Since some of this year's major award winners have been known for some time (*cough*PeytonManning*cough*), let's take a look ahead at who could be bringing home the hardware in 2014.
Understand, there's a lot to be decided between now and some of these projections reaching fulfillment, and I'm not pretending to be Miss Cleo over here. I'll do my best to describe to you what conditions each of these players should win under, but by all means I'm sure your favorite player has a chance as well.
Let's not rule anybody out just yet.
That said, there's definitely some rhyme and reason to who wins what awards every year, and that's because these are awards voted on by media, fans, players, etc. Those people operate in pretty predictable patterns, and it's usually not much of a surprise what type of player they pick. Like: We're probably not going to see an offensive lineman win an MVP award anytime soon.
Don't like my predictions? Feel free to leave yours in the comments below.
Winner: Teddy Bridgewater (QB, ???)
Talk about a lot happening between now and then! We don't even know where these rookies will be playing!
Right now, it is my personal belief that Teddy Bridgewater will be the top quarterback and player in the draft. That means I think he'll end up in Houston, where the Texans have a (hopefully) healthy Arian Foster returning to add a rushing component and a great passing offense just begging for a halfway-decent quarterback.
Insert Bridgewater and the tutoring of one coach Bill O'Brien, and I think the situation is ripe for a rebound and a big year from the Texans offense.
Then again, I'm a big fan of what is happening in Jacksonville as well. If Houston lets Bridgewater slip by—to draft Johnny Manziel (QB Texas A&M) or someone else—Bridgewater would likely land with the Jaguars and have a solid offense around him, a great coaching staff and a quickly improving defense.
Other Notable Possibilities: Eric Ebron (TE, ???); Sammy Watkins (WR ???); Mike Evans (WR ???)
Winner: Dee Ford (OLB, ???)
This award is a little more crystal ball-rubby than the rest, as the defensive rookie of the year is often a player that falls into the almost-perfect situation for big stats. Often times, that can leave out the best defensive prospects as they're drafted into tougher situations and asked to carry the load in different ways.
Ford is a ridiculously talented pass-rusher who has a ton of hype right now thanks to a dominating Senior Bowl performance. That hype should only rise after the combine, where he is sure to put up big numbers. Yet, Khalil Mack (OLB Buffalo) and Anthony Barr (OLB UCLA) are both ahead of him on boards and should remain that way.
That leaves Ford to be drafted somewhere in the 10-20 range to a team that could easily have a playoff-ready defense already and is just looking for the final piece. In that scenario, Ford would lead all rookies in sacks and pressures and walk away with this award.
The biggest challenge would come, though, if Jadeveon Clowney (DE South Carolina) ends up with the St. Louis Rams at the No. 2 overall pick. That would be a ridiculously good situation for the pass-rusher since St. Louis acquired that pick via trade and is a fringe contender.
Other Notable Possibilities: Khalil Mack (LB, ???), Aaron Donald (DL, ???), Jadeveon Clowney (DL, ???).
Winner: Chip Kelly (Philadelphia Eagles)
This past year, Kelly was a bit of a sideshow. Next year, he should get a little respect.
The Eagles and Kelly's innovative game management are here to stay and, frankly, I don't see the NFC East getting much better in 2014. The New York Giants are going to continue to wither until head coach Tom Coughlin retires, the Dallas Cowboys are a mess and Washington is...well, Washington.
The Eagles, on the other hand, have a ton of top players returning, a few difficult (but not impossible) free-agent decisions to make—wide receiver Riley Cooper being the most notable—and immense room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
Because of Kelly and what he's accomplished thus far, they should be a premium free-agent destination. Most of all, they seem to have the quarterback situation figured out, and that should give them a boost at the beginning of the year.
At least 10 wins again—if not more—and a divisional title.
Other Notable Possibilities: Bill Belichick (New England Patriots); Bill O'Brien (Houston Texans); Mike Smith (Atlanta Falcons); Gus Bradley (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Winner: Aaron Rodgers (QB Green Bay Packers)
This one is just too easy.
