The regular season is over and the playoffs haven’t quite started yet. A perfect time to debate some NFL Awards, right? Though the actual winners won’t be announced until after the Super Bowl, we here at Def Pen take an educated guess as to who will go home with hardware. Plus, we make some playoff predictions that might surprise.
Who will win the 2018 NFL MVP?
Ben: Drew Brees. Although Mahomes makes an incredibly strong case, Drew Brees deserves credit for what the Saints have been able to accomplish this season. Under Brees, the Saints went an NFL best 13-2 (Brees did not play in their Week 17 loss), leading the Saints to the number one seed in the NFC. He also has the numbers to back it up. 32 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and 3,992 yards make up some of the best numbers of Brees’s career. However, the big stat may be his incredibly impressive 74.4 completion percentage, which is tops in the league. It also strikes a sentimental chord, that Brees, at age 39, has never won an MVP.
Richard: Patrick Mahomes. 50 touchdowns and 5087 yards. Not much more than that needs to be said. The story behind Drew Brees possibly having his best season and getting his first MVP so late in his career to cement a hall of fame career warms my heart as much as the next person. That being said, Mahomes 50 and 5087 has only been matched twice in NFL history, by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Mahomes was too good this season for Brees to be awarded the MVP as a career achievement award.
There it is.. a 50 burger for Mahomes…in his 1st season as a starter. The 50 list? Manning 55…MVP that year, Brady 50 MVP that year..and this year’s MVP Patrick Mahomes with 50…and counting. Case… closed
— trey wingo (@wingoz) December 30, 2018
Garrett: Drew Brees. Mahomes has had an incredible season, but Brees is the MVP. Brees has led a team full of young players to the top of the NFL. Although there was the one hiccup in Dallas along the way, the offense looked unstoppable throughout the season. The deciding factor in this head to head race is the fact the Mahomes and the Chiefs were 1-4 in primetime, nationally televised games. The Saints, on the other hand, were 4-1.
Dark Horse Candidate
Ryan: Philip Rivers. The Chargers had pretty high expectations going into the season. But a couple big injuries made lots of people second guess that. While their season got off to a relatively slow start, the year as a whole proved to be a slow burn. They’re on fire now, arguably the league’s hottest team. And they wouldn’t be in the position they are in without their quarterback. Rivers’ play may be the NFL’s most taken-for-granted aspect.
Who will win the Defensive Player of the Year?
Shayne: Aaron Donald. No individual defensive player throws a wrench in an offense’s gameplan quite like Aaron Donald, who requires two blockers at a minimum to even have a chance at nerfing him on a play to play basis. Donald leads the NFL in tackles for loss with 25 and sacks with 20.5, just 2.5 short of breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. Not only should Donald run away the DPOY, but he should also receive some MVP votes as well.
Ben: Khalil Mack. With respect to Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack has taken the Bears from a good defense to perhaps the best defense in the league. His arrival in Chicago right before Week 1 was felt immediately with a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a pick-six in his first game. Opposing offenses have had to adjust their gameplan based on Mack’s position on the field, which in turn makes helps his teammates play better. His impressive 12.5 sacks and six forced fumbles are great, but what really sets Mack apart is how much better he makes the team around him.
KHALIL MACK PICK-6! ?
— NFL (@NFL) September 10, 2018
Richard: Aaron Donald has better numbers and has played in all 16 games but the difference that Khalil Mack has made on the Bears is what decides the winner for me. Chicago went 5-11 last season giving up 320 points for the season. With the addition of Mack, first-year head coach Matt Nagy turned the Bears into a 12-4 defensive lead playoff team giving up only 283 points on the season. Both Mack and Donald should receive MVP recognition this year but most likely won’t in this quarterback-driven league and since this is the only award that either of them can win, I’d give it to Mack.
Dark Horse Candidate
Ryan: There isn’t any here. It’s either Donald or Mack. The next closest would be J.J. Watt, but Watt lacked the counting numbers Mack did and was just a hair behind Donald in terms of visually overwhelming line play. (To be fair to Donald, though, while Watt was only a hair behind, meaning only slightly, it was a noticeable hair. Like one of those crazy long nose hairs that your grandpa has.)
Who will win the Offensive Rookie of the Year?
Shayne: Baker Mayfield. Saquon Barkley will receive a considerable amount of love in this category, and deservedly so, but Mayfield deserves the award more than Barkley. At a position that inherently carries more value, Mayfield has lifted a lowly Browns franchise and have made them a team that can compete with everyone, especially after the firing of Hue Jackson. Baker has compiled 3725 passing yards and 27 touchdowns, breaking Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson’s record for most touchdown passes for a rookie, in 14 games while leading his team to a 5-3 record post-Hue Jackson’s firing.
Richard: Saquon Barkley. In another award that turned out to be a two-man race, the offensive rookie of the year came down to Saquon Barkley and Baker Mayfield. Mayfield had a great season for a rookie quarterback. When you consider that fact that he’s on the Browns, Baker Mayfield may be the “real MVP” this season. Strip those caveats away and you’re left with just a pretty good season racking up 3,725 passing yards with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Now consider the situation Barkley was in. The Giants had a washed quarterback that barely threw the ball further than 10 yards and lead an offense that everyone knew was running the ball. Barkley still had a season that was great with little to no stipulations. He ran for 1,307 yards and 14 touchdowns adding 91 catches for 721 yards and four touchdowns receiving the ball. That’s a great season, rookie or not.
.@saquon can do it ALL.
He joins Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James as the only rookies in NFL history with 2,000 scrimmage yards in a season. pic.twitter.com/fJ0L1guXZT
— ESPN (@espn) December 30, 2018
Dark Horse Candidate
Garrett: Quenton Nelson. While Saquon and Baker are both very deserving of this award, Quenton Nelson is the right choice. Nelson helped transform one of the worst offensive lines in the league to the most dominant. Without the solid line play keeping Andrew Luck upright, as well as make the running game in Indy relevant, the Colts wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs.
Who will win the Defensive Rookie of the Year?
Shayne: Darius Leonard. The moniker “Maniac” has been well earned by the Colts’ second-round selection who has racked up a ridiculous 163 tackles, 111 of the solo variety, both of which lead the league. Add 2 interceptions, 7 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles, Leonard has played a major role in making the Colts defense a legitimate unit that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.
Ben: Derwin James. During a Week 13 comeback win against Pittsburgh, Chris Collinsworth raved about this young safety from Florida State. It only took a few plays to see what all the hype was about. On a team already loaded with talent in the secondary (Casey Hayward Jr., Desmond King), James jumps off the screen with his ball-hawking abilities. With already loaded with talent, Derwin James sets the table for LA to be a solid defensive unit into the playoffs and beyond.
Garrett: Derwin James. Watching someone of James’ talent slip so far in the draft was shocking. He felt overlooked getting drafted in the middle of the first round. By week 3 he had taken the league by storm and there was no looking back. James is football’s version of a “5 tool player”. He can simply do it all.
Dark Horse Candidate
Ryan: Leighton Vander Esch. Sometimes it can be hard to really quantify a defensive player’s value. For instance, the best cornerbacks rarely get thrown at. Likewise, dominant linebackers don’t get tested in either the running or passing game the way lesser players do. That puts limitations on their opportunities to make an impact. But Leighton Vander Esch transformed the Dallas Cowboys defense. It took him a little while to catch on, especially because he played in Sean Lee’s shadow (at least while Lee was healthy). That delay in production will probably cost him the award, but Vander Esch might be the best all-around linebacker prospect to come along in quite some time. And it’s not like his numbers were terrible. On the contrary, he ended up with 140 total tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions.
Who was the Comeback Player of the Year?
Ben: Andrew Luck. There is no shortage of options when looking at this award. Deshaun Watson, JJ Watt, Aaron Rodgers, and David Johnson all had bounce-back seasons from injury. However, considering the duration of Luck’s injury, his comeback is all the more impressive. Luck casually threw for 39 touchdowns and 4,593 yards and got Indy back to the playoffs after starting the season 1-5. With a healthy Luck, the Colts are once again contending and Luck may find himself back in the MVP conversation very soon.
Richard: Deshaun Watson. From a torn ACL to leading the Texans to an 11-5 record. Deshaun Watson, who at one point of this season was not being cleared to fly with the team on the plane because of A BRUISED LUNG, just edges Andrew Luck out for the comeback player of the year award. He ended his comeback season with 4,165 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns. He added to his season totals with his legs running for 551 yards and five touchdowns. The battle for comeback player of the year may be as close as ever, so winning the division is the difference that will win the award for Watson.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) December 31, 2018
Shayne: J.J. Watt. After playing a combined 8 games in his previous two seasons due to a litany of injuries, many people wondered if J.J. Watt could ever regain his form as a top tier defensive lineman ever again. Sure enough, Watt proved that he still had the juice to be elite, stockpiling 16 sacks, good for second in the NFL. Welcome back, JJ.
