Sky Sports NFL experts hand out regular season awards
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SkySportsPaulH. Last Updated: 08/01/13 4:56pm
We look at the best and the worst of the regular season action to hand out some awards of our own for the great and the good of America's top sport.
We've got some of the best experts around here at Sky Sports, but since none of them were available we've brought in NFL enthusiasts Paul Higham, Rob Lancaster and self-appointed 'Fantasy Football Expert' Graeme Mair to put forward their winners.
Feel free to have your say on our choices using the feedback form below...
MVP of the season
P.H: Adrian Peterson
Yes, I know Peyton Manning looks to be locked in for this, but I'm going for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson after he too has returned from serious injury to record a stunning season. Let's face it the Vikings are nothing special, but Peterson is their one star, with his 2,097 rushing yards and the fact he led the NFL in total yards by a massive 350-yard margin. The main downfall of a one-man team is that opposing sides key in on that man and do everything they can to stop him. So, the fact that teams see it coming and load the box against him, the fact that he fell just nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's rushing record and the fact that he did all this off the back of ACL surgery makes his achievements second to none in my eyes.
R.L: Peyton Manning
The stats are good enough on their own - 4,659 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. What makes Manning's year even more impressive, in fact almost downright ridiculous, is that about this time last year, when it became clear the Indianapolis Colts were going to release the injured quarterback, many questioned if he'd ever really be effective in the NFL again. Turns out he's more than just effective, in fact he's as good as ever. Several neck surgeries left some doubting whether he'd have the arm strength or the durability, but one thing that was never going to leave Manning was his ability to run an offense and work out what he was facing from the opposition. He's taken the Broncos from possible play-off pretenders to serious Super Bowl contenders. Nevermind the divine intervention of Tim Tebow last year, Denver now has the devine presence of Manning.
G.M: Peyton Manning
It pains me to overlook Adrian Peterson after he put the Minnesota Vikings on his back and dragged them into the play-offs but Peyton Manning's exploits in his first year in Denver - who he led to an NFL-best 13-3 record - are just too good to ignore. Manning is 36, sat out the whole of last season after his fourth neck operation and had to adapt to a new environment for the first time in his professional career after being cut by the Indianapolis Colts. There were no shortage of doubters about his prospects of success in Denver. Where are they now? It was vintage Manning again in 2012 - 4,659 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and a league-high 13 victories - of which three featured the Manning trademark, a game-winning drive to cap a fourth-quarter comeback.
Rookie of the Season
G.M: Robert Griffin III
Quarterbacks Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson each led their side to the play-offs at the first attempt and all three would be deserving winners of the rookie of the year award. I'll go with Washington's Griffin, who turned around a moribund franchise and brought the NFC East title to the capital for the first time in 13 years. Griffin transferred the dual threat he had been in college into the NFL, piling up 3,200 passing yards and 825 rushing yards. His completion percentage of 65.6 was bettered only by Alex Smith, Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers among regular starting quarterbacks. Credit must also go to Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan and his son Kyle, the offensive co-ordinator, for coming up with a playbook and a game-plan that played to Griffin's strengths - although that's not a thought that occurred to me when the Redskins were 3-6 heading into their bye week in early November.
P.H: Andrew Luck
A toss-up for me between Luck and RGIII, but the number one draft pick gets the nod for handling the weight of expectation, playing in the shadow of Peyton Manning and having to play without coach Chuck Pagano for much of the season as he battled leukemia. Despite all this, Luck turned the worst team in the NFL into an 11-5 play-off team and also broke the rookie passing yards record in the process. Leading this team back into the play-offs after such a poor season the year before is a huge effort from the Stanford man.
R.L: Doug Martin
There are three reasons why the Tampa Bay tail-back gets my vote: 1-He managed 1,454 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season with the Bucs. 2-Against the Oakland Raiders, Martin managed a franchise-record 251 yards and four touchdowns all by himself, including scoring runs of 67 and 70 yards. And, probably the key factor...3-He's nicknamed 'The Muscle Hamster. The 31st pick - who stands at 5ft 9 tall -actually doesn't like the name that was originally given to him during his time at Boise State University, instead trying to introduce 'The Douginator' as an alternative. I'm sorry, Mr Hamster, but that'll never stick.
Defensive Player - JJ Watt
R.L: Such has been Watt's impact this year in the league, the New England Patriots had their defensive linemen use tennis racquets in practice to try and mimic the wingspan of the Houston Texan. He certainly made a racket in the trenches, leading the NFL with 20.5 sacks while also finishing with 16 passes defended, putting him in the top 10 alongside some of the best safeties and cornerbacks around. With four forced fumbles as well, two of which he recovered, Watt made sure everyone forgot all about the departed Mario Williams very, very quickly in Houston.
G.M: JJ Watt is the obvious choice in this category after a towering season in which he was a constant menace to opposition quarterbacks and helped the Houston Texans to a second straight AFC South title. Watt's 20.5 sacks were only two short of Michael Strahan's single-season record and he twice had three in a game - during the wins over Detroit and Indianapolis in weeks 12 and 15 respectively. It was not just his ability to bring down the quarterback that impressed, Watt has the ability and work-rate to get himself involved in the action in some manner on nearly every play and, at 23, the best is likely yet to come.
P.H: I think is unanimous here, and rightly so, at only 23 the Houston Texan has been immense, gigantic, towering, any superlative you can think of in helping his team to the AFC South title, with sacks galore (20.5) and quarterbacks hurried and hassled all day long. It's also the immeasurable fear he puts into the opposing team and the extra attention they will pay to stopping him that makes him the stand-out defensive player this year.
Coach of the Year
Habaurgh put Smith on the bench
P.H: Jim Harbaugh
May surprise a few, but I think getting his 49ers team over last season's heart-breaking Championship Game loss to win what was a much tougher NFC West above Seattle was in itself a great achievement. Harbaugh may also have given his side a chance to go one better by replacing solid but unspectacular Alex Smith with the inexperienced but more dynamic Colin Kaepernick as QB. Time will tell if that is massive mistake or touch of genius, but either way he has shown he is not afraid to make the big decisions and deserves credit for that.
R.L: The Shanahans
The Kardashians used to be my favourite family involved with American sport (though I'm not Khloe's biggest fan). Now, however, it's all about the Shanahans, father Mike and son Kyle, in the nation's capital. Shanahan Snr came into his third year in charge of the Washington Redskins under pressure. But, a blockbuster trade before the draft presented him with a player that would turn his team's fortunes around in a hurry. Yet it is his son, Kyle, who deserves much of the praise for what Robert Griffin III has produced for the play-off bound Redskins. Rather than try and mould the rookie QB into an NFL system, Shanahan Jnr took more than a page or two out of Baylor University's playbook. It was a successful move that resulted in Washington going on a late tear and winning the NFC East.
G.M: Mike Smith
Smith is in his fifth year in charge of Atlanta Falcons and their 13-3 record this season is the fourth time they have won at least 10 games (they went 9-7 in 2009). He does not get due credit for that sustained run of success, mainly because the Falcons have flopped in their three play-off appearances during that span. But that should change this time for the top seeds in the NFC, who have made a habit of winning tight games this season - seven of their 13 victories coming by a touchdown or less. The Falcons, with general manager Thomas Dimitroff consistently coming up trumps in the draft, might well be the best run franchise in the NFL and it is time Smith's part in that was recognised.
Not so much coach of the year
P.H: Andy Reid
Possibly the hardest-fought category of the season with so many teams wallowing in mediocrity and underachievement, but no team has represented underachievement quite like the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a shame that Reid's 14-year tenure had to end in such a sour note, but with just four wins with an expensive team he assembled he can be my only choice for this one.
