The wait for professional football has spanned 214 long days. Tonight, the wait is over. The Atlanta Falcons will travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles and kick of the 2018-2019 NFL season. The sports staff at the Campus Citizen is just as excited as the rest of the world for the return of the NFL. Here are their predictions for the upcoming season.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers - Ryan Gregory
Why Rodgers? I don’t know about you, but a $134 million contract extension would motivate me to play my best week in and week out. Rodgers is already the best quarterback in the league. The addition of Jimmy Graham at tight end gives him a much needed redzone threat and sixth-round draft pick Equanimeous St. Brown should prove to be an exciting deep threat for Rodgers to bomb it to.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers- Noah Wolfgang
Why Rodgers? Do I really need to explain why? Rodgers has been the best passer in the league for a few years now. He has something to prove coming off of an injury obtained this past season. I predict he’ll lead the Packers back into the playoffs while passing for over 4,000 yards and tossing 35-plus touchdowns. Don’t forget that the Packers signed Jimmy Graham in the offseason.
Drew Brees, Saints- Zach Griffith
Why Brees? It seems like the only accolade that Drew Brees can’t boast is the NFL MVP award; the man has a ring, a Super Bowl MVP award, 11 Pro Bowl invitations, and is a four-time All-Pro selection. With weapons like Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Mark Ingram to throw to, Brees’s arsenal is as loaded as it’s ever been. The Saints will again be NFC contenders and, when you throw in the fact that Brees is less than 1,500 yards away from breaking the all-time passing record, it just seems like a huge season is in store.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers- Justin Powell
Why Rodgers? Aaron Rodgers has proved countless times that he should be mentioned with the greats among quarterbacks. Rodgers has a Super Bowl and two league MVP’s already, not to mention the $134 million contract that he just signed to make him one of the highest paid NFL players. Coming of a season-ending injury last season, Rodgers looks to have a bounce back season. With the addition of Jimmy Graham, Aaron Rodgers will be more of a threat, especially in the red zone.
Todd Gurley, Rams- Devin Voss
Why Gurley? Aside from his lone disappointing sophomore season (thanks Jeff Fischer), Todd Gurley has proven his worth, specifically a season ago when he rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns in the highest scoring offense from 2017 (thanks Sean McVay!). Though his rushing numbers were solid, his receiving stats were just as good for a running back. He totaled 64 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns. Those numbers alone were MVP worthy, now imagine what Gurley will do under a four year, 60 million dollar extension.
AFC Offensive Player of the Year
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs - Ryan Gregory
Why Hunt? Put simply, Hunt is the best player on the best offense in the AFC. He proved his worth in his rookie campaign last season, rushing for 1,327 yards and catching for another 455. The Chiefs will lean on him to ease first-time starter Patrick Mahomes into the offense. More touches equals more yards. Hunt will be considered one of the league’s best by the end of the season.
Antonio Brown, Steelers- Noah Wolfgang
Why Brown? My belief that Le’Veon Bell will continue to hold out has been all but confirmed.His agents are saying it may be a minute before he sets foot on the field. This puts all of the responsibility on Brown, and if the past six seasons or so have shown anything, it’s that Brown will pick up the slack in stride.
Deshaun Watson, Texans- Zach Griffith
Why Watson?- Deshaun Watson was ROLLING before an ACL tear cut his season short in 2017. It seemed like Houston was putting up 40 points every week, and guys like Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins were reaping the benefits of Watson’s cannon arm. Watson threw for almost 1,700 yards and tossed 19 touchdowns in only 7 games last season before the injury. Assuming he stays on the field, another stat-stuffing year could be in the making.
Antonio Brown, Steelers- Justin Powell
Why Brown?- Antonio Brown has been a weapon for Ben Roethlisberger since he came into the league in 2010. In the last couple of years, Brown has been a headache for opposing coaches, recording five straight seasons with over a 1,000 yards receiving. Until Bell comes back from his holdout, Big Ben will look to Brown as often as he can. He is in for another big year.
Tyreek Hill, Chiefs- Devin Voss
Why Hill? While this pick is bold, it’s not as bold as one would think. Pairing Hill with future MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes seems like a match from heaven. While Hill’s success ultimately depends on Mahomes’ development, on paper these two just seem unfair together. Last season with Alex Smith at the helm, Hill put up respectable stats, totalling 1,183 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns. Why such a big jump this season? Patrick Mahomes has a legitimate cannon for an arm and pairing that with the fastest receiver in the NFL seems lethal. Hill will also make an impact in the kick/punt return game as well as rushing.
AFC Defensive Player of the Year
Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars - Ryan Gregory
Why Ramsey? All eyes are on Jalen Ramsey after his excessive amounts of trash talk this offseason. Players as good as him are allowed to talk all they want. Ramsey has the potential to be a Revis-like game changer who can shut down any team’s number one option. Everyone will be gunning for him, but I believe he’s up to the challenge
Yannick Ngakoue, Jaguars- Noah Wolfgang
Why Ngakoue? The young defensive end for the Jaguars will have a career defining season. Look for him to build on a stellar 2017 campaign in which he racked up an impressive twelve sacks. Don’t be surprised if he records around 16 sacks this season.
Joey Bosa, Chargers- Zach Griffith
Why Bosa? I’m not buying all of the Chargers hype, but I’m all in on Joey Bosa. With the first Pro Bowl selection of his young career under his belt, the elite pass-rusher will be looking to build on his breakout 2017 season. Bosa posted 12.5 sacks last year and could push closer to 19 or 20 this time around.
J.J. Watt, Texans- Justin Powell
Why Watt? For the last seven seasons, Watt has been a headache for coaches and offensive lines alike. Watt has had three seasons where he has recorded over 15 sacks in a season. Watt has struggled with injuries in the past, most notably his season-ending injury last season. Look for Watt to be a monster on the defensive side of the ball. I believe he could push 20 sacks on the season if he stays healthy.
Calais Campbell, Jaguars- Devin Voss
Why Campbell? Campbell has always been a monster on the defensive front. Though he had many great seasons with the Cardinals, none of them compare to what Campbell did with the Jaguars a season ago. He recorded 14.5 sacks and 67 combined tackles. Though it seems the entire Jaguars defense is running for defensive player of the year, Campbell may have the most impact of the bunch.
AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens - Ryan Gregory
Why Jackson? As evidenced by his Heisman trophy and first round draft selection, Lamar Jackson is an elite talent. The Ravens will likely get off to a slow start behind the lacking arm of Joe Flacco. Enter Jackson. He will impress enough from the midway point of the season to take home yet another trophy, this time AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Sam Darnold, Jets- Noah Wolfgang
Why Darnold? This was tough. Sam Darnold of Baker Mayfield? The edge goes to Darnold because he is the more NFL ready quarterback. The Browns didn’t give Mayfield the start like the Jets did for Darnold. Look for him to have a decent first season in the league to build his career on. It won’t be enough to carry the Jets into the postseason, but he should help the Jets improve from their five-win total last season.
Sam Darnold, Jets- Zach Griffith
Why Darnold? Darnold seems like the most logical pick here, mostly because we have no idea when Baker Mayfield will see some action in Cleveland. It looks like a grim year for the Jets is in store, but Darnold ought to be a bright spot for New York. He won’t put up the stats like Deshaun Watson did for Houston last year, but I think he could provide steady play like Dak Prescott did for Dallas in 2016.
Sam Darnold, Jets- Justin Powell
Why Darnold? Darnold was the third player taken, behind Mayfield and Barkley. With Mayfield starting the season as the backup for Cleveland, we don’t know when he will be at the helm for the Browns. Darnold can be a bright spot for a Jets team that looks to build from last season. Darnold can be the quarterback that leads the charge for a Jets team in rebuilding mode.
Sam Darnold, Jets- Devin Voss
Why Darnold? With Darnold being declared the week one starter for the Jets and Baker Mayfield starting the season on the bench, this pick is simple. Darnold will not lead the team to the playoffs but he will put up respectable numbers as a rookie.
AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year
Harold Landry/Rashaan Evans, Tennessee Titans - Ryan Gregory
Why either of these two? The Titans were dying for linebackers going into the draft this year. Evans was a given in the first round and Landry fell into their lap in the second. Both of these players are game-changers who, if they perform to their draft stock, could be the turning point this Titans team has been searching for on defense.
Bradley Chubb, Broncos- Noah Wolfgang
Why Chubb? Chubb is blessed to have been drafted by the Denver Broncos. He should be a great fit with Denver. He will learn from Von Miller, one of the best in the game. Combine this with his natural talent and you have a solid rookie. The fact that opposing teams will have to put two bodies on Miller should provide an easier path to the opposing quarterback.
