A tradition like almost any other returns to NASB. This is where I announce my end of year awards, and look back at what I did and did not get correct when I wrote my pre-season predictions. As always, we get started with the serious awards.
Most Valuable Player – Adrian Peterson – RB, MIN
Adrian Peterson literally carried the Vikings into the postseason. Rushing for 2097 yards, the second most in NFL history, Peterson answered every question about whether he would be the same running back he was before his ACL tear, merely 54 weeks ago. Many people, including your’s truly, thought that Peterson would not be able to have a productive season, and were proven to be dead wrong. What’s more is that Peterson did it without much help. Yes, his offensive line is great, but Peterson often faced nine men fronts because defenses would try desperately to stop him. When you look at the Vikings passing statistics, which had the second fewest yards per game in the league, and how there was no reason to ever respect their passing game, it makes Peterson’s feat even more incredible.
While I greatly respect what Peyton Manning did with the Broncos, I think he has a better supporting cast than Peterson. The Broncos rank 5th in the league defensively, as compared to the Vikings at 15. Manning’s aerial attack was supported by a running game that was right around the league average, compared to the nearly non-existence of the Vikings passing game in support of Peterson. While my vote would go to Peterson, Manning is a very close second. I don’t think it would be surprising if they ended up splitting the award, as Steve McNair did with Manning in 2003, which I would be fine with.
Defensive Player of the Year – J.J. Watt – DE, HOU
Watt followed up an extraordinary end to his rookie campaign by dominating offensive linemen in 2012. Watt registered 20.5 sacks, made 68 tackles, and forced four fumbles. He’s noted for his ability to have an impact on the play even when he can’t get to the quarterback – knocking down 16 passes by deflecting them at the line of scrimmage. Watt’s main competition for this award comes from another sophomore, Denver’s Von Miller. While Miller’s season is nearly equally as impressive (18.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 55 tackles), I think the edge goes to Watt for his ability to knock passes down at the line.
Comeback Player of the Year – Peyton Manning – QB, DEN
I believe that Manning deserves some recognition for what he has been able to do this season. After missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, questions about whether he would ever play again, and being released by the Colts, Manning’s comeback was a credit to his mental toughness as much as it was to his physical prowess. After starting the season 2-3, Manning led the Broncos to the second most potent offense in the league and to eleven straight victories. They finished the season at 13-3 and the number one seed in the AFC.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Russell Wilson – QB, SEA
In a three way race between Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, my vote goes to the Seattle quarterback. While Wilson got off to a slow start, his and his team’s offensive numbers soared once the calendar flipped to November. Wilson threw 26 touchdowns, more than Luck or Griffin, although he threw for the least amount of yards of the candidates. Griffin and Wilson have nearly identical stats, which makes it very tough to distinguish one over the other. The difference to me is who Wilson had to face. Wilson played in the NFC West, which meant he faced the 4th, 5th, and 15th ranked pass defenses twice. The Seahawks went 3-3 against divisional opponents, and Wilson’s numbers weren’t great, but not bad (7 TDs, 7 INTs, 60% completion). Outside of the division, Wilson threw only three interceptions in 12 games, racking up 19 touchdowns and completing 66 percent of his passes. Griffin faced significantly poorer passing defenses. The Eagles were a top ten defense, but Dallas was merely average, and the Giants were one of the worst in the league. Against the poor defenses in his own division, Griffin tore up defenses for 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Wilson gets the edge over Griffin based on quality of opponents faced, and we’ll see which quarterback gets the better of the other in this weekend’s Wild Card playoff game.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Bobby Wagner – MLB, SEA
Wagner played an important part in the league’s leading defense. He registered two sacks, made three interceptions, and made 85 tackles which was 3rd among all rookies. There is no standout player this year, but Wagner’s yeoman work in one of defense’s most important positions might be enough to grab him the award. He might be overlooked compared to Janoris Jenkins’ playmaking ability (three INTs for TDs), or Casey Hayward’s six interceptions. While there is nothing glamorous about Wagner’s season, he was a solid and dependable defender that started all but one game.
