FOOTBALL IS BACK BABY! Well almost back. In just over seven weeks, the NFL kicks off its 100th season with a matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. These next seven weeks can’t go by fast enough. However, training camp officially kicks off today for the Denver Broncos with all the other teams to start within the next or so. In the meantime, the Scorecrow family has started a mini-series with a handful of writers giving you their opinions on NFL questions; five at a time. Be sure to follow all of the writers on twitter and ask any questions you may have regarding their answers. Without any further ado, let’s get into it.
Who is your favorite to win MVP?
Mike Fanelli: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Two years ago, Wentz was firmly in the lead of the MVP conversation before tearing his ACL on a semi-fluke play. However, despite only playing in 13 games, Wentz finished second in touchdown passes (one behind the league leader) while easily finishing first in touchdown percent and total quarterback rating (QBR). Last year he didn’t start the year because of the ACL injury and didn’t finish the year because of the back injury. He must stay healthy this year to be in the MVP race and show he’s worth the new contract extension he recently got. However, the addition of DeSean Jackson along with the upgrade at running back and offensive line, Wentz could lead the Eagles to the top seed in the NFC and another Super Bowl appearance.
Ethan Hewett: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
2018 was a very good year for Luck and the Colts. After an ugly shoulder injury that saw him sidelined for all of 2017, he was incredible last season, tallying 39 touchdowns to 15 interceptions along with 4,593 passing yards. With offensive guru Frank Reich, he saw a lot of success as he grew more comfortable in the new system and by the end of the regular season they were unstoppable. I expect him to carry that momentum into 2019 and put up incredible numbers again. With the addition of Parris Campbell, Luck only has more weapons at his disposal. I am all aboard the hype train for Luck and his Colts while I expect another playoff push, maybe even a trip to Super Bowl 54.
Zach Gotlieb: Aaron Donald, DL, Los Angles Rams
This is the year that a defensive player finally wins the award. In hopes of becoming the first non-quarterback to win MVP since 2012 (Adrian Peterson), Donald has a legitimate case to do it. Last season he recorded 20.5 sacks on his way to being named Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. He has to get over the hump of beating the quarterbacks out in the first place, but there’s some stiff competition from reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes which makes that feat that much more difficult. With Donald’s size and really impressive speed up the middle, I genuinely believe he has all the intangibles and name recognition to be the first defensive player to win MVP since Lawrence Taylor in 1986.
Frank Ammirante: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Luck and the Colts are in line for a huge season. Last year, Luck had a terrific season coming off a serious shoulder injury, throwing for 4,593 yards with 39 touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes. After starting the year 1-5, the Colts won 10 out of their final 11 games to make the playoffs. In the offseason, they signed Devin Funchess and drafted Parris Campbell. They also return all five starters of an offensive line that was among the most dominant in football. This is a team that should win 11-12 games this season. The formula for an MVP winner is to have elite passing game production on a Super Bowl contending team. Luck checks off both of the boxes.
Giovanna Morales: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Give me the reigning MVP. Mahomes is entering his third season, and his athleticism has been the biggest attention-grabber in the offseason. Some people thought he lacked the basics of a strong quarterback, but that has been thrown out the window. 2018 belonged to him as he showcased one stellar performance after another in his first season as the starter for the Chiefs. Mahomes took the league by storm last season and I expect 2019 to be just as impressive.
Who is your favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award?
Mike: Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
Unlike the MVP award, which goes to a quarterback almost every year, the OROY award has gone to a running back in three of the last four years. Those three running backs are Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, and Saquon Barkley. During their rookie years, that trio averaged 268 touches for 1,625 scrimmage yards and 13 touchdowns. Jacobs is the only rookie running back expected to see a feature role as a rookie and has the best chance to reach those averages. However, if the Cardinals win enough games, Kyler Murray could become only the second quarterback to win the award in the last seven years.
Ethan: Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
While I was tempted to go with Kyler Murray here, I think that Jacobs will just be too important to the Raiders offense this season. He was my favorite running back in the 2019 NFL Draft, mainly due to talent but also because he is a rare case where an Alabama Crimson Tide running back didn’t have a lot of mileage on his legs. With Isaiah Crowell’s season-ending injury and with one of the best offensive lines in the league, when healthy, blocking for him, Jacobs could see some really good numbers in 2019. While I don’t think we’ll see Saquon Barkley like numbers, he very easily could get 15 plus carries and five or six receptions a game.
Zach: Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos
Call me a Broncos homer if you want, but I like Fant to win OROY. This year, to me, seems to be a lot about fit for the award and Fant is an ideal fit with the Broncos. He’s an improving blocker and a very good receiver, particularly in the vertical game. His skill set is perfect for Joe Flacco, who likes to throw to his tight ends, especially downfield. Denver has some young weapons in Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton, that Fant will have to share touches with. He is looking to be atop the depth chart at a reasonably deep tight end room for Denver and finally be the answer the team has been looking for at tight end since Julius Thomas in 2012.
