Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kick-off 2014: Football is Back and We Can't Wait

Glory Hallelujah! The NFL is back for real this time, and with it all of the good things that come with it. From Football Friday's, to Fantasy Football; Football Sunday; pregame shows (i.e. Open Mike on MTRradio at 11 a.m. ;-) ; tailgating, and everything in between, it has been too long since football fans have enjoyed a Sunday afternoon.

This season the Seattle Seahawks come into 2014 both the reigning champion and favorite to win it all again. It has been 10 seasons since the New England Patriots repeated as Super Bowl champion, and many expect the Seahawks to become the first team since those '04 Patriots to accomplish the feat.

Will they do it? Can Peyton Manning and the Broncos rebound from a humiliating Super Bowl loss? Do the Patriots have anything left? Can the Bengals get over the playoff hump? Will the Cardinals overtake San Francisco and Seattle for a playoff spot?

Here are my predictions:

AFC East:
1) New England Patriots, 11 - 5: Tom Brady might be getting old, and the supporting cast is not that great for the second straight year, but in the AFC Least the Patriots will be favorites once again to get to the posteason. The keys: Rob Gronkowski returns to old form after missing most of the 2013 season, and Darrelle Revis helps to reinvigorate a poor pass defense. Plus, as long as Brady and Bill Belicheck are around, the Pats always have a great shot at the brass ring.

2) NY Jets, 8 - 8: Another season of boastful proclamations from Rex Ryan, and another disappointing season for Gang Green. The Jets have forced themselves into believing Geno Smith is a franchise quarterback; but outside of Eric Decker, he has no weapons to throw to, unless you are excited about Jeremy Kerley. The Jets front seven will be tough to run on, but quarterbacks will have a lot of fun throwing on that secondary. Will another 8-8 finish be the end of Rex Ryan? Depends on Woody Johnson. But the real hot seat belongs to John Idzik.

3) Buffalo Bills, 6 - 10: It's never a good sign when a team goes out and signs a quarterback who just retired an insurance for an under-performing player, but that is what the Bills did. Buffalo signed Kyle Orton to back up E.J. Manuel. Manuel, the first QB taken in the 2013 draft now has more pressure on him. At least he has Sammy Watkins to throw to.

 4) Miami Dolphins, 6 - 10: The Dolphins come into 2014 hoping to rid themselves of last year's locker room disgrace. They've been preaching team work and communication all summer. Will it be enough to win games, and save Joe Philbin's job? That's another question.

AFC North:
1) Baltimore Ravens, 12 - 4: No way the Ravens miss the playoffs for the second straight season. Joe Flacco has Dennis Pita back for a full season at tight end, and the Ravens added solid vets in tight end Owen Daniels and wide receiver Steve Smith. The Ravens D is always good, even if the golden days are behind them. They get both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh right out of the gate, both at home; so the Ravens could pace the division early.

2) Pittsburgh Steelers, 10 - 6: Like the Ravens, the Steelers are coming off a disappointing 2013 campaign. The main characters from Mike Tomlin to Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu are still there, but for Pittsburgh to have success they must establish a strong running attack this year to take pressure off Big Ben. The Steelers should be a playoff contender this year.

3) Cincinnati Bengals, 9 - 7: The Bengals are 0-4 in the playoffs under Marvin Lewis, yet the guy getting all the grief is the quarterback Andy Dalton, who lost three of those games. Keep in mind two of those losses were on the road against a very good Houston team, but last year's loss to San Diego at home was inexcusable. However, I think at the end of the day it will be Lewis who ultimately pays the price. He doesn't have his star coordinators with him anymore, so this is all on him.

4) Cleveland Browns, 4 - 12: The Johnny Manziels are going to be awful this year. Not only will Manziel eat more grass this season than he will sporting his ridiculous money, money sign but, the Browns will see why he dropped all the way to 22nd in the draft. Here's a tip Cleveland, don't fire your coach at the end of one season this time.