Rodgers technically came back at the end of 2013, but that's not going to matter as he's shredding defenses next season and takes home this award in near-unanimous fashion. He didn't play much this season, but don't forget that he's one of the NFL's best every time he takes the field.
The Packers have some work to do, on both sides of the ball, but with Rodgers back healthy in 2014, they're a Super Bowl contender and he'll (almost single-handedly) make up for a lot of the deficiencies they had this season.
Other Notable Possibilities: Lance Briggs (LB Chicago Bears); Reggie Wayne (WR Indianapolis Colts); Vince Wilfork (DT New England Patriots).
Winner: Peyton Manning (QB Denver Broncos)
Here are some things to think about:
Peyton Manning says he wants to play next year.
Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wholeheartedly believes that, if Manning wins, he'll retire on top.
Mike could be wrong; Manning could just be providing lip service; Mike's sources could be wrong; Manning could legitimately change his mind—we can go around and around on this all day. However, let's say this: If Manning plays, he'll be returning to one of the most prolific air attacks this league has ever seen. Period.
If he plays next season, he's an easy favorite for this award.
Other Notable Possibilities: Tom Brady (QB New England Patriots); Aaron Rodgers (QB Green Bay Packers); Philip Rivers (QB San Diego Chargers); Russell Wilson (QB Seattle Seahawks)
Winner: LeSean McCoy (RB Philadelphia Eagles)
Philadelphia Eagles fans hate that I'm not sold on quarterback Nick Foles and ready to anoint him the next big thing. Statistically, he's there, but the straw that stirs the drink in this offense is LeSean McCoy. Frankly, both benefit from Chip Kelly's scheme, but I believe McCoy could put up huge numbers just about anywhere.
The Eagles are a running team, and they're going to upgrade next year in ways that allow them to run even more effectively. For McCoy, that likely means more opportunities, better blocking and more game-breaking plays.
Winner: Luke Kuechly (LB Carolina Panthers)
Getting a couple of great defensive linemen in front of Luke Kuechly was the best thing new general manager Dave Gettleman could have done. Next season, look for the Panthers to improve on offense, as well as add a body or two to the defensive backfield.
In all, those additions will help Kuechly as well, and his tackle and turnover numbers should continue to be as impressive as they've ever been. More importantly, the spotlight is on the Panthers now. The public loves watching them play, and they should get more prime-time and afternoon game opportunities in front of the entire country.
With a bigger spotlight, Kuechly has a chance to become a household name in a hurry.
Other Notable Possibilities: J.J. Watt (DE Houston Texans); NaVorro Bowman (LB San Francisco 49ers); Richard Sherman (CB Seattle Seahawks); Robert Quinn (DE St. Louis Rams)
Winner: Aaron Rodgers (QB Green Bay Packers)
Am I hedging my Peyton Manning bet, here? Yes.
If Manning returns, as he says right now that he will, this award could very well be his. In fact, every time Manning has won the award, he's won it in back-to-back years. So, he's got that history going for him as well.
Still, we don't expect general manager Ted Thompson to make a bunch of wild free agent acquisitions to the Packers in this (or any) offseason, and the addition of Rodgers makes the Packers a playoff favorite. If the Packers, without any real changes except for a healthy Rodgers, win 12-14 games next year and win the NFC North, that's "value" if I've ever seen it, meaning Rodgers could win this award even if guys like Manning or New England Patriots QB Tom Brady put up bigger numbers.
In fact, it's Brady who could be the biggest challenger for this award, as he should have a much better (and healthier) offensive cast around him in 2014.
There's a lot of "ifs" and "buts" with this (and every) award prediction. If the NFL has proven anything, it's that the league has a tremendous capability to surprise us as every turn—that's one of the reasons we tune in on every given Sunday.
Other Notable Possibilities: Peyton Manning (QB Denver Broncos); LeSean McCoy (RB Philadelphia Eagles); Tom Brady (QB New England Patriots); Russell Wilson (QB Seattle Seahawks)