The same can be said about this year's NFL season. After a busy off-season filled with QB (Robert Griffin III) v. Head Coach (Mike Shanahan), old faces (Andy Reid) in new places (Kansas City), a lawsuit against the league that was eventually settled, and same story, different year with the Cowboys, we finally kicked off the 2013 NFL season in Denver with Peyton Manning starting his MVP campaign with a record-tying 5 TDs (and zero INTs) against the defending champion Baltimore Ravens, which proved to be indicative of the Ravens season after their second Lombardi trophy as a Baltimore franchise. On the opening Monday night game, we saw the Chargers reminisce their glory days with Norv Turner while allowing the Texans to storm back from down 28-7 to win one of their two games this year.
Today marks the first Monday after the regular season, and while it is commonly known as "Black Monday", there are 12 teams whose playoff runs are about to take off towards a trip to East Rutherford for Super Bowl XLVIII and the other 20 will be facing questions on whether their coaching staff, starting QB (or lack thereof), and front office is in line to improve upon missing out again next year.
These players helped shaped a great 2013 NFL season, regardless of the black eyes the NFL continues to hand down with head-scratching decision making and new "rules" to help protect players.
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
Candidates:Kiko Alonso - LB - Buffalo Bills
Sheldon Richardson - DL - New York Jets
Eric Reid - S - San Francisco 49ers
Alec Olgetree - LB - St. Louis Rams
Alonso will likely be the runaway winner, leading all rookies and finishing third in total tackles, while also grabbing up 4 INTs, and notching 2 sacks. Richardson played very well for a very good Jets defensive line, recording 12 tackles for loss along with 77 tackles, good for fourth on the team. Reid may be overlooked because of all the other studs the 49ers have on defense, but he finished third on the team in tackles, third in pass defenses, and second in INTs on a team that allowed only 221 yards passing per game. Olgetree deserves some fanfare as well, but he will likely be overshadowed by his teammate Robert Quinn. Olgetree racked up 117 tackles to go along with 6 (!) forced fumbles which is third behind ... Robert Quinn and Robert Mathis. Along with 10 pass defenses, I would say the combination of Quinn and Olgetree will be a force for the Rams in the coming year.
Winner: Kiko Alonso
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
Candidates:Cordarrelle Patterson - WR - Minnesota Vikings
Eddie Lacy - RB - Green Bay Packers
Keenan Allen - WR - San Diego Chargers
Le'Veon Bell - RB - Pittsburgh Steelers
Patterson and Lacy will be your two spotlight players amongst the voters, but Allen was the Chargers only real threat at WR all year for Rivers, and had 8 catches for 5 TDs in a three game span to help propel the Chargers into the playoffs, to go along with 1,046 receiving yards. Bell, while only playing in 13 games this year, set a Steeler record for most scrimmage yards by a rookie, only lost one fumble, and caught 45 balls for 399 yards to go along with 860 rushing yards. A full, healthy year will likely see Bell as a top 5 rusher. Patterson is a speed demon, and was the only player this year to have 2 return touchdowns. He finished second to Devin Hester in return yards with 1393, but had 9 fewer returns than Hester and averaged 32.4 yards per return, leading the league. While he was only able to catch 45 balls for 4 TDs, we have to think that the QB situation in Minnesota was the only thing holding Patterson back. All Eddie Lacy did was rush for over 1100 yards, score 11 TDs (third in the league behind Lynch and Charles), and also only lost one fumble.
Winner: Eddie Lacy
NFL Defensive Player of the Year
Candidates:Robert Quinn - DE - St. Louis Rams
Robert Mathis - LB - Indianapolis Colts
Luke Kuechly - LB - Carolina Panthers
Lavonte David - LB - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Too many great defensive players this year to narrow down to four, so this category will vary quite a bit amongst writers, but I picked out four players who stood out the most to me. Quinn and Mathis are almost the same person. They both had 19 sacks (19.5 for Mathis) and finished 1-2 in forced fumbles. While Quinn was on a team that didn't lead a whole lot, it is pretty impressive that he was able to amass that many sacks. Kuechly, last year's defensive rookie of the year, didn't lead the league in tackles again this year, but that may be because of an improved defensive line for the Panthers, but he was still manage to finish fourth with 156, back-to-back years with 150+ tackles, and 4 INTs. He is the best player on the top defensive team and that usually helps the player's case for post-season awards. Lavonte David, behind all the smoke that has been looming around football in Florida these past few months, has been putting the hurt on all his opponents. Second among linebackers with 5 INTs, along with 2 forced fumbles and 144 tackles on a bad team. Add on 6 sacks, and I think David makes a strong case.
Winner: Robert Mathis
NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Candidates:LeSean McCoy - RB - Philadelphia Eagles
Josh Gordon - WR - Cleveland Browns
Peyton Manning - QB - Denver Broncos
Jamaal Charles - RB - Kansas City Chiefs
McCoy led the league in rushing, Gordon in receiving, Manning in passing, and Charles in total touchdowns. These are just "default" candidates either. Each had a very impressive year, so picking out the most impressive year is the task. McCoy, while leading the league in rushing with 1,607 yards, "only" got 9 rushing touchdowns, but had an impressive 10.4 yards per reception along with 2 touchdowns while leading the league in scrimmage yards. Josh Gordon blew away everyone over a three week stretch. In games 10-12, Gordon had 649 yards over 31 receptions and 4 touchdowns, setting an NFL record for most yards over a three-game period. He finished the year with 1,646 yards with 3 starting quarterbacks. Jamaal Charles only led the league in total touchdowns this year with 19 (12 rushing, 7 receiving) and had an explosive game against Oakland with 4 receiving touchdowns on 8 catches and 195 yards, and finished second in scrimmage yards. Manning's year, by far, was the most impressive. 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns (both single-season records), 68.3 completion percentage, and 115 quarterback rating (not sure how this was worse than his 121.1 in 2004). This makes the second time he's broken the touchdown record and became the first QB since Dan Marino in 1984 to hold the passing yards and touchdowns record.
Winner: Peyton Manning
NFL Coach of the Year
Candidates:Ron Rivera - Carolina Panthers
Andy Reid - Kansas City Cheifs
Bruce Arians - Arizona Cardinals
Bill Belichick - New England Patriots
Had the Cardinals made the playoffs, Arians would have won his second consecutive coach of the year award, with two different teams. Rivera was on the hot seat at the end of last year, and many wanted him fired, but survived an offensive coordinator turnover, drafted very well on the defensive side of the ball, and this team is the number two seed. Reid would be a lock if the Chiefs didn't flounder against the Broncos and Chargers, but getting back into the playoffs is a good pitch. Belichick is as deserving as anyone, considering they've been without two of the best tight ends in the game most of the year, dealing with the loss of Wes Welker, and still just a win away from the top seed. Getting a first-round bye was huge for this team, who has a lot of new pieces, so props to the entire coaching staff for getting this team back into high-octane form.
Winner: Ron Rivera
NFL Most Valuable Player
Candidates:Peyton Manning - Denver Broncos
Tom Brady - New England Patriots
Jamaal Charles - Kansas City Chiefs
Drew Brees - New Orleans Saints
Brady is very deserving of this award, and part of me wants him to get this one, but it will likely be Manning again. Brady has carried the team on his back, 5 comebacks, including one over the Broncos, and a number 2 seed. His coach got snubbed for coach of the year, but I vote for Brady for MVP.