Dark Horse Candidate
Garrett: Eric Ebron. A year after being driven out of Detriot, Ebron has suddenly gotten over his inconsistency catching the football. Brought in to backup 2018 pro bowler Jack Doyle, Ebron took advantage of his opportunity. Ebron’s 13 touchdowns lead all tight ends, which earned him a spot in the pro bowl.
Who will win Coach of the Year?
Shayne: Frank Reich. The Colts entered the season with a multitude of question marks following a 4-12 season, including but not limited to could their porous offensive line finally become respectable, could their defense be good enough to keep them in football games, and most importantly, could Andrew Luck even throw a regular football. Turns out, all of these questions were answered with a resounding yes under Reich’s leadership. After starting 1-5, the Colts powered their way to the playoffs by finished 9-1 in their last 10 games behind a rejuvenated Luck, who finished 2nd in the NFL in TD passes with 39, and a surprisingly stingy defense. Not bad for Indy’s second choice head coach.
Ben: Pete Carroll. It’s so hard to put into words just what Carroll has done. The Super Bowl 48 Champion team is nothing more than a distant memory. The defensive stars that made Seattle so feared have mostly moved. Russell Wilson is no longer required to provide the bulk of the passing and rushing. Against all odds, Seattle is back in the playoffs and is largely thanks to Pete Carroll tailoring this team’s style to the abilities of his players. Personnel change and all, Carroll has found a way to get this team of newbies playing like contenders from a few years ago without a major lapse in between.
Garrett: Anthony Lynn. Lynn took over a Chargers team in 2017 that would just find new ways to lose games. After a 0-4 start that season, he seemed to change the culture of that team. Finishing 9-7, The Chargers kept the momentum this season finishing 12-4 and making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
Dark Horse Candidate
Ryan: Matt Nagy. Expectations for the Bears this season rose exponentially the second the Khalil Mack trade was made official. But still, winning the NFC North, in the manner they did, was nothing short of spectacular. Mitchell Turbisky has some shortcomings at quarterback, but Nagy found ways to make it work anyway. The scary part is, because of Trubisky’s limitations, we might not know exactly how creative Nagy can get offensively. Thus, it might be a year early for the Bears’ coach to win this award, but he has every right to be in the conversation.
Who will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl?
Ben: New Orleans Saints. Sure, the Saints struggled in a few games towards the end of the season, but New Orleans still looks like the most consistent team in the NFC. Brees is playing some of the best football of his career. The one-two punch of Ingram and Kamara is hard to handle. Michael Thomas is a matchup nightmare. Even the defense has seen improvement over the course of the season. The cherry-on-top though is the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs that New Orleans maintains. New Orleans is a tough matchup anywhere, but forcing teams to win in the Superdome is going to be a really tough out.
Richard: Los Angeles Rams. The Rams were a force to be reckoned with this season only losing three games. One of those losses was to the number one seed Saints but stick with me. The Rams have Jared Goff leading them into the playoffs while the Saint have Drew Brees. Ok, maybe New Orleans wins that match up but LA has Todd Gurley, who racked up 1,831 total yards and 21 touchdowns, running the rock. Oh, you noticed that Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram combined for 2,407 total yards and 25 touchdowns and both will be fresher than Gurley who ran the ball 256 times and dealt with injuries already this season? Well, Aaron Donald! Aaron Donald is why the Rams will…. nevermind, the defenses are pretty even. The Saints are a better version of the Rams and with the experience that the head coach and quarterback have, they are my favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Garrett: Saints. With the MVP leading their team of young, talented offensive weapons, the offense is unstoppable at times. Their defense is coming around just at the right time of the year to make a deep playoff run. The Saint’s can score the ball in so many ways, whether it’s Kamara or Ingram out of the backfield, or throwing the ball to NFL reception leader Michael Thomas. A big part of the offense has been the emergence of UFA Keith Kirkwood, which gives Drew Brees another big target to throw the ball to in the red zone.
Dark Horse Candidate
Ryan: Philadelphia Eagles. Here’s a little bit of an open secret I have: If my favorite team isn’t in the playoffs, I root for chaos. For roughly fourteen weeks of the regular season, it looked like Philadelphia had no business making the playoffs. Then the Bears – Philly’s first-round opponent – beat the Vikings in a move that put the Eagles into the tournament. If Nick Foles does it again, there needs to be an investigation into whether or not he made some sell-your-soul-to-the-football-gods type deal. That would qualify as a PED, right?
Who will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl?
Ben: Los Angeles Chargers. This is the most wide open the AFC has looked in years, and although New England still should get the benefit of the doubt, Los Angeles looks like the most complete team. True, this team has to go on the road for likely all of its games, but they’ve been good at that all season. Their only loss on the road this season was still in Los Angeles, but at the Rams. If the Chargers, can keep the turnovers down and stay healthy, the defense can hang with anybody and the depth on offense is substantial. It feels like its finally time for Rivers to get his.
Richard: The Kansas City Chiefs. Growing up an Eagles fan, I am no stranger to the shortcomings of head coach Andy Reid. From his famous time management issues to his struggles to adjust his gameplan mid-game, I’ve seen it all. What’s different this season? Future MVP (See MVP Prediction) Patrick Mahomes. In the past, Reid has had quarterbacks that were as scared of making a mistake as Reid was of not using his timeouts in the third quarter. From Alex Smith to Donavon McNabb, his quarterbacks were so worried about not losing the game that they couldn’t take over and dominate. Mahomes will take Reid and the Chiefs to a Super Bowl with or without timeouts. Whether throwing with his left hand or completing a no-look pass that would make LeBron James envious, Mahomes does what it takes to dominate a game even if he’s a little reckless and that’s just what Reid needs.
Patrick Mahomes now has 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 passing yards for the number 1 seed in his conference. Your 2018 MVP.
— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) December 30, 2018
Ryan: New England Patriots. It’s playoff time, that means New England dusts off Rob Gronkowski and introduces us to some random, unknown player we haven’t heard of yet that ends up making the biggest play of the postseason. It’s happened before, it’s setting up in exactly the right way for it to happen again.
Dark Horse Candidate
Shayne: The Baltimore Ravens. No one wants to play Baltimore. They are perhaps the hottest team in football, winning 5 of their last 6 games to win the AFC North behind the #1 defense in the league and an overwhelming run game led by rookies Lamar Jackson and Gus Edwards. With the defense who had been dominant all year without forcing turnovers finally taking the ball away from their opponents, the Ravens’ strengths should carry throughout every potential matchup to the Super Bowl.
Who will win the Super Bowl?
Ben: New Orleans Saints. As good as the Chargers defense looks, Brees and the Saints offense would just be too much. The Saints would control the tempo second half, relying heavily on Ingram and Kamara. I think it would be a fairly close game, but that New Orleans offense is just a bit more potent than LA, helping Brees and Sean Payton to their second Super Bowl ring. In a bonus prediction, MVP of the game goes to Mark Ingram marking the first running back MVP since Terrel Davis in Super Bowl XXXII
Richard: Kansas City Chiefs. The lack of defense by the Chiefs is something that gave me pause while considering this pick but the Mahomes-Reid combo is too potent to ignore. Whoever the Chiefs face in the playoffs will have to keep up to an unstoppable offense and their lack of defense may keep the games close but it won’t be enough to keep pace. Andy Reid will finally get the monkey of no rings off his back and Mahomes will cement his legend as the best quarterback ever (hyperbole) in his first year as a starter.
Ryan: New England Patriots. They did it to us again. Every year it seems like the Pats slow-play the season. And every year it gets later and later. The NFL fan base inevitably gets baited into the “Is this the beginning of the end for the Brady/Belichick Era?” But time and time again, they enter the playoffs with a first-round bye, prove why they’re the class of the AFC, then keep us all on the edges of our seats in a super-close championship game.
Dark Horse Candidate
Shayne: The Baltimore Ravens. Defense travels in the playoffs and typically so does the run game, and no teams left in the postseason do either better than Baltimore. John Harbaugh, who has already coached his way to a Super Bowl by beating teams he previously played in the regular season, will do so again by avenging losses to Kansas City and New Orleans back to back to lift the Lombardi Trophy.
What was the biggest surprise of the 2018 season?
Ben: Cleveland Browns. Back in April, I made a bet with my brother that Cleveland would finish 7-9 or worse, walking away feeling bad that I didn’t make it a bigger wager. However, after a Week 16 win over Cincinnati, the Browns and my brother proved me wrong. The Browns finished at 7-8-1, a remarkable turnaround after a 0-16 2017. With Baker Mayfield proving his number one pick status, Nick Chubb looking like the running back of the future, and a defense with playmakers (Joe Schobert, Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett to name a few), the Browns are well-equipped to be a contender in the AFC North come 2019.