Bradley Chubb, Broncos- Zach Griffith
Why Chubb? I was really hoping that Chubb would fall to the Colts in the draft, but John Elway landed him one pick in front of them. The Broncos’ defense has been among the best for a few years, so the addition of Chubb should keep that trend going. Put him alongside Von Miller and you’ve got yourself a scary-looking unit in Denver.
Bradley Chubb, Broncos- Justin Powell
Why Chubb? Bradley Chubb was the most anticipated player on the defensive side of the ball to be drafted back in April. Going to the Broncos and learning from Von Miller and a defense that has been top notch in past seasons can be beneficial for Chubb. Look for Chubb to have a huge season, and that Denver defense to be one of the best in the league again.
Bradley Chubb, Broncos- Devin Voss
Why Chubb? Bradley Chubb was highly touted coming out of North Carolina State and it’s not too hard to see why. He recorded 10 sacks in each of his last two seasons in the ACC. While Denzel Ward will be a hot commodity to the Browns defense, Bradley Chubb will have the biggest impact on the field.
NFC Offensive Player of the Year
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints - Ryan Gregory
Why Thomas? Thomas has three great blessings in his life. One of them plays quarterback and the other two play running back. With legitimate other targets on the Saints offense in Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, defenses are no longer solely concentrated on Thomas. With Drew Brees, one of the best quarterbacks ever, throwing him passes, Thomas should ball out this season.
Todd Gurley, Rams- Noah Wolfgang
Why Gurley? The Rams should be scary good this upcoming season. That defense should keep quarterbacks up all night. The offense will be carried by Gurley. Goff will be good, but Gurley will be better. A solid offensive line will open plenty of holes for him to burst through.With his capabilities, he should be tearing off big gains on a regular basis.
Todd Gurley, Rams- Zach Griffith
Why Gurley? This was a pretty simple choice. Gurley’s going to be the best fantasy running back for the second straight year, the Rams are shaping up to be The Greatest Show on Turf 2.0 and opposing defenses will have their hands full. Don’t be surprised if Gurley pushes 1,800 yards on the ground or even 20 touchdowns (had 13 last year).
Drew Brees, Saints- Justin Powell
Why Brees?- Drew Brees consistently puts up monster numbers in the passing game. Brees is less than 1,500 yards away from breaking the all-time passing yards record, which was set at 71,940 by Peyton Manning in 2014. Look for Brees to have another 4,000 yard season, and look for the Saints to be contenders in the NFC.
Alvin Kamara, Saints- Devin Voss
Why Kamara? Nobody expected Alvin Kamara would have such an impact for the Saints last season. Drafted in the third round, the former Tennessee Volunteer exploded as part of the Saints one-two punch at running back, which also featured Mark Ingram, last season. Seemingly out of nowhere, Kamara rushed for 728 yards on only 120 carries while pounding the ball into the endzone eight times. He also caught 81 passes for 826 yards and five touchdowns. With his sophomore season almost underway, one can only imagine what his numbers will be with a bigger role.
NFC Defensive Player of the Year
Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears - Ryan Gregory
Why Mack? Mack was the best defensive player in the AFC until a trade brought him to Chicago from the Raiders. Now, Mack has his chance to wreak havoc upon a new host of trembling quarterbacks. Paired on a defensive line with other weapons like Leonard Floyd, Mack should thrive in the Midway.
Aaron Donald, Rams- Noah Wolfgang
Why Donald? Donald is ready to prove that he is worth every cent of that $135 million. He is the most dominant player on any defensive line across the league and will be the leader of a fantastic Rams defense. Look for him to have 10-plus sacks for the second straight season.
Harrison Smith, Vikings- Zach Griffith
Why Smith? Harrison Smith is one of the few safeties in the league who can command a quarterback’s utmost attention. He’s spearheading Minnesota’s dominant defense yet again and the Vikes are hoping for a Super Bowl run. If that turns out to be the case, you can bet that Smith will be one of the main reasons why.
Aaron Donald, Rams- Justin Powell
Why Donald? Aaron Donald spent part of the training camp in a holdout looking for a new contract. Boy did the Rams deliver with a $135 million deal that makes him the second highest paid defensive player in the league. Aaron Donald deserves every penny of that and is ready to prove that he is worth that much with a monster season. I expect him to have 15 sacks.
