With three games left the NFL Awards list has undergone some more changes. Which players and coaches have become favorites for the key categories?
MVP: Tom Brady – New England Patriots
His late heroic against Cleveland without Rob Gronkowski on the field was further validation of how much different the New England Patriots would be if Tom Brady weren’t on the field. The MVP is called the Most Valuable Player award. It goes to the player who is the most critical to the success of his team. Given the injuries New England has suffered and yet still remain strong contenders for a playoff bye, how can anybody argue against Brady? His stats are among the elite this season but without him it’s hard to argue the Patriots are even in the playoff hunt, let alone seeking a top seed.
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick – New England Patriots
While he’s gotten a big assist from Brady, there is no question Bill Belichick deserves prime consideration for Coach of the Year. The job he has done with the New England Patriots despite season-ending injuries to three of his best players, not to mention the loss of Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, is simply astounding. It’s not clear how far the Patriots can go with the roster they have, but being in the conversation for home field advantage again must lend huge props to Belichick for his fourth COTY honor.
Defensive Player of the Year: Vontaze Burfict – Cincinnati Bengals
He’s hardly mentioned among the big names in contention for Defensive Player of the Year. Most are talking about Richard Sherman, Luke Kuechly and J.J. Watt as the favorite. Yet Vontaze Burfict fulfills all the requirements. He has consistently dominated for his team all year, leading the NFL in tackles with 139 along. Versatility is part of his game with a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. On top of that, his Cincinnati Bengals are on the cusp of wrapping up the AFC North division title for their third-straight playoff birth. Burfict may get overlooked because of his history, but the production doesn’t lie.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Keenan Allen – San Diego Chargers
This category has been a mess for most of the season simply because of how the 2013 draft played out. E.J. Manuel looked like a favorite then got hurt. Since then it was a largely two player race with running backs Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy. However, rounding down the home stretch it seems the lead horse screaming towards the finish line is rookie San Diego Chargers receiver Keenan Allen. When Philip Rivers lost a number of his top targets to injuries, Allen was the one who stepped up. He currently leads all rookie receivers in receptions, yards and is tied for second in touchdowns. At his current pace he will finish 2013 with 75 catches for 1,110 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Kiko Alonso – Buffalo Bills
Experts might try to slip in some other names simply because their teams are winning but they would be wrong. Put it this way: if a rookie is a contender for Defensive Player of the Year, he should be Defensive Rookie of the Year. Kiko Alonso was a revelation for the Buffalo Bills when they drafted him in the second round. Despite playing on a defense that still has holes to fill, he has managed to rank second in the NFL with 131 tackles. Throw in his two sacks, four interceptions and forced fumble and he’s got anybody else beat by a miles.
Comeback Player of the Year: Josh McCown – Chicago Bears
He was a late arrival to the discussion but after his Monday Night performance against the Dallas Cowboys, it’s hard to deny Chicago Bears quarterback Josh McCown isn’t in the running for Comeback Player of the Year. After all, before November of last year he was coaching high school football. Then the Bears brought him back as a backup, Jay Cutler got hurt in October and ever since then the 34-year old has experienced the best season of his football life. In just seven games with five starts he has posted 1,800 passing yards, 14 total touchdowns and just two turnovers. That kind of production and efficiency are comparable to the elite quarterbacks in the league. Though he hasn’t played a full season, McCown deserves the honor anyway for keeping the Bears’ playoff hopes alive.