In Super Bowl LI, I think we’ll see a rematch that is 8 years in the making.
By: Elias McMillan
First, here are my picks for the 2016 post-season awards:
MVP: Aaron Rodgers – QB (Green Bay Packers) – The MVP award is such a sham. It is really the “best QB of the season” award. But I think that guy in 2016 might be Aaron Rodgers. With his receivers now back and healthy, we will see that Packers passing attack that we were used to seeing a couple of seasons ago. Rodgers will put up great numbers and because of the Teddy Bridgewater injury, the Packers might overtake in the NFC North this season as well.
Offensive MVP: Antonio Brown – WR (Pittsburgh Steelers) – Now, I know that this could easily be the MVP as well but I know that would never happen. Either way, Antonio Brown is probably the best offensive weapon in football. The guy is unstoppable and is showing no signs of slowing down. Because of the suspension situations in Pittsburgh, the Steelers will be leaning on Brown even more this season.
Defensive MVP: Khalil Mack – LB (Oakland Raiders) – Khalil Mack is on the cusp of NFL stardom and I think his play will elevate this Raiders team into the postseason in 2016. I still don’t have a clear answer of what type of defense will the Raiders run in 2016. Will it be a 4-3 or a 3-4? All the clues tell me that it will be a 3-4, which will give Mack even more opportunity to get after the QB. I think we will see Mack as the league leader in sack this season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Ezekiel Elliott – RB (Dallas Cowboys) – This will be everyone’s answer to this question. But I honestly was going to go another way until a couple of things happened. 1) The Darren McFadden injury is much more serious than originally indicated. I was thinking that Dallas would do the whole “running back by committee” thing with Zeke, Alfred Morris, and DMC. But it is clear that Zeke will be the lead back and will get most of the carries this season. And 2) I really liked WR Laquon Treadwell to help Teddy Bridgewater to become a more down the field threat. But with the current state of Minnesota’s QB situation, I’m not sure about his impact in his first year. It is pretty much set in stone that Elliott behind this offensive line will do some serious damage in his first year.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Robert Nkemdiche – DT (Arizona Cardinals) – With Calais Campbell and Chandler Jones doing damage on the outside, Nkemdiche is going to have a lot of opportunities to be an impact rookie in the trenches for this Cardinals defense.
Comeback Player of the Year – DeMarco Murray – RB (Tennessee Titans) – Philadelphia brought over Murray from Dallas in order to short change their division rival. That had to be the only reason because once Murray got to Philly, they didn’t have a plan on how to use him or they just didn’t know how to use him. Now that he is no longer a pawn in Chip Kelly’s game, Murray will get to do what he does best in Tennessee. Murray is a physical downhill runner and he’ll be behind a power offensive line in Tennessee. I think that rookie Derrick Henry will “vulture” away some touchdowns for him but we will see the 2014 DeMarco Murray make his return in 2016. Prediction: Murray will have more yards this season than Philadelphia will have as a team.
Coach of the Year – Jack Del Rio (Oakland Raiders) – The Raiders are young, hungry and they have the right leadership at the coaching position. The Raiders will be a playoff team in 2016 under coach Del Rio who will offers a wealth of experience for this young team.
And now, here is my forecast for the playoffs this season. As a reminder, here are the teams I see qualifying in 2016:
- Pittsburgh Steelers – 12-4 (AFC North)
- New England Patriots – 11-5 (AFC East)
- Kansas City Chiefs – 11-5 (AFC West)
- Houston Texans – 9-7 (AFC South)
- Cincinnati Bengals – 10-6 (Wildcard 1)
- Oakland Raiders – 9-7 (Wildcard 2)
- Arizona Cardinals – 12-4 (NFC West)
- Carolina Panthers – 12-4 (NFC South)
- Minnesota Vikings – 11-5 (NFC North)
- New York Giants – 9-7 (NFC East)
- Seattle Seahawks – 10-6 (Wildcard 1)
- Green Bay Packers – 10-6 (Wildcard 2)
Wild Card Weekend
AFC: (3) Chiefs over (6) Raiders, (5) Bengals over (4) Texans
NFC: (6) Packers over (3) Vikings, (5) Seahawks over (4) Giants
AFC: (1) Steelers over (5) Bengals, (2) Patriots over (3) Chiefs
NFC: (1) Cardinals over (6) Packers, (2) Panthers over (5) Seahawks
Conference Championship Sunday
AFC: (1) Steelers over (2) Patriots
NFC: (1) Cardinals over (2) Panthers
Super Bowl LI from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas
Arizona Cardinals over Pittsburgh Steelers
Recap: In the AFC, I see the Steelers being the clear-cut favorites and I don’t see that changing as the season goes on. Its not like I see the Steelers as some type of great team or anything. It is more because the other top teams in the conference failed at getting better in the offseason. Denver will not be better. New England did not improve. Who does that leave? Houston? Cincinnati? Please. If the talent on the Steelers roster is as good as everyone thinks it is, the Steelers should be able to win the conference. I know that the Steelers are a team dealing with multiple suspensions but they are equipped with talent to help lessen that blow. The Steelers also don’t have a great defense but that same defense over achieved last season and I think they’ll do the same this year. The Steelers dealt with a lot (injuries, suspensions, etc.) in 2015 and they were still oh-so close to beating the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos. I think that will serve as motivation as Pittsburgh will advance to its ninth Super Bowl. The competition in the NFC is a lot tougher than it was a couple years ago. Carolina, Seattle, and Arizona will all be serious contenders in 2016. I thought Minnesota would join that conversation this year but they lost their starting QB in a tragic non-contact injury in practice. Green Bay could sneak in and win that division but I don’t see them on the class of those first three NFC teams I named. The reason I like Arizona so much is that I think they have a dynamic defense this season so match their offense. RB David Johnson will continue to improve. The Cardinals passing game will continue to light up the scoreboards. And now the defense will have an improved pass rush with Chandler Jones and an improved secondary with a now healthy Tyrann Mathieu. So in this Super Bowl XLIII rematch, I have Arizona flipping the script and allowing Larry Fitzgerald to walk off into the sunset.