2014 NFL Playoff Predictions: 49ers, Packers Win the NFC
The National Football Conference is often regarded as one of the most competitive conferences in professional sports. Each year, combative teams are left behind from the playoffs; only the best teams have the chance to make it into the postseason. The NFL offseason is long and boring, so let's make our picks as to which teams will rise above in 2014! Make your own picks and follow along as I show you mine.
1. 49ers Win #1 Seed; Aggressive Offense Matches Punishing Defense
Right now, I consider the San Francisco 49ers one of the only teams capable of unseating the Seattle Seahawks as the best team in the NFC. The 49ers roster has undergone little turnover this offseason, but has added some crucial pieces that can get the Niners through their challenging divisional foes. The aggressive defense remains mostly intact; while we don't know when Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman will return, there is enough depth within the unit to make up for their losses. The 49ers defense may not be as elite as we're used to seeing, but it can certainly finish as a top ten defense.
The 49ers made some fantastic moves during the offseason. Colin Kaepernick signed a monster contract extension that will keep the talented young quarterback in San Francisco through 2020, and an overrated Carlos Rodgers was let go in free agency. Meanwhile, Stevie Johnson (formerly of the Buffalo Bills) was traded to the Niners and will join Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, and Anquan Boldin in a deadly receiving corp. Frank Gore continues to lead a deep backfield, and the offensive line group should remain as masterful as ever.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the 49ers make the NFC Championship game for a fourth consecutive year; while the defense may not be as good as usual, there is certainly plenty of firepower on offense to lead the Niners to glory. This is a team that almost beat the future Super Bowl champs in their own stadium; this may be the year the 49ers finally win their long sought-after sixth Super Bowl win.
2. Balanced Packers Team Wins NFC North, Earns First-Round Bye
Last offseason, head coach Mike McCarthy promised the running game would improve, and boy did it. After ranking 20th in 2012, the Green Bay rushing offense ranked 7th in the league last season, and that included a long stretch without the threat of premier quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball. Without Rodgers, the passing offense and defense wilted, but made an unlikely late-season surge to make the playoffs and nearly upset a competitive 49ers team.
This summer, McCarthy made the same prediction about the Packers defense. If his prediction is right for the second year in a row, watch out. With Aaron Rodgers passing to an electrifying wide receiver tandem in Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and Pro Bowl running back Eddie Lacy returning to form, the offense has the potential to be the best in the league. If a strong defense can match the production on offense, this Packers squad has the potential to shock the NFL.
The NFC North has undergone plenty of change this offseason; the Bears offense is deadly as ever, the Lions boast a supremely talented roster, and the Vikings have a chance to win if rookie Teddy Bridgewater can win the starting job. With all the summer alterations, the NFC North has the potential of matching the NFC West in terms of competitiveness. If Julius Peppers can make a significant contribution on defense, the Green Bay Packers can win the division and potentially make a challenging playoff run.
3. New Orleans Saints Win NFC South with Little Challenge
The Saints offense over the past few years has been a revelation, and the Rob Ryan defense of 2014 made alarming progress, jumping from dead last in the NFL to fourth overall. That's an impressive team no matter how you cut the cake. The threat of Darren Sproles will be missed on offense, but Sean Payton will find a way to keep the Saints offense churning out points. With the recent addition of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, the defense in New Orleans could be one of the best in the league.
There's little worry to be found in the New Orleans Saints locker room. While a good Panthers team was able to win the division last year, their offseason losses on offense are simply depressing. The Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to be competitive, but neither team is as complete on both sides of the ball as the Saints are. Look for Drew Brees to be slinging his way to double digit wins once more in 2014.
4. Redskins Offense Surprises NFC East; RG3 Returns to the Playoffs
Last summer, I knew Robert Griffin III wouldn't be healthy enough to win the Redskins a division title. Sure enough, the Washington Redskins team collapsed in 2013 with a pathetic offering; "RG3-and 13" memes ran rampantly around the Internet. While Washington may not have the most complete roster in the NFC, I believe new head coach Jay Gruden will be able to reignite a potent Redskins offense.
RG3 has had a full offseason to rest, get healthy, learn the playbook, and bond with his new head coach and receiving corp. With the addition of speedster DeSean Jackson, this Redskins offense could be something special. RG3 will have the opportunity to hand the ball off to third-year power back Alfred Morris, take off and run, or throw the ball to Jackson, 2013 receptions leader Pierre Garcon, or athletic tight end Jordan Reed. Jay Gruden was able to work wonders with the Andy Dalton-lead Bengals last year, and I think the potential of the players in Washington will allow him to exhibit exceptional creativity.
The biggest question mark remains on defense, but a long offseason may be able to reinvigorate the careers of defensive playmakers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo; if the defense can improve from a disastrous 2013, the Redskins will have a chance to make it back to the playoffs.
5. A Talented Cardinals Team Takes Off, Earns Wild Card Berth
The Arizona Cardinals earned 10 wins last season, narrowly missing the playoffs; it won't happen again this year. While linebacker Daryl Washington will be missed on defense, the Cardinals have enough talent to make up for his absence. The offense will be able to improve even more in 2014; although the surprising retirement of running back Rashard Mendenhall alarmed many, dual-threat Andre Ellington can handle the heavy workload head coach Bruce Arians has planned for him. Second-year back Stepfan Taylor will be able to handle any goal-line and short-yardage work that Ellington can't.
The biggest leap on offense will have to be made by Carson Palmer, whose head scratching turnovers have left NFL fans puzzled over the last few years. However, Palmer offered some exceptional play after the Cardinals' week 9 bye and helped the Cardinals become the only team to officially defeat the Seahawks at home in the last years. If Palmer can play as well this season as he did down the stretch in 2013, a dangerous Cardinals team could soar to new heights.
6. Seahawks Return to Postseason, Make Run for Back-to-Back Championships
The 2013 Seahawks defense was arguably the best squad we've seen since the 2002 Buccaneers won the Lombardi Trophy for Tampa Bay. Russell Wilson made some excellent progress as a passer, and Marshawn Lynch was able to grind out tough yards like no one else in the league. Because of the team's youth, the Seattle Seahawks have a prime opportunity to win the franchise's second championship.
The Seahawks unit will benefit from very little turnover; while trusted stars like Golden Tate left during free agency, the Seattle roster is so deep that it may not affect them at all. What will deter them, however is a tough schedule; for example, their first four games are against the Packers, Chargers, Broncos, and Redskins. I wouldn't be surprised to see Seattle win all four games, but the league will be doing its best to dethrone the reigning champs. While it's possible the Seahawks may not be as dominant this season as they were last year, don't hold your breath; at the minimum, expect Seattle to win a wild card spot and make a run for back-to-back rings.
Other teams who have the potential to make the postseason in 2014 include:
- Philadelphia Eagles: Many will pick Chip Kelly's Eagles to win the NFC East, and there's little reason as to why they couldn't. DeSean Jackson will be missed, but the quick addition of Darren Sproles gives Nick Foles another lethal talent to throw to. If the defense can limit opposing offenses, the departure of Michael Vick will be remembered as a free agency departure just like any other.
- St. Louis Rams: A healthy Sam Bradford will be back to lead a promising offense in 2014. The defense was excellent last season, and if Bradford continues to exhibit some of the promise he showed us last year, it may be enough for Jeff Fisher's Rams to make to playoffs.
- Detroit Lions: The Lions have exceptional talent on both sides of the ball, but coach Jim Schwartz was rarely able to make it come together. If Jim Caldwell can discipline them, the Detroit Lions have a chance to be one of the deadliest units in the NFL.
- Chicago Bears: Marc Trestman's offense was spectacular last season and was second only to the Peyton Manning-led Broncos. Provided the defense can perform anywhere near the Chicago defenses of old, this Bears team could go anywhere.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lovie Smith's last season was in 2012, when his Chicago Bears earned 10 wins and narrowly missed the playoffs. He returns to the NFL with a hungry squad in Tampa Bay that boasts ferocious defensive talent and exciting players on offense like Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson. If Mike Glennon or Josh McCown can quarterback well enough, don't be surprised to see the Bucs make a run for the postseason.
Which unlisted NFC team has the potential to make the deepest playoff run in 2014?
You've seen my picks; now let me hear yours! Which NFC teams do you have making the playoffs in 2014? Comment below and let me know!
Additionally, which teams did I forget? Vote in the poll and let me know which team you believe can make a postseason run!
If you like what you've seen here, check out my AFC playoff picks and tell me who you have picked! Thanks for reading, and let's get pray for a short offseason so we can get back to fall tailgating as soon as possible!