As the regular season wound up the most valuable player award was seen as a two-horse race.
Last season, Houston defensive lineman JJ Watt had a season as good as any in NFL history.
Predictably, Green Bay play-caller Aaron Rodgers was favourite after his 38 touchdown, 5 interception season.
Rodgers had led the Packers to the playoffs and was clearly the season’s premier quarterback – making him a white-hot favourite for the MVP award.
The Texans Watt was the other horse in the MVP race.
The Wisconsin Badger is a once-in-a-generation defensive force who even took three snaps as a goal line tight end – resulting in three touchdowns!
The MVP has almost exclusively been an offensive player’s award, especially quarterbacks.
But such was Watt’s dominance, he was considered a real chance at the very least, stealing some votes from Rodgers.
In the end, Rodgers claimed the award with 31 first-place votes to Watt’s 13.
Only Dallas pair DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo, New England QB Tom Brady and surprisingly Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner received votes.
Not since 1986 has the award been won by a defensive player – that year it was New York Giants linebacker, Lawrence Taylor.
A season similar to his previous may see Watt make another run at the gong, but expect it to be yet another offensive star.
Let’s take a look at this season’s MVP candidates;
Julio JONES (Atlanta) Last season: 104 receptions, 1,593 yards, 6 TD
To be a real threat for this award, Jones’ touchdown numbers must be double-digits and the Falcons must make a big push into the post-season.
Apart from 2013 when he underwent a significant procedure on a troublesome foot, Jones has been a consistent force for Atlanta, despite some lean seasons at the Georgia Dome.
With Roddy White on the opposite side, just enough defensive attention goes his way so that the former Alabama wideout can get favourable match-ups.
Quarterback Matt Ryan makes all the throws and Jones is now his clearcut No.1 target.
A repeat of last season’s receptions and yards total with an increase in TD’s will see Julio judged as one of the top few receivers in the NFL.
LeV’eon BELL (Pittsburgh) Last season: 290 rush, 1,361 yards, 8 TD – 83 receptions, 854 yards, 3 TD
Despite the third-year back having to sit out week one and two through a marijuana violation, his MVP stocks will still soar come season’s end.
His ability as a dual-threat is unsurpassed in the league, as indicated by his remarkable 2014 campaign.
The big, elusive back put up numbers that a team’s No.2 receiver would be happy with and his off-season workout regimes have him set for even bigger things this year.
Antonio Brown, Marcus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant will still demand a lot of safety attention, meaning Bell will have more than enough space to run into after he eludes numerous defensive lineman.
JJ WATT (Houston) Last season: 78 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 2 defensive TD’s and 3 receiving TD’s
Watt fills up the box score like no other defensive player in the game.
Not only did he produce mind-boggling sack, tackle for loss and passes deflected numbers, he also made the move to tight end and caught three touchdowns.
Only Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins caught more TD’s than Watt on the Houston roster.
His real value however is at the line, where he can rush as an inside tackle as well as go to the edge and get straight to the QB.
His dominance last season was underlined with a unanimous victory as the AP Defensive Player of the Year as well as finishing runner-up to Aaron Rodgers in the MVP voting.
It’s been almost 30 years since a defensive player won this award but Watt is like nothing we have ever seen on the gridiron.
Andrew LUCK (Indianapolis) Last season: 4,761 yards, 40 TD, 16 INT – 64 rush, 273 yards, 3 TD
The Stanford graduate has gotten better with each season he has been in the league.
He has advanced one-step further in the playoffs and with the additions of Andrew Johnson and Frank Gore, looks a real threat to win it all in 2015.
His MVP stocks could not be higher, either with the added offensive weapons.
With Gore adding to the ground game and attracting some attention away from Luck’s arm, the 6-4″ quarterback will have Coby Fleener, Johnson, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton and rookie Phillip Dorsett to target.
He will need to lower the interception numbers to match the great QB’s in Rodgers, Brady and Peyton Manning but his future could not be brighter.
Almost all consider him a future Super Bowl winner, a future Hall of Famer and he is set to sign a new, gigantic contract to remain with the Colts.
Aaron RODGERS (Green BAY) Last season: 4,381 yards, 38 TD, 5 INT – 43 rush, 269 yards, 2 TD
The reigning MVP has massive claims on winning the title yet again.
His premier wide receiver Jordy Nelson is gone for the season with a torn ACL but with Randall Cobb, DaVante Adams and running back Eddie Lacy all more than capable, Rodgers and the Pack should be just fine.
Rodgers touchdown to interception ratio is untouched in the NFL and he did not throw a single pick at home last season.
He will begin the season in full health after a nagging calf injury limited his mobility late last season.
You can expect a slight rise in his rushing numbers and whilst it will be hard to top the 38-5 TD-INT record, if anyone can, Aaron can.
Jamaal CHARLES (Kansas City) Last season: 206 rush, 1,033 yards, 9 TD – 40 receptions, 291 yards, 5 TD
Charles’ 2014 numbers do not match that of other rushing-receiving backs like LeV’eon Bell and Matt Forte but his impact on a game goes far further than the stats sheet.
His big play ability has been crucial on a team that has lacked real offensive play makers.
With Jeremy Maclin in town and QB Alex Smith dedicated to taking some more downfield shots, gaps should continue to open up for Charles – who is elite when he can sniff out a hole in the line.
Charles versatility was highlighted in a 2013 match where he had eight catches for 195 yards and five total scores.
Calvin JOHNSON (Detroit) Last season: 77 receptions, 1,077 yards, 8 TD
The man they call Megatron certainly has had bigger season’s than 2014.
His receiving yardage was the lowest since 2009 but his health has never been better.
Call this a prediction made by the heart but the Lions have always been able to put up strong offensive numbers, thanks largely to Johnson’s greatness.
It’s no surprise Johnson still ranked within the top 10 of the NFL’s Top 100 announced on NFL Network in July.
His size, speed and hands make him a nightmare cover and with Golden Tate commanding quality defenders on the opposite side, Johnson – with health on his side – can be the 1,500+ yard receiver we have seen in years gone by.