AFC South
1) Indianapolis Colts, 11 - 5: The Colts are going to win the south, no shocker there. Here is the key for Indy this year, can Andrew Luck, who is and will be a excellent quarterback in this league for a long time put his playoff struggles behind him. Luck threw seven picks in the postseason last year; that better change if the Colts want to be a Super Bowl team.

2) Houston Texans, 7 - 9: The Texans could be the year's surprise team. They have the talent on both sides of the ball to win a lot of games this season. Jadevon Clowney is a beast. JJ Watt is super human, that's the best 1-2 punch on a defensive line in football already. Plus they still have Arian Foster and Andre Johsnon. Here's the problem: no quarterback. The Texans will not win many games with Ryan Fitzpatrick as its quarterback.

3) Jacksonville Jaguars, 5 - 11: Yes, the Jaguars are in third place. But they win only five games this year in the horrific AFC South. The Jags might have a franchise quarterback in Blake Bortles, now they have to build around him as the season moves along. Don't fire Guss Bradley yet, he could use another year or two with this very young group.

4) Tennessee Titans, 4 - 12: The Titans don't have bad talent, they just don't have a quarterback who I have a lot of confidence in in Jake Locker. Can this guy stay healthy is the biggest question. Not to mention is he a good fit for Ken Whisenhunt's offense. The Titans will be a project for Whisenhunt in year one.

AFC West
1) Denver Broncos, 13 - 3: They lose the Super Bowl 43-8, and go ahead and rebuild their defense with veteran's Demarcus Ware and Aquib Talib. The Broncos should have a much better defense this season as a result. Oh, and did I mention they have some quarterback named Peyton Manning? Yeah, nuff said. The Broncos are going to be very, very good again this year.

2) Kansas City Chiefs, 10 - 6: Andy Reid proved to be the right fit for the Chiefs last year, as he led their turnaround back to the postseason. The Chiefs have a solid field general in Alex Smith who doesn't turn the ball over, and Jammal Charles should have another big year on the ground. The Chiefs were +18 in turnovers last year. With Reid and Smith in charge that should continue. Maybe the Chiefs can finally win a playoff game this time around.

3) San Diego Chargers, 7 - 9: Why do I have a feeling that the Chargers could be that team that slips up this year. This is not a knock on their talent, they have a lot of it. This is not a knock on Philip Rivers, but someone has to have a down year, and it seems the Chargers are ripe for the picking. Facing the NFC West won't be easy either for the Bolts.

4) Oakland Raiders, 5 - 11: So Derek Carr is now the man in Oakland. Dennis Allen better be right after the Fresno State rookie lit up third and fourth stringers in the final preseason game, or he will ... ah never mind, Allen is getting fired anyway.

NFC East
1) Philadelphia Eagles, 10 - 6: I hate this pick, but until the Giants and Cowboys show me something I have to go with the Eagles in the East. Nick Foles was incredible last year; although I don't expect him to duplicate those numbers in 2014, he should be a stable force for the Eagles offense if healthy. LeSean McCoy is as dangerous as the come in the backfield. The Eagles will be in a tug of war all year in the East. This will go down to a week 17 match-up with the Giants. BTW, Foles better stay healthy, otherwise the Eagles have to rely on Mark Sanchez, meaning that record you see there will be flipped to 6-10 or worse.

2) NY Giants,  9 - 7: The Giants offense look putrid in the preseason. Were they holding back, or was that the real NY Giants this summer? We will find out soon, but Eli Manning better figure out Ben McAdoo's offense fast. It doesn't help that the Giants O-line is in tatters, and outside of Victor Cruz they are desperate for receiver help. The Giants ground game and beefed up defense will keep them in a lot of games. Once they figure out that offense, watch out the Giants could be a playoff contender.

3) Dallas Cowboys,  9 - 7: Hey the Boys won't go 8-8 this year. Now will they ever make the playoffs under Jason Garret and Tony Romo? I know, I know everyone likes to make fun of the Boys because they are the Cowboys, but eventually they will break through and make it to serious January football. What they do there is another story.

4) Washington Redskins, 7 - 9: RGIII got his wish, Mike Shananhan was fired. Enter Jay Gruden (Jon's brother) as the HC of DC. Can the Skins and Griffin III get back on track? They could be the most fascinating story of the year. It's boom or bust right for the quarterback.

NFC North
1) Green Bay Packers 12 - 4: Ok, so the Packers lose the opener in Seattle. So what? This is still a very good football team. The Packers need to get Eddie Lacey back from his concussion in order to take some pressure off Aaron Rodgers. The question with the Pack is the credibility of that defense. The D could be Green Bay's Waterloo.

2) Chicago Bears 11 - 5: A lot of people are on the Bears bandwagon for this season, and count me in; although I won't go as far as to say Jay Cutler is an MVP candidate. Cutler and the Bears offense was not the main culprit last year, it was their 25th ranked defense. Jared Allen's addition will help, but the defense overall has to play better.

The Bears offense will score a lot of points, especially with the talent they have on offense. From Culter to Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the Bears will compete with some of the best this year.

3) Minnesota Vikings 7 - 9: My sleeper team of 2014. Mike Zimmer is going to instill an tenacity on defense that has lacked in years past, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner should settle things down for either Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater. I like the Vikings starting Cassel first. This team is in a win now mentality, partly because the best running back in football, Adrian Peterson is not getting any younger.

4) Detroit Lions 6 - 10: The Lions scare me. Not from a playoff contender standpoint, but I just don't trust this group. The club struggled with discipline issues the last few years under Jim Schwartz, hence his firing last January. However, is Jim Caldwell that much better. Caldwell is a good offensive coordinator, but not a great head coach. He might fix some of Matt Stafford's mechanics, but I don't see Detroit taking a big jump here.

NFC South
1) New Orleans Saints 11 - 5: Drew Brees is still there as is a happy Jimmy Graham. The Saints defense was vastly improved under Rob Ryan last year, and should get better this year. It would take catastrophic injuries or misfortune to derail this Saints season.

2) Atlanta Falcons 9 - 7: The Falcons are coming off a bitter 4-12 season, and need to rebound this year. Mike Smith was not totally on the hot seat last year; he will be if the Dirty Birds struggle this year. They have to stay healthy this year, and must generate a pass rush this season to be successful. Matt Ryan and the offense will be fine. Expect Atlanta to be competitive this year.

3) Carolina Panthers 8 - 8: The Panthers lost a lot of talent at wide receiver from Steve Smith to Brandon LaFell. Plus Smith was a emotional leader on this ball club for many years, now he is out of the picture. Already Cam Newton has been dealing with a rib injury. Count the Panthers as a favorite to NOT return to the postseason.

4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6 - 10: They now have a respected head coach in Lovie Smith, who inherits a young and potentially good football team. Lovie still needs pieces to make it move in the right direction in the next few years.

NFC West
1) Seattle Seahawks 12 - 4: The world champions looked the part on Thursday against Green Bay. Russell Wilson is in year three of his career in a system that fits his skills set perfectly. While they have lost a couple pieces, Seattle's vaunted defense will be excellent once again this year. The Seahawks are a very live threat to repeat this season.

2) San Francisco 49ers 11 - 5: The Niners had their share of off-season headlines. From players getting in trouble off the field, to rumors that coach Jim Harbaugh is having issues with the front office, many expect San Fran to take a step back. It could happen, but until I see it, I'll believe that this is still a playoff team in 2014.

3) Arizona Cardinals 7 - 9: Everyone's favorite pick to make the playoffs this year. The Cardinals were 10-6 last year and that close to a playoff spot in 2013. Granted Bruce Arians is a very good head coach, I just don't trust Carson Palmer over the course of a long season. The Cards will make noise, but not the kind of noise people think.

4) St. Louis Rams 5 - 11:Losing Sam Bradford again is going to hurt this team. Shaun Hill is no Kurt Warner, so this should be a very rough season for Jeff Fisher and company.

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