Round 4 of NFL Predictions: Regular Season Awards and Fun With Injuries, Firings & Screw Jobs

We’re only a day away from the start of football season. I had every intention of comparing the feeling I get on this day to the feeling kids get on Christmas Eve. I think I’ve compared the night before my annual March Madness Vegas Trip to that Christmas eve feeling. But to compare “NFL Regular Season Eve” with Christmas or the Vegas trip wouldn’t do it justice. Christmas comes once a year and lasts only a day. Vegas comes once a year and lasts four days. But the NFL season comes once a year and lasts FIVE MONTHS.

It’s not only the possibility of watching 256 regular season games and 11 playoff games in those five months—games which will be played on Thursdays, Sundays, Mondays and one Saturday. It’s also about spending most of your Tuesday and Wednesday each week tinkering with your fantasy lineups, stressing over who to pick in your suicide pool, and placing your weekly bets on whichever sketchy gambling website you use. And if you haven’t been building up ample goodwill with your girlfriend/wife/significant other over the past three months by letting her watch all of her ridiculous TV shows or telling her that each Sunday in the summertime is “her day,” then I don’t know what to tell you. You’re in trouble. Good luck trying to juggle three days of NFL games per week with your wife’s demands to have family time on the weekends and wanting to watch her own TV schedule during the week. Might as well kill yourself now.

If you’re like me, you’ve already set and reset your fantasy lineups for week one a number of times, you’ve studied the spreads for each game harder than you ever studied for a college exam, and you’ve definitely already read every single football article on every website on the internet. But you still have to get through tonight and a full work day tomorrow before the Giants/Cowboys kickoff. So do yourself a favor and read this post, or if you’ve missed any of our other rounds of predictions over the past two weeks, be sure to check these out:

Round 1: Predicting the future of the AFC Teams

Round 2: Predicting the future of the NFC Teams

Round 3: Predicting the 12 Playoff Teams and Super Bowl Winner

This post is where we discuss some of the boring regular season awards, like who will be the NFL’s MVP, but also some exciting yet obscure predictions, like who will be the first coach fired, and which player are we rooting for to suffer the first major injury of the season (OK, we’re not rooting for this, but we are willing to predict which big fantasy name incurs the first devastating injury).

We have about 15 categories to cover so forget about your plan to read this in less than five minutes so you can get back to work. Work can wait, football cannot (that sentence might have been the most brilliant thing I’ve ever written). I encourage you to read it all, but if you can’t do that for some strange reason, just know that the legit awards (Rookie of the Year, MVP, Comeback Player) are #1-#10, and the fake awards (First coach Fired, Referee We’re Going to Miss the Most, First QB to be Benched) are #11-#15. Away we go.

1). NFL Coach of the Year

Rmurdera: This award is always given to a coach who leads his team to the playoffs so you can forget about going with a guy like Chuck Pagano from the Indianapolis Colts even if you believe he’ll get that team from its two-win season in 2011 to an eight-win season this year. I had been thinking Gary Kubiak from Houston will get it this year because he’ll probably lead the Texans to one of the top seeds in the AFC, and you could argue he should have won it last year when Houston got to the playoffs for the first time ever while Kubiak had to deal with starting four different QBs during the regular season (Matt Schaub, Matt Leinart, T.J. Yates, and believe it or not, Jake Delhomme). More recently I thought of choosing Andy Reid from Philadelphia because of the sentimentality behind the choice…his son died just a few weeks ago. But then I remembered Andy Reid is a terrible football coach who continuously finds ways to screw up every close game and always seems to be finding ways to help his players get injured. Gary Kubiak is my choice.

Nkilla: It is going to be between Bill Belichick (Patriots) and Greg Schiano (Tampa Bay’s first-time Head Coach). The voters tend to like to vote new blood into these awards. If the Patriots go 15-1 or better, it probably goes to Belichick, so I am going to go with Schiano.

2). Offensive Player of the Year

Rmurdera: Believe it or not, the Regular Season MVP and Offensive Player of the Year are frequently different players, so we’re going to run through both. And while the MVP is almost always a QB (more on that in a minute), Running Backs seem to get their fair share of Offensive POY consideration (RBs have won these honors 11 times in the past 16 years). Since I’m obviously choosing a QB for my MVP, I’m going Running Back with this pick. I’m going with a guy who’s already had two seasons with more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage, a guy who had 20 touchdowns last year and really has no backup RB to steal yards or TDs, a guy whose team desperately needs to keep its quarterback healthy by not letting him run anymore (giving even more carries to this guy), a guy who’s only 24 years old. LeSean McCoy is my choice.

