NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Good: Added a pair of physical press corners in the elite Revis & huge Browner, Now Bill can be blitz happy again. Tom Brady is a legend and he can still lead them to another ring. I hesitate to put Gronk here, but if he is healthy he changes this entire team. Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones are both elite talents that just need a little jump up to be elite players. Even if Vince Wlfork is 90 percent of the player he was this entire team will benefit from his play and leadership.
The Bad: Belichick's ginormous ego has jettisoned another Patriot team leader for not kowtowing to his slightest whims, Logan Mankins joins, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, and Richard Seymour in a long line of Patriot greats cast aside for even daring to question Emperor Bill. At least with Seymour he got a kings ransom ,He got very little for Moss. basically a lesser Welker in Amendola . Tim Wright and a mid-round draft pick maybe nothing ,or a lot depending on what Wright & the player they take with that pick do. However, jettisoning a still good player, and well liked leader right before the season probably won't help the locker room. It would probably take the loyal Brady to do it. ,so its very unlikely , but I pray a locker room revolt finally comes and deposes Bill the dictator. A brilliant coach? Yes, but also a man who has forgotten loyalty has to go both ways. Belichick still hasn't tried to get Brady the big #1 receiver he has lacked since Moss left and this interior O-line is likely to get Tom killed..
Barring a Brady injury this team should roll to another division title and playoff run. Since every team in the division is in a rebuilding mode they could probably still win 8 or 9 games even if he got hurt, but any Superbowl hopes would be dashed ... unless Garropolo is the Brady. Billy would love that. He could dump Tom for some draft picks, play a cheap QB, and take even more credit if they won again.
NEW YORK JETS
The Good: Rex Ryan is probably the best defensive coach in the game and his players have his back. A really strong front seven on defense, Geno Smith's growth is likely & Vick is a good backup, and they gave home some good weapons in Eric Decker, Jace Amaro, and others. .Muhammeed Wilkerson & Sheldon Richardson are both a handful that any offense has to game plan for.
The Bad: Free agent losses & misses , cap casualties injuries, and underdeveloped draft picks at corner have made this position a major weakness. Add an O-line who's best players( Mangold and Ferguson) had down years in 2013 and who are now in their thirties needs to be rebuilt. I don't like paying Chris Johnson a lot of money when he didn't run well behind a better line ,in a better offense last year.
Prediction 8-8: I believe in Rex , that front seven, and Jace Amaro can play 500 ball in a week division.
The Good: Richie Incognito and Johnathan Martin are both gone. Shelly Smith is an upgrade at one guard spot , if Mike Pouncey can heal quickly , added to Pro-Bowler Branden Albert & 1rst rounder Ja'wuau James could turn a weak O-line into a strength. Between the draft and free agency this whole roster has been upgraded.Jarvis Landry and Brian Hartline will catch almost everything thrown their way if Tannehill throws it to them.
The Bad: Coach Joe Philbin is on the hot-seat, their main owner seems to be half Jerry Jones - half Daniel Snyder. Pouncey is already hurt. Mike Wallace still hasn't shown a #1 wide receivers hands or route running, despite the paycheck of one. Ryan Tannehill still hasn't developed enough to lay claim to the title franchise of QB. This is probably the last chance for Philbin & Tannehill in Miami, At the very least at least I think at least one of them is gone unless they make the playoffs.
Prediction:7-9. I just don't have faith in Tannehill , Philbin, and especially Samson Satelle.
The Good: A good front seven, A big physical O-line and a stable of running backs to control the clock. A weak enough division that If EJ Manuel takes a step forward they could actually make a playoff run. A stable of talented receivers led by the explosive Sammy Watson that can turn short passes into big gains. They stopped giving away home games to Canada. The front 7 is one of the leagues best , and the bills led the league in sacks last year.
The Bad: EJ Manuel injury proneness is becoming a problem. You can't grow into a franchise QB if you can't stay on the field(Sam Bradford 2?) . They gave up lot for Watkins(next years #1) and if they don't perform well that could be another top 10, maybe even top 5 pick. That not only puts extra pressure on Watkins, but if a new owner comes in he probably cleans house. A job without a #1 pick in a small market isn't as attractive to a top GM , and coaching candidates as others. Losing their best secondary defender and ball hawk Jairus Byrd is going to hurt them. Mike Pettine was an excellent defensive play caller and his ability to call the right scheme at the right time will be missed.
Predction:: 6-10 : It all depends on EJ's growth and health. Right now his inability to stay healthy and throw down field makes me doubt they move forward.
The Good: The Bengals are still the most talented team in the division , had another great draft, and have been to the playoffs 3 years in a row. AJ Green and Vontaze Burfict are elite talents. The Bengal trait of taking guys who fall for character reasons has paid off, with about 50% becoming the players they could be, Marvin Lewis and his staff should be commended. Geno Atkins returns from ACL surgery. Even at 90% of what he was pre-injury he changes their entire defense.
The Bad: The Bengals lost some very good players to free agency this year, have lost in the first round all 3 years in the playoffs, they paid Andy Dalton even though he has been inconsistent ,and has never played well in the playoffs. Mike Brown's cheapness is legendary. If he was smart they wouldn't have tried to make it work with the cheaper Andy Dalton.
Prediction:10-6; Division Title: The rest of the division got better but I still think the Bengals squeak by to a division title and the playoffs. Unless Dalton gets better in the clutch, or his arm suddenly gets stronger I see them failing in the postseason again.