Khalil Mack, Bears- Devin Voss
Why Mack? The Bears robbed the Raiders of Mack and that’s putting it nicely. The Bears just acquired a top three defensive player who fits perfectly into Vic Fangio’s defense. Joining an already ferocious defense, Khalil Mack will put up huge numbers this coming season. That should be what’s expected from the now highest paid defensive player in the league.
NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions - Ryan Gregory
The last time a Detroit Lions running back rushed for more than 100 yards in a game was on Thanksgiving in 2013. That is an inexcusable drought for Detroit, but Johnson has the talent to flip the script. With little competition for the starting job, Johnson should step in immediately and start producing.
Saquon Barkley, Giants- Noah Wolfgang
Why Barkley? Rookie running backs are arguably the most NFL ready players every year. This year will be no exception as there will be many great rookie backs. Leading the charge will be Barkley. He’s an absolutely electric runner who is a consistent threat to find the endzone on every play. He will also be running behind an improved offensive line. Look for him to scratch at those unbelievable numbers that Ezekiel Elliott put up as a rookie in 2016.
Saquon Barkley, Giants- Zach Griffith
Why Barkley? Rookie running backs have been the talk of the town since 2015. That season, it was Todd Gurley. The year after that, Ezekiel Elliott. Last season? Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara. Barkley gives us no reason to think that trend will come to a halt. Saquon can catch passes out of the backfield, is a supremely gifted runner and can return kicks with the best of them. Barkley gives Eli Manning another weapon to go with Odell Beckham, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard.
Saquon Barkley, Giants- Justin Powell
Why Barkley? Saquon Barkley was the second pick in the year’s draft behind only Baker Mayfield. At Penn State, Barkley did everything. That is why he was taken so high in the draft. Some people are calling Barkley the next Ezekiel Elliott. I think he will do more this season than Elliot did in his rookie season back in 2016. With Barkley in the backfield, and having Odell Beckham, Eli Manning and the Giants are in for a big year.
Saquon Barkley, Giants- Devin Voss
Why Barkley? Behind a relatively subpar offensive line, Barkley is still due for a huge season. Why? Pure talent. Barkley was phenomenal running the ball for Penn State. He can do anything asked of him whether it be run the ball, catch the ball, or even return kicks. While I don’t believe the Giants are going to put their franchise running back on the field to return kicks, he’ll be a massive part of the Giants offense. Barkley ultimately will relieve pressure off Eli Manning and even open up the passing game for receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard.
NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jaire Alexander/Josh Jackson, Green Bay Packers
Why either of these two? It’s fair to say the Packers haven’t been great defending the pass in recent years. Last year, they were in the bottom half of the league in pass yards allowed per game. Both of these corners have a high ceiling and should see legitimate playing time as rookies. The nod here will probably go to Jackson. Once a wide receiver, he was known for his knack for interceptions at Iowa.
Roquan Smith, Bears- Noah Wolfgang
Why Smith? Smith doesn’t face an overwhelming amount of competition for this spot. Even if he simply plays an average rookie season, he would still be my pick for this award. He led Georgia in tackles in both 2016 and 2017, and he should continue to make tackles in the NFL. He and Khalil Mack should be a terror for opposing defenses.
Roquan Smith, Bears- Zach Griffith
Why Smith? First they drafted Smith, then Khalil Mack fell into their lap; the Bears’ defense is looking better by the day. Smith was a standout in college for Georgia and I think his elite abilities will carry over to Chicago.
Roquan Smith, Bears- Justin Powell
Why Smith? Smith was a big reason why the Georgia Bulldogs made it to the National Championship last season. Leading the Bulldogs in tackles each of the last two seasons, Smith looks to bring that same mentality to Chicago. Playing alongside Khalil Mack will be beneficial for Smith, and the Bears defense will be much improved this season.
Roquan Smith, Bears- Devin Voss
Why Smith? Roquan Smith fits the Bears defensive system so well that it’d be almost impossible for him to fail. Smith lead the stellar Georgia Bulldogs defense to the NCAA National Championship last year. His contract holdout may have set him back a bit but it won’t stop him from taking the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Most Improved Player
John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals - Ryan Gregory
Why Ross? Speedster receiver John Ross finally looks comfortable. In his rookie season, he was obviously not used to running routes against defensive backs that could keep up with him. From what I saw in the preseason, Ross looks more like a receiver than a track star, as he did previously. With A.J. Green across from him to take some of the spotlight away, Ross should be an important part of the Bengals offense this year.
