NFL Predictions: Superlatives & Inferiorities

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When doing in-depth predictions for each NFL team’s win-loss record just isn’t enough, there’s the tried & true “superlatives column.” It’s the typical article that guesses who will win all the important awards and accolades over the course of the NFL season. Guest blogger Neil & I like to take that concept to the next level with our “Superlatives & Inferiorities” guesses. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Who will lead the league in passing yards?
    • Neil: Andrew Luck (7/2 odds). Hard to imagine him not going over 5000 yards with their easy schedule and the number of receiving weapons. Also, their defense will be bad enough that the offense needs to score in the upper 20s/lower 30s most games.
    • Ross: Eli Manning (16/1 odds). I’m starting these picks off with a bit of a wildcard. But I’m imagining a world where the Giants are terrible defensively, causing them to constantly be throwing to keep up with their opponent; horrible running the football because honestly, what do we know about Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams being competent full-time NFL running backs; and they take advantage of a pretty easy schedule in terms of opponents’ pass defense. It’s not surprising that Eli’s total passing yards spiked in 2014 with it being his first year with Odell Beckham and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
  • Who will lead the league in rushing yards?
    • Neil: This is a tough one. I wanted to say definitely someone in the NFC North, either Lacy (Green Bay maybe runs a bit more without Jordy) or Peterson (comes back angry and with a vengeance), but I’m going to say Jeremy Hill (9/1 odds). They have a “run first” offensive coordinator, and they probably want to keep the ball out of Dalton’s hands as much as possible.
    • Ross: Jeremy Hill. My fantasy football co-owners can back up my claim that I’ve been rock hard over Jeremy Hill for months now. I was considering taking him with the #1 overall pick had I gotten it in any of my leagues. I’m just going out on a limb thinking the Cincy offense will closely resemble the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. Great offensive line, receivers who have to be respected by the defense, lack of a threatening #2 running back eating into the carries. The huge difference is the Bengals are going to do everything in their power to hide Andy Dalton, which just adds to the idea of a run-heavy clock-controlled offense all year.
  • Who will lead the league in receiving yards?
    • Neil: Let’s go with Julio Jones (6/1) here. Fairly easy division, good QB, clearly the top receiving option, plays in a dome.
    • Ross: Julio Jones. This is the biggest crapshoot of these first 3 superlatives because there are so many deserving receivers, but I’ll take Jones to finally win this title. You could convince me Randall Cobb is the right choice very easily though.
  • Who will be named regular season MVP?
    • Neil: Barring an injury, this is going to Andrew Luck (3/1). I think the league is just dying to give this to him.
    • Ross: J.J. Watt (20/1). Even though I think the J.J. Watt ballwashing by the media has reached annoying levels, I could easily see him breaking the sacks record this year while being Houston’s leading scorer on offense. And even if his season is just “good” by his standards, he’ll probably win if no QB breaks away from the pack.
  • Who will be named Offensive Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Andrew Luck (9/2).
    • Ross: Eli Manning (50/1). This award definitely goes to a quarterback or running back (Jerry Rice is the only receiver to be named OPOY in the 43 years they’ve been handing this title out). I might as well double down on jinxing the 2015 Giants so they don’t follow in the footsteps of the ’07 and ’11 installments of the G-Men.
  • Who will be named Defensive Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Seems like barring injury this is going to go to J.J. Watt (3/2) the next two or three years.
    • Ross: J.J. Watt. And if anyone says differently, they are wrong.
  • Who will be named Offensive Rookie of the Year?
    • Neil: Historically this is very much a RB’s award. I’m not sure Todd Gurley plays enough to win it though, and I’m not sure how Melvin Gordon is going to be used in San Diego. It would be easy to pick one of the top two draft picks, but I’m going with a dark horse and picking a receiver, Nelson Agholor (14/1).
    • Ross: Melvin Gordon (6/1). I came close to picking Amari Cooper because I’m mesmerized by his talent, but I’m worried about the Oakland stink rubbing off on him immediately. And if Derek Carr is bad, that’s a fatal blow to Cooper’s chances of putting up big numbers. The Chargers have been patching together their running game ever since perennial playoff crybaby LaDainian Tomlinson left town. Gordon finally gives them a legitimate stud runner.
  • Who will be named Defensive Rookie of the Year?
    • Neil: I’m going to go with Leonard Williams (6/1). The Jets defense should be on the field most of the game which will give him plenty of opportunity, and there are enough other players on that line to focus on that it should allow Williams to have some easy matches the first half of the season.
    • Ross: Vic Beasley (9/1). He’s supposedly a stud pass rusher on a team that’s had an anemic pass rush for what seems like the past 10 years. Beasley will collect the majority of sacks for the Falcons this year.
  • Who will be named Comeback Player of the Year?
    • Neil: Sam Bradford (14/1) if he stays healthy. Even if Peterson has a slightly better season, I’d think the NFL would rather give this to Bradford.
    • Ross: Carson Palmer (14/1). Ten of the past 14 winners of this award have been quarterbacks so I only ever considered Palmer and Sam Bradford. The winner will be whoever stays healthy longer. It’s that simple. And it’s a complete coin flip. Bradford has the better offensive line to protect him and an offense that revolves around getting the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly, but Palmer has the track record of actually playing full seasons at least at some point in his career. Tough call. (Is Jason Pierre-Paul a dark horse candidate for this award? Do the voters go for self-inflicted offseason injuries?)
  • Who will be named Coach of the Year?
    • Neil: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia (10/1). If Bradford stays healthy and Philly wins 10-11 games, people are going to be saying his offseason moves were genius.
    • Ross: Dan Quinn, Atlanta (14/1). He might not even end up being very good. It’s just that the juxtaposition of Quinn and last year’s coaching “effort” by Mike Smith might trick voters’ eyes into thinking Quinn is a coaching god.

