With the regular season now complete, awards season is upon us in the NFL. I'll cover all the basics you have come to embrace and expect -- Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc -- along with some quirks of my own.
Overall, the thing I figure we will take most from 2010 is the reign of parity. While Week 17 wasn't exactly a playoff-position thrill ride, the fact that so many teams were alive into Christmas was revealing.
We didn't have that wire-to-wire dominant team (Patriots and Falcons came closest), and we had the usual share of teams rising up out of the muck to surprise people (Chiefs, Buccaneers, Bears). It was a fun season for sure, another one with record viewership, and, I believe, certainly not the last for a while as I continue to believe any lockout will be limited to the spring and I anticipate a full slate of football in 2011.
MVP: Tom Brady
I'd love to be a contrarian here, but the man has gone 11 games without an interception, was nearly flawless with a largely no-name cast and cemented again why -- when healthy -- he is the best player in the NFL, not just the best QB. In a year in which Peyton Manning regressed more to the mean, Brady truly stood out. Manning might ultimately get more money on his next contract, but Brady is "The Man." It is no coincidence that his play rose once Randy Moss departed, willing that team to a 14-win season.
Runner-up:Michael Vick. Hits mounted late, but he was the most dangerous weapon in the NFL for much of the season.
Offensive Player of the Year: Brady
I don't understand why anyone else would merit it more. So it's double dipping, that's fine. Brady is that good. The man had a 9-1 TD-to-INT ratio.
Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews
Matthews had three sacks in the opening week and never really slowed down. Played in pain much of the year and when he wasn't able to go, like in the loss at home to Miami, that defense simply wasn't the same. The best player on what you could argue was the best defense in the NFL. He makes plays all over the field, and is already a leader in Green Bay at such a young stage of his career.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sam Bradford
Bradford broke Manning's rookie completion record, came close on yards and had this struggling franchise on the cusp of the playoffs despite playing with a bunch of rookie and first-year receivers, a young offensive line and no true weapons outside of Steven Jackson. He showed poise, class and maturity, and quickly won over that team. He helped that team win as many games as it did the prior three years combined. You can't over-think this one.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh
Ten sacks for a rookie defensive tackle? Are you kidding me? To say nothing of the ferociousness with which he plays and the push he sustains. He's already a matchup nightmare at what is a man's position in the ultimate man's game. A truly dominant player, period, not just for a rookie.
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin
No Roethlisberger for the first four weeks, no Santonio Holmes, then loses two starting tackles, too. He overcame all of that and sent a message to his team by cutting established kicker Jeff Reed after a bad loss to Pats, and going back to more physical practices. Tomlin then rallied the Steelers to win the division, while doing the prudent thing by resting Polamalu down the stretch. Tell me one bad move he made? Just think back to all the chaos of the spring and then to where this team sits now with a first-round playoff bye.
Executive of the Year: Bill Belichick
We all know he is in charge of everything there in New England. From Brady's contract extension, to a superior draft (McCourty, the two tight ends) to what turned out to be a steal salary dump of Moss to claiming Woodhead off waivers from the Jets to working the draft to ensure more future picks to the trade for Deion Branch, the man was on fire with his personnel moves. He held the line with Logan Mankins and didn't miss a beat, and got strong production from him down the stretch. For the most part, the Patriots got younger and continued to get better at the same time.
Runner-up: Howie Roseman/Joe Banner, Eagles. The Donovan McNabb trade was brilliant in hindsight, and they got Kevin Kolb extended at a nice price. The Vick maneuvers were sage, and no team manipulates the QB position better (having Andy Reid there to work with the passers goes a long way with that).
Surprise Team of the Year: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Say all you want about who they beat and they didn't beat, but let's not forget how bad they were a year ago. They couldn't beat anyone. To reel off 10 wins in what was a very tough division, despite being as young and as injured as they were, was remarkable. Raheem Morris went from being on the hot seat a year ago as a rookie head coach to being a strong candidate for coach of the year. Josh Freeman has arrived. What a story.
