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  • The Chiefs and the Rams are on top of their respective conference halfway through the NFL season, with the Patriots and the Saints not far behind. How will the teams shake out when everything is said and done? The MMQB staff predicts the playoffs, including Super Bowl LIII, and award winners for this year.
By The MMQB Staff
November 07, 2018

At the midpoint of this NFL season, a handful of teams—the Chiefs, Patriots, Saints, Rams and Panthers, to name a few—have risen to the top. It’s obvious that they’ll still be playing come January, but which teams will fill out the playoff bracket around them? Will last year’s champions, the Eagles, even get a shot at defending the title?

With nine games worth of information, The MMQB’s writers and editors revisit their preseason playoff and award predictions and take another shot at picking who will play for it all in Atlanta in February.

Albert Breer

MVP: Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
Defensive Player: Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Darius Leonard, LB, Colts
Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Chiefs

The Saints have the most complete roster in football, along with a top-five quarterback and a top-five coach, and that’s a pretty solid formula. In the AFC, I think home-field advantage really does matter. If you look at the schedules, the Patriots could very well run the table, while the Chiefs still have the Rams, Ravens, Chargers and Seahawks to contend with. As for the MVP, Sunday was the tiebreaker for me. Brees and Patrick Mahomes both had marquee games in the season’s first half—Brees against the Rams in Week 9, Mahomes against the Patriots in Week 6—that should have major implications on that all-important home-field race. And Brees was better in that spot than Mahomes was. Performance-wise, they’ve been close; Mahomes has 11 more touchdown passes, but Brees has six fewer picks and is 10 points higher in completion percentage, and he leads the league in passer rating (keep in mind, Mahomes has played in one more game than Brees, with the Chiefs’ bye coming in Week 12). Plus, he’s never won MVP before, so he’s the sentimental choice too.


Jenny Vrentas

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB Rams
Defensive Player: Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, S, Chargers
Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Chiefs

Call it recency bias given the outcomes of Sunday's big games, but I picked a Saints-Patriots Super Bowl before the season began, and I'm sticking to that selection. The Saints might be the most complete team in the league. The Patriots are not, but their use of Cordarrelle Patterson in the backfield Sunday night only reinforced their ability to manufacture ways to win.


Robert Klemko

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
Defensive Player: Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Bradley Chubb, LB, Broncos
Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Chiefs

Mahomes is the clear frontrunner for MVP, but there’s room for Jared Goff or Tom Brady to sneak up on him. I haven’t seen a more dominant defensive player than Donald this season, making him the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, but a healthy Khalil Mack could make a late run for the award.

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Jonathan Jones

MVP: Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Offensive Player of the Year: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Defensive Player of the Year: Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, S, Chargers
Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid

My votes and playoff predictions are based off projections with what I see remaining this season. Mahomes is the MVP right now, but the Saints have a tougher schedule to finish out with Panthers-Steelers-Panthers. Brees won’t finish with another 5,000-yard season, but less is more for New Orleans this year and the 39-year-old quarterback finally gets his MVP award. And because the Saints went through the ringer in December they’ll be ready for January’s playoffs. Also, Ridley edges Saquon Barkley for Rookie of the Year since the Falcons will contend late. And Peterson keeps his season rolling to just beat out J.J. Watt for the comeback award.


Conor Orr

MVP: Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
Defensive Player: Khalil Mack, DE, Bears
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, S, Chargers
Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington
Coach of the Year: Ron Rivera, Panthers

I still really like my Panthers-Chiefs Super Bowl from our original preseason picks and am not ready to back down yet. I also like my Khalil Mack DPOY pick and think that Saquon Barkley will come on strong down the stretch to edge out Baker Mayfield for OROY. Should Washington continue to stay afloat in the NFC East, there’s no question Peterson gets the nod for comeback player of the year. Incredible what he’s been doing after spending so much time out of the league, or as an afterthought altogether. 


Andy Benoit

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Offensive Player of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Denzel Ward, S, Browns
Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB, Redskins
Coach of the Year: Sean McVay, Rams

Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees are both as good as ever, and they’re surrounded by the versatile weapons who can serve as movable chess pieces for QBs who can run almost their entire scheme just at the line of scrimmage. Both teams’ offensive lines have been stellar (or, in New Orleans’s case, spectacular) and the defenses are good enough that opponents have to really earn their yards.

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Kalyn Kahler

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB Rams
Defensive Player: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive rookie of the year: Darius Leonard, LB, Colts
Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB, Redskins
Coach of the Year: Sean McVay, Chiefs

Mahomes and Tom Brady will meet again this season, this time with the AFC championship on the line. But this time, the 23-year-old quarterback will come away with the win. The Chiefs came close when they lost to New England 43-40 in October, and the AFC Championship Game will be another classic, with Kansas City’s offense edging out New England’s.


Ben Baskin

MVP: Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB Rams
Defensive Player: Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, S, Chargers
Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Chiefs

Obviously Patrick Mahomes may very well end up with the MVP award— but if the race stays close, Brees will get the edge simply as career appreciation. And yes a case could be made for Gurley, but since he’s a running back he has pretty much no chance of winning. The MVP award should really just be called MVQ, Most Valuable Quarterback, while the Offensive Player of the Year should be renamed for what it truly is, Offensive Non-Quarterback of the Year. It’d make things simpler. Aaron Donald is doing Aaron Donald things and J.J. Watt is back doing J.J. Watt things. The Giants are awful but Saquon Barkley is nearly on pace to be only the third back ever to finish a season with 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards. Derwin James gets the nod here because the Chargers will be in the playoffs and Denzel Ward’s Browns will not. Lastly, Andy Reid has created one of the most unstoppable offenses in NFL history, and he has done so with a first-year starting quarterback.


Andrew Brandt

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
Defensive Player: Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, S, Chargers
Comeback Player of the Year: Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Chiefs

Enough about “defense wins championships.” This is not your father’s NFL; teams have to score and score easily to win. My Super Bowl teams—Saints and Chiefs—are the two teams that I feel can score in multiple ways, led by experienced coaches with creativity that doesn’t wane and defenses that are not great but “good enough.” And their quarterbacks are leading candidates for the league’s MVP.

Despite their current records, the key challengers in the NFC will be the Eagles and Packers. And the Steelers and Patriots will challenge in the AFC, as always, but—rookie quarterback or not—this is the year of the Chiefs. Well, at least until the Super Bowl, where Brees’ experience and guile will carry his loaded roster to the promised land.

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Mark Mravic

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB Rams
Defensive Player: Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, S, Chargers
Comeback Player of the Year: Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans
Coach of the Year: Anthony Lynn, Chargers

In my preseason picks, I looked forward to a renaissance of California pro football. While it’s been anything but in Oakland, and Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury has clouded the Niners’ season, the Rams and Chargers have held up their end. I like L.A. to figure it out defensively and win a rematch with the Saints for the NFC title in January, and I continue to put faith in a Chargers team that can’t help but play under the radar as the second team in L.A, in their weird little stadium. Patrick Mahomes has been a phenomenon for the Chiefs, but he’s also shown hints of lingering inexperience, which I think a well-rounded Chargers team will exploit in a conference title game. I’m having a little harder time seeing the Chargers beating the Rams, my preseason Super Bowl prediction, but on principle I’ll stick with the original pick.


Gary Gramling

MVP: Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Offensive Player: Todd Gurley, RB Rams
Defensive Player: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, S, Chargers
Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Chiefs

I’m sticking with my preseason prediction for the Super Bowl, as Aaron Rodgers is set up for a 7-1 run in the second half of the season. While Rodgers carries them, Mike Pettine will have a chance to mold an improving young defense into something above the “good enough when Aaron Rodgers is on your team” bar. As for the AFC, the Patriots are doing that thing they do every year when they treat the season as a process and value January over September. Let’s say Patrick Mahomes hits a rookie-ish wall, looking slightly less than immortal in December and January, which isn’t enough to get it done with that K.C. defense. I'll stick with the Dolphins as my sleeper playoff team, mostly because the AFC is pretty bad and I think they're setting up to be this year's Titans. But mostly I'll stick with them because I'm a stubborn jerk. As for the awards, Brees rides the sentimental vote to his first MVP, edging out Mahomes and Rodgers and enraging those crazy people who think a running back can be the league's most valuable player in the modern NFL. J.J. Watt edges Aaron Donald for Defensive Player of the Year as Donald's candidacy is dragged down by the awful back end of L.A.'s defense, and Watt edges Andrew Luck for comeback player because of the Texans' team success. And kudos to Ron Rivera and Sean McVay in the Coach of the Year race, but they can't compete with what Andy Reid has built with his own two hands in K.C.


Bette Marston

MVP: Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Offensive Player: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Defensive Player: Khalil Mack, DE, Bears
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derwin James, S, Chargers
Comeback Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Coach of the Year: Anthony Lynn, Chargers

The NFC South is emerging as the toughest division in the league right now, so it’s not out of the question for three of the four teams to reach the playoffs. My Super Bowl matchup remains the same as my preseason pick, and after watching the first half of the season, my mind is telling me to pick the Patriots, knowing that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick (usually) don’t lose when it matters most. But my heart is telling me to pick Drew Brees and the Saints—and I’ll stick with that.


Mitch Goldich

MVP: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs
Offensive Player: Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Defensive Player: Aaron Donald, DE, Rams
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Denzel Ward, CB, Browns
Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB, Redskins
Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Chiefs

I picked the Chiefs over the Rams in the Super Bowl when we last went through this exercise in September. (No really, I have proof). So let’s look at the standings, and—oh hey, there are my two teams sitting pretty. The Chiefs are in first place; the Saints trail the Rams by half a game, but are tied in the loss column and own the tie-breaker.

Full disclosure: I did have them both reaching the Super Bowl as the No. 2 seeds in their respective conferences, but it would be pretty stupid of me to change horses now. I know a lot can happen, and that some team from the middle of the pack often gets hot and overtakes the midseason top team, but both the Chiefs and Saints have looked great and I’m doubling down. And my victory lap in February will be even more obnoxious and self-indulgent than I sound right now. (Talk to you soon, Arrowhead Pride commenters!)

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