Like I do every year a few days before the regular season kicks off, I put together my predictions for all the major NFL awards, picked every single one of the 256 games on the schedule and all the playoff matchups leading up to Super Bowl LIV. There is nothing tougher to predict than NFL games and nothing represents that better than the fact that every year half the teams that made the postseason the prior season will miss out the following year. While there are obvious favorites for the a few of the awards which I could not ignore, I also went off the radar with some names and I have seven new teams making the playoffs compared to last year.
1. Carson Wentz
2. Patrick Mahomes
3. Aaron Rodgers
Just outside: Matt Ryan
I expect the Eagles to be one of the best teams in the league because they might have the most loaded roster out there and a special guy under center, who I think will re-emerge as one of the elite quarterbacks in football. Wentz was poised to win the MVP trophy back in 2017, but tore his ACL late in the year and lost some of the admiration when Nick Foles led the team on a Super Bowl run. Last season he didn’t quite return to form before sitting out the last few weeks due to an injured back, that apparently had been bothering him for a while. Now back fully healthy, all wrapped up under contract and with his best group of weapons around him, I think Wentz will slightly edge out two other signal-callers for the MVP trophy.
After a historic MVP season in his first year as a starter, everybody is waiting to see what Mahomes is going to do for an encore. While the AFC West should be a lot tougher overall, I think the Chiefs are still the cream of the crop, especially with the Chargers missing two of their best players for an extended period expectedly. With the North and South looking pretty competitive and not having a clear favorite at this point, Kansas City will have a good chance of earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. Not only should the team be very successful once again, with the additional weapons, this offense could be even more explosive and lead to big numbers for Mahomes.
And thirdly, I have one of the veteran QBs, who people act like he won’t still be one of the league’s best. Aaron Rodgers has not been in the MVP conversation these last two years and the Packers haven’t made the playoffs during that span. However, he hasn’t been healthy since 2016 and I think this could be Rodgers’ best team since his only Super Bowl appearance in 2010/11. New head coach Matt LaFleur will take some pressure off the quarterback with that zone-rushing attack, more creative play-design overall and easy completions. I expect Rodgers to shut up the critics and remind everybody that he is still one of the league’s best.
Reunited with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, a hopefully healthy Devonta Freeman, one of the premiere receiver trios in the league and a rising tight-end in Austin Hooper I expect Ryan to put up MVP-type numbers this year. While his O-line has looked pretty bad through the preseason, with all the investments they have made, the QB should have some better protection than he did in 2018. Without a first-round bye it’s tough for me to put him in the top three however.
Offensive Player of the Year:
1. Patrick Mahomes
2. Christian McCaffrey
3. Saquon Barkley
Just outside: Carson Wentz and Aaron Rodgers
This is the first time I am predicting the Offensive Player of the Year, because I always thought the best offensive or defensive player in a year should also be looked at as the most valuable one, but with the way team success is credited to individual players and those quarterbacks always taking home the most prestigious honor, I wanted to give some other offensive superstars the credit they deserve.
With that being said, I’m still giving the award to a QB because I believe if Wentz receives MVP honors, the NFL media will hand Mahomes the trophy for the best offensive player, Nobody dazzles fans with 50-yard lasers, no-look passes and left-handed throws quite like this guy, Mahomes might actually have more talent around him this year than he did in 2018 with the additions of Mecole Hardman and Darwin Thompson in the draft as well as (hopefully) a healthy Sammy Watkins. While it’s unlikely he repeats those 50 touchdowns, he should be among the league leaders and throw for around 5000 yards.
Next up I have a running back who just broke the record for total receptions in a season for the position and might re-write the record books once again in 2019, Run CMC broke onto the scene as one of the premiere backs in all of football last season, He has proven those doubters wrong about not being able to run in-between the tackles, there are so many creative ways the Panthers can put the ball in his hands and he is truly one of the great receiving backs I have seen come into the league. I expect around 2000 all-purpose yards, double-digit touchdowns and one of the most entertaining performances around the league
And then there is the phenom. To me Saquon Barkley is already the best running back in the league and there is a reason he is the consensus first overall pick in fantasy football. There is no doubt in my mind that the second-year running back will put up monstrous numbers. With quarterback play won’t scare defenses from loading up against the run, I don’t see how you can bottle up this kid – he will break loose eventually. With an improved interior O-line and a quarterback who checks the ball down more than anybody else, I expect Saquon to go well beyond 2000 yards from scrimmage and around 100 catches.
Defensive Player of the Year:
1. Von Miller
2. Deion Jones
3. Myles Garrett
Just outside: Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald
I know I have put his name among my top candidates for years, but I think this is the year Von Miller will finally receive the award he is so deserving of. The Broncos outside linebacker could have easily taken home the trophy twice already. With Bradley Chubb as that power-rusher off the opposite end, some help up the middle by third-round pick Dre’Mont Jones out of Ohio State and an offense that should sustain drives, I could see Miller flirt personal bests in sacks and he could put up a lot of TFLs as well. I don’t quite know yet how they will be split up, but I’m predicting 30 combined sacks between Miller and Chubb.
I already had Jones as a dark horse candidate to win this award ahead of last season, but he went on IR with a bunch of other Falcons after a physical week one game against the Eagles, and he wasn’t quite himself when he did return. You can question the amount of dependable pass-rushers and how some of the guys in the secondary will develop, but I still think this could be one of the fastest defenses in the league. Jones will not only easily give you triple-digit tackles, but he has a nose for the ball and is an excellent coverage player. As the Falcons re-emerge in the South, Jones will start to gain some recognition nationally.
And then my third guy is the first overall pick from 2017. Myles Garrett obviously is an immense talent, but this is not just about the development I see for him coming into year three, but also the players he has around him. With the additions of Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson to go with an underrated Larry Ogunjobi, this D-line is loaded with disruptive player. That means a guy who has said himself that he has limited himself to two moves as a pass rusher will see plenty of one-on-one opportunities with an overhauled arsenal of maneuvers. The 13.5 sacks from last season should definitely be topped in 2019.
Aaron Donald obviously still in the mix, but as you can see in my playoff predictions, I don’t think the Rams will win enough to have their players receive trophies and because they won’t be ahead as much, AD shouldn’t quite put up the numbers he has done these last two years. Mack’s Bears will be a fringe playoff team to me as well. Double-digit sacks and a few forced fumbles are a guarantee, but if opposing teams are smart, they will limit the time their quarterbacks hold the ball and how many chances they take downfield against the Chicago D.
Comeback Player of the Year:
1. Jimmy Garoppolo
2. Le’Veon Bell
3. Earl Thomas
Just outside: David Johnson and Jameis Winston
I don’t want to give away too much about my playoff predictions a couple of paragraphs down, but I have the Niners winning the NFC West and Kyle Shanahan turning Jimmy G into a second-tier MVP candidate. Returning from a torn ACL, the former Patriot QB has a bunch of young skill guys around him now, such as Dante Pettis in year two, a couple of promising rookies in Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, a YAC-monster at tight-end in George Kittle and Tevin Coleman reuniting with his former OC, which will probably lead to 50+ catches and more than 1000 yards on the ground for the season. I’m penciling Garoppolo in for 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns.
We haven’t really seen anybody do what Bell did last season since the franchise tag was introduced. The former Steelers star running back decided not to sign his tender in favor of waiting a year and getting a long-term deal on the open market. While the decision and its results can be questioned, from everything I’ve heard Bell is re-energized and excited to get to work in this Adam Gase offense. With a rising young QB in Sam Darnold, new weapons and most importantly an improved Jets O-line, Bell should return to form as one of the top RBs in all of football, while catching 80+ passes.
And finally I went with a defensive player. Rarely does this award to go to a guy on that side of the ball, because you don’t see those kind of drastic drop-offs or improvement in statistics as you can for quarterbacks or offensive skill player. Earl Thomas’ situation is a little different however. Similar to Bell, the former Seahawks safety wanted some long-term financial security with just one year left on his deal, but decided to return for regular season action after sitting out training camp. After looking like the best safety in the league for the first three weeks, Thomas broke his leg and flipped the double bird at his own sideline. He returns as part of one of the NFL’s elite defenses in Baltimore and should be motivated to prove he is far from done.
I have DJ just outside my top three because his comeback won’t be quite as dramatic after just having a down-season, but I expect him to really improve his numbers and re-emerge as one of the top backs in football in a more space-oriented offense. Winston on the other hand has yet to prove he was the worth the number one overall pick in 2015 and is coming off a season where he was suspended early on and split time with Ryan Fitzpatrick. With Bruce Arians at the helm, the Bucs will air it out and make Winston look like a different guy.
Offensive Rookie of the Year:
1. David Montgomery
2. Kyler Murray
3. Miles Sanders
Just outside: Josh Jacobs
Montgomery was my second-highest graded back in the 2019 draft and he is in a perfect situation. That interior three of Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long and James Daniels could be as good as any in the league and the Bears some weapons at wide receiver, Montgomery is a tough inside runner with a lot of contact balance but also an incredible ability to make potential tacklers miss. Matt Nagy brought him in to be more of a workhorse back, who can stay on the field for all three downs, after Jordan Howard was substituted a whole lot last year. Montgomery doesn’t quite have the speed to finish those 50+ yard runs consistently, but he will receive a big workload and put up big numbers. By the way, I already put some money on him at odds of 17 to 1.
The betting favorite is the first overall pick and only QB to start from week one. Linking up with head coach Kliff Kingsbury and playing in that Air-Raid system could lead to a lot of success early on.Murray has an explosive arm to spread the ball around and when he is flushed out of the pocket, he is as dynamic a runner as we have seen come out of the draft since Michael Vick maybe, with Lamar Jackson being in that mix as well. However, I don’t have him winning the award because of the questions I have about the offensive line and the lack of proven playmakers on the outside. There is certainly a lot of talent and the scheme will lead to big numbers, but the Cardinals will still probably finish below .500.
It was a tough choice for me between two running backs for that third spot, I went with the Eagles’ second-round pick Miles Sanders here although you might see he is part of a deep committee in Philly, but I’m betting on one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and the most talented guy in the backfield earning the majority of the touches. On the other side I have the only RB selected in the first round – Josh Jacobs. He should clearly be the number one option out of the backfield for the Raiders and handle around 300 touches, but I’m just not completely sold on the offense overall and the blocking won’t quite be as good.
Defensive Rookie of the Year:
1. Ed Oliver
2. Devin Bush
3. Brian Burns
Just outside: Quinnen Williams and Nick Bosa
I think Buffalo will have one of the elite defenses in football this season and this rookie will stand out, Oliver was my number four overall prospect back in April because of his ridiculous quickness, power and explosiveness for a guy his size. He will be a terror for opposing teams as that 3-technique among a talented young front-seven and disrupt plays constantly. Last week I mentioned him among my preseason standouts despite not even recording a single solo tackle through three games. While I somewhat count on the voters here to actually watch the games and measure his all-around impact, I could see Oliver put up double-digit TFLs and six to eight sacks as well.
NFL writers like to give this trophy to linebackers with high tackle numbers and I think Bush will easily surpass 100 take-downs. Watching Bush run around the field like a maniac at Michigan and now for the Steelers in preseason, this guy should be in on the action on pretty much every single snap. In a AFC North that is all of a sudden loaded with talented backs and speed around the field, Pittsburgh has brought in one of the most dynamic LB prospects in recent years. Bush should not only chase ball-carriers around the field, but also make a few impact plays on passes and rack up a few sacks due to his closing speed as a blitzer and how the Steelers have always utilized their inside backers in those packages.
Burns was one of my favorite players in this draft due to his natural flexibility and speed to win as a true edge rusher. He already showed out in the preseason with four sacks and I think his skill-set to go with some of the improved power he’s shown will make him one of the more dangerous young pass-rushers in the league quickly. Combine that with a D-line that includes Kawann Short, Gerald McCoy, Mario Addison and others and I can see Burns collect double-digit sacks his rookie campaign, with a couple of strips among them.
The next two guys up are the two obvious picks, as they were the top two defensive players drafted. Quinnen Williams was my number one overall prospect and he already flashed the ability to dominate 320+ pounders. Nick Bosa on the other hand did not make the cut, because he is already banged up and could miss a few games. However, if he is at 100 percent with all those other additions in the front-seven, he could easily be the top rookie pass rusher.
Coach of the Year:
1. Doug Pederson
2. Andy Reid
3. Sean McDermott
Just outside: Kyle Shanahan and Freddie Kitchens
My first two candidates are the coaches of the top-seeded teams in either conferences, which is usually the way this award is handed out and my third guy is someone, who I think has really established a different culture at his current franchise and now has enough at hand to crack a playoff spot.
While a lot of people have the Cowboys winning the NFC East and I like them to sneak into the playoffs as well, you could argue that Philly has the most talented team in the league. With Carson Wentz back healthy, in line for an MVP season, and his best mix of playmakers around him, to go with a defense that should be among the NFL’s best, the Eagles could blow some teams out this year, similar to the way they did in 2017 en route to a Super Bowl run. There is definitely a lot of competition in the NFC, but I have Pederson’s troops earning home-field advantage through the playoffs and winning a couple of trophies on the red carpet.
I have Big Reid, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs running away with the AFC West and earning the conference’s number one seed due to conquering the Patriots in their direct matchup at Foxborough. With Melvin Gordon holding out and Derwin James missing about half the season, I don’t see the Chargers really challenge for the division and while the other two teams should have improved quite a bit as well, this is the team to beat. With even more weapons on offense, Reid and his superstar QB will put up 35+ points a week, while having a defense that could take some pressure off them.
And then there’s a guy I have a lot of faith in. Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane arrived in Buffalo two years ago with a vision of creating a contender a few years down the road. That included finding personnel to find their defensive scheme, investing in a franchise quarterback and cutting ties with overpriced veterans. This just feels like a different franchise with young talent all over the place. Josh Allen should make a leap as a sophomore, the running game could be up there among the league leaders and their defense should be one of the premiere units in the league. I wanted to give McDermott the award, but at 9-7 I don’t think he will quite receive enough votes.
Shanahan and Kitchens are two I think will get some recognition for going from a sub-.500 team to winning their division. Both those offenses will rank somewhere in the top ten and they will have improved defenses, that will benefit from being ahead in more games. With expectations fairly high and no first-round bye earned, I have the two coaches finishing just behind the top three.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)
2. New England Patriots (12-4)
3. Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7)
5. Cleveland Browns (10-6)
6. Buffalo Bills (9-7)
Just missed: Broncos (8-8), Steelers (8-8), Chargers (8-8) and Texans (8-8)
I already talked about the Chiefs quite a bit. I don’t really see how teams will counter a rocket-arm gunslinger in year his second year with an offensive mind like Andy Reid calling the shots and I expect the defense to Improve under the new scheme.
Right behind them I have the reigning champs who just beat the Chiefs in a nail-biter in Arrowhead for the right to go to the Super Bowl. This team has inserted some youth and still has the league’s best coach. They finish second because I have them losing the direct matchup against K.C.
At number three I have my AFC North champion, who to the surprise of some are the 2018 divison champs. Baltimore might not have made the sexy additions of an Odell Beckham Jr. or guys like that, but their defense might be even better and Lamar Jackson has had a full offseason to operate in the new offense.
And the South goes to the Jaguars. A couple of weeks ago, you would have certainly found the Colts at this spot or even higher, but after the retirement of Andrew Luck, Jacksonville gets in at 9-7. The defense is still loaded and with Nick Foles they at least have a capable passer on a run-heavy offense.
In that fifth seed we have the up-and-coming, media darling Cleveland Browns. This roster was simply too strong for me to go against the grain and have them miss the playoffs. I have them winning ten games and just lose out to the Ravens due to a weaker strength of schedule.
The final playoff spot goes to Buffalo, after I already about Sean McDermott being a candidate for Coach of the Year. I think they will win games with a smashmouth rushing attack, a quarterback who can launch an 80-yard bomb at any point and a suffocating defense.
The four other teams I have just missing the playoffs are Denver, Pittsburgh, L.A. and Houston. I have them all finishing right at .500 with the Steelers having the best chance since they would own the tiebreaker over Buffalo.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)
2. Green Bay Packers (11-5)
3. San Francisco 49ers (10-6)
4. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)
5. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
6. Carolina Panthers (9-7)
Just missed: Vikings (9-7), Saints (9-7), Rams (8-8) and Bears (8-8)
With my selections for MVP and Coach of the Year coming from the Eagles, this wasn’t tough to guess. The NFC is like ten teams deep that I could see finishing above .500, but nobody has more talent than Philly and I think the playoffs will go through them once again.
My number two team on the other hand didn’t even make the playoffs last year. With Aaron Rodgers having less pressure on him in this Matt LaFleur offense and a Mike Pettine defense that has all the pieces to surprise some people, I have them winning the North.
Another sort of surprise team will be the 49ers. Some people think they will make the playoffs, but I actually have them winning their division and neither the Rams nor the Seahawks to return for postseason action.
And the final division winner is yet another team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2018. Atlanta was devastated by injuries last year, but with a healthy squad and Dirk Koetter back calling the offense, nobody will want to face the Falcons.
My first wildcard spot goes to the Dallas Cowboys. I think this team has one of the smallest margin of outcomes, as I can’t see them go below .500 but also not win more than 10 games. A lot of that has to do with mediocre quarterback play, but this team is built on the rushing attack and their defense.
The sixth seed goes to a squad that I think is kind of forgotten at this moment. Carolina started last season off at 5-2 before being blown out by the Steelers and having Cam Newton’s injury banged up. If he is healthy with the “Cat Pack” and a defense that is absolutely stacked in the front-seven, this is a team to watch out for.
This was a really tight race for the two wildcard spots. The Cowboys were fairly “easy” because I have them finishing with the best record against NFC teams, but for the Panthers I had to dive a little deeper. With a better divisional record, they held the advantage against the Saints, but they just edged out the Vikings due to record versus common opponents. The Rams would have had the direct tiebreaker against Carolina had they won one more game.
3. Baltimore Raven OVER 6. Buffalo Bills
5. Cleveland Browns OVER 4. Jacksonville Jaguars
6. Carolina Panthers OVER 3. San Francisco 49ers
5. Dallas Cowboys OVER 4. Atlanta Falcons
1.Kansas City Chiefs OVER 5. Cleveland Browns
2. New England Patriots OVER 3. Baltimore Ravens
1.Philadelphia Eagles OVER 6. Carolina Panthers
2.Green Bay Packers OVER 5. Dallas Cowboys
AFC: 1. Kansas City Chiefs OVER 2. New England Patriots
NFC: 1. Philadelphia Eagles OVER 2. Green Bay Packers
Kansas City Chiefs 34:30 Philadelphia Eagles
I have my top two MVP candidates battling it out Miami once again for the title of the best quarterback in the game and this time Mahomes takes home the trophy. Of course this matchup would feature several other storylines, such as Andy Reid going up against the team he coached for 14 years and holds the record for most regular season and playoff victories, but never could bring a Lombardi Trophy. Then there is his former offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, who did what Reid could never quite accomplish in only his second year in Philly. However, let’s not forget that LeSean McCoy would now also go up against his former team, the Kelce brothers sharing the same field and several other stories to follow. In a game that will feature highlight plays by both signal-callers, a crucial defensive play could end up deciding the game.
Here you can look through my spreadsheet predicting all 256 games and how I got to every team’s record: