This is an obviously straightforward topic, so I'm just going to dive right into it, mixing in traditional awards with more fun options to keep things interesting....
Most Valuable Player - Philip Rivers - Quarterback - San Diego Chargers
As you'll see in my forthcoming AFC preview, I really like the Chargers this season. I like them because of Philip Rivers. Throwing to guys like Seyi Ajirotutu, Craig Davis, and Legedu Naanee for most of the season, Rivers still managed to throw for 4710 yards, leading the league in both total yards and yards per attempt. He should have Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd back for most of the year this year at receiver, and hopefully get a full season out of Antonio Gates. If he has his receivers, he'll cruise to another passing title, and the defense should be good but not great, so Rivers will get enough of the credit to win the MVP.
Dark Horse Candidate - Peyton Manning - If Manning were to come back to the 0-4 Colts in week five and carry the Colts into the playoffs, he is obviously the most valuable player in the league.
Most Valuable Fantasy Player - Malcom Floyd - Wide Receiver - San Diego Chargers
Note that this award is not the best fantasy player award, but rather the most valuable. While Arian Foster might once again lead the league in fantasy points, he won't be among the most valuable fantasy players again because you'll be drafting him in the top of first round this season instead of the fifth or sixth round. And while Michael Vick was the most valuable fantasy player last year, he was a free agent pickup who got a chance due to injury... Injuries are impossible to forecast. That's why I'm going with Malcom Floyd. He's being drafted in the eleventh round right now, 35th among receivers, but has the potential to easily be a top ten or fifteen receivers. He had 498 yards and three touchdowns in just five games before injuring his hamstring last season. If he had kept that up all season he would have been the best fantasy receiver in the whole league last year. Vincent Jackson is back, which should hurt his stats some, but he is still being far undervalued in fantasy drafts. The Chargers are going to be a top five passing offense this year, and Floyd is going to be a huge part of that. He will win someone's fantasy league this season for them.
Dark Horse Candidate - Willis McGahee - John Fox is going to run the ball plenty in Denver this season, and if he lets Willis get the majority of those carries he is going to far exceed his his current twelfth round draft spot.
Least Valuable Player - Mark Sanchez - Quarterback - New York Jets
I'm not saying Sanchez is going to be the worst player in the league, that would just be stupid to say. I am saying, however, that he is going to do more damage to his team's playoff hopes than any other player. The team and coaching staff around him are very solid and this is a team that could be a serious contender if they were going to be getting solid play from their quarterback position. Instead they'll get another year of Sanchez. In a well designed offense with a strong supporting cast, Sanchez managed to throw just 17 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions while completing just 54.8% of his passes. While that doesn't seem too bad, according to Football Oustiders Sanchez also threw a league leading 15 dropped interceptions last season, six more than second place Carson Palmer. More of those picks will be caught than dropped this season, and Sanchez will ruin an otherwise good team's playoff changes.
Dark Horse Candidate - Tarvaris Jackson - I'm not sure if most of Seattle's free agent additions the last two years have been inspired or awful, but i know the Jackson signing was awful, and he might taint the rest of those signings all on his own.
Least Valuable Fantasy Player - Michael Vick - Quarterback - Philadelphia Eagles
I've already written two thousand words on why I'm down on Vick this season for fantasy reasons, so I'm not going to restate all of that here. Instead I'm just going to use this space to let everyone know that I'll have weekly positional fantasy rankings coming out soon here on the site. Look for them late Wednesday or early Thursday.
Dark Horse Candidate - Arian Foster - I really don't think it will be a problem, but if his hamstring injury does happen to linger all season it will both ruin your team and your confidence, because the red flag was obvious when you drafted him.
Offensive Player - Arian Foster - Running Back - Houston Texans
In my opinion, why have separate MVP and offensive player awards if you are not going to award them to different players. While Rivers is sure to be the most valuable player, I think Foster is going to be the best offensive player. He is going to continue be the best running back in the league as long as his hamstring doesn't slow him down and will get plenty of work this year as the Texans make a run at the wide open AFC South. Don't let the loss of Vonta Leach worry you. Football Outsiders found that the Texans were the best running team in the league last year from a one-back formation, so they were better when Leach was off the field.
Dark Horse Candidate - Adrian Peterson - With fewer passing options, Peterson might see even more carries this year. He's already been successful against eight-man fronts throughout his career, and if his carry totals go up, he might go for 2000 yards.
Defensive Player - Cameron Wake - Outside Linebacker - Miami Dolphins
Wake was quietly amazing for the Dolphins last season, picking up 14.5 sacks in his second year in the NFL without much other pass rushing talent around him. Now Koa Misi is entering his second year in the league splitting time with a returning Jason Taylor across from Wake in Miami's 3-4 defense. If they get a good rush going across from Wake, he should be able to get it up over 18 sacks and pick up a few forced fumbles or interceptions this season and become the surprise defensive player of the year.
Dark Horse Candidate - Justin Tuck - He's less likely than Wake to win because he'll have less tackles and interceptions, but he'll be even better against the run as he works his way towards similar sack numbers.
Special Teams Player - Rob Bironas - Kicker - Tennessee Titans
This is a rules change caused win for Bironas. Return men are going to be marginalized some this year with the rule change moving kickoffs to the 35, so their stats won't be as impressive this season. Meanwhile, Bironas has one of the strongest legs in the league and will boot even more touchbacks than ever this season with kickoffs moved up. He's also the most fourth most accurate kicker in league history, and should continue to contribute great kicking numbers.
Dark Horse Candidate - Josh Cribbs - Maybe the kickoff rule changes don't prove to costly, and Cribbs does enough on punt returns to give him a great season.
Comeback Player - Tony Romo - Quarterback - Dallas Cowboys
I'm not a fan him, but there is little doubt in my mind that Romo will win the comeback player award this year. He's one of the only guys eligible that play the prime position of quarterback, and Matthew Stafford is more of a show up player than a comeback player. He's in a solid offense and should have no problem getting over 4000 yards and easily winning the Comeback Player award.
Dark Horse Candidate - Elvis Dumervil - Only three defensive players have won this award since 1972, so it's unlikely that Dumervil can win, but a guy who has a 17 sack season potential can't be ignored.
Offensive Rookie - Julio Jones - Wide Receiver - Atlanta Falcons
Jones has impressed both in camp and in the preseason games early and is in the right situation to walk away with the rookie of the year honors this season. The offense was great last year and needed a deep threat, and Jones should step right in and fill that role. He'll get plenty of looks from Matt Ryan and has all the skill to turn those targets into production.
Dark Horse Candidate - Andy Dalton - He looked good in the team's third preseason game, and will probably end the year with better stats than Cam Newton of the rookie quarterbacks. That might be enough to win him the honors.
Defensive Rookie - Von Miller - Linebacker - Denver Broncos
Just like with Jones, there has been nothing but good vibes coming out about Von Miller for this season. He should have no problem racking up a bunch of sacks this season pressuring from the edge and could win the defensive rookie of the year in a total blow out.
Dark Horse Candidate - Greg Jones - With Jonathan Goff out for the season, Greg Jones is on track to start for the Giants at middle linebacker opening day. If he performs well on Sunday, he could end up holding onto the job all season and racking up tackles in bunches.
And that's it for the awards. Look for NFC and AFC playoff predictions over the next two days, along with fantasy rankings and a prediction for the Packers-Saints Thursday night game.
-Fred "Big Derf" Tobin