On Tuesday, we rolled out our predictions for team MVPs in the AFC. Now we turn our attention to the NFC. Let's get to it:
Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson, RB
All the optimistic reports coming out of Cardinals camp about Johnson's 2019 prospects have our trope siren on full blast, but buy the hype. Johnson was arguably the NFL's best running back in 2016 before a wrist injury wiped out his 2017 and poor schemes and suboptimal game scripts wrecked his 2018. Expect Kliff Kingsbury to channel Bruce Arians, who knew exactly how to get the most out of the dual-threat capabilities of the "Humble Rumble."
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan, QB
Ryan might never again match the production of his phenomenal MVP season of 2016 -- but you might be surprised how close he came a year ago. In 2018, Ryan threw for nearly 5,000 yards with 35 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, proving once again that he remains one of the very best quarterbacks in football as he quietly builds a solid resume for Canton. Reunited with former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and boasting an enviable coterie of skill players, Ryan is going to pile up numbers again. Too bad he can't play defense, too.
Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB
True story: Last season, McCaffrey finished just 133 receiving yards shy of joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only running backs to surpass 1,000 yards as a rusher and receiver. Entering his third season, McCaffrey has established himself as the centerpiece of the Panthers' offense, and his workload will only grow as Carolina looks for ways to protect Cam Newton's right shoulder. A running back hasn't won NFL MVP since Adrian Peterson in 2012 (in fact, quarterbacks have won the trophy every year since All Day), but McCaffrey is an intriguing possibility.
Chicago Bears: Khalil Mack, LB
Here's the scary thing about Khalil Mack: The All-Pro linebacker was the biggest difference-maker on a 12-4 Bears team a year ago -- and he wasn't even playing at his ceiling. A sprained ankle suffered in Week 6 caused him to sit out two games and limited him in two more. Despite that, Mack led the team with 12.5 sacks and chipped in 10 tackles for loss, second-most on the squad. Mack told the Chicago Sun-Times last week that he aspires to produce at the level of all-time greats like Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas. Smack in his prime entering his age-28 season, we might be about to see peak Mack. Scary stuff.
Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, RB
Elliott might not be a finished product off the field, but on it, Zeke has been everything the Cowboys could have asked for when they drafted him fourth overall back in 2016. The No. 1 workhorse in football, Elliott finished 2018 with 381 touches (29 more than the next closest running back) for more than 2,000 total yards and nine touchdowns. His 1,434 yards on the ground secured his second league rushing title in three seasons. Dallas' deft midseason trade for wide receiver Amari Cooper brought some much-needed balance to the offense, but Zeke will remain the center of the Cowboys' universe. Still just 23, he might be the safest bet for star production in football.
Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, QB
This is an important year for Stafford, who has produced like a star for years but has been unable to get the Lions over the hump. His starry-eyed romance with erstwhile offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter burned out last year, as the Lions finished toward the back of the pack with 20.5 points per game (Cooter was shown the door in January). More disconcerting was how the team got away from the advantage created by Stafford's incredible right arm. According to Next Gen Stats, Stafford averaged 7.0 yards through the air on attempts last season, which put him second-to-last in football among qualifying passers. Thankfully, new OC Darrell Bevell wants to open up the offense. If he does, Stafford can bounce back in the way Detroit desperately needs him to.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers, QB
We're buying the Aaron Rodgers Gets His Mojo Back narrative this offseason. Rodgers and the Packers veered into an offensive cul-de-sac in recent years, finishing 12th or worse in three of the past four seasons, and a fresh start was necessary and overdue. Enter young new coach Matt LaFleur and the philosophy he brings from his time as Sean McVay's offensive coordinator. On paper, a return to form for Rodgers makes sense. Of course, you can argue the Packers should have done a better job of adding offensive playmakers, but you can view this as an organizational sign of faith in their superstar quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is an easy guy to believe in.
Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Donald, DE
There is no shortage of candidates to pick from when sifting through an all-star roster like the one the Rams have. The easiest move is to just pick the best player. That's Donald, who some might call the best player in football, period. Donald is coming off another dominant season in which he sat out all of the offseason and still dominated on his way to winning another Defensive Player of the Year award. Donald "hit" for the defensive triple crown in 2018, leading the league in sacks (20.5), tackles for loss (25) and quarterback hits (41). Forget team MVP; this is the man who should become the first defender to win NFL MVP since Lawrence Taylor way back in 1986.
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins, QB
Cousins didn't give the Vikings the lift in 2018 that they imagined when they signed him to that all-guaranteed mega-deal last March, but hold off before denouncing the acquisition as a bust. Cousins had his fair share of struggles, and there's no hiding from his 5-25 career record as a starter against winning teams. He's become an easy target -- will that pressure motivate him or prove to be his undoing? I like the idea of Cousins -- more comfortable in his surroundings and a year removed from Minnesota's Super Bowl-or-failure mode -- performing at a far more consistent level in 2019.
New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara, RB
This week on the "Around The NFL Podcast," colleague Gregg Rosenthal picked Kamara as his under-the-radar NFL MVP candidate. It's a solid selection, given Kamara's unfair skill-set and unquestioned lead-dog status in the Superdome, especially with former backfield-mate Mark Ingram now in Baltimore. Kamara finished second in the league in rushing touchdowns and total scores a year ago, and there is no reason to expect him to fall off entering his third season. Like McCaffrey in Carolina, Kamara is a very real threat to post a 1,000/1,000 season in 2019. Drew Brees will always be the favorite for team MVP honors in NOLA, but Kamara might perform at an undeniable level.
New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB
Speaking of running back stars with 1,000/1,000 potential, hello, Saquon. Barkley was -- for better or worse -- the face of the Giants' offense in 2018, doing his very best in a vanilla offense led by a declining Eli Manning. Defenses seemed to gear up for Barkley every snap, which makes his avalanche of monster plays last season all the more remarkable. Barkley even made an impact when the Giants were trailing (as they often were) -- he was essentially gameplan-proof. In 2018, Barkley became just the third player in NFL history to tally 2,000 total yards as a rookie. As the Giants continue to work through their QB soap opera, Barkley will be the one constant.
Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, QB
The past 18 months had to have been difficult for Wentz. Entering December 2017, he was the favorite for league MVP before a terrible knee injury ended his season in an instant. A couple months later, his backup was lifting the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl MVP. Nick Foles started the following season, as well, and when Wentz returned, he never quite found his rhythm before another injury -- this time to his back -- claimed another December and playoff run. Foles is in Jacksonville now, and Wentz said he feels "great" and is "ready to roll." With all the talent (and motivation) in the world, Wentz could be set up for a monster comeback year, following the 2018 Andrew Luck mold.
San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
This time last year, the NFL Cognoscenti was on fire about Jimmy G, the former Tom Brady backup turned franchise savior in San Francisco. Garoppolo was coming off a season-ending five-game winning streak to close out 2017 and seemed finally ready for his inevitable All-Pro campaign. Then his knee buckled near the sideline against the Chiefs in Week 3, and Jimmy G was done. He'll enter his age-28 season with just 10 starts to his name. It's fair to approach Garoppolo with a dash of apprehension at this point, but don't get carried away. He remains a fine all-around talent playing for a gifted offensive mind in Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan. If Jimmy G is ever going to become the franchise star everyone expects, this is the year.
Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson, QB
Fresh off signing the biggest contract in NFL history, perhaps the timing is right for the Seahawks to go all-in on the man who ends all interviews with "Go 'Hawks." Last year, Wilson played his customary 16 games but actually saw his pass attempts drop from 553 in 2017 to 427 as ever-conservative offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer committed to the run. Will that trend reverse itself in 2019? The retirement of star wideout and trusted Wilson security blanket Doug Baldwin won't help, but trust that Wilson will continue to make the most of his opportunities. At 30 years old entering the season, Wilson is operating at the peak of his powers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB
Coming off a disappointing season both on and off the field in 2018, the Bucs broke the In Case Of Emergency, Hire Bruce Arians glass as a last-ditch effort to unlock the promise of their former first overall pick. Last time we saw Arians inherit a veteran passer, he revitalized the career of Carson Palmer in Arizona. We all know Arians prefers an offense with big-strike capability, a philosophy that could work as a double-edged sword with a big-armed, turnover-prone passer like Winston. The fact that Arians was willing to come out of retirement to help solve Winston tells you something. Let's see if Mr. Kangol can spin his magic again.
Washington Redskins: Landon Collins, S
It might be a time of transition on offense for the Redskins, but this team has serious potential on defense. The unit imported a key playmaker when Washington signed former Giants All-Pro Landon Collins. Collins fills a huge need on Greg Manusky's defense and won't be held back by the shoulder injury that nagged at him during his final season in the Meadowlands. It doesn't hurt that he's playing in the same division as the team that didn't think he was worth a pricey extension. Stars with added motivation can do wonderful things.