Individual awards come down to wire
The final weekend of the 2012 NFL regular season was rife with storylines as players chased records and teams made their final push for the playoffs. And just like the playoff race, the race for postseason awards went down to the wire. Even after 17 games, just like there isn’t one clear-cut favorite to win the Super Bowl, there isn’t one clear-cut winner in any of the postseason awards categories.
For example: In any normal year, Peyton Manning would be the runaway favorite to win the Comeback Player of the Year, but Adrian Peterson just rushed for 2,000 yards after major reconstructive knee surgery.
Manning and Peterson will also be considered for MVP and to stir things up, you could also throw Aaron Rodgers in the mix as well. Alfred Morris completed a rookie season in which he was drafted in the sixth round and then went on to rush for the third-most yards by a rookie in NFL history. Yet, he will barely be talked about in the Rookie of the Year conversation because of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and his own teammate, Robert Griffin III.
J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith were both in reach of surpassing Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record and to make the decision even more difficult for Defensive Player of the Year, you have to consider what Von Miller has done in Denver as well as both Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings of the Chicago Bears.
Coach of the Year is just as difficult to determine. Leslie Frazier has done a masterful job of playing to his team's strengths. John Fox has won back-to-back division championships with two different quarterbacks. Pete Carroll almost stole the NFC West from the 49ers, who were supposed to win the division running away. And how could you forget the combination of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians transforming the 2-14 Colts into a playoff team in just one year?
Those same Colts have given Ryan Grigson a platform to stand on for Executive of the Year, but it’s hard to overlook John Elway winning the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. Bruce Allen and the Redskins braintrust deserve credit for identifying Robert Griffin III as a superstar and then having the confidence to make the blockbuster deal to trade up and get him. Then you have Ozzie Newsome, who kept the Ravens competitive with depth despite losing their three best defensive players for significant time throughout the year.
Even with all the well deserving candidates, there can only be one winner. Below are mine…
Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning
Manning missed the entire 2011 season after multiple neck procedures to remedy a nerve issue that was thought to have weakened his throwing arm. Not only did he return, but he did so in typical Manning fashion. He led his team to 12-plus wins for the ninth time in his career, nearly doubled the Broncos passing yardage from a season ago, extended his own personal record of the most 4,000-yard passing seasons and was near the top of almost every major passing statistic. He finished the season on an 11-game winning streak as the Broncos secured the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC playoffs. He is the main reason the road to the Super Bowl goes through Denver.
Adrian Peterson is an obvious consideration here, but he is coming back from a knee injury -- a severe knee injury that required major surgery and rehabilitation -- but it is still a knee injury, which is commonplace in the NFL. The simple fact that Manning was returning from an unprecedented neck injury is reason enough. Don’t get me wrong, what Peterson accomplished is extraordinary but I have another award for him in mind.
MVP: Adrian Peterson
Had the Vikings lost yesterday, this award and the Comeback Player of the Year award may have been flip-flopped because I believe the MVP at least has to be on a team that is playing in the postseason. Without Adrian Peterson, the Vikings are a four-win team at best. Without Peyton Manning, the Broncos still won the division last year.
Peterson earned his first 2,000-yard season and finished just nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record. It is worth noting that he accomplished this without the added benefit of being a part of an elite offense; the Vikings' passing game is virtually non-existent, so defenses key on stopping him. Just think if Percy Harvin was healthy and actually kept opposing defenses honest.
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt
Aldon Smith was a consideration here, but when watching the tape, defenses actually key on his counterpart Justin Smith, therefore giving Aldon more favorable opportunities to make plays within the scheme of the defense. This became more apparent when Justin Smith was limited or out in the final three games of the season due to injury and Aldon Smith was basically a non-factor with zero sacks and only three tackles per game. Peanut Tillman led the league in forced fumbles with 10 and Tim Jennings led the NFL in interceptions with nine, but both players lose credibility with the Bears missing the playoffs.
With all things considered, the award has to go to J.J. Watt. He led the league in sacks, finishing just shy of Strahan’s record, and also leads the league in batted passes at the line of scrimmage and quarterback knockdowns. The best part to Watt’s game is that he is just as tough against the run as he is rushing the quarterback. Take this weekend’s game for example. While he didn’t have any sacks, he did have four tackles for loss. Watt must be accounted for on every single play, no matter the down and distance.
Rookie of the Year: Robert Griffin III
Griffin has had the best passer rating in the entire NFL since Week 11 and has the second-best passer rating of all NFL quarterbacks, just behind Aaron Rodgers. Add in his league-leading 6.6 yards per carry and you see just how much of a dual-threat he really is. His 752 rushing yards are the most from a rookie quarterback in league history and he hits the big play better than almost anyone in the entire game. He is the first player to throw for four or more touchdowns of 60-plus yards and also have a rushing touchdown of 60-plus yards.
He had a better supporting cast than Andrew Luck, but the way Griffin has done it gives him the edge. He has the ability to make the spectacular play look easy, but at the same time, he plays within the offense and takes what the defense gives him. He will be fun to watch for many years to come.
Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll
You have to give it to Pete Carroll and the faith he has in himself and the vision of this team. Carroll drafted back-to-back surprise first-round picks in the 2011 and 2012 NFL drafts but each has turned out to be an impact player for the resurgent Seahawks. And even after signing the most coveted quarterback free-agent behind Peyton Manning, Carroll still allowed for Russell Wilson to compete for a starting job in the preseason and eventually had the confidence to start his rookie third-rounder.
Before the season, the Seahawks were written off as contenders in the NFC West as all the experts gave it to the 49ers running away. Carroll used the “only people that matter are the people in this building” mentality to keep his team focused on the end goal and has now led them to winning seven of their last eight and their second playoff appearance in Carroll’s three years.
Executive of the Year: Ryan Grigson
In what was thought to be a rebuilding year for the Colts, Grigson strategically crafted the right mix of veterans and rookies to lead this team into its future. Being able to keep Reggie Wayne and defensive leaders Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney proved to be excellent decisions as they have been great mentors to their younger teammates. His first year of draft picks has been tremendous. Andrew Luck is the headliner, but Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen have proven to be tough matchups for defenders as well. But it is the late-round hits that define Grigson’s ability to find hidden talent. T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard and LaVon Brazil were drafted in the third, fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, and were all big-time contributors to the Colts’ success.