The NFL season officially starts on September 9, which means we will be inundated with a flurry of preseason predictions in the coming weeks.
In any sport, injuries, chemistry issues, and other uncertainties can derail promising seasons, but the NFL is uniquely difficult to predict, as large rosters and parity in the league increase the many variables that can quickly take a team from contender to out of the playoff picture.
Here are some way-too-early predictions for the season, based on current futures odds.
Super Bowl winner
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, retained all of their key players and, somehow, are not favored to repeat. The team they beat, the Kansas City Chiefs, currently have the best NFL futures odds of winning the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. That confidence is not without good reason. Patrick Mahomes, even at his young age, is already one of the most prolific passers the league has seen in the modern era. The Chiefs also addressed their biggest weakness last season by upgrading their offensive line. If they protect Mahomes better and have a bit better luck with keeping key players healthy, it’s easy to see them unseating Tampa Bay.
The Bucs should win the NFC again, though. Two of the teams Tom Brady took out in the playoffs are in more fraught situations this season. The Saints are trying to replace the retired Drew Brees and the Packers are trying to patch up their relationship with a disgruntled Aaron Rodgers. That could mean a new contender emerges – look for the Los Angeles Rams, with new quarterback Matthew Stafford, and the San Francisco 49ers, who get all of the stars back healthy from their Super Bowl team who they missed last season.
Our predictions: AFC Championship Game: Buffalo over Kansas City; NFC Championship Game: Los Angeles Rams over Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Super Bowl: Los Angeles over Buffalo
Last season, the Cleveland Browns broke through and ended a long playoff drought. They even beat longtime rival Pittsburgh in the first round. In the NFC, the Washington Football Team, who many predicted to finish in last place, won their division despite finishing 7-9 and even had a competitive performance in their playoff loss.
Don’t expect every team who made it last year to get back to the postseason, though. A couple of up-and-coming teams to watch who barely missed last year, the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals, are good bets to break through. And if you’re looking to bet on a couple of longshots, the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions currently have the worst odds of getting to the playoffs. Here are our predictions for the six playoff teams in each conference.
Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Brady and Mahomes have both recently won MVP awards and certainly both looked capable of doing it again. Rodgers and Lamar Jackson are also recent winners who are still playing at a high enough level to win again.
Odds currently favor Mahomes followed by Rodgers, with Brady fourth. But in between them is an emerging and rapidly ascending candidate in Buffalo’s Josh Allen. The do-it-all role Allen plays in Buffalo’s offense could make him an interesting candidate this season.
The bigger question: will a non-quarterback ever win this award again? The last time a non-quarterback won was in 2012 when running back Adrian Peterson earned MVP honors. Derrick Henry currently has the 13th best odds according to futures, trailing 12 quarterbacks. He’s tied with Deshaun Watson in those odds, and Watson might not even play this season due to his legal entanglements.
Our MVP prediction
Matthew Stafford is a fun dark horse pick here. He’s on a new team with abundant weapons and a good offensive line protecting him. Stafford has put up huge numbers on some bad Detroit teams, so if he can get unleashed in Los Angeles, he might be a surprise candidate.
But the pick is Mahomes. The Chiefs invested heavily in protecting him, and he’ll likely be eager to make up for his poor showing in the Super Bowl with a big season.
That’s pretty easy to explain, too. Even highly regarded rookie quarterbacks sometimes don’t see the field much as rookie, and struggles for those who do are not uncommon as they adjust to maybe the most high-pressure position in all pro sports.
Rookie running backs and receivers are much more likely to have opportunities to put up big numbers than quarterbacks, who may have to sit and learn for a while behind a veteran. Even this year’s No. 1 pick, Trevor Lawrence, is in a competition with Gardner Minshew for who will start the season as Jacksonville’s starter. Fellow first round picks Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones also may find themselves as backups at least early in their careers. Zach Wilson of the Jets probably has the clearest path to starting immediately.
Prediction: It’s not surprising that all of the young quarterbacks from the first round lead the list of futures odds for the award. If even one breaks into the lineup early, he’ll be a clear favorite to make a big enough impact to win it. But Kyle Pitts, a tight end for the Falcons, could be a big surprise winner. He has a good, veteran quarterback throwing to him in Matt Ryan and he should see plenty of opportunities with Ryan’s previous favorite target, Julio Jones, traded. A tight end has also never won the award, so Pitts is our pick here – he’ll make history this season.