NFL: Forecasting this season's award winners, Super Bowl champion

In this Nov. 28, 2010 file photo, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) warms-up prior to a NFL football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The Packers have been as steady of a franchise as there is with nine of the 13 division titles since the NFC North was formed in the league’s latest realignment in 2002. (John Bazemore/AP)

With the 2015-2016 NFL season finally getting underway Thursday night as the Patriots host the Steelers on NBC at 8:30 p.m., analysts everywhere are making their season predictions for Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, breakout stars and of course, the eventual Super Bowl champion.

For this week’s NFL column, I will be making my own predictions for this season’s award winners and Super Bowl champion.

Most Valuable Player

The MVP race this year will have its usual contenders, with the likes of Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt expected to blow away the rest of the league. Andrew Luck, now in his fourth season in the NFL, has several receiving weapons at his disposal and will be looking to take the Indianapolis Colts further in the playoffs than in past years, and is sure to challenge Rodgers and Watt for the MVP.

Other pre-season contenders for the MVP award include the now suspension-free Tom Brady, and Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson, who is coming off of a year away from the NFL, but reported to training camp in incredible shape.

When the end of the season comes around, I expect Aaron Rodgers will win the award for the third time, showing that he can lead his team to victories even with his number one receiver, Jordy Nelson, out for the season.

Rookie of the Year

The Rookie of the Year award is sometimes a difficult one to predict since award winners can sometimes come out of nowhere. The general consensus this year is that the award will go to either quarterback Jameis Winston or quarterback Marcus Mariota, the first and second overall picks in this year’s draft, respectively.

However, I expect defensive lineman Leonard Williams of the Jets to make a huge splash this year, especially while starter Sheldon Richardson is suspended. Another surprise contender could be Rams running back Todd Gurley. Despite coming off of an ACL tear last season, Gurley is expected to start early in the season, and I believe he will end up rushing for over 1,200 yards and earn the rookie of the year award.

Comeback Player of the Year

The Comeback Player of the Year award is a three-horse race in my opinion. One obvious contender is Sam Bradford, the Eagles’ quarterback, who is coming off of repeated ACL injuries. He could thrive under Chip Kelly’s offense, which showed glimpses of greatness in the pre-season.

The other huge contenders are running back Adrian Peterson, who could win his second Comeback Player of the Year award, and Giants’ wide receiver Victor Cruz, coming off a season-long injury last year. Cruz will be playing with last years’ Rookie of the Year, Odell Beckham Jr., which should help give him some one-on-one looks with cornerbacks.

Ultimately, I expect Adrian Peterson will win the award again following his season away from the game. He looks like he’s in the best shape of his life and will be looking to prove people wrong, just like he did the year after his ACL injury.

Breakout Stars

Some potential breakout stars this year include Cardinals’ wide receiver John Brown, who had a decent season last year, but should do even better things in an increased role. Another potential breakout star could be last year’s number one overall pick, defensive Jadaveon Clowney, who dealt with injuries and will be looking to improve on a rather shaky rookie year.

Two other candidates to have a breakout season are Packers’ wide receiver Davante Adams, who will do extremely well with Aaron Rodgers in the absence of Jordy Nelson, and Dallas Cowboys’ running back Joseph Randle, who is taking over most of the carries following the departure of Demarco Murray to the Eagles. Randle could be especially effective since he’ll be running behind the best offensive line in football.

Playoffs

Last, but most certainly not least, I expect the NFC Conference Championship game to feature a rematch between the Packers and Seahawks, but with a different outcome than last year. This year, I expect the Packers to advance to Super Bowl 50, and get revenge on the Seahawks, winning 27-21.

Their opponents from the AFC will be the Colts, who will beat the Steelers in a shootout 45-42.

Finally, my prediction for Super Bowl 50 is that the Green Bay Packers will beat the Indianapolis Colts 28-17, earning Aaron Rodgers his second Super Bowl ring and concluding the 2015-2016 season.


Chris Hanna is an NFL columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.hanna@uconn.edu.