The hideously long wait is now over, as the Chiefs and the Patriots will finally kick off the new NFL season tonight. A six month spell without real football is an abnormally long wait for a sporting fan, and it is gruelling for die hard fans across the world. Many are beginning to make their predictions, and in this roundtable, we asked some of our writers for their predictions for award winners, surprise packages, and surprise disappointments ahead of the new season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Joe Hulbert- For me, Dalvin Cook is the clear runner for offensive player of the year purely because of the sheer volume he is going to get. Joe Mixon and Christian McCaffrey are both entering the season as a rotational back, but Cook is going to be an every down back due to his ability out of the backfield, and his ability as a pass protector. He may not get goalline carries for the entire year, but his stats will be far superior to everyone elses.
Ste Hoare- I’m going to go for Christian McCaffrey. I was a huge fan of his at college and I think he’ll be a great fit in Carolina as he is a true duel threat back,. Not only can he run extremely well, he could easily play wide receiver in the NFL if he chose to do so. I think he’ll get over 1500 all-purpose yards and lead the Panthers back to the playoffs.
Sam Brown- Dalvin Cook. Cook fell in the draft as a result of his off-field concerns and lack of obvious physical traits, but I trust what I saw on tape – a running back with vision that is rarely seen in a player his age. I think Cook will just edge McCaffrey to the award, as the Minnesota Vikings’ offense should give the tailback more touches than Carolina’s.
Kyle Bennett- Dalvin Cook – In an offense with Sam Bradford under center, Cook will thrive if the offensive line stays healthy. He’s the main guy in the backfield and Latavius “I Can’t Rush For 60 Yards Per Game Behind A Good Offensive Line” Murray isn’t going to challenge him for carries very much.
David Howell- An abundance of opportunity is there for Kareem Hunt. He could put up the bulk numbers that make him hard to overlook for this award. Leonard Fournette also has that chance, and more talent, but I don’t trust him to stay healthy.
Alex Murray- Kenny Golladay (Seriously) The Kid has major talent, and has impressed massively throughout pre-season. He’s one to watch in Detroit.
Tristan Fitzpatrick- Leonard Fournette, it seems every year we have a rookie running back come in and be completely comfortable right from the start. Fournette will follow in the footsteps of David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott before him. There is also a distinct lack of high-level rookie quarterbacks to steal this one from him.
Defensive Rookie of the year-
Joe Hulbert- Due to the injury sustained to Myles Garrett, my new pick for this award is Takkarist McKinley of the Atlanta Falcons. McKinley looks set to be the full time defensive end as Vic Beasley does most of his work from the linebacker position, and in a system with two difference makers up front, McKinley should get close to double digit sacks.
Ste Hoare- Derek Barnett was a tough player to evaluate coming out of college. None of his measurable were particularly great but it was impossible to ignore his production. I think he won’t get too much attention from opposition defences this year, such is the strength of the Philadelphia front seven, and as such, I see him getting plenty of sacks.
Sam Brown- Solomon Thomas. The 49ers’ interior defensive line looks rather capable, with now second year player DeForest Buckner welcoming a fellow PAC 12 grad in Solomon Thomas. Thomas will be all over the field if the motor from his college tape is to be believed, and offensive lines will have a hard time keeping him from raging havoc in the backfield.
Kyle Bennett- Derek Barnett – With the injury to Myles Garrett, who would’ve been the obvious pick, I’ll take a flyer (no pun intended for your hockey fans out there) on Barnett. Barnett had a great preseason. He’s likely to split reps with Vinny Curry at right end to start the year, but I suspect Barnett to get a much increased role in that Eagles’ strong front seven.
David Howell- An improvement to “meh” would be eye-catching for the New Orleans Saints stop unit, especially as it would surely turn them into a playoff team. I think Marshon Lattimore, who should never have fallen that far in the draft, has the potential to inspire such an improvement, and get the credit for it come voting time.
Alex Murray- Myles Garrett – a class above anyone else in his draft class. Surely he takes the honour. Even with his injury, I still believe he will win the award.
Tristan Fitzpatrick- Reuben Foster because he is an absolute wrecking-ball. It would be easy to say Myles Garrett but I fancied taking a different approach. Foster will have a bigger job on his hands and alongside Navarro Bowman establishes a really nasty tandem.
Coach of the Year:
Joe Hulbert: This was by far the toughest question to answer, but I have gone with Anthony Lynn. The Chargers were actually a good team for most of last year, and if they had gone 10-6, no one could have really complained. Lynn inherits a very good offence, and a defence that really became elite in 2016. The Chargers are a serious dark horse, and if they manage to get to ten or eleven wins, Lynn is a shoe in for the award.
Ste Hoare- It always feels like this award never goes to the true top coaches, but instead to someone who leads a team from a pretty average record to the playoffs. Therefore, I’m picking Mike Zimmer as I think he leads Minnesota back to the post-season.
Sam Brown- Hue Jackson. I’m fully buying the Browns this year. Spending big bucks on the offensive line and drafting key pieces on defense, I think this team can fight it’s way to eight wins. If a coach can get Cleveland to .500, he’s worth this award, surely?
Kyle Bennett- Mike Mularkey – The Titans have a very good, balanced team in a very bad division. They’ll be a playoff team. I predicted the Jaguars to make the playoffs last year, so proceed with caution.
David Howell- Always wildly unpredictable, but I’m going to suggest Bill Belichick purely because if the Pats go 16-0 he can’t exactly not get it, and the Pats could easily go 16-0.
Alex Murray- Mike Mularkey – Titans look good. If they can keep Mariota fit, they have a major chance to do something in the post-season.
Tristan Fitzpatrick- Ben McAdoo .The Giants are really good people. McAdoo will coax the Giants offence into winning the NFC East and along with Steve Spagnuolo’s defence they’re going to be the-talk-of-the-town. Winning the toughest division in the NFL will be enough to sway voters over other coaches
Joe Hulbert- This was a tough one for me to call, but I went with Tom Brady because I think he is going to put up the most historic season of all time. He is a born winner, and he is loaded with weapons, and a run game that should be unpredictable throughout the season. He honestly could have won MVP last year even though he missed multiple games, which shows how stupidly unfairly good he is.
Ste Hoare- I think the Green Bay Packers offense is going to be great this year and I have them claiming the number one seed in the NFC. Therefore, rather predictably, I think Aaron Rodgers wins the MVP award once again.
Sam Brown- Tom Brady. At this point, Tom Brady is dismantling NFL defenses because I don’t think he can dream up anything better to do with a Sunday afternoon. His dominance is expected, and I believe only injury will keep him from the MVP nod.
Kyle Bennett- Le’Veon Bell – I’m going to go out on a limb here and not pick a quarterback. Going into potentially his final season in Pittsburgh, Bell’s hungry to prove to Steelers brass that he can get that $17 million a year contract he reportedly has been asking for.
David Howell- I’m leaning Aaron Rodgers because he’s far less likely to have his arm fall off than Tom Brady and might have to carry his team more given the weaker supporting cast around him. That could even translate into bigger numbers because of spending less time in run-heavy game script.
Alex Murray- Tom Brady. Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. should have a nameplate ready before any season.
Tristan Fitzpatrick- I’d love to see some wide-receiver love here. Antonio Brown continues to excel but I doubt he’ll get the MVP. Aaron Rodgers is still the best quarterback in football, so, yeah I guess him.
Team who will disappoint in 2017
Joe Hulbert- I’m going with the Oakland Raiders, for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that their defence is just garbage, they cannot cover anyone and they do not generate enough pass rush outside of Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. John Pagano will make them less predictable but I’m not convinced that he can fix this unit, as they have no good linebackers or interior players. I’m also a seller on Derek Carr, purely because he plays in a system that is designed to protect him above anything else. If you run a system like that, you will not get things done in the big games.
