The 2013 NFL season largely played out as expected. The Denver Broncos were the most dominant team in the league during the regular season, and this time they did not falter in the playoffs as they made it all the way to the Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks showed a ton of promise in 2012, which made them one of the Super Bowl favorites right alongside Denver. Well, like the Broncos, they earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC and made it to the Super Bowl.
That game in New York figured to be one of the best matchups in the history of the Super Bowl. It pitted Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ high-powered offense up against the league’s top defense in the Seahawks. As is the case in most of these showdowns, defense wins out, and the Seahawks rolled to a 43-8 victory that nobody could see coming. This game was essentially over after a safety on the opening snap by the Broncos.
To no surprise, both the Broncos and Seahawks enter the 2014 season among the favorites to win the Super Bowl. It goes Denver (13/2), New England (15/2), San Francisco (15/2) and Seattle (15/2) for the top four. I break down each division below to eventually come up with my winner for the 2015 Super Bowl.
NFC East Predictions
The NFC East has been a revolving door over the past decade. No team has repeated as NFC East champion in 10 years. The Washington Redskins went from first to worst last year, while the Philadelphia Eagles went from worst to first despite being picked last by almost every major publication. The Eagles will be favored to win it again in 2014, but I’m going against the grain. I’m going to take the Redskins to bounce back and win it. They had several bad breaks go their way last year and will face an easier schedule than the Eagles this year. Philadelphia has to play the Packers and Panthers while Washington gets the Vikings and Bucs from those two divisions. New York didn’t do enough in the offseason, and Dallas once again has the worst defense in football.
1. Washington Redskins (9-7)
2. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
3. New York Giants (7-9)
3. Dallas Cowboys (7-9)
NFC North Predictions
The Green Bay Packers managed to win their third straight NFC North Title despite the fact that Aaron Rodgers missed seven games due to injury. If he stays healthy for a full season, I look for Green Bay to win this division for a fourth straight year. The Chicago Bears also had injury problems last year, and they will once again have a dominant offense. They did make some upgrades on defense, but their stop unit will be their downfall once again in 2014 as they finish 9-7 and likely come up short of the playoffs. Detroit has as much talent as any team in this division, but it cannot be trusted to avoid the self-inflicted wounds. I’ll call for the Lions to rebound a bit under Jim Caldwell and to finish 9-7. While the Vikings will be more competitive this season under Mike Zimmer, they are still the least-talented team in this division, and thus they will bring up the rear at 6-10.
1. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
2. Detroit Lions (9-7)
2. Chicago Bears (9-7)
4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
NFC South Predictions
No team has repeated as NFC South champs since the realignment in 2002. The Atlanta Falcons finished with a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in 2012, but plummeted to a 4-12 finish in 2013 and a tie for last place in the division. It was the Carolina Panthers who came out of nowhere to win it at 12-4. What a difference a year makes. The Panthers were handcuffed by the salary cap this offseason, so they now have holes all over the field outside of their front seven defensively and Cam Newton. They are the last-talented team in this division, and with a tougher schedule, they will go from first to worst at 6-10. The Saints are the class of this division after finishing 4th in both total offense and total defense last year and will win with room to spare. Both the Falcons and Bucs will be improved, but it won’t be enough for either of them to get back to the playoffs.
1. New Orleans Saints (10-6)
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
2. Atlanta Falcons (8-8)
4. Carolina Panthers (6-10)
NFC West Predictions
It was only four years ago that the NFC West sent a team to the playoffs with a 7-9 record. Now, this is easily the best division in the entire NFL. It was the only division that saw three teams finish with 10 or more wins last year, but unfortunately for the Cardinals, it wasn’t enough to get them in the playoffs. San Francisco and Seattle are still the kings of this division, but Arizona and St. Louis are not far off. There’s no question that these are four of the top defenses in the league this year. I’m going to pick the 49ers to win the division as they’ll be more motivated than the Seahawks, who could suffer a bit of a Super Bowl hangover. I actually have the Rams surprising and making a run at the playoffs with a 9-7 finish. I’ll call the Cardinals the worst team in this division, but they would compete for a title in almost any other division in the league.
1. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)
2. Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
3. St. Louis Rams (9-7)
4. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
AFC East Predictions
Since Bill Belichick took over in New England in 2000, the Patriots have been crowned division champs 11 of 14 times. The last team to actually give New England a run for its money was the New York Jets, who made it to the AFC Championship in 2009 and 2010. The Patriots even figure to be improved on both sides of the ball in 2014, so they are the class of this division. The only debate is who the second-best team is. I’ll give that distinction to the Buffalo Bills, who should have much more stability at the quarterback position to go along with a defense that led the league in sacks (57) last year. The Dolphins have too many holes all over the field to be competitive. The Jets were extremely fortunate to go 8-8 last year after getting outscored by 97 points and going 5-1 in game decided by a touchdown or less. They will bring up the rear alongside the Dolphins in 2014.
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
2. Buffalo Bills (8-8)
3. Miami Dolphins (6-10)
3. New York Jets (6-10)
AFC North Predictions
After several years of Baltimore and Pittsburgh dominating this division, it was the Cincinnati Bengals who took down the AFC North crown in 2013. I look for this division to get back to the way it used to be prior to last year’s aberration. The Steelers are the class of this division in my opinion with the moves they have made this offseason to get better defensively, while also adding a couple weapons for Roethlisberger on offense. The Ravens will be better this year after suffering a Super Bowl hangover last season. The Bengals figure to take a big step back with the losses of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who don’t get enough credit for the jobs they did here. Cleveland has some nice new pieces in Manziel and company, but it is at least another year away from seriously contending in the AFC North.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
4. Cleveland Browns (6-10)
AFC South Predictions
Andrew Luck had impossible shoes to fill when he took over for Peyton Manning two years ago. He has somehow filled them admirably, leading the Colts to back-to-back 11-5 seasons and a division title in 2013. The Texans lost their final 14 games of 2013 to finish a league-worst 2-14. They had every break go against them, and I look for them to rebound in a big way in 2014. I even have them winning the division with a 10-6 mark this year. The Colts have been one of the most lucky teams in the history of the league over the last two years, going 14-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. I’ll give Luck enough credit to get his team to 9-7 this year, which is saying something for a squad that has holes everywhere. The Titans lack overall talent as well and still have questions at quarterback. The Jaguars did well in the draft this offseason, but that won’t start paying dividends until at least next year.
1. Houston Texans (10-6)
2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
3. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
AFC West Predictions
The AFC West entered 2013 as the only division not to send a team to the Super Bowl since 2003. That all changed when Peyton Manning had a record-setting regular season and guided the Broncos to the Super Bowl, where they were promptly embarrassed by the Seahawks. They have added a ton of help on defense this offseason to make another run at a Lombardi Trophy in 2014. Like the AFC East, this division is pretty much already decided prior to the season. The Broncos will run away with it, while both the Chargers and Chiefs will come back down to earth this year. Kansas City had a lot of breaks go its way last year, including a +18 turnover differential and 11 return touchdowns on either defense or special teams. I have the Chargers finishing ahead of them by a single game. These teams did make the playoffs last year, but the schedule gets much tougher as they have to play the entire NFC West division. The Raiders brought in some help this offseason and will be more competitive, but most of their upgrades are veterans who are passed their primes.
1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
2. San Diego Chargers (8-8)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (7-9)
4. Oakland Raiders (5-11)
NFC Championship – 49ers defeat Packers
AFC Championship – Broncos defeat Patriots
Super Bowl – Broncos defeat 49ers
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