Nkilla: I find it tough to imagine this not going to a QB. This is an Associated Press award, and they tend to make it pretty stats driven. Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers is the safe pick, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Matt Ryan. If he does not make the leap this year, his ceiling might be “above average regular season QB.”

3). Regular Season MVP

Rmurdera: In the past 13 seasons, only three Running Backs have won this award. No Wide Receiver or Tight End has ever won it. Even though a defensive player has won the MVP two times in the 55 years it’s been given out, we are not going to see that happen again anytime soon. It’s going to a quarterback. I’m going to really reach on this one and say Matt Ryan will be the 2012 NFL MVP. It’s OK if you find this pick confusing. I’m not even sure I believe in it. But Ryan’s numbers have essentially gotten better each year with the Falcons’ QB setting career highs in yards (4,177) and touchdowns (29) in 2011. On top of those stats, I’m also counting on an even better passing attack for the Falcons because of second-year Wide Receiver Julio Jones’ expected improvement, and a significant decline in their running game because of the age and tread on Michael Turner. If the Falcons are going to get one of the top spots in the NFC playoffs, as I expect them to, it’s going to be on Ryan to get them there.

Nkilla: Again, easy to pick Brady or Rodgers for this one. I think Matt Ryan could be in play as well. If New Orleans gets to nine or 10 wins, there will be a lot of talk for Drew Brees. I hate to say this, but if Denver makes the playoffs, it should probably go to Peyton Manning. This is a tough one because the voters all apply different criteria to what “MVP” means. I‘m going to say Ryan edges out Brady. If you’re looking for some non-QB dark horses, I say keep an eye on Brandon Marshall and Aaron Hernandez.

[Editor’s Note: I swear to Belichick that Nkilla and I didn’t have a chance to see each other’s answers before thinking through our own. I wanted to be clear on that since both of us predicting Matt Ryan as this year’s MVP could seem pretty suspicious. I guess we’re just both looking for that one ridiculous prediction that comes true so we can pretend we really are experts at this guessing game.]

4). Defensive Player of the Year

Rmurdera: This honor has gone to a player on a top 10-ranked team defense every year for the past decade. Might as well rule out any player from Indianapolis, St. Louis, Carolina, Washington, Green Bay, New England and Detroit right now. In an era of football where offenses are out of control and making it seem like there are no true shutdown defensive players, I’m going to select the one guy that we can all admit is the definition of shutdown cornerback. As nauseous as it makes me to pick a New York Jets player for any award, I’m going with Darrelle Revis for Defensive POY.

Nkilla: I’m picking Packers Linebacker Clay Matthews. He had a little bit of a “down” season last year. Drafting Nick Perry will open up some space for Matthews and his numbers return to the 2010 Matthews.

5). Offensive Rookie of the Year

Rmurdera: Andrew Luck is the safe, obvious pick. But I’m not putting actual money on this so why go with safe and obvious? Quarterbacks don’t win this award as often as you might think. I’m choosing Justin Blackmon, wide receiver from the Jacksonville Jaguars. I’m choosing him mostly because he’s on my fantasy team and I don’t feel like researching every rookie to make an educated prediction.

Nkilla: My understanding is that the trophy for this is already in Andrew Luck’s house. I think Russell Wilson actually might slip into the conversation.

6). Defensive Rookie of the Year

Rmurdera: No matter how much football I watch or how much of an expert I pretend to be, this is the type of category I don’t know much about, nor do I really care. So I consulted with my good friends over at the Bleacher Report and watched this 2-minute video. Since Linebackers win this honor more than other defensive positions, I’m going with Luke Kuechly, a Carolina Panthers Linebacker who played at Boston College. And no, I’m not happy that I’m predicting big seasons from two BC players (Kuechly and Matt Ryan).

Nkilla: I’m going with Chandler Jones (defensive end for New England). This pick was easy. He is the only defensive rookie I know. Also, he might have more sacks than the entire Patriots’ team had last year.

7). Comeback Player of the Year

Rmurdera: It’s probably stupid not to choose Peyton Manning for this award considering he’s the highest-profile name coming off a major injury and he missed all of last season. Compare that to guys like Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, Fred Jackson and Matt Forte, who all played in at least a couple games in 2011. But I know Nkilla is going to go very predictable on this prediction with Mannning, so I’m going with Charles. When he plays all 16 games and racks up 1,500 total yards from scrimmage, he’ll overshadow the Manning return.

Nkilla: If he plays a full season, even if he is horrible, it’s hard to find a situation where Peyton Manning does not win this. Even if Jamaal Charles leads the league in rushing yards & TDs and Denver goes 6-10, I imagine the voters are just itching to give this to Manning if he plays a full season.

