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2024 NFL season: Predicting each AFC team's MVP

For some organizations, projecting the team MVP entering a season isn't very taxing work. You just know who it is straight away. Oftentimes, it's a quarterback.

But for other clubs, it's not so easy. In some cases, it's because there are numerous viable options. In others, there aren't many clear-cut candidates -- at least not obvious ones. And yes, there is certainly a positional bias at work. It's sadly harder to make a case for an offensive lineman -- a cog in the ultimate position group of synergy and cohesion -- or perhaps a back-seven defender than it is for an offensive playmaker. Hey, at least I'm being honest with myself here!

As for the QB distribution, I knew the percentage of picks at that position would outweigh all the others by a significant margin. I didn't want to artificially limit how many quarterbacks I selected, but going in, I thought that ending up with about 16 of the 32 picks might be a respectable landing mark. Somehow, I ended up with fewer than half my team MVP predictions being quarterbacks. Am I doing this right? Or did I take it too far as a way of proving a point about positional importance?

Please how I fared on these selections, some with a little more wiggle room than others, as you might notice.

Baltimore Ravens
2023 record: 13-4
Lamar Jackson
QB · Year 7

I'm not going to get cute here and project RB Derrick Henry, WR Zay Flowers or any member of the Ravens' fine defensive or special teams units, commendable as they might be. Jackson plays the game's most important position and was the league's deserved MVP last season, capturing his second such award in a five-year span. Aside from the debate over Lamar's in the playoffs, there's absolutely no reason to even toy with any other option in Baltimore.

Buffalo Bills
2023 record: 11-6
Josh Allen
QB · Year 7

On the one hand, you might say that Buffalo's offseason purge stripped Allen of key weaponry and weakened his support system, and that therefore Buffalo must win games in a different fashion in this post-Stefon Diggs era. But I'll take the opposite side of the coin and argue that never have Allen and his game-changing ability been more important to the team. In short, the Bills will go as far as Allen can carry them -- and in the long run, he might even end up a better quarterback than he was before.

Look, you won't find many bigger fans of linebacker Matt Milano than me, and maybe Greg Rousseau has a 15-sack breakout-type season up his sleeve in 2024. But with Milano coming off a significant leg injury and Rousseau still an up-and-comer as a fourth-year pro, this one isn't even close. No mental gymnastics can get me off my Allen pick -- a.k.a., the obvious and only selection now.

Cincinnati Bengals
2023 record: 9-8
Joe Burrow
QB · Year 5

As with picking Jackson for the Ravens and Allen for the Bills, there's no need to get contrarian here. Even with Burrow coming off a season-ending wrist injury that led him to recently ponder his "football mortality," he continues to represent Cincinnati's best chance of getting back to a Super Bowl. The Bengals know they must do everything they can to keep him upright, and the team's offseason plan backed that up with two big additions at offensive tackle (free agent Trent Brown and first-round pick Amarius Mims). 

The injury factor can't be ignored, and it's fair to point out that backup Jake Browning put up some Burrow-like production in the QB1's absence, even surpassing some of Joe's numbers last year in Zac Taylor's offense. That said, consider Burrow's history when healthy enough to start more than 10 games in a season. The sample size is small (two seasons), but the results (trips to the Super Bowl in 2021 and the AFC title game in 2022) are persuasive.

Cleveland Browns
2023 record: 11-6
Myles Garrett
DE · Year 8

I don't have complete faith that QB Deshaun Watson will elevate his play to team-MVP levels this season, even if there's still faint hope he can regain his star quotient from the Texans days. Watson is too much of a wild card to me, and it was hard not to notice that the Browns' offense -- even while dealing with a rash of other injuries -- seemed to operate a little smoother at times with Joe Flacco running the show in the playoff push after Watson was lost to season-ending shoulder surgery

Garrett is the easy alternative for a team that won games, first and foremost, with its defense last season. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year rose to a different level in 2023, and while it might be hard for Garrett to match that level for a second straight season, there's no reason to think he can't again be the linchpin for one of the league's elite units. 

Denver Broncos
2023 record: 8-9
Patrick Surtain II
CB · Year 4

Though I admit that this race is wide open, I arrived at Surtain pretty quickly. It was never going to be one of the quarterbacks for me, not until I've seen more from Jarrett Stidham or Bo Nix. Receiver Courtland Sutton could be that guy, especially with Jerry Jeudy having been traded to Cleveland, but Sutton apparently remains at loggerheads with the team over his contract, and his production will be dependent on how the QBs perform.

Surtain isn't even coming off his best year, to be honest; in 2023, he committed more penalties (six) than he had in his first two seasons combined. He also allowed more receptions than he did in either Years 1 or 2, according to Pro Football Focus. But I believe he has the best chance to be Denver's MVP in 2024, given the makeup of the offense and the fact that he's the Broncos' top defender right now, at least on paper. Surtain was a more reliable tackler last season than he'd been previously, and he's tasked with containing WR1s on a weekly basis. If he can make a few more plays on the ball, earning this honor wouldn't be a stretch at all.

