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THE CHALKBOARD

2015 Year End Awards

GAME PLAN OF THE YEAR: Carolina 33 Dallas 14. Head coach Ron Rivera took Carolina to Dallas for Thanksgiving with a 10-0 record but the Panthers were still only a 1-point favorite over the Cowboys, who were getting QB Tony Romo back in the lineup. It did not take long for Rivera and DC Sean McDemott's defensive design to make that handicap look silly. On the second play of the game, safety Kurt Coleman intercepted Romo and returned the pick for a touchdown. Later, MLB Luke Kuechly intercepted 2 more passes, including one he took to the house, as the Panthers defense dropped and passed receivers almost exactly as Rivera and McDermott drew up their coverages on the blackboard. LB Thomas Davis got home on a blitz and the sack ended Romo's season. The game was a defensive design masterpiece and a perfect illustration how Rivera perfectly blended design and physical play into a near perfect defense.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: New Orleans 38 New England 17
2010: Cleveland 30 New Orleans 17
2011: Denver 38 Oakland 24
2012: Atlanta 30 Seattle 28 (NFC Divisional Playoff)
2013: Philadelphia 33 Washington 27
2014: Arizona 14 Detroit 6

COACH OF THE YEAR: Bruce Arians (Arizona). This was a four horse race between Arians, Rivera, Seattle's Pete Carroll (who stumbled out of the gate but closed like the wind in the stretch), and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis (see below). While Rivera will win almost every other COY award and he is a great candidate, Arians and the Cardinals led the NLF in play design differential for almost the entire year and finished ahead of Carolina in the final rankings. In addition, Arizona faced tougher defenses in the AFC North and NFC North than Carolina did in the AFC South and NFC East. Arians' designs bought big risk and those risks blew up Arizona in the NFC Championship Game, but the designs almost always paid off during a 13-3 regular season in which the Cardinals frequently dominated their opponents.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Norv Turner (San Diego)
2010: Bill Belichick (New England)
2011: Wade Phillips (Houston Defensive Coordinator)
2012: Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco)
2013: Pete Carroll (Seattle)
2014: Jason Garrett (Dallas)

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Cam Newton (Carolina). Newton emerged as a polished pocket-passer, which combined with his running skills, made him the most dangerous player in the NFL. Without Newton's incomparable dual skills, the Panthers offense would rank near the bottom of the NFL and Carolina would have been scuffling in the wild-card race instead of making a run at a 16-0 season.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Dallas Clark (Indianapolis)
2010: Tom Brady (New England)
2011: Aaron Rogers (Green Bay)
2012: P-rex Manning (Denver)
2013: P-rex Manning (Denver)
2014: J.J. Watt (Houston)

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Marcus Peters (Kansas City). Oakland WR Amari Cooper and St. Louis RB Todd Gurley both topped 1,000 yards in their first seasons and Minnesota LB Eric Kendricks (92 tackles) emerged as a force in the middle of Mike Zimmer's defense, but no rookie contributed more than Peters. He tied for the league lead in interceptions with 8 and returned 2 for scores. He also chipped in with 60 tackles as the Chiefs defense resurrected Andy Reid's team from a 1-5 start and finished with 10 straight regular season wins.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Brian Cushing (Houston)
2010: RobAaron Gronkowski-Hernandez (New England)
2011: Patrick Peterson (Arizona)
2012: Robert Griffin, III (Washington)
2013: Kenny Vaccarro (New Orleans)
2014: Teddy Bridgewater (Minnesota)

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Johnny Hecker (St. Louis) . With Nick Foles and Case Keenum at QB, there is no way that St. Louis could have won more than 5 games without Hecker's performance. He led the NFL in punts (96), average (47.9), net average (43.9), punts inside the 20-yard line (41), and fair catches induced (25). That is about as dominating as punter can be. In the punt return game, Philadelphia's Darren Sproles remained dangerous (11.7, 2 TDs) and the only time much of anything positive happened in Cleveland was when Travis Benjamin (11.6, TD) dropped deep to return.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Josh Cribbs (Cleveland)
2010: Devin Hester (Chicago)
2011: David Akers (San Francisco)
2012: Matt Bryant (Atlanta)
2013: Justin Tucker (Baltimore)
2014: Adam Vinatieri & Pat McAfee (Indianapolis)

JERRY JONES PATIENT OWNER OF THE YEAR AWARD. Mike Brown (Cincinnati). Yeah, the Bengals lost their first playoff game again but for almost the entire year Cincinnati was one of the 3 best teams in the NFL. Cincinnati lost 4 games by a combined 12 points and in the other loss QB Andy Dalton fractured his thumb, which caused him to miss the rest of the regular season and playoff loss to Pittsburgh. If Dalton had not been injured, the Bengals may have gotten home field throughout the playoffs and the post-season might have been different. HC Marvin Lewis' 0-5 playoff record is frustrating, but for Bengals fans who remember the dreadful 1990s, that does not nullify the joy that comes from having a team that they know can compete with any team every week of the season.

PAST WINNERS:
2009: Jerry Jones (Dallas)
2010: Arthur Blank (Atlanta)
2011: Bob McNair (Houston)
2012: Jerry Richardson (Carolina)
2013: Jerry Richardson (Carolina)
2014: Jerry Jones (Dallas)

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