NFL Awards Watch (cont.)
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Jared Allen, Vikings, DE -- The reigning NFL sack leader has 43 sacks in his four-year career and joins a lineup that features two Pro Bowlers (Kevin Williams and Pat Williams) inside.
As part of a defensive unit that ranked first against the run last season, Allen should have plenty of chances to rush the passer off the edge. The results could be frightening.
2. Mario Williams, Texans, DE -- The former No. 1 overall pick had an outstanding sophomore season with 14.5 sacks, but failed to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl. Fueled by the snub, Williams is poised to take his game to the next level while leading the Texans into playoff contention.
3. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys, OLB -- The Cowboys defense is loaded with all-stars, but the scheme is built around the electrifying pass rushing skills of Ware. Coming off a 14-sack season on a defense that figures to play with a lead in most games, Ware may make a strong run at Michael Strahan's NFL sack record.
4. Albert Haynesworth, Titans, DT -- He had the best season of his career last year and should've received MVP consideration based on his importance to the Titans' defense. In the 13 games (12 starts) he suited up, the team totaled 37 sacks, including six from Haynesworth, and had a 10-3 record. Without their stud in the lineup, the Titans were winless (0-3) and failed to record more than one sack in any contest.
5. Antonio Cromartie, Chargers, CB -- The second-year pro burst onto the scene last season by leading the league with 10 interceptions, earning a Pro Bowl nomination in the process. He didn't even crack the starting lineup until midseason (only eight starts). Imagine what he could do with a full season.
Coach of the Year
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots -- The Patriots are always in title contention, and he should receive the bulk of the credit for their remarkable consistency this decade.
2. Tony Dungy, Colts -- His team has won five consecutive division crowns and averaged 12 wins a season during that span.
3. Mike Holmgren, Seahawks -- He enters his last season riding the momentum of four straight NFC West division titles.
4. Norv Turner, Chargers -- The much maligned coach guided the Chargers to two postseason wins in his first year. An impressive feat for a team that hadn't won a playoff game since 1994.
5. Mike McCarthy, Packers -- After guiding the Packers to unexpected success last season, McCarthy will have to be at his best to navigate the team through the aftermath of the Brett Favre saga.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
1. Matt Ryan, Falcons, QB -- The unflappable rookie had an impressive preseason and may put up decent numbers behind a strong running game led by Michael Turner.
2. Matt Forte, Bears, RB -- As the workhorse in the Bears' offense, Forte will get plenty of carries with offensive coordinator Ron Turner reluctant to put the game on Kyle Orton's shoulders.
3. DeSean Jackson, Eagles, WR -- The Eagles' second-round pick is slated to start at receiver, but he may make his biggest contributions as the team's return specialist.
4. Kevin Smith, Lions, RB -- Even with the recent signing of Rudi Johnson, the Lions' rookie runner should get plenty of carries and find plenty of running room with defenses keying on stud WRs Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams.
5. Darren McFadden, Raiders, RB -- The multi-purpose threat is poised to play a prominent role in Lane Kiffin's innovative offensive attack.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
1. Brandon Flowers, Chiefs, CB -- The feisty rookie held his own against top competition during the preseason and will continue to face tough assignments as the Chiefs top corner.
2. Kenny Phillips, Giants, S -- The Giants have raved about this rookie's skills and are planning on making him a key contributor in their diverse blitz package.
3. Aqib Talib, Buccaneers, CB -- A natural ball hawk, Talib fits in nicely in the Bucs' two-deep scheme, and his knack for creating turnovers will make him a fixture in the starting line up by midseason.
4. Jerod Mayo, Patriots, LB -- The rookie will benefit from playing alongside savvy veterans Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas in the Patriots 3-4.
5. Keith Rivers, Bengals, LB -- The Bengals' remade defense needed playmakers, and Rivers has a chance to be a difference-maker in his first year.