Houston Texans
2023 record: 10-7
C.J. Stroud
QB · Year 2

There are just going to be some quarterback layups, and when they're there, I am taking them every time. I rated Stroud slightly ahead of Bryce Young prior to the 2023 NFL Draft, but even in my wildest fever dreams, I couldn't have expected the bonanza rookie campaign C.J. put forth last season. What struck me most? His rare poise and precision -- you almost never find those traits individually in a first-year quarterback, much less together in the same package. 

New receiver Stefon Diggs is another viable candidate on offense, and Will Anderson Jr. also displayed the kind of talent in Year 1 that could make him a team MVP at some point. But not this year. Even if there's a case to be made that the Texans might not meet the sky-high expectations for them this season, no way am I veering off Stroud here.

Indianapolis Colts
2023 record: 9-8
Jonathan Taylor
RB · Year 5

The Colts have some standout performers on both sides of the ball who could make excellent choices. If QB Anthony Richardson can make it through the season healthy, or even relatively so, he's an obvious candidate. But one of my bigger reasons for not picking Richardson is my lingering fear of the shoulder injury that ended his 2023 season early, a setback which still appeared to be limiting him as recently as last month. That's not terribly encouraging, even if GM Chris Ballard said the QB will be "full-go" by training camp. Shoulder injuries can be tricky, and I'll feel better about Richardson after seeing him log some real, uninhibited snaps.

Taylor is somewhat of a leap-of-faith pick, given that he's coming off his worst statistical season, and he's now turned in less than a complete body of work on the field for two years in a row. But I have faith he'll revert back to the production he put up in Years 1 and 2 of his pro career, when he was the Colts' unquestioned workhorse. Last year's contract drama is a distant memory, and he started looking healthier and more dynamic down the stretch in 2023. Last we saw him, in the Week 18 loss to Houston, Taylor tore up the Texans for 188 rushing yards.

Jacksonville Jaguars
2023 record: 9-8
Trevor Lawrence
QB · Year 4

Edge rusher Josh Allen was the Jaguars' MVP last season, as he ascended to new heights in his fifth pro campaign, while Lawrence dipped back a bit following a breakout Year 2. I truly thought long and hard about doubling down with Allen here, and there's no good reason for me to think he'll backslide, even after he secured a massive extension. But could his stats look a little less beefy after he piled up 17.5 sacks in 2023?

I really will be surprised if we don't see Lawrence take a step in the right direction again this season. Does he need to stop turning the ball over and getting sacked as much as he has? Absolutely. Those have been my biggest knocks against him. But the makings of a good offensive line appear to be in place, and I am not as down on Jacksonville's receivers as some seem to be. In the hands of Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Press Taylor, Lawrence is due for a rebound, and that nudges me ever so slightly in his direction over Allen, who figures to be the focus of every offense he faces this season. 

Kansas City Chiefs
2023 record: 11-6
Patrick Mahomes
QB · Year 8

I'm sure someone could present a respectable argument about TE Travis Kelce being worthy of this honor, given that he's typically been the one week-in-and-week-out option on whom Mahomes can rely, but that argument won't be coming from me. As with my selection of Lamar Jackson and a few other clear-cut picks on this list, there's just no sense in trying to outthink myself. Mahomes, for my money, remains the best QB in the game, even if others had better numbers in 2023. Tell me I'm wrong.

Las Vegas Raiders
2023 record: 8-9
Maxx Crosby
DE · Year 6

I thought long and hard about Davante Adams here, as the Raiders present nearly the ideal situation for giving a wide receiver this honor. The QB situation lacks pizzazz, but you could make a case for Aidan O'Connell and Gardner Minshew combining to play solid ball while Adams puts up another banner season. Truthfully, though, I felt like Adams was good, not great, in 2023, and this offense has just a few too many questions for me, overall.

From there (no disrespect to left tackle Kolton Miller), I boiled this choice down to one of the Raiders' two top-notch defensive linemen. And as great as Christian Wilkins is individually, I went with Crosby because of his statistical dominance, and because of the fact that he's generated game-changing plays at a higher rate throughout his career. Bringing in Wilkins could do wonders for Crosby, who to this point has wreaked incredible havoc without having a ton of elite-level help alongside him. There's this worry in the back of my head that Crosby's long-term longevity might become a concern in a few years, given that he's been logging a lot of snaps lately, but I honestly wouldn't put a 20-sack, 30-tackles-for-loss and five-forced-fumble type of season past him in 2024. And the Raiders might need every single play they can get out of him, given that they currently seem to be built to try to win a lot of 20-17 games.

Los Angeles Chargers
2023 record: 5-12
Justin Herbert
QB · Year 5

It's absolutely fair to point out that Jim Harbaugh should bring a firm, unwavering commitment to the run game to the Chargers. It's been a hallmark of Harbaugh's teams nearly everywhere he's coached. Still, running the ball more frequently doesn't necessarily portend a dip in Herbert's play. If anything, it could make him a more efficient quarterback.

