Before the season gets started, let’s forecast the top candidate in the division for each of the big postseason awards:
MVP: Houston running back Arian Foster is the most likely candidate for MVP out of the AFC South. He can have a fantastic year, however, and still lose out to Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning or another quarterback if they have a storybook season. But Foster is capable of posting big numbers on the ground and after the catch, he’s got a personality that will draw him additional attention, and if the Texans win the division with Foster as the centerpiece of a productive offense, he should at least get consideration.
Offensive player of the year: It always seems like a redundant spot that’s either won by the MVP or given to the best stat guy who’s not the MVP. So Foster’s got the best chance here.
Defensive player of the year: It’s hard for a defensive back to win it, so I will move off of Johnathan Joseph to his teammate, Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing. While he tends to be banged up and miss practices, he shows up on Sundays and thrived in his first season in Wade Phillips’ defense. I expect he’ll build on that and be a major playmaker on a playmaking defense. The Texans judged him to be their team MVP last season. If we get more of the same, he should get consideration here, though he won’t have the sort of sack or interception numbers that voters can hang their hats on.
Offensive rookie of the year: If Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stays on his current growth curve, he’ll be the front-runner for this award. I envision Cleveland running back Trent Richardson as Luck’s primary competition. But the hype coming in will help make Luck the favorite here if he plays close to that billing, and I expect he will.
Defensive rookie of the year: If Jacksonville defensive end Andre Branch debuted with a double-digit sack season, he’d have to be in the conversation for this one. Such production would likely mean the Jaguars are playing beyond general expectations, so attention will come.
Coach of the year: Gary Kubiak was worthy of votes last year but it was hard to argue against winner Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. The award typically goes to a coach who leads a team to success out of nowhere. So maybe Mike Mularkey would be the better choice here -- if the Jaguars make a big jump in his first season he’s more the kind of guy voters look to than Kubiak, who’s expected to lead his team to a second division title in a row.