NFL Awards Watch: Predictions
I'm excited to introduce a new column this week on SI.com. Starting with these preseason predictions, I will be following the top five candidates for the following awards on a weekly basis: MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Each of these awards has subjective criteria. Here are the characteristics I will use to nominate players for recognition in this column.
In determining an MVP, I will look for players who greatly impact games through outstanding play on a consistent basis. While offensive stars tend to dominate this award, I won't exclude defensive players performing exceedingly well.
While the Offensive Player of the Year award often mirrors the league MVP, I will also spotlight a few unheralded players who are putting up big numbers on underperforming teams. Outstanding production will be critical, but impact on the offense also will be used to determine the nominees. The same will be true for Defensive POY.
Picking a Coach of the Year will be interesting because coaches with talent-laden rosters are often overlooked for the honor. That's not to say those coaches necessarily deserve the honor, but they should be recognized for doing a great job with the talent assembled. Also, coaches who are getting the most out of a depleted or talent-starved roster will be acknowledged.
In tabbing an Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, I will base my judgments off impact and production. Typically, top rookies jump off the screen when watching tape, so I will try not to over-think my evaluation when picking the top guys.
Here are some of the leading candidates as we head into the season openers.
1. Tom Brady, Patriots, QB -- The reigning league MVP has missed all of the preseason with an injury, but is slated to return to the lineup for the season opener against the Chiefs. With Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Laurence Maroney still at his disposal, Brady has the weapons needed to continue to put up huge numbers.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers, RB -- The five-time Pro Bowler is the league's back-to-back rushing champion, and has topped the 1,000-yard mark in seven consecutive seasons. He has fully recovered from the knee injury that limited his participation in the AFC Championship game, and is the key to the Chargers' offense.
3. Brett Favre, Jets, QB -- The legend leaves Green Bay to take over an underachieving Jets' squad. Though he leaves the comfort of playing in a west coast system, Favre is surrounded by an improved offensive line, and a better than average set of skill players. Throw in the added motivation of proving his critics wrong, Favre may turn in a vintage performance in 2008.
4. Adrian Peterson, Vikings, RB -- The Pro Bowl MVP took the league by storm in his first season on the way to 1,341 rushing yards in only nine starts (14 games played). With a goal of eclipsing a 2,000-yard season, he is looking to enter the ranks of the game's elite in his second season.
5. Brian Westbrook, Eagles, RB -- The two-time Pro Bowl back led the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage a season ago, and figures to play a bigger role this year with top receiver Kevin Curtis sidelined indefinitely. As the Eagles' top rusher and receiver, Westbrook's production is critical to the offense, and he will need to be spectacular for the Eagles to contend.
Offensive Player of the Year
1. Drew Brees, Saints, QB -- The oft-overlooked two-time Pro Bowler finished second in the league in passing yards last season, but will see his production increase with the addition of four-time Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey to an explosive lineup that already features WR Marques Colston, RB Reggie Bush and RB Deuce McAllister.
2. Tony Romo, Cowboys, QB -- The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback has been spectacular since taking over the reins two seasons ago. With a surrounding cast that features three Pro Bowlers at the skill positions (Marion Barber III, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten), Romo has the potential to direct the league's top scoring offense in 2008.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, QB -- After having a sub-par season in 2006, Roethlisberger bounced back to set career highs in passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (104.1) last season. With offensive coordinator Bruce Arians continuing to open up the Steelers offense, the prospects are promising for Roethlisberger to surpass those totals this season.
4. Peyton Manning, Colts, QB -- The two-time league MVP is always a viable candidate. The return of a healthy Marvin Harrison gives Manning arguably the best corps of receivers in the game. And the wide open approach of offensive coordinator Tom Moore ensures Manning will put up big numbers.
5. Randy Moss, Patriots, WR -- The mercurial talent shattered the league's single season record for touchdowns (23) and re-established himself as the premier receiver in the NFL. While it is unlikely he will top that record in 2008, he is sure to make a significant impact in his second year with Brady and the Patriots.