Believe it or not, but we’re going to be able to watch NFL games this week! Starting in Kansas City with the Texans and Chiefs, all 32 teams will be competing for one reward- a Super Bowl championship. Obviously, there are certain teams that won’t even come close to winning the Super Bowl, but there’s still so much intrigue with those teams as well- how do they progress in their rebuilding stages? In other words, every NFL game we’ll be able to consume this season is an absolute treat.
We’ve already projected win totals for every team, so, now, we’ll conclude our prediction series with a fun topic: awards and playoffs. Whereas the win total projections were strictly off of a model, this wasn’t as strict, though I did try to speculate who my model would favor in specific playoff matchups; the award predictions were strictly based on my own research.
Let’s start with the awards! To make this more exciting, I did not allow myself to pick any of the betting favorites. In addition, I’ll also list a dark horse candidate that I could really see contending for each respective award.
Most Valuable Player
My Pick: QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Ironically, I’m probably lower on Dak Prescott than most, as, based on his metrics, I see him as a mid-tier quarterback, rather than an elevator of talent. Yet, those types of quarterbacks can put up exceptional numbers in the right situation, and no quarterback is in a better position to succeed than the former fourth-round pick. Not only does he have a very talented receiver trio of Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, but he also plays in a scheme that maximizes his abilities. Plus, with multiple games against the Giants and Redskins, as well as matchups against the Cardinals, Bengals, Browns, and Rams, he’ll get to face several defenses that he should pick apart. Projected for double-digit wins, the Cowboys are in contention for the NFC’s top seed, and Prescott’s production will garner the spotlight.
Darkhorse: QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
I get it; Baker Mayfield was not a productive quarterback last season. Yet, his college production was through the roof, and we also need to make sure not to forget that he was a top-ten quarterback in his rookie season. The infrastructure, with head coach Freddie Kitchens calling the plays, wasn’t in place for him to thrive last season. Now, however, he’ll be in a much favorable scheme with new head coach Kevin Stefanski, who’ll leverage a lot of play-action passes, while he should be more in sync with receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry with more reps with them. Add in the Browns’ extremely schedule, and Mayfield is a great under-the-radar MVP candidate.
Offensive Player of The Year
My Pick: RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
I couldn’t quite pick Mayfield to win the MVP, and Nick Chubb is a major reason why- he’ll likely garner the spotlight in the eyes of the voters. When it comes to generating yards after contact, no running back is better at doing so than Chubb, which is why he was second in the league in rushing despite a subpar run-blocking offensive line. Now, however, he’ll get to run behind new tackles Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr., and will also play in Stefanski’s zone-rushing scheme. Furthermore, per Pro Football Focus, he has the worst touchdown luck last season, and when (not if) that regresses back to the mean, he’ll look like an absolute star in Cleveland.
Darkhorse: WR Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
It’s very rare for a wide receiver to win this award, but perhaps Michael Thomas winning it last year will change that. Somehow, the Packers managed to go the entire offseason without adding a single wide receiver, and that’ll only put more pressure on Davante Adams. Heck, I think it could get to the point where they force-feed him targets, but with his separation ability, it won’t hurt his efficiency. In other words, I could easily see him having a Thomas-esque season in 2020, as he’s the only receiver Aaron Rodgers is likely to trust, and will be relied upon heavily in order for Green Bay to win the NFC North for a second straight season.
Defensive Player of the Year
My Pick: EDGE Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Trust me, this isn’t a Browns’ fan page! This is just setting up to be a very exciting season for them, and they have a lot of star talent. If he hadn’t attacked Mason Rudolph with a helmet in Week 11, which caused him to be suspended for the season, there’s a good chance Myles Garrett would have been voted the league’s best defensive player. In 544 snaps, he earned a 91.6 Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade, has gotten better in every year of his career, and, if you look at the general progression from edge rushers, the fourth season is generally when they take their next game to a phase of domination. He has plenty of matchups against quarterbacks who take too many sacks, and if Cleveland has the type of success that my model believes they’ll have, he’ll get a lot of opportunities to do damage.
Darkhorse: EDGE/IDL Calais Campbell, Baltimore Ravens
As the winner of the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year award, Calais Campbell shouldn’t be a dark horse for this award, but after being traded to the Ravens for a fifth-round pick, he’s flown under the radar. Let’s not be mistaken, he’s still an elite defensive lineman, even at 35-years-old, and with his versatility to line up on the inside or outside, he’s a perfect fit in Baltimore. With the way they’re able to scheme up pressure with exotic blitzes, his baseline of 10 sacks could turn into 15+, especially since he’ll line up on the interior more; he’ll have plenty of pass-rush chances since the Ravens will have a lot of leads.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
My Pick: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
This is generally a quarterback award, so Joe Burrow will likely win this award. Still, it’s hard to argue with the fact that Clyde Edwards-Helaire is in position to have a monster season. At LSU, he dominated with in both the passing game and rushing attack, and although he was in a favorable situation, that’s also the case with the Chiefs. In 2017, Kareem Hunt as a rookie posted 1782 combined yards from scrimmage, and with his elusiveness and well-rounded ability, Edwards-Helaire projects as a very similar player.
Darkhorse: WR Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
Even though there were six wide receivers taken in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, it’s the eighth receiver taken that could have the best rookie statistics. Simply put, it’s hard to find a rookie receiver in a better situation to succeed. Colts quarterback Phillip Rivers has been known to love connecting with bigger receivers, and at 6’4″ and 223 pounds, Pittman Jr. fits the bill- he also was very productive at USC. Additionally, he immediately is the team’s #2 receiver, and without a superior red-zone target on the roster, no one should be shocked if the 34th overall pick catches double-digit touchdowns. The fact that he isn’t in the top-15 in online betting odds for this award is a disgrace.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
My Pick: LB Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravems
I’m generally wary of picking linebackers to be voted the best defensive rookie, as it’s a pretty volatile position with a steep rookie learning curve. Still, even if he has a subpar season, Patrick Queen, based on the defense he’s playing in, is poised to excite voters with a heavy accumulation of statistics. Baltimore’s versatile, blitz-heavy scheme is a linebacker’s paradise, and, as a result, the LSU product will post massive tackle numbers, in addition to some sacks. This is more of a prediction of voters being fooled into meaningless statistics than who’ll be the best rookie, but that’s the best way to go about this forecast anyways.
Darkhorse: EDGE Josh Uche, New England Patriots
As the leader in power-five college-win rate, I was tempted to pick Josh Uche to win this award outright. Sure, he’s undersized, but he’ll immediately step into the Kyle Van Noy role, so New England will compensate for his limitations. Even if he’s in a rotational role, he could post double-digit sacks behind an exceptional secondary, which could be enough for him to win this award.
Coach of the Year
My Pick: Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys
I already referenced this with the Prescott MVP selection, but the Cowboys have all the tools in place for a successful season. Not only do they have a tremendous amount of talent, but Mike McCarthy is a major upgrade at head coach over Jason Garrett, which should be reflected in their win-loss record this year. After being let go by the Packers, McCarthy focused on improving his ability to leverage numbers, and has always embraced a pass-heavy mindset. Additionally, he’s letting brilliant young offensive coordinator Kellen Moore call plays, and all indications are that the adjustment period has been strong. If he leads Dallas to a division title, voters will like the “revenge tour” narrative that’ll come with that success.
Darkhorse: Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
Whether or not you believe in Matt Patricia, my model thinks that the Lions will be much-improved this season. They dealt with poor luck in one-score games, played half the season without quarterback Matthew Stafford, and also made moves this offseason to improve their pass coverage. In a NFC North (no clear favorite), there’s a legitimate chance they can win the division, and after winning just three games, that would give Patricia an edge when it comes to winning this award.
Now, it’s time for me to make my official (well, really my model’s) playoff picks! Based on my models’ win total projections, here’s how the playoff seeding would pan out:
AFC Championship: Chiefs Over Ravens
The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs return practically all of their starters from a season ago, and, thus, are my model’s pick to dominate the AFC. When you have the best quarterback in the NFL, in addition to an explosive group of players and an elite coaching staff, you’re going to be a successful team. Hence, why my model is high on them. As for the Ravens, they’re less of a lock to be a thriving team, as they’ll likely deal with less-favorable game scripts this season, but they’re coached extremely well and have a very deep roster on both sides of the ball.
NFC Championship: Saints Over 49ers
The 49ers will have to overcome adversity this season; injuries have left them thin at wide receiver, they’ll likely regress defensively, and they play a tough schedule down the stretch. Nevertheless, they have a brilliant head coach in Kyle Shanahan, and still project to have a top-ten offense and top-five defense. In other words, the path will be tougher, but I believe they’ll get back to the NFC Championship game. That would set up an rematch of last year’s regular season classic with the Saints, who’ll we’ll get into more detail here, as there’s more to discuss with them than a NFC championship.
Super Bowl: Saints Over Chiefs
That’s right, the Super Bowl 55 champions will be the New Orleans Saints. I’m based on mathematic principles, and, at some point, their playoff luck ought to regress back to the mean, right? Anyways, my model sees them as the clear top team in the league, which makes sense. Even at 41-years-old, Drew Brees remains an elite quarterback, and he’ll have a plethora of targets to throw with receivers Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, tight end Jared Cook, and even a healthy Alvin Kamara. Meanwhile, they have a lot of depth defensively, which should help them in the long run, and the veteran additions of defensive backs Janoris Jenkins and Malcolm Jenkins don’t get the recognition they deserve. This is a very well-coached team that has arguably been the best organization in football over the past three seasons, and if my model is correct, Brees will have an opportunity to go off into the sunset in style.