Monday, August 25, 2014
Sportz' NFL Preview
Ahhhhhhhhh! It is that time of year again. Football is back, baseball is in the home stretch, kids are back in school, fantasy football drafts are being held and the sound of basketballs hitting gym floor is around the corner.
After a month hiatus, I'm back refreshed to look forward to the fall. College Saturdays and NFL Sundays. And like every year at this time, I'm going to take yet another stab at trying to predict the NFL season.
OUTLOOK: The NFC East will be tight, but not really in the best way. Other than the Eagles, the rest of the division is under a lot of change. New offenses, new coaching and key guys coming back from injury will define their seasons. Philly won the division a year ago and pretty much has the whole gang back. They've now had a year under Chip Kelly's reign and should get off to a better start. Adding Darren Sproles could be unfair. The other three teams? Well the Redskins have a new head coach and a new attitude. If RG3 shows more of his rookie season than his sophomore one, they could make a strong push for a playoff spot. They will need a lot more from their defense and for the offense to get to clicking. Eli Manning was awful last year for the G-men and they got him a new offensive coordinator. They spent a lot of money to surround Eli, but the defensive front seven is unusually weak. I don't have them in the basement just off of Tom Coughlin. Dallas could be anywhere. They have the offensive weapons to win this division or this season could be a disaster. The defense is horrid, Tony Romo is coming off a back injury that caused him to miss the win-and-your-in finale last season and Jason Garrett is still the coach. The hope rests with Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray ... and that sounds a bit scary.
OUTLOOK: The South is usually unpredictable, so I'm going with that thinking again. Like pretty much every team in the league, each of these clubs have big questions and reasons for optimism. I'm going with the Saints to win this division. The offense may not be the juggernaut it was a few years back, but Jimmy Graham is nearly unguardable ... and pissed. They still have a stunning home field advantage and that defense really improved under Rob Ryan. Call me stupid, but I'm high on the Falcons again. Yeah, last year I picked them to go to the Super Bowl and they finished among the worst teams in the league. But injuries just killed them last year and I feel the offense will be so much improved, even if the defense isn't. I have the Panthers falling a bit. Sorry, but having an entire new stable of receivers isn't a plus for me, especially when the receivers that left weren't all that great (anymore, in Steve Smith's case). Cam Newton is a beast, but that offensive line is patchwork. The defense is stout and would have to have an all-time great season to win the division again for Carolina. Tampa Bay is a much improving team, but this division could swallow them. Lovie Smith will get them on the right track, but we may not see drastic results just yet.
OUTLOOK: To me, there may be no more fun division than this! Honestly, each team will be fun to watch. The Packers are strong, especially with Aaron Rodgers (hopefully) back to play 16 games this season. He missed a ton of time last year and they still won the division. The Bears offense is bonkers. The Lions, though now without Scott Linehan, always has potential to put up video game numbers. All three defenses have their holes, so expect some shootouts. I separate them by history. The Packers have shown me the confidence in Rodgers and Mike McCarthy to win a division. The Bears have shown me the ability to hang in there but just not reaching the top. The Lions have shown me the ability to let me down right when I think they have it figured out. Minnesota is the odd child here, but this is a team that made the postseason two years ago and actually finished only 3 games back of the division champs. They'll be playing outdoors this season and still have Adrian Peterson. They also have Norv Turner running the offense and Mike Zimmer, the new head coach, one of the better defensive minds. Again, this division should be fun!
OUTLOOK: The Super Bowl champs reside here as do the NFC title game runners-up. To most people, the two best NFC teams are the Seahawks and Niners. I'm one of them. Seattle's home field advantage is real as is their defense (though they lost some key guys). Russell Wilson's leadership was a breakout star and Marshawn Lynch still has some left in the tank. Remember that Percy Harvin pretty much missed all of last season as well. The 49ers move into their new digs in Santa Clara which makes me a bit cautious of having them pass Seattle. I know it may seem dumb, but a new stadium doesn't always equal to a home field advantage. It may take them a while to get used to Levi Stadium about an hour away from San Francisco. Arizona was a bit of a surprise last year (they finished 10-6), and they could be better ... especially if Carson Palmer cuts down on the turnovers. Losing Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington could really delay that. The Rams, again, see Sam Bradford severely injured and it may be time to move on from the former No. 1 overall pick. St. Louis has a very good defense, but in a league filled with dynamic offenses they just can't match that power.
NFC PLAYOFF PICKS
Packers, Seahawks, Saints, Eagles, 49ers, Bears
NFC TITLE GAME
49ers over Seahawks
OUTLOOK: This should be pretty easy for the Patriots to win. Tom Brady & Co are the only team that has the look of a division champion. The other three teams have to show me a bit. Something about the Dolphins makes me place them second. Despite all the crap that went on last year, Miami went 8-8. Get rid of all that nonsense and maybe the Phins can improve. The Jets got Eric Decker and Chris Johnson (as well as drafting receivers) to help out Geno Smith. Even at their weakest, Rex Ryan's defenses tend to do well so Smith ... or Michael Vick ... can have success. Buffalo is in the same boat. E.J. Manuel now has a big time receiver in Sammy Watkins and a decent defense to help him along.
OUTLOOK: Just like the Patriots will dominate the East, the Colts should cruise through the South. Andrew Luck is nearly among the elite QBs in the league and there is talent all around him. No, maybe it isn't Super Bowl talent but it is plenty good enough to win this sad division. I'm going with the Titans next since I do like Jake Locker. He may be unreliable but he's pretty good. Chris Johnson is gone, but this Bishop Sankey could be the break out back this season. Houston could have a great defense and guys like Arian Foster and Andrew Johnson are still there, but that offense is being led by Ryan Fitzpatrick ... who is now just a journeyman. If he has one of his low-turnover, high passing seasons, the Texans could fight for a playoff spot. The Jaguars will be improved, but are still looking towards the future. I think Blake Bortles will get the starting gig soon and will have the usual growing pains.
OUTLOOK: The Bengals look to repeat as division champions and certainly have the talent to do it. Andy Dalton got paid, A.J. Green is among the best receivers in the NFL and they have a top notch defense. However, Cincinnati's two coordinators, Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer, are now the head coaches in Washington and Minnesota, respectively. How will a change on both sides of the ball affect Cincy? The Ravens and Steelers should fight for a wildcard berth. Baltimore took a huge tumble after their Super Bowl season and watched their star running back, Ray Rice, go through a rough offseason. Gary Kubiak is the new offensive coordinator, so it will be interesting to see how Joe Flacco performs. The Steelers are in the same boat. They struggled last season, but did win their final three games to make a late playoff push and give hope to this season. The Browns still live at the bottom, but they do have two things going for them. That defense is pretty darn good and they will get their share of (over) exposure due to Johnny Football.
OUTLOOK: Denver is the class of the AFC, to me. Some think they could go undefeated, but I don't think that's worth the trouble. Remember that they broke a ton of offensive records only to go down in flames in the Super Bowl. The Broncos are truly the only team in the NFL that is in a "Championship or Bust" mode. Anything less will be a horrid disappointment. After the Broncos, I think the Chargers are team to deal with in the division. They surprised many by making the playoffs last year. I think they will be even more improved with the depth they added this offseason. Kansas City was that team that came from the bottom and made the playoffs. Could Andy Reid's team fall back down or will Alex Smith and Jamal Charles make another postseason run? The Raiders could be the worst team in the NFL. The most interesting thing about them will be the rumors of them moving to Los Angeles, San Antonio or anywhere.
AFC PLAYOFF PICKS
Broncos, Patriots, Colts, Bengals, Ravens, Chargers
AFC TITLE GAME
Patriots over Broncos
NFL OVERALL OUTLOOK
It looks like this every season, but there seems to be a glut of mediocrity in the league, which should make the wildcard races stunning, and very few elite teams. To me, the Broncos and Patriots are by far the best in the AFC with the Seahawks, Niners and, possibly, the Packers in that league in the NFC. I think the Rams, Raiders, Browns and Jaguars will be among the weakest teams of the league. Everyone else is up for grabs.
I have a 49ers-Patriots Super Bowl. Both teams lost their respective conference championship games last season. Both have improved and may be able to knock off their opponents in my conference title game rematches. And both can do so on the road.
I know that isn't going out on much of a limb, but I'm leaning more toward a chalk season. Yeah, we could get some awesome stories like a Steelers rise back to the postseason, the Texans going from worst to first, an amazing race in the NFC North or seeing what Andy Reid's Chiefs do for an encore.
To me, all that will whittle down and the cream will rise to the top. Yeah, we love to make fun of the fact that the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl in a decade. But they lost two nail biters and have been to 8 of the last 13 AFC title games. The Broncos could pull a sequel of their record breaking 2013 season and they are fully a championship-or-bust team, but the Peyton Manning led squad will come up short.
In the NFC, Seattle and San Francisco are the class of the league. I see them facing off three times with a Super Bowl berth on the line again. This time, the Niners win it.
In the Super Bowl? San Francisco over New England. The Patriots yet again lose a close Super Bowl due to a big game by Colin Kaepernick.