Twenty-four hours from the start of the NFL season, it’s time for some predictions. We’re going to break this down into two parts – first, we’ll talk about the individual awards and various statistical leaders, and in the next part, we’ll unveil the first Power Rankings of the year, win predictions, and my Super Bowl pick.
MVP – Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos
Thirty-six times, this award has gone to a quarterback, as opposed to 18 times for a running back and once each for a defensive tackle (Alan Page), a linebacker (Lawrence Taylor), and a kicker (Mark Moseley, in the weirdest vote ever). Predicting anyone but a quarterback or a running back is a bit crazy – and even for a running back, it would take a record-shattering season to wrench the award away from a quarterback.
Last year was one of those seasons, of course – Adrian Peterson ran for over 2,000 yards and single-handedly dragged the Vikings into the playoffs. I doubt he can do that again, as no one has ever rushed for 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, nor do I think anyone else is going to get within 200 yards of Peterson for the rushing crown. That leaves the award free to go to a quarterback, and I’m predicting Peyton Manning to come down with his fifth MVP. Consider the soft division – all the more chances for Manning to rack up gaudy numbers – as well as the state of the Broncos defense and run game, and Manning becomes the logical choice. With a committee at running back, Manning will be the one most responsible for any points the Broncos put up – and with the defense missing Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, they might need a boatload of them. A fully healthy Manning gives us one more season reminding us why he’s an all-time great.
Runner-up: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year – Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Logically, if the MVP is an offensive player, shouldn’t the offensive player of the year be the same guy? That would make sense to me, but it hasn’t been the recent pattern. So, I’ll be boring and just swap the MVP and offensive players of the year from last season.
The six backs who ran for more than 2,000 yards in a season combined to average only 1,072 yards the next year. Even removing Terrell Davis, who was injured for the majority of the 1999 season, you only bump the average up to 1,244 yards. It’s hard to rush for 2,000 yards once, much less twice, much less consecutively. That’s why I have to bump Peterson down to ‘only’ the offensive player of the year. I think he’ll do better than Barry Sanders’ 1998 season – Sanders’ 1,491 yards remains the high-water mark for any of the ex-2,000 yard rushers – but another crack at Dickerson’s rush record seems like it would be asking too much, even for a superhero like Peterson.
Runner-up: Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Defensive Player of the Year – Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
J.J.Watt had the greatest single season in defensive history last season, and is the best defender in the NFL right now. He’s going to be triple-teamed like crazy this season, and while he’ll still rack up big numbers, they won’t be as big. That opens the door for Smith, who manages to stand out on the great 49ers front seven – meaning he has the help needed not to be triple-teamed to oblivion, and the skills needed to exploit that for double-digit sacks. Naysayers will note that his production dropped off at the end of last season when Justin Smith was injured, but Aldon had a torn labrum as well. A fully healthy Smith – both of them – will vault Aldon to the front of the class.
Runner-up: Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Giovanni Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard is in a nice situation up in Cincinnati – A.J. Green and fellow rookie Tyler Eifert will help lead a strong passing game, leaving plenty of rushing room for Bernard up the middle. He’s starting in a time-share role with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but I don’t expect that to last very long. He’s also a better receiver than, say, Eddie Lacy over in Green Bay, so he should provide more value overall.
Runner-up: Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins
Jordan missed a lot of the preseason with a shoulder problem, but is back on track to play in week one. He’ll be used a lot like Aldon Smith was in his first season – a situational pass rusher. His raw talent should be enough for him to impress, as he picks up the technique needed to be a regular, every-down linebacker in the NFL.
Runner-up: Ziggy Ansah, Detroit Lions
Coach of the Year – Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
We’ve never had such a clear picture of how important a coach is to his team – the 2012 Bountygate season was a clear indicator of how much a leader like Payton can mean to his team. If the Saints bounce back and make the playoffs, he’ll get acknowledgement for his contributions.
Runner-up: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Passing Yards Leader – Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Rushing Yards Leader – Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Rushing Touchdowns Leader – Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Receiving Yards Leader – Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions
Newcomers to the top 10 – Victor Cruz salsas his way back to the top-10, Steve Smith returns as well, and Julio Jones continues his progression, removing Dez Bryant, Reggie Wayne, and Wes Welker from the top-10.
Sacks Leader – Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers