The 2014 NFL season was one for the ages. The New England Patriots proved that they remain a dynasty and won their fourth Super Bowl since 2001. It was a huge win for them because they had lost their two previous Super Bowls in upset fashion to the New York Giants, so it was a win that really validated Tom Brady being mentioned as possibly the greatest quarterback of all-time.
Of course, it comes with a small asterisk again now that it was found out that the Patriots had intentionally deflated footballs in their 45-7 romp of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship. Still, all things equal, the Patriots would have blown out the Colts in that game.
While the Patriots earned their come-from-behind win over the Seahawks, it was partially given to them, too. Almost everyone who watched the game knows that Marshawn Lynch would have scored a touchdown from the 1-yard line had the Seahawks given him the ball. Instead, they tried to catch the Patriots off guard with a pass, and it ended with perhaps the most bone-headed interception in the history of the Super Bowl.
To no surprise, the Seahawks (+445) are the favorites to win Super Bowl 50, followed by the Packers (+550), Colts (+950) and Patriots (+1000). I’m going to go through and list my predictions for every division. Then, I’ll offer my playoff predictions as well, and ultimately my 2016 Super Bowl winner.
The Patriots have won 12 AFC East titles over the past 14 seasons. They have been the best franchise in the NFL since the turn of the century. But Tom Brady has been handed a four-game suspension for his role in “Deflategate”, and the rest of the AFC East has gotten better this offseason. Ndamukong Suh (Dolphins), LeSean McCoy (Bills), Brandon Marshall (Jets) and Darrelle Revis (Jets) have joined the division, so the gap on the Patriots’ reign as division champs is closing. I still believe they’ll have enough to win 10 games, which will allow them to hold off the Dolphins and Bills. While Ryan Tannehill is a franchise quarterback, the Bills and Jets are still lacking a proven playmaker at the all-important QB position. Until they find one to go with their impressive defenses, they likely won’t be able to take down the Patriots.
1st: New England Patriots (10-6)
T-2nd: Buffalo Bills (9-7)
T-2nd: Miami Dolphins (9-7)
4th: New York Jets (6-10)
The AFC North was arguably the best division in football last season. It sent three teams to the playoffs in the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. These three will have a chance to get back again, but I’m calling for the Ravens to win the division and the Steelers to finish second. These are the two best teams in the division in 2015, and it’s not even close in my opinion. But the reason I’m picking the Steelers to finish second is because of the schedule. They have to play both the Colts and the Patriots, while none of the other three teams in the division have to face either of those two teams. Baltimore has the best defense in the division, and that defense will carry it to the AFC North title in 2015. The Bengals will take a big step back, and the Browns are still the Browns without a quarterback.
1st: Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
2nd: Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)
3rd: Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
4th: Cleveland Browns (5-11)
The Indianapolis Colts have won exactly 11 games in each of Andrew Luck’s first three seasons as a starter. They have advanced in the playoffs one game further all three years, coming up just short in 2014 with a loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship. They are ready to take that next step thanks to some nice additions this offseason in Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Trent Cole, Todd Herremans and Kendall Langford. They are clearly the best team in this division. Houston is a fringe playoff contender that is just missing a quarterback. Jacksonville and Tennessee believe they have their quarterbacks in Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota, respectively, but they just don’t have enough overall talent yet to compete in this division, which may be the worst in the NFL.
1st: Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
2nd: Houston Texans (8-8)
3rd: Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)
4th: Tennessee Titans (5-11)
John Fox won four straight division titles in Denver and led the Broncos to a 38-10 record over the past three seasons. But without a Super Bowl victory to show for it, John Elway decided it was time to move on from him. New head coach Gary Kubiak will have the same expectations from Elway. As long as Peyton Manning is still the quarterback, the Broncos will own the AFC West. The defense made huge strides last year and is a legitimate Super Bowl-caliber stop unit now. If the Broncos can protect Manning, which is a big if, then they’ll run away with this division again. The Chiefs have a good defense and a strong running game, but Alex Smith isn’t going to get them to the next level. The Chargers may have one last run in them in the Phillip Rivers era, but I’m not sold on them this year. The Raiders are still the Raiders, and while they have increased their talent in recent years, they are still miles behind the rest of the teams in this division.
1st: Denver Broncos (11-5)
2nd: Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
3rd: San Diego Chargers (7-9)
4th: Oakland Raiders (4-12)
The Dallas Cowboys were one of the biggest surprises of the 2014 season. They went 12-4 and likely would have gone to the NFC Championship Game had the refs not overturned a Dez Bryant catch. Then again, the refs picked up a flag in their win over Detroit in the first round, so maybe it was just karma. Dallas did lose DeMarco Murray this offseason, but it should still find a solid running game behind the best offensive line in the league. I have the Cowboys tying the Giants for first place in the NFC East this season. They play the Seahawks and Packers, while the rest of the teams in the NFC East avoid both. The Giants were ravaged by injuries last year and are prime bounce-back candidates behind Eli Manning, Odell Beckham and one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. The Eagles lost too much this offseason, and I believe this is the beginning of the end for Chip Kelly. The Redskins still have RG III at quarterback and a defense with too many holes to be competitive in the NFC East in 2015.
T-1st: New York Giants (9-7)
T-1st: Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
3rd: Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
4th: Washington Redskins (5-11)
The Green Bay Packers will be aiming for their 5th straight NFC North title in 2015. They will also be looking to get over the nightmares from their 22-28 (OT) loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship. They led 16-0 at halftime and 19-7 with less than five minutes to play, but then all hell broke loose. Aaron Rodgers was playing on one leg at the end of the season and still nearly got his team to the Super Bowl. As long as he’s able to suit up, the Packers own this division. They didn’t have to make any moves this offseason because they already have a stacked team and the league’s best offense. I believe the Minnesota Vikings are the second-best team in this division thanks to the emergence of Teddy Bridgewater and a defense that was the most improved in the NFL last year. Plus, Adrian Peterson returns, and he’s worth at least three wins to the team off a 7-9 season last year in which he played only one game. The Detroit Lions lose Ndamukong Suh and several other key pieces from last year’s team that won 11 games. They did nothing to upgrade their offensive line, and their defense won’t be among the league’s best again. The Chicago Bears are now the worst team in this division. They are rebuilding under John Fox, but Jay Cutler is still the quarterback, and that spells trouble once again. The defense is still a complete mess and went through a major overhaul this offseason.
1st: Green Bay Packers (12-4)
2nd: Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
3rd: Detroit Lions (7-9)
4th: Chicago Bears (5-11)
The Carolina Panthers won back-to-back NFC South titles for the first time in division history. Nobody thought that was possible after their ugly 3-8-1 start, but then Jonathan Stewart and the defense carried them to four straight victories to close out the regular season, and they won the division with a 7-8-1 mark. They would beat the Cardinals in the playoffs before losing to the Seahawks. I expect both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons to be improved this season and prevent the Panthers from winning their third straight NFC South crown. New Orleans had the league’s top offense last year, but it finished -13 in turnover differential, and improvement in that department will lead it to the division title. I also expect the Saints to be vastly improved defensively. The same goes for the Falcons, who hired the defensive-minded Dan Quinn from Seattle to resurrect the stop unit. The Falcons already have a franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan, too. The Buccaneers believe they now have their guy in Jameis Winston, and while he’ll have some talented receivers to throw to, the rest of the team is a mess. The defense is sub-par and the running game was non-existent last year thanks to an awful offensive line that was hardly upgraded.
1st: New Orleans Saints (9-7)
2nd: Atlanta Falcons (8-8)
3rd: Carolina Panthers (7-9)
4th: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
The Seattle Seahawks will try and become just the third team in NFL history to make a third straight Super Bowl appearance in 2015. They could be going for their third straight victory as well had they just given the ball to Lynch on the 1-yard line. The good news is that Seattle has been able to re-sign all of its key players from the past couple seasons, and it even made a trade to get Jimmy Graham this offseason. If anything, the Seahawks should be better, provided that both Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas recover fully from injuries that hampered them in the Super Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers will take a huge step back with all they lost this offseason, including Jim Harbaugh. They lost three players they weren’t expecting to in Patrick Willis, Chris Borland and Aldon Smith. I believe the St. Louis Rams are the second-best team in this division. They could push the Seahawks for the best defense in the league, and Nick Foles will certainly be an upgrade at quarterback from what they’ve had the past few seasons. Todd Gurley also helps out the running game, though the only question is the offensive line. I think the Arizona Cardinals are the most overrated team in the NFL. They were actually outgained by 48.4 yards per game last season despite their 11-5 record, finished +8 in turnover differential, and went 6-1 in games decided by single-digits. I don’t trust Carson Palmer to stay healthy, and the defense lost a lot this offseason, including underrated coordinator Todd Bowles.
1st: Seattle Seahawks (11-5)
2nd: St. Louis Rams (9-7)
3rd: San Francisco 49ers (7-9)
4th: Arizona Cardinals (6-10)
Wild Card Round
(3) Ravens defeat (6) Chiefs
(5) Steelers defeat (4) Patriots
(3) Saints defeat (6) Rams
(4) Giants defeat (5) Vikings
(5) Steelers defeat (1) Colts
(2) Broncos defeat (3) Ravens
(1) Packers defeat (4) Giants
(2) Seahawks defeat (3) Saints
(2) Broncos defeat (5) Steelers
(1) Packers defeat (2) Seahawks
(1) Packers defeat (2) Broncos
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