Chiefs fell out of love with Romeo
G.M: Ken Whisenhunt
One of seven head coaches fired on 'Black Monday', the day after the end of the regular season, Whisenhunt - formerly of the Arizona Cardinals - is my choice in this category. It seems a long time ago that "Whizz" was considered the hottest property in coaching after leading the Cardinals to the NFC title in 2008. More recently it has been a story of disappointment and the final straw came this season when a 4-0 start morphed into a 5-11 final record. There is plenty of blame to go round, general manager Rod Graves got the boot along with all of the offensive coaching staff, but Whisenhunt's share is larger than most. Arizona had one of the best defences in the league but the offence was a mess. Worst of all was the lack of any sort of plan as evidenced by a carousel of four starting quarterbacks. The lowlight for Whisenhunt came in week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons when he benched John Skelton in the second quarter with the Cardinals leading 13-0 and watched Skelton's replacement, rookie Ryan Lindley, go 9-of-20 for 64 yards as the Falcons, for whom Matt Ryan threw five interceptions, came away with a 23-19 victory.
R.L: Romeo Crennel
Let's be honest, this was a more keenly-contested honour than the time in our office when we were told one of us could go and interview the PDC's walk-on girls at the World Championship. 'Black Monday' saw no fewer the seven heads roll in the NFL. After much debate, I've given my vote to Romeo Crennel. The former Kansas City head coach gets the nod simply because when asked why star running back Jamaal Charles hadn't been involved more after only five carries in a defeat to the Oakland Raiders, Crennel said: "Now, that I'm not exactly sure either." Really? It might have been good to know. And that is just one reason why Romeo is done with the Chiefs.
Surprise of the season
P.H: San Fran QB switchPlenty to choose from again, but Jim Harbaugh's decision to bench Alex Smith in favour of second-year man Colin Kaepernick was a sudden and brave move. Kaepernick threw just five passes in his first year, but was pressed into action when Smith left their sixth game of the season with concussion, and Harbaugh made an almost instant decision to stick with the former Nevada man for the rest of the season.
G.M: Russell Wilson
Replacement refs caused early season controversy
A third-round pick out of Wisconsin, Wilson has been one of the more unexpected stars in an excellent rookie class. He won a training camp battle with free agent acquisition Matt Flynn for the starting quarterback job in Seattle and lead them into the play-offs with an 11-5 record. Wilson had 3,118 passing yards, a 64.1 per cent completion percentage and 30 touchdowns - 26 through the air and four on the ground, a superb return for a player few thought would see much playing time when he was drafted.
R.L: The officials on strike
It seems amazing that a league that makes so much money can haggle with officials over so little to the point that it puts their own product at risk. In the end, it took a ridiculous finish to televised game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks over a jump ball for the NFL to decide it was perhaps time to ditch the stand-ins and go back to the official officials. In the end the men in black and white stripes got a raise from an average $149,000 salary in 2011 to $173,000 in 2013, with the jump to go to $205,000 by 2019. Doesn't seem much when we're talking about a billion-dollar business, really.
Player you'd most like to see live
P.H: Adrian Peterson
I've seen a few good quarterbacks in operation, but I've gone for a man I've not yet seen but hope to in London later this year when the Vikings hit Wembley. Peterson is always involved in the action, his running style goes from brave to barnstorming to brilliant in the blink of an eye and watching him bounce out into the open field and rip of another big run would be a fine sight. He's also no slouch catching passes out of the backfield as well so he's more than good value for money.
G.M: AJ Green
Green is not the best wide receiver in the NFL - that would be Detroit's Calvin Johnson - but he is the most exciting to watch. Every time he pops up on Red Zone he is doing something ridiculous like hauling in a one-handed catch at full speed with multiple defenders hanging off him. He is a big reason why Cincinnati have made the play-offs in each of his first two seasons in the league and there should be plenty more excitement ahead in The Queen City over the coming years.
Where will Tim Tebow be next year?
I'm giving Tebow some much-needed love here. I think he still has a decent future in the NFL and if the Jaguars build a team around him then they too could see an up-turn in fortunes with the former Florida Gator returning home.
G.M: Don't care but he will have a clipboard in his hand.