As the playoffs are set to begin Saturday, let's put a bow on another exciting regular season in the NFL.
Here are the 2011 Walker Awards for the AFC East division:
Player of the Year
Walker Award: Patriots QB Tom Brady
Analysis: This is an easy pick. Brady easily was the best player in the AFC East. In my opinion, the NFL's Most Valuable Player by definition of the term. Without Brady, the Patriots are probably a five-win team this season. With Brady, New England went 13-3 and has home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That's a projected eight-game swing for one player. No other player in the league is more valuable to their team.
Coach of the Year
Walker Award: Patriots coach Bill Belichick
Analysis: This Walker Award also was an easy choice. This was not Belichick's best year, particularly on defense. But he's the only coach in the AFC East to have a winning record and get his team into the playoffs. Belichick swept Rex Ryan and the Jets, swept the Dolphins and split with the Bills. He was 5-1 against the AFC East, and that is the key to winning the division. But Belichick ultimately will be graded by how well his team plays in the postseason. Another one-and-done won't cut it.
Rookie of the Year
Walker Award: Dolphins C Mike Pouncey
Analysis: There were a lot of good candidates for this award on each team. Nate Solder in New England, Marcell Dareus in Buffalo and Muhammad Wilkerson all were considered. But Pouncey started from day one in Miami and was a consistent force. I covered the rookie seasons for both Pouncey twins (Maurkice in 2010 and Mike in 2011). Maurkice Pouncey is a little better at this point but not by much. Mike Pouncey did a great job of bringing the running game back to Miami. He played a big role in Reggie Bush recording his first 1,000-yard season.
Comeback Player of the Year
Walker Award: Jets OLB Aaron Maybin
Analysis: This was a close race between Maybin and Bush. But Bush, who recently won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, has shown plenty of flashes and the ability to play in the NFL. Maybin didn't show anything until this year. Ryan has an eye for defensive talent. He figured Maybin could fit in New York's scheme as a situational pass-rusher and he was right. Maybin led the Jets with six sacks to jump-start his NFL career.
Most Disappointing Player
Walker Award: Patriots WR Chad Ochocinco
Analysis: The Patriots made a rash of trades and free-agent signings this offseason. But the one that received the most hype was New England’s acquisition of Ochocinco. The former six-time Pro Bowler was expected to add a big-play threat to the Patriots. But Ochocinco struggled getting acclimated to a new offense, and the Patriots quickly moved on. Ochocinco would go long stretches without getting opportunities. He finished the year with career lows in receptions (15) and yards (276). Ochocinco also tied a career low with just one touchdown. But Ochocinco still is capable of making a big play and could get a shot to contribute more in the playoffs.
Most Disappointing Team
Walker Award: Jets
Analysis: Ryan said the Jets would win the Super Bowl and this was his best team in three seasons. His previous two teams made it to the AFC Championship Game. But everything went awry for New York (8-8) this year due to an inconsistent offense and a defense that wasn’t as dominant as previous seasons. As things fell apart, chemistry issues also ruined the Jets down the stretch. A lot needs to be cleaned up, and 2012 is a big year for a lot of people in New York.
Game of the Year
Walker Award: Bills-Patriots, Week 3
Analysis: The best game in the division happened early in the year when the undefeated Bills faced the undefeated Patriots. Home-field advantage and momentum carried the Bills to one of the biggest upsets of the year in a 34-31 shootout. Brady had his worst game of the year and threw four interceptions, and Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell nailed a 28-yard field goal as time expired to win the game. The victory was expected to mean so much more for Buffalo. It ended an astounding 15-game losing streak against the Patriots. But the team’s seven-game losing streak made for another poor season for the Bills. Still, this was the most exciting game in the division.