Predictions by Alex Flum
This offseason has not exactly been the most positive hiatus for the NFL. Whether it’s Josh Gordon’s off the field escapades, Jim Irsay getting arrested for a DUI and handing out hundred dollar bills to fans at training camp or Ray Rice’s domestic disputes, it seems as though the negatives have overshadowed the positives. Despite these off the field distractions, with the beginning of the preseason drawing near, 32 different NFL camps are currently buzzing across the Nation with excitement and hope for the upcoming year. Here are my predictions for the 2014-15 NFL season.
Super Bowl Prediction: Broncos over Packers
AFC Championship: Broncos over Patriots
NFC Championship: Packers over Seahawks
MVP: Tom Brady
Offensive Player of the Year: Tom Brady
Defensive Player of the Year: Jared Allen
Offensive Rookie of the year: Brandin Cooks
Defensive Rookie of the year: Khalil Mack
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick
Comeback Player of the Year: Robert Griffin III
*Underline connotes playoff team.
*(Number) in parenthesis is the team’s seeding in the playoffs.
1. New England Patriots (1)
Nine NFL seasons have passed since Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots last hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy. If they are going to avoid going a decade without a super bowl victory, they will need to take it up a notch this season. It should help that they made possibly biggest acquisition of the offseason in Darrelle Revis. Factor in that Tom Brady has a year under his belt with his young group of receivers and that Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola return this year at full strength and there’s no reason to believe the Patriots will be anything short of spectacular this season.
2. New York Jets (6)
The Jets may be the most cocky team in sports and I love it. Especially since their confidence can be backed up with talent. The Jets boast scary defense headlined by fourth year linebacker Muhammad Wilkerson and rookie safety Calvin Pryor who I think will turn heads this season. On the offensive side of the ball the Jets added the 2,000 yard man Chris Johnson who is hoping to return to the prime years of his career. Under center, Michael Vick will mentor Geno Smith and fill in if Smith injured. Do not count out the Jets.
3. Miami Dolphins
Last season was a disaster for this team. Not only did they endure the Richie Incognito bullying scandal, but they lost to the Bills, twice. A lot of this season rests on Ryan Tannehill’s shoulders and without a solid offensive line to protect him, there is not much hope. Starting center Mike Pouncey, the one bright spot of the offensive line, is expected to miss the first half of this season. This will harken the running game also as the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno this offseason who will have trouble when he realizes Tannehill isn’t Peyton Manning. On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins bring forth a 4-3 defense that has struggled vastly. Look for the Dolphins to be in full rebuilding mode following this season.
4. Buffalo Bills
An offense that features E.J. Manuel, C.J. Spiller, rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins and rising wideout Robert Woods should be interesting, but wholes in the defense will hurt this team. The departure of safety Jarius Byrd to New Orleans and the season ending injury to linebacker Kiko Alonso will keep this team out of contending for the entire season. The Bills should be picking fairly early on draft night.
1. Baltimore Ravens (4)
The Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time under John Harbaugh’s direction last season. It was also the first season in the post Ray Lewis era. If the Ravens defense can return to elite ranks, they should be able to barge their way into the playoffs. The Ravens boast a ferocious front seven, anchored by Haloti Ngata on the defensive line and Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw/Elvis Dumervil on the outside. Matt Elam, the hard hitting second year man at safety could be the second coming of Ed Reed. Bernard Pierce should be able to carry the load during Ray Rice’s two game suspension. I fully expect Joe Flacco along with his new weapon Steve Smith to return to the playoffs after a one year absence.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5)
Last season, the Steelers were a Ryan Succop 41 yard field goal away from making the playoffs. This was extremely remarkable due to the fact that the Steelers had started the season 2-6 and finished the year off on a 6-2 stride to put themselves right in the thick of playoff contention week 17. Ben Roethlisberger may not be what he used to, but the Steelers have surrounded him with the talent necessary. On the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers return Antonio Brown who is in the prime of his career, along with Le’Veon Bell who is primed for a breakout season. Adding LeGarrette Blount and Lance Moore through free agency will provide the Steelers with a one-two punch at running back and a deep threat in the passing game. They revamped their defense with youth parting ways with LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote and Ryan Clark; bringing in Mike Mitchell, drafting Ryan Shazier and trusting Jarvis Jones and Cameron Heyward to lead the way. This year’s Steelers will look more like the Steelers of the latter part of the 2013 season.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals had a very rough offseason in terms of their coaching staff. They lost both of their standout coordinators, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden left for Washington, while defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer took a job with Minnesota. Having won the division last season, the Bengals will face a tough schedule including matchups against the Broncos and Patriots. It will be interesting to see what Andy Dalton can do in his contract year, but I expect the Bengals to take a step back this year. This will be their last season with Marvin Lewis at the helm.
4. Cleveland Browns
The Browns may be one of the most compelling teams in the NFL. On offense they added Ben Tate, Miles Austin and Andre Hawkins and return Alex Mack and Joe Thomas; on defense they bolstered their secondary adding Donte Whitner through free agency and drafting Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir. I do like Brian Hoyer and think that he deserves to start over Manziel, however I do not believe he is the long term answer. Manziel should start by the tenth game as the Browns look towards the future.
1. Indianapolis Colts (3)
Everything is in place for the Colts to have a great season. Andrew Luck appears ready to break out. The Colts’ great receiving corps should help. Reggie Wayne returns healthy, while T.Y. Hilton will be back and Hakeem Nicks could turn out to be a great addition. If Trent Richardson reaches his potential, the Colts may even be the team to beat in the AFC.
2. Houston Texans
After going 12-4 and making it to the divisional round of the playoffs in 2012, the Texans followed up their best season in franchise history with their worst going 2-14. This offseason, the Texans whisked offensive mastermind Bill O’Brien away from Penn State. It will be up to him to catapult a team with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center into the playoffs. Defensively, the Texans have no worries. Their front seven may be the scariest thing in sports. Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt Brian Cushing, Brooks Reed, Jared Crick, Louis Nix… It’s already giving me nightmares. The Texans should be in the thick of the playoff race right down to the wire.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Once the laughing stock of the NFL, the Jaguars appear to have put together an interesting team that may be able to compete for a playoff spot. Gus Bradley’s motivational and defensive mindset elevates the Jaguars chances. I like the additions of Toby Gerhart, Zane Beadles, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Ziggy Hood. The Jags also had a very strong draft class. If Blake Bortles steps in, wins the starting job and plays well, this team could make the playoffs in the near future, if not this year.
4. Tennessee Titans
This team is a mess. Barring an elite breakout from Jake Locker, I don’t expect this team to accomplish anything this season. I’m predicting them to start the season 0-7. Not only do they completely lack offensive firepower, but their talent absent defense is making a switch to the 3-4 which should make things even more complicated.
1. Denver Broncos (2)
The Broncos had a historic season last year that was trumped in the super bowl by the high flying Seahawks. The additions made this offseason should perfect this team. They provided Peyton Manning with another young weapon in Emmanuel Sanders. They improved their defense via free agency adding elite talent in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward. I also expect top pick Bradley Roby to contribute. Montee Ball’s potential to break out appears to be the cherry on top for this team. It’s super bowl or bust for the Broncos.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
For an AFC West team not the named the Broncos, this season doesn’t look to promising. They have to face Denver twice and each of the teams in football’s toughest division, the NFC West. The Chiefs were good last year but their success overshadowed the truth. The Chiefs played one of the easiest schedules in NFL history. After not adding much to their team this offseason look for the Chiefs to take a big step back.
3. San Diego Chargers
Father of the year Philip Rivers led the Chargers on a joyride of a season and into the second round of the playoffs. Don’t be so surprised if the Chargers struggle to put forth the same success as last year. The Chargers did nothing to improve their horrendous pass defense and like the Chiefs, face a tougher schedule.
4. Oakland Raiders
It was reported recently that owner Mark Davis was in discussions with San Antonio officials to move the franchise. This defines a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs or posted a winning record since 2002. This year won’t be the year where the Raiders return to relevance. Khalil Mack will be the lone bright spot on this team. They did make some moves in free agency and the draft though and a solid offseason next year could make things interesting.
1. Washington Redskins (4)
The outlook for this year is very simple for the Redskins. If Robert Griffin III can return to his rookie form through trust in his new coach Jay Gruden and a strong supporting cast, the Redskins can return to the playoffs. A major area of concern could be the Redskins secondary, which is comprised of veteran question marks (DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Meriweather, Ryan Clark) and unproven youngsters (David Amerson, Phillip Thomas, Baccari Rambo). Playing in a weak NFC East should help them.
2. New York Giants
Eyes are all on Eli Manning as he is hoping to rebound from one of the worst, if not the worst, season of his career. I like the Giants addition of Trindon Holliday but that won’t make much of a difference for them. Playing in the worst division in football will give them a chance of making the playoffs. One interesting storyline to follow will be the running back battle between David Wilson and Peyton Hillis.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
Chip Kelly, his offense and Nick Foles broke out onto the scene into 2013. Entering this year, the Eagles have lost their start deep threat DeSean Jackson to the division rival Redskins and the element of surprise. I expect the Eagles to have trouble replicating last year’s success despite playing in a tough division. The Eagles only hope is LeSean McCoy producing a MVP caliber season.
4. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo has never been the most reliable of quarterbacks. He’s struggled over the years during crunch time and has become the face of inconsistency in the NFL. Take that information and consider that Romo is now 34 years old and he is coming off back surgery. Doesn’t sound too promising for the Cowboys who had the opportunity to draft Johnny Manziel. To make matters worse, they lost longtime Cowboys Miles Austin and DeMarcus Ware during the offseason. There could be a lot of changes in “Jerry World” come this time next year.
1. Green Bay Packers (2)
If any team can beat out the all mighty Seahawks in the NFC this year, it’s the Packers. Aaron Rodgers returns this season healthy, while Eddie Lacy, their artillery of wide receivers and a solid offensive line will boost their success even more. The Packers also added Julius Peppers, who will bring an interesting dynamic to their defense. The Packers are a legitimate super bowl contender.
2. Chicago Bears (6)
The Bears managed an 8-8 record with Marc Trestman at the helm last year. Expect the Bears to take a big leap forward into the playoffs in Trestman’s second year. They return a strong offense headlined by Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. On the other side of the ball, the Bears made some key additions, most significantly longtime divisional rival Jared Allen. Allen will fill the gap after the departure of Julius Peppers to the Packers.
3. Minnesota Vikings
It appears that the Teddy Bridgewater days may be nearing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. If Bridgewater turns out to the be the real and Adrian Peterson stays at top form, there could be some magic in Minnesota. Otherwise, it may not be their time to burst onto the scene yet. I really like wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and think he has a legitimate shot at joining the elite ranks of wide receivers this year. Defensively, I liked their draft pick of Anthony Barr from UCLA and the free agency addition of Corey Wootton.
4. Detroit Lions
The Lions were undisciplined and underachieving under head coach Jim Schwartz. Jim Caldwell takes over the reigns this season. I don’t think he will be able to control this group of troublemakers. The Lions offensive talent of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will make a difference, but a weak defense and a lack of discipline doesn’t help their case.
1. New Orleans Saints (3)
Recently, Drew Brees said that he would like to play another ten years of football. Sure, maybe he could do it, but what’s important now it Drew Brees is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He may have lost weapons Lance Moore and Darren Sproles during the offseason, but he still has star tight end Jimmy Graham and traded up to draft rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks. They also acquired Jairus Byrd from the Bills to improve a weak pass defense. The Saints are a very big threat to make it to the super bowl.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While the AFC wild card race appears to be wide open, the NFC one is going to be a tough competition. The Buccaneers are one of the teams that I would throw into the ring for the last two spots in the playoffs. I think that the hire of Lovie Smith will avenge Tampa Bay for the disaster that Greg Schiano was. Smith should transform the defense into an elite unit and return the Buccaneers to relevance. Remember, Smith went to the super bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback. I have a lot of faith in him.
3. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons caught the injury bug last season, whether it was Roddy White, Julio Jones or Steven Jackson, the Falcons were helpless. It was a season with so much potential and Matt Ryan had a chance to break out on to the scene. The Falcons drafted offensive tackle Jake Matthews who is NFL ready and will be a big help protecting Ryan. The Falcons have a chance to compete for a playoff spot but it won’t be easy.
4. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers front office endured a tumultuous offseason this year. They lost half their offensive line, several key players in the secondary and almost all their wide receivers. To make matters worse, Cam Newton is coming off ankle surgery and the Panthers seem to never change their backfield of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. The front seven is all this team has going for them. It is a strong unit led by Luke Kuechly who is quickly becoming one of the best linebackers in the NFL. This year in the NFC South, it appears the Panthers are prepared to go from first to worst.
1. Seattle Seahawks (1)
We all know how hard it is for an NFL team to win back-to-back super bowls. It’s been almost a decade since the Patriots did it. If the Seahawks are going to repeat they will need to reproduce the domination and success that they had last season. The offensive line is a worry, and losing Golden Tate should be a problem, but I expect the Seahawks to at least make it back to the conference championship.
2. San Francisco 49ers (5)
The 49ers dominated the NFL draft with 12 picks. They drafted Belichick style which is never a bad thing. This is a team with a lot of talent and a lot of depth. They lost cornerbacks Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner during the offseason and that should set them back. In today’s NFL, a strong secondary is one of the most important units after a signal-caller. This is what I think will keep the 49ers out of contending for a super bowl. Another thing to keep an eye-on: the running back situation. Frank Gore has a lot of mileage on his career, Kendall Hunter is out for the season, LaMichael James is out for a month, rookie Carlos Hyde looks to earn some carries, while Marcus Lattimore is lurking. If one of these guys can breakout or Gore can return to his all-star , the 49ers could be right back in the super bowl conversation.
3. Arizona Cardinals
I feel bad for the Cardinals. Very bad actually. The Cardinals are loaded with talent and led by a great coach in Bruce Arians. If they were placed in any other division in the NFL, not only would they be a lock to make the playoffs, they would have a great chance of winning the division. Unfortunately for them, they are stuck behind the Seahawks and 49ers. Running back Andre Ellington has real potential to break out, while this could be Carson Palmer’s and Larry Fitzgerald’s last real shots at making a run at the playoffs. The Cardinals will be right in the thick of the playoff race but may fall short when it’s all said and done.
4. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have some real talent too. They have the best defensive line in the NFL of Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn and now rookie Aaron Donald. Zac Stacy will start at running back again after a stellar rookie season. Their offensive line is strong and their receiving corps is formidable. The one question mark is their quarterback. Sam Bradford, the first overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft hasn’t quite burst on to the scene yet. If Bradford stays healthy and breaks out, the Rams could catapult themselves into the playoffs. It will be tough for the Rams playing in the NFC West, but nothing is out of reach and if the Rams do finish last place, they will go down as the best last place team in NFL history.