As the NFL season draws to a close, with only the Super Bowl left to be decided, it is time to reflect on the entirety of the season and sort out the awards of the year.Rookie of the Year: Colts QB Andrew Luck. Easily the toughest call. Robert Griffin III deserves it as well, and I would not have a problem with him winning the award. If you were to include the postseason, I would give the award to Seattle QB Russell Wilson, but it is a regular season award. Looking at where the Colts were last year, Luck’s regular season body of work is extremely impressive. Luck essentially replaced a sure-fire Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning, and did so effectively. No team has leaned more on their quarterback than the Colts with Peyton Manning. In his last full year on the Colts, Manning went 10-6. This year, the Colts were an identical 10-6. Luck attempted 627 passes this year, over 200 more than Russell Wilson or Griffin. Luck took the worst team in the league and made them a playoff team, while Griffin and Wilson also had Pro Bowl running backs behind them.Defensive Rookie of the Year: Linebacker Luke Kuechly out of Boston College. Kuechly, who wears #59 for the Carolina Panthers, was the ninth pick of the draft and more than deserved the pick. Kuechly recorded 164 tackles (12 for loss) in his rookie campaign, the highest total in the NFL, and by a large margin. His nearest competitor, the 49er’s Navorro Bowman, had 149. Kuechly is already a dominant force on the inside and one of the surest tacklers in the NFL. For proof of his dominance, look no further than the Panthers’ week 16 17-6 win over the Raiders. Kuechly put up 13 tackles, one interception and two passes defended.Defensive Player of the Year: Houston Defensive End J.J. Watt. The Houston Texans defensive end was the most disruptive force in the NFL this season. Watt simply had as statistically dominant a season as a defensive lineman can have. He recorded 40 tackles for loss, 12 more than his nearest competitor and made a serious run at future Hall of Famer Michael Strahan’s sack record. Watt still led the league with 20.5 sacks, coming short of Strahan’s total of 22 and a half. However, Watt also made his presence felt even if he couldn’t get into the backfield. Watt had a penchant for swatting away passes on plays where he didn’t get to the quarterback, racking up 16 passes defended, an astronomical number for a defensive lineman. Watt’s total broke Reggie White’s long-standing record of 13 passes defended for a defensive lineman. Watt’s 16 passes defended were good for 10th in the league, while the nearest front seven player — veteran linebacker London Fletcher — placed 37th. The next closest defensive lineman checked in at 98th place with seven passes defended.Comeback Player of the Year: Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson. The race for comeback player of the year is between Peyton Manning and Peterson. There is a video of Adrian Peterson on YouTube entitled, “Is this the hit that ends Adrian Peterson’s career?” One year and over 2,000 yards later, the answer is a resounding no. As impressive as Manning’s return was, he had more time to recover and does not play nearly as physical of a position. Peterson tore his ACL in December of last year, meaning he essentially had just the off-season to recover, and unlike Manning, Peterson cannot avoid hits. Peterson’s return might be the most impressive season returning from injury in NFL history.Most Valuable Player: Adrian Peterson. The Vikings standout running back is a bit of a throw back. In today’s era of multi-purpose backs Peterson does not return kick or punts, nor does he catch more than the occasional pass (Peterson has never had more than one receiving touchdown in a season). Despite this, he still led the NFL in yards from scrimmage along with rushing yards. Peterson came just a handful of yards short of being the first back since O.J. Simpson in ’73 to average more yards per carry than his quarterback’s yards per attempt. Peterson’s 2,097 rushing yards were a mere 9 yards short of the Eric Dickerson’s all time record that has stood for 29 years. Alfred Morris, who came in second behind Peterson, tallied 1,613 yards, over 480 yards behind Peterson. Perhaps more importantly, Peterson surprised NFL fans everywhere by carrying the Vikings to the playoffs. No team leaned on their running back more than the Vikings, as Peterson was second in the league in carries despite coming back from an ACL tear. In a must win game against the Packers, Peterson dominated by delivering one of the most clutch performances I’ve ever witnessed out of a running back. He put up two total touchdowns and 199 yards on the ground, including an important 26-yard run to put the Vikings in position to kick a short field goal for the win. To me, Peterson’s MVP case is clear — he carried his team to the playoffs, made history, almost took down two 30-year-old records, and distanced himself from his peers like no one else in the NFL.My Super Bowl XLVII Pick: Joe Flacco, while not an elite quarterback, has been extremely proficient this postseason, especially throwing deep. Lost in the emergence of Kaepernick is the fact that the 49ers defense has been a little suspect this postseason and less dominant. The extra week of preparation will help John Harbaugh and the Ravens game plan for Kaepernick. Often, the factors that decide Super Bowls are role players and special teams. In Super Bowl XVLI, the Giants do not win without a huge catch from third receiver Mario Manningham (now on the 49ers) and a heads up play from fullback Henry Hynoski recovering a fumble. I have a lot more faith in Ravens kicker Justin Tucker than in David Akers, who has been shaky all season, hit just 69 percent of his kicks during the regular season and is one for two in the postseason. I feel (as I don’t actually know anything) the Ravens will win a surprisingly high scoring game, 31 – 24.
Original Author: John Zakour