The NFL Honors serve as a captivating precursor the day before Super Bowl XLVIII, where fans and potential recipients await the announcements of the league's most prestigious individual awards.
While the race for a lot of the accolades appear to have prohibitive favorites, there are others that are up for legitimate debate. One unique addition is the Deacon Jones Award, named in honor of the late, great Hall of Fame defensive end and given to the league leader in quarterback sacks.
Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis will take home that award after compiling a career-best 19.5 sacks in 2013—his 11th season as a pro.
Also included as part of this year's festivities is the Pro Football Hall of Fame's most recently enshrined Class of 2014. Those legends will be introduced as part of the spectacle, per NFLCommunications.com.
Here is an overview of when and where to catch the NFL Honors at New York City's Radio City Music Hall, along with a list of all the awards and predictions for the headliners.
When: Saturday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Radio City Music Hall in New York City, N.Y.
Red Carpet Event: 7 p.m. ET on NFL Network
Host: Alec Baldwin
|AP Most Valuable Player||Pepsi NEXT Rookie of the Year|
|AP Coach of the Year||Don Shula NFL HS Coach of the Year|
|AP Offensive Player of the Year||GMC Never Say Never Moment of the Year|
|AP Defensive Player of the Year||FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Year|
|AP Offensive Rookie of the Year||Greatness on the Road|
|AP Defensive Rookie of the Year||Bridgestone Performance Play of the Year|
|AP Comeback Player of the Year||Salute to Service Award|
|Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year||NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year|
|Deacon Jones Award (NFL sacks leader)||Robert Mathis, OLB, Indianapolis Colts|
Predictions for Marquee Awards
MVP and Offensive Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
With a record 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns, there is little question that Manning deserves the Offensive Player of the Year.
The 37-year-old legend has helped expedite the development of his excellent receiving tandem in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker and has aided talented tight end Julius Thomas' adjustment to the pros.
Add in Wes Welker to the mix and a stellar running game, and Manning was as unstoppable as ever despite being at such a late stage of his career. If he weren't under center, it's hard to imagine that the Broncos would be contesting for a Lombardi Trophy at the moment.
A fan poll was captured by the NFL on ESPN's official Twitter account, in which Manning garnered 49 percent of the MVP vote over three other candidates:
The numbers alone are far too staggering for anyone other than Manning to win the offensive award, and it's hard to write off the four-time league MVP for the top individual nod.
Manning has a chance to cement his legacy with a Super Bowl triumph. Even if he falls short and is chastised for his playoff shortcomings, these NFL Honors will serve as a reminder of how phenomenal he is during the regular season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Robert Mathis, OLB, Indianapolis Colts
A longtime teammate of Manning's with the Colts franchise will also take home multiple pieces of hardware thanks to the singular impact Robert Mathis had on the Indianapolis defense.
Thanks to often brilliant play from QB Andrew Luck, improved backfield production from Donald Brown and Mathis' monster year, the Colts were able to win the AFC South and a dramatic playoff game despite a multitude of holes on the roster.
This team isn't deep, and the defense isn't particularly talented, to be frank. Mathis is an exception, and his 19.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles highlight how important he was.
After playing as a defensive end before head coach Chuck Pagano arrived, the adjustment Mathis has made to the 3-4 outside linebacker position has been exceptional, per Pro Football Focus:
Robert Mathis ranked second among 3-4 OLBs with a +21.8 pass rush grade. Elivs Dumervil led at +26.6— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 4, 2014
Other candidates for this award had far more help than Mathis, who had approximately 46.2 percent of Indianapolis' total sacks. Take Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who benefited from two top-tier pass-rushers in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy and standout play from Thomas Davis next to him.
Then there's Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams. Quinn is a beast and finished just behind Mathis with 19 sacks, but his team also had a losing record, and he has Chris Long starting opposite of him to attract attention.
Seattle Seahawks shutdown cornerback Richard Sherman is a deserving candidate. Heck, even his teammate in free safety Earl Thomas could make a strong case. But that defense is so talented that it's hard to pinpoint one player.
A big reason the Colts were 13th against the pass was because of Mathis, and his brilliance helped offset how poor the interior of the front seven was at defending the run.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Who says running backs shouldn't be drafted in the first round?
Anyone lacking a strong rushing attack must be kicking themselves after this season, because Eddie Lacy scampered for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns and also caught 35 passes for 257 more yards.
That was enough to garner a Pro Bowl berth for the Alabama product, who was the first back off the board in the 2013 draft at No. 61 overall in the second round. Getting a bid to Hawaii was a historic milestone for Green Bay's storied franchise, per Fox Sports: NFL's official Twitter account:
Eddie Lacy replacing Adrian Peterson in Pro Bowl makes him the 1st Packers rookie RB to be selected to Pro Bowl since John Brockington 1971.— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 15, 2014
At 5'11" and 230 pounds, Lacy is a bruiser who doesn't have much mileage and should sustain success with Aaron Rodgers handing it off to him.
Not many other contenders come to mind for this award apart from Keenan Allen. The third-rounder out of California came on strong to lead the San Diego Chargers with 1,046 receiving yards, scored eight touchdowns and produced 16 plays of 20 yards or more.
It shouldn't be enough to upstage Lacy, though. If the Packers can get better on defense in 2014, they should be a force to be reckoned with thanks to Lacy providing the high-powered offense with far better balance.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Kiko Alonso, LB, Buffalo Bills
The second-rounder out of Oregon immediately commanded the heart of Buffalo's defense, becoming a starter from Week 1 and showcasing his versatility throughout the season.
Alonso finished third in the NFL with 159 combined tackles and also hauled in four interceptions, displaying a rare nose for the football and a brilliant understanding of complex defensive schematics.
An outstanding defensive front allowed Alonso to roam around and make plays, but he exceeded expectations with how big of a role he played as a rookie. Buffalo did rank 28th against the run, which somewhat harms Alonso's stock.
Having said that, it wasn't enough to prevent the Pro Football Writers of America from giving him the top defensive rookie distinction:
That trend should hold true at the NFL Honors, with New York Jets standout Sheldon Richardson also garnering some votes after compiling 77 combined tackles.
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
To be brief: The Chiefs held the No. 1 overall pick in the most recent draft and were coming off a 2-14 season.
Who should be coach of the year?
After a long stint with the Philadelphia Eagles saw Reid fade toward the end of his tenure, it was clear a fresh start was needed for both sides. It all worked out rather well, because Reid engineered a massive turnaround with the Chiefs, while the Eagles won the NFC East under Chip Kelly.
Bill Belichick did a commendable job in guiding a short-handed New England Patriots team to the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and Kelly deserves some consideration as well.
However, the Patriots are synonymous with perpetual excellence, and Kelly had more of a foundation to work with than Reid did in Kansas City.
Although the season ended in crushing fashion as the Chiefs blew a huge lead on Wild Card Weekend, Reid laid the groundwork for a consistent winner after the franchise reached the playoffs just once in six prior seasons.