Richard: Seattle Seahawks. For the same reasons I have Pete Carroll winning Coach of the Year, the Seahawks are the biggest surprise of the 2018 season. Before the season started, I, like most, thought that Seattle was in rebuild mode. They lost much of the players that helped win the Super Bowl and what they had leftover looked like the ingredients to a high draft pick. Carroll and Russell Wilson had a different meaning of “rebuild” and made the playoffs. They worked a run-heavy offense and a defense that kept games close enough for Wilson to take over in the final minutes of what felt like every fourth quarter. Now they’re in the playoffs and no one would be surprised if they upset the Cowboys in Jerry World. That’s surprising.
It’s already the Day Before The Day Before!! Any #12s meeting us in Dallas??
— Pete Carroll (@PeteCarroll) January 3, 2019
Shayne: The number of teams that rose from the dead to make the playoffs. The Ravens started 4-5. The Texans started 0-3. The Colts started 1-5. The Cowboys started 3-5. The Seahawks started 4-5. The Eagles started 4-6. At each of these team’s lowest points, they did not look the part of postseason teams. Yet, all of them finished the year in the dance at 10-6, 11-5, 10-6, 10-6, 10-6, and 9-7 respectively. The Year of the Comeback.
Dark Horse Candidate
Ryan: A little outside the box, but the NFL ratings. With all the hoopla over the Colin Kaepernick situation, concussions, presidential attacks, penalties, etc., it was starting to look like there was a crack in the NFL’s armor as far as the league’s popularity. However, aside from a few individual prime time games, ratings rebounded in a big way this season. A lot of it had to deal with the league realizing the power of flex scheduling with nationally televised games with some good fortune in that category as well. With a few exceptions, the bigger games usually featured all the relevant players, too. Injuries were a factor but didn’t play a huge factor for most games, unlike past years.
NFL ON CBS Ratings Finish Up +8% for 2018 NFL Season pic.twitter.com/MZ9UrBYzec
— CBS Sports PR (@CBSSportsGang) December 31, 2018
What was the biggest disappointment of the 2018 season?
Ben: Jacksonville Jaguars. So many options here. Atlanta, Green Bay, Minnesota, Pittsburgh. However, the Jaguars were all the more disappointing considering how fun they were in 2017. The Jags played a smashmouth style of defense reminiscent of Seattle’s Legion of Boom, carrying Jacksonville all the way to the AFC Championship Game, falling just short of the Super Bowl. In 2018, the Jags continued to be vanilla on offense, leading to the benching and un-benching of Blake Bortles. Leonard Fournette and the offensive were banged up for much of the season. The biggest letdown was the defense. The once feared defense looked very average, sometimes poor over the season. Considering this was a sleeper Super Bowl team going into 2018, but came out a dysfunctional, angry team with no one safe from the chopping block, it’s hard to pick a more disappointing team.
Richard: Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were a quarterback away, like the Jaguars, last year. They had a great defense and great weapons on the offense waiting for a QB to use them to their full potential. The difference between the Jags and Vikings was that Minnesota went out and made a change at the position to improve the team. The problem is that they thought Kurt Cousins was the quarterback to bring in and pay big. Real big. Guaranteed big. When it was all said and done the Vikings missed the playoffs losing to a Bears team that had nothing to play for. I believe that the Vikings will bounce back next year but as far as this season goes, Minnesota was the biggest disappointment of 2018.
Minnesota Vikings’ front office meeting with Kirk Cousins after the game pic.twitter.com/lsmuFbqK66
— Jake Montgomery (@JakeM0NTGOMERY) December 31, 2018
Ryan: Green Bay Packers. Although they weren’t getting a ton of buzz as a Super Bowl contender going into the season, not finishing first or second in the NFC North makes 2018 arguably the most disappointing season for one of the NFL’s most historically successful teams. The firing of Mike McCarthy as well as going 0-2 against the Detroit Lions this season are low points the likes of which this franchise hasn’t seen since the ’80s.
Dark Horse Candidate
Shayne: The Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite not having Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers are still among the 6 most talented teams in the AFC. Yet, here we are with the Steelers watching the postseason from home after being having a 7-2-1 record and a top 3 seed at one point in the season. What went wrong? Mike Tomlin’s squad consistently played down to their opponents which led to losses against the Broncos and Raiders that ultimately allowed the Ravens to sneak up and steal the AFC North crown. Focus waned, blame was shamelessly placed on others by supposed leader Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers crashed out of the postseason in complete flux.