Each of these awards has subjective criteria. Here are the characteristics I will use to nominate players for recognition in this column.
In determining an MVP, I will look for players who greatly impact games through outstanding play on a consistent basis. While offensive stars tend to dominate this award, I won't exclude defensive players performing exceedingly well.
While the Offensive Player of the Year award often mirrors the league MVP, I will also spotlight a few unheralded players who are putting up big numbers on underperforming teams. Outstanding production will be critical, but impact on the offense also will be used to determine the nominees. The same will be true for Defensive POY.
Picking a Coach of the Year will be interesting because coaches with talent-laden rosters are often overlooked for the honor. That's not to say those coaches necessarily deserve the honor, but they should be recognized for doing a great job with the talent assembled. Also, coaches who are getting the most out of a depleted or talent-starved roster will be acknowledged.
In tabbing an Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, I will base my judgments off impact and production. Typically, top rookies jump off the screen when watching tape, so I will try not to over-think my evaluation when picking the top guys.
Here are some of the leading candidates as we head into the season openers.
1. Tom Brady, Patriots, QB -- The reigning league MVP has missed all of the preseason with an injury, but is slated to return to the lineup for the season opener against the Chiefs. With Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Laurence Maroney still at his disposal, Brady has the weapons needed to continue to put up huge numbers.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers, RB -- The five-time Pro Bowler is the league's back-to-back rushing champion, and has topped the 1,000-yard mark in seven consecutive seasons. He has fully recovered from the knee injury that limited his participation in the AFC Championship game, and is the key to the Chargers' offense.
3. Brett Favre, Jets, QB -- The legend leaves Green Bay to take over an underachieving Jets' squad. Though he leaves the comfort of playing in a west coast system, Favre is surrounded by an improved offensive line, and a better than average set of skill players. Throw in the added motivation of proving his critics wrong, Favre may turn in a vintage performance in 2008.
4. Adrian Peterson, Vikings, RB -- The Pro Bowl MVP took the league by storm in his first season on the way to 1,341 rushing yards in only nine starts (14 games played). With a goal of eclipsing a 2,000-yard season, he is looking to enter the ranks of the game's elite in his second season.
5. Brian Westbrook, Eagles, RB -- The two-time Pro Bowl back led the NFL with 2,104 yards from scrimmage a season ago, and figures to play a bigger role this year with top receiver Kevin Curtis sidelined indefinitely. As the Eagles' top rusher and receiver, Westbrook's production is critical to the offense, and he will need to be spectacular for the Eagles to contend.
1. Drew Brees, Saints, QB -- The oft-overlooked two-time Pro Bowler finished second in the league in passing yards last season, but will see his production increase with the addition of four-time Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey to an explosive lineup that already features WR Marques Colston, RB Reggie Bush and RB Deuce McAllister.
2. Tony Romo, Cowboys, QB -- The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback has been spectacular since taking over the reins two seasons ago. With a surrounding cast that features three Pro Bowlers at the skill positions (Marion Barber III, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten), Romo has the potential to direct the league's top scoring offense in 2008.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers, QB -- After having a sub-par season in 2006, Roethlisberger bounced back to set career highs in passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (104.1) last season. With offensive coordinator Bruce Arians continuing to open up the Steelers offense, the prospects are promising for Roethlisberger to surpass those totals this season.
4. Peyton Manning, Colts, QB -- The two-time league MVP is always a viable candidate. The return of a healthy Marvin Harrison gives Manning arguably the best corps of receivers in the game. And the wide open approach of offensive coordinator Tom Moore ensures Manning will put up big numbers.
5. Randy Moss, Patriots, WR -- The mercurial talent shattered the league's single season record for touchdowns (23) and re-established himself as the premier receiver in the NFL. While it is unlikely he will top that record in 2008, he is sure to make a significant impact in his second year with Brady and the Patriots.
1. Jared Allen, Vikings, DE -- The reigning NFL sack leader has 43 sacks in his four-year career and joins a lineup that features two Pro Bowlers (Kevin Williams and Pat Williams) inside.
As part of a defensive unit that ranked first against the run last season, Allen should have plenty of chances to rush the passer off the edge. The results could be frightening.
2. Mario Williams, Texans, DE -- The former No. 1 overall pick had an outstanding sophomore season with 14.5 sacks, but failed to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl. Fueled by the snub, Williams is poised to take his game to the next level while leading the Texans into playoff contention.
3. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys, OLB -- The Cowboys defense is loaded with all-stars, but the scheme is built around the electrifying pass rushing skills of Ware. Coming off a 14-sack season on a defense that figures to play with a lead in most games, Ware may make a strong run at Michael Strahan's NFL sack record.
4. Albert Haynesworth, Titans, DT -- He had the best season of his career last year and should've received MVP consideration based on his importance to the Titans' defense. In the 13 games (12 starts) he suited up, the team totaled 37 sacks, including six from Haynesworth, and had a 10-3 record. Without their stud in the lineup, the Titans were winless (0-3) and failed to record more than one sack in any contest.
5. Antonio Cromartie, Chargers, CB -- The second-year pro burst onto the scene last season by leading the league with 10 interceptions, earning a Pro Bowl nomination in the process. He didn't even crack the starting lineup until midseason (only eight starts). Imagine what he could do with a full season.
1. Bill Belichick, Patriots -- The Patriots are always in title contention, and he should receive the bulk of the credit for their remarkable consistency this decade.
2. Tony Dungy, Colts -- His team has won five consecutive division crowns and averaged 12 wins a season during that span.
3. Mike Holmgren, Seahawks -- He enters his last season riding the momentum of four straight NFC West division titles.
4. Norv Turner, Chargers -- The much maligned coach guided the Chargers to two postseason wins in his first year. An impressive feat for a team that hadn't won a playoff game since 1994.
5. Mike McCarthy, Packers -- After guiding the Packers to unexpected success last season, McCarthy will have to be at his best to navigate the team through the aftermath of the Brett Favre saga.
1. Matt Ryan, Falcons, QB -- The unflappable rookie had an impressive preseason and may put up decent numbers behind a strong running game led by Michael Turner.
2. Matt Forte, Bears, RB -- As the workhorse in the Bears' offense, Forte will get plenty of carries with offensive coordinator Ron Turner reluctant to put the game on Kyle Orton's shoulders.
3. DeSean Jackson, Eagles, WR -- The Eagles' second-round pick is slated to start at receiver, but he may make his biggest contributions as the team's return specialist.
4. Kevin Smith, Lions, RB -- Even with the recent signing of Rudi Johnson, the Lions' rookie runner should get plenty of carries and find plenty of running room with defenses keying on stud WRs Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams.
5. Darren McFadden, Raiders, RB -- The multi-purpose threat is poised to play a prominent role in Lane Kiffin's innovative offensive attack.
1. Brandon Flowers, Chiefs, CB -- The feisty rookie held his own against top competition during the preseason and will continue to face tough assignments as the Chiefs top corner.
2. Kenny Phillips, Giants, S -- The Giants have raved about this rookie's skills and are planning on making him a key contributor in their diverse blitz package.
3. Aqib Talib, Buccaneers, CB -- A natural ball hawk, Talib fits in nicely in the Bucs' two-deep scheme, and his knack for creating turnovers will make him a fixture in the starting line up by midseason.
4. Jerod Mayo, Patriots, LB -- The rookie will benefit from playing alongside savvy veterans Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Adalius Thomas in the Patriots 3-4.
5. Keith Rivers, Bengals, LB -- The Bengals' remade defense needed playmakers, and Rivers has a chance to be a difference-maker in his first year.