The Good: Pittsburgh's defense had gotten really old, but the last couple of years they have had a infusion of youth. The O-line has also improved and this is Big Bens contract year. This blend of youth, young veterans,, and core leadership old guys has the mix of a playoff team. Adding Ryan Shazier's speed and athleticism, next to Lawrence Timmons on the inside gives them a tandem to rival Willis & Bowman in Frisco and Kuechly & Davis in Carolina. The schemes and tricks they can pull now are huge and I am sure Dick LeBeau is salivating. This was also the best draft they have had in a long time. They have big power running backs and explosive receivers to open it up.
The Bad: In the past this team has not done well without Big Ben or Polamalu . They are 32 and 34 years old respectively. Despite asking for a big WR for years they only gave Ben 2 big guys with suspect hands(Heyward-Bey & Bryant)and 2013 6th rounder Justin Brown.
Prediction:9-7:wildcard If this team gets into the playoffs healthy they can make a Superbowl run, but they lack depth, so I doubt it.
The Good: After their second Superbowl victory the 2 best leaders(Ray Lewis & Ed Reed) in franchise history were gone. They have spent the last 2 off-seasons rebuilding their linebacker and safety corps. Joe Flacco is a QB who has proven he can win it all in the biggest games.
The Bad: This defense is still good and Ozzie Newsome is still the best GM in football so they can never fall far out of contention for long. One more great draft and hopefully their O-line & pass rush will be elite again. Right now despite a slight upgrade this off-season the O-line is a question mark and I doubt they can run the ball well enough to be a contender. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are still good players, but not the great players their salaries demand.
Prediction:8-8: Flacco was great in the playoffs but that 20 million salary is slowing their reloading program. They can still make a run this year but a whole lot would have to right on offense for it to happen.
The Good: This defense looks to playoff caliber and Johnny Football will energize the fan base and sell tickets. They replaced middling D'qwell Jackson( king of the tackle 8 yards down-field ) with the bigger, better, and more athletic Karlos Dansby.
The Bad: The kangaroo court ownership fired the front office for telling him to draft the better QB in Teddy Bridgewater instead of Manziel. Josh Gordon has shown that smoking weed is more important to him than playing football. Manziel has also not shown the signs of maturity we all hoped for. They replaced a young athletic a big hitting safety in TJ Ward with an old safety who only provides big hits in Donte Whitner.
Prediction:6-10: Without Gordon and a smarter Manziel I see their playoff hopes being delayed until next season.
The Good: Andrew Luck was the kind of QB prospect that comes along every couple of generations and he has lived up to it. He is an elite QB in my mind already and that's with a subpar O-line and average defense. Luck is surrounded with good receivers and tight ends.The rest of the team is in their second season in Pep Hamiltons offense, and hopefully they can catch up to Luck in understanding its nuances.While every team in their division improved this off-season the Colts are still as close to a lock to repeat as champs as there is.
The Bad: Their isn't one player on this O-line I would call good. Their tackles are a little above average, but all 3 interior lineman were downright bad last year. Luck carried this team while surviving brutal hits all year. Hopefully 2013 4th rounder Khalled Holmes and this years second rounder college tickle Jack Mewhort can improve the center and left guard. Other than Luck the 2 best players on this team are Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne. Mathis is 33 and suspended the first 4 games of the season and may not be the same player drug free & post injury . Wayne is 35 and coming off a rebuilt knee. They need to stop pissing away the years where Luck doesn't cost much on a bunch of overpriced mid-level vets ,and get some more elite players in here. They need to especially upgrade their O-line and front seven. Trent Richardson needs to be the player he was coming out of Alabama. Right now the burst and vision he had are missing.
Predictions: 11-5 Luck in a division without any other established QB's makes them a huge favorite. They have a chance to make a Superbowl run ,but both lines need to step up for them to make it. They also have a chance to completely collapse if key players(especially Luck and to a lesser extent Mathis) get hurt.
The Good: The Offensive and defensive lines and receiving core look pretty good, with a nice mixture of youth and veterans in all 3 areas. The O-line might be to full with # 1 pick Taylor Lewan not having a place to play just yet. Maybe they didn't think he would be their when they signed Michael Oher, or maybe they just expect him to be the swing tackle until he can step in for Michael Roos next season, but using your #1 pick on a guy who might not play this year tells you Ken Whisenhunt is thinking long term. Jurrell Casey is a flat out stud, and even in a 3-4 guys who can penetrate and hold the point of attack will still be studs. This team is solid in all areas except one, and decent QB play will probably get them in the playoffs.
The Bad: I have never been a big fan of Jake Lockers. He lacks accuracy and poise as a passer. He also has trouble staying healthy ,staying in the pocket , and going through his progressions. Part of the reason he gets hurt so often is he makes most of his better plays with his feet. Whisenhunt has a good touch with QB's. It's telling that they didn't pick up Lockers option before this season, but if Jake can't get it together this year they likely move on to a new QB. Whether that means they give Zach Mettenburger a shot or draft a new guy is what this season will tell us.
Prediction: 7-9 : I just don't trust Locker to improve enough ,or stay healthy enough even if he does , to get them into the post season.
The Good: Gus Bradley had these guys playing well at the end of last season, and they got a lot of good young players in the draft to help out for the long term future of the franchise. They added some quality mid-level FA vets to help teach these kids how to be pros. The secondary improved as the season went along last year. They also added some good young play makers to help Bortle's out when he does take over.
