On the cusp of the 2014 NFL season, our analysts provide their predictions, including the winners of individual awards, playoff teams for each conference and Championship Sunday/Super Bowl forecasts.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Brian Billick: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots. Not that he needs it, but Brady is motivated after coming off his worst season in the past five years. A second season to gel with his young receivers -- and a healthy Rob Gronkowski -- will help.
Gil Brandt: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints. Brees has passed for 10,339 yards and 82 touchdowns over the past two seasons. In 2014, he'll benefit from the addition of explosive rookie wideout Brandin Cooks, as well as better support from an improved run game.
Bucky Brooks: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks. After proving to the football world that he is more than capable of guiding the Seahawks into the 2014 postseason on the strength of his right arm, Wilson walks away with the league's highest individual honor due to Seattle's emergence as an offensive juggernaut.
Charley Casserly: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos. Hard to go against Peyton, he of the five MVP trophies, until somebody beats him out. The Broncos' high-flying attack should continue to roll, and an improved defense should help the offense even more.
Dave Dameshek: Brees. The Saints have the breeziest schedule in the NFC and -- at worst -- the second-best home-field advantage in the NFL. Five thousand yards and 40 touchdowns seem well within Brees' grasp (again).
Elliot Harrison: Brady. The 37-year-old knows he has to play at a highly efficient level for this team to succeed -- something more analogous to his 2010 season, in which he posted a 36:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, than his epic 2007 campaign.
Gregg Rosenthal: Rodgers. He's an all-time transcendent talent who is due for another all-time transcendent season, like what he did in 2011. His weapons, especially in the running game, have never been better.
Michael Silver: Rodgers. He's the best player in football, and now he's got a beast in the backfield -- so I feel kinda secure in picking him.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Judy Battista: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts. The Colts seem ready to put more of the offense on the arm of Luck and a full complement of healthy receivers that includes Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks. If he's not already there, Luck ascends to the Brady-Manning-Rodgers-Brees pantheon.
Brian Billick: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints. There are eight 5,000-yard passing seasons on record, and Brees has authored half of them. Shoot, this season, he might become the first to break the 6,000-yard mark.
Gil Brandt: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks. The Super Bowl champion, who has logged a triple-digit quarterback rating and 26 touchdown passes in each of his first two NFL campaigns, becomes an even better passer in Year 3. While he lost steady target Golden Tate in the offseason, he'll be gaining a healthy Percy Harvin, who missed all but one regular-season game in 2013.
Bucky Brooks: Brees. The emphasis on limiting illegal contact in the passing game helps Brees top the 5,000-yard mark for the fifth time in his career.
Charley Casserly: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings. It would be easy to take a QB here -- like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. But Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to run the ball. Look for Peterson to have a big year behind a rejuvenated line.
Dave Dameshek: Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears. The offensive line is now a position of strength, Matt Forte is the best dual-threat RB in the NFC, the receivers are the best in the NFL and Marc Trestman is Chip Kelly in hipster horn-rimmed glasses. In other words, there's no more room for excuses for Cutler. Fortunately, he won't need any.
Gregg Rosenthal: Abstain. This is a ridiculous award we need to get rid of. How is it not always the MVP?
Michael Silver: Rodgers. In what universe can a QB be the MVP but not the Offensive Player of the Year?
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Brian Billick: Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers. This might be a long shot, but Matthews has never had a player opposite him like Julius Peppers. With Peppers keeping offenses honest, Matthews could have his best season yet.
Gil Brandt: Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers. Kuechly is one of eight players in NFL history to win both Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year -- and he did so in his first two pro campaigns. Still just 23 years old, he continues to pile up the hardware this fall, thanks to his ability to stone ball carriers and make plays in space.
Charley Casserly: Kuechly. This is a very instinctive football player, and performing alongside a number of additional studs in Carolina's front seven certainly doesn't hurt his game.
Dave Dameshek: Darrelle Revis, CB, New England Patriots. His infamous knee injury is now two years behind him. Ahead of him lies the chance to reclaim the crown as the league's shutdowniest cornerback while playing savior to a defense sorely in need of a boost.
Elliot Harrison: Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Perhaps this is an esoteric pick, yet David has the upside, and there's a new staff in place; the third-year pro should thrive in Lovie Smith's 4-3 defense.
Gregg Rosenthal: Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's rare for a defensive tackle to get the honor, but McCoy has the pass-rush skills to pull it off. He's squarely in his prime and will be leading a top-three defense.
Adam Schein: Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals. He's on the cusp of being elite. Peterson is a blanket on star receivers and has a great knack for making plays. I pick Peterson just ahead of Earl Thomas and Lavonte David.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Brian Billick: Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo Bills. Watkins had 101 receptions for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last year for Clemson. While he won't quite match that production in Buffalo as a rookie, don't be surprised when he comes pretty close.
Gil Brandt: Cooks. This guy was drafted by the right team -- a team that put the ball in the air 651 times in 2013, and a team that boasts one of the game's best quarterbacks. Cooks is very hard to cover and gobbles up yards after the catch.
Charley Casserly: Cooks. No one jumps out to me. I'll go with Cooks, as Sean Payton will find ways to get him the ball, and the explosive rookie can be a factor in the return game. Odell Beckham could emerge as Eli Manning's best receiver in New York, but it's hard to pick him, given his injury-riddled preseason.
Dave Dameshek: Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars. As I've said since December, Bortles will emerge as the best QB from this draft class, as soon as Gus Bradley decides to start him -- which should happen before the end of September.
Elliot Harrison: Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans. At some point, Sankey will get the opportunity to be the man in Ken Whisenhunt's offense. Looking for 900-plus rushing yards and 50 catches from the rookie.
Adam Schein: Cooks. He is the ultimate blend of speed and hands at receiver. Cooks is a perfect fit in Sean Payton's offense. I think he can catch 75 passes from Drew Brees -- this duo should hit many home runs this season.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Brian Billick: Clowney. J.J. Watt has 31 sacks in the past two seasons. Clowney had 24 sacks in his three seasons at South Carolina. Combined in Houston's scheme, this duo has the ability to break the single-season sack record for a tandem (39, currently held by Chris Doleman and Keith Millard of the 1989 Minnesota Vikings).
Gil Brandt: Ryan Shazier, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers. The last rookie to start on Pittsburgh's defense? Linebacker Kendrell Bell, who earned Defensive ROY honors back in 2001. Shazier can duplicate this feat under the direction of coordinator Dick LeBeau, who will find ways to maximize the athletic linebacker's impact. I expect Shazier to lead the Steelers in tackles and big plays.
Bucky Brooks: Shazier. He'll put up ridiculous numbers as the designated playmaker for the Steelers. With Shazier poised to register 100-plus tackles, around 6.5 sacks and four interceptions, the Steelers' standout should have his name etched on the trophy.
Dave Dameshek: Shazier. Awards like this one tend to be based more on splash plays than consistent, steady production. Even if Shazier isn't sturdy enough yet to be a force play-in, play-out, Dick LeBeau will put him in enough favorable spots to make the highlight reel every week.
Elliot Harrison: Clowney. He has shown ridiculous potential on specific plays in the preseason. The key for Clowney will be the effort he puts forth each down. Here's saying he will consistently bring it.
Gregg Rosenthal: Shazier. Linebackers usually win this award, and Shazier will make the type of plays that show up in highlight reels.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Brian Billick: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons. Jones was averaging 116 yards on 8.2 receptions in the first five games of last season before having to miss the remainder of the year with a fractured foot. Had he continued at that pace, he would have led the league in receptions, with 18 more than Pierre Garcon, and would have finished with 210 more yards than category leader Josh Gordon.
Gil Brandt: Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks. Harvin has an abundance of skills -- he can run, he can catch, he can return kicks. Finally healthy after missing most of 2013, he'll be a factor for the Seahawks in more ways than one.
Bucky Brooks: Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens. After losing much of 2013 to a hip injury, Pitta finishes the 2014 season as the Ravens' leading receiver and emerges as one of the elite pass catchers at his position.
Dave Dameshek: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins. Forget all the hooey and applesauce about Kirk Cousins and instead remember just how good RGIII was in 2012. Now, with his knee rehabbed and new target DeSean Jackson in the fold, it's hard to see Griffin not putting up good numbers this year.
Elliot Harrison: Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts. Word out of Indy has been that Wayne looks fantastic. Sure, he's 35. But given the Colts' struggles running the rock, you know he'll post numbers. Andrew Luck trusts him, too.
Gregg Rosenthal: Jones. He'll make a strong case as the No. 2 wide receiver in football.
Adam Schein: Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts. I still think he can play. His head was spinning after the midseason trade last year. If Richardson is simply solid, think 1,200 rushing yards -- and that would be a gigantic upgrade over last season's output.
Michael Silver: Wayne. Because I sooooo want this to happen.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Judy Battista: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles. He's already one of the game's most innovative coaches, so if his offense continues to evolve, look for Kelly to soon be considered among the league's very best.
Brian Billick: Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears. Had it not been for the record-setting 2013 Denver Broncos, the Bears would have had the league's highest-scoring offense. With an improved defense, Chicago is my pick to win the NFC North and make it to the conference title game.
Dave Dameshek: McCoy. If the Chargers win the AFC West (which, as you might recall, includes Peyton's Broncos), no one will argue that anyone other than McCoy, in just his second year as an NFL head coach, deserves the award. Oh, and by the way, the Chargers will win the AFC West.
Elliot Harrison: McCoy. San Diego will make the playoffs, and with the difficulty the Chargers have given the Broncos in recent years, the Bolts might surprise some folks. Looking for 10 to 11 wins from this group.
Adam Schein: Trestman. I think the Bears are a playoff team, and the second-year coaching guru guides them there. (They play in a tough division and conference, so this will be a big accomplishment.) And most especially, Trestman will maximize Jay Cutler.