Ste Hoare- I’m well aware that this could come back and bite me on the backside but I’m going for the Atlanta Falcons. They had the season of their lives last year and that is tough to repeat. The loss of Kyle Shanahan is going to have a big impact, in my opinion, and I have the Falcons missing the playoffs in a tough NFC South.
Sam Brown- Denver Broncos. I have serious questions about this Broncos team. The defense may boast Von Miller and an outstanding trio of cornerbacks, but they need to show they can stop the run. On offense, Trevor Siemian will be able to put up points at a pedestrian pace, and one feels as though the likes of Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas deserve better than a quarterback who is merely ‘pedestrian’. In a stacked division, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Super Bowl champions from two years ago bringing up the rear.
Kyle Bennett- Denver Broncos – Sure, that defense is great. But I’m not sold on their backfield, and that quarterback trio of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch is historically bad. Then again, maybe the expectations aren’t lofty because of who the options are under center in Denver.
David Howell- New York Giants. What do you give the team with a decaying QB and a win-now mentality? Oh yes, locker room nightmare Brandon Marshall to join the easily-provoked OBJ! And this team still has no middle linebackers, so however badly opposing signal-callers get hurried, they can still get somewhere by going after their tight ends early and often. This team has wildly underestimated crash potential.
Alex Murray- Green Bay Packers. Last year showed signs, but I think this year is finally the year it all goes wrong at Lambeau.
Tristan Fitzpatrick- The Dallas Cowboys, I’ve said it already the Cowboys had an easy schedule last year and now have no Zeke for six games. They play the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals, Rams, Packers, and 49ers in those games. Not out of the question that they go 2-4.
Teams who will exceed expectations:
Joe Hulbert- I am of the opinion that the Cincinnati Bengals will be a lot better than people think in 2017. They had a lot of injuries last season, but with William Jackson, AJ Green and Tyler Eifert back in the fold, they should be able to get back towards the playoffs this year. Andy Dalton’s struggles against pressure are concerning, but he now has enough weapons to keep the opposition in nickel and dime packages, which will be pivotal.
Ste Hoare- This is a tough question as I’m not always sure who other people expect big things from! However, there seems to be a general consensus that the Cleveland Browns will win between 0-3 wins and I think they’ll be better than that. I don’t see them making a playoff push or anything like that but I think they’re more likely to be around 6-10 than 2-14.
Sam Brown- New York Jets. I’ve already talked about how much I love the Browns in my coach of the year predictions, so let me discuss why I think the Jets might not be as bad as everyone thinks they’ll be. I do believe that this front office is trying to set the team up for failure, but I back Todd Bowles (with his job on the line) to win some games. The run defense will still be impressive with Leonard Williams and Mo Wilkerson, and despite the departure of Sheldon Richardson teams won’t be able to just take what they want up front against the Jets. Running back Bilal Powell poses to be the focal point of the offense, and should put up some points. I’m not backing the Jets to win anything over five games – but the consensus ‘0-16’ narrative is nonsense.
Kyle Bennett- Philadelphia Eagles – I’m not sure how far they’ll go in the playoffs, but I think they’ll win the NFC East. I’d like to see them with a stud in the backfield, so who knows, maybe a LeSean McCoy reunion could be on the cards.
David Howell- This is a horribly tough one, but bookmakers seem to be pegging the Philadelphia Eagles for an 8-8 or 9-7 season, even though they went 5-1 in 2016 games where Lane Johnson wasn’t suspended and have since added Ronald Darby and Alshon Jeffrey to fill massive needs. Winning up front is half the battle in the NFL, and the Eagles have the personnel to do so on both sides of the ball, as well as a QB in Carson Wentz who has plenty of room to grow.
Alex Murray- San Francsico 49ers – Kyle Shanahan has already shown signs of transforming San Fran into something good. They’ll do way better than people think.
Tristan Fitzpatrick- The San Francisco 49ers will surprise but only because they can only improve on last year. I think Kyle Shannahan is the real deal, I think most Washington and Falcons fans would agree. Okay Hoyer isn’t great but if Shanahan can make Matt Ryan MVP he can get Hoyer wins against the Rams (x2), Bears and Jags.
