NFL Playoff Predictions 2014
Less than a week away from the NFL, what better time to predict the playoff spots?
Not much should be able to change in terms of teams that make the playoffs, from a few exceptions. 2014 potentially brings an all-star cast of veteran, returning, and rookie quarterbacks, and more star names on defense than 2013, which can affect the outcome of the season.
I won’t go into too much detail on what players the teams have, just specifically rankings and a few thoughts about each team. So without further ado, I present the playoff predictions for the NFL, by conference, division and Wild Card.
I know who’s going to win the AFC East, you know who’s going to win the AFC East, and your grandmother knows who’s going to win the AFC East. Outside of 2002 and 2008, only one team since 2001 has won the division. So let’s just get it out of the way; the New England Patriots are once again winning the division.
Tom Brady gets veteran Rob Gronkowski back (hopefully), and numerous additions on offense and defense from free agency/the draft back them up. The best coach in the NFL himself (Bill Belichick) is also returning, so really, this isn’t much of a debate.
The Jets and Dolphins can at least keep it close as quarterbacks Geno Smith and Ryan Tannehill show promise, but lingering problems (coaching issues for NYJ, and the awful offensive line of MIA) prevent a new champion from occurring. As for the Bills, their QB issue is a problem, and though the defense has life, outside of the backfield depth, nothing appears to wow the NFL. With rookie WR Sammy Watkins injured, who knows how well this team will finish.
AFC East Rankings
The competition is close in the AFC North, and all 4 teams have potential as long as certain areas play out right.
The Bengals should have no problem retaining their division titles. Andy Dalton, while certainly not a top 10 QB, has played well enough to lead Cincinnati to the playoffs in each of his first 3 seasons, and the #1 guy in AJ Green is expected to be back and better than ever. The defense looks as good as ever before, especially with DT Geno Atkins returning from injury.
The Ravens, despite being heavily flawed in 2013, still managed a respectable 8-8 record. The run and pass protection expects to be better in 2014, which will certainly help Joe Flacco and Ray Rice (respectfully). And with weapons at WR including Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, and newcomer Steve Smith, the offense will get a fresh start in the new season. Expect a wild card spot from Baltimore.
The Steelers will keep it close, but I don’t see a playoff spot. Rookie Dri Archer is a terrific addition, but Big Ben can only carry the Steelers so far, and problems on defense and pass protection exist. The Browns have a talented roster on offense and defense, but the QB situation is more than enough to prevent this young squad from a playoff spot. The loss of Josh Gordon certainly doesn’t help.
AFC North Rankings
- Ravens (Wild Card)
Like the AFC East, we already know who will win the AFC South: The Indianapolis Colts. The strength of schedule in the division doesn’t exist, and despite the Colts’ lingering issues on both sides of the field, QB Andrew Luck should do enough to lead the club to back-to-back division titles.
The Texans should be strong on defense thanks to Jadeveon Clowney and JJ Watt, the latter recently locked up with the team. But the QB situation won’t strike fear anytime soon, despite talented weapons in Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. The Titans will go as far as Jake Locker intends on playing a season, despite boasting clear talent on both sides of the field. That’s where the doubt kicks in. The Jaguars have potential in Blake Bortles (cast Chad Henne aside), but this is a team that hasn’t provided the benefit of the doubt for a while. The loss of Justin Blackmon certainly hurts.
AFC South Rankings
The competition seems tight in the West, as all 4 teams have capable QBs. The Broncos live and die by the performance of Peyton Manning, so expect them to stay on top, especially with a defense expected to improve.
Not too far behind are the Chargers, along with a rejuvenated Philip Rivers, who came off a terrific 2013 season. San Diego is my 2nd wild card team (along with Baltimore).
The Chiefs locked up Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles, but I don’t see Smith progressing enough to lead Kansas City back to the playoffs. The loss of key veterans on offense and defense doesn’t help matters.
The Raiders are in rebuilding mode (again), but rookie QB Derek Carr should be a bright spot on a team named the least desirable in the NFL.
AFC West Rankings
- Chargers (Wild Card)
All 4 teams in the NFC East have won the division at least once in the last 5 years, but the division should be chalked up to the Eagles once again. Yes, Nick Foles might regress, yes, the offense lost DeSean Jackson, and yes, that defense doesn’t look great. But with Chip Kelly coaching, and the other 3 NFC East teams appearing to fall behind, it shouldn’t be to difficult for Foles and company to repeat as NFC East champs.
The real reason to get offended by the Redskins was how they played in 2013. They sucked. RGIII should have more of a 2012 season than a 2013 season, and with DeSean Jackson, Alfred Morris, and Pierre Garcon as weapons, and a new pass happy head coach in Jay Gruden, I don’t see a reason not to believe the offense and team will improve. But it’s looking like a 7-9 or 8-8 for the Skins. I just see Philadelphia as better prepared.
