The NFL kicks off tonight when the Patriots play the Chiefs. But until that happens, all teams are undefeated, with limitless possibilities in front of each of them. Is this the year for your favorite squad? Luckily, we have the answers — come gaze into our crystal ball to see what the league has in store for us this year.
Super Bowl Winner
Patriots over Packers
Danny Kelly: There are a lot of variables to consider when it comes to a preseason Super Bowl bet, but it begins and ends this year with the two best quarterbacks in the world. Tom Brady and the Pats come out on top against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, though, not only because of Bill Belichick’s mad scientist scheming, but because New England’s got a pretty damn good defense, too.
Seahawks over Steelers
Robert Mays: I know New England is set to rampage through the league, but let’s just consider how talented the Steelers are for a second. This offense has Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Martavis Bryant back for the first time in a long time, and the defense should be a top-10 group. They have enough firepower to get past New England and face a Seattle team that was terrifying even before trading for Sheldon Richardson.
Seahawks over Raiders
Rodger Sherman: I’ll be honest: I just didn’t want to pick the Patriots. I think the Raiders have the offense to beat New England (and Khalil Mack), and I think the Seahawks have the defense to beat New England (and Russell Wilson), so they’re my two picks to potentially win this thing while not picking the Patriots. I’ll take the Seahawks.
Seahawks over Patriots
Kevin Clark: The line is terrible, but I believe in the stacked defense, Russell Wilson, and Seattle’s skill position guys.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Clark: The second half of the 2016 regular season — in which Rodgers was the best quarterback in the NFL — represents more the real Rodgers than his listless start to last year. I’m guessing he puts it all together for 16 games and runs away with this award.
Tom Brady, Patriots
Kelly: The Pats have accumulated plenty of talent, but Brady’s the guy that makes the offense work. He’s a master of the pre-snap phase of the game, and gets the offense into plays that can best exploit defensive looks. Then post-snap, he processes what’s happening all over the field quicker than anyone alive.
Sherman: Who means as much to their football team as Rodgers? I remain somewhat unconvinced that the Packers actually have plays besides “go do something cool, Aaron,” and he does something cool a hell of a lot.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
Mays: Pittsburgh has the league’s best stable of offensive weapons, and if this group scores 30 points a game the way I think it can, there may be nowhere else to send the hardware.
Offensive Player of the Year
Mike Evans, Buccaneers
Mays: Evans got a league-leading 173 targets last season, and with the addition of DeSean Jackson, it might seem like 2016 was his best chance at a monster Julio Jones-esque year. But Jackson’s ability to dictate coverage and drag defenders his way with his own gravitational pull should make Evans more of a problem in 2017 than he’s ever been.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Kelly: Rodgers is dangerous passing from the pocket, and damn near unstoppable when he gets outside it to throw downfield. The Packers signal-caller has the best arm in the NFL by far, and with his ability to throw to anywhere on the field in the blink of an eye, I’m expecting absurd efficiency in pretty much every statistical category — even by Rodgers’s lofty standards.
Sherman: Somehow, Rodgers has never won the AP Offensive Player of the Year award despite winning MVP twice. Let me be clear: I think he is the MVP and the best offensive player.
Clark: See above.
Defensive Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, Texans
Sherman: The question isn’t whether Watt is the best defensive player in the league, it’s whether Watt is healthy. I hope he is.
Joey Bosa, Chargers
Mays: The 2016 third overall pick racked up 59 total pressures (per Pro Football Focus) and 10.5 sacks in just 12 games during his rookie season, indicating he may be the next great young pass rusher that takes over the league. He’s already among the savviest edge players in the NFL, and a 15-sack season isn’t out of the question.
Vic Beasley, Falcons
Clark: This award is usually given to players who are already established as stars, and it wasn’t until last winter that Beasley was a household name in the eyes of the media and fans. This season, with the entire league watching him, he’ll be a dominant force on a solid defense for a contender.
Kelly: This is a bet that Watt’s fully healthy, because when he’s close to 100 percent, there’s no defender that comes close to the way he can dominate a game. If his back is okay, another 20-sack season is on the way.
