Andy: I don’t think Houston is as bad a team as the 2-14 record would indicate last season. Jacksonville is improving. And Tennessee has not been terrible the last couple years. But it’s pretty obvious in my eyes that unless Andrew Luck takes a dramatic step back in 2014 that the AFC South is going to go through Indianapolis again.
Tony: The Jaguars actually have been more impressive in preseason than I expected—not that winning one of the first two preseason games means much, but they might have already surpassed their 2014 win total I would have projected them at. Still, despite taking the highest QB in the draft, the Jags appear to be the team most convinced to take the right approach with rookie quarterbacks, seemingly content to use Chad Henne for the season regardless.
Expectations have risen for rookie quarterbacks with the success that teams have had with rookie quarterbacks like Luck, RG3, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton—but they are still the exception, not the rule, in my opinion. For every one of them, there is a Geno Smith, Christian Ponder, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden, who have not panned out to the level expected/hoped. Not to mention that none of the aforementioned QBs have led their team to the Super Bowl. Continue reading
Tony: The AFC East has been as anti-climactic as Major League Baseball’s National League East was in the 90s and early 2000s, with the New England Patriots playing the role of the Atlanta Braves, winning the division approximately the last 127 years (ok, technically it’s only 11 of the last 13 seasons). Much like the Braves, they have little to show for it in the last decade as well—the Patriots have been to three of the last seven Super Bowls, but they haven’t won since the 2004 season.
There’s little reason to believe that this year will be any different—much like the last few, not because the Patriots are that much better than they were a year ago, but because their division rivals continue to just mire themselves in a sea of muck that prevents them from taking the next step.
The Dolphins seem most likely to put up some sort of challenge to the Patriots, but they’re being led by a quarterback that no one seems to really believe is finally the heir to the Dan Marino throne. They thought they solved their running game woes of 2013, but appear to have learned what the Denver Broncos learned before them, that when you put faith in Knowshon Moreno, he will disappoint—it’s only when your expectations have lowered to basically zero that he will succeed.
At least the Dolphins don’t have the 49ers on the schedule, so we can hopefully avoid hearing much about the whole Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito fiasco—at least until Incognito goes all Chris Kluwe and sues someone for being fired from his job. Continue reading
Andy: I beat the drum ad nauseum last year and I’m coming strong on this division again in 2014. Seattle and San Francisco are, in my opinion, the two best teams in football and the other two – Arizona and St. Louis – could very well be top five teams in the NFC.
I’m not sure who slots where just yet, but I will tune in every chance I get to watch the divisional match-ups these teams play. For the most part this is going to be hard-core, old-school, smash-mouth football. Sign me up.
Tony: The problem with this division, or any division that ends up being this strong, is that teams may end up beating each other up to the point that none of them end up with a high seed in the playoffs, which could end up letting a team like the Packers or Bears get home field advantage—which could play havoc with these West Coast teams.
Fortunately (I guess), it didn’t happen last year with the Seahawks grabbing the #1 overall seed. The 49ers ended up as the 5 seed, even though they tied for the second best record in the conference. And the Cardinals missed out on the playoffs, despite a better record than the NFC North champion Packers, and possibly a better team than the NFC East champion Eagles.
The scariest part for the rest of the conference (and league)? It could be argued that all four teams are better this year than last. The Seahawks lost some key cogs (Golden Tate, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond), but their backups in the defensive backfield were better than most team’s starters, and having Percy Harvin for a full year (and the addition of Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood should more than make up for the loss of Tate (and retirement of perennial injury report occupant Sidney Rice). Continue reading
Andy: I really don’t have any idea what to make of the NFC South this season. Tampa has a new coach, again, and a new QB (well, an old guy, but new to Tampa), again. Carolina let almost all of its WRs go in the off-season, leaving the franchise star with few established targets. Atlanta was terrible last year, but was that because they got old and regressed or because injuries crushed them from the word go?
About the only team with any real continuity heading into the season is New Orleans, where Sean Payton and Drew Brees appear to be ready to lead one of the few teams that could give an NFC West team a challenge in the post-season.
Tony: The NFC South was possibly the most disappointing division last year. The Falcons fell off the face of the earth in one season, and the Bucs turned a promising 2012 into a sideshow that could have been epic proportions, if not for the even bigger cluster going on across state at the time.
The Saints, meanwhile, potentially showed the true value of coaching, rebounding from a Sean Payton-less 7-9 to get back to 11 wins.
The biggest surprise of the year, though, was the Carolina Panthers, who opened with a coach on the hottest of seats, and finished 12-4 with a division crown. Continue reading
Andy: Well, we go from probably the worst division in the NFC to … one at least a bit more interesting. I don’t think any of these teams are going to the Super Bowl, but there are at least some competitive story lines.
Jared Allen goes from Minnesota to Chicago. Julius Peppers goes from Chicago to Green Bay – I heard someone talking about Peppers and Clay Matthews moving around a lot and rushing the passer … I hope they get him, because the coverage is going to suck. But anyway – new coaching staffs in Detroit and Minnesota, new WRs and TE Eric Ebron to team with Calvin Johnson in Detroit and a new QB, at least eventually, in Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota.
The hierarchy probably doesn’t change much, in my eyes, at least this year. Aaron Rodgers is a top three QB in the game and with Eddie Lacy at RB, that offense is multi-dimensional and scary. The defense isn’t going to be great, but it’ll be good enough in the regular season. The Bears also lack on defense, but Matt Forte and the WR combo … that’s tough. Detroit has to prove it’s better than a mid-level team before I’ll believe at this point. And the Vikings are better, but not quite good enough to fight for playoffs yet in my mind – give them a year under Mike Zimmer first. Your thoughts?
Tony: I don’t think the Packers are as much of a lock as their fan base seems to think. Of course, their fan base thinks that every year, no matter what their real outlook is. If they keep all of their weapons healthy, they have a shot, but they haven’t had a lot of success staying healthy as of late—looking at their ProFootballReference page from last year, the only guys that started all 16 games are guys you really don’t want starting at all, outside of Jordy Nelson. They lost their starting center, and even though I wouldn’t have been able to have told you before he left that his name was Evan Dietrich-Smith, apparently it was a big enough deal that Rodgers wasn’t happy about the loss. Their big time TE is contemplating taking an insurance settlement retirement package. But they did manage to sign Jordy Nelson to an extension, probably because he meets the main criteria to get big money in Green Bay… Continue reading