What should most definitely be a roller coaster ride of an NFL season (perhaps a Kingda Ka with its rapid speed that will be through before you know it) is awaiting. What you will likely see is not just dominant performances from established teams that we know oh so well, but also some breakout competitors that will shock and do anything and everything to spark a reaction. In a league where the passing game is becoming key, yet a good running game most definitely helps and where the defense is heavily restricted, yet has to find a way to make it happen, things are going to get intense.
Listed below are my team predictions along with any other necessary commentary regarding the direction with which the teams will likely head. The records are give or take a game and are estimates based off of who plays who. You can call my predictions out of the ordinary, but I will just say that in 2012, I selected the Ravens over the Packers in the Super Bowl, which I got the victor correct (it was Ravens over 49ers). In 2013, I picked the Broncos over the 49ers and was oh so close on that one (it was Seahawks over Broncos). We shall see what this year brings...
New England Patriots (11-5)- For the last thirteen seasons, the Patriots went over .500. For eleven of the last thirteen seasons, the Patriots won their division and reached the playoffs. After five Super Bowl appearances and three Super Bowl victories, is this hot trend bound to stop? I don't think so! They remain just as relevant as they have always. It just so happens that the tandem of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady always seem to make something out of what they have, regardless of what the equation happens to be. With the division at large, there are teams establishing themselves, but not enough to make a break for it.
New York Jets (8-8)- Originally, I was going to dismiss this group as a flop for this upcoming season. What I realized is that the additions from free agency are actually gelling and doing so quite well. The key addition is that of running back Chris Johnson, who is often the first selection in fantasy football drafts across the country. While Geno Smith will be starting at QB, Michael Vick remains a valuable backup when needed. While he is seeing his end phase, he will still be reliable if he is for some reason needed. In a season where the AFC is going to be weaker, these Jets may take part in playoff contention, which may allow Rex Ryan with some more time at the helm.
Buffalo Bills (7-9)- I was about ready to declare that the Bills would reach and possibly break .500. While this remains a possibly with the young, growing team that they have put together, there is a strain spreading throughout the team. While discipline has been an issue, new ownership following the death of Ralph Wilson and rumors of making a move to Toronto remain floating through the air. While I am not a supporter of having a home team from outside of the country, what I do believe is that the Bills will improve, but not enough to reach the playoffs. With that being said, they are headed in the right direction, and Doug Marrone should be able to stick around until at least the 2015 season.
Miami Dolphins (4-12)- When the Dolphins had the playoffs at their fingertips last season, everything crumbled. At this point in time, the team faces and will face similar predicaments regarding whether or not they have the right time to go in and do the job. It may very well take another group to come in and readjust the team and it will not be lead by Joe Philbin.
Indianapolis Colts (13-3)- In all honesty, nothing really matters in this division at this point in time. The Colts will win the division in a more dominant way than ANY of the other teams. They will be the very first to win their division title and while the one seed will be unlikely, a first round bye is a strong possibility. This team is growing with young talent that is led by QB Andrew Luck and several weapons that he has to rely on in his offense, while his defense does what needs to be done as well. Last year, they made it over the hump of being able to win during the postseason once again. Next up: making it deep into the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)- Yes, the Jags will finish second in the division. They will so no true improvement and it will lead to questions regarding whether or not there is real talent and whether or not they should take the opportunity to relocate to a more decent market. Now the good news, Blake Bortles will get the nod to start very quickly, because Chad Henne is very subpar as the QB. Bortles will have the opportunity to make a break for it and establish himself, which will be detrimental for their cause come the 2014 season. If signs show positive, Gus Bradley may have another year to work with the team.
Houston Texans (4-12)- It should be an obvious decision to place the Texans as second in the division and even place them in the playoff race. The issue I see is that this can only get done if there is a clear view regarding the quarterback situation. The Texans did select Jadeveon Clowney in the first round to help compliment their defense, which really does not need to be polished all that much. While their numbers on this side of the ball are bound to go up, they will need to address the quarterback situation before they even think about breaking out and can talk about playoffs once again. Even if a wide receiver like Andre Johnson, quarterbacks Case Keenum or Ryan Fitzpatrick are not in the class of starting on an elite team.
Tennessee Titans (2-14)- A team in the AFC South will once again be my selection to finish dead last in the league. Surprisingly, this team is not the Jaguars, but instead the Titans. Why? Just about everything good about the team (Chris Johnson) is no longer with the team and Jake Locker is not going to be the breakout quarterback that everybody expected. What we have here is what should be something very identical to what Ken Whisenhunt put together with the Cardinals. The issue at hand is this: Kurt Warner is the reason the Cardinals were playoff contenders. Once Warner retired, they went 18-30 with the inability to fill in his empty cavity. It is a possibility that Whisenhunt can work with Locker, but if this does not work, Whisenhunt may be a one and done (which is unlikely for a lenient franchise like the Titans). Whisenhunt does best as an offensive coordinator, cut and dry. On the other hand, the addition of Ray Horton as defensive coordinator is a plus. If the Titans defense does at least a decent job, Horton may be considered for a head coaching position.
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)- The Bengals remain the hottest team in the AFC North and they will demonstrate their consistency going in to the 2014 season. Andy Dalton will remain a quiet, overlooked QB, while the remainder of the team will likely keep the pace with which they left off during this particular season. While both coordinators (Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer) were picked up for head coaching position, their shoes were filled quite well with Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther for offensive and defensive coordinator respectively. Jackson may very well be taking part in an audition for a head coaching gig of his own, despite the failed attempt with the Raiders.
Baltimore Ravens (8-8)- What the Ravens have going for them is a decent schedule that involves playing the AFC South, Dolphins, and Chiefs. ALL of these games place them in contention, even the Chiefs that looked so hot last year. Unfortunately, it is their defense and defense alone that will remain a relevant, though fading factor into their positive vibes. A mediocre record is going to be their best bet, but the days of ultimate dominance reflected by the beginning of John Harbaugh's coaching career with the team have gone by and all they can rely on now is a future of rapid changes.
Cleveland Browns (7-9)- The Browns are going to see some upward improvement during this particular era. The quarterback race between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel can go either way, because Manziel will ultimately work his way up to the position of starting quarterback, whether he is adored or despised. With a coach like Mike Pettine, who is coming in from the Bills, it is logical that he selects a reliable veteran to take the reigns. However, Pettine has an offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan, who should really shake things up and create somewhat of a powerful machine with this team. The Browns will come out with their best record since 2007, but the playoffs remain off the table until things become a bit more settled.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-10)- Unfortunately for the Steelers, what they will likely see is the end of an era. While Ben Roethlisberger remains with the team, he does not have many of targets to choose from and the offense is in a sticky situation that is bringing the team down. Even with a defense that is still respectable, but at the same time aging, what the team is going to need is a house cleaning. It is very likely that Mike Tomlin will not be back following this season and I am far more confident about the fact that Todd Haley will not be the offensive coordinator for the team. Dick LeBeau, on the other hand, will likely get to decide when to walk away, which I do not see being anytime soon.
Denver Broncos (14-2)- The Broncos are the most complete team in the NFL going into this upcoming year. John Fox remains the head coach, Adam Gase offensive coordinator, and Jack Del Rio the defensive coordinator, so we should definitely expect a second chapter to the incredible saga that QB Peyton Manning has left us with. The key difference will be this: Manning will demonstrate that the offense will remain explosive, but the additions of free agents DeMarcus Ware from the Cowboys and Aqib Talib from the Patriots will provide the team with the power of a freight train that is bound to stop at nothing to succeed during the upcoming season. A team where the head coach is a delegator, while the coordinators call the shots is one of two alternates to running the team (the other being the head coach calling the shots for either offense or defense) and I, for one, very much prefer this system that Fox is running.
San Diego Chargers (9-7)- I liked the groove the Chargers were getting into toward the end of this previous season. Ken Whisenhunt's offense was really bringing the resurgence that Philip Rivers most definitely deserves, while John Pagano's defense is making a powerful statement. Even if Whisenhunt coaching the Titans, the Chargers are definitely bound to keep pace with what they have and while Frank Reich's skill level as a coordinator remains a question mark, the Chargers should be able to keep up with a slower pace that is taking place in the AFC. What the Chargers really have going for them is a lighter schedule than their division rival Chiefs, though with a better drive come the end of the season.
Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)- The Chiefs did a heck of a job under Andy Reid. Unfortunately, a lot of this had to do with very easy games. Of course, they have one of the top running backs in Jamaal Charles and a very powerful defense, but they are also going to have much more challenging games. Aside from their standard division games that will be far more heated, they play the improving AFC East, the excellent NFC West, the Titans, and Steelers... so perhaps they will have a leg up with those two games, but the matches will be much more even than what their 11-5 record read. Fortunately for Reid, I believe the Chiefs will not enter the same downward spiral that Herm Edwards and Todd Haley entered (and Romeo Crennel could not get out of).
Oakland Raiders (6-10)- The Raiders saw fortune with free agency when they picked up quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, defensive end Justin Tuck, and a bunch of others. Does this make them a shoe-in for playoff contention? Absolutely not. Just look at the Eagles "dream team" most of us believed in that failed to deliver. The Raiders will definitely be on the road to improving, but it will likely be under a new coach and possibly in a new stadium. The Raiders may end up being the San Antonio Raiders if things work out with the stadium they are in talks with. Nevertheless, it is doing absolutely nothing to their impression that has included an inability to reach the playoffs since 2002. The same will be said about this season, where free agency will not be of any help.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)- Chip Kelly has rejuvenated the Eagles offense and it will continue to show during this upcoming season. What will be up for discussion is not just "who will be Nick Foles' next big receiving target," but also "how many yards and touchdowns will LeSean McCoy produce?" McCoy is the valuable asset to this team, for he is the one that will continue to make the plays time and time again if he is healthy enough. The defense was the element of the team that was somewhat shaky, but it seems as if things have been viewed and will likely be a bit better for them. Experts have said the Eagles have a threshold onto the division, I don't necessarily buy them. Experts have said they are the obvious selection to win the division, I say they do, but not without a fight.
New York Giants (10-6)- The Giants took a giant leap when they decided to relieve Kevin Gilbride as their offensive coordinator and bring in Packers QB coach Ben McAdoo, who worked with Aaron Rodgers. The Giants season will all come down to this very important question: can Eli Manning adjust to McAdoo's offensive schemes? This will be the difference between their success and their need to make several more adjustments. Manning has what he needs in running backs Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, receivers Victor Cruz, Reuben Randle, dark horse Corey Washington, and rookie Odell Beckham Jr., and a bit better of an offensive line and potentially successful defense. It will all come down to using this to his advantage. I see the Sunday night game in the last week being the Eagles and Giants fighting for the division. The prediction says much of what will happen and if that is the case, the Tom Coughlin era may likely be over and if they like what McAdoo has to offer, Eli Manning's reign with the Giants may come to a close in favor of someone like Ryan Nassib.
Washington Redskins (8-8)- The Redskins are bound to see improvement following an intense reign from Mike Shanahan. I doubt, however, that they will see rapid improvement to the point that they reach over .500. What will dominate this season is not how well DeSean Jackson performs, but instead whether or not Robert Griffin III (RGIII) or Kirk Cousins is the quarterback to drive this team into the future under Jay Gruden. The Skins can very much become the playoff contending team they could have been under Shanahan, but that will take a year or two before things really start to gel. While they are very much under fire for their name being deemed as racist, just remember the other teams that are inspired by Indian tribes: the Chiefs in football and the Indians and Braves in baseball to name a few (and all of these teams use triangular mallets or Indians that look like creatures in their designs).
Dallas Cowboys (5-11)- The Cowboys lost a lot in free agency and really did not pick up so much immediate talent to make up for these deductions. What we have is something relatively mediocre that could potentially be (such as Tony Romo when he is a productive quarterback), but will not. Under Jason Garrett, the Cowboys have been 8-8, nothing more and nothing less. This season, the Cowboys will finally cut this streak, performing under this expectation and this will result in the end of the Jason Garrett era with the team and perhaps show signs that they really need to re-establish themselves with a new design and intent.
New Orleans Saints (10-6)- The Saints seem to have all of the fire in them that they need. Drew Brees will likely take advantage of every opportunity he can find and this will result in some rapid plays that will help them in their matchups. The question at hand is their home record versus their road record, because the Saints are magnificent at home, but have had issues being able to keep up with their road performance, which resulted in a mediocre stretch during the playoffs the last go around. Fortunately for them, they will likely keep up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7)- Among the previous coaches that returned to the league (Jim Caldwell, Ken Whisenhunt, and Lovie Smith), Lovie Smith was the best selection to bring back. This will show in what will likely be a Bears-like team in the south and show us whether or not Josh McCown really is the underrated quarterback that is finally being presented with the right opportunity. The result will be a decent season that keeps them in playoff contention for most of the season, but the rapid push by the Saints will cut this one a bit short.
Carolina Panthers (6-10)- The Panthers saw some excellent opportunities during this past season that resulted in claiming the two-seed and reaching the playoffs, but this attempt ended quickly after a loss to the 49ers. This time around, they will be returning back to the basic routine of a subpar season due to far more difficult matchups and a flow that will be unable to keep up with it. Cam Newton will likely continue to see positive individual results, but they will not result in wins.
Atlanta Falcons (6-10)- The Falcons are just in a very lukewarm situation that includes a team that is good, but does not have the readjustments that the others possess. What will likely need to happen is that Matt Ryan will need a mid-career resurgence under a new direction, because the chances that Mike Smith is kept will be slim. While the team has really done much better as a whole under Smith, one postseason victory is not enough in this rapidly moving league.
Green Bay Packers (13-3)- Last season, the Packers were fortunate to make the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. This season, with Aaron Rodgers doing better and an opportunity that comes with plenty of opportunities, will remain dominant among the NFC along with the Seahawks. The fact that these two teams, with passionate fan bases, may very well make up the match-up for the NFC Championship, is going to make for something large and extraordinary.
Chicago Bears (10-6)- This past season, the Bears missed out of the playoffs by the skin of their teeth. This time around, they have far more options and improvements at both ends of the ball that the drive has become much better for them under Marc Trestman and his second year with the team. The question is going to be this: can Jay Cutler stay healthy? If Cutler stays healthy, this will be an extraordinary, powerhouse of a team. If not, Jimmy Clausen as a backup does not provide them with the ideal assurance they may truly be looking for.
Detroit Lions (6-10)- A lot remains in place with a team featuring quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but whether or not Jim Caldwell is the person to give Stafford the improvements he needs with his career is a very sketchy subject to approach. Just remember that when the Colts were under Caldwell's reign, his first season, in 2009, brought the Colts to the Super Bowl. However, the 2010 season saw record lows for Manning, including win-loss record, and without him in the 2011 season, the Colts went 2-14. Everything needs to be right for this team, or else they will do poorly. I see six wins for the Lions and the same old stuff under Caldwell.
Minnesota Vikings (6-10)- I really liked the selection of Mike Zimmer to coach the Vikings after he waited years for his chance despite making vast improvements to the Bengals defense. Coaching the Vikings, however, will take time when it comes to figuring out whether or not Matt Cassel is the way to go or it will be time to start Teddy Bridgewater. Zimmer's tenure with the Vikings will heavily lean on his ability to shape the team's offense in the best possible way. This time around, they will lag behind with the Lions.
Seattle Seahawks (14-2)- The Seahawks have demonstrated that even their backups have no limit to how well they can perform. Pete Carroll's unit is just about the hardest working unit as a whole among the NFL, with Russell Wilson young and mighty, while everyone else on the team remains intact. When your Super Bowl MVP can be one of many, you really have something going for you, especially when your victory is the largest landslide of the 21st century. With this and the twelfth man very much alive, the Seahawks will continue to take dominance in the NFC and within their division. This is only the beginning of many opportunities and this season will be even better among their competitive division. Both Darrell Bevall (offensive coordinator) and Dan Quinn (defensive coordinator) should be expecting interviews for head coaching positions.
San Francisco 49ers (11-5)- The Niners will continue performing at a decent pace come the 2014 season, even though there is an intensity between Jim Harbaugh, what he has accomplished, and whether or not he deserves more than he is getting. Just remember that before Harbaugh, the Niners missed the playoffs in EIGHT STRAIGHT SEASONS. What was once a dynasty that put together five Super Bowl victories in fourteen years had difficulty seeing similar results until the Harbaugh era, so a lot should be considered when it comes to what the limit happens to be with this man. A lot will be riding here.
Arizona Cardinals (9-7)- You have to give the Cardinals a lot of credit for what they are able to put together in the most challenging division in the league. Last time around, they put together a 10-6 record under new coach Bruce Arians with quarterback Carson Palmer in the driver's seat. This season will see some very similar results, but what will get to them is the fact that the NFC is going to be the competitive conference of 2014 and it will place them in the wildcard race, only to be brought down by rapid competitors such as their division rival Niners.
St. Louis Rams (6-10)- One of the biggest tragedies within the NFL at this point is how the Rams are the team that could be, but have not had the opportunity to be. Having not made the playoffs since 2004, Jeff Fisher was brought in to change the direction of a losing culture for the struggling Rams. Unfortunately, Sam Bradford, who was supposed to be an elite quarterback, has struggled to stay healthy and is not out for the entire 2014 season. Under backup Shaun Hill, the Rams will see mediocre results, but it will keep them out of contention in the most competitive division in the league.
1. Denver Broncos
2. Indianapolis Colts
3. New England Patriots
4. Cincinnati Bengals
5. San Diego Chargers
6. New York Jets
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. New Orleans Saints
5. San Francisco 49ers
6. Chicago Bears
Patriots beat Jets, 27-14
Chargers beat Bengals, 26-22
Bears beat Eagles, 28-24
Saints beat 49ers, 48-36
Broncos beat Chargers, 59-20
Colts beat Patriots, 35-28
Seahawks beat Bears, 31-16
Packers beats Saints, 38-7
Broncos beat Colts, 41-28
Seahawks beat Packers, 35-28
Super Bowl XLIX
Broncos beat Seahawks, 48-40
Yes, I am going to stay with the selection I made last year. The Broncos are back and better than ever this upcoming year and I feel that with Peyton Manning holding high hopes in making that very last statement, the Broncos will be the favorites to put the Seahawks in their place, though the Seahawks will continue to deliver until the season is through. I believe that this will be Peyton Manning's last season and if the Broncos win the Super Bowl this year, this statement will be definitely. Manning seems to be the kind of person that wants to end things on a good note and a decisive playoff run should be key in this equation.
Feel free to comment and provide any alternate ideas and lenses to what this prediction holds and I will be intrigued to hear what you have to say.