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Inside the NFL: Handing out end-of-season awards

Now that we’ve reached the final week of the 2016 NFL regular season, it’s time to hand out some league superlatives.

Here are my choices (with midseason selections in parentheses):

Most Valuable Player

Tom Brady, QB, New England (Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta)

The Brady/Patriot haters will be quick to point out the team went 3-1 as he served the silly four-game suspension for #Deflategate. It’s a compelling argument, but it quickly loses steam when you see what Brady has done since his return. Working with new third, fourth, and fifth receivers and without tight end Rob Gronkowski for more than half the season, he managed to post his best completion percentage and passer rating since 2010, when he last was named MVP. He’s 39 years old and playing as well as at any point in a career that has well established him as the greatest quarterback and maybe player at any position in the history of the game. Others have had MVP-like seasons, but no one matches Brady for the overwhelming value he brings every time he steps onto the field.

Honorable mentions: Ryan; Derek Carr, QB, Oakland; Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas; Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay.

Offensive Player of the Year

Derek Carr, QB, Oakland (Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta)

I was tempted to give this to Brady as well, and there really wouldn’t be much to debate. I went with Carr because he has been so dynamic in leading an offense that must consistently produce points at a staggering rate to make up for one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The risk in giving Carr this or the MVP award – and he’s a leading candidate for both – is what happens now that Carr is sidelined with a broken leg and Matt McGloin is the Raiders’ starting quarterback. If McGloin performs spectacularly in Sunday’s season-finale against the Denver Broncos and/or the playoffs, opinions will suddenly shift from Carr being great to having great success in the Raiders’ offensive system while being surrounded by exceptional talent. That’s just how it works in football.

Honorable mentions: Brady, Ryan, Prescott; Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas.

Defensive Player of the Year

Khalil Mack, DE, Oakland (Von Miller, OLB, Denver)

The preseason favorite for this honor started slowly, but after about five games, he took off. In Week 6, Mack began an eight game-streak with at least one sack and forced five fumbles in a six-game stretch. It wasn’t long before the former University at Buffalo star made closing out victories with a strip-sack-recovery seem like an ordinary play. And he did all of this on an otherwise lousy defense, meaning opponents knew they could afford to pay the greatest amount of blocking attention to Mack. He’s also the most complete player at his position, showing every bit as much effectiveness against the run as he does getting after the quarterback.

Honorable mentions: Miller, Vic Beasley, OLB, Atlanta; Landon Collins, S, N.Y. Giants.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Two-way tie: Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas and Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas (Three-way tie: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia; Prescott and Elliott)

From start to finish, this has been a dead heat. Prescott is having an unprecedented season for a rookie quarterback. Brady is the only passer with a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than Prescott’s 23-4. He’s also on track to become the first rookie at his position to lead his team to a Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger came close with a 13-0 run in 2004, but the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing by more than 360 yards. He, too, has been a massive contributor to Prescott’s success and the Cowboys being the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Voters who only want to pick one are likely to choose Prescott, because the league has had rookie rushing leaders before. It has never had a rookie quarterback make it all the way to the game’s biggest stage.

Honorable mentions: No one else is worth mentioning.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego (Same)

He missed the first four games of the season due to a contract holdout. As if that weren’t tough enough, the Chargers moved him from outside linebacker to defensive end, and he still quickly established himself as one of the NFL’s best at his position. He is the epitome of a high-energy player, going full throttle on every snap. The Chargers haven’t had much to celebrate this season. They aren’t getting a new stadium, which means a move to Los Angeles, where the franchise began in the AFL, is looking like a foregone conclusion. Coach Mike McCoy is in danger of being fired. But at least they have Bosa, the reluctant Charger who turned out to be the best player on the team.

Honorable mention: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville; Leonard Floyd, OLB, Chicago; Deion Jones, LB, Atlanta.

