With 14 weeks in the books, voters for the NFL’s top individual awards have a much clearer and sketched out idea of who should get their nod and own some valuable silverware by season’s end.
The Most Valuable Player award has likely been decided already and has a very short list of candidates, but Defensive Player of the Year and both Rookie of the Year awards appear to be wide open races that could come down to the final three games of the season. Much can happen in the next three weeks as player make late surges, but some of the candidates seem to already be firmly in place for each award.
Here’s are some predictions for NFL MVP, DPOY and Offensive and Defensive ROY.
Most Valuable Player
Candidates: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots; Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers; Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals
For the third straight year and eighth time in the last nine, the MVP will go to a quarterback and Newton must be the choice. Allowing voters little wiggle room by combining excellent career-high stats with a winning culture, Newton’s racked up 28 touchdown passes and a 96.6 passer rating while rushing for another 480 yards and seven scores during Carolina’s incredible 13-0 run atop the NFC.
Brady had the lead for the first 10 games of the season, but once New England blinked first and experienced a two-game slide, he began to lose ground to Newton. Injuries to Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and to his offensive line unfortunately hurt Brady’s chances for a third MVP in his career. But he might keep the vote close with his league-best 4,138 yards and 33 touchdowns, numbers that stand out even more because of New England’s bevy of injuries.
Palmer’s going to blow past his career marks in passing yardage and touchdowns, while leading the league in yards per attempt, yards gained per completion, and QBR. The Cardinals are the NFC’s second-best team and heading to the postseason largely because of Palmer’s production, but this is Newton’s award to lose.
Prediction: Newton gets a good majority and wins, but Brady siphons off votes in a semi-close finish.
Defensive Player Of The Year
Candidates: Chandler Jones, DE, New England Patriots; Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona Cardinals; Josh Norman, CB, Carolina Panthers; Aqib Talib, CB, Denver Broncos; J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans;
After leaving Watt off in our first assessment of DPOY candidates, the Texans stud pass rusher is back in the mix after translating his production into victories. Houston’s back in the playoff race and Watt’s second in the league with 13.5 sacks. He could be just the second player to win DPOY three times, but Watt does have some stiff competition.
Mathieu’s been a force all over the field, generating 84 tackles, four interceptions, and 15 passes defense, and helped Arizona own the league’s No. 4 overall defense and an 11-2 record. Talib’s 12 passes defensed, and two of his three interceptions returned for touchdowns make the Broncos the NFL’s most feared defensive unit, and he does deserve credit for keeping the defense afloat despite Peyton Manning’s turnovers. Jones is part of New England’s No. 6 overall defense and has generated 10.5 of the team’s 42 sacks, second-most in the NFL.
However, Norman’s a budding star who’s been the heart and soul of Carolina’s defense and its perfect run through 13 games. He’s tied for the league-lead with two picks returned for touchdowns, and is in the top 10 in passes defensed (16) and interceptions (4). Because of Norman, opposing quarterbacks are also averaging a 69.6 passer rating against the Panthers, far and away the best in the NFL.
Prediction: Voters may check off Watt as a matter of routine, but Norman’s the most deserving and should win. The vote will be close but Norman should be the first defensive back to win since 2010.
Offensive Rookie Of The Year
Candidates: Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders; Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams; Tyler Lockett, WR/PR, Seattle Seahawks; Thomas Rawls, RB, Seattle Seahawks; Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gurley exploded on to the scene and with four straight games with 120 yards or more and he’s now fourth in the NFL with 975 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Lockett’s done the same and become an incredible dual-threat receiver and returner who can burn opposing defensive backs, while Rawls stepped in perfectly for Marshawn Lynch, and both have played a huge role in Seattle’s late-season push. Cooper was the favorite but has somewhat leveled off, though his 62 receptions, 920 yards and four touchdowns are still tops among all rookie receivers.
Winston’s neck-and-neck with Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota in terms of stats, but the differences in team records separate the respective No. 1 and No. 2 picks. Should Winston manage to sneak the Bucs into the postseason he’ll win.
Prediction: Several of these players will garner votes, in particular Lockett and Rawls due to Seattle’s success. But Tampa Bay could make the postseason, in which case Winston takes it, otherwise Gurley’s the pick.
Defensive Rookie Of The Year
Candidates: Ronald Darby, CB, Buffalo Bills; Hau’Oli Kikaha, OLB, New Orleans Saints; Marcus Peters, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
Kikaha was the frontrunner but his numbers have tailed off of late (no sacks in six straight games) and his stock slips due to the Saints overall poor defensive performance this season. The race will come down to Darby and Peters. Darby’s tops in the league with 21 passes defensed, while Peters is third. Peters is also tied for third in the league with five interceptions and he’s helped the Chiefs secondary hold opposing quarterbacks to a 78.5 passer rating, currently No. 4 in the league compared to No. 12 last season. Also the Chiefs are probably going to the postseason, while Darby’s best efforts may not help Buffalo sneak into the AFC wild card.
Prediction: Peters pulls away, but Darby and Kikaha garner some votes.