The NFL has changed a lot since the season kicked off in September. The Raiders are now bad! The Rams are now good! That makes our predictions from the preseason a little out of date now — but this time we promise we’ll get it right. These are our picks for Super Bowl winner, MVP, and more.
Super Bowl Winner
Eagles Over Steelers
Danny Kelly: In a season when you see few balanced squads, these two stand above the rest. Both have stout, turnover-creating defenses, both have dominant defensive lines, and both have explosive offenses that can beat you on the ground or through the air. It may come down to which team’s quarterback plays better down the stretch, and no one’s playing better than Carson Wentz right now.
Seahawks Over Patriots
Rodger Sherman: At the beginning of the season, I picked Seahawks over Raiders because I didn’t want to pick the Patriots. “Not picking the Pats” seemed like a good instinct when the Patriots lost two of their first four, but after seeing them run off four in a row, I can’t help but think they’ll be the only team in the league that won’t look mediocre come January. I still don’t want to pick the Patriots, so go Seattle.
Steelers Over Seahawks
Robert Mays: The Eagles have looked excellent over the first half of the season and have answered every bell, but if I had to bet my life on it, I’d still get behind Seattle in the NFC. That defense has all the pieces it needs for the stretch run, and when Russell Wilson is putting on a show the way he did Sunday against the Texans, they’re still the team I’d fear most in that conference. The AFC is tougher to handicap, with the Steelers and Patriots slowly emerging once again as the contenders to reckon with. At this point, Pittsburgh’s defense and the advantage that comes with trotting out two of the sport’s true game-changing skill players every week gives them the slight edge.
Seahawks Over Patriots
Kevin Clark: In a disjointed year, teams with good quarterbacks and coaches will win. In order to beat that combo you need to have a great team, but I don’t see that in the NFL this year.
Carson Wentz, Eagles
Mays: The Eagles’ second-year quarterback has been brilliant over the first half, and the mix of efficiency, big-time raw numbers and team success is what typically wins guys this trophy. Wentz is tied for the league lead with passing touchdowns with 19, trails only Tom Brady and Alex Smith in passing yards, and is averaging 7.8 yards per attempt. Add that to the Eagles’ 7–1 start and Wentz conjuring a dazzling play or two every single week, and you’ve got the makings of an MVP season.
Tom Brady, Patriots
Kelly: Brady’s won the MVP award twice, and you could argue he’s never been more valuable to his team than he is this season. The future Hall of Famer’s going to give the Patriots a chance to win every week in spite of an underperforming defense. The 40-year-old signal-caller’s good enough to drag that team to the playoffs.
Clark: Carson Wentz and Alex Smith will be in the discussion, but Brady masking a crappy Pats defense is a feat.
Sherman: Brady’s more valuable this season than most because the Patriots defense is kinda crappy. Most years New England’s elite offense is just icing on the cake; this year it needs to be the best in the league to give the Pats wins. Without Julian Edelman or any run game to speak of, Brady’s performance is as incredible as ever.
Offensive Player of the Year
Kelly: Brady’s got a chance to lead the NFL in touchdowns, yards, and passer rating. And unless his defense has figured out how to stop the pass, it’s going to give him plenty of opportunities to pad his stats while the team plays in shootouts down the stretch.
Sherman: I’m protesting the existence of the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year as different awards if we’re just going to give both to quarterbacks.
Clark: See above.
Antonio Brown, Steelers
Mays: What’s left to say about this guy? Brown is casually on pace for 1,670 yards, which would mark the third time he’s hit at least 1,600 in a season. No one else in the history of football has done that. He’s an all-time talent who’s having a season that compares to any season we’ve seen from a wide receiver.
Defensive Player of the Year
Joey Bosa, Chargers
Sherman: Full Season Joey Bosa is as incredible as Three Quarters Of A Season Joey Bosa was last year. We should also send flowers to J.J. Watt.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys
Mays: The NFL’s leading sack man through half the season (10.5) has been a terror for the Cowboys defense, and those numbers haven’t come cheap. Lawrence leads the league in pressures (34), according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s generally been a pain for any offensive line trying to slow him down.
Calais Campbell, Jaguars
Clark: Already with double-digit sacks, Campbell’s helping lead a Jacksonville team to relevance, which should get him this award.
