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In Depth 2015: Detroit Lions

The days of woeful football in Detroit are over. The Lions finished 11-5 in 2014, putting forth the second-most wins in-depththe team has produced in a season since 1970. The season ended with a disappointing first round playoff loss, but signs are pointing up.

Still, there are issues heading into 2015. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are gone off of what was a top-notch defensive line. And offensively the offensive line has not sufficiently protected Matthew Stafford in recent years.

With free agency signings like Haloti Ngata and draft picks like Laken Tomlinson, however, optimism is high in the Motor City. Can the Lions take the next step? Or is this good team going to take a step back toward the pack in a competitive NFC North? Alex Reno, a writer with Pride of Detroit, shares his insights.

Zoneblitz: Detroit went 11-5 in 2014, the second most wins the team has had in a season since 1970, but lost in the first round of the playoffs, extending that drought to 1991. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Pittsburgh Steelers

in-depthExpectations were middle-of-the-road for Pittsburgh heading into 2014 and middle-of-the-road is what the team produced through the first three-quarters of the season. But a 7-5 start gave way to an impressive four-game win streak – including a two-game sweep of Cincinnati, which had led the division at 8-3-1 heading into the last week of November.

The streak propelled Pittsburgh to a division title. And while an injury to Le’Veon Bell hamstrung the Steelers in a first-round playoff loss to Baltimore, the team certainly served notice that they were again a force in the NFC North.

So can the aging Ben Roethlisberger keep up his assault on NFL defenses? Can the defense take another step under new coordinator Keith Butler? And can this team contend for yet another AFC Championship and Lombardi Trophy? Or was the December run a mirage? Neal Coolong, editor of the new USA Today site The Steelers Wire, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: Pittsburgh went 11-5 and made the first round of the playoffs before getting beat. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Cincinnati Bengals

in-depthUnder the lead of Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati has gone 31-16-1 the last three seasons, making it to the postseason five out of the last six years. But during his 12 year tenure, the Bengals are 0-6 in the playoffs, and the team came no closer to ending that drought in its appearance last year against Indianapolis.

So what’s next for the Bengals? Are Lewis and QB Andy Dalton the duo that will take this team on to the next step, a deeper run in the playoffs? Or is this minor run of solid-but-not-spectacular football as good as it gets under their watch?

Jason Marcum, editor and social media manager at Cincy Jungle, shares his insights.

Zoneblitz: Cincinnati finished 10-5-1 in 2014, made the playoffs for the fifth time in six years and again didn’t win a playoff game. How would you assess the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Philadelphia Eagles

It’s too early to determine whether the Philadelphia Eagles will be better or worse in 2015 than 2014, but the team in-depthcertainly isn’t going to be boring.

The Eagles started the offseason by trading the starting RB (LeSean McCoy)and QB (Nick Foles) from last season’s 10-6 team in separate deals, acquiring QB Sam Bradford and LB Kiko Alonso in those transactions. The Eagles have since added RB DeMarco Murray from Dallas and lost WR Jeremy Maclin to Kansas City for good measure.

Then, as the smoke appeared to be clearing, news broke that Chip Kelly had added the lightning rod, Tim Tebow, to his mix of potential starting QBs – which also currently includes Mark Sanchez and could by this time next week include Marcus Mariota, in the minds of many.

So how will it all shake out? Are the Eagles better or worse than they were when the new league year started? And is Chip Kelly worthy of the trust bestowed upon him to make these decisions? Brandon Lee Gowton, manager and editor-in-chief at Bleeding Green Nation, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: Philadelphia went 10-6 for the second consecutive season under Chip Kelly, but missed the playoffs this time around. What’s your assessment of the season? Continue reading

In Depth 2015: Buffalo Bills

The 21st century has not been kind to the Buffalo Bills, but things may be turning

A solid defense powered Buffalo to a 9-7 record in 2014, good for just the second better-than-.500 season the Bills have had since 1999.

But change is again in the air. Doug Marrone exited his job as head coach, leaving room for the large personality of Rex Ryan, whose bravado sometimes overshadows the fact that he’s coached in two AFC Championship games, to take over the top job. And the Bills traded for Matt Cassel to push EJ Manuel and provide options at QB, and for star RB LeSean McCoy, who should lead the team’s ground attack.

Can the new leadership get Sammy Watkins, McCoy and the offense to gel enough to match the team’s defensive prowess? Or is the hope of a turnaround premature? Matt Warren, an editor with Buffalo Rumblings, shares his thoughts.

Zoneblitz: Buffalo didn’t break the playoff drought, but did finish above .500 for the first time since 2004. How would you assess the 2014 season? Continue reading

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