The 2013 NFL season concluded with the Seattle Seahawks absolutely destroying the Denver Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. It was the largest margin of victory for a team that was listed as the underdog (Seattle was listed at +2.5) in Super Bowl history.
With so much attention being paid to offenses and all the numbers they are putting up, the Seahawks triumph over the Broncos served as a good reminder that a solid defense is essential when it comes to winning a championship. Not only was the Denver the No. 1 offense in the league, their 37.9 points/game was the highest mark during the regular season in NFL history.
The Broncos offense failing to reach double-digits in the Super Bowl wasn’t the only surprise of 2013. The Kansas City Chiefs were the last undefeated team in the league at 9-0, just one season after finishing with the worst record at 2-12. The Philadelphia Eagles were another team who came out of nowhere. The Eagles bounced back from a 4-12 campaign the previous year to win the NFC East with and 11-5 record. While the Arizona Cardinals didn’t make the postseason, they improved to 10-6 after going just 5-11 in 2012. The impressive thing about these three teams is that each was in the first year of a new head coach.
There were also some notable collapses last year. The Baltimore Ravens went from winning the Super Bowl to missing the playoffs. The Atlanta Falcons finished a mere 4-12 just one season removed from their NFC-best record of 13-3 in 2012. The Washington Redskins went from first to last in the NFC East. However, none of these compare to what happened in Houston, where the Texans went from going 12-4 to posting the worst record in the league at 2-14, which included a 14-game losing streak to end the season.
That’s what makes the NFL great. Unlike college football where a handful of teams seem to dominate on a regular basis, the NFL is as unpredictable as it gets.
I don’t know about you but the 2014 season can’t come soon enough! Here’s a look at how I see all eight division playing out this season, plus my prediction on who will be holding up the Lombardi trophy at University of Phoenix Stadium in February.
AFC East Champion: New England Patriots
The Patriots have dominated the AFC East since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady teamed up in New England and I see no reason why that will change in 2014. The Patriots won their 5th straight division title and 10th in the last 11 years with a 12-4 record last year. Doing so with a number of their key players injured. With a healthy Rob Gronkowski back on offense and defense that could be one of the best in the league.
With the other three teams no where close in terms of talent, I expect this to be the most lopsided division in the NFL. I have the Miami Dolphins coming in 2nd at 8-8, Buffalo Bills taking 3rd at 6-10 and the New York Jets bringing up the rear at 5-11.
AFC North Champion: Pittsburgh Steelers
The AFC North figures to be the most wide open division race in the AFC. You could make a strong case for all four teams to win the division, which hasn’t been the case for quite some time. Largely due to the Cleveland Browns being a regular non factor. While I’m not as big as the Browns as some, Cleveland is loaded on defense and could be poised to make big strides on offense with rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel.
However, I’m not a big fan of backing rookie quarterbacks, which is why I have the Browns finishing last once again at 6-10. A lot of people might be quick to pick the Cincinnati Bengals to repeat, but they lost two outstanding assistants in offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, which I believe will have them under performing in 2014. That leaves the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens battling it out for the top spot. I’m giving the slight edge to the Steelers, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise if the Ravens regained control of the NFC North.
AFC South Champion: Houston Texans
My big surprise comes in the AFC South, where I see the Houston Texans are rebounding in a big way under new head coach Bill O’Brien. I look for O’Brien to work wonders with new starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, while rookie outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowny (No. 1 overall pick) helps transform the Texans into an elite defense.
As much as I like Andrew Luck, who I believe has already solidified himself as one of the elite quarterbacks in the game, the Indianapolis Colts would be one of the worst teams in the league without him under center. The Colts have made a living on coming from behind and winning close games, but I don’t see that being the case in 2014. I still think they are strong enough to go 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs as a Wild Card, but Indianapolis is not as close to winning the Super Bowl as the media leads on. Look for the Tennessee Titans to finish 3rd at 7-9, while the Jacksonville Jaguars end up in the basement with a a record of 4-12.
AFC West Champion: Denver Broncos
It should come as no surprise that I’m taking the Broncos to secure their 3rd straight AFC West title. Denver has gone 13-3 in the regular season in each of their first two seasons with Peyton Manning at quarterback. It will be hard for the Broncos to match last year’s unbelievable numbers, but it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise if they did. The big difference from last year is that Denver should be a lot stronger on defense with the free agent additions of defensive end DeMarcus Ware, corner Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward.
