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One SI NFL writer expects a Super Bowl XLIII rematch in this year's title game
1:11 | NFL
One SI NFL writer expects a Super Bowl XLIII rematch in this year's title game
SI Staff
Tuesday September 6th, 2016

The 2016 NFL season kicks off Thursday night as the Panthers visit the Broncos in a rematch of Super Bowl 50. But before we get that far, it’s time to peer into the crystal ball. Will the Panthers be able to bounce back from that crushing loss in San Francisco? Can Carson Palmer carry that loaded offense in Arizona all the way to Houston? Will we see the Trevor Siemian-led Broncos playing into January?

SI.com’s NFL writers and editors make their playoff predictions and awards picks for the 2016 season.​

Ben Baskin

Yes, I have the Bengals and the Cardinals in the Super Bowl, two teams that have never won a Super Bowl before. I also have the Raiders, Jaguars and Buccaneers making the playoffs, because some people just like to watch the world burn. But in reality, I operated under two assumptions: 1. Since the league adopted the 12-team format in 1990, about five teams each year qualify for the postseason after missing the previous one; and 2. quarterback is still the most important position in the NFL. That means the teams with the league’s top QBs (Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson) are the safest bets to repeat. And the teams with the next wave of top quarterbacks have the best chance of sneaking their way in.

As for my Super Bowl pick, I tried to view things in a bubble without any preconceived notions. Years of history tell us that the Patriots will not lose to the Bengals in an important playoff game. But, taken in a vacuum, the Patriots’ roster is thin and their quarterback is suspended to start the year, whereas the Bengals roster is stacked across the board—especially in the trenches—and they have had gradual, steady growth for years.

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As for the Cardinals, this is a team that was one Carson Palmer meltdown away from a Super Bowl berth last year. My expectation is that Palmer, in a rare season where he is not coming off a major injury, responds with a career year. I also expect RB David Johnson to make the jump to stardom, and that one of the best secondaries in the NFL—with the Honey Badger now back roaming the outfield—will lead a very solid defense. Maybe I’m a sucker for a good narrative, but Palmer winning a Super Bowl after all he’s gone through in his career would warm the cockles of my heart.

Awards

MVP: Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Offensive Player of the Year: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Defensive Player of the Year: Von Miller, Edge, Denver Broncos
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals
Comeback Player of the Year: Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns

Greg Bedard

As much as it worries me to risk anything on Carson Palmer and his 66.9 postseason passer rating (Arizona beat Green Bay in spite of him), the Cardinals have arguably the most complete team in the NFL, with a ton of experience on both sides of the ball. They can throw all over the field—and they could even before second-year running back David Johnson came on as a receiving threat in the latter half of last season. On defense, safety Tyrann Mathieu is back to wreak havoc after a right-ACL tear, and Pro Bowl end Chandler Jones (late of New England) should bring some much-needed pass rush.

I’m willing to bet that Palmer (who hadn’t played a postseason game in six years before last January) and Arians (who in the playoffs saw the downside of his rigid “no risk-it, no biscuit” approach) learned a lot from last year’s bitter ending and can apply those lessons moving forward. If this team is healthy and has grown from its mistakes, the Cardinals are fully capable of winning it all, even if it means entering January as a wild-card team and visiting Dallas, Seattle and Green Bay.

In an Arizona-Pittsburgh rematch of Super Bowl XLIII, the Cardinals’ dangerous running game and stifling secondary will slow down the Steelers enough to grab a dramatic victory. How about a Larry Fitzgerald toe-touch TD in the back-right corner of the NRG Stadium end zone to match Santonio Holmes’s heroics eight years earlier, in Tampa? Sounds good to me.

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Awards

MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Comeback Player of the Year: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts

Greg Bishop

The Cardinals are the deepest team in football, and they got deeper this off-season, most notably by trading for pass rusher Chandler Jones from the Patriots. Dwight Freeney had eight sacks in 11 games last season with Arizona; Jones could easily double that.

What don’t the Cardinals have? They have receivers (Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, etc.). They running backs (David Johnson, with another year under his belt; Chris Johnson, closing in on 10,000 career rushing yards; Andre Ellington, the presumed starter two years ago). They have a dominant pass rusher in Jones, a shutdown cornerback in Patrick Peterson and one of the most versatile defenders in football in safety/corner hybrid Tyrann Mathieu.

They even have a quarterback in Carson Palmer, although his playoff performance against the Panthers last year is one of few reasons to give anyone pause about Arizona. Beyond starting an aging quarterback with an injury history, it’s hard to find many faults with the Cardinals. Their biggest issue is who they play against: the Seahawks in their division and the Panthers in the NFC. For my money, those are the three best teams in football. Arizona may have to beat both to reach the Super Bowl.

Otherwise, there’s not much about Arizona that needs defending. Or can be defended. Have you seen that offense?

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Awards

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, EDGE, Oakland Raiders
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie the Year: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

Chris Burke

A Super Bowl XLIX rematch, with the same outcome. Among the toughest calls here was not the Patriots to go all the way—they were one win away from the Super Bowl last season—but giving them the AFC's No. 1 seed. Doing so assumes that they a) weather the storm while Tom Brady is out, and b) roll once he's back in the lineup. Beyond that, for as much as I think the Packers and Panthers are definite contenders, I am firmly on the NFC West bandwagon this season. The conference champ will come out of that division, and it took an internal back-and-forth to settle on Seattle over Arizona.

Awards

MVP: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jordan Jenkins, OLB, New York Jets
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers
Coach of the Year: Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans

Jacob Feldman

While it was overshadowed by Aaron Rodgers’s struggles last year, the Green Bay defense had one of its better seasons under defensive coordinator Dom Capers in 2015, finishing in the top 10 in DVOA and ranking sixth in pass defense specifically. At all three levels, the Packers could be better this year. Mike Daniels and first-rounder Kenny Clark can compensate for the loss of B.J. Raji up front, while Clay Matthews should rediscover his pass rush outside. And in the secondary, Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will continue to develop into what could become one of the league’s most talented secondaries. On offense, the return of Jordy Nelson, the addition of Jared Cook and the rededication of Rodgers should bring back to life an elite passing attack. 

In the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl I (yes, this is how anniversaries work), we’ll get a rematch of that historic game. This time, Rodgers will face the quarterback taken before him in 2005 and two of the Internet’s least favorite coaches will be put in the spotlight. But ultimately it will be the defense that steals the show.

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Awards

MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Emmanuel Ogbah, OLB, Cleveland Browns
Coach of the Year: Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans
Comeback Player of the Year: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Mitch Goldich

My regular season picks are admittedly safe and boring, in what looks like a pretty top-heavy league. After consecutive Super Bowl appearances, the Seahawks were last year’s certified Team Nobody Wants To Face In the Playoffs, before surviving a strange game against Minnesota and getting buried by a disastrous half in Carolina.  With their defense and Russell Wilson’s development, they’re the NFL’s most complete team. Wilson-Newton could become the NFC’s version of Brady-Manning, non-division opponents with multiple annual meetings. This NFC title game would be their eighth matchup overall and third straight in the playoffs.

In the AFC, the Steelers are terrifying if their offensive weapons are all on the field together, and it’s hard to believe this team hasn’t reached a Super Bowl since 2010.  I’m tempted to pick them to win it all, which I did last year. It’s also tempting to pick a vengeful Patriots team, but I just think the Steelers have more. The Jaguars and Raiders are America’s Sleeper Teams, but I only have space for one in the playoffs. I need room for the Bengals, but if they lose in the first round again I’ll claim this graphic was a typo.

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Awards

MVP: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Offensive Player of the Year: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, Edge, Oakland Raiders
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie the Year: Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Comeback Player of the Year: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers
Coach of the Year: Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars

Melissa Jacobs

My playoff bracket is full of familiar teams. All but two were in the playoffs last year. In the NFC, the Cardinals are stacked top to bottom—it is not improbable that they finish with the season with the NFL’s top quarterback, receiving corps, running back, cornerback and safety. The Packers should be explosive with Jordy Nelson’s return, the Seahawks and Panthers are perennial playoff teams at this point, and the Redskins have the talent and coaching to play in January. Every bracket needs a random, and mine was the Giants. I believe in their passing game, but mostly I’m not emotionally ready for an NFL postseason without a Manning.

The AFC bracket features the Patriots in the 1-seed, as an investment in more offensive weapons—most notably, the addition of Martellus Bennett to open up two-TE sets—will pay dividends Besides, Tom Brady post-suspension when everyone else has taken a beating for four weeks ... watch out. The Steelers and Bengals are destined for the postseason and will again face off for our viewing pleasure. The Chiefs will emerge in the AFC West thanks to a more dynamic offense, while the Broncos’ defense will carry them into January. And healthy Luck should help the Colts easily win the AFC South. When all is said and done, Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald will shake off last year’s devastating NFC title game loss and ride into the sunset with Super Bowl rings. The Cardinals are too talented to be stopped.

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Awards

MVP: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Comeback Player of the Year: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers​

Bette Marston

Bruce Arians is nothing short of an offensive genius, and his masterfully orchestrated attack, coupled with the Cardinals’ improved defense—looking at you, Chandler Jones—will help Arizona cruise to the top seed in the NFC. However, Carson Palmer’s playoff demons will come back and haunt him; this season, it will be the Packers that force the Cardinals out in a high-scoring NFC title game.

But waiting in Super Bowl LI will be the Patriots, the best-prepared and best-coached team in the league. Tom Brady’s four-game suspension to start the season is no problem for this offense packed with their usual weapons. With his fifth Super Bowl victory, Brady will claim the title of most accomplished NFL quarterback ever.

Awards

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, Edge, Oakland Raiders
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Comeback Player of the Year: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Austin Murphy

Yes, Jordy Nelson will be “full bore” for the Packers’ opener, as coach Mike McCarthy put it. Other reasons for optimism in Titletown: Eddie Lacy is south of 250 pounds, showing plenty of his old burst. Nagged by injuries in ’15, Randall Cobb is his crafty, elusive, playmaking self. In a display of uncharacteristic free agency extravagance, spendthrift GM Ted Thompson signed veteran Jared Cook, a serious upgrade at tight end. And Aaron Rodgers, sharp as ever at 32, is eager to show the world that 2015 was an outlier, not a trend.

Dom Capers’s defense, which often bailed out the erratic offense last season, is better in 2016, especially on the back end. It's sad to say, but Green Bay’s path to an eighth straight postseason was made smoother by the season-ending knee injury suffered by Teddy Bridgewater. Rodgers won’t complete any Hail Marys in ’16. Then again, he won’t need to. Bounced from the playoffs in overtime two years running, Green Bay will avoid that heartbreak by putting teams away in regulation.

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Awards

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, Edge, Oakland Raiders
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders 
Comeback Player of the Year: Tyrann Mathieu, DB, Arizona Cardinals

Amy Parlapiano

I had my moment of fleeting glory in last season’s preseason Crystal Ball, when I was the only one to pick the Broncos to win the whole thing (and yes, I’m still casually dropping that in). This year, I’m going to make another bold prediction about Denver: The defending champions won’t even make it back to the postseason. That defense remains extraordinary, but even a depleted Peyton Manning had a capable backup in Brock Osweiler behind him. The Broncos are banking on Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch to make things move on offense. I’m not buying it.

The AFC title game has featured either Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger for 13(!) straight years. That won’t change now. The Patriots will come back with a vengeance after Brady’s suspension, while the Steelers have the league’s most explosive offense and used the draft to help rebuild their defense addressing big needs in the secondary and on the line, with their first three draft picks.

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As for the NFC, it remains predictable at the top (though I almost picked the Bucs as my No. 6 seed). I think Carson Palmer will regress from last season’s brilliance, and as a result, the Seahawks will take the NFC West crown back from Arizona. The Panthers will be very good, but not great, while it’ll be a bounce-back year for the Packers, who, by their ridiculously high standards, are coming off a disappointing season. With Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson reunited, Green Bay will be the class of the NFC, which will set up a rematch of Super Bowl XLV in Houston on February 5. And though defense has been winning Super Bowls of late, I think this will be the year offense rules the day.

Awards

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, Edge, Oakland Raiders
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

Andrew Perloff

Ever since the Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010, they’ve been a popular pick to capture another ring. Time to step it up, Aaron Rodgers, and make us all look smart. Last season Green Bay went off the rails after Jordy Nelson got hurt and still reached the divisional round. This season, expect a ball-hawking defense and an improved running game to make the difference. A relatively easy NFC North schedule should help the Packers secure home field advantage in the playoffs over the two powerhouses out West, Arizona and Seattle, and Carolina. Green Bay just better hope it doesn’t see Rodgers’s postseason Kryptonite—the Giants—in January.

Awards 

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Player of the Year: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

Eric Single

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but a note for any readers who had never watched football before 2015: Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers are both really, really good. Both marquee quarterbacks had their seasons compromised by injuries last year—Luck's campaign was cut short by his own ailments; Rodgers's offense was brought to its knees by Jordy Nelson's torn ACL—and both will get back to setting the pace for the rest of the league in 2016.

The Packers saw their path to the playoffs open up considerably when Teddy Bridgewater went down with his horrific knee injury, but to survive the NFC’s elite, they’ll need running back Eddie Lacy to make the most of his contract year and the younger members of the defensive front seven to rise to the occasion quickly. The Colts are already banged up like it’s late December, but if second-year Stanford alums Henry Anderson and David Parry can take the next step on the defensive line, the rest of the defense can build off that stability. There’s only one Stanford grad that matters in Indy, though, and as long as he stays upright, the AFC South runs through Lucas Oil Stadium.

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The edge in Houston goes to the Packers, who have the firepower to emerge victorious from a shootout on a fast track in Texas, just as they did in Rodgers's first Super Bowl win six years ago in Arlington.

Awards

MVP: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Offensive Player of the Year: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Defensive Player of the Year: Khalil Mack, Edge, Oakland Raiders
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Myles Jack, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Coach of the Year: Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Comeback Player of the Year: Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers

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