Like everyone else in this business, we started the season with some predictions. In hindsight, some of them were downright prescient. Others, well ... that’s the tricky thing about predictions.
How were we supposed to know how the 2017 NFL season would play out? We didn’t have a crystal ball that could tell us Aaron Rodgers would break his collarbone or Dalvin Cook would blow out his knee. How were we to know that the Broncos’ defense would end up looking more like the Brock Osweiler-led offense? We probably should’ve know that the Browns wouldn’t make the playoffs; that’s a layup even for prognosticating.
The rule with predictions is that you have to circle back and hold yourself accountable. We’re doing that, and we’re also handing out some much deserved, indisputable awards in the process.
And for good measure, we added a few more.
Most Valuable Player
What we said then: Rodgers, Tom Brady and Dak Prescott all got votes. Brady will probably end up getting the award, again.
Antonio Brown. Tom Brady should and probably will be named NFL MVP, but if Antonio Brown (much like Carson Wentz) had been healthy, he would have had a good shot. Plus, receivers need love, and Brown is one of the best to ever do it. — Harry Lyles Jr.
Todd Gurley. Brady is probably going to win yet another Super Bowl, so let someone else have this one. Gurley had over 2,000 rushing and receiving yards combined, plus 19 total touchdowns for the Rams this season. He deserves it. - Jeanna Thomas
Tom Brady. You’re sick of him and want some new blood, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that he’s still schooling everyone. He led the league in passing, posted a passer rating over 100 for the sixth time in his career, and got the Patriots to the Super Bowl yet again. — Adam Stites
Most improved player
What we said then: Austin Hooper (what??), Grady Jarrett (what??) and Jared Goff. It’s tough to argue with Goff, who unfairly got hit with the bust label before camp started. All it took was firing Jeff Fisher.
Jared Goff. It’s incredible what getting rid of Jeff Fisher will do for a guy. — Harry Lyles Jr.
Jared Goff. He showed everyone that the Rams were absolutely right to take him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2016. — Jeanna Thomas
Jared Goff. It’s unanimous. Launching your touchdown total from five to 28 while throwing the same amount of interceptions will do that for you. — Adam Stites
Rookie who made the biggest impact
What we said then: The Vikings offense could have really been something with Dalvin Cook, but we’ll have to wait till next season to find out what. Myles Garrett’s debut season wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t ROY quality. The same can be said for Christian McCaffrey.
Alvin Kamara. The Saints offense crumbled without him when he went down with a concussion against the Falcons. He helped the Saints transform their identity on offense and will likely extend Drew Brees’ career. — Harry Lyles Jr.
Alvin Kamara. He didn’t just have one of the most impressive seasons of any running back in the league — he also forced the Saints to change their entire offensive philosophy. His presence as both a runner and receiver took the pressure from Drew Brees’ still-capable shoulders and turned Sean Payton’s game plan from a bombastic aerial attack to a more balanced run/pass timeshare. While Brees threw for fewer yards than he had in a single season since 2005, the Saints broke out of their 7-9 purgatory thanks to Kamara’s 1,554 yards from scrimmage, his 14 total touchdowns, and the league’s No. 6-ranked rushing offense. — Christian D’Andrea
Alvin Kamara. Sean Payton said it best: “Look, if we had known what we were going to get as a runner, we wouldn’t have taken him in the third round. We would’ve taken him earlier.” — Jeanna Thomas
Marshon Lattimore. Kamara wasn’t the only one who reshaped the Saints in 2017. The team’s first-round pick helped them make the kind of strides on defense that made the Saints a legitimate contender in the NFC. He shut down receivers on a weekly basis and instantly established himself as one of the league’s top cornerbacks. — Adam Stites
Rookie who came out of nowhere
What we said then: Samaje Perine’s rookie season was forgettable. Chris Godwin had a strong finish to the season with 209 yards and a touchdown in his last two games. Chris Carson broke his ankle in Week 4.
Kareem Hunt. This might be the hardest one to pick. Between Hunt, Alvin Kamara, and Tarik Cohen, there were some nice surprises this season. We’re lucky we get to watch these guys for a long time coming. — Harry Lyles Jr.
Tarik Cohen wasn’t supposed to see much playing time in 2017. Not only was the diminutive tailback making the massive leap from FCS North Carolina A&T to the NFL, but he was also saddled behind 2016’s breakout rookie, Jordan Howard, in the Bears’ backfield.
