Can you feel it? The butterflies in your stomach? That extra pep in your step? That tingling feeling in your…lower parts? Thats football baby and its around the corner. You’ve probably got your fantasy teams ready, you’ve planned out your Sunday meals and your lucky tshirt is washed and ready for another grueling season. To make life a little easier for you, here’s a little division-by-division breakdown of whats to come in the 2014-2015 season.
Since the AFC Super Bowl representative got smacked around this past February, we’ll let them get first licks. The AFC East breaks down like this: Its the Patriots and everyone else. The Pats, Tom Brady especially, look good this preseason. Brady is completely close to 80% of his passes, Aaron Dobson and Kembrell Thompkins look better, and the addition of Brandon Lafell and Tim Wright make this an interesting offense to watch. Defensively, they added Darelle Revis and Brandon Browner. They’re already better on both sides of the ball and they should have no problem winning this division. The Dolphins are another interesting team to watch. Interesting enough to make the playoffs? Maybe not. They added a new offensive coordinator after Mike Sherman stunk it up. Bill Lazer just came over from Philly and will try to make this offense look like Eagles Lite. Mike Wallace will play the DeSean Jackson role, Brian Hartline will play the Riley Cooper role and Lamar Miller/Knowshon Moreno will have to take on the LeSean McCoy/whoever else role. Obviously a less talented version of what Chip Kelly is doing up north. I’m concerned with the defense because while the pass rush is solid, the linebackers and secondary are dreadful. The Jets are always a fun team to watch because you never know what they’ll do. The offense does look better with the additions of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson. Geno Smith seems to be improving and the offensive line isn’t a total disaster. Defensively, this team will suffer. Rex Ryan can only do so much. They’ve regressed defensively and losing guys to injury didn’t help either. The Buffalo Bills made a splash by trading up in the draft to take Sammy Watkins. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have someone to get him the ball because EJ Manuel isn’t very good. Doug Marrone is planning on running more so my suggestion to him is to put Sammy Watkins in the backfield, similar to the way he was used on some plays at Clemson, and only run the ball. Run the veer if you have to. The Bills defense should still be good even though they lost Kiko Alonso and Jairus Byrd.
The NFC North is probably one of more competitive divisions in the sense that anyone can win it. The Ravens added some pieces and had a pretty good draft. They should be competitive even without Ray Rice for the first two games of the season. The Bengals signed Andy Dalton to a long term deal, drafted Jeremy Hill to complement Gio Bernard and have one of the best wide receivers in football. They also return a top 5 defense, which will be bolstered by a healthy Geno Atkins. The Pittsburgh Steelers are always a threat to win this division because of their consistency. Even the loss of Emmanuel Sanders won’t hurt them that much. The success of the Steelers will have to be on Todd Haley’s shoulders though. The Cleveland Browns are an interesting team. They announced that Brian Hoyer will be the starter and they can be a good team with him under center. Last season, they started 3-1 before he was injured. They can turn to Johnny Manziel in case of another injury and they signed Ben Tate to play running back. The defense is one of the best in the league and now that they know they won’t have Josh Gordon for the entire season, they can move forward and guys can step up.
This is another division where its one team on top and everyone else looking up at them. In this case, the top team is the Colts. I’m not totally sold on their defense but they’re a crafty team. They added some weapons offensively and will have some guys (Dwayne Allen particularly) coming back from injury. I love Andrew Luck and I think he’ll lead this team to the playoffs again. The Tennessee Titans have a new offensive coordinator in Ken Whisenhunt, who did wonders in San Diego with Phillip Rivers. A healthy Jake Locker could do some good things, along with an improved offensive line. I like the idea of a two headed backfield with Shonn Grenne and Bishop Sankey. The defense still worries me though. The Houston Texans could really be the team with the biggest turnaround in terms of where they were to where they could end up. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a capable quarterback and he’s surrounded by weapons like Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Arian Foster. On the other side of the ball, JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney should make opposing quarterbacks sweat this season. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be a good team. Just not this year. Chad Henne is not going to lead this team anywhere and I don’t like their options at wide receiver. Toby Gerhart is a solid running back and Gus Bradley is building this defense in the Seahawks mold. He even brought over Red Bryant and Chris Clemons from Seattle. They won’t be the joke that they were last year.
The AFC West is going to be more competitive than we think but its still one team and everyone else. The Denver Broncos pushed all their chips to the center of the table this offseason. They signed Aqib Talib, Demarcus Ware, TJ Ward and Emmanuel Sanders. They won’t have Wes Welker to start the season but they have plenty of weapons on offense. Factor in the fact that their Super Bowl loss left a bad taste in their mouths and you have a recipe for a very cold dish called revenge. The Chargers will be better than they were last year even with Ken Whisenhunt moving on. They’re deeper than they were last year on both sides of the ball but the defense still concerns me. The Chiefs surprised a lot of people last year, winning 11 games after their previous two win season. The defense was the biggest reason for this turnaround obviously and they’ve since cut Brandon Flowers. I think the offense will take a step back. They lost two of their offensive lineman to free agency and they didn’t do much to improve that side of the ball. The Oakland Raiders aren’t really that bad. Sure, they don’t have a good quarterback, they have question marks at the skill positions and their defense is comprised of young unproven players and mercenaries…but they really aren’t that terrible. Will they win 10 games? No, but they’ll surprise some teams here and there.
Or as its more commonly referred to…the NFC Least, is a complete and utter disaster. No team in this division should make the playoffs because they’re all dreadful in their own way. The Philadelphia Eagles are the best team in the division with a terrible defense. They added Darren Sproles but lost DeSean Jackson. They’ll have to rely heavily on Jeremy Maclin (coming off an ACL injury) and Riley Cooper (super racist) but if anyone can do it, its the genius…Chip Kelly. The Cowboys also have a pretty good offense and a terrible defense. They lost Sean Lee to injury and Jason Hatcher/Demarcus Ware to free agency. The linebacking corps is bad and the secondary isn’t any better than it was last year. Offensively, they should be alright and will look to outscore everyone. The Giants brought in Ben McAdoo to (finally) replace Kevin Gilbride but the new offense hasn’t looked good so far in the preseason. Actually scratch that. ELI MANNING hasn’t looked good in the new offense so far in the preseason. The running game has looked pretty decent and the defense isn’t the total disaster it was last year. The Redskins have a new coach in Jay Gruden and a new weapon in DeSean Jackson. They’ve improved their defense so its only terrible instead really terrible.
I feel like this one of the better divisions in football. I think the Packers have a really legitimate shot to win a Super Bowl this year. They have a solid running game, Aaron Rodgers is healthy and they have a lot of weapons for him. Even their defense is looking good. The Bears have a great offense and a mediocre defense. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are among the best wide receiver duos in football. Marc Trestman is going to make Jay Cutler one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The Lions have a new head coach in Jim Caldwell and he should help Matt Stafford cut down his turnovers and spread the ball around to new additions like Eric Ebron and Golden Tate. The defensive line is still stout and the linebacking corps looks good as well. The Minnesota Vikings should also improve and it wouldn’t surprise me if they made the playoffs. Norv Turner is a great offensive coordinator and will improve that offense. Just ask the Cleveland Browns.
The NFC South changes hands every year it seems like. One year its the Saints, then its the Panthers. This year it will probably still be the Saints, but don’t be surprised if the Lovie Smith-led Buccaneers make some noise. They have the tallest combined receiving corps in football but a revamped offensive line thats not great but better than before. The defense is going to be pretty good all around. The Saints will be what everyone expects them to be and the Panthers are going to take a step back. I like their defense but with no proven running game and Cam Newton coming off surgery, theres a lot of pressure on the offense. Their wide receiving corp is paltry at best. The Falcons are hoping to be back to their 2012 form with a healthy Julio Jones and while they will be better than last year’s team, they’re not a legitimate NFC Championship contender.
The toughest division in football is going to be a lot tougher. All four teams have a legitimate shot to win the division. Despite losing Sam Bradford for the season, the Rams are a lot like the Jets from a few seasons ago. They have a good defense, a solid running game and Brian Schottenheimer. They might not win the division but it wouldn’t surprise me if they made the playoffs. The Cardinals defense might have taken a few hits and they have some question marks, but the offense might be pretty good. Bruce Arians is going to air the ball out and they have the weapons to get the ball to. Carson Palmer should flourish in this system and there’s no reason this team can’t win 10 games. The 49ers have some guys that are missing due to injury or suspension but they’re very deep on both sides of the ball. A healthy Michael Crabtree for the whole year will do wonders for Colin Kaepernick. The defending Super Bowl champions don’t look like they’re going to miss a beat even though they lost some pieces both offensively and defensively. This is what Pete Carroll has worked so hard to do. If a guy goes down, another steps up and I think he’ll have his replacements coached up and ready.