If I remember correctly, I have buried my NFL season predictions in a TMQ over the past couple of years. I think it's time for my stupidity to come to the forefront and so I am doing this by putting my 2014 NFL season predictions out for everyone to see/ignore. The NFL is a funny league to try and predict, because in August it doesn't make sense how a team could make the playoffs and sometimes the best teams the year before aren't good at all the following season. So here's my best shot:
New England Patriots (13-3): It's pretty much sacrilegious to not put the Patriots as the winner of the AFC East. Though I still don't love their receivers (Brady makes them 25% better so it's probably silly to care), the defense looks much improved to me. Revis and Browner on separate sides with Jerod Mayo healthy equals another AFC East title. This is an easy pick because the AFC East that strong and the Patriots are still a strong team.
New York Jets (9-7): I desperately want to like another team in the AFC East. So I have chosen the Jets as the team I like, because even though they have major cornerback issues, they have a really good front seven. I haven't given up on Geno Smith, but at some point I can see Mike Vick getting a shot. There still aren't great offensive weapons, but out of Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory, and Bilal Powell they can run the ball enough to win some games. Right?
Miami Dolphins (5-11): I should be liking this team more. But the brutal middle-to-end of their schedule with Green Bay, Chicago, Denver, San Diego, Baltimore, and New England is talking me out of it. I never liked Tannehill, but I have to admit he has held up well with the pressure he's faced. I'm convinced the Dolphins have upgraded their offensive line and this is a very, very important year for Joe Philbin. Unlike Jeff Fisher, he doesn't have stability after this season. I see five sure losses in the middle of the schedule and it's not hard to find at least four more losses in there as well. Maybe I shouldn't base it on their schedule, but I don't see where more than 7-8 wins are coming from.
Buffalo Bills (4-12): The Bills' schedule doesn't seem so bad to me. Still, there are so many red flags that I can't ignore. A lot of how I feel about a team is based on that team's quarterback and Doug Marrone is publicly talking about what E.J. Manuel has to fix and is accusing him of trying to throw the ball to a point. Marrone is also arguing with a defensive player and that defensive player isn't backing down, and though I'm really liking the receivers they have given Manuel, I don't trust him at this point. If I didn't see such bad omens I think they would have a chance. I simply don't believe.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5): This is a hard division to predict, but I have the Steelers winning the division because I think their defensive is going to improve from being middle-of-the-pack last year. The Steelers are semi-famous for having great linebackers and I think they have four really good ones this year. With an offensive line that seems somewhat improved as long as there aren't injuries on the line and Le'Veon Bell (boy, I was wrong about him it seems) carrying the football and Markus Wheaton improving, I think the Steelers make it back to the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens (10-6): It's probably boring to rank the teams like this with it being Steelers and then Ravens, but I think the Steelers passing will improve with Steve Smith and Owen Daniels complementing Dennis Pitta. I liked the addition of C.J. Mosley and hopefully the offensive line will protect Joe Flacco. The Ravens have done a really good job of rebuilding the safety position and I think Ray Rice will have a bounceback season.
Cleveland Browns (6-10): Call me crazy, but I really like their defense. I believe in Justin Gilbert and Joe Haden as being a great corner combination. Gilbert will have chances to make plays as teams throw away from Haden. Offense is obviously the issue since the Browns have very few quality receivers, but I'm buying a Miles Austin comeback season and think the offensive line will be good enough to protect Hoyer/Manziel. It's a team on the rise (JUST LIKE THE RAMS!), but not this year.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-10): I don't believe the pass rush will be as strong this year and if the new defensive coordinator is planning on attacking a little more I think it's going to put more pressure on what I view as just a couple of decent guys at safety. While acknowledging I have the WR-empty Browns as 6-10 (and the Bengals do have better receivers than the Browns), I think teams are going to find more success this year blanketing A.J. Green and forcing Andy Dalton to find other receivers. It's an improved division and the Bengals are nearly the worst team in it.
Indianapolis Colts (10-6): I struggled hard with this pick. I can't find a team in the AFC South that will challenge the Colts though. The Texans have no QB, the Jaguars have Chad Henne, and the Titans have Jake Locker who can't stay healthy. The Colts win by default. Andrew Luck has some nice weapons to work with at wide receiver, but it would be nice if the Colts gave him a running back. One concern is the defense. It gave up the 9th fewest points last year while giving up the 20th most yards. If those yards turn into points this year then 10 wins may be out of the question. Still, the Colts are the best team in the division.
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8): I believe for some reason. I don't think Chad Henne is great and I haven't ever liked Blake Bortles, but the Jaguars are improved on offense and Gus Bradley knows how to build a defense. We'll see, but a lot of what I read prior to writing these sentences marvel at how Bradley is dedicated to turning this team into a winner. It's an easy division too. I think they get to 8 wins.
Houston Texans (6-10): The reality of this situation is the Texans don't need a great quarterback. They have Arian Foster, DeAndre Hopkins, and Andre Johnson, as well as a really stout defense. Giving this defense Jadeveon Clowney is almost unfair. Still, they need a competent quarterback to win games and I don't see one on the roster. And yes, I just had a Chad Henne-led team go 8-8. If they had a good quarterback I could see this team win the division. As it stands, I can't get behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. Unfortunately, I think Andre Johnson feels the same way.
Tennessee Titans (6-10): I like the offensive line and I like the top-3 receivers. Assuming Jake Locker stays healthy and improves his accuracy, the Titans could slip into the Wild Card conversation. Neither of those things I am willing to count on though. The front seven on defense has to get pressure on the quarterback because the secondary is a question mark in my mind. I'm interested to see how Ken Whisenhunt does with this team. The talent is there, but with questions at quarterback and a defense I don't completely believe in, I can't put them in the playoffs.
Denver Broncos (14-2): The Broncos will lose to the Seahawks in Seattle and to San Diego once. Other than that, they are as good as they were on offense last year and the defense on paper looks to have improved. Of course Manning has to stay healthy for 14 wins to happen, which means his offensive line will have to protect him and he will have to know when to get rid of the football. I have no doubt the second part will happen. I think they are as good, if not better, than they were last year. Now if someone could just educate Wes Welker about what a "Molly" is then the Broncos would be a talented and slightly more informed team.
San Diego Chargers (11-5): This is another team I have read great things about regarding their defensive ability. Philip Rivers had a rejuvenating year because he actually had receivers to throw to and I think Ladarius Green starts to become a lesser version of Antonio Gates. They are going to score points and it's just a matter of the defense playing well. They are similar to the Colts in that they gave up the 11th fewest points last year and were 23rd in yards allowed. The difference is I think the Chargers have improved in the secondary, where they have added Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers.
Kansas City Chiefs (6-10): Yeah, I'm probably a hater. I don't think the combination of Alex Smith with poor receivers is going to lead to success. The Chiefs defense is good, but they gave up a lot of yards last year and I don't see where they have improved. They'll still rush the passer well, but Alex Smith has an offensive line that hasn't improved, few receivers, and an offense that will revolve around Jamaal Charles. I can't see how Smith being a "winner" gets the Chiefs back to the playoffs.
Oakland Raiders (2-14): I don't necessarily dislike the Raiders idea of taking players who are older on shorter contracts, but I also don't think it's made the team better. This is another case of me hating the quarterback they have. I think even if the Raiders start Derek Carr he doesn't have enough to work with at the receiving position to warrant more than four wins. He beat out Schaub, who really does have Jake Delhomme disease. When is Peter King going to start ragging on Schaub for wasting $8 million of the Raiders money? The Raiders are going to lean on the running game to help their QB out, but Maurice Jones-Drew was the offense in Jacksonville for a few years as well and that didn't work out entirely. I don't hate the defensive built with a veteran front seven, but winning enough games to get to .500 relying on those guys? Good luck with that.
Bye: Denver, New England
Wild Card: Pittsburgh over Baltimore, San Diego over Indianapolis
Divisional: Denver over San Diego, Pittsburgh over New England
Championship: Denver over Pittsburgh
Philadelphia Eagles (12-4): Yes, I know. Very uninspired. They have improved in the offseason on offense, like they needed to do that, and I think they will be a step up from where they were defensively last year. I don't buy Chip Kelly as the coach full of wisdom like Peter King does, but he does know how to score points. Like usual, I'm a little nervous the Eagles ability to score quick will tire out the Eagles defense, but I'm not sure that's realistic. Also, Nick Foles can't have the same year this upcoming year he had in 2013 can he?
