2014 NFL Preview and Predictions

Posted: September 1, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

This time a year ago, the Atlanta Falcons were a trendy Super Bowl pick out of the NFC. Coming off a 2012 season in which they earned the conference’s #1 seed, Atlanta was poised to return to the playoffs behind Tony Gonzalez and free agent acquisition Steven Jackson. It didn’t take long for the prognosticators to eat a fair helping of crow, as Atlanta tanked their season away to the tune of a 4-12 record.

This season, the popular picks to venture to Arizona in February are Denver, Seattle, New England, and San Francisco. The final four teams from last season are a popular pick to win it all this season? You don’t say. While it’s possible if not bradypackplausible that one or two of these teams could find themselves at University of Phoenix Stadium next winter, it’s also just as likely that the Super Bowl participants are two dark-horses. Few believed that the New York Giants could overcome the odds to win it all in 2011. A year later, the underdog Baltimore Ravens won their second Lombardi Trophy against all odds.

In the end, the most important characteristics of a championship team are defense and health. Look back at the Super Bowl champions of the past decade, and you’d be hard pressed to find one with a subpar defensive unit. Likewise, the teams like New York who overcame early season injuries and got healthy down the stretch are the ones likely to make a deep run in January.

The frontrunners are clear: the four franchises previously mentioned joined by the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. They’re followed by a pack of dark horse contenders; teams who have the necessary talent to make a deep run. But, might just be missing that final championship caliber ingredient. Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Carolina represent this bracket. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see any one of these teams in the Super Bowl. But, it would also take an upset or two for that scenario to occur. Teams like San Diego, Baltimore, Detroit, and Arizona also have a puncher’s chance. But, there are too many question marks to seriously consider any of them good bets.

We won’t know for sure who will be battling it out in Super Bowl XLIX. One thing we do know, however, is that the NFL is nearly upon us; and that is the greatest news we’ve heard all summer…

AFC East

1. New England Patriots – 12-4
2. New York Jets – 9-7
3. Miami Dolphins – 8-8
4. Buffalo Bills – 6-10

The New England Patriots greatly improved their defense by landing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the offseason. With Tom Brady still under center, there will be no stopping them from winning yet another AFC East title…New York could go anywhere from 10-6 to 6-10. I still like their defense despite a shaky secondary. That defensive line is the best in the conference and a more mature Geno Smith should be able to keep the Jets in contention until the end of the season…Miami would have made the playoffs with just one more win last year. But, their rebuilt offensive line won’t have enough time to gel for a playoff run in 2014. That could spell doom for Ryan Tannehill, who’s been sacked more than anyone else since the start of 2012…The Buffalo Bills are going to regret dealing a first round pick in 2015 to Cleveland for Sammy Watkins. The young WR can’t stay healthy and second year QB EJ Manuel is regressing. Doug Marrone might be looking for a new job come January.

AFC North

1. Cincinnati Bengals – 10-6
2. Baltimore Ravens – 9-7*
3. Cleveland Browns – 6-10
4. Pittsburgh Steelers – 5-11

Cincinnati has been to the postseason each of the last three years under Marvin Lewis and has yet to win a playoff game. If the Bengals fail to do so again, can ownership really justify bringing Lewis back? They can’t get rid of QB Andy Dalton now that he’s signed to a $100 million contract. The Bengals should have enough talent to take this division again, albeit by a razor thin margin…If anyone can wrestle the crown from Cincy, it’s the Super Bowl XLVIII champion Baltimore Ravens. Last year, Baltimore suffered through a championship hangover en route to an 8-8 finish. They will struggle to score at times this season. But, their improving defense should be talented enough to keep them in it until the very end…Believe it or not, the Cleveland Browns won’t finish in last place in 2014. Their newfound depth at running back combined with a ferocious and youthful defense should keep them ahead of a woeful Pittsburgh Steelers team. This isn’t the Steel Curtain of old, as Pittsburgh’s lack of depth on offense at both the line and skill positions will leave Todd Haley out of a job and Big Ben scoping out the Georgia bar restrooms.

AFC South

1. Indianapolis Colts – 11-5
2. Houston Texans – 8-8
3. Tennessee Titans – 7-9
4. Jacksonville Jaguars – 4-12

Playing in a lackluster division will help Indianapolis contend for a bye week. The Colts do have some tough matchups against New England, Denver, and Philadelphia. But, the fact that they get to play their three divisional opponents as well as the NFC East’s also-rans should give Indy enough capital to contend for a Super Bowl…If Bill O’Brien is able to lead the Houston Texans to the playoffs in his first season, he should get a statue built in his honor outside Reliant Stadium. While that is very unlikely, the talent Houston has on both sides of the ball combined with a last-place schedule should afford them enough opportunities to contend…Tennessee is relying on Jake Locker to stay healthy in 2014. That’s a gamble they’ve lost each of the last two seasons…Finally, the Jaguars come in with a high upside rookie QB and not much else. A few more solid drafts and Gus Bradley should have a contender on his hands (if he makes it that long).

