Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 10/1/12

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 06: Head coach Ken Whisenhunt of the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Universtity of Phoenix Stadium on December 6, 2009 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Vikings 30-17. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
For 87.5 percent of the NFL, the 2012 season is 25 percent over. Twenty-eight of the leagues 32 teams have now played four games, with varying results. While theres plenty of football remaining, some players and coaches have already emerged as frontrunners for the NFLs year-end awards. If I had to submit my Associated Press ballot today, heres how it would look: Most Valuable Player: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. How chilled is Matty Ice? With his team pinned on its 1-yard line and trailing Carolina by one point with 59 seconds remaining, Ryan calmly dropped back into his end zone and heaved a 59-yard strike to wide receiver Roddy White. Two more completions and a Panthers pass-interference penalty followed, putting the Falcons in position for Matt Bryants game-winning 40-yard field goal Sunday in a 30-28 home victory. The drive was Ryans 17th game-winner in the fourth quarter or overtime. It also was reflective of just how well he has played in 2012. Ryan has completed 69.4 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in Atlantas 4-0 start. New coordinator Dirk Koetter has shifted the Falcons' offensive focus from being a run-first team under predecessor Mike Mularkey to emphasizing a passing game that is flourishing thanks to Ryan and three outstanding targets: White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones. As every Falcons fan is painfully aware, Atlantas regular-season success with Ryan under center the past four seasons hasnt translated to a single playoff victory. The way he and the Falcons are playing, that should change in January. Coach of the Year: Arizonas Ken Whisenhunt. The Cardinals didnt make the playoffs the past two seasons and looked so bad offensively in the preseason that it was fair to wonder whether a losing record in 2012 could put Whisnehunts job in jeopardy. Instead, the proverbial hot seat never even got warm. Arizona (4-0) proved that a stunning road win at New England in Week 2 wasnt a fluke with subsequent home victories over Philadelphia and Miami. Although the offense still has issues quarterback Kevin Kolb remains erratic, the running game is weak and the offensive line surrendered eight sacks in Sundays 24-21 overtime triumph over the Dolphins the Cardinals are the NFLs biggest early-season surprise under Whisenhunts guidance. NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year: Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III. Much like 2011 award-winner Cam Newton, Griffin has demonstrated that he's capable of making breathtaking plays with both his arm and legs. He enjoyed what statistically was the greatest debut for a rookie quarterback in NFL history in a Week 1 upset at New Orleans, and RG3 now has his first NFL comeback victory under his belt after Sundays 24-22 win at Tampa Bay. Griffin had a hand in all 61 yards the Redskins gained on what proved to be the game-winning drive, completing all four of his pass attempts for 45 yards and scrambling for 16 more. With how quickly Griffin is growing up, some of Newtons NFL rookie passing records may be in jeopardy come December. NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: New England defensive end Chandler Jones. Largely unheralded by the media until just before last Aprils draft, Jones has shown that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick knew what he was doing with the No. 21 overall pick. Already a starter, Jones posted three sacks, two forced fumbles and 17 tackles in September. His strong play continued in Sundays 52-28 thumping of Buffalo. Jones forced Bills punts on two first-quarter drives by dumping running back Fred Jackson (three-yard loss) and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (sack) on third-down plays. NFL Offensive Player of the Year: Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. No NFL rusher has gained more yards since Week 9 of last season than Lynch, who has kept that momentum going in 2012. Lynch posted his second 100-yard game of the season in Sundays 19-17 loss to St. Louis and stands as the leagues rushing leader with 423 yards. His efforts have helped take some of the load off Russell Wilsons shoulders as Seattles rookie quarterback settles into the starting role. NFL Defensive Player of the Year: Houston defensive end J.J. Watt. While in a neck-and-neck race with Green Bay outside linebacker Clay Matthews for front-runner status, Watts production is unparalleled by any other 3-4 end in only his second NFL season. A constant threat to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage, Watt is the first NFL player since 1998 to register at least 1.5 sacks in each of the first four games of the season. The last player to do it? Carolina linebacker Kevin Greene, who (coincidentally enough) is now Matthews position coach in Green Bay. NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. Based on how this season is unfolding, this race should go down to the wire between Peterson and Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. Even during the preseason, there were questions about whether Peterson would be sufficiently recovered from a major knee injury suffered last December to play in Week 1 against Jacksonville. Not only did he return with a strong performance against the Jaguars, Peterson is looking better each week. Peterson broke the century mark for the first time this season with a 21-carry, 102-yard performance in Sundays 20-13 win at Detroit.
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Jerry Jones ‘very sad’ Jerry Richardson is selling Panthers

Jerry Richardson selling Carolina Panthers amid investigation

Roy Williams honored late Pat Summitt during game at Tennessee

Burfict responds to Smith-Schuster's TD celebration

Antonio Brown taken to hospital for further evaluation

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Cam Newton offers support for Panthers owner

Captain Munnerlyn calls benching ‘slap in the face’

Report: Jerry Richardson would ask to shave women’s legs

Twitter reacts to Thomas Davis' dirty hit on Davante Adams

Randall Cobb splits defenders with sick move on catch-and-run TD

Eli Manning's two TDs against Eagles vault Manning family to 1,000 TDs in regular season

Top takeaways from NFL Week 15

Sports & Politics Intersect: Mr. Jones goes to Washington

The 'It's the most wonderful bowl of the year' quiz

NHL Weekender: Bolts keep striking, Preds on the hunt

Chargers are the AFC team no one wants to play in January

Donald Trump's quotes vs. the sports world in 2017

Five MLB teams that should trade for Manny Machado

The 'It's always chilly in Indiana' quiz

NFL puts safety entirely on players, again

Eight NFL teams who simply need to start over

Most important player on every team in each bowl matchup

NFL Week 15 Predictions

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

Sports & Politics Intersect: Mr. Jones goes to Washington

NHL Weekender: Bolts keep striking, Preds on the hunt

The 'It's the most wonderful bowl of the year' quiz

Donald Trump's quotes vs. the sports world in 2017

Chargers are the AFC team no one wants to play in January

The 'It's always chilly in Indiana' quiz

NFL puts safety entirely on players, again

Most important player on every team in each bowl matchup

NFL Week 15 Predictions

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Boogie, Z-Bo reach out and punch someone

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker