Saturday, September 20, 2014

AFC WEST & NFC EAST PREVIEWS AND PREDICTIONS

By: Connor Glowacki

AFC WEST

courtesy of Slate Magazine
1.) Denver Broncos: The Broncos were one of the most entertaining offenses we had seen in recent memory last season, led by MVP quarterback Peyton Manning throwing for 5,477 yards and an all-time best 55 touchdowns, compared to just 10 interceptions! Manning also completed an astounding 68.3 percent of his passes last season.
     Manning had numerous weapons in the passing game, to his arsenal, which included wide receivers Wes Welker (73 catches, 778 yards, 10TDs), Demaryius Thomas (92 catches, 1,430 yards, 14TDs), and Eric Decker (87 catches, 1,288 yards, 11TDs), as well as tight end Julius Thomas (65 catches, 788 yards, 12TDs).
     The running game provided additional firepower to this offense in 2013, with contributions by running backs Knowshon Moreno (241 carries, 1,038 yards, 10TDs) and Montee Ball (120 carries, 559 yards, 4TDs). The defense was led by linebacker Shaun Phillips (10 sacks), and cornerback Dominique Rodgers Cromatie (3 interceptions) in 2013. With all of their statistical success that led to a 13-3 regular season record, a humiliating defeat to the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl washed away alot of the good vibes around this team immediately heading into the offseason.

Big Questions: Can Denver get back to the Super Bowl? Manning returns, but that can't be said for some of his most notable weapons from last season. Decker and Moreno left in free agnecy and Welker has been suspended the first four games of the season for performance enhancing drug use.  The Broncos also lost Phillips to free agency in the offseason.

courtesy of usatoday

Bottom Line: As long as a team has Peyton Manning as their quarterback, they are going to have a great chance at making a run for a championship. Denver acquired wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, linebacker Demarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward all in the offseason and Manning will still have both Demaryius and Julius Thomas at his disposal to start the 2014 season. The Broncos will also have left tackle Ryan Clady retuning from injuries that kept him out the entire 2013 campaign.

Prediction: (12-4). Denver has tough games early against Kansas City, Seattle and Indianapolis, but they are the best team in this division and should be one of the top teams in the entire NFL once again in 2014.

courtesy of rantsports.com
2.) San Diego Chargers: San Diego went on a late season run to sneak into the playoffs for the first time in several years, but after upsetting a Cincinatti Bengals team in the first round, expectations are high for this team. Quarterback Phillip Rivers had a big rebound year in 2013 after throwing for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns, compared to 11 interceptions.
     The rushing game was led by running backs Ryan Matthews (285 carries, 1,255 yards, 6TDs) and Danny Woodhead (106 carries, 429 yards, 2TDs). Wide receiver Keenan Allen had a breakout season with 71 catches for 1,046 yards and 8TDs, and other receiving threats, such as tight end Antonio Gates (77 catches, 872 yards, 4TDs) and wide receiver Eddie Royal (47 catches, 631 yards, 8TDs) were big playmakers in San Diego's passing game.

Big Questions: How good can San Diego be? All of their skill weapons return, including wide receiver Malcolm Floyd, who missed most of the 2013 season with injuries. The offensive line, however, has many question marks.

Bottom Line: San Deigo added cornerback Brandon Flowers in free agency and safety Eric Weddle, and linebackers Manti Te'o and Melvin Ingrham return on defense. The offense should put up points fairly easily, as the offensive line steps up and provides protection to Rivers.

Prediction: (10-6). The Chargers have more playmakers on offense than Kansas City does and the advantage of being able to put points up on the board gives them an edge over the Chiefs.

courtesy of standingosports.com
3.) Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs had an unbelievable start in 2013, in a year with new head coach Andy Reid and new starting quarterback Alex Smith. Kansas City started 9-0 and showcased new playmakers on defense, but limped to a 2-5 stretch and finished the season with an 11-5 record and a lost in the first round of the playoffs to Indianapolis.
     Smith was the epitome of a game manager in 2013, as he threw for 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns, compared to just seven interceptions. Running back Jamaal Charles was huge on offense for the Chiefs as he rushed for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns on 259 carries. Charles also had 70 receptions for 693 yards and seven touchdowns in the passing game. Wide receivers Dwanye Bowe and Donnie Avery combined for 1,269 yards receiving and seven touchdowns in 2013.
     The defense had numerous playmakers such as linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, with 11 sacks each and safeties Quintin Demps, Eric Berry and Marcus Cooper combining for 10 interceptions. Linebacker Derrick Johnson led the Chiefs with 107 tackles last season.

Big Questions: Does Kansas City have enough firepower on offense to score points and keep up with offensive-powered teams like Denver and New England? And can Alex Smith be a quarterback that can take a team to a Super Bowl?

Bottom Line: The Chiefs offense didn't make any upgrades, besides adding tight end Anthony Fasano in free agency, and the defense lost Johnson and Demps in the offseason. Hali and Berry are also both fighting through injuries as the season is about to begin.

Prediction: (7-9). Alot of Kansas City's early wins last season came against struggling teams that were playing their backup quarterbacks. The early stretch of the 2014 schedule faces tough matchups against Denver, New England, San Francisco, and San Diego. I personally believe that the Chiefs' 2013 season  had some very lucky moments and that they will struggle to achieve that success again in 2014.

courtesy of nfl.com
4.) Oakland Raiders: Unbelievably, the Raiders have not made the playoffs since they lost in the Super Bowl back in 2003. It doesn't seem that streak of losing seasons will end in 2014. Oakland's quarterbacks (Matt Flynn, Matt McGloin, Terelle Pryor) all struggled mightily last season and the Raiders lost their top running back Rashad Jennings in free agency.
     That being said, Oakland did acquire numerous free agents for this upcoming season, including running back Maurice Jones Drew, defensive end Justin Tuck, and linebacker Lamarr Woodley. They also acquired quarterback Matt Schaub, but it appears that rookie Derek Carr will be the starting quarterback for Oakland on opening day. Running back Darren McFadden (114 carries, 379 yards, 5TDs) and wide receivers Rod Streater (60 catches, 888 yards, 4TDs) and Denarius Moore (46 catches, 695 yards, 5TDs) are the top returning offensive threats from 2013.

Big Questions: Can Carr be the quarterback that can win Oakland games and make them relevant once again? Can Jones-Drew and McFadden establish a consistent corps of running backs to help Carr run the offense?
courtesy of buffalonews.com

Bottom Line: Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack will make an immediate impact and will put up big numbers for Oakland in his first season. The Raiders also acquired wide receiver James Jones in free agency and he should be able to stretch the field and allow Carr to throw play-action pass plays more often this season. Also, watch out for newly acquired cornerback Carlos Rogers to make a big impact in the secondary.

Prediction: (4-12). Unfortunately for Raiders fans, 2014 will be another long, tough season. Carr doesn't have many weapons to work with on offense and the defense doesn't have enough YOUNG talent to match quarterbacks in their division, like Manning, Rivers or even Smith. This should be viewed as a year to look to the future and allow Carr to develop as a quarterback.



NFC EAST

courtesy of bleacherrepot
1.) Philadelphia Eagles: Many people, including myself, questioned if new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly could have his high-powered offense from his coaching days at Oregon translate to the NFL. Needless to say, Kelly proved us wrong with a dynamic offense that scared a lot of opponents last season. Quarterback Nick Foles emerged as a legitimate starter in the middle of the 2013 season, as Michael Vick battled injuries, and never looked back.
     Foles threw for 2,891 yards and an astounding 27 touchdowns, compared to just two interceptions in limited action in 2013. Running back Lesean McCoy was one of the top rushers in the NFL last season, rushing for over 1,600 yards and nine touchdowns on 314 carries. And the Eagles also had a lot of successful receiving threats last season led by wide receiver DeSean Jackson (82 catches, 1,332 yards, 9TDs), controversial wide receiver Riley Cooper (47 catches, 835 yards, 8TDs), and tight end Brent Celek (32 catches, 502 yards, 6TDs). McCoy also added 52 catches for 539 yards and two touchdowns, making him even more of a versatile threat on offense.
     On defense, cornerback Brandon Boykin had a huge 2013 season as he led the Eagles with six interceptions. Linebacker Demeco Ryans led Philadelphia with 102 tackles and linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin combined for 13 sacks.

Big Questions: Can the Eagles duplicate their offensive successes in 2014, Kelly's second year as head coach. Jackson left in free agency and left for a division rival, in the Washington Redskins. With Vick gone, Foles is now the official starter. Can he become a top-tier quarterback in the NFL? And with almost all starters returning on defense, can the Eagles defensive unit become an elite force in its own right?

Bottom Line: Even though losing Jackson is big, the Eagles do get wide receiver Jeremy Maclin back this season after he was lost to injuries throughout 2013. They also added running back Darren Sproles in free agency and he should add an additional amount of firepower in the backfield with McCoy. Foles' continued development will be the key to how explosive this offense can be.

Prediction: (10-6). The Eagles have a schedule filled with tough opponents, like Seattle, San Francisco, Indianapolis, and Green Bay. But the NFC East is awful this year, which means winnable against all of the other teams in the division. Look for the Eagle to be a big force in the NFC this season.

courtesy of tsmplug.com
2.) Washington Redskins: Washington was FILLED with controversy in 2013 and it didn't even include the inactivity in Congress! After a posting a 10-6 record in 2012 with a playoff berth, the Redskins collapsed to a 3-13 overall mark with a league worse defense, combined with an inept offenese led by a injured quarterback. Robert Griffin III threw for 3,203 yards last season and 16 touchdowns, compared to 12 interceptions. From his rookie season to 2013, his QBR, passing touchdowns and total yardage dropped dramatically.
     Running back Alfred Morris had another successful season as he ran for 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns, on 276 carries. Although he did lose four fumbles last season. Wide receiver Pierre Garcon had a breakout season in 2013 after he caught 113 passes for 1,346 yards and five touchdowns. Tight end Jordan Reed (45 catches, 499 yards, 3TDs) and wide receiver Santana Moss (42 catches, 452 yards, 2TDs) also put up standout numbers last season.
     Not much went right on defense for the Redskins last season, but there were several standout players. Linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan combined for 18.5 sacks and cornerback Deangelo Hall led the team with four interceptions.