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  • Who will be the First Coach Fired?
    • Neil: This is a tough one this year. So many candidates. Here in the Bay Area, rumors that Jim Tomsula has already lost the Niners locker room are starting to circulate. I’m not sure San Francisco feels like they have to give him a full year. I could see Jeff Fisher being in trouble if St. Louis gets off to a slow start, but I think their defense will get them wins until their offense can become average. Jay Gruden probably gets a full year to see what he can do with Kirk Cousins; however, the entire Washington scene seems to be getting worse by the day. I think it ends up being Marvin Lewis or Mike Pettine. We know the Cleveland ownership does not like to let coaches do too much building and their QB situation is a mess so they should be fairly bad this season. If Cincinnati starts off bad, do they axe Lewis before the end of the year in an effort to sell A.J. Green on the idea of, “Hey look, we’re changing, you should stay here!”? Cincy’s schedule starts easy enough that I think Mike Pettine is the first gone (+275).
    • Ross: Jay Gruden (3/1). By my count there are 13 coaches who could find themselves on a very hot seat by season’s end, but there are only two options for in-season firing: Gruden and Joe Philbin. The only hesitation I have on Gruden is that he might quit in October and I’d lose this prediction on a technicality.
  • Who will be the First QB Benched Due to Ineffectiveness?
    • Neil: I think Pettine feels more pressure to be good this year than Rex Ryan does, so I think it’s Josh McCown first. How awesome would it be if the right answer turns out to be Peyton Manning?
    • Ross: Kirk Cousins. I would not put it past Jay Gruden to change QBs every week, rotate all three guys regularly, and do everything short of chug whiskey on the sidelines.
  • Will there be an off-the-field controversy at any time during the season that dominates the news? (Just Kidding. It’s the NFL! Of course there will be! The question is, what kind of controversy and how far along into the season?)
    • Neil: The controversy is going to be around moving teams to LA. Although I’d prefer something that results in Jim Irsay getting a lifetime ban.
    • Ross: I’m pretty sure it’ll be concussions and head injuries. The NFL has done a masterful job creating decoy news to distract from the ongoing head injury issues over the past few years (Deflategate, Bountygate, relocation rumors, feigned outrage over marijuana smokers). But unfortunately I think we’re overdue for some incident on or off the field to shove head trauma back into the limelight. Whatever it is, I’m sure Goodell will handle it with great aplomb.
  • Over or Under 7.5 head coaches who totally botch the math throughout the season when deciding whether to go for 1 point or 2 points after a touchdown?
    • Neil: Waaaaaaaay over. I’m already mad about it. It is going to be my pet peeve all season, and I am going to bring it up a lot so be prepared. Let me start here: Every time the first score of a game is a touchdown and the scoring team does not go for two, I’m going to be giving out exaggerated eye-rolls.
    • Ross: I’m taking the over because more than 10 coaches immediately came to mind when thinking about this answer. Half of those ten will screw up because they like to play way too conservatively. The other half will mess up out of sheer ineptitude and terrible decision making.
  • Who will be the last undefeated team?
    • Neil: Indianapolis is the last undefeated team. Their first loss is exactly on 18-October.
    • Ross: Miami. The Dolphins aren’t even a lock to make the playoffs, but their starting schedule makes it impossible not to pick them: @Washington, @Jacksonville, Buffalo, NY Jets, @Tennessee, Houston, @New England. That’s a pretty simple path to 6-0 before that game against the Patriots.
  • Who will be the last winless team?
    • Neil: I’m going to go with the 49ers. If they can’t beat Minnesota opening weekend, I have no idea when they get their first win.
    • Ross: San Francisco. In last week’s NFL column I said, “If ever there was going to be a surprise 0-16 team, [San Francisco] would be the one.” I still believe that. If they can’t handle Minnesota at home to open the season, we could be talking about an 0-8 49ers team heading into a home game against Atlanta in week 9.
  • Which team will have the 1st overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft?
    • Neil: Cleveland (9/1). It is hard for me to see the McCown/Manziel/Pettine situation ending in anything other than the first pick.
    • Ross: Tennessee (5/1). You’re in uncharted territory when teams like Jacksonville and Oakland are light years ahead of you in competitiveness. Good job, Titans.
  • If you knew in advance the Patriots weren’t going to win the Super Bowl this season (let’s say, for instance, the NFL had an axe to grind with them and the league made sure the referees created calls to “help” the Patriots lose), which team would you be rooting for?
    • Neil: St. Louis. Two reason: 1) I think their defense is going to be dominant this year…able to win games by themselves. I mean, Nick Fairley is coming off the bench. It is fun to root for teams like that, and 2) If St. Louis wins their second Super Bowl and the NFL tries to move them to LA, there is no way Goodell comes out of the situation as Commissioner.
    • Ross: This is easy. I want the outcome to be whatever would be most embarrassing for Roger Goodell and the NFL. This year it would be either the Saints winning after Goodell railroaded them with Bountygate, or it would be St. Louis winning while the league is stealing the team and moving it to LA. (Editor’s Note: On second thought, New Orleans seems to be one of the few teams that has yet to have a current or former player/coach/executive blame a loss to the Patriots over the last 15 years on some convenient excuse so I’m all-in on them.)

