It’s been an eventful preseason for the NFL. Colin Kaepernick continues progress in his anti-collusion case, which could have significant consequences for the league, and star players such as Aaron Donald, Aaron Rodgers, and Odell Beckham Jr. collected record-breaking contracts totaling more than $350 million.
Other superstars haven’t been treated as well by their respective teams, as Khalil Mack was just dealt to the Bears and Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers still haven’t come to resolution on his contract.
With that being said, let’s dive into some of the players most likely to take home the NFL’s most prestigious awards, as well as a possible Super Bowl matchup!
Aaron Rodgers – Rodgers missed some games last year and couldn’t make an impact in the postseason, but he’ll be hungry and back this season. The Packers decided to let Jordy Nelson go this offseason, but the acquisition of Jimmy Graham will help mitigate his loss. Graham has made a living as a red-zone threat, shown by his 10 touchdowns last season compared to 520 total yards. Davante Adams has been taking steady steps forward and is likely to be top-5 in receiving yards this coming season, and Randall Cobb showed signs of life last year, so as long as he doesn’t get traded he’ll be a reliable target out of the slot for Rodgers. Discount double check, baby.
Offensive Player of the Year – Antonio Brown
As the wide receiver corps in Pittsburgh changes around him, Antonio Brown has stayed consistent. It’s been over 6 years since Brown was not in the top five in receiving yards. Look for him to lead the league in receptions and receiving yards despite some good competition in DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr. His relationship with Ben Roethlisberger is as good as any wideout has with his quarterback in the league. Although Big Ben isn’t getting any younger, the leader of the Killer B’s is going to continue dominating secondary coverage with accurate throws to Brown.
Coming off his first DPOY award, third first-team All Pro, and a huge contract extension worth $135 million since last season, Aaron Donald is the hottest defensive player in the league. He’s established himself as the cream of the crop as far as interior lineman go, and will headline a star-studded Rams defense leaving opponents very little room to operate. Donald had 39 sacks in his first four seasons in the league. Expect him to add another 10 to that total this season.
Without a doubt, Saquon is going to be a beast this year. Any YouTube search of the second overall pick’s highlights at Happy Valley is more than enough to convince any doubter Barkley is going to dominate any defense he faces. He will lead all rookies in yards from scrimmage, and although he’s not going unseat Odell as the #1 option for the Giants, he’ll get plenty of run.
Derwin proved himself to be a dynamic playmaker in the secondary at Florida State. He joins an already talented defensive roster headlined by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and will have plenty of opportunity to wreak havoc as a dynamic playmaking safety. Look for him to immediately impact the way opposing offenses attack the Bolts .
DJ essentially lost his entire 2017 campaign after a wrist fracture took him out of the final 15 games of the season. He will be hungry to bounce back this season. Still only 26 years old, he’ll control the Cardinals offense in a way few other players in the league can through his equally impressive abilities to rush and receive. The entire offense will revolve around him, and he’s a favorite to lead the NFL in yards from scrimmage. In 2016, the last time he had a fully healthy season, he had 2,118 yards from scrimmage and totaled 20 touchdowns. Look for similar numbers this season.
Having the Patriots in the Super Bowl is an easy prediction for what feels like the 10th year in a row. Few contenders have a real chance at beating them in the AFC. Blake Bortles hasn’t developed enough to be a Super Bowl quality quarterback, and Ben Roethlisberger seems to be degrading by the year.
Brady will lead his troops to another Super Bowl with a similar supporting cast from years before. After a long, drawn out decision on whether or not to play this season, Rob Gronkowski is back and as long as he’s healthy the Patriots will be the best offense in the NFL.
Julian Edelman will join Rookie Sony Michel in 2018, after serving his 4 game suspension, in juicing an already talented offense. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will have no excuses if they disappoint offensively.
Although their defense has been inconsistent, recent offseason acquisition Adrian Clayborn will help the Patriots survive defensively. Their linebacking corps will still be as good as it has been in recent years with Captain Dont’a Hightower leading a unit that was middle-of-the-pack in 2017.
The NFC is murkier. The Eagles should be at least as good as they were last season, and the Rams and Vikings have each made enough moves this offseason to warrant significant attention, but the Saints’ high-powered offense and rock-solid defense will power them to the Super Bowl.
Drew Brees heads an offense headed by Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and Mark Ingram (once he serves his four-game suspension). Kamara averaged a ridiculous 6.1 yards per carry in 2017, an exceedingly difficult number to keep up especially with Ingram out for the first four games. Ingram wasn’t as effective on a per-carry basis, but 2017 was his best season yet as he put up over 1,100 rushing yards at 4.9 yards per carry. It’s tough to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t keep that up, especially because of how consistent the offense has stayed around him.
Michael Thomas will progress as one of the league’s premier wide receivers as he will be mouth-fed targets from Brees. Rookie Tre’Quan Smith probably won’t be higher than their fourth most targeted wideout behind Cameron Meredith and Ted Ginn Jr., but he’ll still be able to make an impact with his ability to take the top off of opposing defenses with his quickness and precise route-running.
Their most recent acquisition, Teddy Bridgewater, won’t be a huge factor until Brees retires, but his athleticism could be useful in case coach Sean Payton is looking to get creative. The Saints defense was the compelling storyline of 2017. The historically bad 2016 Saints rebounded to the credit of their dynamic secondary, led by CB Marshon Lattimore. The team was top-10 in sacks, interceptions, pass deflections, and forced fumbles. Lattimore’s ability to shut down any opposing wideout will be invaluable for a team looking to make a deep run into the winter of 2019.
This Saints v. Patriots matchup would be a great one on the league’s biggest stage, with powerful offense facing powerful offense. It’s tough to pick a winner between two incredible teams, but due to the Saints defense being so much more disruptive than the Patriots’, I like the Saints in this one.