One week from today, the 2018 NFL Season will kickoff and all will be right in the world again. The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles commence its title defense against the Atlanta Falcons in a matchup of what figures to be two teams primed for deep postseason runs.
After dedicating last week’s edition of 6-Pack Thursday to my college football predictions, this week I continue my prognosticating ways and offer my thoughts on how the NFL season will unfold.
Let’s crack this thing open.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
Yea, I wanted to have a less obvious prediction too but Barkley is the clear-cut favorite to be the NFL’s OROY this season. That has a lot to do with Barkley and his rare skill set but also the Giant’s offensive infrastructure.
While I don’t love New York’s offensive line, the weapons Eli Manning has at his disposal might be the best in the NFL. In addition to Barkley, Evan Engram, Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard complete a potent mix of playmakers. Defenses can’t take away everything the Giants feature on offense so stacking the box to takeaway Barkley is going to make things very easy for a veteran QB like Manning to slice up the secondary and vice versa.
Expectations couldn’t be higher for Barkley given New York chose him with pick No. 2 and opted against securing a young quarterback but he’s more than capable of challenging to be among the league leaders in yards from scrimmage right away.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Buffalo Bills
After Tre White made a strong case to take home DROY honors in 2017, Edmunds will avenge for the award this year. Buffalo has lacked high-level linebacker play for years and Edmunds offers a unique blend of size and athletic ability that will make him a high impact defender right away.
A Day 1 starter in Buffalo, Edmunds will be an every-down defender for the Bills which should lead to a robust stat line but it’s his physical traits that suggest the splash plays that truly get peoples attention will also be frequent.
Coming from Carolina, Sean McDermott has enjoyed exceptional linebacker play from the likes of Luke Keuchly and Thomas Davis. McDermott didn’t have anything close that caliber of a linebacker in his first season in Buffalo which should lead to more schematic options to unleash his talented rookie in 2018.
Edmunds started the preseason slow with some processing errors but he’s improved each week with his best performance coming in Week 3 against Cincinnati. Buffalo’s coaching staff has raved about Edmunds’ acclimation to the NFL and he’s primed to deliver on his promise.
Offensive Player of the Year – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s been 25 years since a wide receiver won this award but if anyone can change that it’s Brown. Amid arguably the most dominant stretch of receiver play the NFL has ever seen, Brown has averaged 116 catches for 1,569 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last five seasons. There’s no reason to believe that his production won’t continue this season.
With Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, Le’Veon Ball carrying the rock, JuJu Smith-Schuster a budding star opposite of Brown and an outstanding offensive line, everything is in place for Brown and the Steelers to feature one of the league’s best offenses again. And it’s time for Brown to take home OPOY honors to add to his Hall of Fame resume.
Defensive Player of the Year – Von Miller, EDGE, Denver Broncos
It certainly helps that the last two recipients of DPOY honors, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, haven’t reported to their respective teams but Miller is primed to claim the award in 2018. The NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, Miller has averaged nearly 12 sacks per year in his eight seasons.
With pass rushers like Bradley Chubb, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett in the mix and a good secondary in place, pressure should be generated from all directions and lead to Miller living in the backfield and making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
At age 29, double-digit sack seasons has become the norm for Miller and his best season yet could come in 2018.
Coach of the Year: Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Go take a look at the Bengals depth chart and convince me it’s not one of the NFL’s better rosters. Cincy has weapons on offense, an improved offensive line, a deep pool of defensive lineman and budding stars in the secondary. And of course, the middling Andy Dalton at quarterback.
But let’s not act like the Bengals haven’t enjoyed success with Dalton. Dalton has led the Bengals to the postseason in five of his seven seasons as a starter and claimed the AFC North Division title twice. Yes, he does temper any thought that the Bengals are capable of a deep postseason run but there is enough on the roster around him for Cincy to make a run at a playoff berth.
Lewis is entering his 16th season as head coach of the Bengals and was the COY in 2009. He’s coached Cincy to the playoffs seven times including six of the last nine years.
I believe the Bengals will be a competitive team in 2018 that can challenge for ten wins. After finishing with losing records in each of the last two seasons, I like the Bengals to bounce back to its winning ways this year and for Lewis to be recognized for the second time as COY.
NFL MVP – Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
It sucked not getting to see the Packers play with Aaron Rodgers for the better part of last season. For me, Rodgers playing quarterback is appointment TV. His ability to carve up a secondary is unlike any passer I’ve ever seen. He makes throws that only he can make and features the best arm on the planet.
Rodgers is the NFL’s all-time leader in passer rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio while hitting throws of ridiculously high degrees of difficulty. Given his lost time in 2017 and Green Bay snapping its streak of eight consecutive seasons with a playoff berth, Rodgers and Co. will have plenty of motivation to get back on track.
Rodgers was off to an MVP pace before his collar bone injury last season and I foresee him claiming a third NFL MVP award in 2018.
Playoffs and Super Bowl
AFC Division Winners: New England, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Los Angeles
AFC Wild Cards: Cincinnati, Tennessee
AFC Championship Game: New England over Pittsburgh
NFC Division Winners: Philadelphia, Green Bay, Atlanta, Los Angeles
NFC Wild Cards: New Orleans, Minnesota
NFC Championship Game: Los Angeles over Atlanta
Super Bowl: New England over Los Angeles