The past twelve months have been remarkably tumultuous, and this uncertainty has bled into the sports landscape as well. Despite the naysayers and doubters, the NFL managed to complete an entire regular season, utilizing literally every day of the week to play each of their 256 games. As the transition to the NFL playoffs begins, focus also shifts to the NFL Awards, with seven awards that recognize on-field contributions through the lens of both statistics and overall narratives. These awards are often instrumental in players’ legacies, often holding significant weight in the all-time rankings of players. Below is a recap of the contenders for each award, along with my predicted winner.
Most Valuable Player (MVP)
Contenders: QB Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers), QB Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), QB Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), RB Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)
Up until Week 13, this award was primarily a two-horse race between Rodgers and Mahomes. However, Mahomes’ drop off in play (along with him sitting Week 17) and Allen’s dynamite close to the season has made it a competition between Green Bay’s and Buffalo’s aerial captains. Rodgers still remains the heavy favorite and my predicted winner, though, because of his consistent dominance this season (and Green Bay nabbing the top seed in the NFC doesn’t hurt either). His gaudy 48:5 touchdown to interception ratio locks up his first MVP award since 2014 and is the culmination of a remarkably vintage season from State Farm’s leading man.
Offensive Player of the Year (OPOY)
Contenders: RB Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans), QB Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills), QB Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), QB Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
This award remains one of the most indiscernible parts of the National Football League, as recipients have almost exclusively fluctuated between the MVP winner himself, the second-best quarterback that season, or an exceptional running back (Jerry Rice and Michael Thomas are the only non-quarterbacks or running backs to win this award). Allen, Mahomes, and Brady all had exceptional seasons but this award should go to none other than King Henry himself, who had one of the greatest running back seasons of all time. His 2,027 rushing yards this season - more than 23 teams - is the fifth highest total in NFL history and his 17 touchdowns are the second most of any player this season.
Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY)
Contenders: LB T.J. Watt (Pittsburgh Steelers), DT Aaron Donald (Los Angeles Rams), CB Xavien Howard (Miami Dolphins)
Out of the 49 times this award has been handed out, 38 have been to given to linebackers and defensive lineman. And this time is no different. This year, T.J. Watt should take home his first of likely multiple DPOY honors. After finishing third in voting last year, Watt led the league with 15 sacks this season. If that sounds low, it’s because it is – 15 sacks are the fewest the league leader has had since Kevin Greene led the league with 14.5 in 1996. Donald’s 13.5 sacks weren’t far behind and while he remains the best defensive player in the league, he didn’t have a better season than Watt. Howard deserves a shoutout as well, as his 10 interceptions were the most by any player since Antonio Cromartie reached that threshold in 2007.
Offensive Rookie of the Year (OROY)
Contenders: QB Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers), WR Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings), RB Jonathan Taylor (Indianapolis Colts)
This award pits one of the best rookie quarterback seasons ever against one of the best rookie wide receiver seasons ever. Despite Jefferson’s sensational year, Herbert has done enough to secure the award. With the most passing touchdowns, most total touchdowns, most completions, most 300-yard games and most games with multiple passing touchdowns, Herbert entirely rewrote the rookie quarterback record book despite not starting Week 1. While Jefferson did set the record for most rookie receiving yards ever, it is much harder to be a rookie quarterback than a rookie wide receiver, and this degree of difficulty is why Herbert will win this award.
Defensive Rookie of the Year (DROY)
Contenders: DE Chase Young (Washington Football Team), S Jeremy Chinn (Carolina Panthers), S Antoine Winfield Jr. (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
“The Predator,” as Young has become known to fans in Landover and beyond, made an impact on Washington’s culture, as his leadership was routinely on display – though his seven sacks, 44 tackles, and four forced fumbles are nothing to scoff at. Spearheading the most dominant defensive line in football, Young was an integral part of the WFT’s unlikely run to a division title and should earn DROY honors for his season. Chinn, who will finish as a close runner-up, had 116 tackles and two touchdowns (on back-to-back plays, no less) and will anchor a burgeoning Carolina defense for years to come.
Comeback Player of the Year (CPOY)
Contenders: QB Alex Smith (Washington Football Team), QB Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)
There are only two true contenders for this award, with Alex Smith being the clear favorite. Roethlisberger’s Steelers certainly had a great season, but his unimpressive statistics along with his late season slide are no match for Smith’s storybook season. After battling back from a gruesome leg injury that led doctors to consider amputating his leg and climbing his way up from third on the QB depth chart, Smith led a Washington Football Team steeped in turmoil to the playoffs. This will be a well-deserved victory for one of the best stories of this NFL season.
Coach of the Year (COTY)
Contenders: Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills), Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins), Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns)
The biggest surprise of this season has been the tremendous success of the Bills, as their ascension from AFC bottom feeders to formidable Super Bowl contenders is owed in large part to McDermott’s job this season. His seamless integration of Stefon Diggs is a notable achievement for a wide receiver that had (somewhat unfairly) earned a reputation for being difficult, and the Bills are poised to give the Chiefs a serious run for their money. Flores had the upper hand for this award most of the season, but the Dolphins just missing out on a playoff spot is a major knock against him.
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