Preseason football is now underway, but it’s never too early to predict what will happen come February. With that, select analysts at The Athletes Hub got together and answered some of the most riveting debates around the NFL. The topics include who will win Rookie of the Year, the MVP award, a ticket to the Super Bowl, and who will hold up the Lombardi Trophy when it’s all said and done. On top of that, we each came up with one bold prediction regarding the 2018-19 campaign.
Who do you believe will win the Rookie of the Year (offensive and defensive)?
I really wanted to be a “homer” here and select running back Derrius Guice from the Washington Redskins. He would have had a massive season for the Redskins, yet a torn ACL has derailed his 2018 campaign before it barely began. Instead, I’ll stay in the division and state that Saquoun Barkley will get the New York Giants back into playoff contention with a great season of running the rock.
On defense, I’m going to pick Chicago Bears’ dynamic linebacker, Roquan Smith. After signing his rookie deal, I expect him to have an immediate impact on the Bears’ defensive scheme. Playing against quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford will be challenging for Smith, but I feel he will be up to the task at hand.
Although the New York Giants have had a lack of success in the run game in previous years, running back Saquon Barkley could be their outlier. In his three years at Penn State, Barkley averaged 5.7 yards per carry. To put that in perspective, only New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara averaged more yards per carry in 2017 (6.1). While the NFL is a different realm in comparison to the NCAA, Barkley will slide in nicely with 37-year old Eli Manning, who dropped back for his least amount of attempts since 2013.
Defensively, I’m keeping an eye on Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James. With a powerful front in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, quarterbacks will be pressured to throw the ball at a quicker rate than they’re used to. Although the coaching staff is easing James in a bit slowly, he should be viewed as one of the most NFL-ready players.
After making a household name for himself at Penn State, Saquon Barkley was arguably the best player in the NFL Draft and now will look to make a name for himself with the New York Giants. Barkley should be able to help the running game drastically, and there is no other rookie on the offensive side of the ball that is going to make a bigger impact than him.
After the lack of pass rush last season, outside of Von Miller, the Denver Broncos took the opportunity to draft arguably the best defensive player in the 2018 NFL Draft in Bradley Chubb. At NC State, Chubb made a name for himself by showcasing his ability to get after the quarterback. He has similar potential to Joey Bosa for the Los Angeles Chargers, and could fill his role nicely.
Rated the #1 player available going into the 2018 draft, Saquon Barkley is widely considered to be this year’s ROTY, and with good reason. To win the award, you must not only be productive but be given the maximum opportunity to do so. With Barkley’s dual-threat ability, he is expected to have 300+ touches this season, and with an upgraded offensive line that added Will Hernandez, Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh this offseason, it’s Barkley’s award to lose. Meanwhile, my dark horse pick to win the award is Colts RB Nyheim Hines.
On the defensive side of the ball, I believe Derwin James is the most talented player in this year’s draft. Unfortunately, a safety hasn’t won the award since Mark Carrier did it with the Bears back in 1990, so I’m actually leaning towards another Chicago Bear to win it this year, and that is Roquan Smith. Some might say that this is a bold statement with Smith missing all of camp due to a holdout, but remember that Joey Bosa did the exact same thing back in 2016 and still went on to win the award. Playing under Vic Fangio, I see Smith being a rock in the middle of the Bear’s 3-4 defense and going on to have 100+ tackles in a year where the Bears rank in the top 5 in the NFL in run defense. Meanwhile, my dark horse pick to win the award is Raiders DT Maurice Hurst.
Who will finish as the MVP of the regular season?
I really believe that Ezekiel Elliot will have a season of “angry running” ahead of him, and while I’m tempted to pick him here, I’m going to go with Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan. The Falcons front office may have hit a potential home run by selecting Calvin Ridley in the first round to complement the ever-dangerous Julio Jones. Look for Ryan to put up career numbers in 2018.
Had Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz played a full season, he would have won the NFL MVP award in 2017. In 2018, I expect for him to finish among the elite in most passing categories and earn the MVP. His 7.5 TD% led the NFL in 2017, as the Eagles will be one of the largest gambles this upcoming season based on concerns of becoming a “flash in the pan”.
Before having a season-ending injury, Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz was the clear favorite to win the NFL MVP Award for the 2017-18 season. With Wentz likely coming back by week one, he should be a favorite to win the MVP. The offense of the Eagles has not changed entirely, so expect Wentz to start where he left off last season.
Since 2001, 14 of the last 17 MVP award winners have been quarterbacks, and with this being a QB-driven league, I don’t see much changing in 2018. With Aaron Rodgers making a full recovery from a broken clavicle, he is my front-runner to win the award. Last year before his injury, Rodgers led his team to a 4-1 record, with his only loss coming on the road in a 24-23 loss in Atlanta. In that time, he compiled 1,367 passing yards and 13 TD and was on pace for a 4,734 yard, 42 TD season. With the Packers window closing and Jordy Nelson going to Oakland, I see Aaron Rodgers coming into this season with a chip on his shoulder to prove doubters wrong. Meanwhile, my dark horse to win the award is Texans QB, Deshaun Watson.