We’ll be back in the next 24 hours with our final predictions for the season: Playoff Teams & Super Bowl Matchup. We are now within 55 hours of actual, meaningful football. Get excited.

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NFL Predictions Continued: Superlatives & Individual Awards You Don’t Want To Win!

Last week we gave you predictions for what every team’s win-loss record would look like by season’s end (NFC Predictions HERE, AFC Predictions HERE). Now we’re moving on to individual awards.

Some categories are your basic MVP, players of the year, stats leaders stuff, and others are the fun awards…first coach fired, first QB benched, first team that has to deal with a player arrest, etc.

Enjoy.

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League Leader In Passing Yards

Ross: It’s weird that I didn’t even consider Drew Brees for this award. The smart money’s probably on him since he now regularly exceeds 5,000 yards passing and his defense might be atrocious once again. But I’m going with a dark horse in Peyton Manning. He was 6th in the league in passing yards in 2012, some 500 yards behind Brees’ final number. But Manning’s schedule is so damn easy this year, I can’t help but think he puts up 300+ yards in most games and then sits the final eight minutes while their blowing out the competition.

Neil: I think Matthew Stafford wins this award, but if I was picking a longshot, it would be Jay Cutler.

League Leader in Rushing Yards

Ross: To find the top rusher in the NFL, you have to eliminate anyone who won’t get 300 or more carries during the season. I checked as far back as 2002 and the person who wins the rushing title always has at least 300 carries. So certain guys are automatically out: Ray Rice and Frank Gore are out because their teams are trying to decrease their workload and neither guy had close to 300 carries last year. C.J. Spiller’s probably out because he had 207 carries last year and I doubt he’s going to increase his rushing attempts by nearly 100 this year. Even Jamaal Charles, who had 285 carries in 2012, might be out because Andy Reid is likely to increase his workload through receptions not rushes. I’m eliminating Alfred Morris and Marshawn Lynch because they have QBs who might snatch some of the rushing yards for themselves. Arian Foster is out because I’m worried about his nagging injuries and Ben Tate seems totally capable of taking on some of Foster’s workload to keep Houston’s lead rusher fresh for December and January. That leaves Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin. I’m buying into Martin because he has an improved offensive line and his team has more offensive weapons to take the defensive focus off him than AP has. He also has a much easier schedule from a running standpoint than Peterson. Doug Martin is my 2013 rushing champ.

Neil: This is going to be Doug Martin. I know Adrian Peterson is the obvious choice here, but with Christian Ponder as his QB, every opposing defense is going to put 10 men in the box this year, right? My longshot would be Maurice Jones-Drew.