New York Giants (9-7): I'm not buying the panic in New York about the Giants. I'm concerned, like most people, about Eli Manning's interceptions last year and the lack of protection he received from his offensive line, but he should have healthier receivers this year and I'm not really as concerned about the tight end position. The pass rush should be improved, but I'm still not certain they can win double digit games with games against Arizona, Philadelphia (twice), Atlanta, Indianapolis, Seattle, and San Francisco on their schedule.
Dallas Cowboys (6-10): I just have no idea who the Cowboys will be able to stop on defense. The front seven is pretty uninspiring due to injuries and if the onus is on Tony Romo to outscore other teams than he will be in the situation where he has to score 30 points just to keep the Cowboys in games. I may have said this last year, but this feels like the last year of the Jason Garrett era. The offensive line looks improved, but man, I don't believe this defense can help them get to .500.
Washington Redskins (5-11): Maybe Jay Gruden can trade for A.J. Green? I don't put much stock in preseason results, but the Redskins are a completely different team when Robert Griffin has to stand in the pocket and throw rather than play off his running ability. Griffin is healthy now, which is good, but he still has something to prove to me in terms of actually getting on the field and showing he's healthy. The defense isn't bad and I still can't figure out if DeAngelo Hall is a good corner or overrated. I think it will be a tough year in Washington and any type of quarterback controversy won't help.
Green Bay Packers (10-6): This is another team whose success this season depends a lot on their defense. Aaron Rodgers will score points for the Packers, but will the defense improve to where they aren't a huge liability? Dom Capers is probably coaching for his job, so maybe that will inspire him and the defense. I remember even when the Packers won the Super Bowl, it was because the defense finally stepped up and started playing well. I don't know if the Packers defense will do that this year or not, but I think they are the best team in the NFC North.
Chicago Bears (8-8): It's weird for me to have questions about the Bears on defense, but I think that's where my big issue lies. They have improved the offensive line from two years so Jay Cutler still won't be on the run constantly. I worry about the Bears improving against the run from last season and Jared Allen is going to need to put up 11.5 sacks again if the Bears improve on my predicted record for them. They can score points, but in a division where it seems few teams have a good defense the first team to improve on that side of the ball wins. I don't think that team is Chicago this year.
Minnesota Vikings (6-10): I think they should be starting Teddy Bridgewater. I'm still convinced he is going to be the best QB in the 2014 draft. So, if he's not ready then I guess Matt Cassel has the job for a while. Putting Cassel in as the starter puts a cap on what I think the Vikings can achieve this year. We know what he is. I like Norv Turner as an offensive coordinator and this record more reflects what I perceive as a lack of ability at the quarterback position and depth at wide receiver than anything else. As a person who has seen Captain Munnerlyn play over the last five years, I'm very concerned about his ability to be a starter. He's a playmaker, but better used in a "joker" type of role. I'm interested to see how they utilize Anthony Barr too.
Detroit Lions (5-11): It's fairly well-known here that I am not a huge Jim Caldwell fan. In fact, I think as a head coach he is a failure and has a proven track record in college and the NFL that if he doesn't have Peyton Manning as his QB, then he doesn't have a good team. The Lions are the perfect team for Caldwell, because his teams can always score and the Lions will score. On paper, the Lions should have a great defensive line that takes pressure off their mediocre secondary, but it didn't work quite that way last year. Detroit was sixth in run defense, so they can stop the run, but it's the pass I'm worried about. This will be a Jim Caldwell team and I feel like I know what that means.
New Orleans Saints (11-5): It's hard to pick against the Saints. It's
not "hard" because I really don't like them, but it's hard because they
look like a really good team on paper. We all know Brees is fantastic,
but he's like every other NFL QB. Get pressure in his face and it
bothers him. I see two questions on the Saints offensive line in
Armstead and Lelito. I'm not yet convinced on them. They definitely have
two great safeties, but the corners in Rob Ryan's blitz-heavy defense need to hold up. I question if they can in Year 2 of Ryan's defensive regime. Still, the Saints win the South because their schedule isn't hard (Cleveland, Minnesota, Dallas, Carolina twice, Detroit and Cincinnati) and they are a talented team.
Atlanta Falcons (10-6): I like the Falcons to bounce back this season. They have already lost their starting left tackle for the season, but Jake Matthews will get a chance to play over there. He played the spot in college, so it's just a matter of adjusting to the competition level of the NFL...that should be easy, right? I think the defense is where the Falcons will improve the most. Young guys like Worrilow, Alford, and Trufant will benefit from the playing time they received last year and I think what the Falcons may lose on the offensive line they will gain in their defense's improvement.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8): I'm glad Lovie Smith has gotten another chance in the NFL. He deserved it. Tell me if this is familiar. He has a team with a semi-question at quarterback, a good running back, great linebackers, potentially shaky offensive line play and a secondary who are going to try and be opportunistic in creating turnovers. This record may be low for them, but I do like the Falcons better. The Buccaneers are going to be very hard to stop in the red zone with Jackson, Evans, Doug Martin, and Seferian-Jenkins. I don't trust the pass rush to be strong enough and I don't know if I feel good about the offensive line to put them in the playoffs.
Carolina Panthers (5-11): They are shaping up to be a disaster. I feel like Riverboat Ron will go back to being conservative once he isn't coaching for his job and the offensive line is a disaster. The good lineman can't stay healthy or are rookies. Cam Newton is already injured before the season begins, when I thought he was going to get injured anyway playing behind a shaky offensive line. So while the receivers aren't much worse than last year, Newton's protection will be and he already has a rib injury. I like the direction they are headed, but unless the defense can win games for them, I don't see how they make the playoffs. I think this is a step back year before another step forward is taken.
Seattle Seahawks (12-4): I think the Seahawks are going to win the NFC West again. They return the core of their team and I think they are even slightly better at the wide receiver and offensive line than they were last year. I still don't know exactly what I think about Russell Wilson, but he makes the right decisions and runs the Seahawks offense very effectively and efficiently. It's very important that Marshawn Lynch stay healthy, because Michael and Turbin are fairly unproven behind him. Still, they are the best team in the NFC until they prove to me otherwise.
Arizona Cardinals (10-6): The best thing the Cardinals can do this year is get Andre Ellington more carries. I think the Cardinals are going to make the playoffs this season with a very good defense (1st against the rush, 14th against the pass last year) and Carson Palmer having some really good receivers to work with in Arians' offensive system. My standard, "How is the offensive line doing" question remains, but it's an improved line now that Jonathan Cooper is back (assuming his hurt toe doesn't hold him back and he isn't as disappointing as Arians finds him to be) and they still have one of the best cornerbacks in the game.
San Francisco 49ers (7-9): I'm pretty sure I had the 49ers third in the NFC West last year too and was wrong about it. I promise I'm not going to put them there until I'm right. On paper, this team looks really good and they have proven me wrong before. It's a team built around running the football and playing good defense. Neither unit has looked great in the preseason (I know, I know...don't put much stock in the preseason) and at some point Frank Gore is going to run down, right? The schedule is difficult with them playing at the Giants, Denver, New Orleans, and Seattle. That doesn't include games against Seattle at home, as well as games against Chicago, Philadelphia and San Diego. That's tough. I think it results in a step-back season.
St. Louis Rams (5-11): I hear Sam Bradford got injured...that true? I almost put the Rams at 8-8 just for fun, but I get the feeling they won't get there. It's frustrating for me and I this is a team with a lot of talent (A TEAM ON THE RISE!), but I'm not ready to bet on Shaun Hill getting them to the playoffs. The defensive talent in the front seven is frightening and my excitement for the defense is somewhat tempered by the secondary. Of course with a great pass rush, the secondary looks better. Lack of stability at quarterback, a tough division and games against Philadelphia, Denver, and San Diego don't make this a winning season.
Bye: Seattle, Philadelphia
Wild Card: New Orleans over Arizona, Atlanta over Green Bay
Divisional: Seattle over Atlanta, New Orleans over Philadelphia
Championship: New Orleans over Seattle
Super Bowl: Denver over New Orleans