Big Questions: Can RG3 stay healthy for an entire season? Throughout his first two seasons, Griffin has missed seven games due to injuries towards the knee, ankle and head. And can the defense improve at all from 2013?

Bottom Line: New wide receivers Desean Jackson and Andre Roberts should provide an immense boost in the passing game and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher will provide the Redskins with another pass rusher that can get to the quarterback. On paper, Washington looks good at almost every position, but it will all come down to the health and on the field performance that Griffin demonstrates during this critical season.

Prediction: (7-9). I don't believe that Robert Griffin III will last the entire season. Unless he can stay healthy, I don't see Washington as a team that can compete for a playoff spot this year.

courtesy of nfl.com
3.) Dallas Cowboys: For the third straight season, with a chance to clinch a playoff berth in the final regular season game, the Dallas Cowboys lost to a division rival and were left watching the playoffs at home once again. In the last 20 years, the Cowboys have won just one playoff game. Statistically, quarterback Tony Romo had a great 2013 campaign as he threw for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns, compared to just 10 interceptions.
     Running back DeMarco Murray led the ground attack by rushing for 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns on 217 carries. Meanwhile, wide receiver Dez Bryant had a breakout season as he caught 93 passes for 1,233 yards and a whopping 13 touchdowns. Tight end Jason Witten (73 catches, 851 yards, 8TDs) and wide receiver Terrence Williams (44 catches, 736 yards, 5TDs) were other top targets in the passing game last season.
     As dynamic as the offense appeared to be at times, the Cowboys defense ranked dead last in almost every statistical category in 2013. and outside of linebacker Sean Lee's team leading four interceptions, there weren't many other standout players from the 2013 season.

Big Questions: Can Dallas' defense improve at all. They lost Lee for the entire season during training camp and lost Hatcher and linebacker Demarcus Ware to free agency.

Bottom Line: The Cowboys offense will be fine as Romo will have plenty of weapons to work with. Ultimately, their defense is that bad that if the Redskins defense improves at all from 2013, the Cowboys will be third in the NFC East. Dallas is also going to have to find some way to make the big plays in critical moments of games if they are going to make a serious playoff push.

Prediction: (6-10). Dallas lost the better players on last year's defensive unit and it looks like the defense will struggle again in 2014. Romo is also coming off offseason back surgery. Dallas is just not as good of team as they have been in past years to make a playoff run this year.

courtesy of cbssports.com
4.) New York Giants: 2013 was a year that Giants quarterback Eli Manning would probably want to forget. He threw a career high 27 interceptions last season and was sacked 39 times. A weak offensive line and lack of running game also led to the New York Giants' offense's demise.
     Running backs Andre Brown, Peyton Hillis and Brandon Jacobs combined for just 977 rushing yards in 2013 and the Giants were ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing.  Wide receivers Victor Cruz (73 catches, 998 yards, 4TDs) and Reuben Randle (41 catches, 611 yards, 6TDs) did provide some solid contributions at the receiver position for New York last season. On defense, cornerback Antrel Rolle led the team with six interceptions while defensive ends Justin Tuck and Mathais Kiwanuka combined for 17 sacks in 2013.

Big Questions: Can Manning rebound this season after a disastrous 2013 campaign? And with Rashad Jennings replacing Andre Brown as the Giants' feature running back, can any progress be made in the running game? Finally, how will the defense do in 2014 with Tuck leaving the team in free agency?

courtesy of usatoday
Bottom Line: Eli Manning has been the quarterback for the New York Giants for the last 10 seasons. It  isn't out of the realm of possibility that if he struggles this season, the Giants might have to think about who their next franchise quarterback could be in the draft.
     With Brown and Jacobs leaving in free agency and running back David Wilson retiring, the running game will most likely struggle again in 2014. Unless of course Jennings and Hillis become an incredible 'thunder-lightning' combination for the Giants. Cruz and Randle are an intriguing duo of wide receivers, but that might be the only bright spot on offense.
     The defense could be stronger in 2014 with the return of defensive end jason Pierre-Paul from an injury plagued 2013 season and the acquisition of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie this offseason. But if the offense can't stay on the field and leaves the defense to try and keep the team in games, the Giants' defense will slowly tire out.

Prediction: (4-12). New York has a weak offensive line and a non-existent running game. This will force Manning to throw the ball more often and will probably lead to more mistakes and turnovers. The defense isn't good enough to carry this team and that means the Giants will be the bottom feeders in the NFC East this season.

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