Frank: Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Murray is a dual-threat quarterback, who will put up strong production both in the air and on the ground. He’ll be in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense, which emphasizes the passing game through the use of spread formations. This team will play at a fast pace, which will result in strong numbers for Murray. The Cardinals also added weapons, drafting Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler. These two picks will help in the transition to the Air Raid approach, which includes a focus on deep passing plays. The Cardinals will be a much-improved team because of Murray and Kingsbury. With no other rookie quarterback guaranteed to start week one, Murray should be the heavy favorite.
Giovanna: Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
Jacobs may have been a part-time starter for Alabama, but that’s no reason to doubt his offensive skillset. His instincts along with his fast feet make him a perfect edition for the Raiders offense. Bringing in Antonio Brown during the offseason gave the offense a big boost. Isaiah Crowell is out for the season because of an Achilles injury while Marshawn Lynch retired again earlier in the offseason, giving Jacobs a clear shot at a feature role. As the only starting-caliber running back on the roster, Jacobs will get plenty of touches that should make him the OROY favorite.
Who is your favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award?
Mike: Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Devin White is a popular answer here but I like the other Devin to win the award. Even with the addition of White, the Buccaneers’ defense is still awful. However, the Steelers ranked 16th in the league in points per game given up while the Buccaneers were second to last. With Bush playing as the traffic cop in the middle of the defense, surrounded by T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and others, I expect the Steelers defense to jump into the top 10, win the division, and Bush to contend for the league leader in tackles. All of which should make him the heavy favorite to win the award.
Ethan: Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
White is going to be stepping into a big role this year for Tampa Bay. He’s probably going to be asked to do a lot and be a leader on a Buccaneers defense that struggled last season. Combining the playing time that White will get this year, along with his speed and ability to get in the backfield, I think that White is going to be a tackling machine. While some were worried about his tackling techniques in college, I believe he will refine his skills this offseason and be an impact player that the Buccaneers expect him to be after drafting him with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Zach: Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
White is expected to fill the hole left by Kwon Alexander. White’s skillset should, at worst, make him comparable to what Alexander did for the Buccaneers and very likely could be an immediate upgrade. He’s able to do just about everything and do it at a high level. He’s got elite sideline-to-sideline speed, good coverage ability, and is a very strong tackler. He’s relatively new to linebacker (running back in high school turned linebacker at LSU), so there’s still quite a few things he has to learn and work on. However, he’s got all the intangibles and a good situation on a not great, but a growing team with the Buccaneers which should give him a lot of opportunities to make a lot of plays.
Frank: Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
White’s strong work ethic, football IQ, and playmaking ability draw comparisons to Hall of Famer, Derrick Brooks. The Bucs have a ton of size on their interior defensive line, with defensive tackles Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh each weighing over 315 pounds. This will help provide space for White to use his electrifying speed (4.42 40-yard dash) to make plays on the football. We have seen dominant rookie linebacker seasons in recent years. In fact, from 2004-2012, non-pass-rushing linebackers won this award five out of eight times. I think that this will continue to be the case, with White leading the charge for a rejuvenated Buccaneers’ defense.
Giovanna: Quinnen Williams, DL, New York Jets
As one of the strongest defensive tackles in the league, Williams will make an immediate impact as a rookie. Many believe San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa should be the favorite to win the award but I disagree. Williams had great several great performances at Alabama and when selected by the Jets, he became the first step in a major overhaul of the defense. Williams will be the biggest reason why the Jets defenses will be one of the more talked about defenses this season.
Which team has the best chance to go from worst to first in their division?
Historically there is at least one team that goes from worst to first but there are exceptions to the rule. This year will be an exception. Of the eight teams that finished last in their division in 2018, only the Jets, Buccaneers, and Raiders have a chance to avoid last place again this year, but none of them have a chance at winning their division. I believe the majority of last year’s division winners finish 2019 as the division winners again. If you force me to pick a team, it would be the Jets as they are an injury to Tom Brady away from being co-favorites to win the division.
Ethan: Jacksonville Jaguars
While I don’t think a team can accomplish this feat, I would give the best odds to the Jaguars. They finally rid themselves of Blake Bortles and brought in Super Bowl 52 MVP, Nick Foles. Dede Westbrook is starting to come into his own at wide receiver, and if Leonard Fournette can return to the form we all thought he was going to be, this Jaguars offense could be really good in 2019. While Telvin Smith deciding to sit out 2019 is a big loss, you added edge rusher/linebacker Josh Allen in the draft. With returning starters such as Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey (hopefully), A.J. Bouye, and Myles Jack, this defense is still going to be one of the best in the league.
