By Eddie Young, Joey Bachich, Aidan Mastandrea, Joe Caruso and Zach Jacovini
Sports Editor and Staff Writers
The NFL season is back, and with its return comes the return of hot takes about the entire league. Every member of the sports staff for The Signal is here to give you one bold prediction to lock in before the season.
Eddie’s Take: Jaguars win the AFC behind a Trevor Lawrence MVP Season
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been on the rise from the moment they drafted Trevor Lawrence first overall in the 2021 draft. After a rough rookie season for Lawrence that was littered with interceptions and saw the team’s head coach get fired, the Jaguars took a big step forward last season on the back of their star young quarterback. Lawrence improved on every major statistical category in his second year, the Jaguars won the NFC South, and they had a massive 27 point comeback win led by Lawrence in his first playoff game. All signs point to this team and its quarterback continuing to improve this upcoming season. They have an easy schedule, thanks largely in part to them playing in one of the worst divisions in the NFL, competing against an aging Titans team and young Texans and Colts teams looking beyond this season to the future. Calvin Ridley, the talented receiver who the Jaguars traded for at the trade deadline last season, will have served his suspension and is going to debut for the team this season. Lastly, Trevor Lawrence, who was touted as one of the best quarterback prospects ever when he was drafted, is showing more and more signs of becoming the superstar many thought he would be. This season, he will finally step into his own and win the NFL MVP award while leading his team to the Super Bowl past all of the other juggernaut teams in the AFC.
Joey’s Take: Steelers win the AFC North
Right now, the Steelers are the betting underdogs to win the division behind the Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. All offseason, the Steelers have been quietly praising their young second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett about how he has improved dramatically since last season. Pickett is surrounded by one of the most underrated wide receiver corps in the league along with the running back duo of bruiser Najee Harris and receiving back Jaylen Warren, who should have a 60/40 split this season in touches. The Steelers defense should return to the top ten this season with star T.J. Watt having had a full offseason to heal his pectoral muscle, which he injured early last season. The Steelers also added key rookies like cornerback Joey Porter Jr. from Penn State and former University of Wisconsin teammates, linebacker Nick Herbig and defensive lineman Keeanu Benton. This team has the coaching and the talent to make a mark on this NFL season and return to the playoffs as the winners of the AFC North.
Aidan’s Take: Jets miss the playoffs and Aaron Rodgers retires
The hype around the New York Jets this season is through the roof. Between the acquisition of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the spotlight from the HBO show Hard Knocks, expectations for the Jets are high. While the defense is special, Rodgers will not be enough to take this team to the next level. Coming off of a down year statistically, Rodgers now finds himself in a season which will see him turn 40 years old. His age, mixed with a very tough schedule early on, will lead Rodgers and the Jets to struggle and have them missing the playoffs for the 13th straight season. Rodgers, who has been contemplating retirement for years, will see the writing on the wall and call it quits at the end of this season, leaving the Jets once again with an above average roster and no quarterback to lead them.
Joe’s Take: Garrett Wilson and Sauce Gardner win Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year
After their stint on the yearly hit series Hard Knocks, there is perhaps no team that is exceeding the hype of the New York Jets this preseason, and rightfully so. Future hall of fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be under the helm, but it is New York’s pair of young All-Pro skill position players that will lead the team. A stellar season from Garrett Wilson saw him take home Offensive Rookie of the Year, despite some less than ideal quarterback play from now-backup Zach Wilson. Garrett Wilson will enter a Davante Adams-esque role with elevated quarterback play that should lead to an increase in already impressive statistics for the second year product out of Ohio State. On the other side of the ball, there may have been no cornerback who was more impressive than Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner last season. The rookie out of Cincinnati bullied opposing wideouts en route to winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in a landslide. Gardner should continue to prosper in coach Robert Salah’s defense as he continues hound offenses. The duo of Wilson and Gardner became the first teammate duo since 2017 to take home the honors of Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year, and this season, they will become the first teammate duo since 2003 to take home the Associated Press Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Zach’s Take: Kenny Pickett takes a massive step forward
If one were to take a look at Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett’s numbers from last season, they likely would not be immediately impressed with what they saw. Over the course of the 2022-2023 NFL campaign, Kenny Pickett appeared in 13 games, throwing for seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. Over the course of a full season, those numbers would paint Pickett as an average to below-average quarterback at best, but as usual, the numbers do not tell the whole story with the young quarterback. Pickett’s Steelers finished their last six games of the season with a 5-1 record, with Pickett steadily improving every game. This season, he will continue improving and will be seen as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, improving more than anyone else.