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos – 12-4
2. San Diego Chargers – 10-6*
3. Kansas City Chiefs – 7-9
4.Oakland Raiders – 3-13

The most surprising thing about this division might be that Denver doesn’t win 13 or more games. After their offseason spending spree, everyone is picking the Broncos to win the West for the fourth straight season. Honestly, there’s no reason not to. It’s the January failures of Peyton Manning that should give prognosticators pause; not his regular season successes…San Diego is one of my favorite dark horses this season. Philip Rivers is among the best in the business at his position and the QB trio of Ryan Mathews, Donald Brown, and Danny Woodhead is enough to make a defensive coordinator’s head spin…Kansas City fans should expect a gradual drop off from their 2013 success. The Chiefs are no longer playing a last place schedule and their defense, so promising during the first half of last season, looked much more vulnerable once teams started to figure it out…Finally, we have the Raiders, who are among the worst looking teams in the league coming into the season. Matt Schaub has been atrocious and the defense, rebuilt with aging veterans, isn’t much better.

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles – 10-6
2. Dallas Cowboys – 8-8
3. Washington Redskins – 6-10
4. New York Giants – 4-12

 The Eagles may not enjoy the level of success that some of their fans believe they will. But, a stellar running game coupled with what should be a scary screen attack with Darren Sproles and Zach Ertz in tow should be enough to overcome a mediocre defense en route to their second straight division championship…After years of overhype, the Dallas Cowboys might be flying a bit under the radar this season. Yes, their defense is putrid. But, their Romo led offense should be top-five in football with Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams representing some really talented targets…One team that no one can agree upon is the Washington Redskins (yes, I said the name). Some believe that Washington will challenge Philadelphia thanks to their addition of DeSean Jackson to an already talented offense. Others think that the rapid decline of RG3 coupled with a woeful defense will leave the Redskins picking top-five in 2015. I’ll go somewhere in the middle. Though, I think they’d have a better chance at contending with Kirk Cousins under center…Finally, we have the New York Giants, whose new offensive scheme, aging roster, and patchwork secondary will likely lead to a last place finish in 2014.

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers – 11-5
2. Chicago Bears – 10-6*
3. Detroit Lions – 8-8
4. Minnesota Vikings – 5-11

Green Bay is easily the favorite in the North. After all, the Packers won the division a year ago despite missing Aaron Rodgers for a third of the campaign. An improved defense with Julius Peppers and Haha Clinton-Dix should help Green Bay return to the postseason…The only other “true” contender from the North is Chicago. The Bears blew their chance at a division title by losing their final two games last season when one win was all that was needed. I like Marc Trestman and I think that Jay Cutler will have a Pro Bowl quality season offensively. But, the Bears didn’t do enough to improve one of the worst rush defenses in recent memory. That will handicap their chances at a division title in 2014…For Jim Caldwell, this opportunity with Detroit represents a mulligan of sorts after the one time AFC champion head coach was fired in Indianapolis following a grueling 2011 campaign. Caldwell may have more offensive weapons than he did in Indy, with Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew, Reggie Bush, and Joique Bell all combining to give Matt Stafford a reason to succeed. But, Detroit has yet to prove that they can make all the talent work come December. Until they do that, they’ll remain pretenders in a difficult division…Minnesota did some good things this offseason. A solid draft and a brilliant hire of Mike Zimmer as coach should have the Vikings contenders by the time they move into their new stadium in 2016. But, that rebuilding plan will take some time. Whether or not Adrian Peterson is still a force by that point will be a question that the Vikings’ front office will have to consider.