Zach: Jacksonville Jaguars
That Jaguars massively underachieved last year. Blake Bortles is not a starting-caliber quarterback and Leonard Fournette couldn’t stay healthy. They are still an elite defense that just drafted pass rusher Josh Allen to put even more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The true sink or swim of this team is the offense. How will it rebound after a bad year? Replacing Bortles with Nick Foles should help the offense improve from 31st in points per game last season. They have a chance to be at least an above-average offense to pair with an elite defense. It’s a tough division to win with the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans coming off playoff appearances, but there’s no reason why Jacksonville shouldn’t be in the mix.
Frank: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFC South has a reputation for being the division where this trend happens. From 2003-2007, this bizarre event occurred in five consecutive seasons. I expect this trend to be revived in 2019, with the Buccaneers as the surprise of the season. This team is loaded with playmakers on offense, with a proven stud in Mike Evans and breakout candidates in O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin. Bruce Arians is a proven winner who has a knack for getting the best out of his quarterback, so I expect Jameis Winston to have a career year. They hired Todd Bowles as their new defensive coordinator, who coached strong defenses under Arians in Arizona. The Buccaneers have a good chance to surprise the league this year.
Giovanna: Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals made a lot of good picks during the 2019 NFL draft, starting with Kyler Murray first overall. Larry Fitzgerald will lead a group of young receivers like Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella as the team transitions to Kliff Kingsbury’s new offense. While the offensive side of the ball is getting plenty of hype during camp, the defense should bounce back in 2019. The addition of veteran pass rusher Terrell Suggs, paired with Chandler Jones will give the Cardinals one of the better pass rushing duos in the league. It’s a tough division to win but the Cardinals have the firepower on both sides of the ball to do it.
Which team is a dark horse to win Super Bowl 54?
Mike: Atlanta Falcons
Last season the Falcons finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs by two games despite getting killed by the injury bug. Their two best defensive players, Deion Jones, and Keanu Neal missed a total of 25 games last season. Starting running back Devonta Freeman missed 14 games because of injury and the right side of the offensive line was awful. Now the Falcons get back Jones, Neal, and Freeman healthy, they just re-signed Grady Jarrett to a long term deal, and they spent two first-round picks on offensive linemen. If the offensive can play more consistent this year, combined with a healthy defense, the Falcons could push for the number one seed in the NFC and contend for Lombardi trophy.
Ethan: Atlanta Falcons
I have to go with the Falcons here. I think that there were too many key injuries to their defense in 2018, including Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. Yet they managed to win seven games last year playing backups most of the season. The Falcons also have probably one of the best receiving corps in the league with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Calvin Ridley along with Austin Hooper at tight end. With Devonta Freeman returning, the running game could improve as well. When it comes to Matt Ryan, I think the former MVP could have another incredible year this year after having a solid 2018 season. I think this Falcons team, if healthy, could easily make a super bowl run in 2019.
Zach: Los Angeles Chargers
It’s Philip Rivers’ time. Finally, in his 17th season, he could get over the hump. The Chargers have extreme talent everywhere on the team. The receiving core of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry is one of the best in the league. Hopefully, Melvin Gordon is healthy and on the field this entire season. The defense is very good and growing, featuring second-year safety Derwin James and the elite pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. This is a team that is built to win now, and Rivers isn’t getting any younger. Their biggest challenge is the Kansas City Chiefs and that is not going to be easy, but the Chargers are flying under the radar and should be able to make some noise come playoff time.
Frank: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings are being overlooked heading into the 2019 season. Oddshark.com currently has them at 25-1 to win the Super Bowl, which ranks 13th. This is still a very talented team with playmakers on both sides of the ball. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs might be the best receiver duo in football. Kirk Cousins should be able to bounce back following a disappointing debut season while Dalvin Cook is finally healthy. The team drafted Garrett Bradbury, an impressive center who will immediately step into a starting role, that will help bolster what was one of the weaker units in the NFL last year. The defense remains loaded with talent at every level. This team is going to bounce back in a big way this season.
Giovanna: Baltimore Ravens
Currently, the Ravens have 20-1 odds to win this year’s Super Bowl. However, I think there is hope for them. Some might think the offseason was a disaster for them, losing big-name free agents like C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Za’Darius Smith. They traded away Joe Flacco and officially handed the keys to the franchise over to Lamar Jackson. Given how poorly he played in the AFC Wild Card game verse the Chargers, some might have concerns about whether Jackson can lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl. However, with the additions of Mark Ingram and Earl Thomas, this team will take a step forward and a trip to Super Bowl 54 could be on the horizon.
In the end, a lot of our writers agreed on a few questions but offered different takes on who their dark horse Super Bowl winner is. The 2019 NFL season can’t get here soon enough. Be on the lookout for the next set of round table questions that should be out in a few weeks.
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