Schein 9: NFL award predictions
I live for this time of year.
I’ve dusted off the trusty crystal ball, ready to take a stab at predicting which players and coaches will sizzle in 2011 and receive individual hardware at the end of the season, SCHEIN 9 Style.
1. MVP – Philip Rivers
For the past two seasons, I’ve picked Aaron Rodgers to win the league MVP. So I took great pleasure seeing him dominate in the regular season and especially in the playoffs last year. But now, he’s the en vogue choice for this award on the most complete team in pro football. I wanted to find someone else similar to Rodgers and his tale from last year, someone ready to solidify his standing as a truly great and elite quarterback.
Enter Philip Rivers.
Rivers actually had a sensational year for the Chargers last year, with everything stacked against him. A.J. Smith’s ego prevented San Diego from playing with Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill for the vast majority of the season. The two are Rivers' go-to receiver and left tackle. It doesn’t get more important than that.
Plus, Ryan Mathews was an absolute bust in his rookie year, and the San Diego special teams were deplorable. It all added up to a season of underachievement for the Chargers. Rivers was the only reason San Diego had a prayer. He threw for a league-high 4,710 passing yards and 30 touchdowns against just 13 picks. But with the Chargers acting as frauds one year ago, you couldn’t consider Rivers for the most-coveted trophy.
I think Rivers has a monster season, throwing for 35 touchdowns, 4,500 yards. And unlike last year because of other team deficiencies, I believe he and the Chargers will win 12 games. The stars are aligned.
Rivers thrives in Norv Turner’s system. Smith hasn’t caused any stars to miss time. Jackson is primed for a big year. The defense should be dominant, and the special teams should finally be competent. And Rivers, with his play and leadership, will be the straw that stirs the drink in an MVP season, guiding the Chargers back to the playoffs.
I also considered Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and, for a deep sleeper, Josh Freeman.
2. Defensive Player of the Year – Darrelle Revis
Last year, by his own lofty standards, was a major disappointment for Revis. He foolishly showed up late because of a holdout, got hurt and never really played up to the expectations of being one of the elite players in the league. Revis never got to the level he was at in 2009.
This season will be different.
The Jets are going to be better and more aggressive on defense. The Jets’ pass rush will be vastly improved. New blood on the defensive line will help. Antonio Cromartie’s second year in the system opposite Revis is a significant storyline. Teams can’t just keep the ball away from Revis. And I think that under Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine, the Jets can become the true No. 1 defense in the NFL.
Revis’ cover skills are dubbed “Revis Island” because of how elite receivers seemingly get lost when matched up in coverage. The league’s best never produce up to their capability when blanketed by Revis. While Charles Woodson is the ultimate playmaker as a corner, Revis is the best pure cover corner in the game. And with Cromartie back on the other side and the increased pressure, Revis is going to make more plays this season.
I give Revis the nod over Woodson and the sensational Ndamukong Suh.
3. Offensive Player of the Year – Adrian Peterson
I know the offensive line is shaky. And I’ve heard the legit questions about the Minnesota receivers not being strong and teams stacking the box. But here’s what the critics are missing.
Bill Musgrave and Leslie Frazier aren’t Brad Childress. And that’s a good thing.
Musgrave, the new offensive coordinator, told us on SiriusXM NFL Radio that the offense goes through Peterson. This pair won’t forget about Peterson like Childress did in the fourth quarter.
Peterson will get 25 to 30 touches a game minimum and lead the league in rushing yards and touchdowns.
I give it to Peterson over Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Rivers.
4. Coach of the Year – Mike McCarthy
Quick quiz — who won the NFC North last year?
It took me a second, too.
It’s easy to forget that the Packers were a wild card entry last year with the Bears winning the division.
This year’s Packers are much better than the outfit that won the Super Bowl last year. The offense is going to be better with stars returning from injury. And remember, it is McCarthy who calls the plays, and he’s one of the best play callers in the NFL.
McCarthy will keep this team focused on the 2011 prize, not dwelling on the past. There’s a reason why teams struggle to repeat. In talking to the Packers coach at training camp, it was clear that McCarthy set the tone early on.
When the Packers win 12 games and the division, it will clinch the award for McCarthy. Sean Payton, Bill Belichick and Ken Whisenhunt should also emerge as worthy.
5. Offensive Rookie of the Year – Greg Little
Mark Ingram is the safe choice. And I think the Saints’ running back is going to have a strong year.
But I love the upside and potential of Little. I don’t want to hear about his lack of focus in practice. I’m not interested in drops in the preseason. Little was drafted because he has reliable hands and immense talent.
In a weak veteran field, I think Little becomes the best receiver for Cleveland this year. I believe in Pat Shurmur, and I believe in Colt McCoy. Why not believe in their best receiver?
6. Defensive Rookie of the Year – JJ Watt
He is the perfect fit in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. Watt has attitude, energy and an incredible football IQ. His ability to stop the run, get to the quarterback and take on blockers makes him overqualified to be the top neophyte.
7. Comeback Player of the Year – Kevin Kolb
I vote for the awards. I always ask what comeback player means. Back from injury? A holdout? Jail? Ineffective play? To match these categories, I considered Bob Sanders, Vincent Jackson, Plaxico Burress and Reggie Bush.
But think about where Kolb was one year ago. Kolb was replacing Donovan McNabb in Philly after a trade that was truly controversial. Then Kolb gets hurt, underachieves and opens up the door for the Michael Vick era.
I don’t think Kolb is a good fit, I think he’s perfect. He has already changed the culture and accountability in Arizona. And he’ll put up the necessary individual numbers and wins to claim this award.
8. Executive of the Year — Rick Smith
I think Houston finally gets over the hump this year and makes the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. And Smith’s savvy is a huge part of it. He nabbed three first-round talents, smartly all on defense, in the draft. Smith saw a terrible pass defense from a year ago and pounced on Johnathan Joseph in free agency. And when Matt Schaub and Arian Foster help Houston reach the promised land, Smith’s fingerprints of unearthing these gems will be all over the achievement.
9. Assistant Coach of the Year — Greg Manusky
With all due respect to new Carolina head coach Ron Rivera, Manusky is an upgrade for San Diego. His defenses in San Francisco were outstanding, well-schemed and well-schooled, despite not having the requisite talent. The fundamentals on defense are excellent. And the players play hard for him. I thought this was a coup for Norv Turner and the Chargers. Manusky will turn this defense into a truly elite unit.