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The Greyhound

2014 NFL Preview: Familiar faces will finish on top

AFC East

One of these years, the New England Patriots’ yearly domination of this division will finally come to an end. This is not the year. Barring an injury to future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots will win their 12th division title in the last 14 years. Newly-acquired cornerback Darrelle Revis is an upgrade from Aqib Talib, and the team is much healthier than it was to start last season. The Pats’ playoff seed will depend on the health of tight end Rob Gronkowski. At worst, New England will receive the fourth seed in the playoffs.
The Dolphins, Jets and Bills might provide a little more competition than in years past, but none of them will get past the Patriots. Miami was last year’s surprise team before collapsing in the midst of the Incognito-Martin bullying scandal. The Dolphins could certainly jump above .500, but a division title seems like a stretch. Former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson should improve the Jets’ running game, but quarterback Geno Smith doesn’t appear to be the answer. Meanwhile, the Bills haven’t improved much, even after drafting wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Division champs: New England Patriots (12-4: 2 seed)

AFC North

Probably the most intriguing division in football, the AFC North could either be very lousy, or very strong. Regardless, it will be a tight race. None of the teams appear to be Super Bowl contenders on paper, but they all have the potential to make a deep playoff run, with the exception of the Browns. If the preseason was any indication, the Browns will finish in the cellar once again. Expect the usual three-team race between the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens.
The Bengals may be the defending champs of the division, but they arguably have the third-best quarterback in the division. Andy Dalton needs to cut down on the turnovers this season, as the Steelers and Ravens are unlikely to both fall flat the way they did last year. The Bengals benefitted last season from down years from both of those teams, which will not happen again.
The Steelers’ addition of LeGarrette Blount will boost their run game, which is already led by second-year running back Le’Veon Bell. The Ravens’ addition of veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr., as well as new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, should lead to monumental strides for the team’s offense, which at times last season resembled the old Kyle Boller-led offensive units. A healthy Dennis Pitta will also make the Ravens a much-improved team.

Division champs: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5: 4 seed)
Wild Card 1: Cincinnati Bengals (10-6: 5 seed)
Wild Card 2: Baltimore Ravens (10-6: 6 seed)

AFC South

We’ve all been wrong before, but it would take a disastrous season for the Indianapolis Colts to not run away with this division. Andrew Luck is one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, and running back Trent Richardson has nowhere to go but up after last year. Indy has plenty of questions on defense, but nothing indicates that the Titans, Texans or Jaguars will take this division. The Titans, like the Dolphins, could play winning football, but are too far behind the division favorites.

Division champs: Indianapolis Colts (11-5: 3 seed)

AFC West

This was the best division in the AFC last year, but will probably take a small step back this season. The Peyton Manning-led Broncos, with the defensive additions of Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware, should hold off the talented Chiefs and Chargers once again. Expect the Chiefs and Chargers to remain competitive but fail to return to the playoffs in a tougher AFC wild card field this year.

Division champs: Denver Broncos (13-3: 1 seed)

NFC East

Notorious for being an unpredictable, frustrating and sometimes mediocre division year in and year out, the NFC East appears to only have one top-tier team. The Eagles were very strong last season, and their elite offense should be even more explosive with the addition of Darren Sproles. The Giants, Cowboys and Redskins were all mediocre to awful last season, and they don’t look much better this year. But the way the NFL is, don’t be surprised if one of those teams overtake the Eagles, who are always fair game for mediocrity. One thing is certain, though…the Cowboys will finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.

Division champs: Philadelphia Eagles (10-6: 4 seed)

NFC North

Although the Packers, Bears, Lions and Vikings all have their own strengths, only the first two seemed primed for the playoffs. Green Bay and Chicago could easy have the top two offenses in the NFC this season, and their defenses have improved as well. The Lions will score their fair share of points as usual, but their defense, and Matt Stafford’s inconsistencies, could haunt them. The Vikings seem like the weak link in the division, but when you have Adrian Peterson in your backfield, you always have a shot.

Division champs: Green Bay Packers (12-4: 2 seed)
Wild Card 1: Chicago Bears (10-6: 5 seed)

NFC South

The Saints should be able to march all over their division rivals this year, especially at home. They have been nearly unbeatable in New Orleans lately, and that will continue this season. Expect the Falcons to be one of the most improved teams this year, although they are still a step behind the Saints. Meanwhile, expect the Panthers to have the biggest drop-off with all of their losses at the receiver position. The Buccaneers have improved, but will remain in the cellar along with Carolina.

Division champs: New Orleans Saints (11-5: 3 seed)

NFC West

Not much debate here. The Seahawks had one of the best defenses in NFL history last season, and should be championship material again this year. Their Super Bowl “hangover” will only drop one win from last year’s total. I could see running back Marshawn Lynch having a down season coming off his holdout, but this defense is too good to keep them out of the playoffs. The Niners would be a popular pick if not for their injuries and suspensions, most notably the injury to Navarro Bowman and the Aldon Smith suspension. San Francisco will snag the final wild card spot though, garnering Jim Harbaugh NFC Coach of the Year.

Division champs: Seattle Seahawks (12-4: 1 seed)
Wild Card 2: San Francisco 49ers (10-6: 6 seed)

AFC Championship Game: Patriots over Broncos
NFC Championship Game: Packers over Seahawks

Super Bowl XLIX: Packers over Patriots

I don’t know how the Packers are going to beat the Seahawks in Seattle, but they will find a way, as it is very difficult to repeat in the NFL. After that, the Pack will top it off with their fifth Super Bowl title in team history, and the second in the Aaron Rodgers era. The Patriots will avenge last season’s loss to Denver in the AFC Title Game, but will fall short to a superior Green Bay team, marking the third straight loss for Brady and Belichick in the Super Bowl.

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    JoshJan 4, 2015 at 8:40 pm


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2014 NFL Preview: Familiar faces will finish on top