The Bad: Using a 1rst and 4th round picks on players you basically plan to red shirt this year tells us that there is no urgency to make the playoffs now. Also this O-line is bad with way too many things having to go right to make it good. It's nice they went after Alex Mack , but when they missed out on him why wait until the 7th round to draft a center? They did bring in Zane Beadles and draft Brandon Linder, but when even both play well they still have Austin Pasztor or Cameron Bradfield on the right side. On second thought I am actually glad they are red shirting Blake Bortles. I wouldn't want to see him be ruined like David Carr behind a bad O-line.
Prediction: 6-10 : Hopefully this season ends the same way as last year. With the team on the upswing, but with the added attraction of Blake Bortles leading the team to victory's to end the season, and a lot of hope on the horizon for long suffering jaguars fans.
The Good: JJ Watt is at least the best defensive player in the NFL, if not its best overall player. Add the freakish ability of Jadavian Clowney , the hope that JJ's work ethic wears off on him ,and the Texans could have a unstoppable combo that is even better than Justin and Aldon Smith some day. A great draft and a new regime change for a team that was very recently in the playoffs should mean a quick turnaround. Brian Cushing is healthy . Texans need to cross their hands he stays that way, because they are a different defense with him on the field.They have a really weak schedule.
The Bad: As great as that draft was, if they had traded back into the first round and gotten Teddy Bridgewater I think this team would be in the playoffs this year . They could have set themselves up as perennial contender. Getting a long term project like Tom Savage is fine if you have a serviceable veteran QB. If O'brien can fix Ryan Fitzpatrick enough to make him a playoff QB then he isn't a QB guru, he's a QB messiah! If they had traded for Ryan Mallett at the draft or before camp began he could have had decent shot to show whether he is a viable long term option. It's great they got him so cheap after he got demoted ,but now he's playing catch up and probably lacks the reps to get the best out of him. You could legitimately see 3 different QB's get significant time this season, and that is almost always a bad thing for the season it happens in. Arian Foster looks like he is breaking down more every carry.
Predictions:5-11: QB woes and uncertainty will make this a rebuilding year. If Fitzpatrick could be just league average they could be a playoff team, but I doubt it.
The Good: Pretty much everything. Peyton was historically good last year. a good O-line should be even better with Ryan Clady returning. I will trade Erick Decker for Emmanuel sanders and Cody Latimer any time. So the receiving core should be better. Add DeMarcus Ware to a returning Von Miller and the pass rush can be elite. Free agent signings Aquib Talib & TJ Ward to returning from injury starters Rahim Moore and Chris Harris could mean an entirely new secondary in the superbowl ( if they make it back) this season.
The Bad: Not much really. Linebacker Brandon Marshall is unproven and may be the weakness in the middle of the defense. Montee Ball has big shoes to fill after Knowshon Moreno finally played like the player the broncos took in the first round last year. Maybe a combination of Ball, Ronnie Hillman, and CJ Anderson can be better. Matt Prater is suspended for the first 4 games for violating the leagues substance abuse policy, but I suspect they will survive. Other than that Elway's biggest worry is probably that Peyton wins the Superbowl and retires. I think any team would kill for that to be a worry.
Prediction: 12-4: Home field advantage: AFC champion: In the Superbowl.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
The Good: Phillip Rivers looked like a franchise QB again after the front office improved the O-line and changing to an offense designed to get rid of the ball quicker. Funny how that works huh? A bad secondary could now be a strength after adding Jason Verret in the draft and free agent cast off Brandon Flowers in free agency. Adding them to the already great Erik Weddell can only be an improvement. A full season with Keenan Allen as the #1 receiver and Ladarius Green teaming up with Antonio Gates should provide for some big plays. Ryan Matthews in a contract year, so if he is ever going to be healthy and hold onto the ball, now is the time. Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attachou could be a long term excellent pass rushing duo off the edge.If Dwight Freeney is healthy he can teach them both a lot.
The Bad: While the O-line was improved at tackle with they are still lacking guards that can regularly keep the pocket from collapsing on Phillip Rivers. Also this team lacks speed. They have a lot of good football players but they need a burner who can stretch the field. 7th rounder Tevin Reese could fill that void if he ever learns to catch the ball consistently, but he is on the practice squad right now. Kendall Reyes needs to step up opposite Corey Liuget. Luiget draws the blockers , but Reyes still lacks the ability to win his one on ones.
Predictions: 9-7 : A much tougher schedule should make it harder to make the playoffs, but as long as Rivers is healthy they have a good shot .If they are in the tournament they will go as far as Rivers can take them.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The Good: Andy Reid is an excellent coach and Jamal Charles is a weapon whenever he's on the field . If they decide to go with a two TE set with Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano they could actually have decent offense . Alex Smith is the right QB to go with a run heavy, ball control , conservative , trust the defense approach. However, I doubt Andy Reid can keep from throwing it too much. The defense is loaded with pro bowl players at every level and is the best reason they have a chance to make the playoffs.
The Bad: The O-line lost 4 players to free agency. The only returning player in the same position is center Rodney Hudson . Eric Fisher is moving to left tackle , but at least he was on the team last year. Too many questions have turned a team strength into a probable weakness. They lack weapon sat wide receiver. Dwayne Bowe's biggest strength as a receiver is his blocking. Donnie Avery has speed, but is injury prone with suspect hands. Former #1 pick & bust AJ Jenkins is a lesser version of Avery right now. If this team needs Alex Smith to win games instead of driving the bus that new contract they just gave him is going to be an albatross around their necks pretty quickly.
Predictions: 7-9 : A tough schedule added to too many losses on the O-line make me think they don't even make it to .500 this year.
The Good: They had a very good draft. If they had a draft like this last year ,I would have more hope for this teams prospects this season. Despite losing LT Jared Veldheer this O-line should be better on the whole. New LT Donald Penn has been overrated for awhile but he is still at least serviceable, especially as a run blocker. Rookie LG Gabe Jackson was a steal in the 3rd round. Center Steve Wisniewski is an above average center ,and a building block for the future. RG Austin Howard is probably a better fit as a guard than he was at tackle. 2nd year rookie Menelik Watson is so talented he should end up with the right tackle job pretty soon, especially since Khalif Barnes is bad. Khalil Mack and a couple of other young guys might help too.In typical Raider fashion there is some really good young talent that are better athletes than football players. Hopefully some of them will step up too.
The Bad: Reggie McKenzie needed to bring back Lamar Houston and Jared Veldheer . They were both young free agents that could have been building blocks for the future. Instead he lost both and ending up overpaying for a lot of past their prime free agents. At best this team wins 6 games, and that's if everything works out. While I am not a big Derek Carr fan his mobility ,and strong arm give them a better chance of winning this year than Matt Schaub does. I just hope he doesn't get ruined like his brother by having too much on his plate too early. Then again this O-line is already better than the one that almost got big brother killed in his first 2 seasons. The Roger Scaffold bad contract was suspiciously saved by a bad physical. Whoever flunked scaffold probably saved Mckenzie from himself.
Predictions: 3-13:Tough schedule for a bad team. When all the over priced veterans get hurt and the young guys get to play they might start helping next years team, but its probably too late to save the jobs of McKenzie and Dennis Allen.
The Good: Chip Kelly is a great innovator. His offense is already changing the game. Adding Jordan Matthews in the draft gives them a chance to have a real long term #1 receiver. The O-line was one of the leagues best last year. Its already littered with pro bowlers and 2 of these guy's are still young. Shady McCoy is already a game breaker. Adding Darren Sproles to Shady makes this offense doubly explosive. Kelly's health regimen may be the wave of the future after his team had so few injuries last year, but we need a larger sample size to say its more than luck right now.The duel threats of Brent Celek and Zack Ertz at TE can make a big difference for this team. Nick Foles was fantastic last year in a offense that he isn't really suited too. I expect the league will catch up to him some , but having a possible young franchise QB is always a plus. If he has another good year ,and ask for more money than Chip wants to pay don't be surprised if Chip trades him and goes after Marcus Mariota in the draft.
The Bad: I still don't like this secondary. There is no one there that looks like a play-maker, although Jenkins has a tendency to make as many bad plays as he gives up. Marcus Smith was a huge reach as first round pick. Trent Cole will be 32 this year and he is still the best pass rusher this team has. Unless Kelly is a health genius its unlikely they are remain so healthy for the second year in a row.
Predictions: 10-6 : Division Title
The Good: The offensive line should be excellent ,and the offense as a whole has a chance to be elite. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zach Martin are all potential perennial pro bowlers. They have a great receiving core and a stud starting running back. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are the most reliable WR/TE duo in the game. Four things need to happen for this offense to reach its potential. Lance Dunbar needs to stay healthy and take some of the load off Murray, they have to be committed to running the ball, the O-line needs to stay healthy, and Tony Romo needs to stay healthy. Dan Bailey is the best kicker in the league from 45 yards in.
The Bad: Jerry Jones is the worst GM ( get a cover safety already !)in all of pro sports. His wish to be in the spotlight and take credit for the teams success are more important to him than winning. The defense was historically bad last season, the amount of injuries to the D-line was staggering, and the 3 best players on it won't be in the lineup this season. Demarcus Ware was cut , even though he was willing to take a pay cut. Jason Hatcher got overpaid by division rival Washington, and Sean Lee tore his ACL. Crazy as it sounds I expect them to be a little bit better this season. Rod Marinelli should run a more aggressive scheme than Kiffin for one. Secondly, they have far more depth on defense than they did last year. There were multiple games last year where they were starting guys on Sunday they signed off the street that week on defense.That stud running back has a bad injury history, but since he's a FA this year you can bet they have a better chance of Murray staying healthy. Finally , Romo has had back-to-back seasons of back surgery ,he missed most of the off season , a fair amount of a training camp where they are adjusting their scheme ,and is breaking in a new play caller. Their 3 best pass rushers are hurt or coming off serious knee injuries where you don't even know if they will return to form. With DeMarcus Lawrence out until at least the second half of the season, Henry Melton & Anthony Spencer still not %100 for week one, I just can't give them much of a chance with so many things needing to go right.
Prediction: 7-9 : This team could go 11-5 if they commit to running the ball, the defense is even a little decent, Romo is healthy all year ,and he plays as good as he did last season. Personally I doubt he even plays 10 games.They could also go 5-11 if he gets hurt early. At least it's unlikely they go 8-8 again.
The Good: The Redskins had salary cap flexibilty to fill holes, a good draft, got rid of the Shanahan's, and will probably have a high # 1 pick next season. That's unlike the last 2 seasons. They also have a great receiving core and some running back talent as well. RG3 is healthy, and if he returns to the form of his pre-injury rookie year he will be a great one. If they feed Alfred Morris the rock and then let RG3 work off play action to throw it to Garcon, Jackson, Roberts, and Reed it should go well for them on offense.The D-line and rush backers are very good, but Orapko needs to stay healthy for them to make the playoffs.
The Bad: Is RG3 the elite talent with the big smile we all loved at first, or is he the guy who seems kind of spoiled lately. I have never seen so many fans have their dreams come true, and then turn on the same player in so short a time. Griffin needs a good year and no bad press to regain Washington fans love. The secondary is scary as well. It's a mixture of past their prime guys who commit too many stupid penalties and unproven youngsters.
Prediction: 6-10: Griffin still doesn't look comfortable. A new O-line, blocking scheme, and offense make this look like a transition year to me.
NEW YORK GIANTS
The Good: The defense was actually pretty good last year , but now their leader ( Justin Tuck) is gone. JPP hasn't been the same since back surgery , but he needs to return to form this year. On offense the giants added some new young weapons in Odell Beckham and Andre Williams, and a possible center of the future in Weston Richburg . They also have Victor Cruz and 2103 #1 pick Justin Pugh played better in the second half.
The Bad: Eli was terrible last year and so was the O-line. While there is probably some correlation there I still don't expect Eli to be much better this year. Chris Snee was the best lineman the G-men have had in the last decade but he retired. Even if Geoff Schwartz and Weston Richburg are starters I expect this to be only an average line . His new offense should limit Eli's mistakes, but he did not look at all comfortable in it in the pre-season. Eli is NOT Peyton. He won't spend 16 hours day practicing and watching film, That is what is needed to learn a new offense. I just feel like he isn't interested in being he best he can be. He's got his rings and his money already. I have a feeling the giants will move on from him after this season unless that drastically changes.
Prediction: 5-11 : It's a rebuilding year for the offense to me. I don't trust Eli to work hard enough to bring them up to par, and the defense will be hurt by spending too much time on the field.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The Good: Aaron Rodgers is an elite QB and he is healthy again. He has a ton of a talent at the skill positions too. Between Nelson, Cobb, Lacy, Boykins, and rookies Devante Adams and Richard Rogers this offense is loaded . If Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews stay healthy then the inability to double team both will pay huge dividends. The packers also have the only good secondary in the NFC north. Combining them with the pass rush improvement makes me think they will force a lot of turnovers. The pack has a good coach and front office so they are always a talented roster as a whole.
The Bad: The one place the pack hasn't had much luck in the draft is the O-line. First round tackles Derek Sherrod & Bryan Bulaga have been a bust , although Bulaga has been good on those rare occasions when he is healthy. After losing Evan Deitrich-Smith in free agency the pack turned to JC Tretter at center, but he got hurt. Now 5th round rookie Corey Linsley is being counted on to start right away. He is a tough, smart guy, but that's asking a lot from a 5th rounder. TJ Lang is OK, while left guard Josh Sitton is as good as they come. 2013 fourth rounder David Bakhtiari played alright when forced into action last year, but he needs to add strength to become a quality starter, and it he didn't look any stronger in the pre-season this year. The middle linebackers are nothing special and they could use an upgrade at both positions. Nose tackle is also a weakness , but injured NT BJ Raji had an off year last season anyway. If I was the pack I would definitely try Datone Jones on the nose . He absolutely wrecked USC in college playing a Jay Ratliff type shaded nose.
Prediction:11-5: Division Title; The Pack has the best QB and secondary in the division hands down. If the O-line can get and stay healthy Green Bay could be back in the Superbowl.
The Good: The Vikings made the bold and brilliant decision to trade up for and draft Teddy Bridgewater, after his unearned draft day fall . The fact that they were also the team to finally make defensive genius Mike Zimmer a head coach makes me think the front office is a long term asset as well . Zimmer in turn hired offensive genius Norv Turner , and once Bridgewater finally takes over I expect this team to be fierce. They reloaded this off season with young talent, Not only in the draft with Bridgewater & Anthony Barr , but throughout the whole draft they took players that produced at the college level. They also signed and resigned some young veterans , and jettisoned some older high priced vets. Throw in weapons like Adrian Peterson, Cordarelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph and this team looks like they are set up to be Superbowl contenders pretty soon.
The Bad: Matt Cassell is a smart solid back up QB, and he should be a boon to Bridgewater as he grows up in the league. However, he shouldn't be a starter. I would have picked the Vikes to go to the playoffs if they had started Teddy from day 1, but they didn't. Peterson also has a huge contract for a RB , will be 30 next year, and recently had a major knee injury. Even a freak of nature like Adrian can go downhill quick, and he knows it. That' s probably why he was trying to get sucker Jerry Jones to trade for him. Jerry just might be flattered enough to probably overpay Peterson after he was no longer the player he has been.
Prediction: 8-8: Not starting Bridgewater out of the gate might cost them a few games and they could miss the playoffs because of it , Although long term they are set up to be a beast.
The Good: Jay Cutler played his best ball last year , and he has some big strong receivers to go get the ball. I will take the 1-2 punch of Marshall and Jeffrey over any teams top 2 wide receivers this season. The O-line was a big plus last year and there is no reason to believe they won't be even better this year, although Jordan Mills needs to progress at right tackle. Matt Forte is a complete back that can be leaned on to close out a game when you have a lead. Bringing in Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Will Sutton, and Ego Ferguson all in the same year shows that the bears knew they had a problem on the D-Line , and wanted to make it a weakness into a strength.
The Bad: The defense was crap last season, but they did have a fair amount of injuries that made it much worse. The once great Charles Tillman tore his ACL last year and is 33 this season, so I see why they drafted a corner high. While I was a big Kyle Fuller fan in the draft they needed a safety badly, and had their pick of the litter at #14. Fourth rounder Brock Vereen may help, but even if he does they need another safety to go with him. I thought they might be moving Peanut or Fuller to safety but they said no. At linebacker ,future HOFer Lance Briggs is still a good player but time and injuries have taken their toll on him. They don't have another LB on the roster that should be starting this year. DJ Williams might be a stopgap, but moving McCellin to LB makes no sense to me. Not to mention that I wouldn't want to depend on Jon Bostic or James Anderson after last year. Mark Trestman got the most out his QB's last year, but Josh McCown did outplay Cutler when he was on the field .
Prediction: 8-8 : The bears are very similar to Dallas. They have a talented QB who lacks much postseason success , who probably won't play a full season , a backup QB who was a former high draft pick who was given up on quickly,a good young O-line, they refuse to spend a lot of money or a high draft pick on safety, and a bad overall defense. The difference is the bears spent more money and draft picks to upgrade their D-line so I say they win one more game.
The Good: New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi should call a more balanced offense than Scott Linehan did, although last year he finally tried to call more runs. They have 3 well rounded every down backs to pull it off if they are healthy. Fantasy football stud Matthew Stafford has elite talent. He is still young, but his history of poor mechanics and bad decisions have kept him from being a stud in real football. He is still a plus though, even though these guys dropped balls like it was a religion last season. Calvin Johnson is a singular talent whose skills can't be matched. The front seven on this defense is very good. Suh is an elite player , and Ziggy Ansah has the talent to be one as well. The addition of sure handed Golden Tate to play opposite Megatron is a smart decision. Throw in the drafting of Eric Ebron at TE , a healthy Ryan Broyles, and Stafford will be the envy of most QB's. The O-line is above average , with 3 young players (Larry Warford , Reilly Reiff , and Corey Hilliard) looking like long term fits. Veteran Rob Sims is solid and center Dominick Raiola had his best season last year.
The Bad: Matthew Stafford. Yep , he is on both lists . The hope in bringing in Lomabardi from New Orleans( he was the QB coach there) is that he can tighten up Matty's mechanics and improve his decision making. The old Stafford put up big numbers but he wasn't the kind of QB who will lead a team to a Super bowl. The secondary, especially the corners is a question mark. They do have a lot young high drafted corners, so all hope is not lost. Nick Fairley is a pro bowl caliber player if he wants to be , but all signs point to him not caring enough to maintain that level of play. He was demoted last year, came to camp out of shape, and the Lions didn't pick up his option.
Prediction: 8-8 : New coaches and scheme's take a while to adjust to. If Stafford's makes the jump up a notch and they stay healthy they are a playoff team. However this division is tough one , and its more likely they beat each other up and only the division champ makes the playoffs.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Good: Drew Brees and Sean Payton are as good as it gets as a QB, leaders, play caller, and head coach. Jimmy Graham is probably one of the 5 best offensive weapons in football. Adding Brandon Cooks to this offense should be illegal and the teams that passed on him to allow it to happen will rue the day they did so. He will be part Darren Sproles and part Steve Smith for this team, and open up the field even more for this offense. Adding Jairus Byrd to a healthy Vaccaro at safety gives Rob Ryan all kind of options on defense. Guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans are still good enough to keep the pocket clean most of the time and the young tackles are on the way up. Veteran center Jonathan Goodwin is still a plus. Junior Galette &Cameron Jordan can both be long term elite defender up front. The decision to basically play nickel as a base defense could be a league wide trend much sooner than you might think. Keenan Lewis added to Byrd, and Vaccaro gives them a potential trio of back end play-makers few can match.
The Bad: Much like Denver the middle linebackers are a question mark. Curtis Lofton is a negative in the pass game. He is a solid run defender between the tackles, but his range is limited . If Pierre Thomas could ever stay healthy he could be a pro bowler, but I doubt that happens. Darren Sproles was the biggest playmaker on the whole team, not just as a RB. He will be missed. Mark Ingram needs to finally be the guy they drafted or this will be his last year as a saint. The corner opposite Lewis is a weakness right now and they are hoping 2nd rounder Stanley Jean-Baptiste grows into the role quickly. A down lineman besides Cam Jordan needs to make a difference. It doesn't even have to be in the same phase of the game. If one could be one good against the pass .and one could be good against the run. They could probably still make it work,
Predictions: 12-4 : Division Title: In the Superbowl: The NFC is so close to me. It's between Seattle, the 49ers , and the saints. I think this will be a down year for the saints division and they will end up with home field advantage because of it. That advantage makes them my pick to go to the Superbowl in the NFC.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The Good: Lovie Smith is not only a proven winner as a coach, but players also like playing for him. I get the idea behind bringing on Josh McCown as your starting QB and trying to recreate the same circumstances that made him great last year. If your going to try to make McCown your franchise QB then giving him an even larger basketball team as a receiving core is a good idea. Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins are all giants as far as NFL receivers go. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are both elite players on defense. They have spent a lot of money and a first round pick on the safety position . Hopefully Lovie can get Barron and Goldson to play like it. Hopefully Michael Johnson can give McCoy help.
The Bad: This O-line is a big question mark. Anthony Collins is an upgrade over Donald Penn at left tackle, and Demar Dotson took a big step up last year, even though he is far from a proven commodity. The Logan Mankins trade was huge, although it would be better if they had traded for him earlier so he doesn't have to learn the offense on the fly. Evan Dietrich Smith played very well in Green Bay last year, but Jeremy Zuttah was no slouch at center anyway. RG Garrett Gilkey lacks the strength to push people around inside, but he is still young. Alteraun Verner is an excellent fit in this defense, but all the rest of the corners are still question marks. Actually until Lovey gets an extra year to get players in here to fit his system this defense could struggle a bit.
Prediction: 7-9 : Unless this O-line comes through I can't see them as a playoff team this year, but I have a feeling they will not be a team you want to play late in the season.
The Good: Bringing in Jake Matthews and Jon Asamoah should really help this team in many ways. The addition to both the passing & running games are obvious for the offense ,but the ability to control the clock will help the defense a ton too. Matt Ryan was lucky to survive last season behind that line, but he is still a top 10 QB in this league. If healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White are one of the leagues better wide receiver duos, and Harry Douglas is a good #3. Mike Nolan is taking over a bad defense that lacks play-makers in the front seven, but since he will be running both odd and even fronts he should be able to get the most out of what he has. Steven Jackson is a future HOFer , but he finally looked like he was aging during an injury riddles 2013. If he is on the decline then 4th round pick Devonte Freeman ( one of the steals of the whole draft) should join with the underused ,Jacquizz Rogers & Antone Smith to give the run game a boost. Young corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford played well last year. Added to solid safety William Moore they combine for the makings of a good secondary.
The Bad: Sean Weatherspoon was probably the best player on this defense and he is out for the year. The defense as a whole looks to be missing a pass rush , and you can only blitz so much. Unless a edge rusher steps up I expect the Falcons to playing a lot of high scoring games. Tony Gonzalez retired and Levine Toilolo is only a short area target at tight end. Teams had to game plan for Gonzalez and he opened up the field for the rest of the offense.
Prediction: 7-9 : This team lacks depth and impact players on defense, You can only outscore so many people. Unless they are relatively injury free I don't see them going to the playoffs this year.
The Good: Cam Newton is the perfect physical specimen as a QB, but he is still a tad raw as a passer. One of the things that has hampered him from being even better is a lack of wide receivers. While Steve Smith will be missed his lack of tact probably didn't help Cam's growth. With a whole new group of receivers, especially #1 pick Kelvin Benjamin , at least he should have supportive guys in the pattern. Carolinas defense was great last year and the front seven still can be. Luke Kuechly and a healthy Thomas Davis give the Panthers one of the leagues better linebackers duos. The front four of Charles Jhonson , Greg Hardy, Kawann Short, and Star Lotulelei is the best in the conference. Center Ryan Kalil and TE Greg Olsen are also returning veterans who play at a high level.
The Bad: Jettisoning most of your secondary after you finally broke out on defense doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but the Panthers did it. However, that's not even the worst part of the team. Standout long time left tackle and guard Jordan Gross and Travelle Wharton just up and retired on them. Their plan to move Byron Bell to the left side smacks of desperation to me. Their other option is converted former TE /DT Nate Chandler. He is a great athlete , but they are counting on him to make a Jason Peters-like jump up this year. Maybe they are right and both will work out but I doubt it. Neither Fernando Velasco or Amini Silatolu has ever done enough in the NFL to make me comfortable counting on them this year. I would be surprised if Cam Newton plays all 16 games behind this line. Their stable of highly paid running backs seem to always be injured. Mike Tolbert is #3 on the depth chart and he is the most reliable runner they have , besides Newton of course.
Prediction: 6-10: This team lost too much personnel and didn't replace what they lost with enough to have optimism. Unless they try to run a conservative ball control offense , avoid turnovers, and let the defense win games for them I see this being a season to forget.Even if they went that route too many things have to go right for them to be a likely playoff team.
The Good: The Superbowl champs have the best home field advantage in football, a coach who gets the most out of his players , and a lot of young excellent talent. QB Russell Wilson, RB Marshawn Lynch, safety Earl Thomas,Kam Chancellor, Brandon Mebane, Michael Bennett, and corner back Richard Sherman are all among the leagues best at their positions. Max Unger, Russel Okung, Steven Hauschka, Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith, Cliff Avril , Percy Harvin, and KJ wright are just a notch below them. That is a LOT of really good players at key positions and most of them are pretty young. I may not like some of their high draft picks but this coaching staffs ability to develop later draft picks is the best in the league.
The Bad: They were one of the deepest teams in the league last season , but the curse of victory means that everybody wants your players and the ones you keep want to get paid. Even if the ones you choose to pay in this salary cap era play up to their contract you have a very short window with a great bunch of talent, So unless they keep hitting on ,and developing draft picks the team will only get thinner in the future. The O-line is not a strength and I would recommend replacing all of them except Unger and Okung. Rookie right tackle Justin Briitt has a chance to be a good starter but he was so injury prone in college that I think the second round was a reach. The hawks have already lost some key players to free agency and the cap.It could be worse next year.
Prediction : 11-5: Division Champion: Being the best team in the best division in football doesn't always mean Superbowl. In fact they are very possibly hurt by all the tough games they will play in the regular season. Without home field advantage I expect the Seahwaks miss the Superbowl this year.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ER'S
The Good: The deepest team in football has a loaded roster. Adding Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington to Crabtree, Boldin, and Davis make this receiving core something special. Frank Gore is a warrior at running back and adding Carlos Hyde give them another every-down bruiser to grind out games. That's not even counting Marcus Lattimore who could return later in the season. If he is anywhere close to the same running back he was before his knee injury the niners will have the best stable of backs in the league. This O-line is perennially one of the leagues best and even with injuries and holdouts that depth I was just talking about makes it likely they will just keep on being great. The defense has play-makers and pro bowlers on each level. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis are still among the leagues best at their positions. All that talent makes their special teams a force.
The Bad: Aldon Smith and Navarro Bowman are 2 of the leagues elite players, but both are going to miss at least the first half of the season. Without those 2 players the defense is compromised. The loss to the pass rush and in pass coverage is significant. Throw in that all their corners are suspect and this defense is not the elite unit is has been in years past. QB Colin Kaeperneck is generally a plus as a whole but his inability to read defenses, his propensity for staring downs receivers, and predilection for forcing balls is the main reason Seattle beat them last year. It's also the reason I expect the hawks to win the division this year. Jim Harbaugh's war with the front office makes this very possibly his last season with the team. That could very easily have a negative effect on the team if things don't go
as well as they should, and at the very least its a distraction.
Prediction: 10-6: Wildcard: This team has as good a chance as any to make the Superbowl. I think the games they lose while they wait for players to come back from suspension & injury, added to the questionable corner-back situation makes me think they won't win the division. I have to go with home field advantage when its this close.
The Good: Bruce Arians is a excellent coach and GM Steve Keim has had back-to-back excellent drafts. The receiving core of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd,and John Brown has looked really good in the pre-season. The signing of Jared Veldheer has to be an upgrade after years of really bad left tackle play. I don't know why Bobby Massie was demoted last year after finishing his rookie year strong, but he looked like he was back in good form so far this pre-season. The line as a whole should be improved, which should help Carson Palmer's happy feet and accuracy. Andre Ellington can be a focal point of this offense if he can stay healthy, but he has strong backups in Stepfan Taylor and Johnathan Dwyer. If they stay committed to the run game and throw deep off play action the way Arians wants to this offense can make a big jump. Calais Campbell, Patrick Petersen, and the honey badger are all difference makers if healthy on the defensive side of the ball.
The Bad: Losing both Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington is a big blow to this defense. Even if Larry Foote and Kevin Minter play to their potential they won't be as good as last years duo. They could possibly match them in the run game, but it won't even be close against the pass, and this is a passing league now. The injury to 2013 # 1 pick Jonathan Cooper just keeps on giving. Cooper hasn't looked anyway near %100 so far in camp or the pre-season. They drafted a guard with the 6th pick and now he doesn't look like the same player! That is scary. They can hope he returns to form and is the player they drafted eventually, but they were counting on him to anchor the interior of their O-line for about a decade before he got hurt. Last but not least is Larry Fitzgerald contract situation . He has been the face of this franchise for about a decade. Lacking the great QB who can regularly get him the ball since Kurt Warner retired has hurt his numbers. Fitz draws the double team and others get open, but the cards don't want to pay him like a # 1 receiver after this year. He has been payed a lot by them already , but trying to push Michael Floyd over him in hopes getting Fitz to stay for less ,if that's what they are doing( and I think it is) is a stupid strategy. If he is going to take less he should go play with an elite accurate QB ( Brady?)who can fit the ball into him. He still has the best hands in the game. Fitz isn't the guy to publicly complain, but if they do this it will become a story , and it could blow up in the Arizona managements face.
Prediction:10-6 : Wildcard: If they were in a weaker division they would be a lock playoff team if they didn't suffer any key injuries. In the toughest division in football I think they finish 3rd, but still squeak in with a wildcard.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Good: The addition of Aaron Donald gives the rams a chance to enter the conversation of best front four in the league along with Carolina, Buffalo, Seattle ,and frisco. Being on the same side as Robert Quinn alone should help both players wreak havoc. The return of Jake Long and the addition of # 2 overall pick Greg Robinson should improve the O-line, but especially in the run game. The fact that Robinson isn't starting ( even as a guard) right now is straight up shocking to me. The defense as a whole could be strong , if the offense doesn't strand them on the field too much. Tavon Austin, Zac Stacy, and Tre Mason are all potential big time play makers if the rams can find someone to get them the ball, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook can also light it up, but they have to want it enough to make it happen. Kicker Greg Zuerlein has one of the best legs in the league as well.
The Bad: The Bradford got hurt again.Yep, and they didn't even draft a QB until the sixth round. I 'm not saying they should have used one of their 2 first rounders on a QB, but maybe an AJ McCarron Or Zach Mettenburger in the 4th? Nope 6th round project , and Texas failure Garret Gilbert was their guy. That's not the only time the rams didn't use the ton of draft picks they got in the RG3 haul well. Their is a lot of talent on this team. On pure talent they are top 8 in the NFL. They should be at least top 3 after all the high draft ;picks they have had in the lst 3 years. Throw in the ultra, stone-age, predictable offense that OC Brian Schottenheimer likes to run, and it's another wasted season in St. Louis.
Prediction: 7-9: They had a chance to be a playoff team in site of themselves, but the Sam Bradford injury probably means that even a .500 record is out of reach.