(Editor's note: Every week this season, gay teenage NFL fan Jeremy Brener will give his perspective and predictions for the upcoming week).
My 2015 NFL Awards will celebrate some of the most memorable players, teams, and moments from the 2015 season, which comes to an end this Sunday. In the past 16 weeks, we have witnessed one of the craziest seasons in recent memory and will leave us with a Week 17 and a postseason that surely will not disappoint. Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of what was the 2015 NFL regular season!
Most Valuable Player
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
There is an argument for a few players for this award, but ultimately, it goes to Newton. Newton led a Panthers team to at least a seven-win improvement with a less-talented supporting cast around him than he had a year ago. He lost his favorite target from last season in Kelvin Benjamin and always lacked that true #1 receiver for the entire season. With the help of tight end Greg Olsen as his new favorite receiver, Newton has thrown for more than 3,500 yards. He has also rushed for eight touchdowns, a league-best among quarterbacks. Newton is the model for a dual-threat quarterback in the NFL, bringing the Panthers to new heights and with a win on Sunday, can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time in Panthers history.
Newton may be the MVP for the 14-1 Panthers, but his still has a couple of small holes they can hopefully fix before the playoffs. There are cases for multiple teams for this award, but I ultimately settled on the Cardinals, because the cracks in this team are simply microscopic. Carson Palmer is playing the best football in his career, and the receiving corps (Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown) is reaping the benefits. They have gone out in free agency to bolster their offensive line with Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati and they went in the draft to take running back David Johnson, who has 13 total touchdowns in his rookie season. The defense is anchored by Pro Bowlers Calais Campbell in the front seven and Patrick Peterson in the secondary. Their coach Bruce Arians has made a strong case for his third NFL Coach of the Year Award since 2012. This team has not lost since Week 6 and is quickly becoming the team nobody wants to face in the playoffs.
Most Surprising Team
New York Jets
When linebacker IK Enemkpali punched quarterback Geno Smith in the jaw, it looked like the Jets' season would be over before it even began. The incident turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it forced Ryan Fitzpatrick into the starting QB role that he would never relinquish. The Jets also brought in talent at other positions including Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall and cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis, both coming back for their second stint with New York. A 4-1 start got them on the right foot, but they fell back to .500 after a 1-4 stretch. Since their Week 11 loss to Houston, they have won five straight, including two overtime thrillers against two of their biggest rivals, the cross-town Giants and defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. Now, the team is one win away from making the playoffs. Former head coach Rex Ryan and the Bills stand in their way, and it will be one of the exciting Week 17 games. If the Jets win, they will go to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, something nobody saw coming when the season began four months ago.
Most Disappointing Team
San Diego Chargers
Many teams did not live up to their standards this season. And while the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, and Dallas Cowboys are all worthy of this title, they were dealt crushing blows and caught the injury bug with the quarterback, ultimately derailing any hopes at returning to the playoffs. The Chargers were coming off a nine-win season and looking to possibly make the next step and become playoff contenders again, but now they are contending for the top pick in next April's draft. First round pick Melvin Gordon was supposed to be a star running back, but only had 641 rushing yards and zero touchdowns to show for it. There were three games in which the Chargers only put up a field goal. The team suffered injuries, most notably to star receiver Keenan Allen, but the injuries should not have pushed the Chargers back this far. Maybe a high draft pick and a new city will revitalize the franchise and put it back in the right direction.
Most Surprising Player
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Coming into the season, Baldwin had 15 career touchdowns. This season, he has 14 with one game to go. The Seahawks have been one of the NFL's top teams in the last few years, but one criticism of the team has been the lack of a bona fide #1 receiver. The Seahawks went on the trade market and got Jimmy Graham from the Saints, hoping he could play a similar role that he did in New Orleans, but a torn right patellar tendon ended his season in Week 12. Since that Week 12 game when Graham got injured, Baldwin has elevated the Seahawks offense, scoring eleven touchdowns in his last five games. He definitely made a late-season push for this award, and he is well-deserving because his record-setting, five-game stretch has put him on notice from the rest of the league.
