-- As the 2016 season nears, we're asking our NFL Insiders to make some predictions. Among the questions that will be answered this week: ?Who's the best offensive player no one's talking about? Who's the defensive player who won't live up to the hype? Which team is the most underrated? Which first-round rookie will struggle this season?
On Monday, however, it's awards day. Check out our panels' predictions below:
Who's your MVP pick?
John Clayton, senior NFL writer: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers. If Big Ben can maintain a 30-point-per-game offense and the Steelers improve on defense, they have a great chance to make a Super Bowl run.
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks. He tossed 25 touchdown passes?with two interceptions?over the second half of last season as Seattle shifted toward a quick passing game. This is the year any remaining skeptics realize Wilson is much more than adequate as a pocket passer.
Aaron Schatz, editor-in-chief of Football Outsiders: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks. Football Outsiders projections have Arizona and Seattle as the two best teams in the league, and I think there's a (correct) public perception that Carson Palmer's big numbers are helped along by his teammates more than Wilson's big numbers. Wilson doesn't have to do what he did in the second half of 2015 -- something between that and the first half of last season would likely be MVP-worthy if Seattle goes 12-4 or better. I don't expect a Newton repeat because I don't think Carolina will be one of the NFC's top seeds, although that won't be because Newton plays any worse.
Field Yates, NFL Insider:? Cam Newton, QB, Panthers. It's scary to think that Newton accounted for 45 touchdowns last season when remembering his top receiver missed the entire?season and he started slowly -- he had 15 total touchdowns in the first seven games, compared to 30 in the final nine games. Newton's?ceiling is unparalleled.
Give us an off-the-radar/dark-horse MVP pick.
Clayton:? Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers. Lacy has the powerful running style to put together a Marshawn Lynch-like season. He is in great shape, and it's a contract year. A 1,300-yard season could place him among the league's leading rushers.
Sando: Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions. By darkhorse, we're not talking about my second or third choice. We're talking about someone off the radar. Stafford tossed 19 touchdown passes with two interceptions?once Jim Bob Cooter took over the Lions' offense last season. Unfortunately for him, a rugged NFC North could keep Detroit on the outside looking in.
Schatz: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Cowboys. Imagine the narrative here: Elliott leads the NFL in carries and rushing yards as a rookie, and the Cowboys win the NFC East despite playing the first half of the season without Tony Romo. The true heroes would be the offensive linemen, but MVP voters don't give the award to blockers. They give the award to the guys who get the yardage.
Yates:? David Johnson, RB, Cardinals. There isn't a hole in Johnson's game. He's an adept runner between the tackles with the burst to get to the edge and is one of the league's?finest pass-catching backs. If Arizona gives him 250-plus touches this season, he could be in the MVP mix.
Which player will be the biggest flop in 2016?
Clayton: Robert Griffin III, QB, Browns. Hue Jackson could be the right coach to turn around Griffin's career, and the quarterback is working hard to fix his game. But it is too much to think he can turn around a franchise, too. The Browns don't have the talent around him to succeed this season.
Sando: Sam Bradford, QB, Eagles. Bradford played well enough late last season to generate some optimism, but it's tough to bank on an oft-injured QB who has never played consistently well over the course of a season. The Eagles would not have signed Chase Daniel and drafted Carson Wentz if they disagreed.
Schatz: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Jets. Yes, I know he probably won't play this season, but isn't that part of the problem? The Jets wasted a second-round pick on a quarterback with terrible college numbers who is currently fourth?on their depth chart. The Jets say they are trying to fix his passing mechanics. Did they not watch the same film as all the online draftniks and notice that this was kind of an issue? Also, I didn't want to pile on Brock Osweiler with some sort of "5-for-5" sweep of this category.
Yates: Brock Osweiler, QB, Texans. This comes down to a few factors. Osweiler will always be measured against his lucrative contract ($72 million over four seasons), and Houston might?not be angling to put a huge workload on his shoulders in comparison to what other quarterbacks?are asked to do. The Texans?ran the football more than all but four teams last season and will likely lean heavily on the running game this season. And, frankly, there's still a lot to learn about Osweiler as a player who has?minimal starting experience.
Who's your breakout player of the year?
Clayton: Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans. He might?not throw a lot of passes in coach Mike Mularkey's run-oriented?offense, but Mariota?will continue to evolve as a great game manager and running threat. He will be efficient.
Sando: Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Jaguars. While Jacksonville spent big for Malik Jackson this offseason, Fowler has the talent to emerge as its?best defensive player. Was there a more talented and physically violent defender selected in the 2015 draft?
Schatz: Lamar Miller, RB, Texans. Miller has a career average of 4.6 yards per carry and is still only 25. When he finishes in the top five in rushing this season -- and adds another 40 or so receptions -- we're all going to wonder why the Dolphins completely left him out of the game plan in certain weeks.
Yates: Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans. It's no mystery that Mariota offers upside -- he flashed it last season as a rookie. Now with a better ground game and bulked-up offensive line, Mariota should make significant strides toward superstardom this season.
Which player has the best chance to dethrone J.J. Watt as the NFL's best defender?
Clayton: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams. Some believe he's close to achieving this?honor. He has been a dominating defender for the Rams.
Sando: Robert Quinn, DE, Rams. Quinn exited the spotlight while missing eight games to injury last season. While Khalil Mack would be the safe choice here, let's not forget the 26-year-old Quinn is just two seasons removed from a 19-sack season.
Schatz:?Aaron Donald, DT, Rams.?Watt is not going anywhere for a while, but Donald is the second-best defensive player in the game right now. Last season, he had 11 sacks, and we tracked him with 27 QB hits (not including sacks) and 31 hurries. Donald led all defensive tackles in sacks and had 10?more QB hits than any other player at his position. Eagles defender? Fletcher Cox (34 hurries as a 3-4 end) was the only interior lineman with more hurries.
Yates: Aaron Donald, DT, Rams. It takes rare production from an interior defensive lineman to merit consideration for a major award, but Donald presents exactly that. He has 20.0 sacks in just two pro seasons. He's as explosive as any lineman in football with play-destroying ability on every snap.