Dungy merits Coach of Year attention, too
Who could derail the quest of the heavy favorites for the major postseason awards? Seth Wickersham is naming names.
Guess what won't be a surprise: the postseason awards. It's been a while since the superlatives were, for the most part, locked up so early. With that in mind, here are the favorites heading into the stretch run, and who -- if anyone -- can derail them.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
WHO WILL WIN: Patriots QB Tom Brady. One of the coolest things about Brady's season is that he's on pace to break many of Peyton Manning's season records while Manning is still playing. Usually, records are broken long after the previous holder has retired (Manning breaking Dan Marino's season touchdown pass record; Brett Favre breaking Marino's all-time touchdown records, etc). But the season Brady is having -- he'll probably break Manning's touchdown pass and season passer rating marks -- will just up the ante for Manning next year. Oh, and Brady's first MVP will easily come along with it.
Did you hear what LB Mike Vrabel said on the sideline during the Steelers game last week, captured by HBO? "They're just blitzing and doubling Randy." That's been every team's stab at the Pats all season. Moss is one of the main reasons why Wes Welker is open by four steps every time he's thrown the ball, and one of the main reasons why Jabar Gaffney, of all people, has turned into a reliable playmaker this year.Also-rans: Cowboys QB Tony Romo, Packers QB Brett Favre, Manning
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF YEAR (See above)
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF YEAR
WHO WILL WIN: Colts SS Bob Sanders. This is the year that showed that good safety play, not just a pass-rushing defensive end and corners that reroute receivers inside, might be the most important factor in the Tampa 2 scheme. Roaming all over the field this year, Sanders will set a career high for tackles (he's got 87; 91 is his best in '05) and he's already had more sacks (2.5), passes defensed (3) than ever before.
WHO MIGHT WIN: Titans DT Albert Haynesworth. No defensive lineman has been more dominant than Haynesworth. His worth was evident when he missed three games with a hamstring injury and teams like the Jaguars, which Tennessee limited to 62 yards rushing with No. 92 playing, rushed for 166 with him out. Simply put, the Titans are a completely different defense with him in the lineup, and he's shown his versatility lately as Tennessee has used him as a pass-rushing end in some sets. In 11 games, Haynesworth has already doubled his career total for sacks with six. Also-rans: Seahawks DE Patrick Kerney.
COACH OF THE YEAR
WHO WILL WIN: Bill Belichick. This award seems to have the most sentimentality to it. Turn a loser into a winner and you win. Only one of the past seven winners has coached his team to the Super Bowl the year he has received the award, and only one has actually won the Super Bowl: Belichick in 2003. For the most part, this award is given to the coach who's done the best turnaround from the previous year (Sean Payton last year, Lovie Smith prior to him, Marty Schottenheimer before that, etc.).
By that reasoning, you expect Mike McCarthy and Dick Jauron (a past winner) to steal it. But Belichick should win. He's coached the league's most dominant team from Week 1 on. And that's including the spying stuff, which, the more we learn about it, seems like the equivalent of going 70 mph in a 45.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF YEAR
WHO WILL WIN: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. This one has been locked up for more than a month, right around the time Peterson ripped off games of 102, 112, 224 and 296 yards rushing in a six-week span. While he has missed two games and rushed for only three yards last week against the Niners, Peterson is still on pace for almost 1,500 yards and has been the best player on a Vikings team that might end up in the playoffs.
WHO MIGHT WIN: Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe. No offense to Peterson, but Bowe has been the most consistent offensive rookie this season. He just hasn't been the most spectacular. Bowe has caught at least two passes in all but one game, and his stats are solid but not gaudy (61 catches, 885 yards, four touchdowns).
But consider four things: (1) His numbers are far better than those of Calvin Johnson, who plays in a much better offense; (2) Bowe has been on the receiving end of the worst quarterback play this side of San Francisco; (3) he's been on a team that's lost seven in a row; (4) the learning curve from playing receiver in college to the pros is steeper than at tailback.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF YEAR
WHO WILL WIN: Niners LB Patrick Willis. Forget the sick number of tackles (111) he's accumulated this year for a moment. What's made Willis great is that as the Niners' season fell apart and playoff hopes went down the drain, nobody stepped up more than Willis. He didn't have to chase Cardinals receiver Sean Morey 60-plus yards down the field in overtime a few weeks ago to save the game. He did it because he couldn't imagine not doing it. Sadly, that's rare.
WHO MIGHT WIN: Panthers LB Jonathan Beason. Nobody has considered Carolina anything more than a collective disappointment this year, but Beason has been a bright spot. Unlike Willis, Beason has started every week, and in the past 11 weeks he's averaging 9.5 tackles a game. Also-ran: Jets CB Darrelle Revis
Seth Wickersham is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a columnist for ESPN.com. For Wick's Picks, click here.