Last year the Chiefs and San Diego Chargers brought home both the AFC Wild Card spots, but I don’t see either making it back to the playoffs this season. Largely due to the fact the AFC West had one of the easiest schedules in the league in 2013 and now must face all 4 teams out of the best division in football in the NFC West. I have Kansas City just missing out on the final Wild Card spot at 9-7, while I foresee the Chargers taking a big step back and going just 6-10. That leaves the Oakland Raiders in last, who I have going a mere 5-11.
NFC East Champion: Philadelphia Eagles
It’s been 10 years since there’s been a team repeat as champs in the NFC East, but I’m ignoring the trend and picking the Eagles to defend their title. I’m a big believer in Chip Kelly and what he’s doing in Philadelphia. What a lot of people overlook is how much better the Eagles were on the defensive side of the ball towards the end of last year. In my opinion, this is the most complete team in the division.
With that said, I wouldn’t be shocked if the New York Giants or Washington Redskins proved me wrong and won the NFC East in 2014. Both teams should be greatly improved from last year. I have the Giants going 9-7 to edge out the Redskins at 8-8. Unfortunately with the NFC being loaded with great teams, I don’t see either of these teams advancing to the playoffs. The only team not in the hunt in the division is the Dallas Cowboys, who look to be even worse on defense than they were in 2013. I look for Dallas to implode and end up at 5-11.
NFC North Champion: Green Bay Packers
The NFC North featured one of the closest races for the top spot in 2013, but overall the division was a major disappointment. The Green Bay Packers somehow managed to win with an overall record of just 8-7-1, which was easily the worst mark of any division winner last year. The fact that Green Bay took home the stop with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined for 7-games, gives me no option but to pick the Packers to win it again in 2014 with Rodgers back at full strength. Not only do I think Green Bay is the best team in the league, I look for them to post one of the top records in the NFC at 12-4.
There figures to be a fierce competition between the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions for 2nd in the division. I’m giving the slight edge to Chicago, who I have finishing 9-7, but I would watch out for Detroit. I got the Lions going 8-8, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they exceeded expectations under first year head coach Jim Caldwell. The Minnesota Vikings are headed in the right direction under new head coach Mike Zimmer, but 2014 will not be their year. I look for the Vikings to easily finish up in last at 4-12.
NFC South Champion: New Orleans Saints
Chances are there’s going to be a division where a team goes from 1st to last and I believe that will be the case for the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South. The Panthers put together a remarkable run in 2013, but salary cap restraints kept them from making the necessary moves to remain a competitive force. I got Carolina falling all the way to 5-11.
Taking over the top spot will be the New Orleans Saints, who I think have put together a roster that’s capable of winning it all. The Saints made incredible strides on defense last year and look to be even stronger on that side of the ball in 2014. With the way Drew Brees and the offense can score points, New Orleans is the clear team to beat in the NFC South.
Look for the Atlanta Falcons to be one of those teams who bounces back this season. I got Atlanta going 10-6, which should be enough to get them back in the playoffs with the final Wild Card spot. The Buccaneers are a popular pick to surprise in the division, but I think it’s going to take at least one rebuilding year for new head coach Lovie Smith to get this franchise back in the mix. I have Tampa Bay just edging out the Panthers for 3rd at 6-10.
NFC West Champion: San Francisco 49ers
There’s no denying that the NFC West was the best division in football last year and I don’t expect that to change in 2014. Unfortunately for the Arizona Cardinals and St Louis Rams, who would likely make the playoffs in almost any other division, I think it’s a two-team race between the defending champs in Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers. Due to it being so hard to repeat in the NFL, I’m going with the 49ers to edge out the Seahawks for the division crown. I have San Francisco finishing 12-4, just a game ahead of Seattle at 11-5.
While I personally don’t think the Cardinals or Rams are quite ready to take that next step and surprise everyone by winning this division, it’s certainly not out of the question. I have both teams ending up at 8-8, but it wouldn’t come as a shock if either exceed my expectations and went 10-6 and contended for a playoff spot.
Wild Card Round
(3) Steelers defeat (6) Colts
(4) Texans defeat (5) Ravens
(3) 49ers defeat (6) Falcons
(5) Seahawks defeat (4) Eagles
(1) Patriots defeat (4) Texans
(2) Broncos defeat (3) Steelers
(1) Saints defeat (5) Seahawks
(2) Packers defeat (3) 49ers
(1) Patriots defeat (2) Broncos
(1) Saints defeat (2) Packers
Patriots defeat Saints
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