Hello folks, and welcome to your Saturday featured blog with IHM. This week, I'm going to give you my predictions for the 2014 NFL season... division by division, then my picks for the playoffs.
New England Patriots- The Pats have Gronk back, and have added some major pieces in the offseason which should help to keep them on top of the AFC East. Brady has had another season to gain some familiarity with his receivers, and it looks like they're healthier this time around. The draft was a little on the strange side, but looking at the past, it's hard to second guess what the Patriots do on draft day.
Miami Dolphins- The Dolphins spent a lot of money on the offensive line this year, and their first round pick which some thought was a pretty big reach. This should make things interesting in Miami, especially with improved receiving corps at Ryan Tannehill's disposal after drafting Jarvis Landry of LSU in the second round. The Dolphins won't surpass the Patriots this year, but things are definitely looking up in South Beach.
Buffalo Bills- The Bills traded next year's #1 to move up for Sammy Watkins... unfortunately, they still aren't sold on QB E.J. Emanuel, who they used their first rounder on last year. Only time will tell how things will shake out for the Bills this year, but with Kiko Alonso out for the year, their defense will likely be their downfall this year.
New York Jets- The Jets added WR Eric Decker in the offseason, and a few other weapons on offense... the question is whether or not QB Geno Smith is up to the task. Michael Vick is his backup this year, which adds pressure on a young QB. I see the Jets finishing last in the East this year... hopefully leading to the firing of Rex Ryan. On second thought... keep Ryan... I love seeing New York teams lose!
Cincinnati Bengals- The Bengals signed Andy Dalton to a long-term extension this offseason… which may or may not have been a gigantic mistake. We’ll have to see if he’s ready to finally win a playoff game this time around. They drafted well, as they have for the past couple seasons, and Geno Atkins is back to anchor the defensive line. It’s pretty clear to me that the Bengals are the best team in this division.
Baltimore Ravens- The Ravens have added a few weapons on the offensive side of the ball this offseason, the biggest of which was WR Steve Smith, who finally gives QB Joe Flacco a dependable, veteran target with Anquan Boldin traded away before last season for some reason… This could be the best receiving corps Flacco has had to work with since he became the starter in Baltimore. Adding CJ Mosley of Alabama gives them a replacement for the retired Ray Lewis. This team will be better this year than they were last year.
Pittsburgh Steelers- The Steelers still have Ben Roethlisberger… and the offensive line issues that plagued them last year. They added RB LaGarrette Blount this offseason to bolster the running game, and he should form a nice RB duo with 2nd year RB Le’Veon Bell. The biggest question is the receivers, led by Antonio Brown. It isn’t an impressive group. The defense should be solid as always, but I see this being Mike Tomlin’s first season under .500.
Cleveland Browns- The Browns will be a solid defensive team, just as they have the last few seasons… but the offense could possibly be worse, especially if WR Josh Gordon is suspended for the entire season. Could be a long year in Cleveland… but what else is new? Oh yeah, Johnny Manziel will be the starter by week 5… but it won’t make much difference.
Indianapolis Colts- The Colts are the best team in this division by a long shot, with Andrew Luck leading the way. The only thing they really need to do is keep their focus all season and not get too overconfident. The Jaguars are improving, but they aren’t ready to challenge for the division win this year.
Jacksonville Jaguars- The Jags made some major improvements this offseason. Rookie QB Blake Bortles has looked great in the preseason, but it has been against 2nd and 3rd teamers. The QB expected to start this season, Chad Henne, has actually looked pretty good as well. This Jags team will finish right around .500 with the improvements they’ve made on both sides of the ball, but will fall short of a playoff berth. 2015 could be a huge year for this team, though.
Tennessee Titans- The Titans will be a bit of a wild card this year in the South… if Jake Locker performs the way he did in college, they might just be a surprise, but I just don’t see him figuring things out, especially with a fairly weak receiving corps. The defense should be solid, but not good enough to make this a winner.
Houston Texans- The Texans had the #1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and added yet another defensive piece in DE Jadaveon Clowney. With Clowney and JJ Watt on the line, the defense should give opposing QB’s fits. The million dollar question is whether or not the offense can put any points on the board. Quarterback is a huge question mark again, with Ryan Fitzpatrick slated to be the opening day starter. This could be one of the ugliest offenses in all of football this year… and will likely lead to a last place finish and another high draft pick next year.
Denver Broncos- The Broncos were the AFC Champs last year, and I don’t see that changing this time around. Peyton Manning is back, and leads a high powered offense yet again. Gone are Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, but the Broncos replaced them with Emmanuel Sanders and a platoon of Monte Ball and Ronnie Hillman. Defense is where this team is most improved, with the additions of DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, and Aquib Talib. They should have little problem winning this division and making a deep run in the playoffs.
San Diego Chargers- The Chargers made a late run last year to qualify for the final Wild Card spot, and they should be in the mix this year as well. The production of Phillip Rivers is key here. The defense picked up a few solid players this offseason through free agency and the draft, so they should be an improved unit as well.
Kansas City Chiefs- The Chiefs took a big hit in free agency when Branden Albert took his talents to South Beach, leaving a massive hole in an already shaky offensive line. I can’t help but think that last year was a fluke, and this roster is built to fail. It will be a tight race between the Chiefs and Raiders for last place this year.
Oakland Raiders- The Raiders added a nice piece in LB Khalil Mack of Buffalo through the draft. That said, it wasn’t nearly enough to make this team a contender. They are a long way away from that. They could very well challenge for the #1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Wild Card #1- San Diego
Wild Card #2- Miami
Round 1: Indianapolis over San Diego, Miami over Cincinnati
Round 2: New England over Miami, Denver over Indianapolis
AFC Championship Game: Denver over New England
Philadelphia Eagles- The Eagles lost WR DeSean Jackson this offseason, but they still have a strong running game, and a decent group of WR’s for QB Nick Foles. The defense is a bigger question mark, but they have the most overall talent in this division, and that should carry them to a second straight division title.
New York Giants- The Giants will be better this year than they were last year… which doesn’t take a whole lot! The running game gets a boost with the additions of Rashad Jennings and rookie Andre Williams of Boston College, and WR got deeper with the addition of Odell Beckham, Jr. through the draft. The defense should be solid enough to get this team into second place, and challenge for a final week shot at the division that we always see out of the East.
Washington Redskins- The Redskins added some firepower to the offense, especially if RG3 stays healthy… but that’s a big if. The defense is terrible though, and I don’t really see them outscoring a lot of teams despite the changes made. They will battle it out with the Cowboys for last place.
Dallas Cowboys- Tony Romo’s health and ability to win the big one are two big question marks for the Cowboys going into this season. Losing LB Sean Lee for the season doesn’t help things, either. This team is destined for the cellar… sorry Cowboys fans.
Green Bay Packers- The Packers are the class of this division, and have been for a while. Rodgers is healthy again, and the offense is ready to roll with him. The defense should be better, especially after adding S HaHa Clinton-Dix in the draft. It might get a little tight with an improved Bears team challenging, but the Pack should win this one.
Chicago Bears- The Bears added some solid players in the offseason, including pass rushers Jared Allen and LaMarr Houston and corner Kyle Fuller in the draft. The offense should be able to score some points with the WR duo of Marshall and Jeffery, and Jay Cutler looks like he’ll be healthy to start the year off. If Cutler stays healthy and performs the way he’s capable of, this Bears team could challenge for the division crown.
Minnesota Vikings- The Vikings biggest question mark continues to be the quarterback position. They added some solid players at skill positions, and still have Adrian Peterson manning the running back spot, which is always a good place to start. But we’ll have to see who wins the starting job between Cassell, Bridgewater, and Ponder. The defense should be a little better than it was last year after adding Captain Munnerlyn and rookie Anthony Barr… but only good enough to avoid the cellar.
Detroit Lions- The Lions added more “weapons” around Matt Stafford; first round pick TE Eric Ebron and free agent WR Golden Tate. Unfortunately, they did nothing about the defense, which means another likely top ten pick in 2015 for this football team. Not quite 0-16 terrible, but they’ll be terrible all right.
New Orleans Saints- The Saints still have Drew Brees, and coach Sean Payton is back again, so the offense should not be an issue. The defense is a little more stout after adding free agent safety Jarius Byrd in the offseason. This team should have little trouble winning the NFC South.
Atlanta Falcons- The Falcons need their two star receivers, Julio Jones and Roddy White, to stay healthy this season if they want a shot at the division title or a wild card spot. I think they pull that off, and Matt Ryan has a solid rebound year after the disaster that was his 2013 season. Adding Jake Matthews to the offensive line helps as well. The defense is a big question mark, as well.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers- The Bucs have a chance to surprise some people this year, adding new coach Lovie Smith and rookie WR Mike Evans to the fold. You really have to wonder who wins the starting QB job here, young Mike Glennon, who was pretty damn good as a rookie despite the lack of solid receivers to throw to, or veteran QB Josh McCown, who is currently listed as the starter. My pick would be Glennon… but I’m just a blogger, not an accomplished head coach like Lovie Smith. They might just end up in second place and challenging for a Wild Card berth.
Carolina Panthers- The Panthers have major question marks on offense this season, including along the line with the retirement of Jordan Gross and at receiver with the departure of Steve Smith. Rookie Kelvin Benjamin should be a nice addition, but Cam Newton goes into the season with a receiving corps that has caught a total of zero passes in a Panther uniform. The defense should be stout, and might end up being their saving grace when it comes to avoiding going from first to worst in 2014.
Arizona Cardinals- Old Harry had it right Thursday… I think the Cardinals sneak up on the Seahawks and 49ers and take the division! They’ve added some nice pieces this offseason through free agency and the draft. The biggest question is the linebackers, where they have lost Karlos Dansby (free agency) and Daryl Washington (suspension). Still, I say this is a team that finishes first.
Seattle Seahawks- The defending champs nearly fall asleep at the wheel… but they still manage to get in as a Wild Card! The offense should stay on the same track without many big changes there… the biggest changes come on defense, where teams raided the Seahawks in free agency.
San Francisco 49ers- The 49ers come into this season with a lot of distractions… injuries to NaVarro Bowman and a possible long-term suspension to LB Aldon Smith, as well as the ongoing issues between Seahawks CB Richard Sherman and 9ers WR Michael Crabtree. With all this going on, I just see a collapse coming. Not a massive, down to 2-14 collapse, but enough of one to where they miss the playoffs.
St.Louis Rams- The Rams head into 2014 with major questions about their franchise QB, Sam Bradford. This is likely his last shot to win something before he is replaced in next years draft. The draft was kind to the Rams this year, adding OT Greg Robinson and DT Aaron Donald to the mix. The question is, is Sam Bradford ready to take this team to the next level, and possibly leapfrog the 49ers and a sleepy Seattle team to make a playoff run? I doubt it, I see this being Bradford’s last year there and another high pick for the Rams to use on a QB next year.
Green Bay Packers
New Orleans Saints
Wild Card #1- Seattle, Wild Card #2- Chicago
ROUND ONE: Seattle over Philadelphia, New Orleans over Chicago
ROUND TWO: Green Bay over Seattle, New Orleans over Arizona
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Green Bay over New Orleans
And in Super Bowl XLIX… The Broncos beat the Packers, winning one for ailing owner Pat Bowlen.
There’s my picks, ladies and gents. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below! Have a great weekend, Gabbers!