A TWO-team race between the Packers and Lions with Minnesota a potential ‘dark horse’ that could surprise some people and teams on any given Sunday, especially if they are playing away.
The rebuilding in Chicago continues; while the Bears may not be overly successful right away they are a solid unit on both sides of the football with very positive results on the horizon in the not too distant future.
The Marc Trestman head coaching experiment is over in Chicago - thankfully. This scenario means a new head coach and free agents making their way toward Chicago, who’ve still got some chance to work with QB Jay Cutler and hopefully extract his vast potential. Matt Forte and Alshon Jefferies are two offensive ‘studs’ who should put up big numbers.
The defence is the work in progress, but looking at camp reports the defence should be improved, but will it be enough to stay in the race in this competitive division? That remains to be seen. I see the Bears being competitive and finishing 8-8 or 9-7 with some positives to build on moving forward.
The Lions made the playoffs last season and look to build on that this campaign. The offence is solid with Stafford, Johnson, Bell and Tate making it fire on all cylinders.
The defence remains solid despite the departure of Ndamakon Suh, the unit is still nasty and quite capable of devouring opposing QBs but how will it fair against the run without Suh? That is the biggest question for the unit.
Special teams returns intact, loaded with scoring potential. All three key areas are strong so the Lions should be in every game in one of the toughest divisions in football rivalry-wise. Jim Caldwell makes a huge difference as the maturation process in Detroit continues.
I see the Lions finishing 11-5 in a strong division, in contention for the division and a playoff berth.
Barring injuries to key stars, this team looks poised to make a big splash throughout the whole season.
Possibly the best QB in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers has some key weapons in the likes of Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to make this offence explosive. Add that to potentially one of the best offensive lines in football (the best is in Dallas) the Packers are going to put up points in bunches, and blow a few teams out in the process.
It’s the defensive side of the football that haunts the Packers, and despite some improvements through free agency this unit still is the ‘Achilles heel’ of the team. Good teams will keep up with the Packers if the defence struggles.
I see the Packers between 12-4 and 10-6 in the win-loss column leading into possible contention for the division championship with Detroit. When the smoke clears I like the Packers to get it done, one way or another!
Head Coach Mike Zimmer has done an excellent job rebuilding this proud NFL franchise, all the while putting his signature on the defence.
Look for the Vikings to be much improved offensively as well, with the return of Adrian Peterson and the newly acquired Mike Wallace giving second year QB Teddy Bridgewater ample opportunity to improve on last seasons rookie growing pains and results.
I see the Vikings improving to 10-6 or 9-7 with possible playoff ramifications hanging in the balance.
ONE of the stronger divisions in the NFL, where possibly four of these teams out of these two divisions will make the playoffs and do some damage in the post season. I really shouldn’t be writing this as you all know who I like here. But let’s have a closer look anyway.
Despite much of the noise and rumours in the off-season I stood strong in my belief that Joseph Randall could replace DeMarco Murray as lead back in the Cowboys offence.
Don’t get me wrong: Murray is an extremely athletic and talented back. However, I feel he was more a product of running behind the best offensive line in football. We will soon see if my theory holds true.
I like Randall to have a break out year, I’m thinking 1,200 yards rushing and eight to ten touchdowns. He’s also a excellent receiver out of the backfield so his upside is huge and, unlike Murray, Randall doesn’t fumble.
Once he can stay healthy, Darren McFadden (a solid veteran reserve still capable of playing at a high level if Randall can’t make the grade) can also be a major contributor in a change of pace role along with third down back, Lance Dunbar.
Tony Romo, who is fully healthy, along with a happy and paid Dez Bryant, add Jason Witten, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley to the mix and offensive co-ordinator Scott Linehan has many ways to score and control the clock. This Cowboys offence should put up big numbers.
Last season the defence improved. Seeing how it was hot last in 2013, that doesn’t say much. This season’s defensive co-ordinator has his kind of players ready to make a statement.
He’s got tons of talent on defence to work with now, with the additions of Greg Hardy, Byron Jones, Randy Gregory, Damien Wilson and Corey White. Along with the healthy returns of Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne, this unit should be much improved again.
The Special Teams unit is at a great loss with the departure of Dwayne Harris to the New York Giants in free agency. The heir apparent seems to be free agent receiver Lucky Whithead. The jury is still out here. The saving grace for the unit is kicker Dan Bailey, who’s pretty much automatic.
