The NFL regular season opens on Thursday night, bringing with it the possibility of breakout performances and huge seasons for every team. Which rookies could make an instant impact? Which established stars are on the cusp of a career season? Which surprise teams might be headed to the postseason?
Our NFL Nation reporters break down some eye-opening scenarios that just might happen.
WR Cole Beasley will finish with his first 100-catch season.
The former Dallas Cowboy has averaged 3.1 receptions per game in his career while playing in a run-heavy offense with elite receiving options around him. But he’ll be one of, if not the focal point of Buffalo’s passing attack in 2019. He might not lead the league in receiving yards, but he can average the 6.3 receptions per game he needs to reach the 100-catch mark. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
CB Xavien Howard will lead the NFL in interceptions for the second consecutive season.
The cornerback had seven interceptions in 12 games last season and has 11 over his past 17 games. Teams might try to avoid Howard more this year, but he’ll shadow No. 1 receivers and aim to make quarterbacks pay when they do test him. — Cameron Wolfe
LT Isaiah Wynn will win AP Comeback Player of the Year.
The Patriots selected Wynn with the 23rd overall pick in 2018, but lost him for his entire rookie season when he tore his Achilles in an August preseason game. This year, Wynn was brought along slowly in spring practices and training camp, and now looks primed to start the season as Tom Brady‘s blindside protector. — Mike Reiss
WR Robby Anderson will have a career year — 1,200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, Anderson has matured off the field and developed into an all-around receiver — not just a vertical threat. He and quarterback Sam Darnold have a nice rapport. The Jets, being proactive, will reward him with a four-year, $56 million extension in late December. — Rich Cimini
QB Lamar Jackson will set the NFL record for most rushing yards by a QB in a single season.
Using his electric speed and elusive moves, Jackson will surpass his childhood idol Michael Vick, who is the only quarterback to run for more than 1,000 yards in a season (he did so in 2006). Jackson will also become the ninth quarterback to score double-digit rushing touchdowns. — Jamison Hensley
Matthew Berry and Field Yates agree that Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has the most “bust or breakout potential” this season.
DE Carl Lawson will come back strong from an ACL injury with 14 sacks.
The former fourth-round pick will help the Bengals put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which is one of the things the defense has lacked in recent years. Geno Atkins‘ 10-sack season in 2018 marked the first time in the past three seasons a Bengals player posted a double-digit total. If Lawson gets 14, it would be the most by any Cincinnati player since 2015. — Ben Baby
WR Odell Beckham Jr. will lead the NFL in receiving yards, breaking the 1,500-yard mark for the first time.
Beckham will also set a career mark with more than 13 touchdown catches, as the Browns win the AFC North for the first time in 30 years on their way to making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. — Jake Trotter
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster will lead the NFL in receiving yards.
Smith-Schuster has shown a flare for the big play, and he’s worked hard this offseason to show he can handle the load as the team’s new No. 1 receiver. Getting 1,500-plus yards is very possible for Smith-Schuster, who can parlay a big Year 3 into a potential new contract in the offseason. Without a clear-cut second option taking away 75-80 catches, Smith-Schuster will get every opportunity to post big numbers despite double-teams coming his way. — Jeremy Fowler
Hopkins will remain the Texans’ No. 1 receiver, but because of this, he sees not only the opposing team’s best cornerback, but he’s often double-teamed as well. This allows the speedy Fuller to get behind defenses as a home run target for Deshaun Watson. Of course, this is assuming Fuller can stay healthy, which hasn’t happened in his first three NFL seasons. While that is no guarantee, when he is on the field, he and Watson put up big numbers — in 11 games together, they have 11 touchdowns. — Sarah Barshop
Matthew Berry makes a bold prediction that Jacoby Brissett will be impactful on your fantasy roster and makes a case for drafting him.
The Colts will be a top-10 offense with Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback.
The panic button was rightfully hit when Andrew Luck decided to retire. But Brissett will have everything at his disposal when it comes to the offense. Same starting offensive line that gave up an NFL-low 18 sacks last season? Check. Receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle? Check and check. Running back Marlon Mack, who was 92 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards despite missing four games? Yep. With Luck, they potentially could have been in the top three in the league offensively. But top 10 with Brissett isn’t bad, either. — Mike Wells
DE Josh Allen will be the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The 2018 SEC Defensive Player of the Year has already shown his ability to play the run as well as drop in coverage during the preseason (he was everywhere against Miami in Week 3), and he will have the benefit of being on the field at the same time as Pro Bowl pass-rushers Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. That should allow him a lot of one-on-one battles, and though he won’t seriously challenge Jevon Kearse’s rookie sack record (14.5 in 1999), he will notch double-digit sacks. — Mike DiRocco
Field Yates sees production with Delanie Walker no matter who the Titans QB is.
