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NFL Nation game balls: Every team's regular-season MVP

NFL Nation team reporters award their season game balls to a player, coach or unit.


BILLS 22, JETS 17 | ANALYSISVideo

Richie Incognito. This wasn't an easy choice. Despite the fact that running back LeSean McCoy earned the Bills' only Pro Bowl nod, there wasn't a clear-cut choice as the best player on the team. Incognito deserves credit for re-emerging as one of the NFL's best guards -- he entered the final week of the season ranked second at his position by Pro Football Focus -- after more than a year away from the game. He made left tackle Cordy Glenn, center Eric Wood and the Bills' top-ranked running game better. -- Mike Rodak

Brandon Marshall. It’s a tough call between Marshall and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Marshall delivered arguably the most prolific season for a wide receiver in team history, finishing with 109 catches for 1,502 yards and 14 touchdowns. After a midseason swoon, Marshall became a dominant player down the stretch. And to think, it cost the Jets only a fifth-round pick to steal him from the Bears. -- Rich Cimini


DOLPHINS 20, PATRIOTS 10 | ANALYSISVideo

Tom Brady. He did more with less, throwing for more than 4,000 yards for the fifth consecutive season, and has been in the MVP conversation all season. Brady has overcome injuries to several of his offensive linemen, tight end Rob Gronkowski, running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Imagine if all of those key offensive players would have been healthy. -- Mike Reiss

Jarvis Landry. He took a big step forward in his second year, becoming the first player in franchise history to surpass 100 receptions and 1,000 yards in the same season. Landry is a player Miami needs to build around. He works hard, is tough and gets the most out of his talent. He finished the season with 110 receptions for 1,159 yards and four touchdowns. -- James Walker


SAINTS 20, FALCONS 17 | ANALYSISVideo

Drew Brees. So much for Brees starting to wear down. He had a better season at age 36 than he did at age 35, proving he's still among the game's elite. He threw a career-high seven touchdown passes in a win over the Giants and he combined for 771 yards, five TDs and no interceptions in the two games when he was questionable to play because of shoulder and foot injuries. He finished with 4,870 yards, 32 TD passes and 11 picks. -- Mike Triplett

Julio Jones. He established franchise records in both catches (136) and yards (1,871). He posted his third 1,000-yard receiving season in his fifth year while surpassing 100 catches for the second consecutive year. His acrobatic, 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown over the top of Luke Kuechly in an upset of the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 will go down as one of the top plays of the season. -- Vaughn McClure


BENGALS 24, RAVENS 16

Kamar Aiken. In a Ravens season defined by injuries -- 20 players on injured reserve -- no one stepped up more than Aiken. He went from a journeyman receiver who didn't have a catch in his first three seasons to being Baltimore's go-to target in the second half of the season. Aiken ranks in the top 15 in the NFL in receptions (75), receiving yards (944) and first downs since Steve Smith went on injured reserve. Plus, Aiken has performed at a high level despite catching passes from four different starting quarterbacks (Joe Flacco, Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen and Ryan Mallett). -- Jamison Hensley

Andy Dalton. Arguably the most criticized of the quarterbacks to make repeat playoff appearances over the past four seasons, Dalton had the NFL singing his praises this year. At one point, he was even a legitimate MVP candidate. While his regular season finished earlier than he had hoped because of a Week 14 thumb injury, he still had more touchdowns passes (25) than he had the year before (17). Dalton also set career highs in yards per passing attempt (8.4), passer rating (106.2) and Total QBR (73.1). Defensive tackle Geno Atkins made a compelling case for the Bengals’ season game ball, but Dalton’s rather unexpected contributions had a greater overall impact. -- Coley Harvey


STEELERS 28, BROWNS 12 | ANALYSISVideo

Antonio Brown. This call was harder than it would seem. Ben Roethlisberger makes this team go, but the four missed games hurt his case, fair or not. DeAngelo Williams was excellent. But Brown had a historic year. At times, he would take over entire games (see: Denver). Hard to argue with 136 catches, 1,834 yards and 11 total touchdowns. -- Jeremy Fowler

Gary Barnidge. Barnidge took over at tight end and had a banner year not just for himself, but for Browns tight ends. He finished with 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns. The nine TDs ties a team record for tight ends, and the 1,000-yard season makes him only the third Browns tight end to reach that milestone, joining Ozzie Newsome and Kellen Winslow Jr. -- Pat McManamon