Myles Garrett, Browns- Noah Wolfgang
Why Garrett? Call me crazy, but I can see Garrett doubling his 2017 sack total of seven this season. He earned those seven while only playing twelve games. Way back in January, he said that he is not satisfied with his rookie season, and you know he has been putting work in this offseason.
Mitch Trubisky, Bears- Zach Griffith
Why Trubisky? I don’t think the Bears will make a ton of noise this season, but Trubisky could. He showed some flashes last year and, with the addition of Allen Robinson, Trubisky has the go-to receiver that he was looking for. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are viable pass-catchers from the backfield and Trubisky looked more than comfortable giving it up to them in 2017. Don’t expect a huge leap from rookie to sophomore year, but look for a better-than-expected showing from Trubisky.
Jared Goff, Rams- Justin Powell
Why Goff? The Rams are set to have a monster season with the additions of Brandon Cooks, Aqib Talib, and Robert Woods. Jared Goff led the Rams to an unexpected playoff birth last season that caught everyone by surprise. With the additions to his arsenal, Goff will have another big year for the Rams.
John Ross, Bengals- Devin Voss
Why Ross? There’s no direction John Ross can go besides up this season. After not catching a single pass last season, expect Ross to be a household name by the end of this season. Being a first round pick and on a team that lacks depth at his position, Ross should be able to put up big numbers with his uncanny speed and knack of being able to catch the ball.
Josh Gordon, Browns - Ryan Gregory
Why Gordon? Josh Gordon showed flashes of greatness at the start of his career. In 2013, he caught for 1,646 yards. He has dealt with his fair share of off the field issues. Gordon seems refocused on football and intent on restoring the career he nearly lost. He’s a freak athlete and, shockingly, the Browns have some playmakers that should open up the field for him. Look for him to make a splash in his return to the Browns.
Andrew Luck, Colts- Zach Griffith
Why Luck? It’s easy to forget just how good Andrew Luck was before the injuries began piling up. In 2014 (the last time he played all 16 games), the guy threw for over 4,700 yards and led the league in passing touchdowns with 40 while leading the Colts to the AFC title game. I’m not saying he’ll take Indy deep into the playoffs (or even to a winning record), however I do think that stellar stats are well within the realm of possibility.
Andrew Luck, Colts- Noah Wolfgang
Why Luck? Based on his performance this preseason, during which he evaded defenders to extend plays and carried the Colts offense, I can confidently say that Luck will, if not, already has, returned to pre-injury form. He should throw for over 4,000 yards and 25-plus touchdowns, although this won’t be enough to carry a barren Colts team into the playoffs. People also tend to forget that he did play through injury in 2016 on a Colts team had about as much talent as this one. That season he put up 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns.
J.J. Watt, Texans - Justin Powell
Why Watt? Coming off another season-ending injury last season, Watt looks to have a bounce back season with the Texans. In his career Watt has shown why he is one of the best pass rushers in the league, leading in sacks in multiple years and recording over 20 sacks in two seasons, not to mention the many batted down balls he has recorded in his career. Watt is the leader on the defensive side of the ball, and I expect him to have another big season revamping that Texans defense into a force.
Andrew Luck, Colts- Devin Voss
Why Luck? As long as Luck can stay healthy throughout the regular season, this should be his award for the taking. Luck has proven his extraordinary talent many times by leading the Colts to three straight playoff runs in each of his first three seasons as a pro. Luck’s 2014 season was huge to say the least, throwing for 4,671 yards and 40 touchdowns at a 61.7% clip while leading the Colts to the AFC Championship game. If Luck can put up anything relatively close to those numbers, he’ll have this award in the bag.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Ryan Gregory
Why The Jaguars? The reign of the Patriots is finally over! The Jags will ride a stellar defense, powerful running back, and painfully average quarterback to the AFC crown.
