The Associated Press will hand out its individual NFL awards on the night before the Super Bowl in Houston. Until then, here are some off-the-beaten track honors to consider.
BEST GAME: The beginning of the end for the defending champions came in Week 12 in a frigid classic.
The Broncos blew an eight-point lead over Kansas City and lost 30- 27 when Cairo Santos banked a field goal as overtime expired. Denver’s Brandon McManus hooked a 62-yard attempt with a minute left in OT.
Earlier, Trevor Siemian threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to Bennie Fowler that made it 24-16, but on fourth-and-10 from the Denver 14, Tyreek Hill caught an 11-yard pass. He scored on the next play and Demetrius Harris caught the conversion pass.
“If you give us an eight-point lead, I would bet my game check that no one would score on us,” said cornerback Aqib Talib, who pulls in $500,000 a game, before taxes. “So, I would have been in debt right now.”
Runners-up: Dolphins-Bills (down to final seconds of OT), Week 16; Seahawks-Patriots (Seattle goal-line stand to win), Week 10; Steelers beat Ravens to win AFC North, Week 16.
WORST GAME: The first 2½ months of the season were decidedly mediocre across the board. At the bottom was Rams at Jets in Week 10, just as the performances across the league were improving. Los Angeles won this snoozer without scoring any touchdowns, needing just Greg Zuerlein’s three field goals to beat New York 9-6 . Bryce Petty’s first NFL start in place of an injured Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Jets was hardly awe-inspiring as he went 19 of 32 for 163 yards with a touchdown and a loss-sealing interception to Alec Ogletree with just under two minutes left. Both teams managed less than 300 yards of total offense, and they combined for 15 punts. The game also marked the last start for the Rams’ Case Keenum, who was replaced at quarterback by No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff the following week.
Runner-up: Rams-49ers, Week 1 (17 punts, 3.7 yards per play).
BEST PLAY OF THE YEAR: Saints WR Brandin Cooks had just scored on a twisting 32-yard TD reception with 1:28 remaining – no, that’s not the play. Wil Lutz lined up for the extra point to give New Orleans a 24-23 lead over Denver.
But Justin Simmons’ perfectly timed leap over Saints long snapper Justin Drescher let him block the kick . Will Parks scooped up the ball and ran 84 yards for a defensive 2-point conversion that lifted Denver to the win.
“I’m still in disbelief a little bit,” Drew Brees said of the Week 10 loss.
Runners-up: Giants safety Landon Collins’ weaving 44-yard interception return for a TD vs. the Rams in London, Week 7; Chiefs safety Eric Berry’s return covering the length of the field on an interception on a 2-point try at Atlanta to lift Kansas City to a 29-28 win.
WORST PLAY OF THE YEAR: Steelers kicker Chris Boswell’s swing and miss on an onside kick while down 21-14 at Baltimore, Week 9. Even the officials were laughing.
Runners-up: Browns’ fake punt vs. Eagles (only 10 Browns on field, punter and long snapper assigned to block), Week 1; Buffalo yielding Jay Ajayi’s 57-yard OT run (only 10 Bills on field), Week 16.
BEST COACHING MOVE: Raiders coach Jack Del Rio set the tone for his team’s successful run to the playoffs by going for a 2-point conversion in the final seconds of the opener at New Orleans. It worked, Oakland won 35-34 and was headed to big things.
Runners-up: Miami’s Adam Gase for sticking with RB Ajayi, who eventually became a key to the playoff run; Giants boss Ben McAdoo for having similar patience with his free agency-stocked defense.
WORST COACHING MOVE: Andy Reid “icing” Titans kicker Ryan Succop, who missed his first attempt, got another try and made a 53-yarder to win at KC, Week 15. The loss could cost the Chiefs the AFC West crown.
Runners-up: We said this is Offbeat Awards, so Vikings DBs ignoring coach Mike Zimmer’s game plan for covering Packers star WR Jordy Nelson in Week 16 loss.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER (OFFENSE): The list here is long and impressive. The obvious choice is Ajayi, who rushed for 187 yards on 49 carries in 2015. This season, he has been a record setter.
Runners-up: QBs Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota; WRs Davante Adams, Jamison Crowder, Terrelle Pryor, Adam Thielen; RB Melvin Gordon; OT D.J. Humphries.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER (DEFENSE): Again, a solid list led by Collins, who has solidified the Giants’ secondary with his coverage skill and hitting. Collins is one of the best tacklers among NFL safeties, and has become a leader in his second season.
RUNNERS-UP: LBs Vic Beasley Jr., Lorenzo Alexander; CB Casey Hayward; edge rushers Dee Ford, Nick Perry and Danielle Hunter,
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (PLAYER): One season after Todd Gurley was a difference maker running for the Rams, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, he was somewhat invisible when the franchise moved to Los Angeles.
RUNNERS-UP: QBs Blake Bortles, Brock Osweiler, Ryan Fitzpatrick, 2015 MVP Cam Newton; Giants OL; edge rushers Kony Ealy, Muhammad Wilkerson; LBs Vontaze Burfict, Jamie Collins; DT Kawann Short; all those placekickers who couldn’t be trusted.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT (TEAM): So many, but have to go with the two Super Bowl teams of 2015. Carolina plummeted from 15-1 to 6-9, never contending for the NFC South crown. Denver’s offense fell apart with terrible blocking plaguing inexperienced quarterbacks.
Runners-up: Arizona, Minnesota, Cincinnati, all 2015 playoff qualifiers.
BEST PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER: Our annual winner has been Mike Tirico, but when he moved to NBC from ESPN this year, his play-by-play load was reduced drastically. He still gets a very honorable mention.
And his replacement on Monday nights, Sean McDonough, has been terrific.
Beyond Tirico, no one comes close to CBS’ Kevin Harlan, who actually does his best work on Monday night football for Westwood One. His radio descriptions allow listeners to visualize every detail of every play.
Harlan’s TV work is outstanding, too, and he doesn’t pull punches when a game (or individual performances, or the officiating) isn’t living up to expectations. And check out his “call” of an intruder on the field during the Rams-49ers opener.
Runners-up: Ian Eagle (CBS), Spero Dedes (CBS), McDonough (ESPN), Kenny Albert (Fox).
BEST ANALYST: We’ll go with a radio voice here, Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton. You never know what entertaining and insightful remarks will come from the Westwood One analyst for Sunday nights and various other games. Listeners can learn in one broadcast about preparation, game plans, players’ psyches, weather challenges, even mood swings of the participants from the brilliant Lofton.
Runners-up: Troy Aikman (Fox), Rich Gannon (CBS), Dan Fouts (CBS), Jon Gruden (ESPN).