With the 2017 NFL season just around the corner, our analysts provide their predictions, including the winners of individual awards, playoff teams for each conference and Championship Sunday/Super Bowl forecasts.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Maurice Jones-Drew: Brady. This offense could rival the 2007 Pats.
Steve Wyche: Rodgers. He finally has the right tight end in Martellus Bennett, who will allow this offense and Rodgers to function at an optimal level.
Jeffri Chadiha: Rodgers. Expect a special season from a player who has his best supporting cast in years.
Heath Evans: Brady. He has so many options, and he’s consistently the best QB in the league.
Gil Brandt: Brady. Pats added offseason help at WR/RB in free agency, and that should help Brady win the award.
Reggie Wayne: Brady. His offense has only improved from last year after New England added several playmakers.
Charley Casserly: Brady. Who else? The talent around him is better than last year.
Dave Dameshek: Wilson. With the NFC up for grabs this year, Wilson will elevate the Seahawks‘ offense to new heights in what figures to be an important season with regard to shaping the philosophical trajectory of this decade’s second-best NFL team.
Adam Rank: Brady. A Super Bowl hangover and the “Madden” curse are no match for the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
Marc Sessler: Brady. Largely because he was a cyborg created by an international team of secret scientists, Brady’s play won’t fall off one smidgen in 2017.
Adam Schein: Rodgers. The most talented and magical quarterback in the NFL carries the flawed Packers to another division title with majestic play yet again, piggybacking off his historic run to close the 2016 regular season.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Steve Wyche: Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys. With Zeke possibly suspended, Bryant takes over an offense that becomes more tilted toward the passing game. Dak will get the love. Dez will make the difference.
Heath Evans: Bell. He’s fighting for a contract that he thinks he deserves, and he’s going to need this type of play to earn $12 million to $13 million.
Dave Dameshek: Johnson. Because he’s surrounded by less talent than Bell, he’ll get slightly more opportunity and, therefore, will produce slightly superior numbers. (Specifically, he’ll join Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk in the 1,000/1,000 club.)
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Gregg Rosenthal: Watt. Until proven otherwise, a healthy J.J. Watt is worthy of winning DPOY every season, like LeBron is worthy of winning NBA MVP every season. (TWO HOT TAKES FOR ONE RIGHT THERE!)
Dave Dameshek: Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers. Going into his fourth season, injury is still the only thing that’s been able to block him. In good health, he’s as distinctive a defensive talent as the NFL has.
Jeffri Chadiha: Miller. He would’ve won this award last year if Khalil Mack hadn’t beaten him by one vote.
Heath Evans: Watt. He’s won this award three times, so the odds are in his favor.
Dan Hanzus: Bosa. Bosa might be the new Watt — a game-changing talent who will threaten the sack record on an annual basis.
Charley Casserly: Watt. He comes back with a vengeance.
Marc Sessler: Bosa. In just his second season, Bosa will change the way we measure and dream about quarterback killers in 2017.
Adam Schein: Watt. J.J. is healthy. J.J. wins.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Judy Battista: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers. Remember when McCaffrey said his position is “football?” Defenses are going to find out just how dangerous a weapon he is, no matter where he is.
Jeffri Chadiha: Fournette. The Jags need this bruising runner to power their ground game.
Dan Hanzus: McCaffrey. An incredible talent playing in a system that loves to run the ball and take pressure off the quarterback. What’s not to like?
Gil Brandt: McCaffrey. He’ll be a matchup nightmare for opponents. The kid is a good runner and better receiver.
Dave Dameshek: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans. Sooner rather than later (I suspect it won’t be long after the Texans’ Week 3 visit to Foxborough), the dynamic Watson will replace Tom Savage … and Houston will roll to another division title. Fournette, McCaffrey and Cook will all be great, but remember: 2016 voters valued Dak Prescott over Zeke Elliott.
Gregg Rosenthal: Mixon. This would be an uncomfortable honor because of Mixon’s assault plea stemming from a 2014 incident, but his play will ultimately be judged on its own merits.
Reggie Wayne: McCaffrey. He can line up anywhere on the field and is effective.
Charley Casserly: McCaffrey. His versatility as a runner, receiver and return man will have him leading all rookies in all-purpose yards.
Adam Rank: McCaffrey. He’s ready to come into the league and tear the roof off it. Even though there is no roof in Carolina.
