The 2019 NFL season gets underway Thursday night, as Aaron Rodgers hopes to lead the Packers to another memorable win over the Bears. But before we think about his (possibly unfortunate) matchup with Khalil Mack, The Ringer’s NFL writers came together to predict which teams will make the playoffs—and win the Super Bowl!—and who will come away with awards at the end of the season. Here’s what they came up with.
Playoff Predictions and Super Bowl Winner
Robert Mays: Philadelphia has the most talented roster in football. The Eagles have no glaring holes and plenty of options on their bench who would easily start for most teams around the league. We’ve seen what this coaching staff can do with a stacked group.
Kevin Clark: The Eagles have, on paper, a deeper roster than their Super Bowl team two years ago. They’ve got talent everywhere, a good coaching staff, an elite front office, and a nice mix of veterans and youth. They have the exact blueprint for a Super Bowl winner.
Danny Kelly: Trying to defend this Chiefs offense is going to be an absolute nightmare. The top-scoring unit from last year could be even better in 2019 thanks to another offseason of development time for Patrick Mahomes and the infusion of even more speed in rookie receiver Mecole Hardman and running back Darwin Thompson. This team just looks like a juggernaut. I can’t see anyone keeping pace with the offense, and the defense should improve under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, too.
Rodger Sherman: This is the fourth season I’ve worked at The Ringer, the fourth season I’ve been asked to make these predictions, and the fourth season I’ve picked somebody besides the Patriots—not because I believe it will happen, but because I want it to. Maybe I should start trying the reverse jinx instead.
Riley McAtee: Last year we got a Rams-Pats Super Bowl, but it’s clear in retrospect that we should have gotten Chiefs-Saints. New Orleans, of course, was sent packing by a missed call (and, I must point out, their inability to take advantage of other chances to win the game in the fourth quarter and overtime). The Chiefs, meanwhile, came this close to winning the AFC championship game before the Patriots stormed through Kansas City’s exhausted defense in overtime and punched their ticket to the Super Bowl. As a result, we got the 13-3 stinker that will go down as one of the least interesting Super Bowls ever. So now I’m trying to speak a Saints-Chiefs matchup into existence. The Chiefs enter the year with the best offense in football, and the Saints are still stacked with talent. After last year’s Super Bowl, this matchup feels right.
Danny Heifetz: The Chiefs offense was the fifth-best ever measured by Football Outsiders’ DVOA last year. They were let down by their defense, but they brought Spagnuolo, the mastermind behind the 2007 Giants unit that held New England to just 14 points in Super Bowl XLII, on board this offseason. This is the year for Andy Reid.
Carson Wentz, Eagles
Mays: Wentz was well on his way to winning MVP in 2017 before a torn ACL ended his season, and this year, he has more weapons at his disposal. A pass-catching group consisting of Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Dallas Goedert is just unfair. Add in potential Patrick Mahomes fatigue for voters, and Wentz is my choice.
Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Clark: I tried hard to not pick Mahomes here. It’s been a decade since someone repeated as MVP, when Peyton Manning won in both 2008 and 2009. But Mahomes is the best quarterback in the game, and Andy Reid the best possible coach for him. His numbers—and his team’s success—will likely be too much to ignore.
Kelly: It’s a quarterback-centric league, and the reigning MVP is still the most exciting, dynamic, and dangerous passer in the NFL; he’s doing things we’ve never really seen done before at the position, and that makes him my favorite to repeat in this category. Mahomes may not toss 50-plus touchdowns again in 2019, but he’ll lead the best offense in the NFL and carry Kansas City into the playoffs.
Baker Mayfield, Browns
Sherman: We’ve seen so many quarterbacks have lackluster rookie years and take massive leaps forward in their second seasons: Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Andrew Luck. (Technically Patrick Mahomes too.) What the hell is the leap gonna look like for a guy who just set the rookie record for touchdown passes and now has one of the most dynamic receivers in football to throw to? I can’t wait to find out.
McAtee: The MVP usually goes to the quarterback who combines (1) natural talent with (2) a pass-friendly situation, and that puts Mahomes in a good spot to defend his crown. The offense surrounding him is mostly untouched, and there’s even room for Mahomes to grow in his second season as a starter.
Heifetz: Since the New England Patriots ushered in the modern NFL in 2007, 11 of 12 MVP awards have gone to a quarterback whose team earned a first-round bye. If you think the Texans are going to run away with the AFC South and be able to sit out the first round of the playoffs, Deshaun Watson is a fine choice here. Ditto with the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. But if the Chiefs once again get a top-two seed, Mahomes is the clear favorite. The only players to win back-to-back MVPs are Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Joe Montana, and Jim Brown. Mahomes would fit in well on that list.