NFC South

1. New Orleans Saints – 12-4
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9-7
3. Atlanta Falcons – 7-9
4. Carolina Panthers – 6-10

Despite a second place finish in 2013, New Orleans is clearly the class of the South this season. The additions of Jairus Byrd and Brandin Cooks will instantly prove integral as New Orleans wraps up home field advantage in the NFC playoffs…The rest of this division could go in any direction, as all three clubs had busy offseasons. Tampa Bay perhaps improved the most on the field (with the exception of their hideous new helmets) by landing QB Josh McCown from Chicago and drafting WR Mike Evans in the first round. He, along with Vincent Jackson and second round TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, gives Lovie Smith the type of offensive firepower that he never had with the Bears. If the classic Tampa-2 offense continues to succeed for Smith, expect Tampa Bay to be one of the most improved teams in football…The Atlanta Falcons should also expect an upswing in 2014 with the return of Julio Jones from injury as well as the maturity of a young defensive unit. Whether or not Matt Ryan can return this team to the postseason will depend on the lackluster running game and inexperienced offensive line…From first-to-worst, the Carolina Panthers saw too many integral pieces depart over the offseason to be expected to succeed once again in a tough division. I like WR Kelvin Benjamin in the long term. But, a banged up Cam Newton will miss some time and the Panthers’ aging running attack won’t have enough juice left in the tank to supplement his loss.

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks – 11-5
2. San Francisco 49ers – 10-6*
3. Arizona Cardinals – 8-8
4. St. Louis Rams – 5-11

An opening night home defeat at the hands of the Green Bay Packers will cost the defending champions a bye week in the NFC playoffs. Still, the Seattle Seahawks should have enough returning talent to overcome an early season swoon and win the West for the second straight year…San Francisco’s injuries will leave them struggling early much like Seattle. But, a rejuvenated Colin Kaepernick and improved depth at the skill positions will send the 49ers into the playoffs on a winning streak…Arizona is a popular pick to make the playoffs this season as they set their sights on a home Super Bowl this February. I’m not buying it. The Cardinals won 10 games last season in a year where everything went right for them. With mounting injuries and suspensions defensively and an aging Carson Palmer under center, can one really expect Arizona to reach double digit wins again? I just don’t see it…Finally, we have the St. Louis Rams, who would have been bonafide contenders had it not been for the loss of Sam Bradford to another torn-ACL. With Shaun Hill (who hasn’t played significant time since 2010) under center, the Rams offense will once again be one dimensional, leading to the talented defense spending too much time on the field even for their standards. Another top-10 pick should bring a young gunslinger like Marcus Mariota or Brett Hundley into St. Louis as they continue to search for a franchise QB.

Awards

Most Valuable Player – QB Drew Brees, New Orleans

Offensive Player of the Year – RB LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia

Defensive Player of the Year – DE JJ Watt, Houston

Offensive Rookie of the Year – RB Bishop Sankey, Tennessee

Defensive Rookie of the Year – S Haha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay

Comeback Player of the Year – RB Doug Martin, Tampa Bay

Coach of the Year – Bill O’Brien, Houston

NFL Playoffs

AFC

1. New England Patriots – 12-4
2. Denver Broncos – 12-4
3. Indianapolis Colts – 11-5
4. Cincinnati Bengals – 10-6
5. San Diego Chargers – 10-6
6. Baltimore Ravens – 9-7

NFC

1. New Orleans Saints – 12-4
2. Green Bay Packers – 11-5
3. Seattle Seahawks – 11-5
4. Philadelphia Eagles – 10-6
5. Chicago Bears – 10-6
6. San Francisco 49ers – 10-6

Wild Card Round

Colts-vs-Ravens

Baltimore Ravens – 31
Indianapolis Colts – 21

Recap: The Indianapolis Colts are upset at home by the playoff proven Baltimore Ravens despite Andrew Luck’s miraculous performance (14-17, 301 yards, 3 TD). The Super Bowl XLVIII champions are led by their rushing attack, which sees Ray Rice and Bernard Piece combine for 187 yards and 3 touchdowns.

eaglesbears

Chicago Bears – 14
Philadelphia Eagles – 48

Recap: Just over a year following the Eagles’ week 16 thrashing of Chicago, Philadelphia wins their first playoff game under Chip Kelly with a dominant performance from start-to-finish. Nick Foles sets an Eagles’ postseason record by throwing five touchdowns (to five different receivers, no less) in the win. Shady McCoy added 117-yards on 20 carries.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers – 10
Seattle Seahawks – 27

Recap: The Seattle Seahawks have no problem with their red hot division rivals at home, ending San Francisco’s season for the second straight year. With a 17-10 lead late in the fourth, Russell Wilson clinched the win with a 3-yard bootleg run for a score. Seattle out-possessed the 49ers 36:30 to 23:30 in the win. They’ll advance to face Green Bay next week.

dalton chargers

San Diego Chargers – 20
Cincinnati Bengals – 34

Recap: Behind a 21-6 fourth quarter onslaught, the Cincinnati Bengals won their first playoff game in over 20-years, getting revenge on San Diego to advance to their first divisional round matchup of the century. Much maligned Andy Dalton managed the game well. But, it’s RB Giovanni Bernard’s 166 yard, 2 touchdown rushing performance that leads the Bengals.

