Making predictions of an upcoming NFL season is basically akin to swinging a stick at a pinata blindfolded, yet without knowing if such a target truly exists. The reason of an educated guess can be leaned upon, yet there is no real science because too many unknown factors lurk in shadows set aside annually by the enemies of success.
Even with a 2011 season hurriedly smashed together after a players strike that killed much of the preseason, the league has gone on collecting the offerings of fans as this circus barks town to town. The actual play on the field may have degenerated some, but much of this stems from rules that were set out without much clear thought instilled.
As the NFL hits the midpoint of the 2011 season, there are already reasons to rejoice about the game. Some surprises have been peppered in with the unexpected and relied upon. As the pretend awards are passed out, on their way to the real ones in a few months, we look back at preseason predictions and compare them with the reality of here and now.
MVP : Aaron Rodgers, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers
I picked Rodgers to win this award a few months ago, and he has played as expected. His team, which relies on him heavily, is undefeated and showing they could be better than the Packers squad that won it all last year. I still think he walks away with the NFL MVP Award when he season ends, and Rodgers has done nothing to show why he won't yet.
Matt Forte, Frank Gore, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning are worth noting for their efforts so far.
Offensive Player of the Year : Fred Jackson, Halfback, Buffalo Bills
My preseason selection, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, has done nothing but show why I selected him. Yet Jackson is the biggest reason the Bills are in first place in the AFC East. He leads the NFL in rushing yards and is just 47 yards away from leading the league in total yards from scrimmage.
Jackson already had the respect of the league for his versatility, and it appears he is headed to his first Pro Bowl season. If he holds up this year, since the Bills rely on him so heavily, Buffalo could make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Rice, Forte, LeSean McCoy, Wes Welker, Calvin Johnson, and Steve Smith are all certainly capable of winning this award when the season ends.
Defensive Player of the Year : Jared Allen, Defensive End, Minnesota Vikings
The player I picked to win this award, Ndamukong Suh, has been average for most of this season. Allen has been awesome all season. He is tied with the most fumbles forced, fumbles recovered, and passes defended amongst all defensive linemen.
He leads everyone with 12.5 sacks and is fourth in tackles amongst defensive linemen. Allen has also found time to intercept a pass. While the Vikings have struggled this season, it could be a lot worse if Allen wasn't having the season he currently is. Minnesota has been mostly competitive because he keeps caving in offensive lines off the edge.
Nick Barnett, Kameron Chancellor, Darrelle Revis, Charles Woodson, and Jason Pierre-Paul are just a few players who could be considered for this award.
Offensive Rookie of the Year : Cameron Newton, Quarterback, Carolina Panthers
My selection, Daniel Thomas, has struggled with his health all year and is fourth amongst all rookies in rushing yards. Newton is third so far.
But it isn't just his legs that makes him special. Despite being the first draft selection of 2011, pundits expected him to struggle from the spread offense, that he played in college, to the pro style offense. Newton has had a few rookie struggles, but he has mostly stood out for his struggling Panthers.
He has performed so well that Carolina hardly runs the football this year despite giving halfback DeAngelo Williams just 75 carries so far after making him one of the highest paid halfbacks in the game before the season started.
Newton has already set team records, by throwing for 432 yards in one game and 854 yards in two consecutive games. His 422 yards passing in his debut is the most in NFL history, and the 854 yards thrown in his first two games is also a NFL record.
Not only is Newton the first rookie in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards in first career start, as well as the first rookie in NFL history to pass for more than 400 yards in first two career starts, he is just the sixth quarterback ever to throw for over 400 yards in consecutive games.
He is the only player in NFL history with at least five rushing touchdowns and five passing touchdowns in his first five games, and he is one rushing touchdown away from having for most rushing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback.
Andy Dalton, who is having an excellent season so far as the starting quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, is the only rookie in the discussion with Newton. Dalton has done well, but the surprising Bengals sit on top of the AFC North right now because of their defense.
Newton's team is not winning much yet, but the future appears bright for this 6'5" 248 lbs monster who already has the respect of opponents. He has a better quarterback rating than Dalton, as well as over 900 more passing yards. He is already the leader of a rebuilding Panthers franchise, and one day could be the best quarterback in the league.
Defensive Rookie of the Year : Patrick Peterson, Cornerback, Arizona Cardinals
My pick, J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans, is playing very well and is certainly in the running. So are players like Mason Foster, Ryan Kerrigan, Von Miller, Akeem Ayers, Marcell Dareus, Phil Taylor, and Brooks Reed.
Peterson leads all NFL rookies in solo tackles, interceptions, passes defended, and is third in total tackles. But what separates him is the work he does on special teams. He is already the best punt returner in the league.
He leads in the NFL with three touchdowns off of punt returns, punt return yards, and a whopping 21.8 average off of 19 returns. Peterson is already within reach of several NFL records.
His three touchdowns is tied with Devin Hester as the second most by a rookie in NFL history and one away from the record Hall of Famer Jack Christiansen set in 1951. He is just 242 yards away from the record Louis Lipps set in 1984 for the most punt return yards ever by a rookie. He is also within reach of the 23 yards per return average Herb Rich set on 12 returns in 1950.
His 99-yard punt return is the second longest ever in NFL history. It happened in overtime against the Saint Louis Rams, and was the first overtime by a rookie off a punt return since Tamarick Vanover did it in 1995.
If Peterson keeps up even half of this pace, as many suspect he will, there should be an easy task for the voters on who is the 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Comeback Player of the Year : Ben Tate, Houston Texans
I picked Tate and he is already fulfilling expectations. He already has 623 rushing yards despite being basically a reserve with limited touches. He is averaging a very impressive 5.7 yards per carry as well.
This award generally goes to players who, like Tate, are coming back from a previous year ruined by injuries. It also can go to an improved player who had previously struggled. Men like Ryan Fitzpatrick and Alex Green are in the running based on those facts.
Arian Foster is the star of the Texans. Not only is he the 2010 rushing yards leader, he leads the team in rushing yards , attempts, and touchdowns this season. Yet he has a lead of just 33 yards over Tate despite 45 more attempts and having started every game but two for Houston in 2011.
It will be curious to see how much longer the Texans keep this duo in tact beyond 2011. Tate has just one start this year, a number he undoubtedly would like to change down the road. Houston has the most rushing attempts and second most running yards by a team so far this year, which is a big reason the Texans sit on top of the AFC South right now.
Tate seems a cinch to join Foster as a pair off 1,000-yard rushers for the Texans this year. He has shown no residual effects from the broken leg he suffered during a 2010 exhibition game either. He has given no reason why he shouldn't win the 2011 Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Coach of the Year : Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
There really is no doubt who is leading here. Harbaugh is leading one if the NFC's better teams with a good defense and rushing attack. Yet Harbaugh also has had a tremendous positive influence on quarterback Alex Smith, who has performed well despite having his top two wide receivers struggling to stay healthy this year.
My selection, Steve Spagnuolo, has seen his team play poorly. The Niners are already running away with the NFC West title, and their rookie head coach is a huge reason why. If Harbaugh keeps it going, he may pass his younger brother John in accolades. He and John Harbaugh, a successful head coach with the Baltimore Ravens, are the first pair of brothers to be NFL head coaches.