With the 2018 NFL regular season completed and the playoffs kicking off this weekend, there is no better time to give picks for the MVP, defensive player of the year and all the other major end-of-season awards.
The Associated Press (AP) will announce the individual NFL awards the night before the Super Bowl in Atlanta in the 8th Annual NFL Honors on Feb. 2. Here are my selections.
Leading the Kansas City Chiefs to the No. 1 seed in the AFC and throwing 50 passing touchdowns, Mahomes is the runaway favorite for the league's most valuable player award. Forced to make up for his team's less-than-adequate defense—which ranked 24th in points allowed per contest—Mahomes put up historic numbers to secure home-field advantage for the Chiefs throughout the AFC playoffs. He had two 6-touchdown games, racked up 5,097 passing yards and was the most dominant player in football.
The NFC playoffs run through New Orleans and Brees is the biggest reason why. The best player on the best team, Brees led the league in completion percentage (74.4) and passer rating (115.7). He threw 32 touchdowns against just five interceptions, spearheading the New Orleans Saints to 13 wins. Unlike Mahomes, however, Brees had a competent defense to compliment his excellent quarterbacking. Furthermore, Brees threw only three touchdown passes in the Saints’ last five games (he sat out the fifth).
Only two quarterbacks in NFL history have thrown for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a single season: Peyton Manning in 2013 and Mahomes in 2018. That makes Mahomes this season's OPOY.
Donald is set to win his second consecutive DPOY Award, despite missing training camp over a contract dispute. The defensive tackle had 20.5 sacks—just shy of Michael Strahan's NFL-record of 22.5—and led the league in QB hits (41) and tackles for loss (30).
Mack transformed the Chicago Bears into the best defense in football. The Bears' defense finished first in takeaways (36) and interceptions (27) and No. 3 in points off takeaways (107).
The engine of the defensive unit, Mack was tied for second in the league with six forced fumbles. The linebacker accumulated a team-high 12.5 sacks and was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month in September.
Mayfield threw more touchdown passes, 27, than any rookie in NFL history. He reached that total despite not seeing any action until Week 3 and not starting until the following game. More importantly, he turned the Cleveland Browns into a legitimate franchise again, leading them to a 7-8-1 record after the team finished 0-16 a season ago. The Browns were in playoff contention until Week 16, something that seemed unfathomable based off how bad things were for the team at this time last year.
In just about any other year, the New York Giants running back would take home the OROY crown. Barkley, a transcendent talent, had seven 100-yard games and 89 receptions—catching nine or more passes in four games—and logged over 2,000 all-purpose yards.
But Mayfield had a far bigger impact on the Browns than Barkley had for the Giants, who only improved their win total (5) by two games from the prior season.
Leonard led the NFL in tackles (163), totaling 19 more than the next closest player. The linebacker had 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Last season, the Indianapolis Colts' defense ranked 30th in points and yards allowed. But with Leonard on board this year, the unit rose to 10th in scoring defense and 11th in yards allowed.
One of the most versatile defenders in the league, James, primarily a safety, played multiple positions for the Los Angeles Chargers this season. He appeared in all 16 games and registered 105 tackles, three interceptions and 3.5 sacks.
Nagy led the Bears to 12 wins and a division championship. Chicago had finished in last-place in the NFC North four years in a row before Nagy came to town. The Bears' record in the four seasons prior to his arrival: 5-11, 6-10, 3-13 and 5-11. The Bears rose to the No. 3 seed in the NFC under Nagy and closed with a 5-1 division record.
Despite losing five of their first six games, the Colts made the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Reich, a first-year head coach like Nagy, helped guide the franchise to a huge turnaround season after the team finished 4-12 last year.
After missing the entire 2017 season, Luck returned and completed a career-high 67.3 percent of his passes for 4,593 yards, 39 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. Luck went eight straight games with at least three touchdown passes and has the Colts in the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
The AFC South champion Houston Texans returned to a formidable defense with Watt back in the fold. He missed 24 games over the last two seasons with back and leg injuries before his incredible 2018 campaign. The defensive end had 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles to reassert himself as one of the NFL's most dominant defensive players.
In his first season as Colts GM, Ballard emphasized the offensive line in the draft. He selected guard Quenton Nelson in round one and tackle Braden Smith in the second round. Both players helped transform the Colts into one of the best O-lines in football, as the unit surrendered just 18 sacks all season.
Ballard nabbed the aforementioned Leonard in round three and made the prudent choice to hire Reich to be the head coach.
Pace traded for Mack days before the start of the season and the results of the acquisition speak for itself. He hired Nagy, the likely winner of Coach of the Year, and has the Bears back in the postseason for the first time since 2010.