Divisional Round

daltonmanning

Cincinnati Bengals – 19
Denver Broncos – 10

Recap: In the biggest upset of the playoffs so far, the Cincinnati Bengals knock off the Denver Broncos in the divisional round. Behind their underrated and vastly improving young defense, Marvin Lewis and Co. advanced to the AFC Championship Game. It was a disappointing affair for the Broncos, who outgained Cincinnati 302-219 but were only able to come away with points on 2 of their 5 red zone possessions.

eaglessaints

Philadelphia Eagles – 31
New Orleans Saints – 17

Recap: Philadelphia continued their impressive performance against playoff teams in 2014 by outrushing New Orleans 242-114 in a 31-17 victory. Leading 23-17 midway through the fourth, LeSean McCoy’s 23-yard touchdown run quieted the Superdome and clinched the Eagles’ first trip to the NFC Championship Game since January, 2009. McCoy finished with 149-yards on 21 carries.

ravenspats

Baltimore Ravens – 15
New England Patriots – 23

Recap: One of the most underrated rivalries in football sees the New England Patriots advance to the AFC Championship Game for the fourth consecutive season. By holding Baltimore out of the endzone, the Patriots proved that their offseason spending spree was worth the price they paid. A week after they ran wild over Indianapolis, Baltimore was limited to 53 yards on 24 carries. Up by only one point with less than 3:00 to go, Tom Brady connected with Julian Edelman for a 6-yard score and the victory.

packerseahawks

Seattle Seahawks – 17
Green Bay Packers – 27

Recap: Seattle’s quest to repeat comes to an end in Lambeau Field, as Aaron Rodgers’ 45-yard touchdown strike to Jarrett Boykin puts Green Bay on top for good in the fourth quarter. Green Bay sacked Russell Wilson four times, limiting the Super Bowl champion to a 12-25 day. Eddie Lacy and James Starks each rushed for touchdowns as Green Bay advanced to face Philadelphia at home in the NFC Championship.

Championship Round

eaglespackers

Philadelphia Eagles – 22
Green Bay Packers – 24

Recap: In a light snow at historic Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers overcame a late Philadelphia rally to advance to their sixth Super Bowl appearance. Trailing 24-6 heading into the fourth quarter, the Eagles narrowed the deficit on their first drive of the frame with a LeSean McCoy 25-yard touchdown run. A Cody Parkey field goal later, Philadelphia got the ball at their own 32 trailing by 8 with 2:48 remaining. A 16-play, 63 yard drive ensued, ultimately culminating with a 6-yard Zach Ertz touchdown to trim the Packers’ lead to 24-22. Philadelphia knew that their Super Bowl dreams rested on a two-point conversion attempt. But, their subsequent attempt to run it in with McCoy was stopped inches short. The ensuing onside kick was recovered by the Packers, who went into “victory formation” to run out the clock.

pats bengals

Cincinnati Bengals – 13
New England Patriots – 20

Recap: New England’s defense stands tall again, sending Tom Brady and Co. back to the Super Bowl with a 20-13 win. Cincinnati had this game tied at 13 heading into the fourth quarter. But, a Darrelle Revis interception of Andy Dalton in Bengals territory led to the game winning touchdown reception by Shane Vereen. New England’s Tom Brady overcame two interceptions to earn his 7th AFC championship.

Super Bowl XLIX

champions

Green Bay Packers – 20
New England Patriots – 27

Recap: Ten years after their last Super Bowl title, the New England Patriots will once again be kings of the football world after overcoming Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLIX. Trailing 3-0 in the second quarter, Rodgers connected with WR Jordy Nelson to give the Pack their first lead of the game. Touchdowns from Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen later in the second quarter put New England on top 17-10 at the half.

In the second half, a Brandon LaFell touchdown reception saw the Patriots take the reigns midway through the third. But, Eddie Lacy’s 50-yard touchdown scamper to end the quarter cut the Packers’ deficit to 24-20 with 15 minutes remaining. Stephen Gostkowski put the Patriots up by 7 with a field goal on their opening possession of the fourth. After punts on their next two offensive series, Green Bay was left with one last chance for romance when they got the ball back with less than five minutes to go. An Eddie Lacy 16-yard run put the Packers in New England territory. But, a short run by James Starks followed by two incomplete passes put the game on Rodgers’ shoulders with a 4th and 8 from the 48. Rodgers escaped the Patriots’ pressure. But, was unable to connect with Andrew Quarless over the middle, turning the ball over on downs. The Pats ran out the clock to capture their fourth championship under Bill Belichick and Brady, who was named MVP.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s