8). League Leader in Passing Yards

Rmurdera: Again, not going safe here. If I’m saying Matt Ryan is this year’s NFL MVP, then I better be ready to put him at the top of all QBs for passing yardage. When Ryan inevitably finishes outside the top 15 in all major QB categories and his team goes 7-9, you can feel free to unsubscribe to this blog. I’ll understand.

Nkilla: I think this goes to Drew Brees again. Due to all the suspensions, I imagine New Orleans is going to have to come from behind more than usual, which should be good for Brees’ passing yards. I like Matt Ryan as a dark horse here.

9). League Leader in Receiving Yards

Rmurdera: Calvin Johnson is the only prediction here. Any other attempts at naming a different player are irresponsible and pointless. But let’s try anyway. My reach pick (or “dark horse” as Nkilla put it) for this would be Torrey Smith on Baltimore. As a rookie in 2011, Smith had 841 yards on 50 receptions. He’s clearly the Ravens’ #1 receiver at this point, so can we expect his receptions to be closer to the 80-90 range in 2012? If he catches85 balls at last year’s 16.8 yards per reception rate, he’d turn in a 1,428 yard season. I don’t think that’s outrageous for someone with his talent.

NkillaJulio Jones is the pick. He is +1200 in Vegas to lead the league in receiving yards as of this typing. Bet this. Bet it heavily. As fast as you can.

10). League Leader in Rushing Yards

Rmurdera: Not only am I picking Jamaal Charles to be this year’s Comeback Player of the Year, but I’m choosing him to lead the league in rushing yards. Here’s what I wrote in THIS POST two weeks ago, “The bonus for Charles is that the Chiefs play 10 games this year against teams that ranked in the bottom 12 in run defense in 2011. I like Charles’ odds to have some monster games against such soft defenses.”

NkillaI think Chris Johnson has a nice bounce back year and takes this. If Foster, Rice, or Charles won this, I would not be surprised. I just think maybe CJ has a little extra to prove.

11). Favorite Referee I’m Going to Miss During the Stupid Referee Lockout

Letting Nkilla start this one: Let me reiterate, this thing with the referees is stupid. Why even risk that the lead story every Monday morning being a ref changing the outcome of a game? That being said, it is important for our readers to know that we watch so much football we know every ref by name and we have nicknames for at least half of them. In fact, it would probably be fun to do one of those side-by-side lists of the refs’ real name and the nickname we’ve given to each of them over the years, and have your readers draw lines to match the correct real name to nickname: (answer at the bottom of the post)

Jerome Boger                Will Carruthers
Mike Carey                    Johnny Grier
Ed Hochuli                     The Hawk
Bill Leavy                      Steve Martin
Al Riveron                      Spanish
Jeff Tripplette                Jive Turkey
Ron Winter                    Old Man Winter

Of all of these guys, I am going to miss Mike Carey the most. He is very formal and robotic with all his calls, hand motions, and announcements, which gives the impression he is the best referee in the league even if he is not. I always feel like we are in good hands when Mike Carey shows up to announce the meaning of the first flag.

Rmurdera: I’m going with Jeff Triplette, who we nicknamed “Steve Martin” about five years ago (there’s your free answer to Nkilla’s challenge above). We gave him the Steve Martin moniker because from certain angles on the field (especially with his hat on), he actually looks kind of like Steve Martin the comedian. And I swear I’m not lying when I tell you one time a few years back, there was such a chaotic play on the field that to properly identify every penalty accumulated by the teams, he had to throw all of his penalty flags, his change of possession flag, his hat, his wallet and his car keys all onto the field. Whenever this guy is announcing a penalty, he gives a smirk that says, “The fact that the offensive lineman thought he could get away with such a blatant holding penalty is ridiculous. These players aren’t very bright, are they?” LOVE Steve Martin as a referee.

12). First Coach Fired in 2012

Rmurdera: It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when the first head coach will be fired. Over the past five seasons, only 2007 saw no head coach get fired midseason (though Bobby Petrino resigned from Atlanta with a few games left). Last year four coaches were fired during the season with Jack Del Rio kicking things off by getting axed from Jacksonville on November 29th. This year there appears to be only four potential candidates for in-season firings (this is because a lot of teams that are guaranteed to suck recently hired their new coaches and will probably give them at least into the 2013 season before getting rid of them). The potentials for 2012 are: Norv Turner with San Diego, Pat Shurmur with Cleveland, Ken Whisenhunt with Arizona and Rex Ryan with the Jets. I wanted to add Mike Shanahan with Washington to this list, but having RGIII as the new QB probably buys Shanny an extra year to do something with Griffin’s talent. Man, this is a tough one. All four candidates have such compelling reasons to be jobless by early November. I want to go with Rex Ryan here, really do. But I’m gonna go with Pat Shurmur. Not only is Cleveland going to suck, but they have a new owner who probably wants to stir the pot immediately and start bringing in his own hires.

