The 2009 NFL season will begin in about a month and going into the season there are many questions that will need to be answered. With Tom Brady coming back, will the Patriots become Super Bowl contenders again? Will Shawn Merriman return to All-Pro status after missing all of last season? Can the Eagles stay healthy enough to return to the NFC Championship? Without Plaxico Burress, can Eli Manning bring the Giant offense back to stardom?
With tons of questions that need to be answered, there will also be many questioning who will come out with hardware at the end of the NFL season. Peyton Manning is coming off his third MVP season, but with Brady back and Rivers and Rodgers rising, the quarterback numbers will be great in '09. Drew Brees, Donovan McNabb, Matt Ryan, and Kurt Warner will also be in the mix for the coveted award. Adrian Peterson's name will be in the mix all year and if the Vikings can win the division and more importantly, double digit games, Peterson will have a great shot.
The Offensive Player of the Year award usually, not always, is won by the same player who wins the Most Valuable Player award. In 2008, that scenario was different as Drew Brees won the award, while Manning garnered MVP honors.
The Defensive Player of the Year award will be a competition with many familiar names. Linebackers James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware will have high sack numbers, while Ed Reed, Troy Palamula, and Bob Sanders will anchor their defenses from the safety position. With many familiar names, there will also be some players on the rise competing for the award such as Patrick Willis, Jared Mayo, and Karlos Dansby.
The Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards has been giving out to many great players. The award has put many future stars on the map such as Barry Sanders, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, and Adrian Peterson. To make an impact in your first season in the NFL is hard to do, and whoever wins this award proves that they could be successful for a long time.
Coach of the Year is given to the coach of the team that has either made the biggest turn around (Mike Smith in '08), or a team that was just dominant (Bill Belichick in '07 after going 16-0). Being successful is the number one criteria for the award and there are many coaches who will fit the bill in 2009.
The Comeback Player of the Year is an award that many feel is the best award. After a down year, injury, or coming out of retirement, many players that have won this award in the past and have proven to not only have a great season that year, but also a few more to come.
With that being said, let's look at the 2009 NFL Award predictions:
NFL Most Valuable Player: Phillip Rivers
Phillip Rivers entered 2008 hoping to prove that, with LaDainian Tomlinson's age and injuries, the Chargers were his team.
He proved he was up to the challenge.
Rivers threw for over 4,000 yards and added 34 touchdowns, tied for the league lead. He led the league in QB Rating at 105.5, which, besides Brady's record setting '07, was the best in the last four years.
Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson are both back and are rumored to be completely healed from their '08 injuries. However, even if Tomlinson is back to full strength, Rivers proved that the Chargers are his team and where he goes, the Chargers will follow.
Vincent Jackson has emerged as number one receiver and the fifth year wide-out is a big target at 6'5''. With a presumably healthy Antonio Gates back at tight end, Jackson will see less double teams and Rivers will be able to find Jackson even more.
The Chargers get back their most dynamic offensive weapon in a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson. A great pass catcher, Tomlinson gives Rivers a great check down option with open field speed and shiftiness.
Rivers proved last year he was ready to make the jump from being a good quarterback to an elite quarterback. The Chargers should runaway with the AFC West division and Rivers may do the same with the MVP.
Honorable Mention: Adrian Peterson, Matt Ryan, Donovan McNabb, Tom Brady, Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner
NFL Offensive Player of the Year: Drew Brees
Drew Brees had a tremendous season for the Saints in season 2008. He was a lone completion shy of breaking the NFL record for passing yards in a single season.
Brees' numbers most likely won't take a big hit from last year, and with his favorite target, Marques Colston, back for a full year, his numbers may actually get better.
Brees will get hurt by not playing on a top caliber team, which has been a criteria for MVP in the last decade. However, after another great season, Brees will come away with some more hardware.
Honorable Mention: (besides those noted above) Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Randy Moss, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson
NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Ed Reed
Ed Reed is the best ball hawking safety in football. He is a playmaker that pursues ball carries like a linebacker. The five time Pro-Bowl and 2004 Defensive Player of the Year is poised for yet another big season. With nine interceptions a year ago, Reed proved that throwing to his side is a thought most quarterbacks will not make.
Reed had a great '08 season, which he was named All-Pro for the fifth time as well. The Ravens made a big step with Joe Flacco at quarterback and received some national recognition. By season's end, the nation was wondering, not if, but when Reed was going to intercept a pass. Including the playoffs, Reed had five two-interception games, an NFL record.
The voters went with James Harrison last year, but with another big year from Reed, it would be too hard to pass him up again.
