As New England continues to bask in the glory of another Super Bowl title, the remainder of the league aims to dethrone the Patriots as NFL Champions. In 2014, the Patriots managed to finally put together a team that delivered a championship. The stout defense they produced was a large part of the success they would find during their campaign. As 2015 approaches it is definitely apparent that New England will have a very different look to their defense in the upcoming season: How will Belichick manage to replace the presence of Wilfork, Revis, and Browner on the defensive side of the ball? Will McCourty solidify himself as a premier NFL field general or flounder with weaker assets around him in the secondary? Does Brady have enough left in his arm to lead New England to a fifth Super Bowl?
SUPER 8 / TEAMS WITH SUPERBOWL CHANCES
Patriots, Colts, Chiefs, Broncos
Seahawks, Packers, Eagles, Cardinals
NFL TOP 10 PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
AFC TOP 10 PRESEASON RANKINGS
NFC TOP 10 PRESEASON RANKINGS
The AFC is dominated by the likes of the Patriots, Colts, Chiefs, Steelers, and Broncos. These teams definitely provide the most threat toward any other squads throughout the conference. The high powered Colts offense is heavily favored along with the more well balanced Patriots. The Broncos are not as strong of a roster as they have been in recent years and the Chiefs and Steelers are both teams on the rise. The Dolphins, Bengals, Bills, Bengals, Ravens, and Texans will look to contend for the playoffs.
Questions will be answered as we roll deeper into the season and the league falls into place. The Patriots will find themselves in one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL for the first time in several years. The Bills and Dolphins have both loaded up their rosters while the Jets seem to be a complete disaster for another season.
I believe that the Patriots have the coaching staff, personnel, and heart to top the division again in 2015. This is one of the few times in the past few years one could raise any question to the AFC Title winner. If you look across the board and compare rosters to Buffalo, New York, and Miami the Patriots are the best all around roster in the division. Tom Brady returns at the ripe age of 37 with 4 Super Bowl rings and 6 appearances. The Patriots return Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola. The Patriots also recently decided to try out Reggie Wayne who will provide a veteran locker room presence if he can prove he still has gas in the tank to Bill Belichick. Another important offseason pickup was underrated tight end Scott Chandler. With the departure both Vereen and Ridley, the Patriots have now parted ways with the dual 2011 draft picks and dedicated themselves toward Lagarrette Blount, Jonas Gray, James White, and newcomer Travaris Cadet from the Saints. The biggest change from 2014 to 2015 will be 3rd down without Shane Vereen. Vereen was undoubtedly one of the best third down backs in all of football last year and made huge plays when nothing was open downfield. The offensive line is a solid bunch among the top of the league. They also drafted two solid rookies that could see burn in 2015. The defensive side of the ball feels like the Patriots all over again. They have a very solid defensive line and linebacking core that is among the best in the league. The Pats drafted one of the most mature and highly skilled young men in the league to replace Vince Wilfork: Malcolm Brown. The Patriots still have Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Danta Hightower, Jerod Mayo, and Devin McCourty. This is where things get interesting; the secondary. Who will replace Revis, Browner, and Wilfork? Can Malcolm Butler step up in his new starting role at corner? The secondary will likely feature a bend but don’t break mentality compared to last season’s dominating eleven. Belichick has managed to coach an undermanned secondary into the Super Bowl before but has never brought the trophy home back to New England in those seasons. The Patriots may have a frustrating first few weeks of the season as they adjust to life without Revis, Browner, and especially Wilfork. The offense should be one of the top in the NFL and carry New England deep into the post season; defensive issues or not.
The Dolphins have a ton to prove this season and they spent big money to land Ndamukong Suh this offseason. He will undoubtedly bring a new vicious attitude to the Dolphins defense that also returns highly skilled pass rusher Cameron Wake. Olivier Vernon returns again who recorded 13 QB hits in 2014. The linebackers and defensive backs aren’t exactly an elite bunch but pack gritty players like Brent Grimes, Koa Misi, and Jelani Jenkins. On the offensive side of the ball I believe that Ryan Tannehill will flourish this season as he gains another year of experience in tandem with a much improved offensive line. Tannehill will have more weapons than he had in 2014 as the Phins acquired DeVante Parker, Greg Jennings, Kenny Stills, and Jordan Cameron. Lamar Miller returns to his starting role this season after running for 1,099 yards in 2014. While the Dolphins do not have all the pieces to be a Super Bowl contender they can definitely make the playoffs and cause disruption within the AFC East.
