While the NFL won’t give out its real awards until Super Bowl time, I will make my predictions for who will be receiving said awards. Only one thing is certain as of right now: the best of 2012 have a lot to live up to next year. It’s time, for me at least, to tell everyone who will win the awards in February and why.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuehly not only led the 10th-ranked defense of the Carolina Panthers in tackles as a rookie. He led the entire division. He led the entire NFC. And just for good measure, he led all of the NFL in tackles as a rookie fresh out of Boston College. Kuechly, a 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound linebacker, finished the season with 164 tackles, 15 ahead of NaVorro Bowman of the 49ers who had 149 on the year. He’s begun to transform the defense of the Panthers, which just last year, was 28th in the league. Out of the 17 defenders drafted in the first round of this past year’s draft, Kuechly was far and away the most productive. The next most was Bucs‘ safety Mark Barron, who had 89 tackles on the year. Carolina gave up 22.7 points per game in 2012 after allowing 26.8 last season. Kuechly was instrumental in holding strong offensive opponents like the Giants, Seahawks, Cowboys and Chargers to seven, 12, 14 and seven points, respectively. My 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year: Luke Kuechly.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: In a season that was definitely going to result in one of the first two picks in the draft winning this award, it just had to be determined whether it would be Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III. So, with that being said, my offensive rookie of the year is Russell Wilson. Wilson is just as much of a two-way threat as the other two and threw more touchdown passes than his two fellow rookie quarterbacks. In fact, Wilson tied Peyton Manning’s 1998 record for the most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26 on the year. In the month of December, when the games mattered most, Wilson quarterbacked a Seattle team that put up 150 points in a three-game span. And he didn’t even enter training camp as the team’s starter. His 69.6 QBR was eighth in the league, just behind Griffin and just ahead of Luck, while his 100.0 passer rating was fourth in the league, just behind Griffin and well ahead of Luck. Neither the Seahawks, nor the Redskins or Colts would likely be in the playoffs without their rookie quarterback, so it kind of came down to stats in making this decision. My 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year: Russell Wilson.
Coach of the Year: What a year it was for the Colts. It takes a special coach to turn a 2-14 team into an 11-5 team and make the playoffs in the tough AFC South. It’s even more impressive that he did it in an interim role with all that must have been on his mind after head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia in October. Bruce Arians took over the team and, under his direction, they never lost focus and were able to win 11 games. They became just the seventh team ever to win at least nine more games than they did the previous year. Pagano has since returned and will coach the team in the playoffs, but they would not be there without the job that Arians did. To keep the team composed under those unbelievably difficult circumstances and to actually succeed on the field at the same time is so impressive and incredibly unique. Some season highlights for Indianapolis included wins against teams like the Texans, Vikings and Packers. My 2012 Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians.
Offensive Player of the Year: It’s not every season that a major NFL record is broken. Especially one that lasted for 17 years. Calvin Johnson of the Lions broke Jerry Rice’s record for the most receiving yards in a season (1,848) and finished 2012 with a new record of 1,964 receiving yards. Johnson had an unbelievable season that included 122 catches for 1,964 yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 122.8 yards per game, which was the second-highest total ever. Big Play CJ also set NFL records for the most consecutive 100-yard games with eight, the most receptions in a month with 49 and the most consecutive 10-catch games with four. He was a big reason why Matthew Stafford set the NFL record for pass attempts in a season. The lowest yardage in a game for Johnson this year was 34 and the fewest number of catches he had was three. It could be a while before we see another season like that in the NFL. My 2012 Offensive Player of the Year: Calvin Johnson.
Defensive Player of the Year: It really came down to two candidates and if either one of them broke or tied the sacks record, it would have made the decision a little bit easier. Neither one did, however, but J.J. Watt was still an animal this season as he deflected an NFL-leading 16 passes while registering 20.5 sacks on the year. The other, Aldon Smith, finished with 19.5 sacks. Watt led a Houston defense that was seventh in the league in 2012, including seventh in the league in rushing yards per game. Opposing teams ran the ball against the Texans because quarterbacks struggled so much to get the ball over his hands. Watt finished his second NFL season with 81 tackles while forcing four fumbles and recovering two. My 2012 Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt.
Comeback Player of the Year: It was one or the other. One would get this award and the other would get the MVP. A tough call, but I have to give the Comeback Player of the Year Award to the man who got his team into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the NFC. Adrian Peterson nearly set the single-season rushing record (in case you live in a hole and haven’t heard) with 2,097 yards on the ground – just nine shy of breaking it. He tore his ACL last December and was back on the field for Opening Day in September after sustaining an injury that typically takes 12-16 months to fully recover from. He did it in nine like it was nothing. No big deal. It was remarkable enough that A.P. was even on the field this year, let alone for him to put up the kind of numbers that he did. He was the first 2,000-yard rusher in the NFL since Chris Johnson in 2009 and he did it while leading the Vikings back to the playoffs with 199 yards on the final day of the regular season. He had 150-plus yards seven times and 200-plus yards twice, while only being under 100 in six games this season. My Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson.
Most Valuable Player: That leaves you know who for the MVP Award. It would only be his fifth in 15 NFL seasons. As I said, this could have gone either way as both Peyton Manning and Peterson were equally important to the success of their respective teams and both were coming off of serious injuries. I chose Manning for MVP on the premise that he was the slightly more valuable player in 2012. He led the Broncos to a 13-3 record and a No. 1 seed in the playoffs – their first since 1998. Other than that, it would have been a toss-up. Manning finished the year with 4,659 yards and third in the league with 37 passing touchdowns. The NFL leader in total QBR each of the past four seasons has won the MVP. Who led the league in that category in 2012? Not a trick question – Manning did. His 84.7 total QBR was seven points higher than the next highest in the league. Since the stat was created in 2008, Manning’s 84.1 is second only to last year’s MVP, Aaron Rodgers, who ended the year with an 86.2 QBR. And there’s that QB bias thing. My 2012 Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning.
That’s how the awards ceremony would go if I was commissioner – and was the only one voting.
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