New England Patriots- Noah Wolfgang
Why the Patriots? I’m not buying into all of the Chargers hype. Blake Bortles just won’t get the Jaguars through (as much as I’d love to see them upset the Patriots). If anything he’ll hold them back. The Bell situation in Pittsburgh doesn’t bode well. So who’s left? The most consistent Super Bowl contender since 2000. New England is still the best team in the AFC by a long shot. Sure, Tom Brady doesn’t have any receivers, but his isn’t the first time. It’s not the second time, either. Heck, it may not even be the third time. He also still has Rob Gronkowski, who, contrary to Jalen Ramsey’s belief, is an elite target. Let’s not forget that Edelman will return week five. As much as I dislike the Patriots, I just don’t see them being dethroned from the AFC crown quite yet. Maybe someday.
Houston Texans- Zach Griffith
Why the Texans? I’m definitely going out on a limb here, especially since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still in New England. But think about it this way: Houston ought to be in the postseason (either by winning the AFC South or as a Wild Card), they’ll be able to outscore just about any team out there with Watson throwing bombs to Fuller and Hopkins and they know the Jaguars’ defense better than anybody. Jacksonville is the only other serious challenger to the Patriots, and something tells me Deshaun Watson will outduel Blake Bortles in a big game scenario.
New England Patriots - Justin Powell
Why the Patriots? Tom Brady can be argued as the best quarterback of this generation, with the five Super Bowl rings and three league MVP’s, he is a no doubt hall of famer when he retires. In the past, Brady has turned no-name receivers into legitimate threats with each game the Patriots played. With Julian Edelman out for the first four games, Brady will still have Gronk as his main weapon of choice. I don’t see how anyone in the AFC can dethrone Brady and the Patriots this season.
Los Angeles Chargers- Devin Voss
Why the Chargers? This may be a shot in the dark but on paper, the Chargers should be one of the top three teams in the AFC. This could end up being one of Phillip Rivers’ best seasons at quarterback. Not only does he have one of the best receiving corps in the league (Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, and Travis Benjamin), he has one of the best running backs in the league with Melvin Gordon. Combine that with the Chargers good (but not great) defense and they should be set up of a deep playoff run.
Los Angeles Rams - Ryan Gregory
Why the Rams? The Rams were already pretty good last year. This offseason, they added studs like WR Brandin Cooks (traded from New England), CB Marcus Peters (traded from Kansas City), CB Aquib Talib (traded from Denver), DT Ndamukong Suh (free agent signing), and CB Sam Shields (free agent signing). This team is loaded and primed for a Super Bowl run.
New Orleans Saints- Noah Wolfgang
Why the Saints? With a vaunted defense like the Rams have, it’s going to take an all-time great quarterback to beat them. Why not Brees and his band of Saints? Drew Brees and the Saints have Alvin Kamara. Brees can put even more votes bearing his name into the the GOAT hat this season by not only passing Peyton Manning for most passing yards all-time, but by capturing that elusive second Lombardi trophy. The Saints defense is pretty solid as well. Look for the Saints to edge the Rams in what should be one of the greatest NFC Championships of all time.
Los Angeles Rams- Zach Griffith
Why the Rams?- They already had Aaron Donald. Then, they added Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. That’s just scary. With an improved Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods heading the offense, LA could end up going 13-3 or better. Cooks gives coach Sean McVay the deep-ball threat that he was lacking last year, so Goff will be looking his way every chance he gets. Their main challengers will be the Eagles, Vikings, Packers and Saints, but their defense will be so dominant that it just won’t matter.
Los Angeles Rams- Justin Powell
Why the Rams? The Rams last season shocked the league by winning the NFC West and making it to the playoffs. This season they are a legitimate threat to make it to the Super Bowl. The Rams offense and defense last season already many weapons, with the additions of Aqib Talib, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods, Sean McVay and the Rams are a force to be reckoned with in NFC.
New Orleans Saints- Devin Voss
Why the Saints? The New Orleans Saints were one missed tackle away from going to the NFC Championship last season. Being on the opposite end of one of the most iconic plays in NFL history had to leave a bad taste for the Saints. This season they will be hungrier than ever to get to the Super Bowl. Besides, why not give Drew Brees one last ride?
Super Bowl Champion
Los Angeles Rams - Ryan Gregory
Why the Rams? The Jaguars vs. Rams Super Bowl will be a clash of some terrifyingly talented defenses. The Rams get the nod because of their superior offense. Jared Goff is coming into his own at quarterback and running back Todd Gurley II is still hot after rushing for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
New Orleans Saints- Noah Wolfgang.
