When the NFL signed its game-carrying networks, NBC, CBS and FOX, to a huge nine-year extension this season, it was clear the immensely popular Sunday Night Football broadcast is the apple of its insanely wealthy eye.
They're so confident in the network's direction, they announced the launch of the NFL's first ever awards show and red carpet event, scheduled for Feb. 4, one day before NBC broadcasts the Super Bowl.
Lost in all the red carpet and Alec Baldwin's hosting duties are the awards themselves.
It can be confusing sometimes as to which league MVP award is the most "credible." Typically, the Associated Press (AP) awards are known as the "real" ones. Those are the awards being given Saturday. The Sporting News (TSN) and the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) give out their own set of awards, mirroring the AP with MVP, Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year and Rookies of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year. TSN and PFWA differ from the AP in they also award an Executive of the Year, named after George Young.
In wake of the AP awards being given out Saturday, PFWA and TSN has already announced their winners.
This provides a pretty clear picture of who's most likely to win what Saturday, with Jim Harbaugh (Coach of the Year), Aaron Rodgers (Offensive Player of the Year), Cam Newton (Offensive Rookie of the Year) and Aldon Smith (Defensive Rookie of the Year) taking home the PFWA and TSN versions.
Jared Allen vs. Terrell Suggs for Defensive Player of the Year should be an interesting debate. Suggs has better all-around numbers and played for a significantly better defense than Allen's Vikings, but Allen's 22 sacks tie the league's second-highest output (Mark Gastineau), and is one half sack behind Michael Strahan's record of 22.5.
And no one laid down for Allen the way Brett Favre did for Strahan.
How the AP will vote is a matter of conjecture, but here are my winners:
MVP - Aaron Rodgers
Simply put, the Packers lost two games this season, and Rodgers did not play well (relatively speaking) in those games. When Rodgers played well, the Packers won (15 times, 14 with him as a starter). When he didn't, they lost.
Runner-up - Drew Brees
Offensive Player of the Year - Drew Brees
Looking purely at numbers, Brees thrashed two long-standing records of immense value in the game. His 5,476 yards beat Dan Marino's 5,084 by a considerable margin (Patriots QB Tom Brady broke it as well with 5,235). His 71.2 completion percentage beat his and Ken Anderson's marks of 70.6.
Runner-up - Aaron Rodgers
Defensive Player of the Year - Jared Allen
I wouldn't be at all surprised if this ends in a tie. The Vikings defense was so bad this season, all opponents needed to do was sell out to stop Allen and they'd win by three touchdowns. Those opponents typically won by three touchdowns anyway, but they couldn't stop the relentless Allen. It was one of the finest seasons a defensive end has ever had.
Runner-up - Terrell Suggs
Offensive Rookie of the Year - Cam Newton
It's pretty much a no-brainer. The best point made to me (a professed non-believer in Newton as a high-level passer) about Newton's progression as a quarterback was, in 16 starts, he didn't really throw an interception that made observers sit back and wonder aloud, "what was he thinking?" He made "competitive" interceptions, meaning, even bad throws weren't off by very much. They weren't all good decisions, but they weren't horrible decisions, either.
And obviously, the work he did at the goal line is impressive as well. More than anything, though, the game never swallowed him up. He looked like a rookie at times, sure, but he was rarely taken completely out of the game. Not a whole lot of QBs - let alone rookies - can say that.
Runner-up - Andy Dalton
Defensive Rookie of the Year - Aldon Smith
Smith not only was the best defensive rookie, he was among the best defensive players per snap this year. He is representative of the new wave of defensive front seven players in the league. He's big, quick and athletic enough to play both down at the 7 technique as well as shift in to play a 3-technique. He can stand up and rush the passer as well as cover running backs in the short flat.
The best part? 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff didn't even use Smith as a three-down player because he is still learning the defense. He had 14 sacks. What's he going to do when he knows what to do?
Runner-up - Von Miller
Coach of the Year - Jim Harbaugh
In my opinion, this is the least difficult decision on the list by a wide margin. San Francisco has perhaps the best coached defense we've seen in a while. There really aren't any holes; they can all tackle, they rush the passer, they stop the run, and all of them are used in a variety of different ways. Harbaugh did a phenomenal job with much of the same roster last year that finished well out of playoff contention.
Runner-up - Bill Belichick