With one day left before NFL season begins, it’s time for predictions

One more day, people.

Thursday finally marks the day we stop pretending baseball is an entertaining sport and start seeing our fantasy players come to life. Thursday marks the day we push that homework aside and stop watching HBO’s Hard Knocks to get your football fix. Thursday, my friends, is the beginning of the NFL season.

In honor of the start of the season — which begins with a matchup between the Broncos and Ravens on Thursday — I’ve assembled my predictions for 2013’s accolades.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Eddie Lacy

Lacy, the 61st overall pick of the draft, has the ability to make the rest of the NFL regret passing him up twice. Lacy did nothing but produce at Alabama, rushing for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns during his final season in Tuscaloosa. Those numbers are outstanding even without considering Lacy’s ridiculous 6.5 yards per carry, which was actually a career-low (he averaged 7.1 and 7.3 YPC the previous two seasons). The Packers provide an opportunity for Lacy to thrive with only fellow rookie running Jonathan Franklin threatening the two-time national champion for carries as Mike McCarthy favorite Dujuan Harris has been ruled out for the season with a knee injury. Green Bay will always have a pass-happy offense with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, but with 230 lbs behind him, Lacy figures to be a monster at the goal line this season.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jarvis Jones

Guys with chips on their shoulder are scary, and at 6-foot-2 and 245 lbs, Jarvis Jones is pretty much as scary as they get. Jones was once considered a lock for the top five in the 2013 NFL Draft, but he ended up falling to the Steelers at 17. There wasn’t a better fit in the entire draft. Jones, who amassed at least 13.5 sacks each of his last two seasons at Georgia, figures to wreak havoc in Pittsburgh. Even if he doesn’t start right off the bat, Mike Tomlin is going to have a hard time keeping Jones out of the defensive rotation. Dion Jordan, a defensive end selected third overall by Miami, is also an intriguing rookie, but Jones’ intensity puts him over the top.

Comeback Player of the Year: Maurice Jones-Drew

I could’ve gone with Robert Griffin III here, but I feel like guys who didn’t miss any games shouldn’t count for this award. Adrian Peterson finished second in this award last year to Peyton Manning without missing any games, but I’d rather pick a guy that actually had to sit out for a handful of weeks. A mid-foot fracture forced MJD to miss 10 games last season. His last healthy season in 2011 he led the NFL in rushing with 1,606 yards. At 5-foot-7, Jones-Drew doesn’t have much size, but have fun trying to tackle him. With tree trunks for legs and a lower center of gravity than Verne Troyer, a healthy Jones-Drew figures to be a nightmare for NFL defenses. The Jaguars also have Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne as their quarterbacks, so expect MJD to run it no matter how bad Jacksonville is getting blown out.

Offensive Player of the Year and MVP: Drew Brees

Is there even a difference between Offensive Player of the Year and MVP? I understand if, for example, J.J. Watt wins MVP over Adrian Peterson, but how could you justify Aaron Rodgers winning MVP in 2011 but not Offensive Player of the Year? That award belonged to Drew Brees, who I expect to win again this year, along with MVP. The Saints could only muster seven wins last season sans Sean Payton, but this season New Orleans will rebound, big time. It is scary thinking that Brees can actually improve after throwing for an NFL-leading 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns last season. Brees’ own record of 5,476 passing yards that he set in 2011 is in danger. With weapons such as Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles (at 5-foot-4 myself, I have to work in as many short people into this column as possible), Brees is in line for a historic season. Add in the Saints improved win total, and MVP voters will have a hard time passing up on Brees.

Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt

I was surprised when Watt didn’t receive any MVP votes last season because the dude was that good. Watt became the first player in NFL history with at least 14 sacks and 14 passes defended in a season. He easily surpassed it too, finishing with a league-leading 20.5 sacks to go along with 16 passes defended. Watt’s chances as repeating as defensive player of the year has gone up even more so now that last year’s runner up – Von Miller – is suspended for the first six games of the season. Considering Watt improved his sack total by 15 from his rookie to sophomore season while quadrupling his passes defended, the next step for Watt might be the first ever 20-20 campaign next season.

Super Bowl champion: San Francisco 49ers

Manning has the ability to get the Broncos to the big game, especially with Wes Welker now in the mix, but Colin Kaepernick and Co. have more than enough to bring home the Lombardi this season. Five yards separated the 49ers from a championship in 2012, and San Francisco will only get stronger next season. Yes, the 49ers’ leading receiver Michael Crabtree will miss at least the first six weeks of the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon, but Kaepernick’s wizardry will more than make up for the loss. If you prorated Kaepernick’s numbers to simulate him playing 16 games as a starter last season instead of eight, he would’ve thrown for 3,450 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 608 yards. Those numbers are pretty gaudy for a guy who didn’t start playing consistently until Nov. 11. Even more important than Kaepernick is San Francisco’s stifling defense, which finished third in the league in fewest yards allowed and second in opponents’ points per game last season. That defense is led by Patrick Willis, who might be the least player in the league I’d want to start a fight with (Ndamukong Suh and Julius Peppers are also on that list, and especially James Harrison. Beasts such as Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks), Justin Smith (8 tackles for loss) and NaVorro Bowman (148 combined tackles) also return to one of the NFL’s most intimidating defenses. This may be the year San Francisco gets its first Superbowl championship since 1994.

Michael is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]