TEXANS 20, JAGUARS 6 | ANALYSISVideo

Blake Bortles. Nobody was quite sure what to expect out of Bortles in his second season. The Jaguars hoped he would make progress from a rookie season in which he threw 11 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions and at times looked lost and confused. But 35 touchdown passes and 4,428 yards, both of which are single-season franchise records, is well beyond what anyone could have expected. His completion percentage needs work and he still makes some questionable throws, but it’s clear that the Jaguars have found their franchise quarterback. -- Michael DiRocco

DeAndre Hopkins. Each of the Texans' four quarterbacks have had the pleasure of throwing the ball to Hopkins, who established himself as an elite receiver this season. It wasn’t always perfect, but without Hopkins, the Texans' season would have gone differently. The touchdown throw T.J. Yates made to Hopkins against the Cincinnati Bengals wasn’t one most receivers would catch. Without it, the Texans don’t win that game. Without Hopkins’ thorough domination of Darrelle Revis, the Texans probably don’t beat the Jets. Those were two critical wins for the Texans’ playoff hopes. Hopkins rightfully made his first Pro Bowl in his third season with 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. -- Tania Ganguli


COLTS 30, TITANS 24 | ANALYSISVideo

Delanie Walker. In terms of production, no one on the Titans came close to Walker. He finished with 94 catches for 1,088 yards, becoming the first tight end in franchise history to top 1,000. Defenses knew Titans quarterbacks would regularly look to him most often and still struggled to slow him down. He’s the team’s MVP by a wide margin. -- Paul Kuharsky

Matt Hasselbeck. The Colts entered this season with a franchise quarterback, a $65 million receiver and a running back who had rushed for at least 1,000 yards in eight of his first 10 seasons. And the game ball for the season goes to the 40-year-old backup quarterback. Hasselbeck proved age really is just a number when he stepped in for the injured Andrew Luck and went 5-3 as a starter. Hasselbeck was one of the feel-good stories of the NFL when he won his first four starts. Hasselbeck, whose season ended early because of a right shoulder injury, finished 156-of-256 for 1,690 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. -- Mike Wells


REDSKINS 34, COWBOYS 23 | ANALYSISVideo

Kirk Cousins. Make no mistake that Cousins has terrific weapons around him, especially tight end Jordan Reed and receiver DeSean Jackson. But Cousins’ performance has improved throughout the second half and is a major reason for the Redskins’ NFC East title. Cousins threw for a club record 4,166 yards, with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He settled the team after coach Jay Gruden inserted him into the starting lineup before the season. -- John Keim

DeMarcus Lawrence. The Cowboys had high hopes for Lawrence entering 2015 after he ended his rookie season in 2014 with two sacks during their playoff run. But Lawrence had to get accustomed to playing left defensive end after playing on the right side in 2014. Lawrence led the Cowboys with eight sacks and has shown he will be a building block for the future. Not much went right for the Cowboys in 2015, but Lawrence’s development can be viewed as a positive. --Todd Archer


EAGLES 35, GIANTS 30 | ANALYSISVideo

Sam Bradford. Bradford learned a new offense while returning from ACL surgery. Working without elite wide receivers and behind a problematic offensive line, he improved as the season went on and gave the Eagles a chance. He finished with 3,725 yards passing and 19 touchdowns. -- Phil Sheridan

Eli Manning. There were only two choices here, and Odell Beckham Jr.'s Week 15 meltdown and subsequent suspension made it easy to hand this to Manning, who started all 16 games for the 11th season in a row and threw for 4,436 yards and a career-high 35 touchdowns. In his second season in Ben McAdoo's offense, and with so much falling apart around him, Manning was, for the most part, the reliable rock the Giants pay him to be. -- Dan Graziano


LIONS 24, BEARS 20 | ANALYSISVideo

Ezekiel Ansah. He had a breakout season and has been one of the most consistent players on a very inconsistent Detroit Lions team. He is also one player who announced his set goals before the season (double-digit sacks) and then reached it with a team-high 14.5 sacks. He also forced four fumbles, recovered two and did most of his work while facing double-teams once reserved for Ndamukong Suh. Ansah, the team’s first-round pick in 2013, is a budding star in the NFL. He made his first Pro Bowl and should receive All-Pro honors. He, along with Darius Slay and DeAndre Levy, are the future of Detroit’s defense. -- Mike Rothstein

Jay Cutler. Amazing, right? Cutler has arguably made the most progress of any player since the end of last year. Not only does Cutler have the highest QB rating of his career, but he has dramatically cut down on turnovers. Cutler has been a model of consistency under offensive coordinator Adam Gase, finishing with 21 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions. -- Jeff Dickerson


PANTHERS 38, BUCCANEERS 10 | ANALYSISVideo

Jameis Winston. The No. 1 overall draft pick performed like the team expected him to. He not only set the team's rookie marks for passing yards (4,042) and touchdowns (22), he also has the franchise mark for rushing TDs (six) by a rookie quarterback. Winston did more than just help the team win four more games than last season, he also provided the organization and franchise hope for the future. -- Rick Brown

Cam Newton. He's the best player on the team with the best record in the NFL. He threw a career-best 35 touchdown passes and a career-low 10 interceptions, and he ran for 10 scores. He's likely to be named the NFL MVP. As he has in the past, he celebrated TDs with a Superman move. This season he also played like Superman. -- David Newton


CHIEFS 23, RAIDERS 17 | ANALYSISVideo

Khalil Mack. He had only four sacks during his rookie season coming out of the University of Buffalo. The learning curve in the NFL is high but he seems to have made a big jump in his sophomore season. Mack more than tripled his sack total this season with 15, including five in a win at Denver. Mack, a candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has also been outstanding against the run and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the top edge-run defender by a large margin. -- ESPN.com staff

Marcus Peters. He had eight interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. The rookie has transformed the Kansas City defense, which last season had six interceptions and picked off 22 this season. -- Adam Teicher


BRONCOS 27, CHARGERS 20 | ANALYSISVideo

Philip Rivers. Even though he did not have much help on offense, Rivers still had one of his best seasons statistically for the Chargers. He led the NFL in passing attempts (661) and completions (437), and finished second in passing yards (4,792). The Chargers had no running game and played with a makeshift offensive line for most of the season, but Rivers still put up big numbers, finishing 10 yards short of the single-season franchise record of 4,802 passing yards by Dan Fouts in 1981. -- Eric Williams

Defense. Heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale, the team had eight wins by a touchdown or less, the defense had five touchdowns, four Pro Bowl selections and a significant impact in all of the team’s wins. And, for the first time in the franchise’s history, the Broncos finished a season with the league’s No. 1 defense. -- Jeff Legwold


SEAHAWKS 36, CARDINALS 6 | ANALYSISVideo

Russell Wilson. He took another major step in his development, and that’s the most important thing that has happened with the Seahawks this season. Wilson’s passer rating of 110.1 is tops in the NFL. He completed 68.1 percent of his passes, averaged 8.3 yards per attempt and tossed 34 touchdowns against eight interceptions. He can beat defenses in multiple ways, has never missed a game or a practice and is only 27 years old. Wilson will give the Seahawks a chance to compete for championships for years to come. -- Sheil Kapadia

Carson Palmer. He has had an MVP-caliber campaign coming off an ACL injury that ended his 2014 season. He has thrown for 4,671 yards 35 touchdowns -- both career highs. -- Josh Weinfuss


49ERS 19, RAMS 16, OT | ANALYSISVideo

Aaron Donald. In just his second year, Donald has emerged as one of the most disruptive forces in football. From his position on the interior of the defensive line, Donald finished with 11 sacks and consistently ruined offensive game plans. He might not win the award but Donald is in the mix to be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year and is clearly the Rams' best player. -- Nick Wagoner

Phil Dawson. Yes, I know how inspiring NaVorro Bowman’s comeback from that gruesome left injury suffered in the 2013 season NFC title game was after missing all of last season recovering. But when you talk about consistency and production, it is Dawson who deserves the game ball for the 2015 season. And sure, a place-kicker being feted speaks volumes for how poorly the season went for the Niners but, as is the locker-room vernacular, it is what it is. Besides, Dawson was 24-of-27 (4-of-4 against Rams), with two of his misses being blocked, and he was perfect on the new, longer-distance PATs. He also made 19 consecutive field goals at one point, the second-longest such streak in franchise history. -- Paul Gutierrez


VIKINGS 20, PACKERS 13

Adrian Peterson. He’s came back and carried the Vikings’ offense, and he became the third running back in NFL history to win the rushing title over the age of 30. The Vikings wouldn’t be where they are if not for Peterson, who finished with 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns. A year after his suspension, he’s once again become the team’s franchise player. -- Ben Goessling

Aaron Rodgers. Early on, we were talking about Rodgers for another NFL MVP award. But after a 6-0 start, the loss of receiver Jordy Nelson finally caught up to him. Even without a legitimate deep threat receiver, Rodgers put up numbers (3,821 yards passing, 31 TD passes) -- and more importantly wins -- that most quarterbacks would be envious of in leading the Packers to a seventh consecutive playoff berth. -- Rob Demovsky