interesting vote when all is said and done.

     

    In The Discussion

    •   4. FS Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers
    •   5. DT Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
    •   6. LB Paul Worrilow, Atlanta Falcons
    •   7. DE Ziggy Ansah, Detroit Lions
    •   8. SS Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints
    •   9. CB Logan Ryan, New England Patriots
    • 10. SS Johnathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars

Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s time for a little honesty.

    Raise your hand if you thought that the Arizona Cardinals would win 10 games this season, or possibly even 11. Yes, I know it’s hard to type and raise your hand at the same time.

    Me too.

    Who would have thought that, in the very rugged NFC West, the Cards—losers of 11 of their last 12 games a year ago—would be staring at a possible playoff berth on the final Sunday of the regular season?

    I wonder if head coach Bruce Arians has his hand raised. No matter, last season’s NFL Coach of the Year has made a very strong case to repeat, this time with the Cardinals. Filling in for ailing Chuck Pagano last season at Indianapolis, he helped lead the Colts to an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance.

    In case you’re wondering, the last time this a coach won this award in consecutive seasons was 1982 and 1983, when Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs won Super Bowl XVII and reached Super Bowl XVIII with the Washington Redskins.

     

    2. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers

    Four games into their season, the Panthers were 1-3 and evoking memories of both 2011 and 2012, as the team won only twice in its first 10 outings. But Carolina has not only rebounded with 10 wins in its last 11 games, it has taken a one-game lead in the NFC South over a New Orleans Saints team that opened the season 4-0. Rivera has the Panthers in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

     

    3. Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs

    With Reid having been the front-runner for the award for the majority of the season, it’s hard to ignore that the Chiefs have lost four of their last six games, including three straight at home, since opening 9-0. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that both Arians and Rivera have done exceptional jobs with perhaps a little less talent. But let’s not forget that this was a team that finished 2-14 in 2012, regardless of the fact that this is a roster with its share of Pro Bowlers.

     

    In The Discussion

    •   4. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
    •   5. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
    •   6. Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
    •   7. Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins
    •   8. Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
    •   9. Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
    • 10. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

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

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    Some have pointed out that Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy should not really be considered a candidate for NFL Comeback Player of the Year because he did play in 12 games last season.

    Let’s do the math for a second. That means he missed four games or one quarter of the season in 2012. I’d say that staying healthy all season and leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,476) and total yards from scrimmage (2,012) qualifies as a comeback.

    But it’s more than that. McCoy is the offensive catalyst of an Eagles team making a comeback of its own. The Eagles are one win away from a 10-6 record and their first NFC East title since 2010. This was a team that finished 4-12 a year ago, losing 11 of its final 12 contests.

    Nothing like rewarding two Birds with one stone—or rather, award.

     

    2. SS Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Amazingly, Mike Tomlin’s team can still reach the playoffs if things bounce Pittsburgh's way. A major factor in the Steelers overcoming a disastrous 0-4 start has been Polamalu, who at times has looked like his old NFL Defensive Player of the Year self from 2010. He ranks third on the team with 65 tackles, has totaled two sacks, two interceptions, knocked down 11 passes and forced five fumbles.

     

    3. QB Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

    It was not a great Week 16 for the one-time San Francisco 49ers quarterback as he committed three of the team’s four turnovers in a 23-7 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts. But let’s also consider Smith’s body of work in 2013, a season in which he’s thrown a career-high 23 touchdown passes (with eight interceptions) and has led the Chiefs to an 11-4 record, which is nine more wins than they finished with last season.

     

    In The Discussion

    •   4. CB Brent Grimes, Miami Dolphins
    •   5. RB Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
    •   6. CB Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    •   7. CB Lardarius Webb, Baltimore Ravens
    •   8. CB Terrell Thomas, New York Giants
    •   9. OLB Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens
    • 10. WR Eddie Royal, San Diego Chargers

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