But Cohen proved too good to ignore, pairing with Howard in a platoon that was the only threatening thing about Chicago’s otherwise woeful 2017. The man known as “the human joystick” torched defenses with his waterbug lateral quickness, reversing field to leave linebackers in his wake and giving Bears fans a brighter silver lining in a lost season. — Christian D’Andrea
Alvin Kamara. He split carries at Tennessee with Jalen Hurd, and he just wasn’t as high-profile a prospect as Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette. But the former third-rounder should be the offensive rookie of the year. — Jeanna Thomas
Kareem Hunt. Kamara’s emergence as one of the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapons was impressive, but he cut his teeth at Tennessee before coming to the NFL. Hunt was a much more unknown prospect from Toledo who exploded onto the scene and finished with the NFL rushing title as a rookie. — Adam Stites
Team that most regretted not signing Kaepernick
What we said then: We were 100 percent on the money with this prediction, a unanimous pick for the Jaguars. They were four points away from beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship but hamstrung by Blake Bortles. We’d be talking about a Jaguars Super Bowl appearance right now if they’d signed Kaepernick.
Denver Broncos. Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler couldn’t do anything, to be quite plain. With the NFL’s third best defense and a 5-11 season? That’s awful. — Harry Lyles Jr.
Denver Broncos. The quarterback position is the reason they lost 11 games. If they’d signed Kaepernick, this might not have been yet another wasted year in Denver. — Jeanna Thomas
Houston Texans. Three of the four games the Texans won came with Deshaun Watson under center. Tom Savage went 1-6 as a starter, and T.J. Yates went 0-3. It’s anyone’s guess how Kaepernick could’ve played if signed at the beginning of November when Watson’s season ended. But making the playoffs in the AFC wasn’t a stretch when the Texans were 3-4 at the time. Instead the team turned the ball over in 15 of 16 games and wasted DeAndre Hopkins yet again. — Adam Stites
Playoff team nobody predicted
Buffalo Bills. The Jaguars seems like the easy answer here, but we can’t forget that everybody was talking about the Bills tanking at the beginning of the year. They didn’t make any noise in the postseason, but that drought is now dead. — Harry Lyles Jr.
Buffalo Bills. It was the first time in a regular season that started with 20- that the Bills qualified for the postseason. Fans were so happy, they donated tens of thousands of dollars to Andy Dalton’s foundation as a thank you for beating the Ravens in Week 17. It turns out winning gives fans in Western New York something to do besides throw each other through flaming tables. — Christian D’Andrea
Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, the Bills were a surprise, too. But I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the Jaguars won a total of 14 games over nearly four full seasons with Gus Bradley and then finished 10-6 and made it to the AFC Championship Game this year. Plus, they did all of that with Blake Bortles as their starting quarterback. — Jeanna Thomas
Buffalo Bills. The Bills’ 2017 season started with the team trading away Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby in August. It finished the year No. 29 in total offense and No. 26 in total defense, but they somehow found a way to win nine games and that was enough. Even after making the playoffs, there probably won’t be many predicting they make the cut in 2018 either. — Adam Stites
Team that didn’t come close to meeting expectations
Oakland Raiders. This was my pick in the preseason, and it came true. Though to be fair, I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. But now we get to have some fun with Jon Gruden! — Harry Lyles Jr.
The Miami Dolphins rode to an unexpected playoff spot last fall thanks to a soft schedule and a furious rally through the second half of the season. A deeper look at their schedule turned up only one win over a quality team (the Steelers, who kept an injured Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup for entirely too long) and blowout defeats to middling franchises like the Ravens, Bengals, and Titans.
The other shoe dropped in 2017, first with the loss of quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a season-ending knee injury, and then with a 6-10 campaign that returned Miami to the status quo. Even worse — the club spent $10 million to bring Jay Cutler out of retirement just to get there. — Christian D’Andrea
Dallas Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension and a rash of injuries kept the Cowboys from replicating their success from 2016. — Jeanna Thomas
Denver Broncos. The defense was still good, and expectations went through the roof when Trevor Siemian started the season strong to lead the Broncos to a 3-1 start. And then the wheels fell off. — Adam Stites
Most overrated player
What we said then: Drew Brees, lol nope! Derrick Henry was actually the Titans’ most effective runner this year.
Eli Manning gets the award. It was stupid for former Giants coach Ben McAdoo to bench him, mostly because of the way he handled it and the fact that he didn’t have a better option to replace him with. But we’re still operating under the illusion that Manning can carry a franchise at 37. — Ryan Van Bibber
Team who will stop the Patriots
What we said then: The Falcons got two votes. Father Time got the other. Whoops.