True, Herbert might have posted his beefiest passing numbers in his second and third seasons, when the Chargers ranked 22nd and 28th in rushing attempts, respectively, in the league. But go back and look at Herbert's rookie campaign, when the Bolts ranked ninth in rushes, and you can see he threw for 4,336 yards and 31 TDs (with only 10 INTs) on fewer than 600 passes. Even with L.A. fielding a lesser receiving corps this season, I could see Herbert producing at a similar level in 2024.

Miami Dolphins
2023 record: 11-6
Tyreek Hill
WR · Year 9

You can clearly make a case here for QB Tua Tagovailoa, who was mostly terrific in 2023, but I don't want to imagine what this Dolphins offense looks like without Hill. Last year, Hill scored in 11 of his 16 games and became one of only a handful of players over the past few decades to average more than 110 receiving yards per game for a season. He was on pace to break Calvin Johnson's receiving-yards record before a late-season ankle injury ended that threat.

Miami did win the one game he missed last season, trouncing the Jets 30-zip, but New York's four turnovers were the story of that one. When Hill is on the field, he dictates vastly different coverage and forces defenses to honor his elite, game-breaking speed. I'm a little surprised Mike McDaniel hasn't dabbled more with Hill as a runner, like Andy Reid did with Hill during his time with the Chiefs, but there's also the matter of keeping the Dolphins' best offensive player as healthy as possible.

New England Patriots
2023 record: 4-13
Rhamondre Stevenson
RB · Year 4

This one is tricky, to put it nicely. There simply is no one obvious candidate. On offense, I considered Stevenson and offensive lineman Michael Onwenu; on defense, pass rusher Matthew Judon and safeties Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers came to mind. It was hard to back Onwenu, considering the Patriots' OL questions on the whole, and the defenders each came with drawbacks. Judon has 32 sacks in 38 games with the Patriots but turns 32 years old soon and is coming off a major injury.

Stevenson is fresh off an underwhelming campaign (4.4 yards per touch, four TDs) himself. But two years ago, he was one of the few reliable producers for a stagnant New England offense, totaling 1,461 yards from scrimmage, and he might have to be the workhorse once again in 2024. He's a quality downhill runner and capable receiver who could thrive in an Alex Van Pelt system. The former Browns offensive coordinator oversaw four straight top-12 rushing attacks in Cleveland, spearheaded by bigger backs in the Stevenson mold, so Rhamondre's my MVP flier for now, while the rest of the offense remains a deconstructed ship in a bottle. 

New York Jets
2023 record: 7-10
Breece Hall
RB · Year 3

Whoa, buddy. I realize this might be a controversial call here, since I'm not only bypassing Sauce Gardner and Quinnen Williams on defense but also Aaron Rodgers and Garrett Wilson on offense. I can assure you I didn't arrive at this pick easily. 

Both defenders are terrific, and the Jets' defense might still have to do a lot of the heavy lifting for the team. This also isn't some thinly veiled anti-Rodgers entry, because I think they clearly need him to win. But we might not see vintage Rodgers in a season where he's turning 41, even if he'll clearly help Wilson thrive more as a receiver.

Ultimately, Hall looked so good to me down the stretch after an up-and-down start to the season (some of which was clearly not his fault). In the Jets' final three games, he ran for 357 yards and three TDs, caught 23 passes and another TD, and added a 2-point conversion for good measure. Now factor in Hall being another year removed from ACL surgery, and it's not hard to see how he could be a massive part of this offense as a runner and receiver.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2023 record: 10-7
T.J. Watt
OLB · Year 8

The quarterback play should be better in Pittsburgh, one way or another, but I can't put enough of my weight behind either Russell Wilson or Justin Fields to go with either here. Watt is the easier selection as the centerpiece of a very good defense that will remain the superior side on this team. Last season was another brilliant one from Watt, whose next big milestone could be passing the 100-sack mark before he turns 30 years old in October. Short of a major injury, I can't see how he doesn't dominate again in 2024, surrounded by a strong supporting cast and working with an offense that's better but still the lesser of the two major units on this team.

Tennessee Titans
2023 record: 6-11
Jeffery Simmons
DT · Year 6

The Titans committed major offseason resources to bolstering the offense and giving QB Will Levis every chance to succeed this season, from hiring new offensive-minded head coach Brian Callahan to helping the O-line and adding pass-catching prowess. Even with the loss of Derrick Henry, I think you can say this was a net positive on that side of the ball for Tennessee.

But I don't know if there's one player on offense, either DeAndre Hopkins or Calvin Ridley, who will be singularly elite; I suspect they'll sort of cancel each other out, and Levis remains a tad too unproven. Why not pick a dominant, three-down, multi-technique defender entering his prime years? Simmons is coming off a knee injury and wasn't quite as dominant last season as he was the two years prior, but there's no doubt he could bounce back in a big way -- and perhaps lead a surprise revival for the Titans in 2024.

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