With preseason football concluding, it means the NFL regular season is quickly upon us. With that, we spoke to a panel of analysts from The Athletes Hub to get their opinions on the upcoming season.
Who do you think will win Offensive Rookie of the Year?
Devon Withers: This draft class is rather weak offensively, but there are a few standout candidates. Five of the last six winners for this award have been non-quarterbacks, so I will go with Oakland Raiders RB Josh Jacobs. The offense hasn’t had an efficient run game since 2016, but with new additions in Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, it should leave Jacobs with enough space to make an impact.
Tyler McDonald: With this group of rookies it is hard to say who is a definite. I’m going to go with the man with the most hype in #1 overall pick Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. He has some of the biggest upside and offensive potential in this draft. He is also great outside the pocket, much like Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, and has the speed to take off. Having David Johnson in the backfield doesn’t hurt either.
Ray Ashworth: Kyler Murray (+150) and Josh Jacobs (+650) are the obvious odds-on favorites in Vegas to win the award. However, I’m going to give the nod to Chicago Bears RB David Montgomery. Prior to the NFL Draft in April, I actually rated David Montgomery the #1 RB in this year’s draft in my NFL Draft Position Rankings article. In 2017, Montgomery set the NCAA record for missed tackles in a season with 109. In his final season at Iowa State, he topped the century mark again, forcing 102 missed tackles while missing six quarters of action. Now he is in a Matt Nagy offense who helped another third-round pick (Kareem Hunt) become the NFL’s rushing leader just two seasons ago.
Luke Jobson: There was no major standout outside of Kyler Murray, but with preseason going how it is, I am going with the smokey pick that is New York Giants QB Daniel Jones. He has had one of the best preseason campaigns out of any rookie in the draft on either side of the field. When Jones takes over the starting job from Eli Manning, he is going to stand tall and showcase why he was the right pick at #6.
Brian Kohler: Going off of what Tyler said, I think Kyler Murray will have a solid rookie season, but the OROY nod goes to his teammate, Arizona Cardinals WR Andy Isabella. He has play-making speed, evidenced by him having the fastest 40-time among wideouts at the combine. It should serve him well in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. Isabella hasn’t had a great preseason, but he has the skills to succeed in the NFL.
Who do you think will win Defensive Rookie of the Year?
Devon Withers: Unlike the MVP award, the Defensive Rookie of Year race is fairly unpredictable every year. With Indianapolis Colts LB Darius Leonard meriting the award in 2018, I have another linebacker winning it in Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Devin White. His 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was no joke, and talents upfront in Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea will force teams to run on the outside.
Tyler McDonald: This year’s draft class was loaded with defensive talent making this even that much harder to call. With that, I’m going to go with an unexpected one in Jacksonville Jaguars LB Josh Allen. Not only was he one of the highest-graded players in the entire draft, but he also fell to a great opportunity in Jacksonville. The Jaguars defense is still good and because of that, the attention will go to other players giving Allen room to wreak havoc.
Ray Ashworth: I contemplated going Quinnen Williams here but linebackers have had a propensity for winning this award historically so I am going to go with a wild card here in Carolina Panthers OLB Brian Burns. Burns had four sacks and a forced fumble in only three games of his first NFL preseason, and the Carolina first-round pick looked outstanding rushing the passer. He currently sits behind Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin on the depth chart but I don’t see Burns having any trouble getting playing time and leap-frogging his way into an every-down role while finishing the year as the rookie sack leader.
Luke Jobson: We are all echoing the same thing here, in that this past draft was stacked with defensive talent. There could be any of ten players who could be named now, but I am going with Buffalo Bills DT Ed Oliver. At times in college, he looked ugly but it was very effective. His explosiveness will create gaps to get through to drop quarterbacks, and against weaker opponents he will expose them to no ends.
Brian Kohler: Pittsburgh Steelers LB Devin Bush had 11 tackles in his first preseason game, but his shoulder injury has limited his action since. He should be ready for the season opener. The Steelers hadn’t moved up in the first round of the draft since 2002 when they took Troy Polamalu, so they clearly liked what they saw in Bush.
Who do you think will win NFL MVP?
(For more insight see: NFL MVP Odds)
Devon Withers: While the season hasn’t started yet, I love the chances for Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield in 2019. The front office grabbed a generational player in Odell Beckham Jr. and Nick Chubb still forces teams to respect the run game. Pending any setbacks, the 24-year old may be primed for a breakout season.