Runner-up:Chicago Bears. This team overcame offensive line issues, jelled with a bunch of staff changes and won a division title with a week to spare.
Play of the Year: Sanchez to Holmes in OT on Nov. 15
The Jets were staring at a tie at Cleveland, which would have been essentially a loss, when Eric Mangini's questionable clock management around his own goal line resulted in one final punt. With time expiring in OT (just 16 seconds remained), Mark Sanchez hit Santonio Holmes for a 37-yard TD strike to end the game. Perhaps I am biased here, because I was standing on the sidelines while this happened, but it ended up being a vital AFC win for the Jets, buoyed the team, and without it that late-season swoon might have come a few weeks earlier. The timing could not have been any more clutch.
Runner-up: Who couldn't watch Dan Connelly's 71-yard kickoff return for the Pats vs. the Packers over and over again?
Disappointment of the Year: Houston Texans
You used to be able to count on them for the December rally to respectability, at least, but not even that came this year. It got ugly. Brian Cushing didn't have the same impact, the Texans then lost a few players to injury on defense and just collapsed. Swapping out the defensive staff should help, but you have to think for both Gary Kubiak, and his divisional compadre Jack Del Rio, that if they can't get over the hump in 2011, then it will be the end there.
Coordinator of the Year (Offense): Charlie Weis
Say what you want about the timing of his departure, but I don't think anyone could have expected this out of the Chiefs. Matt Cassel was second to only Tom Brady in terms of production for most of the year, the running game took off, and Dwayne Bowe had a monster season. Cassel played at a Pro Bowl level, most importantly, and Weis was without question a big reason why.
Runner-up:Mike Mularkey. Mularkey has brought along that Atlanta offense expertly to the point where it is among the most balanced in the NFL.
Coordinator of the Year (Defense): Dick LeBeau
LeBeau brought the swagger back in Pittsburgh. The Steelers were dominant from season's start to end, and if this is LeBeau's last season, then he went out on top. Teams can't run on them at all, and they confound you with the blitz. LeBeau's defense played most of the season with its vital defensive ends either being out of the lineup or not close to full strength. Sure, Polamalu coming back was huge, but he has Lawrence Timmons playing at a crazy level and they were the stingiest defense in the NFL. LeBeau is truly ageless.
Playing coaching matchmaker
Coaching silly season is in full swing. It's kind of like the draft -- a ton of stuff swirling around and things in constant flux.
Nothing much has shocked me to this point, but I thought I'd take a look at what I would do if I was running these franchises. Again, this is not what I think will happen, but rather what I would do:
Carolina Panthers: Break the bank for Jim Harbaugh. The man can coach offense, and if you land him then you greatly enhance the odds Andrew Luck will come out, and if he comes out, you have a franchise QB signed under a rookie scale along with a coach who knows him inside and out. We know the Panthers have some young linemen, can run the ball and have some pieces on defense. If you can add more offensive vision and a stud rookie QB, all of a sudden you're not far off from where you want to be. If he's dead-set on going to Michigan, so be it, but I'm gonna do whatever it takes not to lose him to another pro team.
Denver Broncos: Mularkey is a natural here. Personally, I'd take a long look at someone defensive-minded like Nolan, who knows the talent there, or Perry Fewell. But these are now the John Elway Broncos. With Tim Tebow in the mix it makes sense to have an offensive-minded coach who believes he can mold him. Mularkey has head-coaching experience, is willing to work to a player's strengths and did great work molding Atlanta's offense. The key will be a strong defensive coordinator, because they need a lot of work on that side of the ball. Considering the parameters at play here, I'd go with Mularkey.
Cleveland Browns:Mike Sherman. Sherman has been a successful head coach in college and the NFL, and is an offensive mind in lockstep with team president Mike Holmgren. I'd try to get Sherman as head coach and John Fox as defensive coordinator, or vice versa. This would give the Browns an experienced staff with a proven pedigree. Marty Mornhinweg would make sense as a head coach here, too, with Fox possibly joining him. The Browns have lacked requisite NFL experience throughout their staffs seemingly for most of the time since their return in 1999.