By Steve Silverman
(CBS) — The real season is finally here. Final cuts are being made and the last of the preseason games are done.
Predictions come with the start of the NFL season, and while there is still time to pick the playoff teams and eventual Super Bowl champion, this is the opportunity to pick the individual winners of the league’s major awards.
Offensive MVP candidates
Russell Wilson, Seattle – After a superb rookie season, Wilson has a great chance of leading the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. He is a brilliant leader who completed nearly 65 percent of his passes last year with a 26-10 TD-interception ratio. He will only get better this year.
Tom Brady, New England – How do you not include Brady when he is sure to trigger one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL once again? The Patriots had the top-ranked offense last year and Brady’s accuracy and ability to come through in the fourth quarter assures Bill Belichick that the Pats will play postseason football once again.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota – The best running back of the last 25 years. A healthy Peterson will rush for at least 2,000 yards again this year even with the Vikings’ minimalist passing attack. If the Vikings are going to steal the NFC North title from the Packers, Peterson’s running will be the reason.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco – Despite his superb run during the second half of the 2012 season, there are no guarantees for Kaepernick. However, if he does pick up from where he left off, the Niners will battle the Seahawks for NFC West superiority. Kaepernick may be the most athletic quarterback in the league and he is hungry to get the Niners back to the Super Bowl.
DT Geno Atkins, Cincinnati – The Bengals have a chance to assert their dominance in the AFC North this year and Atkins is a monster in the middle of the defensive line who can destroy the run and get after the quarterback. It will take at least two blockers every play just to get a stalemate against Atkins.
DE J.J. Watt, Houston – While Watt will pile up impressive numbers, it’s his consistency and commitment that make him such an impactful player. Quick first step and ability to sustain his play will give the Texans a chance to get to the Super Bowl this year.
DE Cameron Wake, Miami – Definitely a long shot, but he had a remarkable 2012 season with 15.0 sacks and long arms that allow him to bat down passes. He is a game-changing player and the Dolphins will continue to improve this season.
CB Darelle Revis, Tampa Bay – The best cover man in the NFL since Deion Sanders was in his prime. Revis may not be at his best in the first couple of weeks of the season, but once he gets his legs back, he will dominate for the Bucs. Overwhelming confidence and talent.
Rookies of the Year
RB Eddie Lacy, Green Bay – The Packers don’t need Lacy to become a star; they just need him to take pressure off of Aaron Rodgers so the offense is not so one-dimensional. Lacy’s power running game will be just what Rodgers needed and the Packers will run the ball better than they have in five years.
CB Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona – A tremendous summer of redemption for the Honey Badger. While we are not saying that he has turned his life around and will become a model citizen, we are banking on him staying out of trouble for a year. Solid cover man and dominant return specialist.
Coach of the Year
Pete Carroll, Seattle – There will be no stopping Carroll, who has the ability to put his best players in a position where they can show off their skills and dominate. Carroll gave the unheralded Wilson a chance last year and that move paid off handsomely. Look for Carroll to get the most out of wide receiver-return specialist Percy Harvin this year as the Seahawks make a remarkable run at glory this year.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.