With the NFL season just hours away, why don’t we look at the divisions shall we?
Detroit Lions – The addition of Reggie Bush I feel is much bigger than people may think. He will be what Jahvid Best used to be for the Lions. Megatron is coming off a ridiculous season, almost 2000 yards receiving…yeah 2000! Obviously he’s the biggest threat to anyone in the NFC North but Pettigrew needs to be that go to guy in tight spots and someone else needs to step up at receiver. Ryan Broyles is coming off knee injuries and hasn’t made that leap to starting offense, with Titus Young gone there has to be someone else besides Nate Burleson to throw to, I mean in Transformers Megatron had Starscream as a sidekick. The Lions should be a little bit better on offense, Leshoure will be the running back and Reggie Bush will catch more than he rushes the Lions could very well be a wildcard team and a 10 win team to boot, but the defense has to hold up for them to have a shot.
Chicago Bears – Out is Lovie Smith, in is Marc Trestman. Quarterback guru that he is fresh out of the CFL with the Montreal Allouettes he brings a wealth of NFL experience, he’s been seemingly all over the league worked with great quarterbacks in the past and now he gets Jay Cutler…and there still needs to be more improvement. Jay Cutler needs to be able to cut down on the turnovers, he likes to take risks and often times gets burned by them but with a new offensive philosophy and Matt Forte going to be much more involved in the offense Cutler should have a more efficient year than in years past. Marshall will be a big threat and I think Alshon Jeffery will be a great compliment to the Bears offense. The defense loses Brian Urlacher which will be a big time loss but it’s “da Bears” so the defense should be ok. Devin Hester needs to be much more dynamic, since he feels he’s a hall of fame return man maybe he should return some more kicks, he hasn’t done that in a while. I think the Bears finish on the outside looking in, maybe 7-9, 8-8.
Minnesota Vikings – I think it’s safe to say Adrian Peterson is an absolute beast! Coming off a surgically repaired knee in less than a year everyone including myself thought it would take him maybe 1-2 years to get back to his old bruising self…it took 1-2 carries. He ran for over 2,000 yards and the Vikings made the playoffs. This year the lofty goal for “All Day” is 2,500 yards, which would shatter Eric Dickerson’s record, would firmly punch his ticket to Canton, but in recent memory the backs that were skilled enough to get to 2,000 yards had a less than stellar performance the following season but Peterson looks like he’s the exception to the rule. Cristian Ponder will be under very heavy criticism this season, he needs to become a field general and the Vikes added weapons for him to use. Greg Jennings comes over from Green Bay, and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson from Tennessee the passing game should be leaps and bounds better because of the ground game. If the defense can add pressure and bend but don’t break the Vikings should be carried to the playoffs once again on the broad shoulders of Adrian Peterson.
Green Bay Packers – Finally adding a running back that they desperately needed in Eddie Lacy the Packers may be more balanced than they have been in recent years. An offensive line that is always battered with injuries, leaves Aaron Rodgers suspect to taking a lot of unnecessary hits. He’s been sacked a lot in the past couple seasons, now with no Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson’s knee becomes the most valuable body part in the Packers receiving core. Randell Cobb is thrust into the number one spot, if not number two, James Jones seemed like an expendable piece but he now is a very valuable asset to Rodgers. They’ll still be able to put up points but the defense needs to get back to championship form like it was in 2011. With Aaron Rodgers you always have a shot, Packers should win the division, but Minnesota may have something to say about that.
New York Giants – The football Giants are looking to regroup after a subpar season, missing the playoffs cannot happen this season. Victor Cruz has a bum heel, Hakeen Nicks is banged up, David Wilson will be a major part of the offense, he will have a big season filling in for Ahmad Bradshaw who has moved on to Indy. The defense is in transition. Justin Tuck needs to get back to his old self, Jason Pierre-Paul has to fill the void left by Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka has to be a much bigger part of the pass rush, because that’s what makes the Giants the Giants. I think Eli will have to do a lot early and that may cost him, especially with an unknown tight end and receivers that may have problems staying healthy. They may be the third best team in the division.
