Sunday, August 31, 2014

2014 NFL Season Preview

Here is a capsule style look at the upcoming NFL season with predictions for the division races and the playoff possibilities. Heftyinfo also attempts to correctly pick the winner of the Super Bowl for the 2014 season.   (Last year was spot on as predicted here ... the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48.) 




Predictions for the 2014 season and playoffs (Playoff teams listed in bold type)

NFC 

East - 1. Philadelphia  2. Dallas  3. NY Giants  4. Washington

North - 1. Green Bay  2. Chicago  3. Detroit  4. Minnesota

South - 1. New Orleans  2. Carolina  3. Atlanta  4. Tampa Bay

West - 1. Seattle  2. San Francisco  3. Arizona  4. St. Louis


AFC 

East - 1. New England  2. NY Jets  3. Miami  4. Buffalo

North - 1. Cincinnati  2. Baltimore  3. Pittsburgh  4. Cleveland

South - 1. Indianapolis  2. Tennessee  3. Houston  4. Jacksonville

West - 1. Denver  2. San Diego  3. Kansas City  4. Oakland


NFC Playoffs - Wild Card Round ... Green Bay over Chicago ... San Francisco over Philadelphia

AFC Playoffs - Wild Card Round ... Indianapolis over Baltimore ... San Diego over Cincinnati

NFC - Divisional Round ... Green Bay over New Orleans ... Seattle over San Francisco

AFC - Divisional Round ... Denver over Indianapolis ... San Diego over New England

NFC Championship - Seattle over Green Bay

AFC Championship - Denver over San Diego






                                                         SUPER BOWL 49


      
            Seattle over Denver



Thursday, August 28, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Detroit Lions

DETROIT LIONS                                                      


2013 Record: 7-9-0

Key Additions: WR Golden Tate; RB Jed Collins; S James Ihedigbo; DL-LB Darryl Tapp.

Key Losses: DL Willie Young; S Louis Delmas; OL Jason Fox; WR Nate Burleson; QB Shaun Hill; DL Israel Idonije.

HEAD COACH: Jim Caldwell

Offense: The Lions will have quarterback Matthew Stafford (4,650 passing yards with 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions) running the show once again. Dan Orlovsky is back in Motown once again as the backup.
The running game got a shot in the arm with Reggie Bush, who went for 1,006 yards on the ground (4.5 ypc average) and four touchdowns in addition to making 54 receptions for 506 yards and three more scores. The Lions also have Joique Bell (650 yards, 3.9 ypc and eight TD) to complement Bush as well as adding a good blocking fullback in Jed Collins, who comes over from New Orleans via free agency.
Calvin Johnson leads the wide receivers after hauling in 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Golden Tate (64, 898 yards, five TD with Seattle) will line up along with "Megatron" after signing with the Lions in the off-season. Brandon Pettigrew (41, 416, two TD), Joseph Fauria (18 receptions for 207 yards with seven TD) and top rookie pick Eric Ebron (North Carolina) will be the tight ends.
The line consists of center Dominic Raiola, guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford and tackles Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle.

STATS - Then Lions can throw the ball, evidenced by their third ranked passing attack that averaged 280 yards per game. The running game managed 112 yards per game (17th) and their total offense averaged 392 yards per game, which was sixth in the NFL. The Lions averaged just under 25 points per game in 2013 while turning the football over 34 times (19 INT and 12 fumbles) and gave up 23 QB sacks.

Defense: Up front in the 4-3 alignment are Ndamukong Suh (5.5 QB sacks) and Nick Fairley (six sacks) at the tackles along with Ziggy Ansah (eight sacks) and Jason Jones at the ends. Darryl Tapp, C.J. Mosley, Devin Taylor and Caraun Reid will play backup roles.
Stephen Tulloch is the middle linebacker while the outside spots are manned by rookie Kyle Van Noy (BYU) and DeAndre Levy, who had six interceptions last season.
Darius Slay and Chris Houston will play the corners in the defensive backfield along with safeties Glover Quin (three picks) and James Inhedigbo.