The Cowboys boast plenty of talent on offense, with Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, and Jason Witten headlining. The problem is the offense plays well on an incredibly flawed team. The defense looks worse than it was in 2013 (which was still pretty awful), thanks to a hole located where the defensive end depth used to be. Having Jerry Jones as an owner and a GM wastes Romo’s excellent career as an undrafted QB.
After last year’s farce on offense, there’s nowhere for the Giants to go but up. Eli Manning was a disaster in 2013, but so was the OL, the receiver routes, the entire offense was complete crap. While improvements will be seen, it won’t be much, or enough to compete for a playoff spot.
NFC East Rankings
Since the NFC West is expected to regress in 2013, it appears that the NFC North may be the divisional powerhouse to watch. A healthy Aaron Rodgers, along with talented depth on defense, means another NFC North title for the Packers.
The Bears won’t win the division, but I see a playoff spot for them. QB Jay Cutler is due for a MVP like season as long as he stays healthy, and established forces on the backfield (Matt Forte) and the receiving core (Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery) prepares for an explosive year on offense. Signing Jared Allen will provide much needed mentoring on a defense that was terrible in 2013. And that’s enough for a Wild Card spot.
The Lions will once again be competitive this season down the final stretch, especially with a new set of WR weapons (Eric Ebron, Golden Tate) to go along with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but it’ll be a step in the right direction. The same goes for the Vikings, who look promising with Teddy Bridgewater as a starter (benching him for Matt Cassel looks questionable). No playoffs, but at this rate, they should be in that position once again come a few years.
NFC North Rankings
- Bears (Wild Card)
We move to the NFC South, which looks a bit different than the last time we saw it. Of course, the expectations are that Drew Brees and the Saints reclaim the division for the first time since 2011, especially with the defense looking as good as ever.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised many by having one of the best offseasons by any team in recent memory, acquiring key coaching, offense, and defense from free agency and the draft. I trust Mike Glennon as a QB more than I do Josh McCown. Glennon, though not spectacular in 2013, was good by rookie standards, throwing 19 TD and 9 INT, including a surprising 2 TD 0 INT performance against the Seahawks defense at Seattle. This is the year to make a playoff run for Tampa, and I expect them to do that.
Record wise, the Falcons should be much better than 2014, especially with the return of Julio Jones and Matt Ryan behind center. But questions still lurk at OL, and the competition is heating up in the South. I don’t see Atlanta making it back to the playoffs this year. Neither do I see the Panthers making a return. The receiving core has disappeared, which will be enough to give Carolina a potential last place finish.
NFC South Rankings
- Buccaneers (Wild Card)
Lastly, we move to the NFC West, which has dominated the NFL in terms of defense. As expected, the defending champ Seahawks should have no problem reclaiming the NFC West division, despite the fact that Richard Sherman may experience a Madden Curse. The roster is still young, and it’s no surprise Seattle is still favorite to return to the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals have long been the underdog in the NFL, but the sun is a few years away from shining on them. The defense won’t be as good as last year, and Carson Palmer isn’t exactly 2005 Carson Palmer, but it’ll be good enough for second place, thanks to issues from the other 2 teams in the division.
The Rams have a loaded defense, and potential backfield talent in runningbacks Zac Stacy and Tre Mason. No playoffs for them, but they should be able to finish better than the 49ers, who collapsed completely on defense in the offseason, losing almost every valuable piece that made up a feared front 7 and secondary from 2011-2013 to partial suspension/injury. I don’t see Colin Kaepernick and company being able to help lead the team to another playoff appearance with the issues lurking on defense.
NFC West Rankings
AFC Playoff Teams: Denver (1), New England (2), Cincinnati (3), Indianapolis (4), San Diego (5), Baltimore (6)
NFC Playoff Teams: Seattle (1), Green Bay (2), New Orleans (3), Philadelphia (4), Chicago (5), Tampa Bay (6)
Super Bowl Predictions: Denver vs. New Orleans
I see Peyton Manning Denver dominated the AFC once again to make it back to the Super Bowl, where The Sherriff will fight a rematch against Drew Brees and the Saints (2009). I’m high on both QBs for this season. It should be a duel this time around, with Denver winning one for Peyton this time around.
Super Bowl Champion: Denver Broncos
Runner Ups In AFC/NFC: New England Patriots/Green Bay Packers
I expect to be wrong on a lot of these predictions, if not all of them. That’s the beauty of the NFL; it’s unpredictable enough to prevent predictions from being 100% accurate. So we shall see what happens starting Thursday.
Share you (rational please) thoughts in the comment section below. Or just follow me @LastWordKinsley and complain about how much my predictions suck.