Joe Hulbert- This was a tough one to answer, but I am going to roll with Noah Spence of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Our draft experts ranked him as a top ten prospect coming out of college, and after watching him last year, it was very easy to see why. Spence was excellent for the majority of his snaps, and he should improve on the 5.5 sacks he got last year.
Ste Hoare- Danielle Hunter of the Minnesota Vikings. The former LSU man is a high class pass rusher but due to the strength in depth on Minnesota’s defensive line, he was only used situationally in his first two seasons. He got 12.5 sacks last season in a limited role and I predict that he sees more action this year and therefore establishes himself as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
Sam Brown- Hunter Henry. The way this man moves, it’s not fair how tall he is. When the Antonio Gates touchdown record farce is over and the Grandpa is put out to stud, Hunter Henry will change your life with how much he’s going to dominate in the AFC West. He’ll gobble up your linebackers and safeties with his wheels and route running, and loom over any corner that dare comes near him.
Kyle Bennett- DeVante Parker – Jay Cutler LOVES Parker. Cutler described him as a “faster Alshon Jeffery.” Parker even has Jeffery’s injury troubles as well.
David Howell- With the caveat that the Miami Dolphins could plausibly have their entire season thrown into chaos if Hurricane Irma slams straight into Miami with brutal intensity, I’m going for DeVante Parker. With Jay Cutler much more attuned to Parker’s style of play than that of Jarvis Landry, it boggles my mind that Landry went far earlier in almost every fantasy draft. The third-year leap is a real phenomenon in WRs still, and Parker has third-year leap written all over his sizable frame.
Alex Murray- Carlos Hyde – Shanahan’s Offence should play into Hyde’s hands. This could be a major year for the 49ers running back.
Tristan Fitzpatrick- Corey Coleman. He was at times pretty last year but ultimately lost the bulk of the season to injury. He was the first receiver off the board in 2016 and has had a whole year to get used to the Browns system. He is also taking over as the starter from Terrelle Pryor Sr. who was a breakout last year.
Player who will disappoint in 2017
Joe Hulbert- I’m going to go with Tyreek Hill as the most disappointing player of 2017, as I do not buy into his hype. He is a good gadget player who fits well in Andy Reid’s diverse offence, but he cannot run routes well enough, and his hands are limited. He is going to be a big play guy, but there is no way that he develops into the top 25 wideout that many think he is going to.
Ste Hoare- I’m going to double down on my ‘Atlanta falling back’ claim and pick Matt Ryan. I like Ryan and think he’s a good quarterback but I think people are expecting him to just repeat what he did last year and I don’t think he’ll be able to get close to that level this year.
Sam Brown- Carson Wentz. In the back end of last season, Carson Wentz looked concerningly mortal for an organisation that sold the farm to draft him. Mechanically speaking, the coaching staff will be praying to the Lord on high they’ve ironed out his wrinkles, or their could be heads rolling in Philly come January.
Kyle Bennett- Matthew Stafford – My expectations for Stafford aren’t very high, and yours shouldn’t be either. I’m only saying that he’ll disappoint this year because, after his massive contract, 90 percent of the internet is going to expect Tom Brady numbers out of him.
David Howell- I could pick Fournette based on his draft stock and durability issues, but I’ll go with DeShone Kizer. He’s shown flashes of great promise in the preseason, but his concerns were always about the mental side of the game, something that’s less easily exposed in the vanilla play of preseason. When the real action starts, I expect him to look completely lost and for Cody Kessler to be the starting QB by Thanksgiving as a result.
Alex Murray- Dak Prescott – Prescott’s debut season was amazing for a rookie. Now into year two things will get much harder for the Cowboys QB.
Tristan Fitzpatrick- Marshawn Lynch. Everyone would love “Beast Mode” to come back and give us the grind-nose running we’ve been missing but it won’t happen. Lynch wasn’t even good in his last year with the Seahawks, no he’s been out for a year, I just don’t see it working out.