The 2017 NFL season is upon us.
Time for some fearless predictions.
I’m already on record as picking the New England Patriots to beat the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl LII (and I'll stick with it even after watching what the Kansas City Chiefs did to spoil the Pats' pre-game Super Bowl LI victory celebration Thursday night), and Ben Roethlisberger as my NFL MVP.
Now, let’s get into other individual honors and other projections for the year.
Offensive Player of the Year
David Johnson, RB, Arizona. As countless fantasy team owners that made him their top pick know, there might not be a more dynamic runner and receiver in the game. Johnson was a viable candidate to win this award last year by generating 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns. It’s hardly unrealistic for him to achieve what Johnson says he can pull off: 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving.
Defensive Player of the Year
Joey Bosa, DE, L.A. Chargers. He received legitimate consideration for this honor as a rookie last season when he managed to have 10.5 sacks, plus a forced fumble, despite playing in only 12 games due to a contract dispute. From his very first NFL game, Bosa proved nearly unblockable. There’s every reason to believe he’ll be even more dominant this year, thanks to the Chargers’ shift to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Gus Bradley. For Bosa, who played outside linebacker in a 3-4 base in 2016, it means going back to end, where he dominated at Ohio State.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina. The case here is similar to the one I made for David Johnson to become the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. With his tremendous rushing and receiving skills, McCaffrey should instantly become a major component of the Panthers’ offense. Throw in his return production, and it wouldn’t be crazy to see the former Stanford star threaten to hit the 3,000-yard mark.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Reuben Foster, LB, San Francisco. His amazing combination of size, strength, speed and athleticism allows Foster to make plays all over the field. Add his considerable instincts and ability to quickly diagnose what offenses are doing and where the ball is going and you have a player capable of taking over games.
Breakout Player of the Year
Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington. He has all of the physical and mental ingredients to be as dominant as any player at his position. He also has something else: an outstanding quarterback in Kirk Cousins after having a highly productive 2016 season with a variety of QBs (and none of them very good) in Cleveland. Pryor has the added motivation of playing on a one-year contract worth $6 million. He and Cousins, who is playing on a franchise tag, should do plenty to help each other snag big paydays.
Comeback Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, DE, Houston. After missing most of last season with a back injury, he’s healthy. And when Watt is healthy, he’s as dominant a force as any in the NFL. No one else is going to challenge him for this honor. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Watt wins this, as well as league Defensive Player of the Year. Heck, he might even contend for NFL MVP.
Coach of the Year
Mike Mularkey, Tennessee. You could pretty much give this award to Bill Belichick every year, because as long as he’s calling the shots in New England, he’s the best coach in the business. Ever. So how about someone for whom there are lower expectations? Someone such as Mularkey? He has the quarterback, Marcus Mariota, and other weapons to guide the Titans into the postseason for the first time in nine years. The Titans look like they have what it takes to win the AFC South, and perhaps even surprise some people in the playoffs.
Most surprising team
Tennessee. See the reasons I’m going with Mularkey as my Coach of the Year.
Most disappointing team
Dallas. I can see the Cowboys, after a fairly tumultuous offseason, coming back down to earth after last year’s 13-3 finish. Opponents will catch up to running back Ezekiel Elliott, who won't play a full season because of a suspension, and especially to quarterback Dak Prescott, who now has a full season of tendencies for every defensive coordinator on the schedule to study.
Most disappointing player
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas. His 2016 season was so incredible for a rookie quarterback that it’s hard to envision him being able to replicate it.
Super Bowl MVP
Tom Brady, QB, New England: The Thursday nightmare notwithstanding, the Patriots would have no shot at winning a second Super Bowl in a row without an MVP-type showing from Brady. To lead the Patriots to the big game and win it, he’ll need to overcome the absence of his best and most reliable target, Julian Edelman, whose season was ended by a preseason knee injury. And if Brady does win a sixth Super Bowl ring at 40, would he revise his plans of playing into his mid-40s? I doubt it. Brady simply isn’t wired that way.
There will be …
… more inventive touchdown celebrations because the NFL has loosened its restrictions, and, frankly, wants more of them to appeal to a younger audience that has been tuning out television.
… more conversations like the ones Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald supposedly has with opposing defenders when he tells them, “Don’t take my knees out … hit me up (high) … I’ll pay your fine for you.” Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin shared that anecdote, which is interesting in light of the NFL’s efforts to minimize concussions but hardly surprising based on how many receivers think. Almost to a man, they are more fearful of the immediate damage caused by a blow to the knee than the potential long-term harm caused by a head shot.
… close scrutiny of the NFL’s deal with Amazon to stream some of its Thursday night games. The results will go a long way toward shaping the future of how games are viewed.
… more decline in TV ratings of games. Viewing habits have changed dramatically, and it is a trend with no reverse in sight.
… a continuation of dysfunction in Cleveland. Despite what he might say publicly, old-school Hue Jackson is not fully aboard with the Browns’ radical analytics-based approach to acquiring players.
… coaching-firing calls/watches beginning in (listed alphabetically) Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, New York (Jets) and Philadelphia if those teams are bottom-feeding in November.