It has been announced that during Super Bowl week on NFL Network, the winners of the various regular-season awards will be named, with one being announced per day. The first thought that came to mind when I looked at the schedule is that we could be hearing a Patriot per day being announced as an award winner. Let’s take a look at the schedule, the awards, what Patriots are candidates, and who I predict will receive each award.
Comeback Player of the Year (announced January 31)
I predict that Patriots’ WR Wes Welker will receive this award. Welker tore his ACL and MCL last January but was back in time to participate in training camp. That in itself is a tremendous accomplishment, and while Welker didn’t have his best season, he was still Tom Brady’s go-to guy. Welker caught 88 balls for 848 yards and 7 touchdowns. One of the main reasons Welker didn’t catch 100 balls this season was that he didn’t have to. With the return of Deion Branch and the emergence of the young tight ends as factors in the passing game, Welker didn’t have to be THE guy on nearly every play.
Offensive Player of the Year (announced February 1)
This in all likelihood will be Patriots’ QB Tom Brady. With the type of season he had, it’s going to be hard to separate him from this award, even if he’s a sure bet for another, more prestigious award (see below). one candidate that could snatch this award if the voters choose to not have the same person win Offensive Player of the Year and that other award, then it will likely be Eagles’ QB Michael Vick. He was a one-man show at times, using his feet as well as his newly-refined pocket passing skills.
Coach of the Year (announced Feb. 2)
I believe that yet another Patriot will be announced on this day, and it will be none other than Bill Belichick. He coached one of the youngest teams in the NFL to a 14-2 record, the best in the NFL. The Patriots had several key players, like Ty Warren and Leigh Bodden, on IR and yet was able to pull everything together. The defense started anywhere from 6 to 7 1st- or 2nd-year players on a weekly basis and steadily improved as the year progressed. His offense was on of the best in the NFL, despite trading its top receiver 4 weeks into the season and basically changing the offensive scheme midstream. Despite the playoff loss, this was truly one of Belichick’s finest coaching jobs. The Packers’ Mike McCarthy also merits consideration for taking his 6th seeded team to the Super Bowl, as well as the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin. Tomlin weathered the storm of losing QB Ben Roethlisberger for the first 4 weeks of the season and still was able to get the #2 seed in the playoffs and a Super Bowl berth.
Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year (announced Feb. 4)
This will finally be a Patriot-less day, though there are a couple of players that are strong candidates for these awards. The Rams’ QB Sam Bradford will win Offensive Rookie of the Year for the phenomenal job he did with a team that was completely miserable last season. TE Rob Gronkowski makes a strong case to be considered, as he was a complete tight end. His blocking was solid and he was second among all rookies with 10 touchdown catches, which is also tied for second-most all-time for rookie tight ends. The Defensive Rookie of the Year will be Detroit’s DT Ndamukong Suh. Suh was a one-man wrecking crew his first year in the league and improved a what was a woeful unit. He led all rookies with 10 sacks, which is an even more incredible stat when you take into account that he’s a defensive tackle. The Patriots’ CB Devin McCourty makes a strong case for consideration. He helped shore up a porous secondary and by season’s end, analysts were beginning to use the term “shutdown corner” when referring to him. McCourty led all rookies with 7 interceptions, which was also good enough to be tied for 2nd in that category among all NFL players. Not bad.
Defensive Player of the Year (announced Feb. 5)
This is a tough call, but I feel that Packers’ LB Clay Matthews. Matthews was a disruptive force all season and in just his second year, became a player that opposing teams had to account for. Matthews had 60 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception. Another candidate could be Steelers’ S Troy Polamalu. The Steelers’ defense is a much more different, and more dangerous, unit when Polamalu is on the field. Despite missing two games, he had 63 tackles, a sack, a pivotal forced fumble that helped the Steelers beat the Ravens to become the 2 seed, and 7 interceptions, which is tied for second-most in the NFL.
MVP (announced Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 6)
This is, without question, Patriots’ QB Tom Brady. Brady was brilliant this year, throwing for 3,900 yards, 36 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions. He achieved two records this season that should continue to grow next season: most consecutive passes without an INT (335) and most consecutive regular-season home wins (28). Despite throwing an INT in the playoffs, these records count towards just the regular season. Of course I am biased, but I don’t think any player comes close to what Brady did this season. Consider also that he did it without a #1 receiver after Randy Moss was traded, an offense that changed as the season progressed, and two rookies at the tight end position. That is pretty impressive.