NFL 2014 Season Preview and Week 1 Picks

Last year, I did a two-part, 5,500+ word preview for the NFL 2013 campaign and my research for that helped set me up to finish above 50% picking games against the spread during the regular season once again.  However, this time around life has got in the way of me being able to do any type of reading up on the teams, so you can take my predictions with an even bigger grain of salt than you might have done otherwise.  On a weekly basis, I will be posting my picks and might pick out a few points, but I will not be covering the NFL in as much depth as I have done for the last three years.  Here is a whiz-bang look through my prognostications for the 2014 season:

NFC

North

1. Green Bay Packers 13 – 3

2. Detroit Lions 10-6

3. Chicago Bears 7-9

4. Minnesota Vikings 6-10

Rodgers came back in Week 17 to stun Soldier Field with a last minute game winning touchdown
Rodgers came back in Week 17 to stun Soldier Field with a last-minute game winning touchdown

People seem to like Chicago to be good this year, but while their offense looks strong, on defense they are unlikely to be able to get stops at crucial times which will cost them in close games.  I think the absence of Jim Schwartz from Detroit will help them take a huge step forward – assuming Jim Caldwell learned from Peyton Manning in Indianapolis – and Minnesota will be better when they start Teddy Bridgewater.  I’m picking the Packers to take the division though – a totally biased pick but if Rodgers is healthy for all 16 games, they should be in a very strong position to claim one of the top 2 seeds in the NFC.  Julius Peppers addition alongside Clay Matthews should help up front as Green Bay tries to patch up a very porous defense.

East

1. Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

2. Washington 7-9

3. Dallas Cowboys 6-10

4. NY Giants 6-10

One of the worst divisions in football last year, the NFC East is unlikely to have improved much this time around, with the exception of the Eagles who head into the second year of Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense.  Dallas has no depth or defense; Washington would be better off starting Kirk Cousins than Robert Griffin III, if they are going to try to force RG3 to be a pocket quarter-back and take away his rushing threat; and the offensive line of the Giants is a complete mess so expect lots of Eli Manning throwing interceptions as he tosses the ball away to avoid a sack.

South

1. New Orleans Saints 11-5

2. Atlanta Falcons 8-8

3. Carolina Panthers 7-9

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

If the Saints can sort out their defense, then they have a chance to win a second Super Bowl following on from their 2009 success.  They should not have too many problems winning the NFC South: the Falcons are coming off a 4-12 season and on Hard Knocks, they appeared to be a thoroughly nice organization, but not one that I can imagine getting back to double-digit wins this year; the Panthers had an easy schedule in 2013 and will find it much tougher to return to the playoffs this time around; and the Buccaneers are some people’s dark horse pick for the division, but I am not convinced Josh McCown is as good as he looked in that brief spell for the Bears.

Can Seattle repeat their 2013 success?
Can Seattle repeat their 2013 success?

West

1. Seattle Seahawks 14-2

2. San Francisco 49ers 11-5

3. Arizona Cardinals 7-9

4. St. Louis Rams 3-13

Although I am definitely not picking Seattle to repeat as Super Bowl champions (more on that below), it is hard to imagine them failing to coast through the regular season.  Their job of topping the NFC West has been helped by the myriad suspensions suffered by the 49ers, who I expect to come on strong in the second half of the year and should have enough to be a Wild Card once again.  St. Louis have lost their quarterback, Sam Bradford for the whole of 2014 and with him goes any chance they have of progression; while the Cardinals – who finished last year with a 10-6 record, have regression written all over them.

NFC Playoff teams: 1. Seattle; 2. Green Bay; 3. New Orleans; 4. Philadelphia; 5. San Francisco; 6. Detroit

The Bengals topped the Ravens in the AFC North last season
The Bengals topped the Ravens in the AFC North last season

AFC

North

1. Baltimore Ravens 11-5

2. Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7

3. Cincinnati Bengals 8-8

4. Cleveland Browns 5-11

A year on from winning the Super Bowl, the Ravens had a very disappointing 2013 campaign and I expect them to rebound in 2014 – mainly by being able to grind out wins against their divisional rivals.  Of those, I think that Cincinnati will struggle after a tough opening 6 weeks to the season and early losses could see the fans get agitated about the big-money extension that was just given to their quarterback, Andy Dalton.  If Pittsburgh’s offensive line can stay healthy and protect Ben Roethlisberger, then the Steelers could make a push at the playoffs, but they do not have the depth for them to be much more than a Wild Card team.  As for the Browns, the one positive thing I can say for Cleveland fans is…at least LeBron is back with the Cavaliers.  Also, Josh Gordon should not be suspended for the whole season – there are serious questions about the veracity of the positive test he failed and the punishment is unlikely to stand upon appeal.

East

1. New England Patriots 12-4

2. Miami Dolphins 8-8

3. NY Jets 6-10

4. Buffalo Bills 6-10

I do not really have anything to say about this division, other than that it will be as it always is – the Patriots go 5-1 against their three divisional rivals; Buffalo will look good for three weeks; the Jets will have a strong defense and awful offense; while the Dolphins will look playoff bound, before collapsing in December.  Moving on.

South

1. Tennessee Titans 11-5

2. Indianapolis Colts 9-7

3. Houston Texans 8-8

4. Jacksonville Jaguars 4-12

Perhaps my biggest surprise pick, I think that the Titans are going to be really strong this year – with the added caveat of that being the case, only if Jake Locker stays healthy throughout the regular season.  Andrew Luck had to win many games from adverse positions for the Colts in 2013 and that is not sustainable, so I think they will be a touch worse this time around, while the Jaguars may have improved in the second half of last year, but they still are not going to be much of a threat.  As for the Texans, with Clowney joining J.J. Watt on the defensive line, they will strike fear into many opposing quarterbacks and should be vastly improved from their 2-14 record 12 months ago.  I was almost going to predict them making it to double-digit wins, then I saw they had Ryan Fitzpatrick as their new starting QB…

Could this be Phil Rivers' and the Chargers' year? I think so
Could this be Phil Rivers’ and the Chargers’ year? I think so

West

1. Denver Broncos 12-4

2. San Diego Chargers 10-6

3. Kansas City Chiefs 4-12

4. Oakland Raiders 2-14

The Chiefs are the most obvious team in the entire NFL likely to regress drastically from where they were last year and that will have been exacerbated by their painful playoff loss against the Colts in January.  Denver have improved their defense during the offseason to try to help Peyton Manning; while I expect Phil Rivers and the San Diego Chargers to make the playoffs as at least a Wild Card team.  Oakland should have a contest with the Jaguars – whoever ends up with the worst record has to relocate to either Los Angeles or London starting in 2015.

AFC Playoff Teams: 1. New England; 2. Denver; 3. Tennessee; 4. Baltimore; 5. San Diego; 6. Indianapolis

Playoff Predictions: 

NFC

Wild Card: Saints over Lions; Eagles over 49ers

Divisional: Packers over Saints; Eagles over Seahawks

Championship: Eagles over Packers

AFC

Wild Card: Titans over Colts; Chargers over Ravens

Divisional: Broncos over Titans; Chargers over Patriots

Championship: Chargers over Broncos

Super Bowl: Chargers over Eagles

 

Week 1 Picks

Last season, 133-124 (spreads taken from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’Em Game)

Home teams in bold

Green Bay +5.5 over Seattle

New Orleans +1.5 over Atlanta

Chicago -6.5 over Buffalo

Baltimore -2.5 over Cincinnati

Pittsburgh -5.5 over Cleveland

Tennessee +6.5 over Kansas City

NY Jets -4.5 over Oakland

Minnesota +6.5 over St. Louis

Miami +3.5 over New England

Philadelphia -11.5 over Jacksonville

Houston -2.5 over Washington

San Francisco -4.5 over Dallas

Carolina -1.5 over Tampa Bay

Denver -6.5 over Indianapolis

Detroit -4.5 over NY Giants

San Diego +3.5 over Arizona

 

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