What teams will square off in the Super Bowl?
In the AFC, look no further than the New England Patriots. Time and time again, Tom Brady has proven to have what it takes to get the job done. I believe the Pittsburgh Steelers will come up just short in the AFC championship.
While in the NFC, I am going to stick with my MVP-themed pick (Matt Ryan) and select the Atlanta Falcons. I love what the front office has done by addressing both sides of the ball in both free agency and the draft, so I feel they have the firepower to knock off the reigning champs, the Philadelphia Eagles.
In the AFC, the heavy favorite will be the New England Patriots. For the most part, anytime Tom Brady is under center, it’s foolish not to consider New England as the favorite. Although the Patriots have lost a number of different players at various positions, both Brady and Bill Belichick have managed to find their way around barriers in the past. With a cakewalk for the AFC East title, New England will limp their way back into the Super Bowl.
As for the NFC, I am keeping my eye on the Los Angeles Rams. Although the team is young and still inexperienced for the most part, the Rams look like the most complete franchise on paper. While it would take a few strokes of luck along the way, Jared Goff and company will be the dark horse that advances to the Super Bowl.
After coming off a disappointing defeat against the Philadelphia Eagles just a few months ago, the New England Patriots will be looking to get some payback this upcoming season and make it back to the Super Bowl.
In the offseason, the Los Angeles Rams improved their team drastically. This team is going to prove that they can get past teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. With that said, these two teams have a lot to prove this upcoming year, and will be fighting for the Lombardi Trophy.
For 14 of the last 15 years, the AFC has run through Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, and I don’t see that trend changing this season. Over Brady’s career, he has had the Steelers number, with a record of 11-2 against them. Luckily for them, the Jaguars will take care of New England in the AFC Divisional round, which will lead to a Jaguars vs Steelers rematch in Pittsburgh. With the Jaguars lack of offensive weapons in the passing game, I see the Pittsburgh Steelers getting their revenge and moving on to Super Bowl 53. (My AFC playoff teams: Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, Jaguars, Texans, Raiders)
The NFC is like the Wild West, with six teams potentially making it to the Super Bowl, but the one team that stands out to me is the Los Angeles Rams. Finishing 11-5 last season and winning their division, the Rams showed a lot of promise before falling to the Falcons in the Wild Card round. With the additions of Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib, Brandin Cooks, Ramik Wilson, Sam Shields and Nickell Robey-Coleman in the offseason, I see this team taking the #1 seed and riding it to a Super Bowl. (My NFC playoff teams: Rams, Vikings, Saints, Eagles, Packers, Falcons)
Who will go on to win the Super Bowl?
I truly believe this will be a magical season for the Atlanta Falcons. They have a relatively new stadium, a rabid fan-base, and a stud at the quarterback position. They will get their revenge on New England for the embarrassing Super Bowl loss that Falcons’ fans have an all-too-bitter taste in the mouths from.
The Philadelphia Eagles proved just about anything is possible, and that trend could very well continue when the Los Angeles Rams bring home a Super Bowl trophy. The New England Patriots don’t hold anything special outside of Brady, while the Rams contain one of the most lethal rosters entering the new year.
After a close game against the Los Angeles Rams, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will add to their legacy as Brady capture’s his sixth Lombardi Trophy and fifth Super Bowl MVP since 2001. This season will be a challenge for New England, but New England still looks like the favorite.
The Rams loaded up this offseason to make a Super Bowl push, but come Super Bowl Sunday, quarterback play will be the difference. The “3 B’s” will be the headliners, as the Pittsburgh Steelers are seen holding up their seventh Lombardi Trophy after a 34-27 victory.
What’s one bold prediction you have for the 2018 season?
Since my bold prediction of last year didn’t come to fruition, I’m going to re-cement it this year: Marvin Lewis will be the first NFL head coach to be fired during this season. I still don’t see what the Bengals believe they have in Lewis, besides a first-round playoff exit at best. The Bengals need a change, and it starts with Lewis on the chopping block.
The highest amount of touchdown receptions in 2017 was 13 by DeAndre Hopkins. In 2018, I am predicting that Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon will lead the league in touchdown receptions. While Tyrod Taylor isn’t a heavy passer in the red zone, Gordon put up 1,646 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns with Jason Campbell under center back in 2013. In addition, Gordon is only 27-years old.
My bold prediction is the Green Bay Packers will finish 7-9, missing the playoffs and finishing third in the NFC North. The secondary is young and unproven, while linebacker Jake Ryan is out for the season. Even though the offense is going to put up points, the defense will not give Green Bay the chance to sustain a lead.
New York Jets rookie Sam Darnold will win the starting quarterback job in the preseason, and will start all 16 regular season games for the Jets. In addition, Darnold will finish as the runner-up for Rookie of the Year behind New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley.