(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Star’s annual football preview, which will appear in three special sections in the Sunday, Aug. 28 print edition and also on KansasCity.com and The Star’s Red Zone Extra app.)
MVP: QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay. Poised for a huge year with Jordy Nelson back and a slimmer Eddie Lacy.
Coach of the year: Jack Del Rio, Oakland. The Raiders should have their first winning season since 2002, and Del Rio is positioned to get the credit for that.
Offensive player of the year: QB Cam Newton, Carolina. The reigning MVP may not repeat, but he should have another tremendous season.
Defensive player of the year: LB Von Miller, Denver. Miller has done everything in the game except win this award. It’s time.
Offensive rookie of the year: RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas. One of the most complete backs to enter the league in years, Elliott should excel behind a terrific line.
Defensive rookie of the year: LB Myles Jack, Jacksonville. A gifted, versatile player who will make teams pay for passing on him in the first round.
AFC West: Kansas City
The Chiefs and coach Andy Reid have been building toward this year, and with Denver’s uncertain quarterback situation — Paxton Lynch could eventually be a stud but he will just be a rookie — the Chiefs are poised to win the division for the first time since 2010. But keep an eye on out an ascending Oakland team, and Denver too, of course.
AFC North: Cincinnati
The Bengals are poised to build on a 12-4 season, but the Steelers will be a potent foe.
AFC East: New England
The Patriots have won this division for the last seven years, and while the four-game suspension to Tom Brady won’t help their cause, they’re still the best team in this division … by a mile.
AFC South: Houston
This division has been weak in past years, but Houston probably did enough this offseason to hold off the emerging Jaguars and potentially resurgent Colts.
AFC wild cards: Oakland, Pittsburgh
Also keep an eye on Denver, the defending Super Bowl champ, and the Jaguars and Colts.
AFC champion: New England over Kansas City
Even predicting the Chiefs to get this far is putting a ton of faith in a potentially shaky defense, but if Justin Houston returns in a timely manner, it’s worth remembering that Andy Reid has guided four teams this far before. If KC’s defense is as good as it’s been in past years, and the Chiefs avoid major injuries, the winner of this game could be a toss-up.
NFC West: Arizona
The Cardinals are primed to get back to the NFC Championship Game thanks to a strong offense and a defense that should be even better this year. Seattle will challenge, too.
NFC North: Green Bay
The Packers’ disappointing offense should get back on track this year, though Minnesota is primed to make a run at defending its division crown thanks to a strong defense.
NFC East: Washington
This division isn’t very good, and while Dallas could make a run — and New York is a threat, though less so — Washington should defend its title with another 9-7ish season.
NFC South: Carolina
Teams that lose in the Super Bowl typically struggle to get back the next year, but given Carolina’s relative youth — and Cam Newton’s competitiveness — it’s tough to bet against a team that went 15-1 last year to at least win its division.
NFC wild-cards: Minnesota, Seattle
The Vikings and Seahawks could easily win their respective divisions, while the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys could potentially sneak in, too.
NFC champion: Green Bay over Arizona
This one is a close call, but in those cases, you go with the team with the better quarterback, and that’s Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
Super Bowl LI champion: New England over Green Bay
Two terrific quarterbacks (Rodgers and Brady) in professional football’s biggest game? Sign me up. The Pats get the edge six months out because they have a better defense on paper, but let’s enjoy seeing everything play out.
It’s football time, folks.