However there is also the Bills for the Dolphins/Rest of the AFC East to contend with. This Bills team has added Shady McCoy to boost the running game. This is also a Rex Ryan coached team that always plays hard and usually delivers defensively. The Bills have Sammy Watkins who showed great promise in 2014 but I doubt they manage to deliver the ball to him due to their weakness at the quarterback position. Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel, and Tyrod Taylor are three of my biggest concerns for the Bills. I think the Bills will be a good football team that simply do not have a quarterback to lead the way. Their defense features a very solid group of lineman including Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, and Mario Williams who delivered 14.5 sacks in 2014. The Dolphins and Bills will battle hard for the runner up position in the AFC East and likely a wild card position for the playoffs. I think the Dolphins have the upper hand simply due to Ryan Tannehill and Buffalo’s QB weakness.
The Jets really aren’t even close; bottom line. The issues that have come out of camp including a sucker punch that breaks the jaw of your “franchise quarterback” doesn’t exactly spell out a successful 2015 campaign. Geno Smith has shown flashes of brilliance at times during his career but it’s difficult to feel positive about the guy when he is already on pace to miss significant preseason time. The Jets have added Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall but there simply isn’t a significant threat to the rest of the division within this roster. The starting running back is Chris Ivory whose career has been on a downward slope for the past several seasons. Eric Decker returns in his second season upon which he lead the team with 962 receiving yards. Without Geno the future of the franchise is delicate and the locker room doesn’t have the leaders to overcome their challenges. The Jets will likely find themselves with another high first round draft pick next offseason at the draft in Chicago.
The NFC North provides some of the most interesting competition in the NFL. The Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals are all potential playoff teams. They are teams that do not quite provide a Super Bowl type of roster but have the potential to go deep into the post season. Considerable competition will occur for the top spot in this division. There are question marks across the board for all of the teams including the Browns.
The Bengals are a team that get to the postseason and flop. My expectations of a Marvin Lewis coached team is always low. Andy Dalton has been a great quarterback at times but seems to struggle in the spotlight. He will have AJ Green returning alongside the tandem of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill in the backfield. The Bengals defense was lights out at times last season and if they can remain healthy they will contend for the postseason. Vontaze Burfict will be back and AJ Hawk will appear alongside him after leaving Green Bay. The Bengals are far from a complete team but are likely the best roster in the AFC North on paper. Can Marvin Lewis finally get a postseason win?
My first pick for the AFC North is the Pittsburgh Steelers. They return one of the most talented WR cores in the NFL and a quarterback that can deliver the ball. Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Heath Miller return as stud targets. When La’Veon Bell returns from his suspension he will look to add on to his impressive 1,361 yard and 8 touchdown campaign. The Steelers also add the hot and cold DeAngelo Williams alongside the young but highly talented Dri Archer. The defensive core is definitely going to miss veteran pieces like Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu. The Steelers have a weaker defense than they would like but will look for players like Ryan Shazier to come into their own. The defense will rely heavily on the offensive production from Roethlisberger and his core of receivers and the Steelers have the weapons to take down the rest of the AFC North.
Baltimore is a team that has many weapons but is a ghost of its former self that intimated the rest of the league. There is no more Ray Lewis to be had. However there is plenty of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to go around. The Ravens secondary isn’t much to be impressed by. This is a team that will rely heavily on its offense in a similar fashion to the Steelers. However, the Steelers simply have more weapons. The departure of Torrey Smith will trouble Flacco as his downfield threat diminishes. Justin Forsett is a good player with a pretty low ceiling. He will go as far as the Ravens offensive line can take him. Steve Smith is playing in his last season and he will put up huge numbers. However, there may be big problems in Baltimore if there is one or two unfortunate injuries. I believe that Flacco will be exposed at points within this season and the weaker defense lacking Haloti Ngata will struggle at times.
The Browns have definitely improved their roster over the past few years but still find themselves in a tough position in their division. They likely deserve a higher berth than last place but still do not have the reliable weapons to match the rest of their divisional foes. The quarterback is still a position to be ironed out. Johnny Manziel exits rehab as the likely starter. Josh McCown has also been acquired by Tampa Bay. Unimpressive to say the least. The running back core will be a competition between Terrance West, Isiah Crowell, and Duke Johnson. The more experienced Crowell will likely see the majority of the load in the backfield. With Josh Gordon suspended a full year, the Browns acquired Dwayne Bowe, and Brian Hartline. Both are solid players but I do not have the faith in Manziel to get it together this season. The defensive front isn’t very impressive outside of Paul Kruger at linebacker. The Browns are stacked at defensive back with Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, and Justin Gilbert. This is an incomplete but improved roster. The Browns have strength at certain positions but lack a franchise quarterback; something all of their divisional foes have.
The Colts are one of the most dynamic, impressive offenses in all of the NFL. If they can manage to have their defense rise up and perform for 2015 they can win Andrew Luck his first Super Bowl. The Texans have a team full of superstars but the weakness of Brian Hoyer compared to a quarterback like Luck should hurt Houston down the stretch. The Jaguars and Titans will battle it out to see who is the worst team in the conference.
We are lucky to witness what is about to occur. Andrew Luck is going to continue to dominate and rise his game to new levels in 2015. The Colts already added to Andrew Luck’s arsenal by signing veteran Andre Johnson. TY Hilton will be back with his blinding speed and other targets like Montcrief, Fleener, and Dwayne Allen. They also got better in the backfield by signing veteran Frank Gore. The defense looks to improve as they were the weakness in the 2014 season; deflated balls or not. The defensive line is still not very impressive but Robert Mathis will look to return to his previous stature as a stout linebacker. Johnathan Newsome could also have a breakout year for the Colts. Vontae Davis will return as one of the NFL’s best overall cornerbacks but the depth is simply sub par on the defensive side of the ball. The Colts are lucky that they will be within a weak division and should have an easy march toward the playoffs. The real test will be when they play Super Bowl contenders in the postseason.
The Texans are the center of the NFL universe right now if the Patriots aren’t. HBO’s Hard Knocks chose the Texans as the centerpiece for their NFL program and they are putting on a show. Their defense has some of the most well known and electric defensive players in Brian Cushing, JJ Watt, and Vince Wilfork. Romeo Crennel oversees the defensive operations and is an important veteran presence on the Houston coaching staff led by Bill O’Brien. Their defense will likely be the key to their success as the offense is in the hands of Ryan Mallet or Brian Hoyer. Both quarterbacks are far from franchise status. Luckily they have Arian Foster in the backfield but he has already run into injury issues. Hoyer may be a serviceable quarterback that can do just enough to help this team battle toward the playoffs. Their dominant defense should give opposing teams nightmares throughout the season if they can avoid injuries to their most important players.
Blake Bortles is a quarterback that has likely not yet reached his full potential. He doesn’t quite have the team around him to fully realize his ceiling yet. TJ Yeldon and Denard Robinson will be the teams two main backs. Yeldon is another player that is still in the development stage like Bortles. Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson are two solid receivers that Bortles can connect with downfield. There is a major question mark at the tight end position due to the impending finger surgery for Julius Thomas. Luckily the Jaguars have a second tight end in Marcedes Lewis that could provide production for the Jags offense. The defense needs work still has they ranked 26 overall last season in total defense. The linebacking and secondary leaves much to be desired and this team will struggle to compete for playoff contention due to the strength of division rivals (Colts, Texans).
The offensive side of the ball finished 29th in overall offense for 2014 while they ranked 30th in points scored. The addition of Marcus Mariota gives Titans fans a reason to be excited for 2015. Mariota is the type of quarterback that has potential to be a pivotal franchise asset heading forward. Bishop Sankey didn’t quite live up to the hype in 2014 and will look to move on to bigger and better things in 2015. The receiving core is probably more impressive overall than the runningbacks. However they are far from a polished and well rounded group that can reach the playoffs overall as an offense. Defensive legend Dick Lebeau joins the Titans to bring a different dynamic to their roster in 2015. The Titans haven’t finished better than 14th overall defensively since 2008 and finished 27th overall in 2015. Brian Orakpo joined the roster in the offseason and looks to provide a boost on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive backs are a messy group outside of Jason McCourty and Mariota will find himself handicapped by his defensive core in 2015. There may be hope in a few seasons for the Titans but 2015 is not their year.
