2014 NFL Season Preview

Staff Writer Eric Ting takes an in depth look at the 2014 NFL Season.

2014+NFL+Season+Preview

Eric Ting, Staff Writer

The 2013 NFL Season was a rare occasion where preseason predictions were more accurate than usual. Peyton Manning won MVP, The NFC came down to Seattle vs San Francisco, and Christian Ponder still couldn’t figure out how to throw a football. Here is complete preview of the NFL regular and postseason as well as individual awards.

 

NFC North

Projected Order of Finish:

1st place: Chicago Bears, 3rd seed NFC Playoffs

2nd place: Green Bay Packers, 6th seed NFC Playoffs

3rd place: Detroit Lions

4th place: Minnesota Vikings

The Chicago Bears were one play away from the divisional crown a year ago, but ultimately lost to the Green Bay Packers in a Week 17 winner take all matchup. This year however, the Bears return all 11 starters to an offense that ranked 2nd in the NFL in scoring. The defense which ranked dead-last against the run has been remade. The Bears signed new starters Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Ryan Mundy in the offseason and Pro-Bowlers Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs will return from injury. The Packers meanwhile, lost key offensive players James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Evan Dietrich-Smith, and the loss of BJ Raji at nose tackle will hurt an already shaky Green Bay defense. But as long as the Packers have quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they are a playoff caliber team. The Lions have issues in the secondary and only time will tell if Matthew Stafford can cut down his late game mistakes. The additions of Eric Ebron and Golden Tate can’t hurt his chances. The Vikings meanwhile are hoping rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater can adjust to the NFL quickly, as their second to last ranked defense lost defensive linemen Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.

NFC East

Projected order of finish:

1st place: Philadelphia Eagles 4th seed in NFC Playoffs

2nd place: New York Giants

3rd place: Washington Redskins

4th place: Dallas Cowboys

Year one of the Chip Kelly era in Philly saw the Eagles overcome a shaky start to win the NFC East. I like their chances to repeat with an offense led by 2nd year starter Nick Foles, who should be even better in 2014. This offense also features a superb offensive line and Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy, who has been a huge beneficiary of the Chip Kelly offense. Jeremy Maclin returns after tearing his ACL in 2013, and rookie wideouts Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff should play big roles in the Eagles’ passing attack. The New York Giants made a good effort to improve an offense that was downright embarrassing in 2013. They hired a new offensive coordinator, signed three new starters for their offensive line, signed running back Rashad Jennings away from the Oakland Raiders, and drafted LSU speedster Odell Beckham in the first round. If the offense can click in its first year, this Giants team could be dangerous once again. The Washington Redskins gave Robert Griffin III some new toys by stealing DeSean Jackson from Philadelphia and Andre Roberts from Arizona. If RG3 plays like he did in his 2012 Rookie of the Year campaign, the Redskins could make a serious push in this division. The Dallas Cowboys will have no issue putting points on the board but an already horrible defense that lost DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee this offseason will be catastrophic to the Cowboys’ chances.

NFC South

Projected Order of finish:

1st place: New Orleans Saints 2nd seed in NFC Playoffs

2nd place: Atlanta Falcons

3rd place: Carolina Panthers

4th place: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If second year left tackle Terron Armstead can keep on improving, the New Orleans Saints will have the best offense in the NFL. Drew Brees can throw the ball to Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, and newcomer Brandin Cooks. A name to watch out for is Khiry Robinson, a potential 2nd year breakout star at the running back position from West Texas A&M. The addition of free safety Jairus Byrd should make this defense elite. With Julio Jones and Roddy White returning from injury, look for the Atlanta Falcons to bounce back nicely and compete for a wild card spot. The Carolina Panthers lost Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross to retirement, and receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell to free agency. With Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy potentially suspended for the first six games of the season, the Carolina Panthers could face trouble in a suddenly competitive NFC South. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had arguably the best offseason in the NFL, but I’m not sold on journeyman Josh McCown as a permanent starter for this Bucs team at quarterback.

 

NFC West

1st place: Seattle Seahawks 1st seed in NFC Playoffs

2nd place: San Francisco 49ers 5th seed in NFC Playoffs

3rd place: Arizona Cardinals

4th place: St. Louis Rams

The defending Super Bowl Champions should repeat as division winners, even with a roster that took a huge hit. Gone are receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, leaving Seattle with injury prone Percy Harvin and 3rd option at best Doug Baldwin. Seattle’s pass rush should also be weaker, with Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald all leaving via free agency. The San Francisco 49ers won’t be able to unseat Seattle in the regular season, not with Aldon Smith and Ray McDonald facing suspensions and NaVorro Bowman out until December. There will be no more excuses for Colin Kaepernick, who will have a healthy Michael Crabtree and a new weapon in Pro Bowler Stevie Johnson. The 49ers are the better team, but won’t be able to prove it until at full strength. The Arizona Cardinals are going to have huge holes to fill on their defense with inside linebackers Daryl Washington (suspension) and Karlos Dansby (free agency) gone and defensive Lineman Darnell Dockett lost for the season with a torn ACL in training camp. I still have very little faith in Carson Palmer as the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. As scary as the St. Louis Rams’ pass rush is, they still have to worry about the future at quarterback with Sam Bradford re-tearing his left ACL.

 

AFC North

Projected Order of Finish:

1st place: Baltimore Ravens 4th seed AFC Playoffs

2nd place: Pittsburgh Steelers 6th seed AFC Playoffs

3rd place: Cincinnati Bengals

4th place: Cleveland Browns

The Ravens got lucky with Ray Rice only being suspended for two games after a domestic violence incident. Joe Flacco will have a rebound season with the Ravens adding weapons Owen Daniels and Steve Smith this offseason. The Ravens added some nice defensive talent with CJ Mosley, Timmy Jernigan and Terrence Brooks in the draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers came on strong late last year, but lost receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery in free agency. The Steelers hope rookie Markus Wheaton and veteran Lance Moore can step up next to Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Ryan Shazier should give the Steelers some energy at linebacker, and if pass rusher Jarvis Jones can take the next step in his second year the Steelers should return to the postseason. I for one don’t believe that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and his 0-3 playoff record deserved 115 million dollars, but he did lead the Bengals to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. The Bengals should have let Dalton play out his contract year before deciding that he is the franchise’s long term answer at quarterback. The Cleveland Browns are a still a year away from contention. A year on the bench would be a humbling experience for Johnny Manziel, who still has much to learn as evident with his preseason performance.

 

AFC East

Projected Order of Finish:

1st place: New England Patriots 1st seed AFC Playoffs

2nd place: Miami Dolphins

3rd place: Buffalo Bills

4th place: New York Jets

The New England Patriots should win the AFC East for the sixth straight year after a successful offseason. The Patriots added cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to a defense that improved week in and week out in 2013. The offense should also be stronger with the return of Rob Gronkowski and the development of second year wideouts Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. The Patriots should beat out Denver for the number one seed in the AFC with a significantly easier schedule than the Broncos. The Dolphins upgraded their offensive line with Brandon Albert and Ja-Wuan James, but the jury is still out on whether Ryan Tannehill is Miami’s quarterback of the future. The same can be said for EJ Manuel, who posted a meager 77.7 passer rating in 10 games of his rookie season in Buffalo. Losing safety Jairus Byrd to free agency and linebacker Kiko Alonso to injury set back a defense that had its flashes last year. The New York Jets have quarterback woes of their own with Geno Smith and Michael Vick battling for the starting spot. The Jets have next to nothing besides Eric Decker in the receiving core, and Dee Milliner’s injury makes the secondary a primary concern in New York.

 

AFC South

Projected Order of Finish:

1st place: Indianapolis Colts 3rd seed AFC Playoffs

2nd place: Houston Texans

3rd place: Jacksonville Jaguars

4th place: Tennessee Titans

Like the AFC East, this division features one team clearly better than all the others. Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck is a serious MVP contender with the return of Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen, the signing of Hakeem Nicks and the drafting of Donte Moncrief. TY Hilton and Coby Fleener should also continue to improve, giving the third year star a surplus of targets. Look for running back Trent Richardson to have a bounceback year after spending a full offseason with the Colts. The Houston Texans are a team whose performance will come down to quarterback play. They have Pro Bowl offensive linemen in Duane Brown and Chris Myers, playmakers in Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Arian Foster, and a loaded defense with JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Brian Cushing. If Ryan Fitzpatrick/Tom Savage can give the Texans anything, a return to the postseason is very likely. The Jacksonville Jaguars are a year or two away from being one of the best teams in the AFC. I’m dead serious. Blake Bortles looked great in the preseason and will be more than ready should Chad Henne falter. I like the Toby Gerhart signing and they have a young promising receiving core. The Jags signed pass rushers Red Bryant and Chris Clemons away from Seattle and have budding youngsters Dwayne Gratz and Jonathan Cyprien in their secondary. This is Jake Locker’s last chance in Tennessee, but a weak running game and pass rush deficiencies will hold the Titans back in a soon to be loaded AFC South.

 

AFC West

Projected Order of Finish:

1st place: Denver Broncos 2nd seed AFC Playoffs

2nd place: San Diego Chargers 5th seed AFC Playoffs

3rd place: Kansas City Chiefs

4th place: Oakland Raiders

After being embarrassed in the Super Bowl, Denver did a great job upgrading their roster this offseason. DeMarcus Ware, TJ Ward, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby should all be huge for the Denver defense this season. The offensive line should be even better than last year with the return of All Pro left tackle Ryan Clady. His replacement Chris Clark played well in his absence and will move to right tackle, and the 6 foot 7 320 pound Orlando Franklin will kick inside to guard to replace the departed Zane Beadles. Peyton Manning still has has Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, and now you add Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer to replace Eric Decker. It’s do or die time in Denver. In San Diego, Philip Rivers should continue his career resurrection under 2nd year head coach Mike McCoy with wide receiver Malcom Floyd returning from injury. Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett should improve the young San Diego defense that ranked 29th against the pass last season. Kansas City lost so many pieces this offseason, and couldn’t do much to compensate under the salary cap. Both starting guards are gone as are defensive players Tyson Jackson and Brandon Flowers. Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert also moved on, and 2013 number one overall pick Eric Fisher will finally get to protect Alex Smith’s blind-side. The Oakland Raiders are another team whose season will come down to quarterback play. The Raiders have a legitimate 1-2 punch at running back with Maurice Jones Drew and Darren McFadden, and capable targets in Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and the newly acquired James Jones. The defense should be much better with a pass rush led by newcomers Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley and rookie Khalil Mack. If Derek Carr gives the Raiders anything, the Raiders could contend for the postseason as soon as this year.

 

Wild Card Round:

Chicago (3) over Green Bay (6)

San Francisco (5) over Philadelphia (4)

Indianapolis (3) over Pittsburgh (6)

Baltimore (4) over San Diego (5)

 

Divisional Round:

New Orleans (2) over Chicago (3)

San Francisco (5) over Seattle (1)

Denver (2) over Indianapolis (3)

New England (1) over Baltimore (4)

Conference Championships:

New Orleans (2) over San Francisco (5)

New England (1) over Denver (2)

 

Super Bowl:

New Orleans over New England

 

Individual Awards:

MVP: Drew Brees, QB New Orleans Saints

Coach of the Year: Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears

Offensive Player of the Year: Calvin Johnson, WR Detroit Lions

Defensive Player of the Year: Earl Thomas, FS Seattle Seahawks

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Blake Bortles, QB Jacksonville Jaguars

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jadeveon Clowney, DE Houston Texans

Comeback Player of the Year: Rob Gronkowski, TE New England Patriots

Most Improved Player: Trent Richardson, RB Indianapolis Colts