Nkilla: This is actually a tough one this year, as a lot of traditional teams that fire their coach mid-season (Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Miami, Cleveland, Oakland) have new coaches in place that they will probably give at least one full year to. I think there is a 10% chance it could be Jim Schwartz in Detroit. I see that team taking a step back and they clearly are not very disciplined, which based on his hot-headed run-in with one of the Harbaugh brothers last year, I think stems from the coach. If Stafford gets injured and they have too many defensive players get suspended, I could see an outside chance where Schwartz goes. I say 40% chance Ken Whisenhunt is the first coach to go this year. I know they are only a few years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but when things fall apart quickly this year and L-Fitz turns on the QB situation, I could see Whisenhunt being the fall guy. Finally, I think there is a 50% chance it is Rex Ryan. All signs point to this Jets team being a giant disaster. If they start out 0-6 and have a QB controversy, I can see the players getting sick of Rex’s shtick real, real fast.

13). First Starting QB Replaced Because of Ineffectiveness

Rmurdera: Well, there are five rookies starting their team’s first game at QB this year, so it would be easy to choose one of them. But teams are reluctant to pull a rookie midseason even if he’s god-awful because it might “mess with their development.” I’m going with the guy who was the last of all starting quarterbacks to be announced as his team’s starter during this year’s training camp: John Skelton. Since Arizona’s coach, Ken Whisenhunt, was on both mine and Nkilla’s list of possibly-fired coaches, you’d think if Skelton starts slow, Whisenhunt will have a quick hook to try to save his job. I could see the Arizona starting QB position have a player change four or five times this year, and not because of injuries.

Nkilla: Wow, tough one. So many options. I am going to rule out any rookies starting even though some of them are so horrible (Ryan Tannehill). I expect them to have a longer leash. I’m going to rule out Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert for the similar “they are not rookies but very inexperienced second year players” reason. I am going to rule out Matt Cassel and Carson Palmer because their respective teams do not have another viable option. As for the Jets, I think Rex is going to be stubborn and let Mark Sanchez go about six games too long. I think there is a 10% chance Minnesota gives up on Christian Ponder and goes with Joe Webb. I think there is a 20% chance that Harbaugh realizes that Alex Smith is crashing back to earth very quickly and switches things up and goes with Colin Kaepernick. Winning my pick though is Arizona. I think there is about a 70% chance that John Skelton and Kevin Kolb alternate as starter six times before another team replaces a QB due to ineffectiveness.

14). First Major Injury to a Marquee Player

Rmurdera: The criteria I gave Nkilla for this award was that it had to be a guy that would make all fantasy owners gasp out loud, even if they didn’t personally own that player…think Tom Brady in 2008 or Jamaal Charles in 2011. I can tell you that a major injury to Matt Forte would pretty much ruin my fantasy season and all the preseason bets I’ve made on Chicago. But I’m going with Aaron Rodgers for the catastrophic injury. What can I say? I’ll gladly take the weakening of one of the few threats to another Patriots Super Bowl win. And for fantasy players it would be right on par with the Brady injury in week 1 of the 2008 season.

Nkilla: MoJo is an obvious one because of his holdout. But because of the holdout expectations are probably lowered anyway, so let’s not say him. I think Cam Newton is a candidate. QBs that scramble around a lot tend to get injured more (see Vick, Michael). But if I have to pick one, I am going to say Jimmy Graham. Couple of things going against him. For one, he and Gronk had such ridiculous years last year that they are being drafted as if they are top six wide receivers. Secondly, this whole New Orleans season is starting to have a stench on it between the suspensions and the hurricane. It seems like “Jimmy Graham, torn ACL”, is going to be the week 1 injury headline.

15). The Team Most Likely to Screw Me in a Suicide Pool

Rmurdera: There’s one and only one team that’s been screwing me left and right for nearly five years. They gave me the royal screw job in last year’s suicide pool with an inexplicable loss to a shitty team; I’m pretty sure I lost another suicide pool three years ago because of them; and they’ve screwed my team’s Super Bowl hopes twice in the past four years. That team, of course, is the New York Giants.

NkillaNever pick Norv Turner in a suicide pool. Ever. Even if he is coaching an NFL team against a high school team, do not pick Norv’s team. Maybe I will learn this lesson now that I’ve put it in writing because I think San Diego has screwed me the last three years.

(Answers to the referee real name vs nickname trivia: Boger = Jive Turkey, Carey = Johnny Grier, Hochuli = The Hawk, Leavy = Will Carruthers, Riveron = Spanish, Triplette = Steve Martin, Winter = Old Man Winter)

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