This division is one of the most unpredictable for this upcoming season. I believe that the weakening of Manning’s arm will open the door for Andy Reid to win the AFC West in 2015. The Broncos and Chargers definitely won’t make it easy for the Chiefs but the Raiders are a solid lock to remain in the cellar for the upcoming season.
The Chiefs are a football team that will take advantage of an older Peyton Manning to win the AFC West in 2015. Alex Smith isn’t one of the best quarterbacks in football but he has the ability to lead his team to victory. Jamaal Charles returns in 2015 along with Knile Davis to cap off a strong duo of runningbacks. The Kansas City Chiefs posted a remarkable zero touchdowns by wide receivers in 2014 which is a pretty incredible statistic since they finished 9-7 overall. Dwayne Bowe left town and he was replaced with Jeremy Maclin who worked with Andy Reid previously in Philadelphia. Andy Reid has the advantage of knowing and understanding Maclin’s ability as a wide receiver and I expect Alex Smith to enjoy his presence in 2015. The Chiefs went from 24th to 7th overall defensively from 2013-2014. Justin Houston returns again after an incredible 22 sack season that featured 25 QB hits. Eric Berry will look to return from his issues in 2014 to become the Chiefs number one player in the secondary again. As long as this offensive line can protect Alex Smith, the Chiefs should find themselves atop the AFC West in 2015.
Peyton Manning recently admitted that he has no feeling in his fingertips. Having a similar surgery and understanding the dynamics of a cervical spinal injury it is tough for me to imagine that Peyton can put up major numbers in 2015. He will likely look toward shorter throws in order to lead his team downfield. His cannon of an arm has undoubtedly weakened tremendously in the past year or so. CJ Anderson emerged as the team’s number one running back and will look to continue his success in 2015. Manning has a very strong wide receiver core featuring Demaryius Thomas, Cody Latimer, and Emmanuel Sanders. I think the major question mark with this offense is actually the ability or inability for Manning to deliver them the ball this season. The offensive line is definitely not as strong as Manning would like and it may make life even more difficult for him in 2015. The defense itself has probably weakened comparatively to recent years. Terrance Knighton has departed but Derek Wolfe and Antonio Smith will look to pick up the slack. Von Miller returns after notching 14 sacks in 2015 and long time veteran DeMarcus Ware will look to continue his great career and reach a ninth pro bowl appearance. Chris Harris, Aqib Talib, and TJ Ward look to anchor a strong defensiveback core in 2015. I believe that a weaker Manning arm and a shaky offensive line hurt the offensive production in 2015, leave the door open for the Chiefs to win the West.
The Chargers have a franchise quarterback entering a contract year and that will undoubtedly provide motivation for Philip Rivers to compete in 2015. The runningback core will be anchored by rookie Melvin Gordon and the always solid Danny Woodhead. Keenan Allen was somewhat disappointing in 2014 compared to his previous season and will look to bounce back. Malcolm Floyd and Stevie Johnson will be the other main targets for Rivers along with the veteran stud Antonio Gates. The offensive line resigned King Dunlap but has holes up front that may disrupt the flow of the San Diego offense. The defensive front leaves much to be desired as they finished 29th in sacks but will look to lean on Corey Liuget and Sean Lissemore. LB Melvin Ingram had injury issues that handicapped in him in 2014 but looks to bounce back. Rookies Kyle Emanuel and Danzel Perryman will look to step into a role at the linebacking position in their first year. Eric Weddle returns to quarterback the San Diego defense in 2015. Jahleel Addae showed promise this past season and pro bowler Brandon Flowers returns again. Without difference makers up front and a shaky offensive line it is difficult for me to imagine the Chargers overtaking the Chiefs or Broncos in 2015.
The Raiders have both Derek Carr and Christian Ponder under center to start their 2015 campaign. Carr showed promise in his first season and likely has a long career ahead of him in the NFL. The Raiders will feature Lartavius Murray, Roy Helu in the backfield. Amari Cooper is a huge talent that will likely blossom as an NFL wideout and Michael Crabtree joins the Raiders from the 49ers. The offensive line is a decent group that is headlined by former chief Rodney Hudson. Justin Tuck will return as a formidable pass rusher on the outside in 2015 and Khalil Mack may complement him at times in the nickel. The Raiders will look for Khalil Mack to continue his progression at linebacker and reach his full potential in years heading forward. Old vet Charles Woodson will look for help from DJ Hayden in a relatively weak secondary. The Raiders have certainly improved compared to previous years but still have huge holes on the defensive side of the ball that will keep them in the cellar in 2015.
The NFC has been dominated by the Packers and Seahawks in recent years. They will likely continue as a potent tandem placed at the top of conference. The Eagles and Cardinals will be nipping at the heels of the top two teams. The Cowboys have taken a step back but provide threat to anyone they play while the Eagles are a much improved team under Chip Kelly. The Vikings, Panthers, Falcons, and Giants will look to contend for playoff position.
This division has traditionally been one of the toughest areas of the NFL to survive. It has arguably taken a few steps back overall with the weakness of the Redskins. However, hypothetically the Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants all stand a chance to win the conference in 2015. The Eagles are the most well balanced roster across the board and I believe Chip Kelly lead his team to an NFC East title.
Chip Kelly is a head coach that I have great respect and admiration for. He took the Eagles ‘dream team’ failure roster and completely dismantled it into a new set of players. He upgraded to Sam Bradford from Nick Foles who is a candidate for a breakout season in 2015 with a capable head coach and team around him. The Eagles have an extremely strong backfield after they aquired Demarco Murray and still have the very capable Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles to complement him heading forward. Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor will look to pick up the slack Maclin’s departure. Bradford will also have capable targets in Miles Austin and Each Ertz. The offensive line has a ton of talent but needs to stay healthy for the 2015 campaign. Fletcher Cox and Kiki Alonzo will look to anchor the team defensively. The defensive back core looks a little light at this time and lack key veterans. Unless the Bradford trade completely backfires the Eagles should win the NFC East.
Looking at the Dallas Cowboys it is difficult not to talk about their dominant offensive line. They undoubtedly paved the way for Demarco Murray’s massive 2014 campaign and protected Tony Romo better than ever before. Romo has proven that he can get the job done when he receives enough protection and has the targets around him to deliver the ball to. Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten return as Romo’s main receiers in 2015. The offense will likely throw the ball more than last year as they have downgraded their RB core to players like Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle.The defensive line has some question marks heading forward while the linebacking core looks to be serviceable. Rolando McClain and the return of Sean Lee should provide reliable play. The defensive backs look to be another question mark as Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick both look shaky for 2015. Byron Jones was drafted to improve this portion of the Cowboys roster. The Cowboys are a team with a ton of talent but some immaturity and undisciplined play will result in a second place finish behind the Eagles in 2015.
I have great respect for coach Tom Coughlin. He has managed to lead his team to two super bowls within the past decade. However, I am not exactly a full believer in Eli Manning. He has benefited from players like Victor Cruz, and Odell Beckham Jr having breakout years to help aleviate some of his own personal shortcomings as a quarterback. The Giants will have Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and the impressive Shane Vereen in the backfield this upcoming season. Vereen should shine as a third down back and target for Eli Manning. The offensive line still has question marks up front but looks to improve over the past season. The defensive side of the ball has its questions as Jason Pierre-Paul had his fireworks injury resulting in loss of fingers on top of an already injury plagued 2014 season. Jon Beason has emerged as the leader of the linebacking core. The Giants made a move to acquire blue chip Landon Collins for the future and he could emerge as an important feature of the secondary. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Price Amukamara will look to stay healthy. If they can the Giants may piece together a serviceable secondary. I do not believe the Giants have the weapons to make a huge jump in 2015, especially defensively. While the offense may put up impressive points their defense may lack consistency at times.
The Redskins have done well to make themselves one of the less impressive franchises in all of the NFL. Jay Gruden is not a coach I would want to play for and I feel that his time in Washington is likely short. He has bounced back and forth between Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III throughout the past season and it is unclear who will emerge as the franchise back. The latest out of Washington seems to suggest that RG3’s time in DC is close to over as some within the organization look to send him elsewhere. Alfred Morris returns as the teams number one back and DeSean Jackson looks to be the teams downfield threat along with Pierre Garcon. But who will be delivering them the ball consistently? I’m not sure. Terrance Knighton joins the roster from Denver where he will provide an imposing force inside the tackle box against opposing teams. Ryan Kerrigan will return as the team loses Brian Orakpo. Chris Culliver comes to Washington via free agency to help the secondary and Dashon Golson will look to step up at safety in 2015. The Redskins simply have too many question marks to compete for the divisional crown in this upcoming season. They haven’t really even figured out the quarterback plan and the season is approaching rapidly. The Redskins are in line for a last place finish.
The Packers are probably the easiest divisional lock of them all; both conferences considered. The Vikings have talent and a returning Adrian Peterson to boost their offense. The Lions and the Bears are not quite as solid all around as the Packers and Vikings. The Bears should finish dead last with the unimpressive Jay Cutler leading their offense.
The Packers return to 2015 as one of the best teams in all of football and likely the best overall quarterback in the game. Aaron Rodgers is in the prime of his career and has a very good runningback in his backfield; Eddie Lacy. In addition to Lacy they have a bruising fullback; John Kuhn. Unfortunately for the Pack, Jordy Nelson suffered a season ending ACL tear. Fortunately they have other receivers like Randall Cobb, Ty Montgomery, and Andrew Quarless to pick up the load. Rodgers is also the type of quarterback that can make the receivers around him better. The Packers feature one of the strongest offensive lines in all of football and should be able to provide ample protection for Aaron Rodgers. The defense is definitely behind the offense in terms of strength. The Packers had some key injuries like DT BJ Raji last season. This hurt them but they still managed to be a good group of players that could deliver. Players like Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers provide a strong presence on the defensive side of the ball. Sam Shields is a player that could flourish in 2015 along with HaHa Clinton-Dix. The Packers likely have the weapons and players to compete for the Super Bowl in 2015
The Vikings were a team that was full of potential in 2014. Unfortunately the suspension and loss of Adrian Peterson completely through off the chemistry of the team. Luckily for Minnesota fans, both Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson are together for 2015. Bridgewater is one of the more promising young quarterbacks in all of the NFL. Having the threat of Adrian Peterson in the backfield will help Bridgewater develop as a young gun. Mike Wallace comes into the receiving core to strengthen the options for Bridgewater. Cordarrarle Patterson, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph are other solid targets for Bridgewater. The Vikings improved greatly on the defensive side last year. Everson Griffen will return along Sharrif Floyd to anchor the defensive line. Anthony Barr, Chad Greenway, and Eric Kendricks are some of the Vikings stronger linebackers. Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes will attempt to be a formidable cornerback tandem heading in 2015. The Vikings should be a strong team in 2015 but are victims of an even stronger Packers team. It will be tough for them to beat out the Packers for the divisional title. The Vikings have a bright future ahead of them.
The Lions lose Reggie Bush, Ndamakong Suh, Nick Fairley, Dominic Raiola in addition to a whole lot of toughness in 2015. Matt Stafford will return under huddle and likely continue to target the incredible Calvin Johnson in the upcoming season. In the ground game, Detroit will look for extensive contributions from Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. Eric Ebron and Golden Tate both return as targets in 2015. The offensive line is an average group that can get the job done. The Lions look to replace Suh’s intimidating presence with Haloti Ngata. Ngata is a dominating player and former Raven that should have no problem stepping into his role as a leader on the Lions defensive front. Ezekial Ansah will look to continue his upwards progression in 2015 after notching 15.5 sacks in 28 games played. DeAndre Levy led the league in solo tackles in 2014 at linebacker and will be an important cog in the defense. Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay will both look to work together as a cornerback tandem. James Ihedigbo played even better than expected at Safety and the Lions will look for offensive production to carry them forward in 2015. Unfortunately both the Packers and Vikings are ahead of them in this division race.
The Bears are nothing short of a continuing disaster. I think Jay Cutler is one of the most overrated and underachieving quarterbacks of all time. When you have a guy like that leading your offense it is tough to feel confident in the Bears no matter what weapons they may have. Luckily the Bears have Matt Forte but he was far from lights out in 2014 and will look to improve in 2015. The receiving corps is strong in Alshon Jeffrey, Eddie Royal, and Martellus Bennett. The Bears have a solid offensive line but I simply do not believe in Jay Cutler. Despite all of the talent on the offensive side of the ball the Bears will struggle. The Bears have had the two worst seasons in yards allowed back to back (2013 and 2014). The defensive front is led by the controversial Ray McDonald who brings more trouble than he is worth. Eddie Goldman will step in at DT in hops of establishing himself as a force in the NFL. The biggest addition to the team defensively is Pernell McPhee, an outside linebacker from the Ravens. Antrel Rolle and Kyle Fuller are the biggest name defensive backs that the Bears feature. This team is simply not well put together and would flourish with a retool. 2015 is not Chicago’s year.
This is easily the worst conference in all of the NFL. None of these teams really deserve to make the playoffs. The Falcons are the best of the worst and should take the divisional crown and playoff berth they do not deserve. Cam Newton does not have enough talent around him or the targets to make it to the postseason. The Saints may make a run for one of the top two divisional spots if Drew Brees can put the team on his back. The Bucs aren’t close to contention yet.
The Falcons are a weak team that will benefit from a weak division. Matt Ryan is a quarterback that can get the job done with the right pieces around him. He is far from one of the best in the league but he is definitely not one of the worst. Julio Jones and Roddy White return as his favorite targets with Josh Tamme coming over at tight end from the Broncos. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman highlight what looks like to a weak backfield without Jaquizz Rodgers. The Offensive line improved in 2014 and looks to continue that in 2015. The Falcons featured what was easily one of the worst defenses in all of football. Vic Beasley will be leaned upon heavily on a defensive front that was among one of the worst in the league in 2015. He is a defensive rookie of the year candidate. The Falcons added some improvement in the linebacking core with the signing of Brooks Reed. Desmond Trufant showed flashes of brilliance within 2014. The Falcons will look to take it one step at a time in 2015 and capitalize on a horrendous NFC South division.
Cam Newton is undoubtedly an impressive NFL talent but who can he throw the ball to? With the weakness of the offensive line and all of the injuries, departures at wide receiver it is tough to see the Panthers encountering much success in 2015. Ted Ginn Jr, Jerricho Cotchery, and Devin Fuchness are likely the teams top targets. Kelvin Benjamin just encountered a major injury that will threaten his season. The offensive line doesn’t look impressive. This looks to be a season where the Panthers will need everyone on defense playing lights out to make a challenge toward the playoffs. Luckily they have one of the best defensive players in all of football; Luke Kuechly. He gets to the ball on every single play and makes a ton of tackles. A natural born leader out of Boston College. Bene Benwikere will look to establish himself as a number one corner and Charles Tillman will look to help out the defensive side of the ball. The Panthers simply do not have enough offense to compete.
Drew Brees is still a fantastic quarterback and one of the best in the league. That alone will propel the Saints in 2015. Mark Ingram returns in the backfield along with the addition of CJ Spiller. The offense line is a solid unit that can protect but definitely not one of the best in the league. Drew Brees has some solid targets in Kenny Stills, Bradin Cooks, and Marques Colston. While they do not have the flashiest offense in the NFL the Saints should still be able to score points due to Drew Brees. They will miss Jimmy Graham in 2014. The Saints return defensive lineman Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks. At linebacker and defensiveback they leave some to be desired as Junior Galette hits the injured reserve. Jairus Byrd was supposed to be the answer at safety in 2014 but only played four games until dropping due to injury. The Saints will face an uphill battle on the defensive side of the ball that their offense will likely suffer to climb the team out of.
In 2014, the Bucs were one of the NFL’s most troubled offenses and struggled to get anything rolling. Enter Jameis Winston; incredible talent, huge arm, troubled past. Winston could be everything that Tampa Bay needs, especially a role as a franchise quarterback. Doug Martin, Bobby Rainey, and Charles Sims return to the Tampa backfield. Doug Martin is the front runner but has struggled to establish himself as the top dog. Mike Evans will look to continue his excellence that he brought in 2014 and Vincent Jackson will look to be a huge target for Jameis Winston. Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be another important cog in the receiving corps for the starting quarterback. The offensive line is a work in progress and hopefully will help Winston more than hurt him. My main concern will be Winston’s ability to stay out of his own way. He has had a multitude of off the field issues to combat throughout his career. Tampa hopes he can mature in his first season. William Gholston and Gerald McCoy will look to play strong on the defensive front with the departure of Adrian Clayborn and Jacquies Smith. Bruce Carter enters the picture at linebacker and he will serve alongside the impressive Lavonte David. Bradley McDougald will look to continue his sharp work at safety that he started in 2014. The team has added talent but lacks the ability to fill some of the holes in the roster and 2015 is simply not the Bucs year. With a few more years of maturity and an experienced Jameis Winston the Bucs could contend a few years down the road.
The Seahawks own the NFC West and this will continue in 2015. The Cardinals are formidable and could make a drive deep into the postseason if Carson Palmer stays healthy. The Rams have talent but not quite enough. The 49ers are a completely different team that might look unrecognizable compared to previous seasons. They are a lock to remain in the cellar.
The Seahawks are the Seahawks; an incredibly tough team to play both offensively and defensively. They came one play away from repeating as Super Bowl Champions in the past season. It is incredibly difficult to return to the Super Bowl year after year no matter how strong your roster may be. Russell Wilson will return and prove it can be done. The quarterback has already exceeded almost all expectations in his career to prove every scout wrong. Marshawn Lynch returns as one of the best runningbacks in all of football. Russell Wilson’s receiving corps only got better with the addition of the impressive Jimmy Graham. Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, and Tyler Lockett return for another season in Seattle. The offensive line is one of the weaker portions of the offense but with the mobile Russell Wilson who should have the ability to make things work even if he is pushed out of the pocket. The biggest concerns for the Seahawks are the returning players with an injury history like Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, and Jeremy Lane. If the Seahawks can stay healthy, ‘The Legion of Boom’ should have no issue making a deep drive toward the playoffs.
The Carson Palmer experiment in Arizona could not have looked better through the first half of the season. He shined before tearing his ACL and ending the season in 2014. Once Palmer dropped out of the roster the team seemed to fall apart. Andre Ellington will look to stay healthy in 2015 as he was forced to play almost all of 2014 injured. Larry Fitzgerald and Malcolm Floyd will look to be the primary downfield threat in the desert for Carson Palmer. The offensive line has added a few key pieces like Mike Iupati but he has already run into injury concerns in camp. Calais Campbell returns after an outstanding 2014 campaign. Free agent signee Corey Peters could also be an important member of the 2015 offensive line. Alex Okafor returns to anchor the linebacking core with Matt Shaughnessy. Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu return as an eye popping pair of skill sets for the Cardinal defensiveback corps. The Cardinals are a very good team and will make a playoff run if they can stay healthy and battle the Seahawks.
Sam Bradford left for Philly and Nick Foles comes to St. Louis in his place; but for how long? The Rams might be a likely fit for the NFL’s new Los Angeles team and Foles might find himself in La-La Land soon but that is another story. The Rams are a roster that have improved over previous years but still lack key pieces. Todd Gurley was the Rams new addition but he is returning off an ACL injury. Tre Mason will be the starting back to in week one. Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, and Bryan Quick will look to be Nick Foles’ main targets in the 2015 campaign. On the defensive side of the ball all eleven starters from last season are on pace to return in a Rams uniform. Nick Fairley, Aaron Donald, and Robert Quinn are a part of one of the strongest defensive lines in the league. Linebacker Olec Ogletree lead the Rams in tackles last year and James Laurenaitis will return alongside him. Akeem Ayers and Jo-Lunn Dunbar will fight for a starting position at linebacker. Janoris Jenkins and EJ Gaines return as well as safety TJ McDonald. The Rams are a team that could be tough to beat but unlikely make a playoff run/push.
The 49ers are an absolute mess and Colin Kaepernick has not looked good recently. Harbaugh left for Michigan and most of the frighteningly good defensive front from a few years ago has departed or retired. Chris Borland, Perrish Cox, Michael Crabtree, Chris Culliver, Frank Gore, Mike Iupati, Stevie Johnson, Ray McDonald, Justin Smith, and Patrick Willis are all no longer on the roster. The 49ers have gotten worse all around and will encounter a frighteningly bad 2015 campaign. Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and Carlos Hyde will be the main threats for San Francisco on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, they are a mess and it’ll be difficult to find success unless the offense can play lights out. Rough times are ahead in San Francisco.