Most Disappointing Player
DeMarco Murray, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Murray gets this award, large in part due to his now-ex head coach Chip Kelly. After winning the rushing title last season, Murray was the most sought-after free agent on the market when the Cowboys failed to re-sign him. The Eagles were looking to steal one from their division foes and signed him to a 5-year, $42 million contract despite also rostering Darren Sproles and signing former Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. Murray was never a great fit for Chip Kelly's system. Murray proved last season that he is best used as a downhill runner. This season, Kelly tried to pitch him the ball and get him to run on the outside, which ended up ruining his value. He ended up losing the starting job, which was never really his fault, because he wasn't being used correctly. Maybe without Kelly calling the shots in Week 17, interim head coach Pat Shurmur will allow DeMarco to reform back into his 2014 self and call plays suited for him. If not, it will be interesting to see what the Eagles will do with Murray in the offseason, because the team probably does not want someone making more than $8 million on the bench.
Denver Broncos 30, New England Patriots 24 - Week 12
Out of 240 possible choices, the Sunday Night Football showdown between the Patriots and Broncos at Mile High Stadium takes the cake. NBC was probably hoping for another Brady-Manning showdown when they saw this game on their schedule, but the first Brady-Osweiler game was surely one to remember. Brock Osweiler was making his second career start for the injured Peyton Manning, and Bill Belichick had won every game in his Patriots coaching career against an opposing quarterback making his first or second career start. The Patriots were leading 21-7 early in the fourth quarter, but 17 unanswered Bronco points gave them the edge with two minutes to play. Brady led the offense down the field like he had done so many times before, and Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime. The Patriots punted on their first OT drive, and CJ Anderson scored his second touchdown of the game on the ensuing drive, allowing the Broncos to knock down the unbeaten Patriots. Both New England and Denver have been a part of some great games this year, and it wouldn't surprise me if they continue to play that role in the playoffs.
Rookie of the Year
Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis Rams
Even though he missed the first two games of the season, Gurley is still third in the NFL in rushing this season with 1,108 yards, only behind Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin. Gurley was the 10th pick in last May's draft, and he has paid immediate dividends to the Rams for taking a chance on the Georgia running back coming off an ACL tear. Other rookies like David Johnson and Jameis Winston have made strong rookie impacts, but none have done it at a more consistent volume than Gurley. He should maintain this status as one of the top running backs in the NFL for at least the rest of this decade, and maybe even part of the next.
Comeback Player of the Year
Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys
After the Cowboys failed to sign DeMarco Murray, Dallas quickly needed a replacement for their star running back, and Darren McFadden was not expected to fill the void completely, but he turned out to be a decent option for Dallas. McFadden was the fourth overall pick in 2010 by the Raiders, but he underperformed for a top-five pick, only producing one season of 1,000 rushing yards. In his first season in Dallas, he has 997 with one game to go, putting him in fifth place on the rushing yards list this season. The shocking thing about McFadden's comeback campaign is that he has only started nine games this season. Joseph Randle started at running back for the Cowboys at the beginning of the year, but his off-field issues caught up to him and he was released by the team. Had he started all sixteen games, he may have been able to fight with Adrian Peterson for the rushing title.
Hot Player of the Year
Robin Marchant/Getty Images
Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
This is an award based on both the visual and production. Eifert has found the end zone 12 in 12 games this season, and leads the league in touchdowns by a tight end. Not to mention that he also has an incredible jawline and beautiful green eyes. He has been a pleasure to watch this season in more ways than one, and while this award could go to a number of different players, I don't think anyone has a problem with Eifert winning this one.
Buzzer's Best Bet
Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski will make one pick each week against the spread.
Jacksonville +6.5 at Houston. Pick: Houston.
The Texans are playing for a playoff spot and need a win to clinch the AFC South. The Jaguars are making offseason plans. Go with the team that has the motivation, the better defense and home field.
Last week: 0-1. Season: 8-7-1.
Jeremy Brener lives in Houston. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@BrenerJeremy).