Tyler McDonald: This is a quarterback-driven league so we all know that the MVP is going to be a quarterback this year, it’s only a matter of who. The one player who is overdue for an MVP is New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees. He is undisputed as one of the all-time greats at the position but has yet to be crowned MVP. This is the season he breaks that dud and is finally crowned MVP.
Ray Ashworth: Everyone is raving about Patrick Mahomes after his breakout campaign last season but I’m not going with him for one reason, “Madden Curse”. Kidding, but all jokes aside it will be extremely difficult to replicate such a season. Only two QB’s before him have ever been able to reach the 50 TD mark and neither was able to reach it more than once. With his regression expected I’m going with a forgotten man in Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz. If Wentz is able to stay healthy he has the perfect surrounding cast to win the award. During the offseason, the Eagles brought in Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, DeSean Jackson, and JJ Arcega-Whiteside to add to an already talented core. All the buzz this preseason is around the Dallas Cowboys and Zeke’s holdout but come January that will shift to the Eagles and their Super Bowl aspirations.
Luke Jobson: A quarterback has won the MVP award 15 out of the last 19 times. Not since Adrian Peterson has someone in another position won the award, and I don’t see that happening in 2019. Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes needs to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke, and he maintains many of the same weapons in order to do so. Don’t be surprised to see him take the MVP award.
Brian Kohler: As much as I’d love the story if it ended up being Colts QB Jacoby Brissett, I’m going to go outside the box and say Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey. Remember when Norv Turner coached LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego? We should see something similar to that this season. McCaffrey was just 133 receiving yards away from having 1,000 yards rushing and receiving last year, and it’s not unreasonable to think he gets it in 2019. He would become the first running back to win the MVP award since Adrian Peterson in 2012.
Who do you think will meet in the Super Bowl?
Devon Withers: In 2018, the New England Patriots edged out the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime. This upcoming season, I see the tables turning, as the Kansas City Chiefs will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
As for the NFC, the odds are in favor of the New Orleans Saints. After the most controversial call in NFL history took place in the NFC Championship, it ended their Super Bowl run short. As long as the offense can fill the void of Mark Ingram, then this seems like a practical prediction.
Tyler McDonald: There’s a couple of underdogs to keep an eye on in the AFC, but there are only a few proven teams. The most consistent of them all is the New England Patriots. Until there is a reason to believe they will be dethroned, then they are going to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, again. The Patriots have appeared in the AFC Championship Game the last eight consecutive seasons.
The NFC boasts some of the best QB talent in the NFL and most of the time it comes down to the play of the quarterback. With that, I am going with the team of my MVP pick, the New Orleans Saints. They were one game short last year and lost on a fluke the year before. This year they will make up for those mistakes and get to the biggest stage.
Ray Ashworth: Last year we were a Dee Ford offsides penalty away from seeing a very different Super Bowl. This year I expect the same matchup but with a different result. The Patriots TE position has become very vulnerable with the retirement of Gronkowski and I believe it will be felt in this game. Patrick Mahomes may not win the MVP trophy but he will be heading to Atlanta when the Kansas City Chiefs upset the New England Patriots 34-30.
The no-brainer pick in the NFC is the New Orleans Saints. They’re the most balanced team in the NFL on paper and frankly should have been there last year had it not been for an egregious no-call in the NFC Championship game. The only two major threats I see in the postseason are the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. I expect the annual Super Bowl hangover from the Rams with the concerns around Todd Gurley’s knee and the Cowboys have been in the media for all the wrong reasons and I believe it will affect them in the locker room and in-turn on the field this season. In the end, I predict the Saints to defeat the Eagles 27-21 and move on to the Super Bowl.
Luke Jobson: I think that in the AFC, we could have something interesting occur. This is the first year that I could see the Patriots not making the championship game, with Kansas City and Cleveland coming together for the best of the AFC. Unlike last year, where the Kansas City Chiefs lost in the AFC Championship, they will go one further and make it to the Super Bowl.
In the NFC, it seems to be pretty unanimous between the analysts here. The New Orleans Saints are coming off last year with a major chip on their shoulder and will breeze (no pun intended) through the year to knock off everyone in sight.
