Hard as it is to believe, the first 18-week, 272-game NFL regular season is in the books. And what a season it was.
Despite all the drama surrounding him before and during the campaign, Aaron Rodgers led his Green Bay Packers to a 13-4 mark and the top seed in the NFC. And with the same 13-4 mark sit Tom Brady and the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are looking to become the first back-to-back Super Bowl champs since Brady accomplished the feat with the Pats following the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
Not shockingly, given what their teams did and how each performed during the year, Rodgers and Brady are the leading candidates to win NFL MVP. Both are already three-time winners of the award. But MVP isn’t the only category with a close race as Comeback Player of the Year is a tossup as well. Yes, there are a few categories with clear-cut winners, but we got the entire NFL team here at Sportscasting to discuss them anyway.
And just as we did with our Midseason Awards a couple of months back, we’ve got some Super Bowl 56 predictions for you as well.
Brandon Austin: This is just a two-man race now. Aaron Rodgers makes a strong case, but you have to give it to Tom Brady. What he’s doing at his age is unbelievable. And he’s done it while missing key pieces throughout the season.
Tim Crean: MVVP (Most Valuable Vaccinated Player) has to go to Cooper Kupp. MIOGP (Most Impressive Old Guy Player) has to go to Tom Brady. MVP, as we’ve always known it, though, has to go to Aaron Rodgers. He’s been the best in the league this season. Don’t overthink it.
Jake Elman: Aaron Rodgers had a great season. Tom Brady is 44 years old and still carving through defenses despite injuries to the bulk of his offensive core, a global pandemic, and Antonio Brown’s drama. Give me Brady.
David Esser: Aaron Rodgers was my pick for most of the season, but it’s pretty impossible to ignore Tom Brady’s final stat-line on the year, especially considering the fact the Bucs finished as the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Brady led the league in yards, completions, and touchdowns. That’s ridiculous production for a guy whose offense battled injuries all season long.
Jeff Goldberg: I’m voting for Tom Brady, who was all sorts of GOATy again this year, but it’s not like giving it to Aaron Rodgers is a bad pick. I think the race for third place is fascinating in that the default pick is probably Jonathan Taylor, but take a closer look at what Deebo Samuel did for the 49ers the back half of the season, and there’s a pretty good case to be made that he was truly “most valuable.”
Andrew Kulha: You’ve got to give it to Aaron Rodgers. He’s the No. 1 reason the Packers are the No. 1 seed. Sure, Green Bay’s defense is much improved and he without a doubt has talent around him on offense, starting with Davante Adams. With that said, he’s the straw that stirs the drink in Green Bay, and he’s led his team to the top of the NFC despite major injuries to David Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith, Elgton Jenkins, and Jaire Alexander. Any other team would have folded. The Packers didn’t because they’ve got Rodgers.
Luke Norris: Yeah, it’s completely normal for a 44-year-old quarterback in his 22nd season to have career highs in completions (485), pass attempts (719), and passing yards (5,316). Oh yeah, he also led the league in touchdown passes with 43. But I’m supposed to say Aaron Rodgers will win the award because he didn’t throw as many interceptions? I don’t think so. Give me TB12 to get his fourth over AR-12-times-more-likely-to-get-COVID-because-he’s-not-vaccinated. What, is that nickname not sticking yet? And, no, that COVID stat is not correct. Or maybe it is — I haven’t checked with Joe Rogan in a while.
Matt Wadleigh: This one took some serious thought. But, sorry, it’s Tom Brady. 13-4, No. 2 in the NFC, lost Chris Godwin, and was without AB and Gronkowski for a long time. Now, the Bucs appear on a crash course for a repeat.
Offensive Player of the Year
Brandon Austin: Jonathan Taylor was in this conversation until the Colts laid an egg against the Jaguars. So Cooper Kupp should run away with this one. No one saw this type of season coming. He was matchup-proof all year long.
Tim Crean: Jerry Rice’s 1995 season is widely regarded as the best wide receiver season in history. In 2021, Cooper Kupp surpassed the WR GOAT in catches, yards, touchdowns, and just about any other stat you want to mention, making him the clear OPOY.
Jake Elman: Cooper Kupp tallied 145 receptions, 1,947 yards, and 16 touchdowns in one of the greatest all-around receiving seasons we might ever see. Don’t bother invoking the asterisk here. He’s the OPOY and a deserving one at that.
