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One voter's ballot on the NFL's best

By Jay Skurski

The Sporting News annually asks its 32 NFL correspondents (I'm included in that group, covering the Bills) to fill out a preseason survey identifying the offensive and defensive MVPs in each division, along with a few other categories. I thought I'd share my selections with you here, and invite you to weigh in with your comments. I'll blog the final results when they're released next month. Until then, here are my picks, along with a few thoughts I had along the way. 

NFC East
Offensive MVP: Eli Manning
Defensive MVP: Jason Pierre-Paul (There was some homerism here, being that I'm a South Florida graduate, but I think Pierre-Paul can justify this pick. It was hard going against DeMarcus Ware, though.)
Best coach: Tom Coughlin
Best rookie: Robert Griffin III
Breakout player: Tyron Smith
NFC North
Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers
Defensive MVP: Jared Allen
Best coach: Mike McCarthy
Best rookie: Matt Kalil
Breakout player: Gabe Carimi
NFC South
Offensive MVP: Drew Brees
Defensive MVP: Brent Grimes (Wasn't wowed by the defensive talent in this division. Jon Beason of the Panthers is coming back from injury, Atlanta's John Abraham is getting older, etc.)
Best coach: Mike Smith
Best rookie: Mark Barron
Breakout player: Julio Jones
NFC West
Offensive MVP: Larry Fitzgerald
Defensive MVP: Patrick Willis
Best coach: Jim Harbaugh
Best rookie: Michael Brockers 
Breakout player: K.J. Wright
AFC East
Offensive MVP: Tom Brady
Defensive MVP: Darrelle Revis (I thought about Mario Williams, but only for a second. He hasn't been healthy enough the past two years to unseat the game's best cornerback.)
Best coach: Bill Belichick
Best rookie: Stephon Gilmore
Breakout player: Nate Solder (Serious consideration here for Marcell Dareus. Coin flip, really, but Solder will be protecting Brady's blind side.)
AFC South
Offensive MVP: Andre Johnson
Defensive MVP: Johnathan Joseph (Another division where I wasn't blown away by the defensive talent.)
Best coach: Mike Munchak
Best rookie: Andrew Luck
Breakout player: Brooks Reed (Thought hard about Colts linebacker Pat Angerer here, but I feel like he's pretty established. Defining a "breakout" player isn't easy -- as such our guidelines called for a player with less than three years of experience ready to take the next step in their career.)
AFC North
Offensive MVP: Ray Rice
Defensive MVP: Troy Polamalu (Honorable mention to Baltimore's Haloti Ngata. I just love Polamalu's game.)
Best coach: Mike Tomlin
Best rookie: Trent Richardson
Breakout player: Joe Haden
AFC West
Offensive MVP: Peyton Manning (Betting that he stays healthy, obviously.)
Defensive MVP: Tamba Hali
Best coach: John Fox
Best rookie: Melvin Ingram
Breakout player: Demaryius Thomas (The Peyton Manning impact.)

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |