Every football season is guaranteed to have a few unexpected events that occur for various reasons. While fans often make predictions before the season, there are plenty of developments waiting to happen. Some storylines such as Geno Smith's resurgent season, will last the entire year, while others such as the Jacksonville Jaguars' late run into the playoffs, might last around a month. With five weeks remaining before the season, it's only appropriate to make a few hot takes going into this season.
Note: This article is part of a doubleheader that will also include NFC predictions.
1. Justin Herbert Will Win MVP
In just three years with the Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Herbert has already cemented himself as a franchise quarterback. He set numerous rookie records and since then, he has thrown the fourth most touchdowns among active players since 2020. Last year saw Herbert guide the Chargers to their first playoff appearance thanks to a late surge at the end of the season. Although the season ended in a shocking collapse to the Jaguars, big things are on the horizon for Herbert.
I think he's not getting enough attention as a possible MVP candidate going into next season. Granted it's hard to earn recognition with Patrick Mahomes in the division, but there's a good chance Herbert will win the award. The first reason is that while Herbert might be a top 10 quarterback, he still has plenty of potential. It's worth mentioning he's only 25 years old, and likely has plenty of spectacular years ahead. Herbert will also not have to worry about playing for a new contract, as the Chargers extended him for five years and $260 million.
In addition, Herbert, along with his supporting cast will be a lot more healthy going into next season. Herbert played every game but some of those were with fractured rib cartilage. It also didn't help that besides Austin Ekeler, Herbert dealt with injuries to most of his receivers as well as the offensive line for much of the year. This season, the offense should be healthier and a little younger with the selection of receiver Quinton Johnston.
2. The Jaguars Will Make The AFC Championship Game
After winning a combined four games in the previous two years, the Jacksonville Jaguars are now way ahead of their rebuild following a stunning division title, and a thrilling comeback win in the wild card round. The centerpiece of their success is Trevor Lawrence who took a significant step in becoming the franchise quarterback the Jaguars envisioned him to be. Lawrence threw for over 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, while leading the Jaguars to a five game win streak en route to their first playoff berth since 2017.
However, Lawrence isn't doing it all by himself. He has a talented group of skill positions, which includes wide receiver Christian Kirk and running back Travis Etienne. Both players totaled over 1,000 yards from their respective positions. The receiving group, will be more dangerous with Calvin Ridley coming back from a year long suspension for gambling. Ridley might be rusty at first, but with Kirk, Etienne, and Evan Engram also requiring attention from opponents, it won't be long before he shakes off any rust.
Defensively, the Jaguars aren't suffocating but they force plenty of turnovers. With an up and coming secondary, Jacksonville was tied for fourth in takeaways last season. They could make an even bigger jump if Devin Lloyd and Travon Walker begin to emerge as focal points during their sophomore year.
Despite their late run, this team is still somewhat under the radar but that should change. Every rebuilding team eventually puts it all together, and the Jaguars already managed to successfully do that. Now they will be off and running.
3. Sauce Gardner Will Win Defensive Player of the Year
A big part of the New York Jets' improvement on defense last year, was the amazing season from Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner. While I might be biased in saying he had arguably the greatest rookie season for a cornerback, it's hard to argue against it. Gardner played at a high level against some of the top receivers in Ja'Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, and Justin Jefferson. By the end of the year, Gardner had only allowed one touchdown pass and led the league in pass deflections. He was awarded with a pro bowl selection, first team all-pro, and defensive Rookie of the Year.
While Gardner had a decent case to win Defensive Player of the Year, recording just two interceptions was a big reason why he didn't get more votes. In Gardner's defense, most quarterbacks didn't target him much, but that's unfortunately something the voters don't always look at.
That being said, it doesn't mean that Gardner will never get interceptions. He is still very young and will only continue to improve from his rookie campaign. "You always have something to work on. I got a lot of things I can work on that's going to get better coming into my second season," said Gardner about elevating his performance. Plenty of shutdown cornerbacks still proceed to get a solid number of picks each year, and that should certainly be the case with Gardner.
Like last year, Gardner will once again be tested with Hill and Stefon Diggs two times each, along with other premier receivers such as Ceedee Lamb and Davante Adams. If Gardner continues to shutdown opponents and finish with around five picks, he should be one of the favorites to win the award.