Offensive Player of the Year
Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
Mays: McCaffrey nearly broke the 2,000-yard mark from scrimmage last season, and it seems like this might be the year he actually will. The Panthers added center Matt Paradis and second-round pick Greg Little this offseason and retained left tackle Daryl Williams along the offensive line. And there’s no reason to think that McCaffrey won’t be the focal point of the Panthers’ passing game yet again.
Clark: See: MVP.
Kelly: See: MVP.
Sherman: This is also the fourth year I’ve been asked to pick an offensive player of the year, and the fourth year I’ve picked the same guy as MVP. I don’t know the difference! Is there a difference?
Alvin Kamara, Saints
McAtee: In four games without Mark Ingram last year, Kamara put up 275 rushing yards, 336 receiving yards, and six total touchdowns. Prorated to a 16-game season, that works out to 1,100 rushing yards, 1,344 receiving yards, and 24 total touchdowns. Latavius Murray will play the Ingram role in New Orleans this year, but if Kamara’s volume ticks upward in 2019, he could put up a monster season.
Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Heifetz: Elliott is an excellent bet to lead the league in rushing yards this season (he’s already done it twice in his first three years). And under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, he could lead the league in scrimmage yards too. He is expected to be featured even more in the passing game and could see a career high in receptions and receiving yards.
Defensive Player of the Year
Myles Garrett, Browns
Mays: Finally away from the clutches of Gregg Williams and playing for a team that’s likely going to play with a lead often, Garrett has the potential to pile up 20 sacks in his third season. He’ll also see fewer double teams than he should thanks to the rest of the talent on Cleveland’s defensive line.
Clark: Garrett is one of the most talented players in football and has an infrastructure around him that lends itself to a huge season. The Browns have heavily invested in their defensive front. The coaching staff is improved. I think that Garrett will, along with Baker Mayfield, lead a Browns renaissance this year and earn this team a playoff spot.
Kelly: It’s not easy to pick someone other than Aaron Donald for this award, but Garrett has the potential to lead the league in sacks this year. Playing next to Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, and Larry Ogunjobi, Garrett is going to wreak havoc both off the edge on base downs and rushing from the interior in nickel situations.
Aaron Donald, Rams
Sherman: And it’s not really close.
Von Miller, Broncos
McAtee: It’s shocking to think that Miller has never won this award. The anchor of that great Denver defense that eventually helped the Broncos win Super Bowl 50, Miller has quietly remained one of the most dominant defenders in the league, even as guys like Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack have gotten more attention. With new head coach Vic Fangio, who previously coached Mack as Chicago’s defensive coordinator, Miller could be in line for a career year.
Heifetz: Each of the last five seasons, this award has gone to the leader in pressures as measured by Pro Football Focus: J.J. Watt, Watt, Khalil Mack, Donald, Donald. For anyone else, winning three times in a row would be superhuman, but Donald is an all-time great in his prime.
Coach of the Year
Freddie Kitchens, Browns
Mays: If Kitchens ends up being the guy who revives the Browns—and I think he will—he should win this going away. Coach of the Year is a narrative award, and there’s no better narrative than that.
Frank Reich, Colts
Clark: Reich still has a stacked roster outside of the quarterback position and is a very good coach. Plus, the bar is low for Reich to be perceived as rallying the Colts after the surprise of Andrew Luck’s retirement just before the start of the season.
Kelly: Cleveland’s offense under Air Raid disciple Todd Monken is due for a massive jump. With Mayfield tossing downfield dimes to receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, and handing the ball off to Nick Chubb, this unit could be explosive—and the team’s underrated defense could give this squad the balance to win the AFC North for the first time in 30 years. Kitchens has something special brewing in Cleveland.
Sherman: Surely there’s no way investing my life savings in Browns stock can backfire.
Sean Payton, Saints
McAtee: Let’s just say I’m high on the Saints this year. This award frequently goes to a head coach who is relatively new to his team and takes that squad to new heights, which is why Kitchens is a favorite to win this year, and why the Paytons, Bill Belichicks, and Andy Reids of the world aren’t frequent contenders. But I think the Saints have a chance to be so good that voters will have to recognize Payton with his second Coach of the Year award.
Matt LaFleur, Packers
Heifetz: The real Coach of the Year award is called the Lombardi Trophy. This one should be renamed the Coach Who Most Defied Our Expectations Award, because that is who wins every season. (Bill Belichick has won just three of these despite deserving 12.) This year the coach with the best odds of defying low expectations is Matt LaFleur, who could win a tough NFC North and perhaps earn a first-round bye—if he makes nice with Aaron Rodgers.
Comeback Player of the Year
Earl Thomas, Ravens
Mays: Thomas is going to be the best player on the best secondary in the NFL. The Ravens’ group of defensive backs rivals any he’s ever played with in Seattle. He should be excellent if he’s healthy.
