By Gil Brandt NFL ANALYST
MVP: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: No second-year QB since Dan Marino took the NFL by storm like Mahomes, who joined Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the only players to have passed for 50-plus touchdowns and 5,000-plus yards in a single season. Even with uncertainty in the running game, there’s scant reason to believe Mahomes’ third go-round will be any less impressive considering two elite targets (wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce) are returning with the addition of explosive rookie WR Mecole Hardman (second round/ UGA) and optimism that a healthy Sammy Watkins can be a consistent threat after a 10-catch, 176 yard effort in two postseason games.
Offensive Player of the Year: Saquon Barkley, New York Giants: There will always be a debate about whether the Giants should have taken a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. What can’t be questioned: the splash made by the player chosen instead of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. Barkley became the most prolific rookie running back in Giants history and set multiple team records en route to compiling an NFL-best 2,028 yards from scrimmage. Barkley will be an even bigger focus of the Giants offense in 2019, especially with Odell Beckham Jr. traded to Cleveland and question marks at the wide receiver position due to injuries and Golden Tate’s four-game PED suspension to open the season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams: The NFL’s lightest interior defensive lineman—he played at 265 pounds for most of 2018—is also its best. Donald’s 20.5 sacks in 2018 represented a career high despite the constant blocking attention he receives from opposing offenses. The Rams are better poised to capitalize upon that with its outside pass rush after re-signing Dante Fowler and adding Clay Matthews Jr. in free agency. Donald should become the first player to capture the Defensive POY honor for three consecutive years.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald told me that Murray is like no other rookie quarterback he has worked with (the list includes Josh Rosen and Matt Leinhart). That’s because Murray was able to hit the ground running with the same style offense he ran in college being installed by new Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Keep an eye on Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery, who shows every sign of being a third-round steal.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Josh Allen, Jacksonville Jaguars: Yes, it was the preseason. Yes, it was against a Miami Dolphins squad with big-time challenges on offense. But the dominating 27 snaps that Allen provided in Jacksonville’s third preseason game should be a sign of what’s to come from the draft’s No. 7 overall pick. New York Jets DT Quinnen Williams and Buffalo DT Ed Oliver should have strong rookie campaigns as well, but the supporting pass-rush talent surrounding Allen is better and should provide him more opportunities to make an impact.
Comeback Player of the Year: Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles: The 2018 season was rough for Wentz because of injury and a lack of team success (5-6 as a starter) despite him posting solid stats with 21 TDs, seven INTs, and career-highs in QB rating (102.2), completion percentage (69.6) and average passing yards per game (279.5). Wentz should justify why the Eagles signed him to a huge contract during the offseason after letting his understudy Nick Foles leave for Jacksonville in free agency.
Coach of the Year: Jason Garrett: Garrett is going into the final year of his contract, which adds a do-or-die element to a season in which expectations surrounding the Cowboys are sky high. But every time the seat is hottest, Garrett’s teams have responded. When he entered the final year of his contract in 2014, the Cowboys responded with a 12-4 record. When more speculation about his job security surfaced in 2016, the Cowboys went 13-3 with a rookie quarterback (Dak Prescott). In terms of talent, this is the best Garrett has worked with during his nine-plus seasons on the job. That should reflect in how the Cowboys perform this season and land Garrett another lucrative extension.
AFC East: New England Patriots
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs
Wild-card 1: Buffalo Bills
Wild-card 2: San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys
NFC North Chicago Bears
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
NFC West: L.A. Rams
Wild-card 1: Philadelphia Eagles
Wild-card 2: Minnesota Vikings
Super Bowl: Dallas Cowboys vs. New England Patriots
Super Bowl Champion: Dallas Cowboys
Gil Brandt was inducted into the 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions to the gridiron game. As vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960-89, Brandt helped Dallas grow into one of the most popular sports franchises in America. Brandt has spent the last eight years as NFL.com’s main personnel guru.