Fifty voters around the country will cast their Associated Press All-Pro and honors ballots Wednesday. The All-Pro team will be announced Friday while the top eight honors such as MVP and Coach of the Year won’t be revealed until Feb. 2 in Atlanta during the NFL Honors show the night before the Super Bowl.
We 50 voters pinkie swore while placing our left hands on The Shield not to spill our portion of the beans until the NFL spills them all. So that officially makes us the only 50 people in the world not hitting publish on our selections for the league’s top honors.
But some of us can say that some of the choices this year are doggone difficult. Here goes …
Assistant Coach of the Year
Do you vote for Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio? Baltimore’s new defensive coordinator Don Martindale? Seattle’s new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer?
Fangio’s defense leads the NFL in takeaways (36), interceptions (27) and points off turnovers (107). But Martindale, in his second year as an NFL coordinator and first since 2010, has Baltimore ranked No. 1 in total and scoring defense.
Then there’s Schottenheimer, who replaced Darrell Bevell, brought out Russell Wilson’s best season, led the league in rushing and helped Pete Carroll to a surprising playoff berth.
Comeback Player of the Year
Adrian Peterson went from washed up to 1,000 yards. Houston safety Andre Hal has played in seven games after being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in September.
J.J. Watt is back. Again. And wreaking havoc. Again.
And, of course, there’s Andrew Luck. About this time a year ago, he was in the Netherlands looking for treatment to fix a bum shoulder and save a career in jeopardy. Today, he’s a 4,300-yard passer with 36 touchdowns and a chance to lead the Colts from last year’s 4-12 season to a playoff berth with a win Sunday night.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb has five more sacks than any other rookie. Chargers safety Dervin James has three interceptions and 3½ sacks. Colts linebacker Darius Leonard leads the league in tackles with 155.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield has thrown a touchdown pass in all 12 starts. He’s 5-1 in his past six starts. For the Cleveland stinking Browns!
Meanwhile, No. 2 draft pick Saquon Barkley could reach 2,000 yards from scrimmage as the next great young back.
Defensive Player of the Year
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald needs 3½ sacks to break Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22 ½ and all but lock up this award for the second straight year.
But it’s not easy dismissing Bears linebacker Khalil Mack. His stats might not match Donald’s, but his impact sure does.
Offensive Player of the Year
Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes are in the running if they don’t get a voter’s MVP nod.
Among non-quarterbacks, the field is packed with, among others, Ezekiel Elliott, who leads the league in yards from scrimmage; Alvin Kamara, who has 18 touchdowns; DeAndre Hopkins, who has 103 catches and 11 touchdowns; or Tyreek Hill, the game’s most electric player.
Coach of the Year
Matt Nagy is going for his 12th win with a stagnant Bears team that finished last in the NFC North the past four years. He already had the most wins by a first-year coach in franchise history, topping George Halas’ 10 victories in 1920.
But do we overlook Sean Payton going 13-2? Andy Reid going for home-field advantage in the AFC with a first-year QB who has thrown 48 touchdowns? Rookie Colts coach Frank Reich possibly winning 10 games and reaching the playoffs after a 1-5 start?
It appears the field has boiled down to Brees and Mahomes.
The sentimental vote, obviously, is Brees. He turns 40 on Jan. 15, owns numerous NFL records and has never won an MVP. He also won’t play Sunday, so his league-leading 115.7 passer rating, 13 wins, NFL-record completion rate of 74.4, 32 touchdowns and five interceptions won’t change.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the age spectrum is Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Magical and fearless, the second-year pro is on pace to surpass 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards for a No. 1 seed.
When Peyton Manning did that in 2013, he got 49 of the 50 All-Pro votes.