League Leader in Receiving Yards 

Ross: Just like it would have been easy to pick Brees in the passing yards category, and it would have been even easier to pick Peterson in rushing yards, Calvin Johnson is the obvious name with receiving yards. He’s won the title the past two years and nobody thinks Detroit is suddenly turning into a ground & pound team. But we’re here to have fun, not to get on board with the obvious, unsexy predictions. I’m doubling down on the Denver easy schedule and lots of throwing theory. I’m going with Demaryius Thomas to lead the league in receiving yards. He was only 530 yards short of Calvin’s record last year. Should be pretty easy to close that gap.

Neil: I’m going with Calvin Johnson to lead the league in receiving yards. I know its not a sexy pick, but I just don’t trust The Ginger Prince (that would be Andy Dalton) to get A.J. Green there. And my longshot in this category would be Vincent Jackson.

2013 MVP Award

Ross: This is an award for quarterbacks or running backs. The MVP has been awarded for the last 56 years, and only three times has it not been a QB or RB. We got our “once every few years a RB has to win it” quota out of the way last year, so I’m focusing on quarterbacks. I can envision a narrative where the Saints go 12-4 and Brees wins the MVP for leading the turnaround, but his league-leading interception total from 2012 has me worried he’s slowly morphing into Brett Favre. Aaron Rodgers can win this just by replicating last year’s 108 passer rating and crossing his fingers that a running back doesn’t go off for 2,000 yards again. But I’m actually debating between the elder statemen of quarterbacks, Manning and Tom Brady. What if Brady throw for 5,000 yards, maintains his 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio and leads the Patriots to 13 wins? After all, we’ve spent the entire offseason crying for the guy because he gave up money on his contract just to watch all his receivers either leave voluntarily, leave in handcuffs or leave in an ambulance. If he puts up those numbers with this cast of characters… But since the Mannings have a seemingly endless deal with the devil, I’m going with Peyton Manning to win the 2013 MVP Award, and sadly I think that offense might look like the 2007 Patriots when it’s all said and done.

Neil: The MVP is going to be Peyton Manning. As much as I hate it, their defense isn’t going to be good and their WRs are. Their schedule is easy so he’s going to be throwing the ball all over the place throughout the entire season. My longshot would be Doug Martin.

Offensive Player of The Year

Ross: Often different than the MVP, but almost never a wide receiver. Jerry Rice is the only non-QB/RB to win this award. I’m going with Tom Brady. Manning gets the MVP and Brady gets the “but you had a good season too, Tom” award.

Neil: It’s Peyton Manning again for the same reasoning as the MVP Award. Longshot here would be Jamaal Charles.

Defensive Player of The Year

Ross: Earl Thomas, free safety for Seattle is my choice. That might be one of the best defenses in recent memory and he’s the anchor. You do not pass on this team and he’s a huge reason why. Seattle’s coming out party began last year with Russell Wilson and the offense bursting on the scene. Now I think they keep the momentum going and have the league talking about their D all year long.

Neil: J.J. Watt because he’s just a beast. Longshot is Julius Peppers.

Comeback Player of The Year

Ross: This one’s simple. It’s RGIII. Adrian Peterson finished 2nd in the comeback voting last year and he essentially got hurt at the end of the 2011 season just like RGIII got hurt at the end of the 2012 season. So there’s no rule that says the comeback player has to have missed game time with the injury. If RGIII starts even 10 games this year, he wins this award.

Neil: I say comeback player is Maurice Jones-Drew and my longshot is Brian Orakpo.

Head Coach of The Year

Ross: The New England fan in me wants to make the case for Bill Belichick. With the offseason he’s endured, if he gets this team to 11 or 12 wins, it could be his finest hour. But he’s held to such a high standard these days. Basically if the Patriots win 14 or more games, he’ll be considered. Anything less will be just another typical season. It’s time to back my prediction of Cleveland winning the AFC North. If they do that, Rob Chudzinski automatically wins Coach of the Year so that’s who I’m picking.

Neil: Greg Schiano from Tampa Bay. Long shot is Andy Reid.

First Coach Fired

Ross: At first there seemed to be only three choices for this “award”: Rex Ryan, Jason Garrett and Jim Schwartz. And I do feel any of those three could get fired during the season. But then a 4th option emerged that I like better than the rest. Mike Munchak of the Titans. It was just last December when Titans owner Bud Adams was hinting at a future coaching change through the media after a terrible 55-7 loss to the Packers. And have you seen Bud Adams? The man’s 90 years old. He obviously doesn’t have a lot of time left. If anyone’s going to have an itchy trigger finger it’s the man who may not live long enough to see the Titans win a Super Bowl if he doesn’t do something IMMEDIATELY. The Titans also have a relatively easy schedule, so if they get off to a 1-6 start, the ax is going to fall quickly on Munchak.