Aaron Donald, Rams
Kelly: There’s not a more dominant defensive player in the NFL. Donald destroys game plans, whether it’s by knifing and powering into the backfield to disrupt run plays or terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.
Coach of the Year
Andy Reid, Chiefs
Kelly: Reid’s ability to meld his West Coast offense with a college-style read option/spread offense has been nothing short of brilliant, and it’s helped unleash the ideal version of Alex Smith. He’s still a quarterback who never turns the ball over (which was, until this season, his main talent), but he’s now more able to exploit his athleticism and make deep throws downfield.
Sherman: Andy Reid has turned “having Alex Smith as a quarterback” into a strength. Alex Smith is 33, and the first 12 seasons of his career gave no indication he could be the backbone of one of the most productive offenses in football. It’s miracle work. He doesn’t seem significantly better at throwing a football: Reid has just designed an offense that takes advantage of his talents (and the talents of the rest of the team’s unique, exceptional players) and made them into a beautiful NFL flower.
Clark: The guy invited a new style of offense and turned Alex Smith into a new player.
Doug Pederson, Eagles
Mays: This award often goes to a coach that elevates his team from also-ran to playoff contender, and it looks like Pederson may be that guy this year. The wheels would have to come off for the Eagles to not make the playoffs at this point, and considering most of the other contenders are postseason fixtures, Philly’s status as the new guy gets Pederson the nod.
Comeback Player of the Year
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
Sherman: Gronk has certainly come back — he’s having one of the best seasons of any pass catcher, whether a receiver or tight end. Move over, Chad Pennington! (Chad Pennington also won Comeback Player of the Year twice. You knew that, right?)
Todd Gurley, Rams
Kelly: Most of the time, this award goes to players who returned from injury, but Gurley’s 180-degree turnaround this year compared to last makes him my choice. He’s been more explosive and creative as a runner out of the backfield, and has transformed into one of the most dangerous pass-catching backs in the league.
Clark: The list of running backs who take a step back in their career then revive it is short. Gurley was a victim of a terrible Rams team in 2016, but he looks like the best version of himself this year. Without him, this great Rams offense doesn’t exist.
Justin Houston, Chiefs
Mays: There were times over the past couple of seasons — when Houston missed a combined 16 games and rarely looked right when he did play — that it felt like the Chiefs’ pass-rushing demon may never be the same. Finally, though, the 28-year-old is back and affecting games in a big way. He’s on pace for double-digit sacks, and more importantly, he just looks like Justin Houston again.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Deshaun Watson, Texans
Mays: I mean, c’mon. There’s no more thrilling show in football right now than whatever Watson is doing on Sunday. With a league-leading 19 touchdowns on the season, Watson’s season could end tomorrow and it would still rank 15th among rookie quarterbacks since the merger. Watson should crush Peyton Manning’s record of 26 by season’s end, and to go along with his ridiculous production, Watson has been the most exhilarating player in the league. This one’s easy.
Kelly: Watson’s incredible start is no fluke: He’s dangerous downfield with his arm, can escape pressure, and make plays with his feet. And as we saw on Sunday against the Seahawks, he thrives in high-scoring back-and-forth games. Watson is on pace (43-plus) to shatter Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning’s rookie touchdown record (26).
Clark: His college coach compared him to Michael Jordan and that doesn’t seem completely bonkers at the moment, an accomplishment in itself.
Sherman: I TOLD Y’AAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Marshon Lattimore, Saints
Kelly: Lattimore has already known signs of being a shutdown corner. He’s super athletic, has great ball skills, and is physical against the run. He’s helped transform the Saints defense into something resembling good — and that’s saying a lot.
Mays: Lattimore picked off the first pass of his career on Sunday against Chicago, but he’s been changing games since the moment he got back into the Saints’ lineup. Halfway into his first season, Lattimore is already one of the game’s best cornerbacks, a guy New Orleans can throw on one side of the field and not worry about again. No player has had a larger impact on the Saints’ sudden defensive rise.
Sherman: The Saints defense has become good-ish! And Lattimore’s why. He’s the top-ranked cornerback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, holding opposing receivers to just 13 catches on 25 targets with two interceptions through the first eight weeks of the year.
Clark: He has two interceptions already and he’s brought competence to a secondary where that seemed impossible.