Most valuable player
The chic pick is QB Drew Brees, who led the Saints to a 13-3 record with a league-best 109.6 quarterback rating and 34 touchdown passes. But if you had one game to win and the first pick of any player in the league, wouldn't you take Colts QB Peyton Manning? He's so good that you actually take for granted how good he is. He averaged 281.2 passing yards a game and threw for 4,500 yards (second in the league) and 33 touchdowns (tied for second overall). Best stat of all: The Colts went 14-0 in games when Manning, above, played the entire game and 0-2 when he didn't.
Defensive player of the year
This is a no-brainer. Jets CB Darrelle Revis, above, might be better at his position than any other player in the NFL is at his. Sports Illustrated's Peter King figured out that Revis did not allow any of the following stars more than 35 receiving yards in a game this season: Randy Moss, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith (Panthers), Marques Colston, Terrell Owens, Roddy White and Chad Ochocinco. In fact, the average game against those elite receivers: three catches for 27 yards. The kicker? Revis is only 24 and just wrapping up his third season.
Rookie of the year
QBs Mark Sanchez (Jets), Matt Stafford (Lions) and Josh Freeman (Bucs) all had nice moments. RBs Knowshon Moreno (Broncos) and Beanie Wells (Cardinals) each rushed for more than 700 yards. Several wide receivers, including Austin Collie (Colts) and Jeremy Maclin (Eagles), had significant contributions. And Texans LB Brian Cushing finished fourth in the league with 134 combined tackles. But did any rookie have more of an impact than Vikings and former Gators WR Percy Harvin? He caught 60 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns. And it should be pointed out that QB Brett Favre's two worst games of the season came when Harvin, above, was out or limited.
Coach of the year
Marvin Lewis turned the Bengals into winners, but we like two coaches who have been under steady criticism in recent seasons — the Cowboys' Wade Phillips and the Chargers' Norv Turner. Both coached their teams to division crowns this season, and the Chargers, quietly, put together a 13-3 season. We'll take Turner, above.
Comeback player of the year
Most would chose Patriots QB Tom Brady, who had another typically sensational Brady season after missing essentially all of 2008 with a knee injury. But we're going to stay close to home and select Bucs RB Cadillac Williams, above, who came back from not one but two major knee injuries. He looked as though he might never play again and certainly not at a high level. He proved everyone wrong by collecting 1,040 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns.
Most surprising team
The artists formerly known as the Bungles had made the playoffs and had a winning record only once in the past 19 seasons. WR Chad Ochocinco, above, and the Bengals were coming off a 4-11-1 season. Who expected them to finish ahead of the Ravens and the defending-champion Steelers in the AFC North? Not only did they win the division, they won it with ease and will host a playoff game Saturday.
Most surprising player
Brett Favre, above, will be remembered as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but last year suggested that he had run out of gas. Returning this time with the Vikings, Favre not only had enough to finish the season, he proved he still is among the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Some could argue he is the league's MVP.
Most disappointing team
There are plenty of disappointments. You have the Broncos, who started 6-0 and ended up 8-8. The Giants were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders, and they finished 8-8, getting outscored 85-16 in their final two games. But no team was more of a disappointment than coach Mike Tomlin, above, and a Steelers team that returned pretty much every significant player from last year's Super Bowl championship squad. Sure, they finished 9-7, but the Steelers missed the playoffs because of a five-game losing streak that included losses to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns. Inexcusable.
Most disappointing player
Wasn't QB Jay Cutler, above, supposed to be the greatest thing in Chicago since the Sears Tower? Traded from the Broncos, Cutler took over a team that went 9-7 last season and got worse, at 7-9. Cutler threw 27 touchdowns and 26 interceptions, and that was after he had eight touchdowns and only one interception in the final two games.
Three biggest controversies of 2009
1 Patriots coach Bill Belichick decided to go for it on fourth and 2 from his 28 with 2:03 left against the Colts with his team winning by six points. The Pats didn't make it, and the Colts scored on their ensuing short drive to beat the Pats, 35-34.
2 With a 14-0 record and homefield advantage in the AFC sewn up, the Colts elected to rest their starters in the second half against the Jets and ended up losing, costing them a shot at a perfect season.
3 Michael Vick returned to the NFL after a prison sentence for his association with a dogfighting ring. But he had little impact. He threw just 13 passes (and only one touchdown) and carried the ball 24 times for 95 yards and two scores.
Super Bowl prediction
In the NFC, the top-seeded Saints have lost the mojo and three straight. The Packers have won seven of eight, and that one loss came on the last play against the Steelers. To us, no team looks better right now than the Cowboys, who have won three straight with back-to-back shutouts. In the AFC, the Colts are the top seed, but they've been knocked out of the playoffs the past two seasons by the Chargers.
Our pick: Cowboys vs. Chargers.