Neil: The first coach fired this year is going to be Rex Ryan. I really wanted to go with Jason Garrett here, but Jerry Jones seems to be in love with him, whereas the new Jets front office was not part of the Rex Ryan hire. My longshot is Panthers coach Ron Rivera.

First QB Benched (Due to Ineffectiveness)

Ross: The conservative part of me wants to say Blaine Gabbert or Geno Smith. I have no doubt Rex Ryan will jerk Geno around all season and may even pull him after week 1 if he plays particularly bad. And once the Jags find out by week 4 that Gabbert is not the long term answer, he gets pulled for Chad Henne. But I’m going with an extreme longshot here. I’m saying Josh Freeman is the first quarterback benched due to ineffectiveness. Mike Glennon gets the call and improbably leads the Bucs to the playoffs.

Neil: Whoever the Raiders start in week 1 is a good candidate, but I have no idea what the Raiders are doing or thinking. They have four QBs and two punters on their 53-man roster. Even though it is a somewhat easy pick, I think Blaine Gabbert gets benched in favor of Chad Henne by week 5. My long shot is Michael Vick.

First Devastating Injury from a Fantasy Standpoint

Ross: (What we mean is that while a significant injury to a team’s left tackle could be a season-crushing loss, we’re more interested in the highly-rated fantasy player who might suffer a major injury).

I’m going with running back David Wilson. No real reason. I do wish badness on the Giants so why not hope for a devastating injury.

Neil: Sorry to all you fantasy owners out there who kept or spent a lot of money on C.J. Spiller, but he is going to be our first big injury of the year. He was healthy all last year, but historically has injury concerns, so law of averages.

First Player Who Gets In Trouble With the Law Once The Season Starts (Name The Team)

Ross: Ridiculous category, right? It’s a total flip of a 32-sided coin. And it’s a good thing I specifically said “once the season starts” because between the time I emailed these categories off to Neil to get his answers (about 4 days ago) and now, a Colts player was arrested on three charges after resisting arrest. I’m going to say the Ravens have the first player arrested. Fingers crossed that it’s Terrell Suggs and that he’s going away for years, but most likely it’ll be a practice squad player for a DUI.

Neil: The first team that has a player get in trouble with the law once the season begins is going to be Detroit. We’ve seen this team’s discipline on the field, I can’t imagine it is another team.

The Last Winless Team

Ross: We’ll get to the last undefeated team in a minute. But sometimes it’s even more fun to laugh at the team that just can’t seem to capture that first win of the year. Last year Cleveland was that team, starting off 0-5 before taking care of the Bengals 34-24 in week 6. This year my choice is between Arizona and Miami. It’s purely based on schedule. Even though I think Jacksonville and Oakland are the two worst teams by far in the NFL, they actually play each other in week 2 so someone’s gotta win. I’m going with Arizona and I don’t think they win a game until week 11. There I said it. I think the Cardinals only have one winnable game before week 11…a week 5 home game against Carolina. Outside of that, I dare you to find an easy win for Arizona over the first two months of the season.

Neil: The last team to win a game is going to be Buffalo. It would be easy to pick Oakland or Jacksonville for this, but those two teams “battle” each other in week 2, so if you hitch yourself to the wrong wagon you are wrong with this pick early. My longshot is Minnesota.

The Last Undefeated Team

Ross: If Denver gets by Baltimore in the opener, they’re pretty much a lock to stay undefeated the longest. Seattle is the only other team I’m considering. If you think Seattle starts the season 2-0, you’re basically saying they’re going to be 9-0 before facing their first true test with a road game against Atlanta in week 10. I’m getting on board with Seattle for this pick.

[Editor’s Note: Wow, I just looked at Neil’s pick for this category and I can’t believe how precisely the same our picks and reasoning are. Scary.]

Neil: Picking the last undefeated team is a little bit tricky. Several of the best teams have games in the first week or two that could easily trip them up, especially Green Bay and San Francisco, who have tough road games. This pick is down to Denver and Seattle for me. I’m actually more worried about Seattle on the road at Carolina in week 1 than hosting the Niners in week 2. For Denver, if you think Peyton can get by his younger brother with more Super Bowl rings in week 2, they have easy sailing until they travel to New England on November 24th. I’ve picked Denver for too many things already, so let’s go with Seattle as the last undefeated team. My longshot is New England. They start with two easy games, but weeks 3-6 are brutal.

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)