With the championship round of the playoffs completed this weekend, Will Scott looks back at the frontrunners for the NFL end of season honours, to be hosted the night before Superbowl XLIX.
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
Here, fans tend to be either in one camp or the other; either you believe defensive phenomenon JJ Watt is on his way to picking up MVP as a defensive player for the first time since 1986, or you believe that Lambeau’s finest, Aaron Rodgers, is on his way to a second career MVP. Or, there is also Justin James, who became the first ever player to hit 20 sacks in two separate regular seasons. To do that once is impressive enough, to repeat it once you’re regularly being double-teamed is just plain ridiculous.
However my pick for the award is Rodgers, purely due to the nature of the award. It’s not for the NFL’s best player; it is awarded to the most valuable. Houston still missed the playoffs even with Watt, however if you were to remove Watt and replace him with A-Rod would they be playing January football? The answer to that is definitely a yes. Rodgers has a great supporting cast around him, however I don’t feel Green Bay would have earned a playoff bye without him. Rodgers continued to deliver through injury and gets it done week in week out.
Coach of the Year
Much like the MVP this is most likely between two candidates, although possibly not as close a call. In any other season Bill O’Brien would probably take it easily. He’s taken the Texans from picking first in the draft, to a winning record. Picking number one in the draft had little to do with it either, with number one pick Clowney sidelined for the majority of the season. But my choice, and I’m sure many others, for the honour is Bruce Arians. Arians coached up an Arizona team based around an incredibly tough defence. Season expectations were high, and for the vast majority of the season these were being exceeded, to many people’s surprise in the toughest division in football. Even late on in the season after Palmer’s injury the team continued to pick up wins without an NFL starting calibre quarter back, securing a NFC playoff berth for the first time in five years.
Offensive Player of the Year
The past two MVP winners also gained offensive player of the year honours, but there are strong candidates other than Rodgers. Any time you break the record of a franchise and NFL legend you know you’ve had a great season. This was the case for DeMarco Murray, breaking Emmitt Smith’s Cowboys single season rushing record, with his 1845 yards and 13 touchdowns. Murray finally managed to stay fit for a whole season, and reaped the rewards behind the best O-Line in pro football. Outside of these two, Antonio Brown could be a wildcard, although Jerry Rice has been the only receiver to previously win the award. However, Brown was always there for his QB Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh’s offense, racking up 1698 yards in the air and 13 touchdowns.
Defensive Player of the Year
Justin Houston put together a stellar campaign at OLB for the Chiefs, coming within half a sack of Michael Strahan’s single season sack record. Unfortunately for him JJ Watt is also playing in the NFL, and he’s playing at a level never seen before at his position. On top of his second season of 20+ sacks, Watt has also taken an 80 yard interception to the house, recovered a fumble for a TD, forced four fumbles, and although they’re not to do with defense he’s added three receiving TDs for good measure. Case closed.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
It was the year of the rookie receiver. Whilst the two huge target men Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans had magnificent rookie campaigns, both notching 1000-yard seasons, they were outshone by another rookie receiver who began his rookie season watching injured from the sidelines. Odell Beckham Jr missed training camp, pre-season, and the first four games with a hamstring injury, but he more than made up for the lost time. The LSU grad racked up 1305 yards in just 14 games, setting a number of NFL records on the way. This one’s a lock.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Finally, here’s an award that could swing one of many ways. Fifth overall pick Khalil Mack has quietly had a great season for any linebacker regardless of experience, but unfortunately this has been lost in another dire season for the Raiders. Fellow linebacker CJ Mosley was an integral part of a fearsome Ravens front seven, racking up the fifth most snaps of any linebacker. Mosley was also one of three rookies with a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception. In my eyes the strongest contender is Aaron Donald. The Rams DT racked up eight sacks, only half off the most of any interior lineman for the season. Not only has he been one of the best rookies, but one of the best defensive lineman in all of football, something which was recognized with a Pro-Bowl nod.
Comeback Player of the Year
This is often the most open of the categories, and this year the trend continues. Big cases could be made for Gronkowski, Miller and Maclin especially. Gronk came back from January ACL surgery to lead all TEs in yards, and he seemed back to his old self throughout the season, notching 12 TDs to go with all those yards. Von Miller also returned from the same surgery as Gronkowski, and paired 14 sacks with 42 tackles. Finally, Jeremy Maclin also came back from a torn ACL having missed the whole of the 2013 season, to debut in Chip Kelly’s system. Not only was it his first year in a new system, but after Jackson’s departure Maclin was expected to step up and be the number one receiver. He responded in great fashion with 1318 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Play of the year
This one isn’t even close. OBJ, the likely rookie of the year, came up with what is arguably the greatest catch ever. With a defender draped all over him (illegally), and the ball seemingly sailing beyond him, Beckham leant back and plucked the ball out of the air with three fingers for a touchdown. Best. Catch. Ever.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.