2014? Forget About It! 2015 Is Ready To Roll
The book is closed on the 2014 NFL season. For 31 teams, the season ended in disappointment. OK, maybe teams like Houston were very happy to go from 2-14 to 9-7. Maybe Dallas was glad to finally get over the 8-8 hump. And maybe Carolina will forever play up the fact that they won a playoff game with only seven regular season wins. But for most of us, the year ended in a frustrating form or fashion. Whether that finishing the year under .500, barely missing the playoffs, or getting knocked out when everything was on the line.
But don’t worry football fans; we are all 0-0 now! And since we have made it into February, it is not too early to start talking about what we can expect in 2015.
Dozens if not hundreds of questions are still to be answered for every team in the NFL. Off-season signings, the NFL draft, schedules, coaching vacancies, and so much more. I will leave it to the team experts to answer those questions for each individual squad. But if you need a leg up on some early 2015 wagers, take a look at what this writer expects out of the 2015 season.
Often the first major goal of an NFL team is to win their division. It equates to opening the playoffs with a home game. Even if the NFL expands to 14 playoff teams in 2015 (which I think they will), it is likely that the division winners will still be hosting a game. Of course the NFL could also address the fact that the 7-8-1 Panthers got to host a wildcard game, while the 11-5 Lions and Cardinals both had to go on the road by changing the wild-card games to allow the team with the better record to host the game.
Either way, grabbing the division crown is a huge step in the right direction. Here are my predictions for division champs:
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles definitely need to re-sign the right pieces of the puzzle, and moving away from Nick Foles would be a terrible decision. While Dallas is probably the easy call here, I find it difficult to believe that the Cowboys will keep their offensive core together when Bryant and Murray have huge contract potential on the open market. I expect a bounce back for McCoy that will help to carry this team to 11-12 wins and the division crown.
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
The Packers were a play away (take your pick of about eight of them) from playing for a Super Bowl. They are the easy pick here in a division that they usually beat up on (19-4-1 the last four years). Their biggest off-season question is clearly what happens if they do not sign Bulaga and Cobb, but neither question provides a resounding issue to take the division.
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons
The NFC South might be the widest open of all of the divisions for who could take the title. The Falcons brought in a new coaching staff and I think they will move away from the aging Steven Jackson in the run game. They have possibly the best wide receiver in the league and a quarterback that can get him the ball. They actually have some solid play makers on defense, and they play very well against the division (they went 5-1 in the division and ONE AND NINE against everyone else). I think 10 wins easily takes the division, and Atlanta has the talent to get to double digits victories.
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals have a lot of holes to fill, and likely finding a replacement for Larry Fitzgerald, or at least the talent the Cardinals came to expect from Fitzgerald, might be tops on the list. But this team is still built around defense and a running game that allows a healthy Carson Palmer to do his thing. Palmer is a winner. Arizona will take advantage of the 49ers re-building and a Rams team that could be starting a rookie quarterback. If they can split with Seattle to go 5-1 in the division, they will be in a good spot. Seattle is the safe pick here, but I think the Cardinals give them a run for their money.
AFC East: New England
Is there really any question that the Patriots are set up to win the division as long as Tom Brady is throwing the ball? Miami could push 10 wins and a wild-card birth, but New England will win the division.
AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are one of my favorite teams heading in to 2015. They have a lot of weapons on offense and in my opinion have the best quarterback, wide receiver, and running back in the division. In fact the trio is likely one of the top three in the league behind Green Bay and maybe Denver. Pittsburgh simply needs to clean up their play against weaker opponents and play their game instead of playing down to their competition. This is a 12-4 team in the making.
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
While Houston could make a run at the AFC South in 2015, I still believe the division should belong to the Colts. No one in the division has a signal caller that is even ¼ of the QB that Andrew Luck is; and that is where it all begins and ends in the NFL. The Colts could easily go 6-0 in the division and coast to 11 or 12 wins.
AFC West: Denver Broncos
This may be the toughest call, mostly because the status of Manning, Sanders, and both Thomas’ are up in the air. Will any of them be back? Will they all be back? I lean towards the latter. Peyton has a year or two left in him and Denver’s experiment will be a failed one if they can’t win it all. Peyton gives it at least one final go to try and cement his name as the greatest of all time.
For the moment we will go ahead and assume that the NFL does indeed expand to 14 teams into the playoffs; a move I am not happy with, but can understand. Here are my picks for the wild-card teams:
NFC: Dallas, New York, Seattle
I like the NFC East to send three teams in 2015 because of their schedule. They get to play the NFC South and the AFC East. Other than road games against New England, I do not see a single game that is not going to at least be competitive among those eight games for each team. The division should beat up on the Skins and then split games against each other. Each team could be sitting at 4-2 in the division with a real shot at 7-3 in other games.
I don’t think I need to defend my selection of Seattle.
AFC: Baltimore, Miami, and San Diego. I love the Chargers getting four games against the Chiefs and Raiders and Miami getting four games against the Bills and Jets. Baltimore will remain competitive and all three of these teams should hit 10 wins.
With the playoff teams set, lets predict how this plays out:
NFC Championship: Green Bay hosting Philadelphia
AFC Championship: New England hosting Pittsburgh
Super Bowl 50: Green Bay over Pittsburgh in a great rematch of 2010.
And now to hand out a few awards:
Coach of the Year: Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons will go from 6-10 with the eighth selection in the draft to at least 10-6 and the division champs. Quinn, in his first year with the team, will be an easy choice.
Rookie of the year: Melvin Gordon
Gordon’s talent will not be wasted in 2015. Oddly enough I could see him going to the Falcons as the long-term replacement for Steven Jackson. He would be an immediate impact player, and defenses would have to choose between stopping Gordon or stopping Julio Jones. That is a nasty choice. I expect Gordon to hit 1500 all purpose yards and double digits TDs in his rookie season, where he will literally run away with the award.
Defensive MVP: JJ Watt
It will come as no surprise that Watt is expected to be the DMVP again in 2015. Getting four games against the Jags and Titans could mean 10+ sacks and four or more forced turnovers just in those games! Watt is one of the rare beasts of the NFL; this award might not be close for a while.
Offensive MVP: Aaron Rodgers
If you thought Rodgers was good in 2014, just wait til the Packers develop a pass-catching tight end (Richard Rodgers? Maybe sign Thomas?!) and give Davante Adams another year in their system. Perhaps a lot of this relies on Randall Cobb returning, but if he does I could see Rodgers with 45 total scores, over 5,000 passing yards, and still finish with single digit turnovers. He would have neared those numbers this season had the Packers not been destroying teams by half-time.
While more of the same (Def/Off MVPs, previous SB match-up) may not be as entertaining as some would prefer, the season as a whole will be a great one; and it is only eight months away.