After seventeen weeks, the NFL regular season is over.
Twenty teams are left packing up their lockers until August – while twelve remain to battle for Vince Lombardi’s Trophy; awarded to the Super Bowl Champion.
In what turned out to be the final scheduled game of the regular season, the New York Giants punched the final ticket to the playoffs with a victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football.
In the AFC, the Patriots finished as the top seed, winning out their final eight games to finish 13-3; the Baltimore Ravens claimed the other first round bye as the second seed. The AFC North champion Houston Texans finished third, followed by AFC West champion Denver Broncos and the two wild-card teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.
On the NFC side, the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Green Bay Packers finished 15-1 and claimed home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers finished second, the New Orleans Saints claimed third, the aforementioned Giants won the NFC East and are the fourth seed, with the Atlanta Falcons & Detroit Lions earning the wild card spots (*In my mid-season review – I correctly identified all six NFC teams)
On Wildcard Weekend, the third-seeded Texans & Saints will host the Bengals and Lions respectively; while fourth-seeded Broncos & Giants will play host to the Steelers and Falcons.
The Patriots, Ravens, Packers and 49ers will take the weekend off to wait to see who their opponents will be in the Divisional Round.
In terms of individual performances, I have decided to make a few predictions on the major league awards that will be presented in the coming weeks by the Associated Press.
MVP/Player of the Year
Likely Candidates: Drew Brees (Saints), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Tom Brady (Patriots)
Who Should Win: A toss-up ultimately between Brees & Brady. Brees having set the all-time record for passing yards in a season and a team record of 13-3; whereas Brady’s Patriots compiled a similar 13-3 record, he equally went over the 5000 plateau and carried the worst defense in the NFL (in terms of total yards given up). It is my opinion that Rodgers chances were crushed when his backup QB (Matt Flynn) threw for 480 yards and six TD’s in the final week of the season, rendering the Packers offense phenomenal without him.
Who Will Win: Brees
Defensive Player of the Year
Likely Candidates: Jared Allen (Vikings), Terrell Suggs (Ravens), DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys)
Who Should Win: Suggs (2 INTs, 14 sacks, 7 forced fumbles) or Allen (1 INT, 22 sacks, 4 forced fumbles) are both deserving candidates of the honour.
Who Will Win: Allen
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
Likely Candidates: Cam Newton (Panthers), Andy Dalton (Bengals)
Who Should Win: Dalton, who took his team to the playoffs as a rookie
Who Will Win: Newton, the first-overall pick in last year’s draft after setting a number of NFL Rookie records
NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year
Likely Candidates: Aldon Smith (49ers), Von Miller (Broncos)
Who Should Win: Smith (14 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, safety)
Who Will Win: Smith
Comeback Player of the Year
Likely Candidates: Alex Smith (49ers), Matthew Stafford (Lions), Steve Smith (Panthers)
Who Should Win: Any of these candidates would be deserving choices; I’m personally partial to Smith, who had been considered a locker room cancer and close to retirement before having one of the best statistical seasons of his career this season, through his bond with rookie QB Cam Newton. On the other hand, both Smith & Stafford led teams traditionally known as bottom feeders in the NFC into the playoffs.
Who Will Win: Alex Smith
Coach of the Year
Likely Candidates: Jim Harbaugh (49ers), Jim Schwartz (Lions), Bill Belichick (Patriots)
Who Should Win: Once again, each of these candidates are equally deserving for their own reasons. However, I feel like Belichick could also be considered an outcast to this award considering he has among the top QB’s in the league and the worst defense in the league. It is my opinion however (very biased at that), Belichick gets the most out of what he has and has a unique ability to turn unneeded or under-utilized offensive players into strong defensive players when injuries plagued his roster. (Let’s not discount that the Patriots set an NFL-record for the number of different players to start a game on defense in one season).
Similar to my midseason review, I am refusing to make a Super Bowl Champion prediction because I will not pick against my Patriots.
Happy New Year & Happy NFL Playoffs!