The 2012 NFL season begins on a day not generally associated with football—Wednesday, September 5th—when the Super Bowl champion New York Giants square off with the hated Dallas Cowboys. It is another beautiful start to a beautiful NFL season surely to ensure full of excitement, heartbreak and unforgettable memories for fans and players alike.
With things set to get underway, we polished off the crystal ball with predictions for the NFL’s award winners at season’s end.
Coach of the Year – Romeo Crennel, Kansas City Chiefs
Romeo Crennel is probably not a name usually not linked with being one of the best coaches in the NFL, but his job this season at the helm of the Kansas City Chiefs could change that. Coaching in the competitive AFC West, Crennel and the Chiefs have as much of a chance as any team in the division to take the divisional crown.
Though they will undoubtedly be outshined by the likes of Peyton Manning in Denver and the always electric San Diego Chargers, the Chiefs might just be the cream of the crop out west. A solid collection of talent could make for an exciting brand of football down in Kansas City, with the return of Jamaal Charles delivering a much-needed lift to the running game.
While many of the teams expected to make the playoffs would be of little surprise, the Chiefs will need an impressive season to earn a playoff berth and such an accomplishment should provide Crennel with some recognition for his team’s achievement if that is the case—as I believe it will be.
Comeback Player of the Year – Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
It’s obvious, but sometimes that is the case with reality.
There will be no one with more eyes on him than the future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning as he seeks to return to form behind center for the Denver Broncos. The veteran quarterback with the laser rocket arm has his work cut out for him with a group of unproven receivers at his disposal, but he’s Peyton Manning, who would doubt him?
Though carrying a similar motivating factor that the Broncos previous quarterback—Tim Tebow for those who lived underneath a rock last season—boasted as well, Manning’s ability as a true passer should uplift the Broncos offensive line and receivers to a much higher level than they have ever seen before.
Expecting a Manning-esque season may be unfair for the 36-year-old, but that’s not to say he will have a down year by most people’s measure. Manning is still the elite quarterback he has always been and we will all have the pleasure of watching that once again in Denver.
Manning will join a list that features Tom Brady, Joe Namath, Dan Marino and Randall Cunningham as one of just a handful of players to win an MVP and Comeback Player of the Year award.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Quinton Coples, DE, New York Jets
The New York Jets have been looking for a premier pass rusher to add to their dynamic defense. Lucky for them, Quinton Coples fell right into their lap when they selected him from the University of North Carolina with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
The First-Team All-ACCer had an impressive summer, proving to be a presence whether it be rushing the passer or stopping the run. The Jets are hoping Coples could be their own version of the New York Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, and while that may be hard to gauge at this moment, Coples certainly has the athletic ability to be a similarly dominant, imposing figure on defense.
Should Coples win the award, he would be the first defensive end to win the award since 2002, when former North Carolina Tar Heel Julius Peppers won the award as a member of the Carolina Panthers. That season, Peppers recorded 12 sacks and five forced fumbles in just 12 games as he thrust himself into the NFL’s elite group of pass rushers.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
In each of the last two seasons, the No. 1 pick has won the offensive rookie of the year and there is no reason to believe that trend will turn out any different with Andrew Luck slinging the football in Indianapolis.
Though it was only preseason, Luck looked fantastic in each game. He boasted the type of poise, arm strength and leadership he has been so highly touted for and appears like the type of player who will make a transition from one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks—Peyton Manning—run smoother than normal.
In fact, Luck is the ideal player to replace the legendary Manning in Indianapolis. From his pedigree—his father, Oliver Luck, was an NFL backup for the Houston Oilers—to his three years of experience in a pro-style offense at Stanford led by former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh and his many summers spent at camps run by the predecessor himself. Luck was built to replace Manning—as best as he can, anyhow—and replicate him in every way the Colts could ever possibly imagine.
The comparisons between the two will likely never end, but fortunately—much like Manning—Luck is as professional as one can get, able to handle anything that may be thrown his way from the media and opponents alike. While it is fair to assume there are many things Luck would like to accomplish that Manning has, there is one thing he would like to accomplish that No. 18 could not—winning the Rookie of the Year award.
Defensive Player of the Year – Patrick Willis, LB, San Francisco 49ers
The Defensive Player of the Year award is almost always awarded to a member of one of the NFL’s top defenses. There may be no better defense than the San Francisco 49ers’ this season, but one thing is for certain—linebacker Patrick Willis is the best in the game today.
Willis’ hard work, determination and rapid develop will be gifted with a well-deserved Defensive Player of the Year award as recognition for the dominant defensive player he has become.
Last season as the first for Willis with less than 100 tackles, but much of that could be due to opponents’ awareness of his presence, which would explain Navorro Bowman’s astounding 143 tackles for the Niners. Willis has averaged over 138 tackles per season in his five-year NFL career. He continues to be a force in every facet of the game whether it be rushing the passer (he had six sacks in 2010), against the run (he had four forced fumbles last season) and in pass coverage (Willis had 12 passes defended in 2011).
Healthy and focused on being a member of a fearsome 49ers defensive unit, Willis is in line for another fantastic season from the inside linebacker position. Willis is the best and can only get better; it’s about time he is awarded with long overdue Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Offensive Player of the Year - Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
16 quarterbacks have won the Offensive Player of the Year award since its inception in 1972. Of the last five winners, four have been quarterbacks and twice it has been future Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
Brady and the New England Patriots may be wildly to blame for the NFL’s new pass-happy, high-scoring offensive attacks, but they’re also the most successful bunch at doing it.
For the first time in his NFL career, Brady passed for over 5,000 yards, carrying the Patriots all the way to the Super Bowl despite boasting the worst defense in franchise history. The likelihood of Brady accomplishing such a feat again is slim, but that won’t keep Brady from once again proving why many believe him to be the greatest quarterback to ever suit up in an NFL uniform.
Most Valuable Player – Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Of all the players to win the Most Valuable Player award, only three have won the award three times—Johnny Unitas (1959, 1964, 1967), Brett Favre (1995, 1996, 1997) and Peyton Manning (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009).
Don’t be surprised if you’re adding Tom Brady to that list in this February.
As previously mentioned, Brady has been one of the best NFL quarterbacks for quite some time. His dominance has been awarded with three Super Bowl victories, two NFL MVP awards and a surefire path to Canton as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Adding a third MVP award to the resume is simply pouring salt on the wound for all of his detractors, but it’s unavoidable.
When Brady is done being a quarterback opposing defenses shudder in fear at, we’ll know about it, but for now, there may be no one teams hate playing more than Brady and the Patriots. With weak competition in the AFC East, the Patriots are lined up to win another divisional crown. Brady will be at the center of it all, guiding the Patriots with another superior, historic season slinging the football in Foxboro.