Why the Saints? In a battle of the old guys, the Saints will come out on top. When the Saints have a good defense, they win championships (look at Super Bowl XLIV for reference). This year, New Orleans will have the best defense it has had since that franchise-defining defense in 2010. Drew Brees will be out to win another ring. Alvin Kamara should be able to run all over a less than stellar Patriots defense. Michael Thomas will have a big game. That defense I mentioned should be able to keep Brady in check.
Los Angeles Rams- Zach Griffith
Why the Rams? Texans vs. Rams will be a classic battle between elite offense and elite defense. Honestly, if Houston’s defense is 100% healthy, who’s to say they couldn’t rival LA’s? However, we’ve heard this song before (Broncos vs. Seahawks, anyone?). I don’t think it’ll be the 43-8 debacle that was Super Bowl XLVIII, but it will be a convincing victory for this young and talented Rams core.
Los Angeles Rams- Justin Powell
Why the Rams? Patriots vs. Rams will bring a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI and will be a battle of old vs. young. The Rams have a young core group of players that are ready to make their names heard, and the ageless wonder Tom Brady has won an incredible five Super Bowls in his career, with one of those being against these same Rams in 2002. This time there won’t be sixth ring for Brady. Tn a close battle, the Rams will edge the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.
New Orleans Saints- Devin Voss
Why the Saints? The Saints arguably have the most motivation of any team not named the Atlanta Falcons to make it the Super Bowl. Their defense will be great and their offense will be even better. The experience and talent of Drew Brees will lead the Saints to their second Super Bowl win in eight years.
Arizona Cardinals - Ryan Gregory
Why the Cardinals? Often looked at as a draft bust, quarterback Sam Bradford is a serviceable starter when healthy. If he does go down with an injury (as he usually does) rookie Josh Rosen looked pro-ready at UCLA. David Johnson, forgotten by most after losing a season to a knee injury, is a superstar-caliber player. Larry Fitzgerald has the most reliable hands in football and Christian Kirk brings an exciting splash of youth to the receiving corps. The defense may allow a slew of points, but the offense should drum up some unexpected wins.
Houston Texans- Noah Wolfgang
Why the Texans? The Texans are primed to be a playoff contender this year, and I’m at a loss as to why they aren’t getting the same level of attention that the Chargers are. With multiple players returning from injury, including stud Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt, the Texans should be considered a lock to win around ten games. They finished fourth in the AFC South last year (they somehow managed to lose to the Colts twice), which means that they have a pretty easy schedule outside of the division. Watch out when the get into the playoffs. Watson performed well in big games while at Clemson, so don’t be shocked when he leads the Texans to a AFC Championship appearance. The Patriots will ultimately stand in their way, though.
Atlanta Falcons- Zach Griffith
Why the Falcons? Don’t sleep on Matty Ice and company. Julio Jones is the best receiver in football. Devonta Freeman will run through anybody and Tevin Coleman is one of the best pass-catching backs in the game. The defense is solid, they have playoff experience and came as close to winning the Super Bowl as you can get. It just seems like people have been overlooking the Falcons even though their offense should continue to be explosive. With that infamous Super Bowl LI now two years behind them, Atlanta should challenge teams like Philly, Minnesota, LA and the Saints for NFC supremacy.
Cleveland Browns - Justin Powell
Why the Browns? I think the city of Cleveland has had enough of the their favorite football team having bad seasons, and this season will be different for the city of Cleveland. After going winless last year, Cleveland looks to rebound in a big way, and I believe they will and make the playoffs this year. Baker Mayfield is the future for the Browns no doubt, and with key acquisitions in the draft and in free agency like Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde, and the return of Josh Gordon, this Browns team is ready to put up a fight in the AFC North.
Carolina Panthers- Devin Voss
Why the Panthers? The Panthers were finally able to acquire some talent at the wide receiver position to help out Cam Newton. They drafted D.J. Moore out of Maryland, picked up Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright in free agency, and still have Devin Funchess at their disposable. Christian McCaffrey should have a huge second season as well. The Panthers defense should be solid just as they have been for the past couple seasons.
Los Angeles Chargers - Ryan Gregory
Why the Chargers? The hype has been palpable for the Chargers this offseason, some going as far as to predict them as Super Bowl champions. I just can’t see them living up to those standards. A revamped Broncos defense and an electric offense in Kansas City stand of the way of LA even winning the division, let alone the conference. With the loss of tight end Hunter Henry to an ACL injury and a failure to upgrade at the linebacker position, LA will fall short of expectations.
