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Friday, January 31, 2014
Projecting winners at the NFL honors

By Nick Wagoner

ST. LOUIS -- Each week throughout the playoffs, we've used this space to offer what I like to call "predictions you didn't ask for" at the end of each playoff notes post.

There, we've made some predictions for each weekend of games. Today, we're going to offer up a Super (pun intended) sized version with predictions for all that is about to take place this weekend. Some will involve the St. Louis Rams, some will not. If nothing else, think of this as an opportunity to come back later and tell me how terrible I am as a prognosticator.

So without further ado, here are my predictions for Saturday night's NFL honors and the 2014 Hall of Fame class. I'll spare you any thoughts on what designer each player is going to wear.

Robert Quinn
Robert Quinn forced seven fumbles and had 19 sacks this season.
Defensive Player of the Year: The award most worth watching for Rams fans as defensive end Robert Quinn is part of a crowded field vying to take home the big prize. Strong cases can be made for Quinn, Indianapolis linebacker Robert Mathis, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, Seattle safety Earl Thomas, San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman, Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly and others.

Should win: Quinn. In the the voting we did at the Pro Football Writers of America, I cast my vote here and I see no reason to change. Quinn posted his numbers despite rarely playing with a lead and was able to single-handedly alter the way games went. His 19 sacks and seven forced fumbles speak for themselves but his run defense was above average as well.

Will win: Mathis. This is going to be a tough one to call because there are so many players with a strong case to be made. When in doubt, I'll err on the side of the guy who led the league in sacks. Make no mistake, Mathis is deserving, piling up his statistics on a defense without any other consistent pass rush threats.

Offensive Player of the Year: This award can sometimes throw people for a loop because voters like to separate it from the MVP. That means someone like Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles or Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy could spring an upset win instead of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

Should win: Manning. He set nearly every major season record for a passer and led the most prolific offense in league history.

Will win: Manning. If voters don't want to double down on Manning with MVP, perhaps they go elsewhere but this should be a no-brainer.

Comeback Player of the Year: Confusion usually surrounds this award because the criteria can allow for it to go to a player coming back from injury, bouncing back from a bad season or both. As such, the candidates are all over the place but Miami cornerback Brent Grimes, Tampa cornerback Darrelle Revis, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, Buffalo running back Fred Jackson, Denver running back Knowshon Moreno and others.

Should win: Jackson. At 32, Jackson is coming off an injury that cost him six games in 2012 and many expected C.J. Spiller to take the bulk of the work. Instead, Jackson posted 1,277 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. Not many 32-year old running backs coming off injury produce at that level.

Will win: Rivers. Quarterbacks seem to take precedence in these awards and Rivers had a strong bounce back season after a rough 2012 year. I prefer to see players coming off true hardship like injury win this award but since the criteria is open to interpretation, Rivers has a great shot to win.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Rams fans would like to see running back Zac Stacy in the mix here but it's almost certainly a two-horse race between Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy and San Diego receiver Keenan Allen to win it.

Should win: Allen. It's not easy for rookie receivers to come in and have the type of impact Allen did but if you want to find the biggest reason Rivers "bounced back" this year, here he is.

Will win: Lacy. Without the services of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers leaned heavily on Lacy, who responded with a strong performance. But it didn't yield much in the way of wins. Green Bay fell into a playoff spot while San Diego seized one. Still, I think Lacy's production will win out.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Another award Rams fans would like to see one of their own in the mix and in the case of linebacker Alec Ogletree, he probably should get more love. Again, this one seems set to be a two-way battle between Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and Buffalo linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Should win: Richardson. Yes, I'm a Mizzou alum so I'm a bit biased here but Richardson was consistently dominant from down to down while playing end in a 3-4 defense. He was an integral part of the Jets' dominant run defense and though he didn't rack up sacks, his impact on games was always felt.

Will win: Alonso. That isn't to say Alonso isn't deserving, just that I believe Richardson was a hair better. No matter, Alonso has the numbers to generate support and will be the one to take home the award.

MVP: There is no real suspense here. Manning staked a claim to this award with seven touchdown passes in Week 1 and never relinquished it. This would be MVP No. 5 for Manning, who continues to rewrite the record books.

Should win: Manning.

Will win: Manning.

Coach of the Year: What a group of possible winners. Many coaches did a phenomenal job this year, including Kansas City's Andy Reid, Carolina's Ron Rivera, Arizona's Bruce Arians, New England's Bill Belichick, Seattle's Pete Carroll and others. This should be the toughest decision on the ballot.

Should win: Rivera. It's really tough to pick from this group but I went with Rivera because he did outstanding work under the toughest circumstances as a potential lame duck coach. Not only did he lead the Panthers back to the playoffs but earned a contract extension in the process.

Will win: Rivera. I expect it to come to Reid and Rivera but Rivera's work came against a tougher schedule in a tougher conference and his team held its own against those opponents.

Hall of Fame class: None of the honors on this list is harder to predict than the five modern era players who will be selected to form the next Hall of Fame class. Trying to guess what the committee will do is an exercise in futility but there's no doubting the group has some tough choices to make. Here are the five I believe get the call Saturday night:

New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis, Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks and Arizona Cardinals defensive back Aeneas Williams.

My final pick for the Super Bowl will come in Sunday's Rams-related playoff notes.