Three-quarter season winner: Newton. Midseason/quarter-season winner: New England quarterback Tom Brady. Newton was nipping at Brady’s heels through the midway point of the season and finally surpassed him when New England’s offense was ravaged by injury. However, those Patriots problems don’t diminish what Newton has accomplished -- 45 overall touchdowns (35 passing/10 running), 4,473 yards of total offense and a 15-1 starting record for the league’s best team in the 2015 season.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY SportsBob Donnan
Offensive player of the year: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson
Three-quarter season winner: Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer. Midseason winner: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers. Quarter-season winner: Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Also a strong contender for Comeback Player of the Year honors, Peterson reclaimed his spot as the NFL’s top running back after missing almost all of the 2014 season while embroiled in a child-abuse scandal. He carried Minnesota’s offense while posting league-highs in rushing yards (1,485), carries (327) and touchdowns (11). Honorable mention goes to Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, who made a late push with his superlative play in the final seven games.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportBrace Hemmelgarn
Defensive player of the year: Houston defensive end J.J. Watt
Three-quarter season winner: Watt. Midseason winner: Oakland safety Charles Woodson. Quarter-season winner: Carolina cornerback Josh Norman. With two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards already to his credit at the age of 26, Watt is well on his way to becoming one of the most prolific linemen in league history. He led the NFL in sacks (17.5), tackles for loss (29) and quarterback hits (50) to go along with 76 tackles, three forced fumbles and eight passes defensed. Such production helped the Texans finish among the top seven defenses in yards and points allowed per game.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsTroy Taormina
Biggest surprise team: Washington
Three-quarter season winner: Tampa Bay. Midseason winner: Oakland. Quarter-season winner: Atlanta. YOU LIKE THAT! Kirk Cousins and the Redskins do. Washington (9-7) hit its stride down the stretch, winning four of its final five games to capture the NFC East crown after finishing in the division basement the previous year at 4-12.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
Biggest surprise player: Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins
Three-quarter season winner: Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin. Midseason winner: Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman. Quarter-season winner: Green Bay wide receiver James Jones. Appearing on NFL Network in late November, ex-Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick described Cousins as 'the definition of a backup.' Cousins has proven Billick and other doubters (including yours truly) wrong by catching fire as the season unfolded. Cousins completed at least 67.4 percent of his passes in each of Washington’s final eight games along with throwing 19 TD passes and just one interception.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY SportsGeoff Burke
Biggest disappointment: Dallas
Three-quarter season winner: Dallas. Midseason: Baltimore. Quarter-season winner: Detroit. From 12-4 to 4-12, no team took a bigger tumble from the previous season than the 2015 Cowboys. Dallas crumbled after losing quarterback Tony Romo twice to collarbone injuries with three backups (Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore) going 1-11 while starting in his absence.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY SportsTommy Gilligan
Biggest disappointment player: Philadelphia running back DeMarco Murray
Three-quarter season winner: St. Louis quarterback Nick Foles. Midseason: Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck. Quarter-season winner: Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Blame it on the offensive system or how he was used by Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, but the bottom line is that no 2015 free-agent signing was a bigger bust than Murray. The NFL’s reigning rushing leader went from posting 1,845 yards with Dallas in 2014 to a measly 706 yards as a part-time player this season after leaving the Cowboys for a five-year, $40 million contract that included $18 million guaranteed. Murray’s only solace: Brighter days in Philadelphia may be ahead with the Eagles firing Kelly in late December.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
Coach of the Year: Carolina’s Ron Rivera
Three-quarter season winner: Rivera. Midseason winner: New England’s Bill Belichick. Quarter-season winner: Atlanta’s Dan Quinn. An unprecedented third consecutive NFC South title under his watch along with an NFL-best 15-1 record highlighted the best season of Rivera’s five-year head coaching career. Rivera also deserves credit for assembling a top-notch staff with both of his coordinators (Mike Shula and Sean McDermott) as well as assistant head coach/secondary Steve Wilks being strong candidates to become future head coaches themselves.
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY SportsJason Bridge
Assistant Coach of the Year: Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips
Three-quarter season winner: Phillips. Midseason winner: Phillips. Quarter-season winner: Phillips. From wire to wire, no assistant coach has gotten more from his unit than Phillips. The Broncos finished with the NFL’s top-ranked defense for the first time in franchise history by surrendering an average of just 283.1 yards a game. Remarkably, Phillips was not only out of work in 2014 but also a fall-back option for Denver this season after the Broncos were denied permission by Cincinnati to interview secondary coach Vance Joseph for the job last January.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY SportsRon Chenoy
Offensive Rookie of the Year: St. Louis running back Todd Gurley
Three-quarter season winner: Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston. Midseason winner: Oakland wide receiver Amari Cooper. Quarter-season winner: Cooper. Gurley led all rookie running backs and finished third overall with 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. Imagine if he had played the entire season rather than being held out the first two games while completing his recovery from a college knee injury.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY SportsAaron Doster
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters
Three-quarter season winner: Peters. Midseason winner: New York Jets defensive end Leonard Williams. Quarter-season winner: Atlanta outside linebacker Vic Beasley. There is a healthy debate about whether Peters or Buffalo cornerback Ron Darby should get the nod. I’m going with Peters, who earned a Pro Bowl nod. Opponents tried testing him and Peters responded with a franchise record with 26 passes defensed. Peters also finished tied with Cincinnati’s Reggie Nelson for the league led in interceptions with eight, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Three-quarter season winner: New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Midseason winner: Arizona running back Chris Johnson. Quarter-season winner: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. Palmer’s return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Week 10 of the 2014 season was flawless. He was 13-3 as a starter, which is Arizona’s best regular-season mark since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, while helping the franchise secure a first-round bye for the first time in franchise history. As the NFL’s most prolific deep passer, Palmer also set team single-season marks for passing yards (4,671) and TD passes (35).