TE Delanie Walker will have 90 catches and 1,000 receiving yards.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota is most comfortable throwing to Walker, who has averaged 71.2 receptions and 831.2 yards per season since the two started playing together in 2015. Walker is on a mission to prove that at 35 years old, he is still capable of being the NFL’s best tight end. — Turron Davenport
They almost did last season when Miller was tied for fifth at 14.5 and Chubb had 12. Head coach Vic Fangio’s long history of success with edge rushers will show once again as he will turn the the Broncos’ tandem loose. If the offense will cooperate and actually give the team a lead once in a while, it’s a slam dunk. — Jeff Legwold
Damien Woody, Adam Schefter and Mike Tannenbaum discuss whether there is a possibility the Chiefs’ offense could get better after last season’s juggernaut.
The Chiefs will score more points than last season, when they led the NFL with 565.
Not only is Patrick Mahomes a veteran relative to where he was at this point last season, but the Chiefs have added to their strong collection of skill players with a pair of rookies, wide receiver Mecole Hardman and running back Darwin Thompson. Both used their considerable speed to score a touchdown in the preseason. Neither figures to be a regular, but the Chiefs will find ways to put their skills to use. The Chiefs with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins were already a fast offensive team, but this year they can double down on that. — Adam Teicher
DE Joey Bosa will lead the NFL in sacks.
The Ohio State product is coming off a disappointing 2018 season in which he missed nine games because of a bruised left foot, finishing with a career-low 5.5 sacks. However, Bosa says he’s fully healed and feels more explosive, which should lead to his best season as a pro. Bosa also benefits from having one of the best pass-rushers in the league on the other side of him (Melvin Ingram). They work well together, creating mismatches up front. The addition of first-round selection Jerry Tillery as an interior pass-rusher also should help Bosa get home more often. — Eric D. Williams
The Raiders will win nine games, go to the playoffs as the third team from the AFC West and scare whomever they face.
You wanted bold, right? As noted several times previously, the Raiders’ roster is much improved and quarterback Derek Carr is the beneficiary. Coach Jon Gruden’s offense will make a lot more sense to the quarterback and the last time Carr played in the same system two years in a row, he played at a league-MVP level. That was in 2016, when a broken leg suffered in Week 16 ended a dream season for Carr and the Raiders. Time for the dream to be revisited. — Paul Gutierrez
RB Ezekiel Elliott will lead the league in rushing.
Training camp? Who needs training camp? Elliott will have three practices under his belt by the time the Cowboys play the New York Giants in Sunday’s season opener. He might not be vintage Elliott in Week 1 and potentially Week 2 as he works into game shape, but he will lead the league in rushing for the second straight season and third time in his four years. This time, however, he will likely have to come from behind to claim the title. — Todd Archer
Field Yates likes Giants TE Evan Engram because he can see Eli Manning making Engram his most targeted pass catcher.
TE Evan Engram will top 1,000 yards receiving.
The Giants’ passing game is going to revolve around the tight ends and Saquon Barkley, especially early in the season with Eli Manning as the starting quarterback. That bodes well for Engram, who was second among all tight ends with 320 receiving yards over the final four weeks of last season when he was finally healthy. If he can remain healthy, Engram is going to be the Giants’ big-play receiver with Beckham Jr. no longer on the roster. They’re planning on Engram playing a massive role. That’s why they’ve kept him in bubble wrap most of the summer. — Jordan Raanan
The NFC playoffs will run through Philadelphia.
The Super Bowl hangover was real in 2018, and the fact that Carson Wentz was dealing with a bad back for much of the season didn’t help. There is a renewed energy around the team entering this season. General manager Howie Roseman has helped assemble a group of talent that can rival any in the NFL. If the veteran-laden roster can hold up health-wise, the Eagles will be in the driver’s seat. — Tim McManus
The Redskins will trade LT Trent Williams for a draft pick or player.
Coach Jay Gruden said he “seriously doubts” they will, but the signs still point to Williams not returning. At some point, the Redskins will decide to move on. There are players rumored to be available, and while Jadeveon Clowney and Laremy Tunsil have been dealt, Tyreek Hill could be an option. The dynamic Chiefs receiver would require more than just Williams in a trade, but would add plenty of juice. Still, Washington might have to be content with a high draft pick in return. — John Keim
OLB Khalil Mack will finish with at least 20 sacks.
Mack is healthy, happy and completely engaged in Chicago’s training camp. Remember, he arrived in Week 1 last year without any offseason or preseason work and still dominated. Mack appears ready to have the best season of his NFL career. — Jeff Dickerson
The Detroit Lions go 10-6 … and make the playoffs.
Yes, this would be a complete record flip from last season and a lot of what has been shown so far from the franchise has been mediocre at best. But the depth at key positions is stronger than it’s been since 2014 — particularly on the defensive line — and if Detroit can manage the game with Kerryon Johnson rushing the ball, it should give Matthew Stafford more time and better passing windows. He also has stronger move-the-chains options at tight end, which should extend drives that faltered a year ago. From a prediction standpoint, this is the boldest I’ve ever gone with the Lions, a team that has typically lived in the 7-to-9 win world for much of the past half-decade. — Michael Rothstein
QB Aaron Rodgers will throw double-digit interceptions for the first time since 2010 and just the second time in his career.
