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February 3, 2012
And the winner is .... 49ers in running for NFL Awards

harbaugh3.jpg

The NFL is trading in shoulder pads and chin straps for tuxedos and cummerbunds Saturday. It used to be that the league's biggest awards were announced with a series of press releases.

This year, however, the NFL has gone Hollywood with an Oscars-like award show. Alec Baldwin - in an episode of "30 Rock," his character was disappointed to learn he owned the Buffalo Bills -- will host. The show will be taped Saturday night in Indianapolis and will run from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. simultaneously on NBC and NFL Network.

Several 49ers, including quarterback Alex Smith, linebackers NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis, and tight end Vernon Davis are expected to attend. Here are the main awards, which are chosen by The Associated Press.

Most Valuable Player
Top candidates: Drew Brees, New Orleans; Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay; Tom Brady, New England.
Lowdown: The awards are for the regular season, so Rodgers' flameout in the divisional round of the playoffs should not count. That Brees broke Dan Marino's single-season yardage record is likely to ring loudly in voters' minds. But the fact that Rodgers followed up a Super Bowl title with a one-loss season is the bigger feat. The last player other than a quarterback or running back to win this award - Lawrence Taylor in 1986.
Who should win: Rodgers
Who will win: Brees

Offensive player of the Year
Top candidates: Drew Brees, New Orleans; Tom Brady, New England; Darren Sproles, New Orleans.
Lowdown: Brees and Brady finished one-two in passing yards and both finished with passer ratings higher than 105. Sproles set the single-season mark for all-purpose yards with 2,696 yards. Teammate Brees, however, broke the bigger record, and he will be awarded for it.
Who should win: Brees
Who will win: Brees

Defensive player of the Year
Top candidates: Justin Smith, 49ers; Terell Suggs, Baltimore; Jared Allen, Minnesota.
Lowdown: Smith was the rugged spirit of a 49ers blue-collar defense. He got stronger as games - and the season - wore on, and he made everyone around him, from Aldon Smith to NaVorro Bowman to Carlos Rogers, better. But voters will be dazzled by Allen's sack total (22 vs. 7 ½ for Smith), and he'll take the prize.
Who should win: Smith
Who will win: Allen

Comeback Player
Top candidates: Alex Smith, 49ers; Plaxico Burress, New York Jets; Matthew Stafford, Detroit.
Lowdown: This award is for perseverance in overcoming an obstacle, and it's usually given to a player who is coming back from an injury. Stafford injured his throwing shoulder - twice - in 2010 but made a triumphant return by throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns this past season. Smith's obstacle, meanwhile, was outlasting two defensive-minded coaches.
Who should win: Stafford
Who will win: Stafford.

Coach of the Year
Top candidates: Jim Harbaugh, 49ers; Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati; Tom Coughlin, New York Giants.
Lowdown: This should be a cinch for Harbaugh. Lewis took the Bengals to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback, which is impressive. Coughlin shut up his critics by winning the NFC East. Harbaugh's 49ers, however, won 13 games and wrapped up the No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a team that hadn't had a winning record since 2002. That he did so following a lockout-shortened offseason puts him over the top.
Who should win: Harbaugh
Who will win: Harbaugh

Defensive rookie of the Year
Top Candidates: Aldon Smith, 49ers; Von Miller, Denver; J.J. Watt, Houston; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington.
Lowdown: This will be a two-man race between Miller, the second overall pick and Smith, who went seventh. Smith is the sturdier player, the bigger handful for offensive linemen, and he finished with more sacks - 14 vs. 11 ½ -- than Miller. But he didn't start a single game, and Miller's profile likely was boosted by Tebowmania at the end of the season.
Who should win: Smith
Who will win: Miller

Offensive rookie of the Year
Top Candidates: Cam Newton, Carolina; Andy Dalton, Cincinnati; A.J. Green, Cincinnati
Lowdown: The connection that Dalton and Green had in 2011 - 1,057 yards, seven touchdowns -- was amazing, even more so considering they had little offseason to work together. But they will be eclipsed by Newton, who has star potential unseen in the league for decades.
Who should win: Newton
Who will win: Newton

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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