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Sunday, August 31, 2014

NFL Preseason Preview 2014

In just a few more days, the NFL season will finally begin.  That means it is time for the 2014 edition of the Banshee Sports' NFL Preseason Preview.  Last season, the preseason preview only correctly predicted 5 of the 12 playoff teams.  That is not a strong effort.

I'm not too ashamed, though.  Even the Seers in the Desert had the Texans and the Falcons near the top of the preseason odds to win last year's Super Bowl.  I am very strict about holding myself accountable for my predictions.  At the end of the season, I gave myself a final grade of "C."  I'm looking to improve substantially on that mark this year.

So, without further ado, Banshee Sports presents the 2014 NFL Preseason Preview.

AFC East:  In last year's pre-season column, I did something incredibly stupid.  I picked against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.  I am not making that mistake again.  Any offense that is run by Tom Brady will be a force to be reckoned with, but the first time in a long time, the defense could be as good as the offense.  Belichick has always has good defensive schemes, but the talent acquisitions this offseason, particularly Darrelle Revis, make this a scary group.  I think the Jets are the most likely challenger to the Patriots, but they will ultimately finish around the .500 mark and fall short of the playoffs in a tight wild card race.  Division Winner: New England Patriots


AFC North:  The AFC North is possibly the most difficult division to predict in all of football.  There is a legitimate playoff argument to be made for all four teams in the AFC North.  It is fashionable this preseason to predict the demise of the Bengals due to the departure of their offensive and defensive coordinators and boredom with quarterback Andy Dalton.  But, talent still counts, and the Bengals have far more offensive talent than any team in this division and should get to ten wins.  The Ravens have the best chance to unseat the Bengals at the top of the division, but ultimately they and the rest of the division will finish around .500.  For the second year in a row, this division will only get one team into the playoffs.  Division Winner: Cincinnati Bengals


AFC South:  The AFC South is a confusing division.  Last season, the Texans were inexplicably terrible.  That allowed Andrew Luck and the Colts to win the division despite some glaring flaws.  The Colts did little to address their shortcomings this offseason.  Meanwhile, the Texans drafted Jadaveon Clowney with the first pick in the draft and hired Bill O'Brien as head coach.  While at Penn State, O'Brien transformed former walk-on Matt McGloin into a starting NFL quarterback in just one season.  If O'Brien is even half as successful with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ryan Mallett , there is reason for great optimism in Houston.  The Texans will not be in the upper echelon of all NFL teams, but they will win enough games to win this division.  The Jaguars will make take great steps forward this year, but they will be unable to wrestle a wild card berth away from the Colts.  Division Winner: Texans  Wild Card: Indianapolis Colts


AFC West:  There is only one team with even the slightest hope to win the AFC West.  That team is the Denver Broncos.  Last season, the Broncos went 13-3 on their way to an AFC Championship.  The Broncos still have Peyton Manning under center, and they have improved on defense during the offseason.  These improvements came as the result of free agent signings and healing time for injured players.  Last season, the Chiefs made the playoffs as a wild card.  Despite the offensive mind of head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs will struggle to score this year due to a lack of weapons and the limitations of Alex Smith.  The Chargers will be challenged by multiple trips to the East Coast for likely 1:00 p.m. start times, but Phil Rivers will have another great season and lead the Chargers back to the playoffs.  Division Winner: Denver Broncos  Wild Card: San Diego Chargers


NFC East:  The Redskins and the Eagles are the past two winners of this division, and it will be those two teams who battle for the division crown again this season.  The Redskins posted a horrific 3-13 record in 2013, but there is reason for optimism in the nation's capital.  With a fully healthy RG3 and the addition of DeSean Jackson, the Redskins could be one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.  If the defense can stay healthy, the Redskins should have a solid season.  Last season, the Eagles offense under Chip Kelly took the league by storm, but NFL coaches learn fast.  The Eagles will likely find that the league will have adjusted to many of the Eagles' innovations from last year.  The timing of the schedule may be the deciding factor in this division.  The Eagles and Redskins both have to travel to San Francisco, but the Eagles get to play the Niners in Week 4.  The Niners will be without Aldon Smith and likely Ray McDonald due to suspension and will probably still be adjusting to new faces in the secondary.  By the time the Redskins head to the Bay Area in Week 12, San Francisco will be back to full strength.  Advantage Eagles.  Division Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


NFC North:  The black and blue division has long been known for physical defense and punishing running attacks.  This year, Green Bay and Chicago are the two best teams in the division, and they both have very shaky defenses.  However, they are both capable of having one of the best offenses in the league.  The big question here is which team's quarterback will stay healthy throughout the year.  I shook my Magic 8 Ball, and decided to bank on Jay Cutler.  Both teams will notch double-digit wins and make it to the playoffs, but it will be the Bears who win the division title.  Division Winner: Chicago Bears  Wild Card: Green Bay Packers



NFC South:  Last season, Carolina came out of nowhere to win the division with a 12-4 record, but free agency and age will cause the Panthers to take a big step backwards.  The Saints, on the other hand, are now fully recovered from the bounty scandal and are heading into a second year of Rob Ryan leading the defense.  As a result, New Orleans will retake its usual place at the top of the division.  Barring another rash of devastating injuries, the Atlanta Falcons should rebound this year and grab a wild card berth.  Division Winner: New Orleans Saints  Wild Card: Atlanta Falcons


NFC West:  The NFC West is home to the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, and there is no reason to believe they will not repeat as division winners.  In fact, if Percy Harvin can stay healthy (and I do understand that is a big if) the Seahawks could be even better than last season.  Meanwhile, San Francisco is not the same team that they were in recent years.  Injuries, arrests and free agency departures have caused a near total overhaul on defense.  The bottom half of this division is simply too tough to survive that kind of handicap.  If a second team makes the playoffs from this division, it will be the Cardinals and not the Niners.  Division Winner: Seattle Seahawks


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