It’s crystal ball time in the NFL — time to look ahead to the season that’s right around the corner and predict who’ll win what. Not the Super Bowl in this case; we’ll get to that soon enough. No, this piece is about individual accomplishments and who’ll win each award.
Our panel looked ahead — all the way through the 2019 season — voted and came up with the following predictions that are 100 percent certain to come true. Enjoy.
Our panel: Bill Barnwell, Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Jeremy Fowler, Dan Graziano, Mina Kimes, Vince Masi, Aaron Schatz, Kevin Seifert, Field Yates
It’s not easy to win this award twice in a row. Peyton Manning completed the feat — two separate times — though he had to split it with Steve McNair one of those years. Brett Favre won three in a row, if you count the one he shared with Barry Sanders in 1997. Joe Montana did it once. These are not insignificant players in NFL history. Mahomes is about as significant as it gets right now, and after the season he just had, it’s tough to imagine anyone else winning the award for the foreseeable future, no matter what history tells us. Mahomes could have knocked 10 touchdown passes off of last season’s total and he still would have led the league.
The Eagles didn’t care about Wentz’s injury history when they gave him a monster contract extension, and we didn’t care about it when we cast these votes. Wentz was on an MVP-type track when he blew out a knee two seasons ago. If his body holds up, we know he is the kind of player who can win this award on the kind of team whose quarterbacks win it.
He still has never won it! He looked on track to do it last season, but he slowed down in the second half and Mahomes never stopped rolling. Brees’ Saints look loaded again, and he should have enough around him to keep on chugging at age 40. But was the second half of last season a blip or a sign of things to come?
Not sure what explanation is even needed here. The day Brady is no longer a candidate for this award is the day he announces his retirement.
Interesting voting quirk here. Rodgers was the only one other than Mahomes who received more than one first-place vote from our panel. He got two (Mahomes earned five), but Rodgers got only one second and was left off seven ballots entirely. Feels like the wrong kind of dude to count out, but he is learning a new offense and has a new head coach, so maybe there’s some concern about growing pains? Not for two of us, at least.
Offensive Player of the Year
I’ve never understood how an offensive player could win MVP and not also win this award, but it does happen. From here, however, it’s easy to forecast Mahomes in a still-humming Chiefs offense putting up numbers that no one else can touch.
Whoever the quarterback is with New York this season, there’s no doubt through whom the offense will run. Barkley is coming off an Offensive Rookie of the Year season in which he eclipsed 2,000 scrimmage yards. It wouldn’t be a total shock if he ended up as the Giants’ leading receiver for the second year in a row.
The Eagles look as loaded as any roster in the league. Wentz is well protected, has a myriad playmakers around him and could put up huge numbers if he can stay on the field.
Defensive Player of the Year
No one has ever won this award three years in a row, as Donald is trying to do, but how do you bet against him? Heck, he even went to training camp this year, so he could be even more ready for the season than he was in either of the two previous campaigns. There’s no more dominant player on either side of the ball in the entire league right now.
Here’s another guy who skipped camp last year and spent much of the season wrecking offensive game plans anyway. Mack is a perpetual threat to lead the league in sacks and the biggest game-changer on a stacked Bears defense.
Baker Mayfield gets so much hype that it’s easy to forget the guy the Browns selected No. 1 overall the year before they took Mayfield. LikeWISe, the Browns’ offense is getting so much hype that it’s easy to overlook the way Cleveland beefed up its defensive front this offseason. Garrett could be poised for a breakout season that catapults him into the discussion of best defensive player in the game and keeps him there for years to come.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Will Murray’s game, size and skill set translate to the NFL? Well, our panel doesn’t seem concerned. Dude got nine of a possible 10 first-place votes in our pool. There are a lot of questions about how this whole experiment in the desert with work with Murray, first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury and a shaky offensive line. But there’s little doubt that Murray is capable of putting up the kind of eye-popping numbers that win this award.
The first running back taken in this year’s draft, Jacobs rolls right out of Alabama and into a starting role with the Raiders. They expect to be able to use him as a true three-down back, which might give him the best chance of any rookie in this year’s class of compiling award-worthy stats.
Montgomery got the one first-place vote Murray didn’t. It’s unclear exactly how the backfield roles will shake out in Chicago, even from week to week. But the reviews on Montgomery out of Bears camp were glowing, and it’s entirely possible he develops into coach Matt Nagy’s workhorse back sooner rather than later.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
This was the closest race we had. Williams beat out the second-place finisher by one point and the third-place finisher by two. Many thought he was the best overall player in this year’s draft. It’s hard to see how a defensive tackle can compile the kinds of sack or interception stats usually required to win this award, but it’s not crazy to expect Williams to outplay the rest of this year’s defensive rookies.
Desperate for help on defense, the Bucs used their first-round pick on a guy they believe can be an anchor and a leader right away. White will shoulder a lot of responsibility for a defense that already is banged up to start the season, but if Tampa Bay has a good defense this year, he’ll get a lot of the credit for it.
Ditto a lot of what we just said about White. Bush is supposed to be the Steelers’ Ryan Shazier replacement, which they’ve needed for a while now. The Steelers are counting on Bush coming out of Michigan as a seasoned player and ready-made professional to man the middle of the linebacking corps and bring some stability where they’ve lacked it lately.
Comeback Player of the Year
The last time we saw Thomas on a football field, he was flipping off Seahawks coach Pete Carroll while being carted off the field with a season-ending injury. Baltimore paid big bucks to bring in Thomas to anchor a defense that lost a lot of players this year. They’re used to dominating on defense in Baltimore, and Thomas will be asked to help that tradition continue.
He basically is coming back from two years’ worth of injuries and is getting MVP hype. Not a surprise to find him in this spot on this list.
Newton had shoulder surgery in the offseason and just recently sprained a foot in a preseason game. The Panthers expect him back healthy, and they expect him to thrive in coordinator Norv Turner’s offense now that he can throw without pain.
Coach of the Year
Tough to forecast this award, since it usually goes to a guy whose team we weren’t expecting to be good. And since we don’t know which of the teams we aren’t expecting to be good will be good, how can we predict? But Reid is a great coach with a loaded team that should make the playoffs and contend for the Super Bowl, so here he is.
Yeah, if he becomes the first coach to lead the Browns to a division title since 1989, Kitchens is going to get some love. He is under a ton of pressure to win, and his team carries high expectations into the season. So if the Browns do win, voters might just say, “Well, anyone could have won with that roster.” It happens.
When was the last year he wouldn’t have been a candidate for this award?