Marc Sessler: Fournette. The Jaguars are destined to have their troubles on offense, where Doug Marrone could literally hand the ball to Fournette 2,700 times.
Adam Schein: Cook. He puts up monster numbers becoming the featured back for the Vikings.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Steve Wyche: Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles. He is showing in the preseason how special and tenacious he is at getting after the passer. Playing on that defensive front in a pass-happy division will benefit him.
Jeffri Chadiha: Watt. He’s a talented pass rusher on a playoff contender and has strong genes working in his favor.
Heath Evans: Foster. Stats speak volumes for this award, and the 49ers‘ defensive line gives him the freedom to make plays. Lots of them.
Adam Schein: Garrett. The top overall pick lives up to the hype, recording double-digit sacks and dominating for the Browns as a neophyte.
Reggie Wayne: Watt. T.J. is out to prove that it isn’t just about his older brother.
Charley Casserly: Foster. He’s a three-down linebacker playing behind a strong front four. He’ll lead all rookies in tackles.
Dave Damehsek: Takk McKinley, DE, Atlanta Falcons. A decade from now, we’ll all acknowledge Jamal Adams as the 2017 draft’s best defender, but in the meantime, McKinley will ring up some lofty pass rush stats opposite Vic Beasley in Dan Quinn’s attacking (“aTakking”? Too much?) D.
Adam Rank: Garrett. The Browns finally have a great defensive player to build around for the first time since, well, let’s just say the first time in a long time.
Marc Sessler: Barnett. It’s August, and Philly’s rough-and-tumble rookie already looks like a savvy veteran ready to wreak havoc.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Steve Wyche: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders. After a year off to refresh his legs, Lynch gets to run behind a good O-line and play in an offense with so many receiving weapons that teams can’t load the box. Lawd.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Lynch. After a year off, he’s set up for a big season.
Jeffri Chadiha: Watt. Watt may not be the same player he was before back surgery shelved him in 2016, but he’ll still be pretty dang good.
Dan Hanzus: Tyrann Mathieu, S, Arizona Cardinals. History is instructive here. It took Mathieu a year to get back to himself after his last knee injury. His preseason hints he’s ready to dominate again.
Gil Brandt: Watt. If he’s 90 percent of what he was in 2015, he’ll have 15-plus sacks. I think he has a chance to be better because of Jadeveon Clowney‘s emergence.
Reggie Wayne: Watt. He can get after the quarterback, stop the run and is fresh. He’s a wrecking ball.
Charley Casserly: Lynch. Beast Mode gets his yardage, but more importantly, he shows the Raiders how to win.
Adam Rank: Cutler. He comes out of the broadcast booth to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs. You know you want this to happen.
Marc Sessler: Watt. He’s a genuine threat to win Defensive Player of the Year, so the comeback trophy won’t be too much to ask.
Dave Dameshek: Cutler. Lots of fun candidates this year … but I’m rooting for this broadcasting has-been to give Football America a (good) reason to pay attention to one of the more fascinating storylines in recent memory.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Steve Wyche: Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks. He is going to take all the offseason/preseason drama, mesh that with a great defense, healthy Russell Wilson and resurgent Jimmy Graham, and make magic happen.
Ike Taylor: Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders. He has the pieces to best Oakland’s results from a year ago.
Gregg Rosenthal: Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers. Turning a five-win team into a five-loss team is the best recipe to win this award.
Maurice Jones-Drew: Del Rio. The Raiders have had four solid drafts, added talent in the offseason and are poised to take the next step.
Heath Evans: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers. Bill Belichick should get it, but they’ll never give it to him. So I guess give it to Tomlin.
Dan Hanzus: Belichick. I’m just going to keep this pick until Bill or Tom retires.
Gil Brandt: Belichick. He needs eight wins to surpass Tom Landry for third on the all-time list.
Reggie Wayne: Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Don’t let me down, Dirk.
Charley Casserly: Belichick. Patriots go 19-0.
Marc Sessler: Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns. While Bill Belichick should earn the nod on an annual basis, this award is all about narratives. Jackson will be the toast of Cleveland after churning out a respectable and surprising 8-8 record.
Adam Schein: Belichick. He’s the greatest of all time. It’s Bill Belichick’s world, and we are just living in it.