I see the Cowboys 12-4, division champions and strong contender in the playoffs.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Offensively the Giants should be tough - and they may have the best group of receivers in the NFL.
Odell Beckham Jr, Victor Cruz, Ruben Randall, Dwayne Harris and James Jones. Look for a lot of four-receiver sets this season out of the Giants; hopefully it will help a somewhat inconsistent running game.
Despite this, the Giants will put up points through the air and score some points. If they are consistent they can do well: if not, well we’ve seen that show already.
The defensive unit is a work in progress and despite looking to improve it has suffered from setbacks like I’ve never seen before, including star DT Jason Pierre Paul blowing off two fingers in a fireworks accident. Brandon Merrieweather was signed to add depth at safety with the departure of Antrell Rolle: I don’t think that’s going to turn the unit around. It will improve but it will also be the Giants undoing in some games.
I see the Giants improving from last year’s disappointments to the 10-6 neighbourhood and being a tough out in the division, while vying for a wild card spot in the post-season.
Addition by subtraction is all I can say about this Eagles team, Chip Kelly is going to do it his way or bust.
We all know about the trades, the cuts, the free agent signings. Players are in and out of Philadelphia like Israelites out of Egypt in The Bible.
I can’t do a position or unit breakdown because Chip’s trading them as I type so all I can say is Eagles 11-5 fighting for the division title and playoff berth to the wire or it could all blow up in Chip’s face and they go 5-11 and get nothing but unbrotherly love from the home crowd in Philadelphia.
I think Jay Gruden gets the ‘Skins off the skids this season. The offensive line has been rebuilt, RB Alfred Morris is healthy as is QB RG111 (allegedly he’s always injured somehow) and WRs DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garçon are poised to have big years provided RG111 can remain healthy, accurate, poised and consistent while directing the offence. If he does, this unit will be explosive.
If RG111 remains inconsistent and turnover prone then it’s going to get ugly, both on the field and in the media and they will be calling for a certain corn-rowed QB’s head.
The defence was a solid unit last year until injuries got the best of them. Key free agent additions DT Terrence Knighton from Denver, CB Chris Culliver from San Francisco along with DL Stephen Paea from Chicago and DE Ricky Jean Francois from the Colts have this unit vastly improved with a nasty streak to go along with it.
I see the Redskins improving immensely on the strength of new additions and a last place schedule. They will be a tough out and even a spoiler in the division. I think the strained relationship between Gruden and RG111 will be the poison pill for the ‘Skins in the long run as they hold on for 8-8 after flirting with the playoffs.
THIS division could be fun to watch this season, right down to the wire.
Obviously it has two play-off calibre teams in the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, who both have the potential to make a deep post-season run.
It also has two up and coming teams in the San Francisco 49ers and the St Louis Rams and both can win within their division on any given Sunday. They just aren’t as deep talent-wise as the Cardinals and Seahawks.
Most people seem to forget the Cardinals had the best - or one of the best records - in the NFL for the better part of last season. Untimely injuries to key starters like QB Carson Palmer and RB Andre Ellington forced the offence to sputter late, forcing the Cards’ to back into the playoffs and back out after a first-round loss.
This season, everybody is back healthy. Add key off-season free agent acquisitions such as G Mike Iupati, LBs Lamar Woodley and Sean Weatherspoon to go along with massive defensive linemen Corey Peters and Corey Redding and the Cardinals may be poised to make a run behind Head Coach Bruce Ariens, who has proved he should have been an NFL coach ages ago.
I see the Cardinals going 11-5 and battling the Seahawks down to the last day for the division crown. The Cards will make the playoffs, either as division champion or via the ‘wild card’.
New Head Coach, former defensive co-ordinator Jim Tomsula, knows this team well. The ‘Harbaugh’ principles of running the ball (RB Carlos Hyde Fantasy Sleeper) and playing good solid defence will remain intact (despite a slew of departures due to the retirement and suspensions of key players in the off-season.)
The question is, can the new personnel execute the game plan? Also, which Colin Kapernick will show up at QB: the budding superstar or the locker room problem child?
There are too many questions that remain to be answered on both sides of the football for this ‘Niner squad to be considered a serious playoff contender.
I do however see them being competitive and possibly playing ‘spoiler’ in a very competitive division. Final record 8-8 with lots to build upon and be excited about in the future.
I still want to know who called for that idiotic pass play in last season’s Super Bowl. (Do you know how much Patriots’ suck smack talk I had to put on ice because of that?)
I loathe bad coaching and play calling in football on any level. So hopefully this talent-laden squad will play up to their potential, therefore making the coaching duties as stress free as possible.
The addition of TE Jimmy Graham to the offence to go along with QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch makes this unit beastly!
It will have the Seahawks in the driver’s seat most games, which will allow their smothering defence - the ‘LOD’ - which hasn’t lost a thing from last season to attack and wreak havoc on opposing offences.
I see the ‘Hawks winning the division at 12-4 and making a deep playoff run.
ST LOUIS RAMS
This Rams squad has flashed potential off and on over the last few seasons. Head Coach Jeff Fisher has built a solid, nasty defensive unit that will be the strength of this team and keep them in games.
The Rams anaemic offence has been troublesome to say the least over the same period but key free additions to the offence via trades (QB Nick Foles), the draft (RB Todd Gurley) and free agency has a certain excitement brewing in St Louis.
The Rams have always been competitive in the division and have the potential to upset their rivals on any given Sunday.
I see them having made moves to improve the team, moves which have question marks attached to key positions.
So we have to take the ‘wait and see’ approach ... and this is not the division to ‘wait and see’ in.
To this end, there’s nothing wrong with going 7-9 in a tough division, especially when young talent gets seasoned in the process, setting the Rams up for a bright future.
THE most ‘bipolar’ division in the NFL. I call this the ‘hot potato’ division, because the previous year’s winner avoids repeating as champ like the plague.
To make it worse, it always seems like the division will flip, with the bottom ascending to the top and vice versa on a seasonal basis.
Another case of a new head coach, new staff and new players. Not to mention some old friends (Ryan, Jones, White and Freeman) can help the Falcons offensively. It’s the defence that needs work - and boy does it!
If the ‘new look’ Falcons do damage control on their defence and the special teams continues to be a solid unit I can see the Falcons improving, but to leapfrog Carolina and New Orleans ... not this time.
I see the Falcons in the 9-7 or 10-6 region outside the playoffs needing help to get in.
For the first time in a long time there may be a repeat division champion. The Panthers showed tons of moxy getting into the playoffs last year, albeit with a losing record out of the weakest division in the NFL. They made up for their poor record by winning a playoff game, so last season ending in the second round became a building block for this season for the young, talented Panthers.
Head coach Ron Rivera has the defence nasty and attacking every angle of the field. Luke Kuechly is a terror at LB and captains the defence impeccably, making sure everyone is in place and Rivera’s defensive schemes are executed flawlessly.
Cam Newton controls the reigns of the offence and, down the stretch last season when it counted, he put this Panther team on his back and willed them to the division crown and playoffs. Add Kelvin Benjamin and Jonathan Stewart to the offensive mix and Ted Ginn Jr’s return to the special teams unit and this Panther team could repeat.
Considering the history of this division I see the Panthers 11-5 and in contention for the division and playoffs, fending off the Saints in the process.
I honestly don’t know what to expect from the overhauled and new-look Saints.
Head coach Sean Peyton and QB Drew Breese return so, automatically, the Saints have a chance. Trading Jimmy Graham is going to haunt them in the long run, but I’m sure there was a method to Peyton’s madness regarding Graham.
Other key free agent losses outweigh the additions in free agency.
Taking the division into consideration and the fact that Peyton would not make the changes he did if he didn’t think it would work and his Saints wouldn’t win in the long run, I see them around 10-6 battling to the wire with Carolina. That’s provided Peyton’s theory of change sticks: if it doesn’t pan out the Saints could be thinking draft early.
Head coach Lovie Smith will go through more growing pains with a rookie QB in Jameis Winston. Luckily for the rookie, he has two talented and productive wide receivers in Vincent Jackson and second year man Mike Evans so the games will be interesting to watch.
The running game is suspect and will hamper the offence. Coach Smith will always have the defence playing and competitive. Sadly, this isn’t enough to get the Buccs into the post-season but it is enough to improve on last season and set in place some building blocks for the future.
I see the Buccs going 5-11, improving from last season’s 2-14. Baby steps, but in the right direction.