Comeback Player of the Year

Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay (DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee)

When you go from missing all of last season because of major reconstructive knee surgery to leading the NFL in touchdown catches, your case for this honor is pretty open and shut. Early in the season, the Packers were happy to have the 31-year-old Nelson simply able to show his customary reliability in the red zone and as a possession target. However, since Week 8, he has been so much more with at least 91 receiving yards and a touchdown in nine consecutive games. With Nelson’s explosive contributions, Aaron Rodgers has led the Packers’ surge from being one of the NFL’s more disappointing teams to one of the hottest in the league.

Honorable mention: Murray; Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh.

Coach of the Year

Bill Belichick, New England (Same)

I’ll go back to what I said at midseason: The Patriots went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and third-string rookie Jacoby Brissett filling in for the greatest quarterback to ever walk the planet. Is there any additional support needed for Belichick to win this award? Okay, here’s another. He made his customary in-season move that caused head-scratching – trading linebacker Jaime Collins to Cleveland right after a big win against the Buffalo Bills – and then, with Collins proving to be nothing special for the Browns, many of us responded with the familiar, “Yup, Bill was ahead of the curve on another one.”

Honorable mentions: Jack Del Rio, Oakland; Jason Garrett, Dallas.

Executive of the Year

Jerry Reese, N.Y. Giants

He made an incredible rebound from the struggles that ultimately helped cause Tom Coughlin to lose his job as coach after the 2015 season. Reese’s own job was very much on the line entering the 2016 campaign, and he responded with a $200-million free-agent spending spree to improve a defense that was the third-worst in franchise history last year. Mission accomplished. The Giants rank 11th in total defense and are seventh against the run.

Honorable mentions: Jerry Jones, Dallas; Reggie McKenzie, Oakland; Jon Robinson, Tennessee.

Top Surprise Team

Atlanta (Same)

There was a lot of pressure on coach Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff to turn things around after last year’s 8-8 finish. They delivered with a 10-5 record, which is second-best in the NFC behind Dallas’ 13-2 mark. Dimitroff helped the offense tremendously by plucking arguably the NFL’s best center, Alex Mack, off the roster of the dreadful Cleveland Browns.

Top Disappointing Team

Carolina (Same)

It all fell apart early for the defending NFC champions and they never recovered.

Best moves

*The NFL taking a break from no-fun mode in Week 13 to allow players to decorate their cleats for a cause special to each of them, and then auction the shoes for charity.

*Jerry Jones resisting the temptation to replace Dak Prescott with Tony Romo once the veteran QB was healthy.

*The Titans allowing Mike Mularkey to go from interim head coach at the end of last season to full-time.

*The Raiders fortifying one of the very best offensive lines in the league with the addition of free-agent guard Kelechi Osemele from the Baltimore Ravens.

Worst moves

*The Houston Texans signing quarterback Brock Osweiler to an $18-million-per-year contract, then benching him for Tom Savage, who gets $600,000.

*The Bills painting themselves into a corner by signing quarterback Tyrod Taylor to a conditional contract extension last August that included an injury guarantee. Taylor looks to be headed for groin/sports hernia surgery, and his recovery figures to come close to conflicting with the March 11 deadline for the Bills to decide whether to pick up the option on a contract extension that would pay him more than $30 million. The smarter move would have been to allow Taylor to enter the season with one year left on his original deal, and if he put up spectacular numbers, work on an extension late in the year or after the season. Under the current circumstances, they could wind up letting him walk … provided they aren’t on the hook for a minimum of $27.5 million due to the injury guarantee.

*The Panthers not re-signing cornerback Josh Norman, who likely would have done more to help them than he did the Washington Redskins.

*Referee Walt Anderson showing why this should be his final season in zebra stripes. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he announced a false start against Tennessee in a game against Indianapolis as being on “everyone but the center,” he penalized Seattle’s Richard Sherman for only being offside when he should have been flagged for unnecessary roughness for blasting into kicker Dan Carpenter and forgetting to reset the game clock, resulting in a delay-of-game call against the Bills before Carpenter’s missed field-goal attempt from 54 yards.

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