I’m Back! With a Special Thursday Version of Friday Morning Quarterback! The loooonnngggg awaited season starts tonight!
The 2014 NFL season is shaping up to be an odd one. In my mind, there are only 2 elite teams atop each conference; the AFC has the Broncos and Patriots while the NFC has the Seahawks and 49ers. After that there seems to be plenty of “good” teams but no real “great” teams. My first instinct thought this was rather disappointing, but then I realized that we could have a crazy year with a lot of shuffling of teams.
FYI- this first post is very long every year, so if you want a cliff notes version, read everything but hold off on reading analysis on EVERY team. Just pick a few you’re interested in.
- My rookies to watch is Kelvin Benjamin (Panthers) and Brandin Cooks (Saints). Both are Wide Receivers, which goes against conventional wisdom. Typically WRs have a steeper learning curve than most other positions, and standout rookie years can be rare. But both are the right play for the right situation. Kelvin Benjamin is going to a team that lost 4 wide receivers in Steve Smith, Ted Ginn, Brandon LaFell, and Domenik Hixon. That’s almost unheard of, so Benjamin should see strong playing time. I also like Brandin Cooks with the Saints. He is a speedy guy who could fill the void of Darren Sproles leaving, and will likely see advantageous coverages. One of these guys will get Rookie of the Year.
- League MVP is Nick Foles, with Jamaal Charles getting 2nd in voting
- I see DeSean Jackson getting frustrated with QB Robert Griffin and causing some drama this season.
- The best rookie QB this year will be Blake Bortles, with the other two 1st round picks (Manziel and Bridgewater) struggling and having more INT’s than TD’s
- Johnny Manziel will come in during Week 6, and will be starting by Week 7. Not necessarily due to Hoyer playing poorly, but moreso with the season already out of reach for the Browns.
- The Cowboys will finish 8-8 again this year
- Teddy Bridgewater will lead the league in turnovers this year (even without starting all 16 games)
- Surprise teams to make playoffs: Detroit, Chicago, NY Jets
- Surprise teams to miss playoffs: Cincinnati, Green Bay, Carolina
- Two most Overrated teams: Carolina and San Diego
- Two most Underrated teams: NFC four way tie (Carolina, Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta) and Baltimore
- Not a huge prediction here, but something to keep an eye out for. Peyton Manning will break Favre’s all time TD mark. He’s only 17 behind him now, and is 2 years younger than Favre was when he hit this mark. The only questions now is how fast will Manning get there, and how bad will he beat it at the end of his career.
- Best new coach: Jay Gruden. Believe it or not, I remember back in the day and watching him coach in the arena league when his brother was still with the Bucs. I love Jay’s fire, and think he could be the “Chip Kelly” of this year. I’m not high on the Redskins, but if there’s a team to completely go from 3-13 to 10-6, it’s this team because of this coach.
Team by Team Predictions:
Patriots (2013: 12-4)- As much as I hate to say it, with Belichick and Brady the Patriots are a favorite to contend every year. I think if Amendola and Gronkowski stay healthy, this is my pick to come out of the AFC this year. They also won’t be dealing with the Aaron Hernandez and Tim Tebow circus they had last year. I think Tom Brady has one more push towards a championship, and I think the fact he hasn’t won a Super Bowl in the past decade is starting to get to him. Look for him to come back with a vengeance at 13-3.
Dolphins (2013: 8-8)- The Dolphins had a mediocre season, with a huge distraction regarding Richie Incognito. With the distraction gone, I could potentially see Miami improving slightly especially with Knowshon Moreno in the backfield. I’m still not convinced that Tannehill is the answer, but he had a surprising solid year, just missing 4000 yards with 24 TD passes. I see 9-7 but barely missing the playoffs.
Jets (2013: 8-8)- Rex Ryan has seemingly been barely holding onto his job the past 3 years, but keeps doing everything possible to save his job. I actually see the Jets making another run at the playoffs. Geno had a terrible year last year, and they still went 8-8. I think the defense has improved, Chris Johnson and Eric Decker were awesome pickups, and Michael Vick will push Geno hard. There’s too much going right for the Jets, and I have them sneaking in the WildCard at 10-6.
Bills (2013: 6-10)- The Bills went bold again, and traded up for Sammy Watkins. That’s the second time they’ve taken a top-notch offensive player in the first round. This should be paying off, but unfortunately they’re playing in an increasingly (and surprisingly) tough division, which is the only reason I see them ending at 5-11.
Bengals (2013: 11-5)- The Bengals had a golden chance last year to win their first playoff game in 23 years, but they’ve lost a game 3 years in a row including a home game last game. We’ll have another fight to the finish for the division title between the Bengals and Ravens, and I think the Bengals barely miss out on with a 10-6 record.
Ravens (2013: 8-8)- I think the Ravens bounce back this year. They barely missed the playoffs last year, but had the “Super Bowl Champions” target on their back all year. They also added Steve Smith, and I think Ray Rice comes off his suspension I see the Ravens actually tying the Bengals at 10-6, but winning via tiebreaker.
Steelers (2013: 8-8)- The Steelers for seemingly the 3rd year in a row is coming in as the “old” team in the league. They are also in an increasingly tough division, and I struggle to find much for optimism with this team. Nevertheless, they have a 2 time Super Bowl winning QB and a fiery Mike Tomlin as coach. This alone amounts to a mediocre season. My guess is 7-9.
Browns (2013: 4-12)- Watching them during preseason, the Browns once again have a pretty solid team. Their only issue is the fact that they’re on their 3rd head coach in 3 years, and their QB play is completely up in the air. Ok, I guess that’s a pretty big issue to have. Small improvement, but 5-11 in Manziel’s first year.
Broncos (2013: 13-3)- I think the Broncos will still be strong, but not as dominant as last year. Unfortunately Peyton Manning’s window is closing rapidly, yet he somehow he is still fighting off father time. The Broncos will have a target on their back for winning the AFC last year, and I think their running game will be an issue. They’ll still cruise to win the division at 11-5, but not anywhere close to another 55 TD pass year for Manning.
Chiefs (2013: 11-5)- I really like what the Chiefs are doing with what seems to be no-name players. But Andy Reid and Alex Smith have seemingly revived aging careers that were going down the drain. We also saw last season what a healthy Jamaal Charles could offer, and he’s reaching his prime. I see the Chiefs sneaking in on a Wild Card spot at 10-6.
Raiders (2013: 4-12)- The QB carousel in Oakland is continuing. Last year it was Matt Flynn vs Terelle Pryor. Now we’re looking at Matt Schaub vs. Derek Carr. I think this could actually be the most underrated QB battle of the season. I think Schaub will show a resurgence, as last year was a bit of a fluke, and Carr has been solid in the Pre-season. Still, we’re probably looking at another tough year ending in a 4-12 record.
Chargers (2013: 9-7)- This was the surprise team last year, I just can’t jump on the cart thinking they’re a playoff team again this year. Gates and Rivers are sliding past their prime, but they do have a solid receiving corps. Nevertheless I’m guessing an 8-8 finish.
Houston (2013: 2-14)- The Texans had the worst record in the league last year, but they are still loaded with talent. But along with the Browns, they also have major QB and coaching questions. They also puzzled me in not drafting a QB until the 4th round. However having Clowney and Watt on the same defensive line could prove disastrous for other teams. I’m actually a bit higher on the Texans than most people, and have them finishing 8-8.
Indianapolis (2013: 11-5)- Andrew Luck has proven himself to be a deadly QB within the league in 2 short seasons. I am seeing a dominant year with them picking up even more receivers, and expecting a Trent Richardson bounceback. Look for the Colts to cruise in the division winning 12-4.
Tennessee (2013: 7-9)- The Titans are also one of those teams that is mired in mediocrity. However I love the hire of Ken Whisenhunt in the offseason. This is definitely the last year for Jake Locker to prove himself, and I don’t foresee it going well. Look for a regression before a resurgence, with them finishing at 3-13.
Jacksonville (2013: 4-12)- Jacksonville started the season horribly last year (remember the game they scored 2 points and didn’t cross the 50 yard line?). But they also finished the season strong, winning 4 of their last 8. I love the Bortles pickup as well, but just having Henne instead of Gabbert is also a huge plus. Look for a small uptick in wins ending at 6-10.
Washington Redskins (2013: 3-13)- I think RGIII has regressed, and his knee injury last year totally screwed with his mechanics. He didn’t look great in the preseason, and his first instinct was to run. I think they’ll be at the bottom of the division once again, although I do like their new coach. But he won’t be successful until Kirk Cousins is at the helm…all of next year. 4-12
New York Giants (2013: 7-9)- Last year was a fluke of injuries and pick-craziness by Eli. They do have a new offensive coordinator which can lead to issues, but I expect Eli to turn things around. Not quite enough to make the playoffs, but I think the Giants can build a Super Bowl caliber team before Eli’s window closes. Look for 8-8 this year though.
Dallas Cowboys (2013: 8-8)- Classic Cowboys, start off strong every year and can’t close it out in December. And somehow this has happened for the past 3-4 years, it’s not a one time fluke! Still a confusing team, but they’ll be competitive again in certain instances. I see 8-8 for the 4th straight year, but a bounce here or there could push them into the playoffs or worse.
Philadelphia Eagles (2013: 10-6)- The Eagles went from disappointing, to the talk of the league last year. Nick Foles was on fire, only throwing 2 interceptions all season. This will be tough to match (in fact, he threw 3 INT’s in about 4 quarters of work in the preseason). But the Eagles should still be the team to beat, and see them sneaking past the division with a 9-7 record even with my MVP prediction.
Green Bay Packers (2013: 8-7-1)- I have the Packers barely missing out on the playoffs this year, but I also struggle with that sentiment as well. They are still a very strong team, and actually made the playoffs with their starting QB out for several games last year. But they’re in a tough division and there will be many lining up for Wild Card spots this year, so I see them on the bubble at 9-7.
Minnesota Vikings (2013: 5-10-1)- Once again, many of my readers are Vikings fans, and living in Minneapolis has given me more exposure to this team than I normally would have. I think they made some great moves in the offseason, and Mike Zimmer with Norv Turner is going to be a killer combo very soon. Teddy Bridgewater also looked solid in the preseason. There are still questions at quarterback, but it won’t be as much of a circus as last year was. Cassel is solid, but there’s a good shot that Teddy gets some starts towards the midway point of the season. I think the Vikes are competitive, but fall just short at 7-9.
Chicago Bears (2013: 8-8)- The Bears are my sleeper pick this year. They somehow managed to finish 8-8 last year even with Cutler going down and having one of the worst defenses in the league. The Bears will have one of the best offenses this year hands down, and let’s face it, the defense can’t get much worse. I have the Bears winning the division, and maybe even more…11-5
Detroit Lions (2013: 7-9)- The Lions are 2 long years removed from their playoff appearance, and they have a new coaching staff. For some reason I’m really high on them this year when most analysts aren’t, which could be a bad sign or a stroke of genius! Anywho, I think Stafford, Bush and Calvin are going to have an explosive year and lead the team into a surprise wildcard spot at 9-7.
San Francisco 49ers (2013: 12-4)- In an impossibly tough division, it still comes down to a 2 team race in the 49ers vs. the Seahawks. Their defense is wilting with Aldon Smith’s suspension and Navarro Bowman still not back, but I think this is their year to top Seattle. Kaepernick should be solid, as this will be his second full season under center. I see them taking the division and the conference as a whole at 13-3.
Seattle Seahawks (2013: 13-3)- There has been a Super Bowl winning curse the past 8 years, where the following year the champions have failed to win a playoff game (4 of which didn’t even make the playoffs). The Seahawks are probably technically the best team in the league, but they will have a target on their back all season. They’ll make the playoffs, but at 11-5.
St. Louis Rams (2013: 7-9)- Ahhh the Rams. Every year I come in super excited about our team, but once again I have found myself gravely disappointed. My original prediction was a solid 9-7 campaign, but Sam Bradford’s injury will turn out to be devastating. He had so much potential, but with a 2nd ACL tear I think he’s pretty much done in St. Louis. Maybe in 2015, but nothing past that. But for this year, I think they’re luck to go 3-13.
Arizona Cardinals (2013: 10-6)- The Cardinals had a very strong year, but were one of the rare 10-6 teams to ever miss out on the playoffs. I see another good campaign, as I love their coaching staff, but Palmer is getting up there in age. I see them right on the cusp at 8-8, with a couple bounces potentially putting them in the playoffs.
Atlanta Falcons (2013: 4-12)- So this year I watched HBO’s “Hard Knocks” for the first time, and it was definitely worth the price of admission. As a result, I think I’m doing a 180 on my thoughts and have them being a pretty strong team. After being in the NFC Championship 2 years ago, last year was a complete fluke of injuries, and multiple chances to win the game at the end without being able to punch it in. They will have a very strong offense, and I think they’re D will hold them in the season. They’ll see an improvement, but barely miss out at 8-8.
New Orleans Saints (2013: 11-5)- Brees is getting up there in age, but is still going stat crazy. They had a rough stretch last year where they just couldn’t win road games, but had a good win in the postseason against the Eagles on the road. I see the Saints going back to one of the elite teams this year, and threatening for a #1 seed while finishing 12-4.
Carolina Panthers (2013: 12-4)- While this used to be my favorite team as a kid, I am still extremely slow to get on the Panthers bandwagon. The Panther’s receiving corps is comprised of entirely new faces, and I’m not sure that the lack of chemistry is a good thing for Cam Newton. Plus I still feel like last year was a fluke in a good way for them, and see them regressing back to 7-9.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013: 4-12)- I like the direction this team is going, but not quite enough to see a jump from last year. Lovie Smith was a great hire, and Josh McCown has proven he can be a starter in this league. But I see more of the same at 5-11.
Quote of the Week:
“The NFL’s Cheech and Chong backfield is currently up in the air”- Yahoo Sports referring to the Steelers running back situation
Best Fantasy Names of the Year:
99 Bortles of Beer
Teenage Mutant Ninja Bortles
Beats by Ray
Tickle Me Manziel-mo
Stat of the Week:
By the end of the 2014 season, Sam Bradford will have started 49 games for the Rams, and missed 31 games. All while earning $65 million. IF he starts in 2015, it will be 23 months since he played in a game that counted.
1: San Francisco
2: New Orleans
*Cardinals and Packers on bubble
1: New England
5: Kansas City
6: NY Jets
*Chargers, Steelers, Bengals on bubble
Chicago vs New England (Patriots Win)