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Brady, Wake on my ballot for NFL's best

12/31/2010

I realize there's one game remaining on the schedule.

After four months of football, Week 17 shouldn't determine the year's best.

Many of the top teams will bench their players for significant portions -- if not all -- of the regular-season finales. There's a reason smart fantasy leagues held their Super Bowls last week.

So with that in mind and 2010 about to expire, here's my ballot for the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writers Association annual awards:

Overall NFL MVP: Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback. He's one of the greatest of all-time, and he's putting together one of the finest seasons of his career. You can argue he never has been better.

Offensive MVP: Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback. Some outlets will break up this award, listing different players for overall MVP and offensive or defensive MVP. In those instances, you'll probably see Brady for one and Michael Vick for the other. We don't do that here.

Defensive MVP: Julius Peppers, Bears defensive end. His sack numbers aren't inspiring, but his presence in Chicago's defense has forced other teams to game plan specifically to stop him, creating opportunities for teammates. He finished with eight sacks, three forced fumbles and 11 passes defensed. Nobody else among the top 85 sackers had more than eight passes defensed.

Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, Patriots. The Patriots revamped their offense, traded Randy Moss and used several rookies on defense. And they own the NFL's best record.

Comeback Player of the Year: E.J. Henderson, Vikings linebacker. Vick will be a popular choice here, but I have two problems with choosing him over Henderson: 1) Vick's off-field actions are what removed him from the game to begin with; 2) Vick played last year. Henderson wasn't supposed to return at all from a broken femur in December 2009. He amassed over 100 tackles and three interceptions with a titanium rod in his leg.

Overall NFL Rookie of the Year: Sam Bradford, Rams quarterback. You can't dispute his impact on the Rams. Even if they don't go to the playoffs, Bradford has played like a seasoned veteran and posted respectable stats despite a raggedy receiver corps.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sam Bradford, Rams quarterback. Same policy as noted above for offensive MVP.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, Lions defensive tackle. Some think he should be considered overall defensive player of the year. He has been that dominant.

Most Improved Player of the Year: Cameron Wake, Dolphins outside linebacker. Two months after being publicly ridiculed by then-teammate Joey Porter for not being good enough to take reps away from the veteran pass-rusher, Wake leads the NFL with 14 sacks. Porter has five for the Cardinals.

Executive of the Year: Scott Pioli, Chiefs general manager. He assembled a collection of coaches and players that quickly turned the Chiefs into a formidable franchise.

Assistant Coach of the Year: Charlie Weis, Chiefs offensive coordinator. His offense ranks ninth overall and first in rushing. He has put quarterback Matt Cassel in situations that make him look like a star.