On a Sunday in early February, there will be a battle for the ultimate football prize. Between now and then, though, there are still 266 NFL games to be played.
For each of the next 20 Sundays, we’ll all be glued to our TV screens watching, waiting to see who will get the chance to vie for the Lombardi Trophy. A host of different teams, players, and coaches will make their presence known in some way or another during that span of time. There will be nail-biters and blowouts, peaks and valleys, injuries and breakouts.
And when it’s all said and done, these are the people and the franchises whom our CBSSports.com staff believes will be rewarded with some hardware, be it real or imagined.
Super Bowl champions
Pete Prisco: Green Bay Packers
All that talk of Aaron Rodgers being down last season was way overplayed. He will come back and win another title and league MVP.
Jason La Canfora: Seattle Seahawks
No Super Bowl hangover this year.
Will Brinson: Carolina Panthers
The entire NFL is going full Dangerfield on a team that went 15-1 last year. Is there a possibility for a Super Bowl hangover? Sure, but this is an ascending roster, not the other way around. The Josh Norman loss will sting but the contract will look worse for Washington when all is said and done. Carolina could come back to earth in the regular season, but they’re by far the best team in the NFC South and clearly capable of a deep run.
Ryan Wilson: Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals finally bring the Lombardi Trophy to the Valley of the Sun. Bruce Arians cements his place among the league’s best coaches, while veteran quarterback Carson Palmer finally gets the can’t-win-in-the-postseason monkey off his back.
John Breech: Seahawks over Cincinnati Bengals
Last year, I picked the Denver Broncos to win it all, so let’s just assume I’m going to be right again. As for the Bengals being in this game, let’s just all agree that it would be fitting if they finally won a playoff game on the 25th anniversary of their last playoff win. Note: I put the Bengals in this game by a nose over the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers .
Jared Dubin: Cardinals
This is the most complete football team in the league. Arizona has a good offensive line, a ton of weapons, and can score from anywhere on the field. Once the Honey Badger gets back, the Cardinals defense will be top-notch as well.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Seahawks
No Marshawn, no problem. Russell Wilson successfully becomes the undisputed conductor of the Seahawks’ offense and the defense remains the dominant force it has been for the past several seasons. If the Seahawks can lock down home-field advantage they’ll be nearly impossible to beat at home in the postseason.
Super Bowl MVP
Pete Prisco: Aaron Rodgers
He will put up amazing numbers this season and keep rolling right through the postseason and the Super Bowl.
Jason La Canfora: Russell Wilson
He and Ciara ride off into the sunset in that truck they award to the MVP.
Will Brinson: Cam Newton
The run to the title is going to be fueled by the reigning MVP, who isn’t getting any love this offseason either. A title run and a strong performance by Cam will net him the honors easily.
Ryan Wilson: Carson Palmer
It’s only fitting that Palmer, he of the 1-3 playoff record, puts it all together on the game’s biggest stage with the world watching. Also fitting: The 37-year-old Palmer pulls a Peyton and goes out on top.
John Breech: Russell Wilson
There won’t be any “you should’ve given the ball to Marshawn at the 1-yard line” controversy after this game. Wilson will just call his own number and score the game-winning touchdown on a QB sneak. Ciara will then release a new album about Russell called “MVH,” code for “Most Valuable Husband,” and they’ll live happily ever after.
Jared Dubin: David Johnson
Johnson is a monster. Over the final five games of last season, he averaged 131.6 total yards and a touchdown. In any scenario where Arizona wins, he’s going to play a huge role.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Thomas Rawls
He scores a few red-zone touchdowns to steal the MVP away from Russell Wilson.
Regular Season MVP
Pete Prisco: Aaron Rodgers
He will get the triple crown: Ring, regular-season MVP and Super Bowl MVP.
Jason La Canfora: Tom Brady
The Pats might not lose a regular season game when he returns.
Will Brinson: Ben Roethlisberger
For whatever reason Big Ben doesn’t get included in MVP conversations enough. He deserves it the way he’s matured as a passer in Todd Haley’s system, and he’s got enough weapons this year to put up huge numbers. With Le’Veon Bell missing a few games and Martavis Bryant out the season, he’ll get more credit for a massive year.
Ryan Wilson: Russell Wilson
This is the year it all comes together for one of the league’s best young quarterbacks. Wilson has gotten better each season, and in 2015 he set career bests in touchdowns (34), TD/INT ratio (4.25), passer rating (110.1), and he ranked third in Football Outsiders’ QB rankings last season, behind only Carson Palmer and Tom Brady.
John Breech: Ben Roethlisberger
Big Ben is going to put up some huge numbers this year in the Steelers’ offense. Let’s just hope people actually notice when it happens. Oh, and here’s a little known fact: The only Steelers quarterback who has received an MVP vote since 2000 is Kordell Stewart.
Jared Dubin: Russell Wilson
Wilson is in for a massive year. The changes the Seahawks made to their offense over the second half of last season play perfectly into his skill set, and he should continue being responsible for an even larger portion of their success.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Russell Wilson
If he plays like he did down the stretch last year for most of the season, the MVP is his. Beast Mode is gone, the offense belongs to Wilson, and the Seahawks will undoubtedly win enough games for Wilson to be in the running for the award.
Offensive Player of the Year
Pete Prisco: Aaron Rodgers
Yep, Rodgers again. You think he will own the season?
Jason La Canfora: Ben Roethlisberger/Cam Newton
Both will put up astounding numbers in offenses that will surpass what they did a year ago.
Will Brinson: Andrew Luck
The formula you need for OPOY is a quarterback with tons of weapons and a defense that isn’t afraid to cough up points. Luck has both in spades and should be healthier this year with an improved offensive line. We might see multiple breakouts from his receivers, including Donte Moncrief and Philip Dorsett.
Ryan Wilson: Antonio Brown
He’s the league’s best receiver, plays for the league’s most high-powered offense, and he’s impervious to double- and triple-teams. Put another way: He has 375 receptions for 5,031 yards and 31 touchdowns. Oh, and Brown is a top-flight punt returner too.
John Breech: Antonio Brown
They might have to rewrite the receiving portion of the NFL record book after 2016 because of Brown.
Jared Dubin: Aaron Rodgers
With Jordy Nelson back on the field and Eddie Lacy back at a realistic playing weight, Rodgers’ (relative) struggles of 2015 should be a thing of the past.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Antonio Brown
The most dynamic receiver in the game will only see more targets with Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell suspended. The key is Big Ben staying healthy.
Defensive Player of the Year
Pete Prisco: Von Miller
The Super Bowl will be more the norm than not this season. He will get 19 sacks.
Jason La Canfora: Khalil Mack/Aaron Donald
Sacks on sacks on sacks.
Will Brinson: Khalil Mack
Everyone’s expecting a huge jump from Oakland this year and it’s primarily based on their offense. But Mack is the cog in this machine that will make the playoffs a reality. Adding Bruce Irvin to the mix and providing some pass-rush support makes an already impossible to block superhuman like Mack even more dangerous. He “broke out” in 2015 and he’s set to explode this year.
Ryan Wilson: Khalil Mack
Remember when the pre-draft scuttlebutt was that Mack was too much of a wild card to be a high-round pick because he went to a small school? Turns out, those poor kids he was dominating at the FCS level aren’t much different than NFL opponents who haven’t found a way to stop him. After registering four sacks as a rookie in 2014, Mack had 15 last season. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
John Breech: Von Miller
If the Broncos get 10 or more wins this season, it’s going to be because their defense is awesome and if their defense is awesome it’s going to be because of Von Miller. Also, I’m tired of putting J.J. Watt ‘s name down for this prediction every year.
Jared Dubin: Aaron Donald
Last season I said that J.J. Watt would win this award every year until further notice. This is further notice. Donald was every bit as good as Watt last season, and unlike J.J., he’s not coming back from a major injury and in danger of missing time.
Sean Wagner-McGough: J.J. Watt
At this point, picking against anyone else is silly. He won last year despite dealing with a myriad of injuries.
Coach of the Year
Pete Prisco: Mike Zimmer
He will get the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs without his starting quarterback. That’s good enough for me.
Jason La Canfora: Bill Belichick
No one bounces back from a scandal like The Hoodie (and, well, no one arguably has had more scandals).
Will Brinson: Dirk Koetter
A pretty good option for a first-year coach who could take his team to the playoffs, Koetter will give the Bucs consistency, help them to 9 or 10 wins, orchestrate a breakout year from Jameis Winston and net the honors in his first year in Tampa.
Ryan Wilson: Bruce Arians
The Steelers forced Arians into retirement after the 2011 season. Instead of spending his days fishing, he served as Andrew Luck ‘s offensive coordinator, and parlayed that success into turning around the Cardinals.
John Breech: Andy Reid
Reid takes home this award after leading the Chiefs to their first division title since 2010.
Jared Dubin: Bill Belichick
When the New England Patriots go 12-4 despite not having Tom Brady for four games, voters will reward the man in the hoodie.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Bill Belichick
The Hoodie overcomes Tom Brady’s suspension to lead the Patriots to another AFC East title. Choosing anyone other than Belichick isn’t smart. There’s a reason why the Patriots are always contenders.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Pete Prisco: Ezekiel Elliott
I wouldn’t have picked him fourth overall, but he will have a nice rookie season. He needs to with Tony Romo out for 6-10 weeks.
Jason La Canfora: Paxton Lynch
The only rookie QB who will play well enough to win games.
Will Brinson: Ezekiel Elliott
Easiest pick on the board. All eyes are on Zeke as the Dallas Cowboys set sail without Tony Romo. They’ll lean on the rookie and he’ll deliver in all facets of the game, dominating on the ground, surprising people with his pass-catching ability and helping keep Dak Prescott upright. Running for 1,500 yards isn’t out of the question.
Ryan Wilson: Dak Prescott
This would have been an insane suggestion as recently as early August, but Tony Romo is injured (again) and Prescott has looked like the No. 1 overall pick from the draft — even though he was taken in Round 4.
John Breech: Ezekiel Elliot
With Tony Romo out, Elliot should be getting the ball 79 times a game in Dallas. It also doesn’t hurt that in two of the past three seasons, a running back has won this award.
Jared Dubin: Ezekiel Elliott
Until Tony Romo’s injury, I’d have said Elliott was in a better position to succeed than any first-round pick — regardless of position — in recent memory. Running behind the NFL’s best offensive line in years, with Romo under center to throw to Dez Bryant , Jason Witten , and the rest of the Cowboys’ weapons, Zeke would have been the foundation of the offense while also somehow not being the focus of the defense. Things will be a little more difficult for him with Dak Prescott under center, but not much. He’s still in a great spot.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Ezekiel Elliott
Without Tony Romo for at least half the season, Zeke touches the ball a lot and, behind that offensive line, he thrives.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Pete Prisco: Jalen Ramsey
He reminds me of a young Mel Blount, the former Steelers corner who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s big and strong and can run.
Jason La Canfora: Karl Joseph
If he stays healthy I have a hunch the rookie gets a chance to make a lot of plays on the ball.
Will Brinson: Joey Bosa
The late holdout doesn’t burn Bosa too badly and he’ll put up enough sack numbers to justify this selection when it’s coupled with his ability to stuff the run.
Ryan Wilson: Karl Joseph
He’s the latest chess piece for the Oakland Raiders ‘ young, fast, suffocating defense. With Mack & Co. in front of him getting after the quarterback, Joseph will have plenty of play-making chances on the back end.
John Breech: Someone on the Jacksonville Jaguars
Myles Jack and Jalen Ramsey should both play huge roles on what should be a pretty good Jags defense in 2016.
Jared Dubin: Myles Jack
Jack’s career might not be long thanks to his knee issues, but while he’s on the field, he is going to be damn good. A linebacker that flows sideline to sideline and can hold his own covering wide receivers is a dangerous player.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Jalen Ramsey
He’s a playmaker on a defense that will improve over the course of the season.
Pete Prisco: Jadeveon Clowney
He will stay healthy and show off those pass-rush skills he showed in college. He flashed last season, and now he’s ready for so much more.
Jason La Canfora: Jimmy Garoppolo
He’ll play a month … but will play well enough it sparks ample offseason trade inquiries.
Will Brinson: Jameis Winston
The second-year quarterback is primed to make a big leap into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. I wouldn’t be opposed to putting Mike Evans here either, considering he’ll have monster stats as Winston’s No. 1 target.