David Esser: This sucks for Jonathan Taylor, but it’s Cooper Kupp, without a doubt. One hundred forty-five catches for almost 2,000 yards, and the Rams are a top-four seed in the NFC.
Jeff Goldberg: There’s Cooper Kupp, and there’s everyone else. And that he kept on doing it even after Robert Woods got hurt and guys like Ben Skowronek were running routes, that’s even more impressive.
Andrew Kulha: Everybody seems to be going with Cooper Kupp, and that’s really hard to argue. He would have won the receiver Triple Crown even if the season was only 16 games. He’s pretty darn good.
Luke Norris: Honestly, one could argue that Tom Brady, a two-time winner of this award (2007, 2010), could win this a third time given what he did this year. But it has to be Cooper Kupp and his Madden-like numbers for the year.
Matt Wadleigh: Cooper. Kupp. When did we ever imagine Kupp even coming within a few hundred yards of Calvin Johnson’s record? Never. Kupp was lights out every single game and should finish as a legitimate NFL MVP candidate as well.
Defensive Player of the Year
Brandon Austin: T.J. Watt had an amazing second half of the season, so he obviously deserves strong consideration. However, Micah Parsons helped transform an abysmal Cowboys defense into one of the league’s top units. You can’t put him in one box because he checks many of them.
Tim Crean: Micah Parsons is a lock for DROY, but that shouldn’t preclude him from this award too. No one this year was more electrifying, versatile, and franchise-altering than the Cowboys’ No. 12 overall pick, and he should walk away with all the hardware.
Jake Elman: T.J. Watt tied Michael Strahan’s modern sack record (neither is the true sack king, but that’s another conversation) and almost single-handedly forced the Steelers into the playoffs. That’ll do.
David Esser: T.J. Watt tied the all-time sack record. You could honestly end the conversation there. However, his ability to will a super average Steelers team into the playoffs is just as impressive. Just an all-around dominant year for the superstar edge rusher.
Jeff Goldberg: I mean, how can you not love Micah Parsons? The guy just dominated. But I’ve always been of the belief that a great defensive line is even greater when the secondary forces the quarterback to hold the ball longer because no one is open. I’m going to stay with Dallas but give my vote to Trevon Diggs, who might be turning into the Darrelle Revis of the 2020s.
Andrew Kulha: I’ve got to give this to Trevon Diggs. He led the league in interceptions with 11, but even that number doesn’t tell the whole story. For me, it’s how he goes up and attacks the football and almost runs the route for the receiver. He makes interceptions look graceful, and it’s a credit to him that he got so many.
Luke Norris: One could truly argue for Micah Parsons, given his versatility and ability to lead a defense as a rookie. But after finishing third in 2019 and second in 2020, T.J. Watt deserves to jump up one more spot to finally win this award that big brother won three times.
Matt Wadleigh: T.J. Watt. There isn’t much debate, either.
Comeback Player of the Year
Brandon Austin: I’m torn here. Both Dak Prescott and Joe Burrow returned from gruesome leg injuries and have enjoyed great seasons. However, not many expected Burrow to bounce back like this, let alone lead the Bengals to the playoffs. Give it to Joey B.
Tim Crean: Not to take anything away from Dak Prescott after coming back from his gruesome injury — and he will win it because he’s better known and plays for America’s Team — but Joe Burrow should be Comeback Player of the Year. Returning like he did with less than nine full NFL games under his belt is unbelievably impressive.
Jake Elman: I personally thought Dak Prescott’s career would never be the same after his 2020 injury. I also chose to root for the New York Jets. There’s a lesson to be learned here. Prescott should walk away with this fairly easily.
David Esser: I genuinely believed Carson Wentz was in the running for this award up until those final few nightmare weeks. Instead, I’m going in the direction of Joe Burrow. He was arguably the third-best quarterback in the NFL this season coming off a torn ACL. Winning the NFC North and taking Cincy back to the playoffs is the cherry on top of an incredible season for Burrow.
Jeff Goldberg: Can we punt and give the award to both Joe Burrow and Dak Prescott? Both overcame so much to produce tremendous seasons; it’s really hard to pick one over the other. If forced to choose, I’m going with Burrow, who ended his season by setting an NFL record for the only consecutive 400-yard, four-touchdown, no interception games in league history.