Philadelphia Eagles – Change is what’s happening in Philly these days. Andy Reid is out, Chip Kelly is in. Michael Vick is the quarterback, for now, but Nick Foles is right there, unless he gets traded, and rookie Matt Barkley is going to be groomed under the tutelage of Chip Kelly, so the team that is best equipped to run the fast paced offense of Kelly should see success…eventually. Jeremy Maclin out for the season really hurts them, Desean Jackson is going to be the guy and they don’t have anyone else to take the pressure off of him. LeSean McCoy will be his shady self, and he may be used more given the change in offensive philosophy. The only problem may be defense. Struggled last season and it may be much more of the same this season but it’s the first year for Chip Kelly they’ll have time to build and become a threat in years to come but this year it’s 4th place in the East.
Dallas Cowboys – So…is it just me or has this been a relatively quiet preseason for the Cowboys? Jerry Jones hasn’t had much to say, Dez Bryant has stayed out of trouble for now and Tony Romo has cut back on golfing. Maybe the Cowboys have turned the corner. It’s really a race with the Redskins and if the offense stays healthy the Cowboys could be in the hunt for the division. Out is Rob Ryan, in is Monte Kiffin, change from 3-4 to a 4-3 and with corners that Dallas has passing on them will be very tough. DeMarcus Ware will be a force as always but Linebacker needs to get better, they may be vulnerable there, offensively the O-line hasn’t gotten much better but that will be interesting to see how that goes this season. Dallas needs to get hot early because if there is another collapse like last season, there will be a great disturbance in the force in Jerry world. Jason Garrett isn’t calling the plays anymore but let’s face it, Cowboys fans just hate Tony Romo, he’s not Troy Aikman, he’s able to do more than Troy could, but hey, if RG3’s knee doesn’t hold up you get the division, at least you should.
Washington Redskins – RG3 is back and starting week one. That’s the best news, the not so good news is he’s not going to be able to play like he did last season. He has to play smart, run when he has to, throw the ball away and for the love of Lombardi slide! Alfred Morris came out of nowhere last season and he should continue with what he did last season. The defense gets Orakpo back and he’s itching to start hitting people. This team will go as RG3 goes, there is no reason why they can’t contend for the division again, with Dallas trying to change defenses and the Giants looking to stay in the mix the Skins should be right where they were last season but shouldn’t have to wait until the last game of the season to win the division.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Josh Freeman is a good young QB, and he’s on the hot seat. Which is unfair for him, he can be a solid starter but now is the year he has to play lights out. Year two with Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams on the other side and Doug Martin being the up and coming running back he is, the only thing is the defense. Pass defense was a problem so after a trade with the Jets in comes Darelle Revis off knee surgery and he gets to play his old team week one! You couldn’t ask for anything better. Tampa should be in the mix for the South this season, and they have to be for Josh Freeman’s sake.
New Orleans Saints – Bountygate is over. Sean Payton is back! Drew Brees is happy, Mark Ingram looks good pounding the rock and with the front office and coaching staff intact again the Saints should be right in the thick of things this season. I mean how good are the Saints? Without a head coach the whole season, and a GM and assistant head coach for half the season and the worst defense the NFL has ever seen last season they went 8-8 and Brees had 5000 yards passing. Just think what could happen with Sean Payton back and Rob Ryan running the defense….the Saints go marching in the playoffs.
Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton says this will be the year the Panthers make the playoffs. For that to happen Cam Newton has to be the leader of this team. No more questions about his maturity, no more critics talking about his sideline behavior. He’s got to have that Tom Brady leadership quality, he’s been in the league for what will be his 3rd season now, it’s time to carry this team. But unfortunately for Slam Newton, Jonathan Stewart is out for 6 weeks, maybe the season, DeAngelo Williams has always gotten hurt during the season and it’s Steve Smith and…that’s it. The defense should be better with Luke Kuechly coming on strong but it won’t be enough. The Panthers are still a few pieces away from being a playoff team and they’ll be on the bottom of the division this year again but it won’t as bad as people may think. I see 8-8 for Carolina but losing off tie breakers.
Atlanta Falcons – This is the year Atlanta has to lay it all on the line. NFC Championship loss to the Niners leaves a bitter taste, but Tony Gonzalez is back for one last run, and out is Michael Turner and in is Steven Jackson, you know he’ll be ready to go. The defense adds Osi Umenyiora, the king of the strip sack, and maybe that is what will get them to the Superbowl this year. I think it is! HOT-lanta will be the team to beat in the NFC, I know the 49ers are there but injuries may catch up to them and Atlanta will take advantage, this is the year they break through, it has to be. Matt Ryan has the 3rd most wins since 2008 and is the only QB that doesn’t have a Superbowl within that time. Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers are on that list too, they both got their rings…it’s Matty Ice’s turn. Julio Jones will see to that.
Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald has a QB to throw it to him and a new head coach to make it work. Bruce Arians made Andrew Luck’s rookie season easier just think what he could do with the talent he’s got in the desert. The defense should be where it was last season and the Honey Badger being there will make this a better secondary than people think. Mendenhall’s knee is a concern, this team needs a better offensive line to make a difference so it’s bottom of the division again for the cards because they play in the NFC West and the competition is fierce.
St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford loses Steven Jackson but gains Daryl Richardson and Tavon Austin. The offense of the Rams won’t be the best but it won’t be the worst. Defense should be better in year two under Jeff Fisher. This is a middle of the road team, they will give the rest of the division problems and I think that 8-8 would be a good benchmark for them, got to keep the penalties to a minimum though.
Seattle Seahawks – Marshawn Lynch is the work horse for this team. Russell Wilson will take the pressure off of him with his play, which is weird it’s supposed to be the other way around, but Golden Tate is supposed to take that leap to be a number one receiver and when Percy Harvin comes back from a hip injury look out. The Defense is nasty. Richard Sherman and Cam Chancellor lead the “Legion of Boom” and the best secondary in the league, mixed with a great pass rush Seattle has the 12th man and the NFC West champs this season…that’s right!
San Fransisco 49ers – Alex Smith out, and Colin Kaepernick in, Crabtree hurt along with the rest of the receiving core it seems but acquiring Anquan Boldin gives them a threat down field and Kap is finding Veron Davis with that defense they’ll be in the conversation and in the playoffs but I’m just not sold on Colin Kaepernick as a passer. He can run the spread option but if he has to stand in the pocket and beat you I don’t think he can. Niners nab the Wildcard but not the division.
Oakland Raiders – Well where do you start? Matt Flynn brought in to replace Carson Palmer and Terrell Pryor named the starter, that guy can never catch a break! Darren McFadden staying healthy is crucial to whatever the Raiders want to do this season. They’ll finish better than the Chargers if everyone is healthy but you have to throw the ball to someone and Denarius Moore is going to need some help. Raiders need a lot of help and it’ll be a while until they sort it all out.
Denver Broncos – Year two for Peyton Manning, Wes Welker makes the move to Mile High and that will put the Broncos over the top. Montee Ball will end up starting for this team at running back at some point and the offense will be a juggernaut. Von Miller missing time will hurt and Elvis Dumerville not being there isn’t helping but the defense doesn’t have to be the ’85 Bears, just has to make the plays and not get burned by Jacoby Jones again. This could be Manning’s last season if they win it all, which I think that they will. Peyton, just like Elway will ride off in the sunset a winner.
Kansas City Chiefs – Welcome to K.C. Andy Reid and Alex Smith, you inherit 9 pro bowlers, not sure how there were that many on a 2-14 team but anyway, Andy Reid brings stability and Alex Smith brings consistency. Jamal Charles stays healthy and the Chiefs could be right where they want to be in the wild west. The defense isn’t bad and a new attitude can go a long way. These guys will play spoiler this season. Plus the last time Kansas City acquired a former 49er QB, they made it to the AFC Championship game.
San Diego Chargers – Well, Mike McCoy is the new man in charge and he cut Robert Meachem, he wasn’t a good fit with the Bolts anyway. This will be a team in transition and will waste another year of Philip Rivers time really. The defense will be average at best and with Ryan Matthews still being a question mark for the team at running back, until he can stay healthy and produce he’s a bust, the Bolts are going to be at the bottom of the AFC West.
Cleveland Browns – New head coach and the offensive coordinator is more famous (Norv Turner). Brandon Weeden should benefit from Norv being there and having Trent Richardson will help out GREATLY. Josh Gordon will be a good receiver for them when he comes back from suspension so sky is the limit for the Browns, still have a ways to go but at least you’re not the Raiders.
Cincinnati Bengals – Andy Dalton and A.J. Green year three and they’re the best pitch and catch act in the league. A.J. Green is the second best receiver in the league and Andy Dalton gets to throw to him, running back needs to get sorted out but they have two good tight ends and a defense that is better than people think. Since they like to play the Texans in the playoffs so much, why not do it again this year…this time the Bengals see the Divisional round of the playoffs not just the Wildcard.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Running Back questions, receivers need to fill the void left by Mike Wallce, offensive line is not that great, and a defense transitioning to younger players. But it’s the Steelers and they will claw their way to .500, missing the playoffs but they can build a team with the best of them and Jarvis Jones on defense helps.
Baltimore Ravens – This will be the first time in franchise History that the Ravens will take the field without Ray Lewis being there. All good things come to an end and with that so does the tenure of Ed Reed in Baltimore. Terrell Suggs will be the new vocal leader of the defense and Joe Flacco isn’t average anymore, he’s elite and the leader of this football team like it or not. Ray Rice will help out a lot but I think this team has made the shift from a defensive team to an offensive team. I look for them to take the division against…the Bengals.
Indianapolis Colts – Rookie season in the books for Andrew Luck and it was a pretty good one. Wildcard appearance that ended in a loss. This year he gets a new offensive coordinator with Bruce Arians flying the coup to Arizona, it is an offense similar to what he ran at Stanford so Andrew Luck will be just fine. Reggie Wayne is the fail safe receiver and T.Y. Hilton is the big play guy and if Ahmad Bradshaw can get healthy this offense will be in the top ten, the defense needs some more work but Chuck Pagano is back this season and he’ll make this defense his own, the Colts will contend for the wildcard.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Justin Blackmon suspended, new head coach, new GM, Blaine Gabbert, and you’re the Jags. Maurice Jones-Drew is supposed to be good to go this year, that’s good because he needs to have a stellar year for the Jags to have a chance at winning some games. Still work to be done to build this team, Blaine Gabbert is going to be on a short leash if he has a rocky start but alas….4th place in the south for the Jags.
Tennessee Titans – Make or break time for Mike Munchak, Chris Johnson should have a bounce back season, with the offensive line upgrades and adding Delanie Walker on offense Jake Locker should have a better season. The defense should come to play this season too, Titans in the hunt for a wildcard spot but fall just short.
Houston Texans – Second best defense in the league but the second best running back in the league is banged up, and his yards per carry have slightly dropped the past three season. The wear and tear is catching up to Arian Foster, so Ben Tate needs to stay healthy this season because he may be a big part of the Texans offense this season. Andre Johnson is still a stud, DeAndre Hopkins coming off a concussion needs to get acclimated quick because this will be a race with the Colts and the Titans for the Division but Houston falls short against Cincy in the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins – Big time acquisions in the offseason, Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and a draft day trade to trade up to draft Dion Jordan, Jeff Ireland is really trying to impress South Beach isn’t he? With unknown running backs and Tannehill in year two I don’t think the Dolphins will be as good as people may think, at least if Mike Wallace is off to a slow start, the defense will be as good as it always has been but the offense has to meet them halfway, this division has three teams in the hunt for the one playoff spot that goes to the winner of the East and it won’t be the Dolphins.
New York Jets – Quarterback questions, Marc Sanchez pretty much on his way out of town, Geno Smith taking over week one, Brady Quinn to back him up, then Matt Sims. Santonio Holmes is hurt, Stephen Hill needs to get better, tight end is a problem and the defense, well, Rex Ryan is good at defense. Jets 4th place.
New England Patriots – I think the Pats win this division again, I hate to say it but the defense usually makes the plays they have to to win games and Tom Brady is every networks favorite QB, so the offense will be fine. Gronk comes back at some point this season, Stevan Ridley will get the ball more and give more balance to the offense. Amendola is an injury concern and Edelman can’t replace Welker. The Patriots won’t run away with this division but it should be a three team race to 10-6.
Buffalo Bills – E.J. Manuel named the starter for week one and if the preseason is any indication the Bills will be much better than in years past and could surprise people. C.J. Spiller will be a beast, and if Stevie Johnson can stop talking and just play football the receivers will surprise some people. Robert Woods will be a solid option for EJ3 and a healthy Scott Chandler will be the security blanket. The main question is the defense, the main problem for the past few seasons. Mario Williams should be put into a position to succeed this season, along with Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus the line should have a good year collectively. Mike Pettine’s system uses pressure to create opportunities for turnovers. Only questions are how the linebackers will look, how will the injuries of Byrd and Gilmore effect the team, and can the Bills stop the run? I think the defense is much better based on scheme alone and keeps them in the hunt for the division, maybe 8-8, 9-7. Optimistic I know, but this team will find a groove mid-season and should make a run.
So there is my rundown of the NFL before the start of the 2013-2014 season. This year should be a lot of fun, very intriguing matchups and individual storylines, I can’t wait! You’ll hear from me after the Bills and Pats week 1.