The 2015 NFL season is here. Time for some fearless predictions.
I’m already on record as picking the Seattle Seahawks to beat the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Let’s get into individual honors and other projections for the year.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. You know, after the child-abuse scandal that caused him to miss virtually all of the 2014 season, he’s going to play with a massive chip on his shoulder. And an angry Peterson should be good for about 2,000 rushing yards and some additional strong production as a receiver.
Honorable mentions: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston; Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle; Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay; Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis.
Offensive Player of the Year
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh. He can play pitch-and-catch all season long with his talented receivers, especially Antonio Brown. He’ll be even more dangerous once wide receiver Martavis Bryant and running back Le’Veon Bell return from suspensions.
Honorable mentions: Tom Brady, QB, New England; Peterson, RB, Minnesota; Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle; Rodgers, QB, Green Bay; Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England.
Defensive Player of the Year
Watt, DE, Houston. No one really can be mentioned in the same breath as this guy for this honor. If he hasn’t already established himself as the most dominant defensive player in NFL history, he’ll lock that up this season. The guy is the epitome of an athletic freak.
Honorable mention: Von Miller, OLB, Denver; Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City; Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee. He has a decent chance of thriving in the Titans’ offense, which is designed to help him find early success. He’s also getting some very good coaching from Ken Whisenhunt and his offensive staff.
Honorable mentions: Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay; Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit; Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland; Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Vic Beasley, DE, Atlanta. He’s an extremely explosive player with an exceptional first step off the line. He did himself a tremendous favor by staying at Clemson for his senior season – even though he would have been a high pick as a junior last year – because it allowed him to polish his skills as a pass-rusher. Having former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as his head coach is another plus.
Honorable mentions: Frank Clark, DE, Seattle; Shaq Thompson, LB, Carolina; Randy Gregory, DE, Dallas; Shane Ray, LB, Denver.
Comeback Player of the Year
Peterson, RB, Minnesota. It’s hard to imagine anyone else being more deserving, given the likelihood that he’s going to have a monster season after missing all of that time and going through all of that turmoil last year.
Honorable mention: Sam Bradford, QB, Philadelphia.
Coach of the Year
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota. He’s putting together something pretty special. His deft handling of the Peterson situation might have been the best move of the offseason. Having offensive coordinator Norv Turner deftly handle second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater should go a long way toward allowing the Vikings to make some noise.
Honorable mentions: John Harbaugh, Baltimore; Chip Kelly, Philadelphia; Andy Reid, Kansas City; Bill O’Brien, Houston; Jack Del Rio, Oakland.
The big surprise (team)
Houston. The Texans have some significant questions, beginning with Brian Hoyer taking over at quarterback after washing out with his hometown Cleveland Browns because of too many turnovers. But O’Brien is an outstanding coach, and they have arguably the game’s greatest player at any position in Watt.
The big surprise (player)
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo. As a first-time starter, he’ll accomplish plenty by simply maintaining his job throughout the season. But it’s reasonable to expect Taylor will do a bit more than that with his combined skills as a runner and passer.
Taylor should benefit from having a solid defense, an effective running game and plenty of playmakers around him.
The big letdown (team)
Arizona. The Cardinals should be a strong contender in the NFC West but that won’t happen because quarterback Carson Palmer will fail to stay healthy … again.
Honorable mentions: Detroit, Denver.
The big letdown (player)
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Miami. Trying to live up to a $114 million contract is difficult. For that kind of deal, he needs to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. And he will fall well short of that.
Honorable mentions: Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas; Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit.
There will be …
… more controversy involving NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his disciplinary actions because he and his staff can’t help themselves.
… a season-long battle for tight-end reception dominance between Gronkowski and Seattle’s Jimmy Graham.
… more calls in the media for the commissioner to be fired or resign.
… more accusations of cheating by the Patriots. The flap over the Patriots radio broadcast interfering with the headsets of the Steelers’ coaches Thursday night is only the beginning.
… plenty of lamenting, at least early on, of Suh’s absence in Detroit. But that will change as Lions fans see a less dominant version of him in Miami.
… more dumpster-fire embarrassments for the Cleveland Browns because they can’t help themselves.
… more officiating controversies because the complexity of the rules and the constant tweaking of them make it difficult, if not impossible, for the zebras to keep up.
… season-long quarterback issues with the Washington Redskins, New York Jets and Chicago Bears.
… two teams, the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers, packing up and moving to Los Angeles after the season.
… at least one coach fired before the end of the season, Washington’s Jay Gruden.
Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis is going to run out of luck as the league’s longest-tenured coach after New England’s Bill Belichick. And Jim Tomsula will be one-and-done in San Francisco.
… many more digitally streamed games after this season. The one between the Bills and Jaguars on Oct. 25 from London will make history for being the first to be broadcast that way and eventually be mentioned as the beginning of a trend that will change the way NFL games are viewed.