Seattle Seahawks- Noah Wolfgang
Why the Seahawks? Long gone are the days of the Legion of Boom. Now it’s just Russel Wilson. No one really has the Seahawks being a playoff team anyway, but I think they could be competing for the top pick in the draft. Remember those terrible Colts teams from the past few years? The Seahawks have become their reflection; a terrible team riding on the shoulders of a great quarterback. What’s worse is that the offensive line can’t keep Wilson off the ground. Just ask any Colts fan what happens when your only playmaker gets injured. Not to mention, they have the Rams and 49ers to deal with in their division.
Pittsburgh Steelers- Zach Griffith
Why Pittsburgh? The Steelers’ 2018 campaign is off to a rough start thanks to Le’Veon Bell. The star running back isn’t reporting to the team, Big Ben isn’t getting any younger and Ryan Shazier is a long way from playing again. Without Bell, the offense won’t be as intimidating, even with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster running patterns for Roethlisberger. The Steelers could be a huge letdown for fans and the NFC North should very much be up for grabs.
Pittsburgh Steelers- Justin Powell
Why the Steelers? The Steelers will have to start off their 2018 campaign without Le’Veon Bell, who is holding out, because he wants a new contract and won’t play under the franchise tag. Without Bell, more pressure will be put on Big Ben and Antonio Brown to produce. Although I see Antonio Brown having a huge season, without Le’Veon Bell Big Ben will be forced to pass more, and putting that much pressure on him and his receivers is asking too much. The Steelers could be in trouble this season, and the NFC North is wide open for the taking.
Pittsburgh Steelers- Devin Voss
Why the Steelers? It almost seems as if the Steelers consistently sit on the throne of disappointment. Nothing should change this season. The Steelers have all the talent in the world to win the Super Bowl yet last year the Jacksonville Jaguars ran past them in the AFC Divisional game. That upon itself is an embarrassing feat. With talent slowly starting to balance out in the AFC, expect the Steelers to once again dissapoint.
Coach of the Year
Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears - Ryan Gregory
Why Nagy? Nagy enters his first season at the helm in Chicago with a lot of young talent and low expectations. That is the perfect formula to win Coach of the Year honors. The Bears finished 5-11 last season which led to the firing of John Fox. The offense was 29th in the league in scoring. Nagy brings an exciting playbook with him from Kansas City. Last season with Nagy as offensive coordinator, the Chiefs were sixth in scoring. Under his guidance, young talent like Jordan Howard and Roquan Smith should turn the fate of the struggling Bears.
Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans- Noah Wolfgang
Why O’Brien? Sometimes a great team will win this award for their coach. O’Brien is a pretty decent coach on his own. Average play caller. Average game manager. What he has done very well is assemble a young, skilled core, and for that he must be given credit. After the Texans make a surprise run to the AFC Championship game, O’Brien will get the credit he deserves.
Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs- Zach Griffith
Why Reid? Patrick Mahomes will seamlessly transition into Alex Smith’s role in 2018. Reid was able to rejuvenate Smith’s career in KC and Mahomes could be in for a big season with Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt flanking him. Reid will play a huge part in Mahomes’s development, which should translate to a record of at least 10-6. Don’t be shocked if the Chiefs make some noise come playoff time, so you’ll most likely be giving Reid his due.
Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns - Justin Powell
Why Jackson? The city of Cleveland has had enough of seeing the Browns lose. The future for the Browns is bright, and I believe Hue Jackson can get the job done. After going winless last year, you have to believe that he is fired up and ready to fight this season. The Browns are loaded on the offensive side of the ball and look to be among the top in the league. Don’t be shocked come December to you see the Browns in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins- Devin Voss
Why Gruden? After Kirk Cousins destined to leave in free agency, the direction of the Washington Redskins was unknown. Then out of nowhere breaking news had hit that the Redskins acquired Alex Smith from the Chiefs. Smith had his best season of his career last year and within Jay Gruden’s west coast, game managing style of offense I expect Alex Smith to thrive once again. Recently adding Adrian Peterson was a great move as well. The Redskins will likely be a playoff team this upcoming season and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them among the best in the AFC.