Last year, Rodgers threw just two, but he threw the ball away at an alarming rate. Not that he will force more throws this season, but there are bound to be some miscues as he navigates his way through a new offense with a new playcaller. — Rob Demovsky
The Vikings will have a top-five rushing attack.
This outside-zone scheme is going to bring out the best in Dalvin Cook and Minnesota’s deep corps of running backs. Offensive line coach Rick Dennison, who is the run-game coordinator, will help Cook become a 1,000-yard rusher while also contributing to the passing game. Minnesota will go from the bottom of the league to one of the NFL’s most efficient rushing offenses. — Courtney Cronin
QB Matt Ryan will pass for more than 5,000 yards for the first time and lead the NFL in passing yards.
Twice in the past three years, Ryan has surpassed 4,900 passing yards, including a career-best 4,944 during his 2016 MVP season. Now that he’s reunited with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Ryan should have his share of attempts. Having an arsenal that includes arguably the NFL’s best receiver (Julio Jones), second-year gem Calvin Ridley, sure-handed Mohamed Sanu, Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper and dual-threat back Devonta Freeman makes Ryan’s job that much easier. In the process of reaching 5,000, Ryan will reach 50,000 passing yards, becoming the 10th player to accomplish that feat. — Vaughn McClure
Field Yates and Matthew Berry look back at Matt Ryan’s previous performance with Dirk Koetter as Falcons’ offensive coordinator and like the QB’s upside.
The Panthers will lead the league in sacks with rookie OLB Brian Burns winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
This is bold because the Panthers finished 27th in the league in sacks a year ago. But with the move to a 3-4 scheme and additions like Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin and Burns to a unit that already included Mario Addison, Shaq Thompson and Luke Kuechly, quarterbacks beware. As for Burns, four sacks in his first three preseason games weren’t an accident. He’s going to be a force. — David Newton
RB Alvin Kamara will catch 100 passes.
I don’t expect a major increase in Kamara’s workload now that Mark Ingram is gone. Sean Payton has made it clear he likes Kamara’s “pitch count” around 65-70% of the snaps, which is why the Saints signed veteran running back Latavius Murray. However, Kamara is vital to the passing game, and I think his 81 catches in both 2017 and 2018 are a floor. (He hit that total as a rookie even when Ingram caught 58 balls. And last year Kamara sat out Week 17.) Plus, the Saints have rarely played from behind in Kamara’s career. He would feast on catches if they ever get into hurry-up fourth-quarter situations. — Mike Triplett
Field Yates would not take Alvin Kamara with the top overall pick, but because of his talent, he wouldn’t think it’s a bad pick.
LB Devin White will win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
That doesn’t seem like a stretch for the fifth-overall draft pick, but it’s a rare feat for anyone who plays in Tampa Bay to garner national awards. Todd Bowles’ defense caters to inside linebackers. White is heavily involved with Bowles’ blitzes, which should result in a number of sacks, quarterback hits and tackles for loss, and he’s a sure tackler in the short passing game. — Jenna Laine
The Cardinals will lead the NFL in scoring and still miss the playoffs.
But this time, coach Kliff Kingsbury can’t blame the defensive issues on recruiting. There’s good reason to believe Kingsbury’s offense can be as potent and dynamic as it was in college. He’s coaching perhaps the best quarterback he’s ever worked with — and that’s saying something. Kingsbury, who has been compared to a young Bruce Arians, has an offensive mind on par with some of the best to work in the NFL. But the defense will be the liability for this team in 2019, despite how many points the Cardinals will score. — Josh Weinfuss
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald will break Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5 sacks.
He will also become the first player to be named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in three consecutive seasons and will be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, joining Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor as the only defensive players to earn the honor. — Lindsey Thiry
DT DeForest Buckner will reach 13 sacks and finish in the top 10 in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.
He’ll also become one of the highest-paid defenders in the NFL in the offseason. Buckner has quietly established himself as one of the most dominant interior players in the league, posting 12 sacks in 2018 while receiving plenty of attention from opposing offensive lines. Still, he hasn’t received the credit he deserves, largely because the 49ers haven’t won enough to for him to do so. But the Niners should be more competitive this season and, with edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa taking some of the additional blockers away, Buckner is well-positioned to finally become a household name outside of the Bay Area. — Nick Wagoner
LB Bobby Wagner will be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Wagner has been in the conversation the past few seasons but has lost to pass-rushers J.J. Watt, Mack and Donald. Sacks tend to go a long way in the voting, and Wagner hasn’t had as many opportunities for those as an inside linebacker in a defense that doesn’t blitz much. But the Seahawks might have to rely more on Wagner as a blitzer, at least early in the season with Jarran Reed suspended and Ezekiel Ansah being eased back into the rotation. Five-plus sacks and another season with more than 130 tackles will put Wagner in position to become the only inside linebacker other than Kuechly to win the award over the past decade. — Brady Henderson