Coach of the Year
Dan Quinn, Falcons
Kelly: After guiding the Falcons to a spot in Super Bowl LI, it was a given that Quinn would have to deal with the so-called Super Bowl hangover, win or lose. But the way in which Atlanta lost that game — they squandered a 28–3 third-quarter lead, the worst meltdown in Super Bowl history — makes this season exponentially more difficult. Add in an arms race in the division and the fact that Atlanta is now without its play-calling guru of an offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, and the chips looked stacked against the Falcons. That’s why when Atlanta ends up as one of the NFC’s best teams again in 2017, it’ll be because of Quinn’s extraordinary leadership.
Mike Mularkey, Titans
Clark: This is a narrative award, and the media will want to reward the guy who resurrects the Titans and brings Marcus Mariota to the playoffs.
Dirk Koetter, Buccaneers
Mays: Tracking this award’s potential landing spot isn’t complicated. It usually goes to a guy whose team jumps from obscurity to the playoffs in a single season, and Koetter’s group has a chance to do exactly that.
Bill Belichick, Patriots
Sherman: We probably should give him this most years, to be honest.
Comeback Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, Texans
Mays: Back issues for players that push 300 pounds are never a good thing, but we’re talking about J.J. Watt here. If the best defender of his generation (seriously, the guy has three DPOY awards; let’s remember that) is anything close to his old self, he’ll win this thing in a walk.
Earl Thomas, Seahawks
Clark: Earl Thomas. The Seahawks’ passer rating allowed on passes 20-plus yards down the field rose 50 points once Thomas was injured last year, according to Pro Football Focus. His return will restore order to the Seahawks defense, and he’ll get this award.
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders
Kelly: This is just too perfect of a storyline to not happen. Lynch is back after a year of retirement (spent galavanting around the globe and charming everyone he encountered) to play for his hometown team, a squad that badly needs an injection of physicality and toughness in the run game. Lynch is going to go off behind Oakland’s talented line.
Sherman: Even if Watt doesn’t win DPOY, he should definitely be good enough to fit whatever criterion the Comeback Player of the Year award is looking for.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Clark: He can split out wide, play running back, and catch passes out of the backfield, and he’ll be doing it all for a contender. He can do it all, and he’ll be one of the most GIF-able athletes in recent memories. I do not see many other contenders for this award.
Kelly: McCaffrey’s going to pair nicely with longtime vet Jonathan Stewart to provide an explosive element to the Panthers running game, and he’s going to quickly turn into Cam Newton’s favorite target in the Carolina passing game, too. Newton badly needs a player that can line up all over the formation and separate from defenders, and McCaffrey fits the bill: twitchy in space, disciplined as a route runner, and reliable as a pass catcher. Expect big numbers in year one.
Dalvin Cook, Vikings
Sherman: Cook seems like he’s always capable of accelerating, even when he’s already at a full sprint. Put a runner with that dynamic on the team that facilitated Adrian Peterson’s greatness, and good things will happen.
Mays: All the rookie running backs taken near the top of the draft (Leonard Fournette, McCaffrey, and Kareem Hunt) will be in the running for this one, but I still think Cook has the best shot. He’ll get a ton of work in an offense that wants to control the ball and keep Sam Bradford from taking the pounding he did last season. He should get enough charges to get near 1,500 total yards in his first season.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Myles Garrett, Browns
Danny Kelly: Garrett is explosive, powerful, and agile — and with the starting defensive end job on the right side of Gregg Williams’s line locked down, he should get plenty of opportunities to rush the passer. If he can get double-digit sacks (and I think he will), he’ll run away with this award.
Kevin Clark: He’s one of the best athletes to enter the NFL in years, and he’ll be on a crappy Browns team, but he’ll be on one of the most fun defensive units in the league. I like him for double-digit sacks in his rookie year and like 15 plays where we can’t believe how good he’s going to be in two years. The turnaround in Cleveland starts now.
Robert Mays: I mean, have you seen Myles Garrett?
Sherman: He’s a different level of human.
Note: Myles Garrett suffered an injury in practice on Wednesday. In the event that he misses significant time, here are our experts’ backup picks:
Clark: Reuben Foster, 49ers
Kelly: Jonathan Allen, Redskins
Sherman: Jamal Adams, Jets
Mays: Reuben Foster, 49ers