Honorable Mention: Mario Williams, Troy Polamula, DeMarcus Ware, Brian Urlacher, James Harrison
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: Knowshon Moreno
If Mike Shanahan was still the coach of the Broncos, I would say Moreno is definitely going to go for 1,000+ yards and double digit scores. Even if Shanahan isn't the head coach, the Denver running back will still go for 1,000 yards. Knowshon Moreno proved in college not only that he was a great runner, but that he had tremendous agility and athleticism (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFtszXrC0R0).
Denver possesses one of the best offensive lines in football, which is ranked first by fanhouse.com. With a great O-Line, Moreno will only have to win the job to become an instant success. With Peyton Hills, Correll Buckhalter, and LaMont Jordan in competition with Moreno, the Broncos will start Knowshon and hope that the other three can spell him at times.
With Kyle Orton at quarterback, the Broncos will need to be a run-first team. With good wide receivers, defenses will not be able to stack the box, which could make Moreno's rookie season one to remember.
Honorable Mention: Mark Sanchez, Jeremy Maclin, Mathew Stafford
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Aaron Curry
Curry was known as the safe pick going into the NFL Draft. After the Chiefs drafted Tyson Jackson, the Seahawks felt they hit gold selecting Aaron Curry. Curry will start along side of Lofa Tatupu and Julian Peterson, making this trio one of the best in the league.
Curry can tackle everything in sight and is very good at running down ball carriers on his side of the field. As coverage is going to be something for the rookie to learn, his stats should be great. Most players won't be running into Tatupu or Peterson, so look for a lot of runs to his side, which will let Curry show his talents.
Honorable Mention: Brian Orakpo, James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis
NFL Coach of the Year: Gary Gubiak
Many thought the 2008 NFL season was going to be the turnaround season for the Houston Texans. After a loss in week one to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Texans needed to change their schedule around due to Hurricane Ike. After an abrupt bye week in week two, the Texans then had in-division road games at Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The Texans struggled early in the season and just could not get on their feet after an eventual 0-4 start. For a team that started 0-4, the Texans won eight out of 12 to finish .500 and ended the season on the right note.
This year the Texans are poised to make a playoff run. When healthy, Matt Schaub is one of the best passing quarterbacks in the league. He threw for over 3,000 yards despite missing five games. In Andre Johnson, Schaub has one of the top receivers in the NFL. In Johnson's two season of full health ('08 and '06) Johnson recorded over 100 receptions both years.
The Texans seem to have found a dominate running game with second year starter Steve Slaton coming off 1,200-yard, 9-touchdown rookie season. With an Offensive Line that is know one of the tops in the league, the Texans should have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
The Texans have one of the best defensive lines in the game lead by two former first round picks, Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye. Williams is coming off his first All-Pro season and he could make a run at Defensive Player of the Year. At just 22 years old, Okoye has become one of the best Defensive Tackles in football.
The second line of defense is lead by former Rookie of the Year award winner DeMeco Ryans. The middle linebacker lead the NFL in tackles partly through the season in '08 and finished with 112 tackles, which was good for 11th best in the AFC. Xavier Adibi is one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL. It looks like he is going to start on one side of Ryans. If he can become a sure tackler, he will have a good season as many he can run almost any running back down.
Dunta Robinson is the Texans X-Factor. Robinson, the sixth year corner from South Carolina, has had contract issues that has kept him out of camp thus far. He received the team's franchise tag in February, but Robinson wants an extension before reporting to camp. If Robinson returns to camp and plays to the best of his abilities, he could return to his 2004 form, when he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. If not, the secondary will be the Achilles heel of this team. Without much depth, the Texans need their shutdown corner not only at camp, but happy as well.
With the Texans having an explosive offense and a great front seven, look for them to be the talk to the AFC South in 2009. The Colts have shown a little decline and are a major injury away from being a single digit winning team. The Jacksonville Jaguars have regressed within the past two years and need more help to become a legitimate contender. The Tennessee Titans lost their best defensive player and have questions all over the field, starting at Wide Receiver. In 2009, not only will the Texans compete, but they will become contenders throughout the entire season. After the dust settles, Kubiak will become the 2009 Coach of the Year.
Honorable Mention: Andy Reid, Marvin Lewis, Jim Mora, Steve Spagnuolo.
NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Tom Brady
After attempting just 11 passes in the 2008 season, Tom Brady went down for the season with a torn ACL. Coming off his record breaking 2007 season, many thought Brady was poised to have an even better season with Randy Moss and Wes Welker back and healthy.
Brady will have another great year and coming off major knee surgery, he should be considered for the award. Bringing the Patriots back to the playoffs will put Brady over any other candidate as he will show his true value on and off the field.