Breakdown of Last Year's Championship Teams for the 2014 Season
2013 Championship Teams Prepare for Another Super Bowl Run
The first week of preseason games has come and gone. Time to crawl out from under that rock and savor it; the regular season will soon be upon us. Now, as we are getting ready for the upcoming season, let’s look at some key issues facing last years’ final four playoff teams as they attempt another playoff run.
First let’s start with the defending Super Bowl Champions.
Seattle Seahawks: It’s very tough to repeat as champions in the National Football League. Even going to the Conference Championship game three times in a row is no easy task (Patriots and 49ers 2011-2013).
What drove Seattle this past season was running the ball and defense. Marshawn Lynch had the 2nd most carries in the league and Seattle, overall was 2nd in rush attempts. The defense gave up the fewest points and total yards while leading the NFL in interceptions.
The offensive line needs improvement. Wilson was tormented by pressure all season. Seattle will face some challenging defenses this year and another 44 sack season could considerably hamper Seattle’s return to the Super Bowl.
I wouldn’t say this is what Seattle could improve on, but it is in relation to the health of Percy Harvin. Passing the ball is not really in Seattle’s game, but they lost Golden Tate who led the team in receiving yards and receptions. Seattle still has Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller and rookie receiver Paul Richardson but Harvin is going to have to be the guy when it comes to making plays. We’ve seen what Harvin could do; he just needs to stay healthy if Seattle is going to come out on top in what is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.
Denver Broncos: Denver’s first drive of the Super Bowl leading to a safety was not what they would have liked to start out the game. Many were hoping that Denver could shake the jitters away but it just didn’t happen.
The Seahawks defense was the best unit the Broncos have faced all season. Only seven of Manning’s 34 completed passes during that game were for gains of 10 or more. Peyton Manning shouldn’t be the only person at fault though. The offensive line and defense have some part in it too. And when Percy Harvin returned the second half kick for a touchdown, the Broncos fate was sealed. And then, the end result might have reminded some of those lopsided Super Bowls 30 years ago.
Peyton Manning is still going to be Peyton Manning. However, it’ doubtful that he will have that MVP- type season again, throwing for 5,400+ yards and 55 touchdowns. The AFC West has improved a bit, but not that much to the point where the other teams can seriously contend for the division. It is still the Broncos’ division, regardless.
So what will it take for the Broncos to make a return trip to the Super Bowl? First and foremost is an improvement on defense. The return of Von Miller is a start. A healthy Miller, who missed the first six games of the regular season due to a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy and then tore his ACL in week 16, will be a key factor in the Broncos front seven. The addition of DeMarcus Ware gives them another pass rusher and a veteran presence. Even at 32, he is a challenge for opposing offensive lines. The Talib and T.J. Ward additions to the secondary are already an improvement from the 2013 unit.
Additionally, the Broncos have added some depth on an already solid offensive line. They acquired Michael Schofield (OT) in the 3rd round and Matthew Paradis (C) in the sixth. They did allow the fewest sacks in the league this past season but against solid defenses like Indianapolis and Seattle (both losses); there was some need in that area. Overall, the offensive line will need to stay healthy and hope for some if-needed contribution from the offensive lineman taken in May’s draft.
As Broncos’ defensive back Chris Harris said, this season will be “Super Bowl or bust.”
San Francisco 49ers: San Francisco allowed the third fewest total points in the NFL last season (272), behind Carolina and Seattle. The 49ers game, like Seattle, is running the ball and defense. Despite the injuries to Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, San Francisco still has running back depth.
Aldon Smith will be suspended nine games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse and personal-conduct policies. Once he returns, it will take some time to shake off the rust before he gets into football form. In addition with Smith's suspension there is also NaVorro Bowman who is still recovering from the torn ACL and MCL he suffered during the NFC Championship game in January. Whether Bowman will return healthy and able to return to the prominence of his first four seasons in the NFL (2X Pro Bowls, 365 tackles, 3X First Team All-Pro) will be something to watch.
The offensive line gave up 39 sacks last year (41 in 2012) and the number might be going up since the offensive line is without center Jonathan Goodwin (Free Agency) and guard Alex Boone (holdout). The 49ers do have some young talent in the offensive line but they will have to make due until one of the young players contributes and Boone comes to camp. The 49ers must remain hopeful that the offensive line will show improvement as the regular season progresses.
Colin Kaepernick needs to be more consistent. His best games were against the Packers to start the season and against the Cardinals at the end of the season. Everything in between was ok. In their four losses Kaepernick threw for 495 yards, six interceptions and two touchdowns.
Michael Crabtree is their best receiver. Just like Seattle’s Percy Harvin, Crabtree makes a difference when he is on the field. Limited to the last 5 games of the 2013 regular season (Achilles) Crabtree averaged four receptions and 57 receiving yards in those games.
In a tough conference, let alone division, San Francisco will need to have everybody healthy and ready to get home field advantage for the playoffs.
New England Patriots: Tom Brady had a decent season in 2013. He threw for 4343 yards, 25 touchdowns (lowest since 2006) and 11 interceptions. He was also sacked 40 times last season, which is 2nd to his career high (41). Despite all that, along with players being injured, the Patriots scored the 3rd most points while also allowing the 10th fewest points in the NFL, and they were still able to get to the AFC Championship game.
The health of the Patriots’ receivers is a main issue going into the season. Danny Amendola missed four games last year while Rob Gronkowski missed nine. Brandon LaFell was signed to provide some insurance however, how much he contributes remains to be seen. As long as Gronk is healthy, the Patriots should be in serious consideration to be Super Bowl contenders.
One of the biggest free agent moves around the league was the Patriots acquisition of Darrelle Revis. The Patriots allowed 3824 passing yards (26th overall) and 2145 rushing yards (30th overall) in 2013. Adding Revis will allow the defense to be more creative as Revis will be locking down opposing receivers. Revis will be paired with Brandon Browner, a physical corner who the Patriots added through free agency. The Patriots defensive front is solid so overall they should show much improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
End Result: Only seven teams were able to repeat as Super Bowl champions. So history is not on Seattle's side. Games against division opponents late in the season will have playoff implications for the other teams while there will be a chance (if they win those games) for home-field advantage for Seattle.
San Francisco, who haven't looked like Super Bowl contenders this preseason have to make due without Bowman and Smith missing a good chunk of the season. Their absence will hamper the defense until they comeback and are able to make an impact (I believe this impact will happen on Thanksgiving night against Seattle). San Francisco will have a late season run in 2014 that could give them a chance at a wildcard spot.
The AFC conference in the NFL can be compared to the NBA's Eastern Conference from the past four seasons. You have the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots as Super Bowl contenders and that's it. An AFC Championship game appearance is guaranteed for both teams because of the fairly easy schedules. The November meeting between both teams will be the key game to see who will get home-field advantage for the postseason.
Which one of these teams will go to the Super Bowl this upcoming season?
- Chris Harris: 'Super Bowl or bust' for Denver Broncos - NFL.com
February's lopsided loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII hasn't dimmed the focus in Denver. A motivated Chris Harris knows the goal for the Broncos this season.