The 2012 NFL season kicks off with a Wednesday night showdown between the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants and their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys — in the first of 256 regular season games that span from Sept. 4 until Dec. 30.
Before a snap has been taken, Athlon Sports looks into our crystal ball in an attempt to predict who will be award-worthy after the dust settles this season.
Most Valuable Player
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
A-Rodg will look to defend his league MVP award — although he would almost certainly prefer to add another piece of Super Bowl MVP hardware to his trophy case. Last season, Rodgers had career bests across the board — completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,643 yards, 45 TDs and six INTs for a 122.5 passer rating in 15 games. He also rushed for 257 yards and three trips to the end zone on the ground. Since taking over for Brett Favre in 2008, Rodgers has averaged 4,259 yards, 33 TDs and nine INTs, while scrambling for another 284 yards and four scores. Those are title belt (and MVP) stats.
Offensive Player of the Year
Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Megatron has become a big play machine, tallying 96 catches for 1,681 yards (17.5 ypc) and 16 TDs last season. The 6'5", 236-pounder will turn 27 years old on Sept. 29, so his best days should be ahead of him — a terrifying thought for NFC North defensive backs.
Defensive Player of the Year
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
JPP’s jump from his rookie year to his sophomore season had to be seen to be believed, as he vaulted from a 4.5-sack, 30-tackle situational end to a 16.5-sack, 86-tackle force to be reckoned with. If the third year is a charm for Pierre-Paul, he will be the best in the business.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
Offseason minor knee surgery is reason for minor concern. But T-Rich was back at practice and expected to play in the Browns’ season opener. A healthy Richardson has the power, vision, balance and speed — not to mention a solid O-line to run behind — to take the league by storm.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Mark Barron, S, Buccaneers
The rookie safety out of Alabama was selected No. 6 overall thanks to his combination of hard hitting, ball-hawking and Nick Saban-approved football IQ. The young Buc got off to a good start, intercepting Tom Brady and returning the pick for a TD during the preseason.
Comeback Player of the Year
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
The four-time MVP missed the 2011 season due to (at least) four neck surgeries. And after 14 seasons as an Indianapolis Colt — which included 54,828 yards, 399 TDs and a Super Bowl XLIV victory and MVP — Manning is changing horses in mid-stream. The 36-year-old is now a Denver Bronco, following in the footsteps of two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway — Manning’s new boss and inspiration. Elway won his two Vince Lombardi Trophies at age 37 and 38, respectively.
Coach of the Year
John Fox, Broncos
After deftly dealing with the “Mania” of Tim Tebow’s tenure as well as Peyton Manning’s arrival, Fox deserves to be rewarded if the Broncos are able to put together a repeat playoff run this year.
Executive of the Year
Phil Emery, Bears
In his first offseason as the GM in Chicago, Emery acquired Pro Bowl-caliber receiver Brandon Marshall (who was Jay Cutler’s favorite target when the two were teammates in Denver), re-signed running back Matt Forté and added quality depth through free agency and the draft.