NFL predictions for 2012
Carolina's present and future, meanwhile, rests with Newton. A sure bet to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, Newton gives the Panthers a dynamic weapon at quarterback that very few teams (if any) can match. Unlike the Dolphins, Carolina has had almost no defense to speak of this season. But a few upgrades on that side of the ball plus a few more months under Newton's belt will make the Panthers a difficult foe.
• MVP: Drew Brees, QB, Saints. He could be in the mix this season, especially after setting the single-season record for passing yards. It's impossible to overemphasize how important Brees is to the New Orleans offense.
• Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers. Rodgers and Brees may wind up flip-flopping these awards from 2011 to 2012 -- Rodgers remains the favorite to claim the league's MVP this season, though Brees has a case.
• Defensive Player of the Year: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants. The sky is the limit for New York's dynamic pass rusher, who has gone from promising player to full-on star in his second season.
• Offensive Rookie of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. He could have been a first-round pick in the 2010 draft and should be a top-five selection this time around. With a terrific blend of speed and athleticism (not to mention the type of hands and route-running ability that teams crave), he'll be a high-impact rookie.
• Defensive Rookie of the Year: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina. Coples might be the first defender to come off the board -- LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is another standout prospect -- and he could step in on a decent defense and have an Aldon Smith-like impact in his first season.
• Coach of the Year: Pete Carroll, Seahawks. Given all its struggles this season, the fact that Seattle made its way back into the playoff chase -- one year after reaching the divisional round -- speaks to Carroll's hold over his players. Give him a quarterback and a better start to the season, and Carroll can get his team back to the postseason.
• Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning, QB, ???. This pick is either too obvious or too dependent on Manning's questionable health. If Manning gets back to 100 percent for the 2012 season, whether with the Colts or not, he'll be an MVP candidate and probably a no-doubt pick here.