Ryan Wilson: David Johnson
The 2015 third-round pick showed glimpses of his versatility last season, rushing for 581 yards and adding 457 receiving yards. He’s such an adept pass catcher that he’s drawn comparisons to Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk.
John Breech: Christine Michael
Michael was so bad early on in his career that the Seahawks traded him away less than two years after making him a 2013 second-round pick. As fate would have it, he’s now back in Seattle — after brief stops in Washington and Dallas — and he looks good.
Jared Dubin: Lamar Miller
In his three seasons as the Miami Dolphins ‘ No. 1 running back, Miller averaged only 195.6 carries per season. Bill O’Brien’s No. 1 running back with the Houston Texans has typically averaged at least 75 more carries a year. Extrapolate Miller’s 4.6 yards per carry average over 275 carries and all of a sudden he’s a 1,265-yard back.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Eddie Goldman
He already had an impressive rookie season, but he will get national attention in his second season working with Vic Fangio. A better defensive line around him will make his life easier.
Comeback/Most Improved Player
Pete Prisco: Andrew Luck
His demise was greatly exaggerated last season.
Jason La Canfora: Andrew Luck
Sometimes you can’t overthink these things and you go with the obvious choice.
Will Brinson: Andrew Luck
Wanted to go with Dez Bryant or Tony Romo before Romo went down. This is an easy choice though. Luck is going to put up huge stats (see: above) and he’s going to get “elite” quarterback love a year after being quasi-buried.
Ryan Wilson: Joe Flacco
A knee injury prematurely ended Flacco’s 2015 season, one that also saw the Baltimore Ravens offense at times without Steve Smith , Justin Forsett , Dennis Pitta and first-round pick Breshad Perriman . Expect Baltimore to return to the top of the AFC North and the playoff race in 2016.
John Breech: Jamaal Charles
Was tempted to put Andrew luck here, but I don’t think the Indianapolis Colts are going to be any better than they were last year.
Jared Dubin: Andrew Luck
Order is restored.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Kelvin Benjamin
Missed all of last season and will improve upon his rookie numbers now that he’s playing with an MVP-caliber Cam Newton.
Pete Prisco: New York Jets , Buffalo Bills , Washington Redskins
Jason La Canfora: Bengals, Texans
Two division winners who could be in for a drop. Cincy has had a big drain on talent and coaches and the Texans will flop if Brock Osweiler isn’t legit.
Will Brinson: Bills, Chiefs
Rex Ryan has plenty of bluster, but the Bills are short on the type of talent that can take him over the top, in large part because a lot of injuries and suspensions. The trio of Tyrod Taylor , Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy is a good one, but they’re walking a fine line in terms of injury danger on offense. An implosion is completely possible here. I don’t think the Chiefs and Andy Reid are going to melt down and crater into a three-win pile. But I do worry about the health of major players on this team, as well as Alex Smith ‘s limitations as a game manager.
Ryan Wilson: Chicago Bears , Los Angeles Rams , San Diego Chargers
It’s easy to make fun of Jay Cutler but the defense is the biggest issue facing Chicago. The Rams have issues at quarterback and rookie Jared Goff has looked timid. Meanwhile, the Chargers are set at quarterback with Philip Rivers , but questions remain just about everywhere else.
John Breech: Redskins, Texans, Broncos
I don’t actually think the Broncos will free fall, but I do think they’ll finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs and not making the playoffs is a free-fall if you just won the Super Bowl.
Jared Dubin: Jets, Redskins, Panthers
The Jets played way over their heads last season. Ryan Fitzpatrick comes back to earth and with a tougher schedule, so does his team. Washington is only on this list because I don’t expect them to win the division again. They’ll still be pretty good. Same with the Panthers — where pretty much anything can be considered a free-fall from 15-1.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Atlanta Falcons , Bills, Vikings
Matt Ryan is on the down slope of his career, the Bills suffered from a disastrous offseason, and the Vikings can’t overcome Teddy Bridgewater ‘s injury.
Pete Prisco: New York Giants
They will win the NFC East.
Jason La Canfora: Cowboys, Packers
Dallas can’t be worse in that mediocre division and the Pack has to be healthier than a year ago, too. Do the Bucs apply? Because I think they can be a wild card.
Will Brinson: Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After getting incredibly unlucky during one-score games and with injuries in 2015, the Bolts are poised to make some noise. A healthy Keenan Allen , a rejuvenated Melvin Gordon and non-zombies on the offensive line will help Philip Rivers to a massive year. The defense is stocked with talent and after finally wrapping up the asinine Joey Bosa contract situation, they should be much improved. I also think Tampa is poised to make the leap people were expecting two years ago. The Jameis/Evans combo is going to be massive this season and the improved pass rush will help the Bucs defense improve tremendously.
Ryan Wilson: Ravens, Jaguars
Flacco, Smith, Forsett and Perriman return for the Ravens, while the Jaguars could have the league’s best defense to go along with an ever-improving Blake Bortles under center.
John Breech: Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford said in June that the Lions offense would probably be better this year without Calvin Johnson , and for some reason, I believe him.
Jared Dubin: Giants, Packers
The Giants aren’t a very good team but after Tony Romo’s injury, I’m picking them to win the NFC East. Who cares? It’s just picking out of a hat anyway. With Jordy Nelson back, I expect the Packers to go back to being what they were for the four or five years prior to 2015.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Colts, Bears, Giants
With Andrew Luck back, the Colts win the AFC South. The Bears probably aren’t a playoff team unless injuries break their way, but they’ll get on the right track with a nine-win season. And now that the Vikings are without Teddy Bridgewater, the Bears could sneak in as the second wild-card team with nine wins. The Giants win a weak division.
Teams still undefeated after Week 4
Pete Prisco: Cardinals, Seahawks and Steelers
Jason La Canfora: Cardinals, Panthers, Seahawks
Will Brinson: Panthers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Steelers
Ryan Wilson: Seahawks
They face the Dolphins, Rams, 49ers and Jets over the first month and, hey, have our choice for NFL MVP orchestrating the offense.
John Breech: Seahawks, Cardinals, Panthers, Chiefs/Steelers
The Chiefs and Steelers play each other in Week 4, which is why they’re both listed here. The winner of that game will move to 4-0 and join the Seahawks, Cards and Panthers in the ranks of the undefeated.
Jared Dubin: Packers, Seahawks, Cardinals, Chiefs
If the Packers can beat the Vikings in Week 2, they’re set up very well early in the season. Same goes for the Cardinals if they can get by the Jimmy Garappolo-led Patriots in Week 1. The Seahawks have an almost comically easy start to the year (Dolphins-Rams-49ers-Jets). The Chiefs have a tough matchup in Week 4 (Steelers) but I feel pretty confident in them getting through their Chargers-Texans-Jets stretch without a loss.
Sean Wagner-McGough: Cardinals, Seahawks
The Cardinals host the Patriots without Brady, then host the Buccaneers, then head to the Bills, and host the Rams. All winnable games. The Seahawks face the Dolphins, Rams, 49ers, and Jets. They’ll need to survive the East Coast trip to New York.
Last team to get a win
Pete Prisco: Cleveland Browns
They might win one game all season. The talent isn’t there.
Jason La Canfora: Philadelphia Eagles or Bears
The team that looses this Week 2 tilt could be in for a brutal first half of the season. The Browns/Eagles loser in Week 1 applies as well.
Will Brinson: 49ers
If they don’t beat the Rams in Week 1, things get REAL tough. Back-to-back road games at the Panthers and Seahawks, then they host the Cowboys and Cardinals before traveling to Buffalo and hosting the Buccaneers before their Week 8 bye. Brutal start for an already bad team.
Ryan Wilson: Rams
This is all you need to know: Jeff Fisher is 27-36-1 as the Rams coach.
John Breech: Browns
The guy who makes the NFL schedule must really hate the Browns. Not only does Cleveland have to play five of its first 7 games on the road, but the two home games are against the Ravens and the Patriots. Oh, and did I mention that the Patriots game will be Tom Brady’s first game back from suspension. Godspeed, Browns, Godspeed.
Jared Dubin: Loser of Browns-Eagles in Week 1
These teams are bad.
Sean Wagner-McGough: 49ers
If they can’t win their season opener against the Rams, they’re in trouble.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Here are our 2016 NFL picks for the Super Bowl, MVP and major awards