Coach of the Year – Bruce Arians, IND
There is so many remarkable parts of the Colts season that it is difficult to know where to begin. Consider the fact that the team was thought to be in a complete rebuilding mode after a 2-14 season in 2011. Consider that they lost Pierre Garcon and Peyton Manning. With a rookie quarterback and the youngest team in the NFL, it was expected that the Colts would take a few years before Chuck Pagano would have a contending squad. The team started off 1-2, including a loss to the dismal Jaguars in Week 3. Then Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with cancer, forcing Arians, the offensive coordinator into an interim role as head coach. The Colts responded by going 9-3 under Arians and locking up a playoff berth in Week 16. Two of their losses came to playoff teams (Patriots and Texans). What Arians did without any preparation or knowledge that he would be taking over an entire team is remarkable. Yes, Chuck Pagano was in the background assisting Arians whenever he could, but the gameday decisions by Arians, many of them in close games where the Colts needed to come from behind, should give Arians the award. It is unorthodox for the award to be given to someone who is not technically the head coach, especially since Pagano returned to his duties in time for the season finale, but he was astounding. A close second would be Pete Carroll, who has created a deadly offense for Russell Wilson to use, and the league’s top defense.
What I Got Right
There wasn’t much that I got right. My pre-season Super Bowl pick, the Giants, stumbled down the stretch and missed the playoffs. My Super Bowl runner-up, the Ravens, have been as inconsistent as they have in years past. Although, I do deserve bonus points for correctly predicting that Ray Lewis would retire at the end of this season, although I was hardly alone in saying that.
Here were my playoff predictions at the beginning of the season.
AFC - #1 Patriots, #2 Ravens, #3 Texans, #4 Broncos, #5 Steelers, #6 Bengals
NFC - #1 Packers, #2 Giants, #3 Saints, #4 49ers, #5 Bears, #6 Eagles
The AFC wasn’t bad. The seeding was a little sketchy, and I overestimated the Steelers and disregarded the Colts, but I was fairly accurate. I got my own team correct, to the exact record, saying that they would go 6-10 because of their defense.
What I Got Wrong – The Entire NFC
Let’s start with the Saints, who showed that they needed Sean Peyton (or a bounty system) more than I thought. I knew it would be difficult for the offense to be as prolific as it was in its record-setting 2011 season, but it was worse than I thought it would be. Drew Brees ended up with a fairly good season, but his 19 interceptions were the second highest in his career, and his completion percentage was the lowest in his time with New Orleans. Their defense was also abysmal, looking to be completely incompetent of stopping a high school team. Their 7000+ yards given up was the worst in the league by nearly a thousand yards.
I also overestimated the Eagles, and thought that they would have improved in their second season with a bunch of talented players. But they didn’t. Michael Vick was a turnover machine, LeSean McCoy had injury issues, and questions about Andy Reid’s job security were a distraction off the field. Yes, Reid deserves blame for the team not making it to the playoffs for two straight seasons with ultra-high expectations, but some blame must be put on the construction of the team, which went from a team that always built from the draft and made smart free agent moves into a team which tried to buy their way to a championship.
I did not think Seattle would do anything this season, and questioned why Russell Wilson was given the starting job when they had spent so much for Matt Flynn. Clearly, I underestimated Wilson’s talent, and the Seahawks’ coaching staff for designing a brilliant system. For a while, it looked like I was going to get it right with the Bears, but they folded down the stretch, which cost Lovie Smith his job. I also did not think Atlanta would make the playoffs, and they are the top seed in the NFC. I still don’t trust this team to make it to the Super Bowl and I still question Matt Ryan’s poise in a big game, but they have proved me wrong thus far.
Nothing, however, was more incorrect or completely off target than my prediction for the Kansas City Chiefs, who I had as my sleeper team to contend for the playoffs and finish at 9-7. They were dreadful, mainly because of Matt Cassel, and an offense that turned the ball over 37 times (tied with the Jets and Eagles for tops in the league). Romeo Crennel was rightfully fired after the Chiefs finished with the top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and GM Scott Pioli just barely survived being fired.
Now that my original Super Bowl Prediction has gone the way of the dodo, let’s take a look at the playoff picture. In the AFC, I think we’re headed for a New England – Denver AFC championship game. If that happens, my money is on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Belichick always finds a defensive scheme to confuse Manning enough to throw him out of his rhythm. Still, New England is not invincible. If the Ravens face them in the Divisional playoff, which would require for the Bengals to upset Houston, I think the Pats could be knocked off then. If that’s the case, then I think Denver will advance to the Super Bowl.
In the NFC, I could see a bunch of teams coming advancing to the Super Bowl. I think Seattle is very deadly, and have caught fire of late. I think they’re going to beat the Redskins this week, which would set them up with a third game against the 49ers, unless Minnesota can upset Green Bay. We saw how dominant the Seahawks were against San Fran two weeks ago, and I don’t see it going any different. I think Seattle can advance to the Super Bowl if they face Atlanta in the NFC Title game, but might have a tough time beating Green Bay in Lambeau if that ends up being their destiny.
Super Bowl Prediction: It’s a tough call, but I’m going to say New England vs. Seattle in the Superdome on the first Sunday in February, with New England winning.