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Colts clean up in AFC South awards after improbable turnaround

The Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans earned playoff bids in the AFC South, and the reasons why are highlighted in the division awards handed out by ESPN reporters Mike Wells (Colts), Michael DiRocco (Jacksonville Jaguars), Turron Davenport (Tennessee Titans) and Sarah Barshop (Texans).

Offensive MVP -- Colts quarterback Andrew Luck: The questions about whether Luck could return to being the player he was before he injured his right shoulder more than three years ago were understandable. He had surgery on the shoulder in January 2017, then tried and failed to play a snap that fall.

It didn't take long into the 2018 regular season for Luck to answer any questions about his right arm.

He threw for a career-high 4,593 yards, completed 67.3 percent of his passes, also a career high, and his 39 touchdown passes were more than every quarterback in the NFL with the exception of Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes. Luck, who is one of the front-runners for the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, didn't just return to form. He came back even better than what he was when he was healthy in 2014. That's a scary thought for opposing defenses for years to come. -- Mike Wells

Defensive MVP -- Houston defensive lineman J.J. Watt: Watt missed 24 games over the past two seasons because of back surgery and a tibial plateau fracture, and people wondered if he'd be able to return to anything close to what he was while he was dominating the NFL from 2012 to 2015. All he did in 2018 was finish second in the league in sacks (16.0) and tied for first with a career-high seven forced fumbles. The sack total was the third-highest of Watt's career.

Just as important as his production: Watt played in every game. The Texans finished third in the NFL in rush defense and fourth in scoring, and those numbers are drastically different from 2017 (14th in rushing, last in scoring) when Watt played in just five games. -- Michael DiRocco

Coach of the Year -- Colts' Frank Reich: Finishing second once again worked out pretty good for Reich. The former Philadelphia offensive coordinator went from not even being in the top five initial head coach candidates for Colts general manager Chris Ballard to leading the Colts to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 with an up-tempo, quick-throwing offense that is perfect for Luck. A lot of the thanks can go to Josh McDaniels and his decision to change his mind about becoming coach of the Colts at the last minute in February.

Reich's first-hand experience in playing, leadership and the ability to keep his young roster together -- especially after the Colts' 1-5 start -- was respected throughout the organization. His offense, which he calls the plays for, didn't depend strictly on Luck's right arm. He emphasized bringing balance to the offense and succeeded, producing a unit that ranked No. 7 overall. -- Mike Wells

Rookie of the Year -- Colts linebacker Darius Leonard: Leonard was the best defensive player in the division not named J.J. Watt this season. How Leonard didn't make the Pro Bowl is still baffling considering the rookie led the NFL in tackles all season and easily finished first in that category by 19 tackles despite missing a game.

He had 163 tackles, 7 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 2 recovered fumbles while showing the athleticism to be matched up against the likes of Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins at times in the two meetings with the Texans. Some questioned the Colts for taking guard Quenton Nelson over linebacker Roquan Smith with the No. 6 pick in last year's draft. The reason became more and more obvious as the season went on -- Ballard had his eyes set on Leonard in the second round. The hope was that the South Carolina State University product would anchor the defense for the foreseeable future, and all signs point in that direction. -- Mike Wells