The Eagles? Maybe?
Hoss of the Year
Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White celebrated a lot of pass rushers this season, but Jaguars DL Calais Campbell took home the award for Hoss of the Year.
Most disrespectful NFL offensive lineman
And we mean disrespectful in a good way — the pancake way. Retired NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz has been highlighting the league’s best blocks all season. However, we’ve got a tie for the best blocker, and we need you help to pick the winner between Kelechi Osemele, left guard for the Oakland Raiders, and Washington right guard Brandon Scherff. Go watch the video and vote!
And the NFL’s most disrespectful blocker of the season is ...
This poll is closed
Kelechi Osemele, Oakland
Brandon Scherff, Washington
First player fined for celebrating
What we said then: DeSean Jackson and Josh Norman didn’t have much to celebrate this season.
The first player to get fined was none other than Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs. He honored Randy Moss with a touchdown celebration (not THAT one) against the Saints in Week 2. Then he punted the ball into the stands, which is still a no-no in the NFL.
But the best celebration that a player got fined for came from Odell Beckham Jr. in Week 3 against the Eagles:
He had a good reason for it though. It was a reference to Donald Trump’s comments on Friday, Sept. 22, two days before the game, when he blew a dog whistle for a ravenous crowd at a rally for the Alabama Senate election and referred to peacefully protesting players as a “son of a bitch.”
After that, Beckham stood in the end zone with a raised fist.
Most valuable punter
What we said then: Marquette King couldn’t help the Raiders overcome a myriad other problems. Rams punter Johnny Hekker, on the other hand, helped his team turn in one of the best special teams performances of the season, constantly setting the Rams up with great field position.
New Orleans’ upgraded offense offered Thomas Morstead just 60 punts in the 2017 regular season, but the veteran answered with top 10 performances in average distance and net distance. However, it’s what he did on and off the field that makes him an MVP among punters.
Morstead played through the NFC Divisional Playoff against Minnesota despite a rib injury that left him writhing after each kick. He was also one of only eight Saints to return to the field for a meaningless extra point after the Minnesota Miracle eliminated New Orleans from the playoffs. That effort wasn’t lost on Vikings fans — they raised more than $200,000 for Morstead’s charitable foundation in the days after the game. — Christian D’Andrea
Best/biggest trash talker
In a year where Richard Sherman was sidelined by a torn Achilles tendon, he may have passed on his mantle as the league’s eminent trash talker/backer-upper to another elite cornerback — Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey powered his underdog Jaguars to an AFC South title, but he didn’t just let his play do the talking.
His chatter on and off the field led The Washington Post to label him as a “trash-talking villain.” He goaded Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green into an altercation that ended with Ramsey in a choke hold and both players, somehow, getting ejected from the game:
He even got into it with Tom Brady before the AFC Championship Game, just a few days after guaranteeing a Jaguars win in the Super Bowl. That last one didn’t quite work out. — Christian D’Andrea
Jalen Ramsey. He started trash talking Aaron Rodgers after his first game as a pro, and he hasn’t slowed down. Ramsey’s a big part of the reason the hatin’-ass Jaguars were so much fun to watch this year. — Jeanna Thomas
Biggest gut-punch injury?
Deshaun Watson’s season-ending injury robbed the NFL of one of its most exciting young playmakers, but it was just the tip of the iceberg that tore a hole in Bill O’Brien’s ship. Houston would lose important playmakers like J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, and D’Onta Foreman throughout a lost season, effectively dooming them to the bottom of a winnable AFC South.
So I’ll cheat and just say the entire Texans IR list — a series of injuries that doesn’t even come with a silver lining because the team’s 2018 first round draft pick will go to the Browns. — Christian D’Andrea
Definitely Deshaun Watson’s torn ACL. Watson gave us some thrilling performances in his rookie season, and he gave the Texans a glimmer of hope at quarterback — something the team has desperately lacked. That one stung. But at least he’ll be back for next season. — Jeanna Thomas
Most cursed team?
It’s the Browns. It’s always the Browns. They just went 0-16 and RETAINED Hue Jackson, who is a historically inept 1-31 as an NFL head coach.
It’s the Browns. Good lord, is it the Browns. — Christian D’Andrea
Cleveland Browns. There’s only one possible answer to this question. It’s the Browns, bless their hearts. — Jeanna Thomas