Brian Kohler: The AFC has only had four different quarterbacks represent the conference in the Super Bowl since 2003 (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco), but Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs make it five this year. I’m not sold on New England continuing their dominance for another year, and until Cleveland can put together a full season, I don’t believe in them either. The Chiefs are the most complete team, and they put it all together in 2019.
The NFC has had more parity recently, but a familiar face returns to the Super Bowl in the Carolina Panthers. Six of the team’s nine losses in 2018 were by seven points or less, and the additions of Brian Burns through the draft and Gerald McCoy through free agency should help a non-existent pass rush find some life.
Who do you think will win the Super Bowl?
Devon Withers: If the matchup is between the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints, I’ll take the New Orleans Saints in a 34-27 outing. Neither defense has proven to be elite, but Brees’ accuracy is no joke. With Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara healthy, the offense has enough firepower to edge out a young Chiefs roster.
Tyler McDonald: Assuming I am going based off of my matchup of the New England Patriots vs the New Orleans Saints then I am taking the New Orleans Saints by a score of 24-20. This season will be the season that Drew Brees inserts himself in the GOAT conversation after defeating Peyton Manning and would be then Tom Brady. However, it will be Alvin Kamara that’s going to make the difference in this game.
Ray Ashworth: Brees vs Mahomes in the Super Bowl would be quite the spectacle. This is an exciting matchup with two explosive offenses, but the difference is experience and Brees has been here before. I predict the New Orleans Saints win 38-34 as Brees holds up his second Lombardi Trophy, and in a shocking turn of events, fades off into the sunset with his eyes set on Canton.
Luke Jobson: Assuming that by some miracle the Chiefs and the Saints get to the big dance, I am going to agree with the analysts and say that the New Orleans Saints will knock off the Chiefs 38-28. The offensive weapons for both sides are incredibly strong, but the defense of the Saints will be too much for the Chiefs to handle. Drew Brees will throw four touchdowns for the MVP performance.
Brian Kohler: It depends on whether or not Cam Newton dives for the ball this time. This Chiefs-Panthers matchup would be expected to have plenty of offense, and given those two options, I trust the Kansas City Chiefs defense to step up when it matters most to give the franchise their first Super Bowl win since the 1969-70 season.
What’s one bold prediction you have for 2019?
Devon Withers: Even with Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott holding out, I believe he will return at some in 2019 and lead the league in rushing yards. In two of his three qualifying seasons, Elliott has led the NFL in rushing with a combined 3,065 yards. The Cowboys still remain confident in striking a deal with the running back, but even with a couple missed games to start the season, he should remain in the race.
Tyler McDonald: Given he remains healthy throughout the entire season I am going to predict that Marcus Mariota will throw for 4000 yards in a season for the first time in his career. This might be one of the more shocking predictions, but it makes sense. This is easily the best receiving core he has played with in his entire career (Corey Davis, AJ Brown, Adam Humphries, and Delanie Walker). His offensive line got an upgrade which will improve his protection. The defense got better. All of this is a perfect storm for Mariota to take that next step in his career.
Ray Ashworth: My fantasy sleeper of the year in 2019 is Mike Williams. Last season Williams had 664 yards and 10 TD (which ranked him 7th in that category) on only 66 targets. My bold prediction for 2019 is that Mike Williams will lead the NFL in receiving TDs. Hunter Henry may steal red-zone targets with his return, but Tyrell Williams now finds himself in Oakland while Melvin Gordon, who has 28 TD the last three years, is holding out with no return in sight. Meanwhile, Keenan Allen is already dealing with knee and ankle injuries and the season hasn’t even started yet. I’m predicting Williams finishes with 1,100 yards and 14 TD’s and leaps up fantasy boards come 2020.
Luke Jobson: You want bold? The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers will finish the season at a solid .500 record on the year, the New York Giants will make the playoffs, and the Buffalo Bills will be playing from the Wild Card. The four worst teams from last season made some juicy draft choices this year; some more questionable than others. A lot rides on some young quarterbacks at all four franchises, but I can see and believe that it will happen.
Brian Kohler: With the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens both improving in the offseason, and some expecting the Cincinnati Bengals to get better with a new head coach and fewer injuries, my prediction is that the Pittsburgh Steelers have their first losing season under Mike Tomlin. It would be their first losing season overall since 2003. The offensive line will still be solid enough for James Conner to run behind, but questions at receiver and defense prove to be too much to overcome.
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