Andrew Kulha: Can a player win Comeback Player of the Year because of what happened in one single season? If so, I want to give this award to Green Bay Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas. He started the season on the practice squad in Arizona. The Packers picked him up, and not only did he get the game-sealing interception against his own team, but he went on to become a key player for Green Bay’s defense. From starting the season on a practice squad to ending it with five interceptions, including two pick-sixes. That feels like a hell of a comeback to me.
Luke Norris: To me, this is probably the closest race of any award outside of maybe MVP, and it’s obviously a two-man battle between Dak Prescott and Joe Burrow. Both fought back from serious injuries, and both had fantastic seasons, each leading their respective team to the NFL Playoffs. But Dak also dealt with another injury during this 2021 campaign and fought back from that as well to lead the Cowboys to the No. 3 seed in the NFC. Gimme Dak by a nose here.
Matt Wadleigh: Joe Burrow, but this is tough. Dak Prescott has a strong case, but what Burrow has done in his second year in the NFL is unreal.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Brandon Austin: This one is not close. Mac Jones played well for much of the season but faded down the stretch. Ja’Marr Chase was dominant over the course of an entire season. He put up insane numbers in year one. Not bad for a guy who can’t catch.
Tim Crean: Mac Jones finally looked like a rookie down the stretch, and Ja’Marr Chase put up 266 yards in his last meaningful game. Stop the fight; Chase wins.
Jake Elman: Remember when social media suggested Ja’Marr Chase was doomed for bust territory during the preseason? So much for that one. He had some bad drops during the year, but the all-around resume (81 catches, 1,455 yards, and 13 touchdowns) wins out here.
David Esser: I mean, is there any debate here? Not only was Ja’Marr Chase the best rookie WR in the NFL this season, but he was also one of the best WRs in the NFL, period. A lot of people questioned the Bengals’ decision to take Chase over offensive line help. Safe to say the Bengals don’t regret anything.
Jeff Goldberg: I drafted Ja’Marr Chase in the sixth round for my fantasy team. Thanks, friend.
Andrew Kulha: I’ve honestly forgotten that Ja’Marr Chase is a rookie because he looks like he’s been torching NFL defenses for years now. He’s fun to watch.
Luke Norris: Mac Jones made this a tight race around Week 12 or so during the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak, but Ja’Marr Chase ran away with this one as the season finished up. In our Midseason Awards piece, I said that Chase would be competing for All-Pro honors at the end of the year, and I’m standing by that statement.
Matt Wadleigh: Ja’Marr Chase is the guy. Najee Harris is hard to pass on, but Chase broke Justin Jefferson’s record in his first season in the NFL. The Burrow-Chase connection will be lethal for years to come.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Brandon Austin: This is not up for debate. It’s Micah Parsons, and it’s not even close. He’s helped completely transform a Cowboys defense that struggled in 2020.
Tim Crean: As the best linebacker and the best defensive end taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, this goes to Micah Parsons, no question.
Jake Elman: Micah Parsons emerged as a legitimate contender after the season’s first month. He had NFL DROY wrapped up after the season’s second month.
David Esser: If it weren’t for T.J. Watt tying the all-time sack record, Micah Parsons would’ve won DPOY. Defensive Rookie of the Year is a fine consolation prize for the do-it-all superstar linebacker.
Jeff Goldberg: Micah Parsons all day. Could very easily win both Defensive Rookie and Player of the Year.
Andrew Kulha: Micah Parsons. Look him up.
Luke Norris: There’s Micah Parsons and everyone else. If this isn’t unanimous when the official vote takes place, someone’s on the take.
Matt Wadleigh: Dallas Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons. Boy, did the Dallas defense improve with Dan Quinn. Parson was a force from start to finish, and this group has a lot to be excited about.
Coach of the Year
Brandon Austin: I have to go with Mike Vrabel. The Titans played without Derrick Henry for more than half the season, but they earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Vrabel didn’t panic. He stuck to the game plan, and it’s paid off.
Tim Crean: I’d like to make some sort of football hipster case for Zac Taylor, but the truth is, Mike Vrabel has done more with less this year than any coach in the league and deserves this award for it.
Jake Elman: Mike Vrabel will probably win, but I’m going with Matt LaFleur. Not only did his Packers earn the NFC’s No. 1 seed again, but they managed to survive Aaron Rodgers’ constant drama and nonsense over the last year. The man is a saint.
David Esser: Zac Taylor and Matt LaFleur deserve some votes, but Mike Vrabel is the clear pick here. He led the Titans to a first-round bye without Derrick Henry and Julio Jones on the field for most of the season. Nobody thought that would happen.
Jeff Goldberg: Did anyone think the Tennessee Titans had a future after Derrick Henry went down? And with all the injuries to their wide receivers? They didn’t just survive. They thrived. Mike Vrabel is really emerging as an elite head coach in the NFL.
Andrew Kulha: Mike Vrabel is probably the right answer but come on, let’s give some love to Matt LaFleur over in Green Bay. He won’t ever get any credit until Aaron Rodgers is gone, but this guy went from being an out of nowhere hire to one of the more respected coaches in the league in just three seasons. Three seasons, three NFC North titles, two-straight NFC championship game appearances. This season he went 13-4 despite missing seemingly half of his starters. He’s a good coach, no doubt.
Luke Norris: While my official pick is Mike Vrabel given what he’s done with the Titans this year, Bill Belichick hasn’t gotten enough attention (what a weird sentence to say) as it pertains to this award this season. After missing the postseason last year, the Pats — with a rookie QB — had the chance to win the AFC East on the final day of the season. Just sayin’.
Matt Wadleigh: Mike Vrabel. Plain and simple, the Tennessee Titans got hit hard by injuries – Derrick Henry, AJ Brown, and Julio Jones, to name a few. Nonetheless, they finished as the top seed in the AFC and are getting Henry back just in time.
Which two teams will meet in Super Bowl 56?
Brandon Austin: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Buffalo Bills
The Packers and Buccaneers are the favorites in the NFC, and rightfully so. I’m not betting against Brady, though. The AFC is still wide open, but the Bills are built to compete with anyone on either side of the ball. They’ll get to avenge their loss to Tampa Bay from the regular season.
Tim Crean: Green Bay Packers vs. Buffalo Bills
My midseason pick of the Green Bay Packers vs. the Buffalo Bills is still alive, so I’m sticking with it. When the Bills click (usually not until late in the third quarter), no team is better and, even though we’ve turned the page to 2022, it’s still Aaron Rodgers’ world, and we’re all just living in it.
Jake Elman: Green Bay Packers vs. Buffalo Bills
Conventional wisdom says this will be the Buccaneers or Packers against the Chiefs. I’m going bold. I foresee Buffalo facing Green Bay because nothing says a California Super Bowl like two teams used to playing in the snow and cold.
David Esser: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
My midseason pick of Buccaneers-Ravens is no longer possible. However, I still see Tom Brady and the Buccaneers making it out of the NFC. On the other side of the bracket, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs look like themselves again. I’m feeling a Super Bowl rematch.
Jeff Goldberg: Dallas Cowboys vs. Kansas City Chiefs
If the Chiefs can get past the Steelers and guys like Tyreek Hill and Clyde Edwards-Helaire get healthier as the playoffs go on, they are going to be really hard to take out, especially with two home games and maybe a third if Tennessee gets knocked off. I love teams that can dominate defensively in the playoffs, so I’m going off the board in the NFC with Dallas.
Andrew Kulha: Green Bay Packers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
This just feels like the season the Packers get over the hump and get back to the Super Bowl. That will be especially true if they’re able to add three Pro Bowl players back into the lineup at some point in Bakhtiari, Za’Darius Smith, and Alexander. At the very least, Bakhtiari seems to be a go. The AFC feels a lot more wide open, which to me creates room for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to go on a hot streak and make it back to the big show. Finally, we’ll get the State Farm Bowl we were all promised.
Luke Norris: Dallas Cowboys vs. Buffalo Bills
Call me sentimental for still wanting to see a little throwback showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, who obviously played two consecutive Super Bowls back in the ’90s. This was my midseason pick, so I’m going to go ahead and roll with it here as well.
Matt Wadleigh: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Wash, rinse, repeat. Kansas City Chiefs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference