NFL Predictions and Opinions (Post-Draft Edition)
Well, the draft is over, and now we get to do nothing but stalk and speculate until August.
Yup. We'll hear about who's making an impression in training camp or whose job is safe (Spoilers- If they're talking about job security, somebody's probably about to lose their job) until the pre-season kicks off and we finally can see for ourselves.
So, consider this my first dive into the completely ridiculous, and most likely inaccurate world of wild speculation.
Let's start with the division standings, shalllll we?
1. The Baltimore Ravens.
2. The Cincinnati Bengals.
3. The Pittsburgh Steelers.
4. The Cleveland Browns.
You know, it's funny.
Halfway through last year, I might've swapped the top and bottom spot.
For a brief moment last season, I was on the Brown bandwagon. They had a talented defense, some young weapons on offense, and a journeyman QB who just wanted to prove himself.
Then, they replaced young stars like T.J. Ward and D'Qwell Jackson with washed up veterans like Donte Hitner (what an awful nickname) and Karlos Dansby. They fired their Head Coach, Rob Chudzinski, after one season where he motivated a bad team to perform well. And then they drafted Johnny Manziel. What a circus.
Typical Cleveland. Please, never change.
Why Baltimore over Cincinnati?
Being completely honest? I'm not entirely sure. In fact, part of me seriously doubts my decision. If I had to nail down a reason?
I like the Ravens off-season, and if it comes down to Flacco versus Dalton... I've gotta side with Flacco.
It's not that I think Flacco is an elite quarterback, or even a great one, but he's certainly more consistent than Andy. I mean, last year, in week 16, Andy Dalton threw four touchdowns. The next week? He threw four interceptions. That's just how I see the kid, he's either on or he's off. Now. If you've seen the stats, you're probably furious right now. I mean, Flacco had multiple interceptions in almost half of his games and didn't even break even (19 touchdowns, 22 interceptions), but there's a major difference.
Flacco wasn't surrounded by talent last year, while Dalton played on a Madden offense.
The Ravens offensive line was beaten and battered, they couldn't run the ball, and his best receiver caught less than 50% of the passes thrown his way. I don't know about you, but if you don't have a pocket to throw from, your best receiver barely passes for a number two in most offenses, and you can't run? You're not going to be very successful.
Despite that, the Bengals and Ravens found themselves in the same position last year in week 17, "win and you're in".
I look at these two teams and I think, "Who improved more?"
While the Bengals definitely built onto the core of their team, the Ravens added a lot of muscle.
They got tight end, Dennis Pitta back, added a consistent veteran pass-catcher in Steve Smith, and bulked up the offensive line. There's been a lot of noise about Ray Rice's off-season, but ultimately, I think a different back taking carries would be good for the Ravens. Ray Rice was on the downswing anyway, and a younger horse carrying the lad can't hurt.
I guess I picked Baltimore, because I believe a more consistent offense will help Joe Flacco and the Ravens win a division that isn't as tough as it once was. I just don't have the faith in Andy Dalton.
Oh, and Pittsburgh?
Just a little too old, a little too beaten.
Sorry Steelers fans, you might have to wait until they just nuke the team and start over.
1. The Chicago Bears.
2. The Green Bay Packers.
3. The Detroit Lions.
4. The Minnesota Vikings.
If any team in this division really improved this off-season, it was the Chicago Bears. They already had all the pieces on offense, and they got younger in a hurry on defense. They swapped out the ancient Julius Peppers for all-star, Jared Allen, and run stopper, Lamarr Houston. They brought in trustworthy veterans like D.J. Williams and Jay Ratliff, as well as building through the draft with picks like Kyle Fuller. The Lions are still a mess on defense, the Vikings off-season was laughable, and the Packers still don't have a real defense. They can try to make the 49ers game a marquee match-up all they want, but I'm sick and tired of watching Colin Kaepernick abuse their front seven. I love Adrian Peterson. I love Calvin Johnson. Hell, I wrote an article debating why he's the best wide-out ever ( See- http://ryandanielsmith.hubpages.com/hub/The-Best-Wide-Reciever-of-All-Time )... but I just don't see those teams clicking and playing on a cleaner level... Especially with a moron like Jim "I'm responsible for Peyton's success" Caldwell behind the wheel.
1. The Denver Broncos.
2. The San Diego Chargers.
3. The Oakland Raiders.
4. The Kansas City Chiefs.
Haha! Progress! The division undergoes drastic changes!
Look, as long as Captain Omaha is behind center for the Broncos, it's pretty hard to choose anybody else. If the Chargers had drafted better, maybe they could've made a push, but drafting a slot corner in the first round. It wouldn't surprise me if San Diego can split the series against the conference champs, but I doubt they win the whole thing, especially with the nasty schedule this division gets this year. I mean... The Patriots and the NFC West? Gross...
I'm not sure which will come as more of a shock, the Raiders being a competitive team or the Chiefs collapsing. It's not that I don't think the Chiefs are a good team, but I have my doubts. As the season went on, teams began to expose the holes in the Chiefs defense... Holes that they didn't fix. Meanwhile... The Raiders...
I loved what they did in free agency, and I think they aced the draft... (As seen here -> http://ryandanielsmith.hubpages.com/hub/Grading-the-Oakland-Raiders-2014-Draft )
But... As I said...
Personally, I see another 4 win season as the lowest point, and breaking .500 as the ceiling. I think that six wins keeps Dennis Allen employed, and I really hope they really push the ceiling as far as they can. Allen has been doing a hell of a lot with very little, and now that he was groceries... We'll see.
1. The Seattle Seahawks.
2. The St. Louis Rams.
3. The San Francisco 49ers.
4. The Arizona Cardinals.
HOLD YOUR FIRE.
LET ME EXPLAIN.
The wheels are coming off in San Francisco.
Star linebacker Navorro Bowman is recovering from an ACL tear, Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith are huge distractions with their off-season legal interactions, and all is not well in the front office. Rumor has it that the 49ers are fed up with Jim Harbaugh. Just google "Jim Harbaugh wearing thin" and prepare to grimace.
The Niners are set for a major collapse and the 2014 schedule is not taking it easy on them.
Suddenly, the NFC West isn't a joke anymore.
There isn't a bad defense in the West and the out-of-division games aren't a piece of cake either.
You've got the Cowboys and their potent offense, the Bears and their revamped defense, the defending AFC Champions, without mentioning the Chiefs, Eagles, and Saints, who all made the playoffs last year. The only easy games are the new and improved Oakland Raiders and Jay Gruden's Washington Redskins... And honestly? Who knows how good either of those teams will be this year. Oh. And you play the defending Super Bowl Champs twice... No big deal.
Meanwhile... The Seahawks managed to keep the bulk of the team intact. They signed Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman to long term, lucrative contracts, and didn't lose any essential pass-rushers. One thing worth noting, I do think this is the year that Russell Wilson has to prove he's more than just a game manager. While his biggest strength has been that he doesn't lose games for the Seahawks, it's about time that he proves he can win them. Marshawn Lynch won't be beastmode forever, and you can't expect the Peyton Manning's of the world to keep throwing big games away.
But, the word is out, the Seahawks are the big dogs now. They've got the target on their back, and the wolves are hunting.
The biggest wolf is a familiar foe for Seattle.
The St. Louis Rams.
Now... They don't have a great offense... But neither did Seattle, and they turned out okay.
The Rams aced this years draft. they bulked up on both sides of the line of scrimmage, including the terrifying pick of Aaron Donald. He's a quick, disruptive defensive lineman, who will join the likes of Chris Long and Robert Quinn on the best defensive line in the National Football League. These guys are going to terrorize QBs for the next few years, Russell Wilson and Carson Palmer included.
1. The Indianapolis Colts.
2. The Tennessee Titans.
3. The Houston Texans.
4. The Jacksonville Jaguars.
Not a ton of change in the AFC South this year, and a lot of it has to do with the draft.
I won't lie. I expected that the Texans would select Jadeveon Clowney. What I didn't expect was that they would ignore their biggest need until the fourth round.
The Texans seriously needed a Quarterback... And I'm not sure they got one in Tom Savage.
I mean... The way that their draft worked out, they might as well have kept Matt Schaub.
Don't get me started on Jacksonville.
The Titans bulked up a bit, and that should help them run the ball more and take tons of pressure off of the defense...
But at the end of the day, Andrew Luck is one of the very brightest young QBs this league has seen since his predecessor... And I don't mean Dan Orlovsky.
I think the Colts can get comfy atop the division.
1. The Atlanta Falcons.
2. The New Orleans Saints.
3. The Carolina Panthers.
4. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This division is chaotic.
Every single team has 3 division titles since 2002.
It's impossible to predict honestly, I can only justify my picks here.
I think the Falcons bounce back. They'll finally be healthy, the addition of Jake Matthews was incredible, and their schedule isn't all that tough. The return of Julio Jones and the stability along the offensive line will be extremely helpful. They'll steal first place.
The only reason that the Panthers are even third is because of Luke Kuechly and a solid front seven. That offense makes me nauseous. I don't like Cam Newton, he hasn't developed properly, and he lacks real weapons to throw too. They'll beat the simple defenses but they'll struggle against the elite NFC teams.
The Saints get 8 games at home, and will probably win two or three games away, as long as nobody realizes that they are terrified of the deep ball and have a very simplistic defense.
And the Bucs? Who freaking knows. It'll be interesting to see how McCown plays as a starter as opposed to a relief passer on a talente Bears team.
1. The New England Patriots.
2. The Buffalo Bills.
3. The Miami Dolphins.
4. The New York Jets.
This division irritates me.
C'mon. We all know the Patriots have this division locked down.
The other three teams don't really make an impact.
The Bills have a good defense and some playmakers on offense, but who knows how EJ Manuel will play.
The Dolphins haven't resolved their offensive line issues at all, and haven't really bulked up on either side of the ball.
And the Jets off-season makes my head hurt. Michael Vick? Chris Johnson? 2010 Ryan is really impressed. 2014 Ryan? Thinks they were free agents for a reason.
And the Patriots?
Let's be honest. As long as Tom Brady is under center, nobody else has any say in what happens in this division. It's extremely boring.
1. The New York Giants.
2. The Dallas Cowboys.
3. The Philadelphia Eagles.
4. The Washington Redskins.
Once the best division in the NFL... Now... A confusing mess.
Honestly, I could have this completely backwards.
Or inside out.
The NFC East is a mess.
The Cowboys have a fun offense but swiss cheese for defense.
The Giants have tons of talent on both sides of the ball but they just can't seem to find consistency. Maybe Coughlin is done, maybe Eli isn't the answer. Who knows?
The Eagles... Jesus. Who knows? The defense has a few stars, but they can't seem to bring it together. The offense? Who knows how they'll adjust now that they don't have a serviceable back-up or DeSean Jackson! Who knows how defenses will adjust with an off-season of film of Chip Kelly's offense?! GAH!
And the Redskins? Who knows? They have tons of playmakers, but it all comes down to RG3 and how Jay Gruden coaches the team.
Nobody knows anything about this division and how it will turn out. I went with the Giants because they have playoff experience. Because they have won games that mattered. Then I went with the best QB in the division. Then the defending champs, and then the Skins.
It's a mess.
AFC Playoff Picture.
1. The New England Patriots.
2. The Indianapolis Colts.
3. The Denver Broncos.
4. The Baltimore Ravens.
WC. The San Diego Chargers.
WC. The Cincinnati Bengals.
The Patriots have an easy schedule. This isn't college. They don't weigh your wins.
See: The Patriots.
Unfortunately, the AFC West is getting better, and the NFC West has already proven they can spank the Broncos if they need to.
10 wins will get you the AFC North. Book it.
Poor San Diego. Always the flower girl, never the bridesmaid.
Poor Cincinnati. Always "really good friends with the bride", never gets invited.
NFC Playoff Picture.
1. The Seattle Seahawks.
2. The Atlanta Falcons.
3. The Chicago Bears.
4. The New York Giants.
WC. The St. Louis Rams.
WC. The New Orleans Saints.
The Seahawks are still in their prime. They're a good team with an amazing home field advantage. I think they'll be just fine.
The Falcons have an easy schedule, they'll rack up plenty of wins on their way to a first round bye.
The Bears are going to struggle. They'll probably split the series with the Packers and we all know that Jay Cutler loves to throw an inconvenient pick or two in big games.
9 wins can crown you the NFC East division champ... But that's about it.
The Rams are going to be pushing the Seahawks towards the end, but ultimately, it just means they becomes Saints fans for a couple weeks.
I can't imagine the Saints playoff run lasts long if they have to travel to cold and windy Soldier Field... It didn't work out for Drew Brees last time.