Clark: The last time Earl Thomas was on the field he was flipping off his head coach. It’s going to be remarkable when the next time we see him, he’s destroying passing games as a member of the Ravens’ secondary. He will likely never again be the Thomas who anchored the Seattle Legion of Boom in those Super Bowl years half a decade ago, but he needs to be only a fraction of that to disrupt opposing offenses.
Kelly: Thomas combines instincts, explosive speed, and unmatched intensity at the safety position—and, after his acrimonious departure from Seattle, he’s got something to prove. Thomas’s elite range and play-recognition skills change the geometry of the Ravens defense and make everyone around him better.
Le’Veon Bell, Jets
Sherman: Yes, you can win comeback player of the year for voluntarily sitting out a season in a contract holdout! You probably assumed that the award is just for players who suffered a significant injury the prior year, but the criteria are imprecise. I mean, Michael Vick won in 2010 after going to prison for dog fighting, so Bell’s holdout isn’t so bad.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
McAtee: It’s now or never for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco. In two years as the head coach, injuries have kept him from delivering the electric offenses and across-the-board improvement the Niners hoped for when they hired him. Now Shanahan has a chance to right the ship, and to do that, he’ll have to make Garoppolo into the quarterback he’s shown glimpses of becoming over the past two seasons.
Heifetz: It would be surprising if neither Wentz nor Garoppolo wins this award (voters are unlikely to consider Le’Veon Bell worthy of an award for his comeback). Wentz was on pace to win the MVP in 2017 until he tore his ACL and then was sapped by a back injury in 2018 that eventually ended his season. If he returns to anywhere near MVP-caliber form in 2019, he’s the favorite—especially if Garoppolo struggles with an inexperienced receiving corps and banged-up offensive line.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Mays: Jacobs is going to get an absurd amount of work as the only reliable back on the Raiders. Kyler Murray could have a monster year and snag this award, but I think Jacobs’s workload is easier to predict than how Kliff Kingsbury’s offense will function in Arizona.
Mecole Hardman, Chiefs
Clark: A fast-as-hell rookie catching passes from Patrick Mahomes on a team playing a ton of nationally televised games? Draft position won’t matter by January, when the award is voted on.
Kyler Murray, Cardinals
Kelly: Murray is incredibly accurate as a thrower and über-dynamic as a runner. He’s going to be playing in an up-tempo, high-flying offense, and I can see him racking up big stat lines through the air and on the ground. The Cardinals might not be a good team in 2019, but Murray is going to be appointment viewing.
Sherman: I’m a Kyler Stan. No, he won’t win a lot of games, but with the Cardinals defense giving up 40ish points per game and Kliff Kingsbury on the sidelines, he’s gonna put up some of the best stats of any rookie in league history.
David Montgomery, Bears
McAtee: Montgomery is the best tackle-breaker to enter the NFL draft in recent years, and he’s already shown what makes him so special this offseason:
Tarik Cohen’s presence on the Bears roster means Montgomery won’t get the volume that Saquon Barkley did last season when he won this award, but Montgomery’s talent could shine through anyway.
Heifetz: Murray is the only rookie quarterback who seems poised to start the entire year (and perhaps the only rookie quarterback who’ll start half the year). That would be enough to make him the favorite even if he weren’t the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Unless Murray is a disaster in Arizona (which can’t be ruled out), he’ll be beat by only a spectacular year from a running back—likely Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders, Chicago’s David Montgomery, or Oakland’s Josh Jacobs.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Devin Bush, Steelers
Mays: He’s precisely the type of addition the Steelers need, which is why Pittsburgh traded up 10 spots in the draft to take him. Bush should be everywhere for this unit right away.
Josh Allen, Jaguars
Clark: Nick Bosa is hobbled with an injury that will see him start slow. Allen has shown his speed in the preseason, and the Jaguars defense still has enough talent to put the rookie in position to succeed. It’s a thin year for defensive prospects, but Allen is near the top.
Nick Bosa, 49ers
Kelly: This one’s tough. I love both Quinnen Williams and Devin Bush as dark-horse contenders, but if Bosa can get and stay healthy after suffering a preseason ankle injury, he looks like the prohibitive favorite to me. The dude is a heat-seeking missile as a pass rusher and brings double-digit sack potential in year one.
Sherman: I’ve been beating the “Linebacker Josh Allen is the best Josh Allen” drum for some time and I’m not stopping now.
McAtee: Allen has been so impressive in the preseason that Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash is adjusting his scheme to get the rookie defensive end more playing time. There is so much talent on the Jacksonville defense still that Allen could run wild, and gaudy sack numbers are the quickest path to taking home this award.
Heifetz: Bosa would get the pick here if not for his injury. Instead the player on the inside track for this award is Bush, the rookie linebacker out of Michigan who will be the voice of a Pittsburgh defense that quietly led the league in sacks in 2017 and tied for the lead last year. If the Steelers return to the playoffs without Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell, the defense will finally get the credit it deserves—and Bush will be the focal point.