STATS - Detroit ranked 23rd overall in total defense, giving up 347 yards per game. The run defense was solid, allowing 100 yards per game (sixth in NFL) while the pass defense lagged behind by allowing 247 yards, which ranked 23rd overall. The Lions allowed 23.5 points per game last season, which was 15th and had 33 QB sacks while getting 15 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

OUTLOOK: The Lions tanked down the stretch last year and finished third in the NFC North as they lost six of their final seven games.
New Head Coach Jim Caldwell would like to see the team be more consistent this year after six one-score losses in the 2013 season doomed the Lions' playoff chances.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson form arguably the most formidable pass-catch combo in the league and with Reggie Bush running and catching the ball out of the backfield, it adds to the versatility on offense. Golden Tate is the other wideout to take pressure off Johnson.
The Lions can score points, unfortunately they allow a lot of scoring as well because the pass defense gives up too many big plays and the front seven didn't get pressure on opposing quarterbacks as they had in past seasons. A better pass rush and an improved secondary will be the key for the Lions in 2014 as they look to get back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.
They also have to cut down on the turnovers (19 interceptions and 15 fumbles lost last year) if they want to contend with Green Bay and Chicago in the NFC North this season.
Perhaps an 8-8 season will be where the Lions wind up in 2014 because they always seem to find ways to lose games and it cost them again last year. If they can right the mistakes, perhaps they will improve enough to make the playoffs.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. NY Giants
Week 2- at Carolina
Week 3- vs. Green Bay
Week 4- at NY Jets
Week 5- vs. Buffalo
Week 6- at Minnesota
Week 7- vs. New Orleans
Week 8- at Atlanta (London, England)
Week 9- BYE WEEK
Week 10- vs. Miami
Week 11- at Arizona
Week 12- at New England
Week 13- vs. Chicago
Week 14- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 15- vs. Minnesota
Week 16- at Chicago
Week 17- at Green Bay

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Arizona Cardinals

ARIZONA CARDINALS                                         


2013 Record: 10-6-0

Key Additions: CB Antonio Cromartie; TE John Carlson; WR Ted Ginn, Jr.; LB Larry Foote; OL Ted Larsen; RB Jonathan Dwyer; OL Jared Veldheer.

Key Losses: RB Rashard Mendenhall; LB Karlos Dansby; WR Andre Roberts; CB Antoine Cason; LB Jasper Brinkley; OL Daryn Colledge.

HEAD COACH: Bruce Arians

Offense: Quarterback Carson Palmer enjoyed a good year in 2013, passing for 4,274 yards with 24 touchdowns and 22 interceptions and is looking to get the Cardinals into the NFC playoffs this year. Drew Stanton will be the backup.
The backfield lost leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall (retirement) but still has Andre Ellington, who ran for 652 yards (5.5 ypc average) and scored three touchdowns. Stepfan Taylor played sparingly last season but will get his chances now that he is the number-two man in the running game. Jonathan Dwyer, who had limited carries with Pittsburgh last year, is also available.
The wide receivers are led by Larry Fitzgerald (82 receptions for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Michael Floyd (65, 1,041 yards and five TD) while Rob Housler (39, 454, one TD) and John Carlson (32, 344, one TD) form a good tight end tandem. Ted Ginn, Jr. (36, 556, five TD) comes over from Carolina to add depth to the receiving corps while Jay Ballard and rookie Troy Niklas (Notre Dame) will be in reserve at the tight end position. Rookie John Brown (Pittsburgh State-Kansas) is a player who may get a chance as well at wide receiver.
The offensive line is anchored by center Lyle Sendlein. The guards are Jonathan Cooper and either Paul Fanaika or Earl Watford. The tackles will be Jared Veldheer and Bobby Massie. Ted Larsen, Bradley Sowell and Nate Porter will look to help when called into action.

STATS - Arizona was 12th in total offense last year, averaging 346 yards per game while scoring just under 24 points per game. They were 13th in passing with 250 yards per game while the running game averaged 96 yards per game, which was 23rd overall. The Cardinals allowed 41 QB sacks and turned the ball over 31 times last season.

Defense: Nose tackle Dan Williams is the man in the middle of the 3-4 set for Arizona. The ends are Calais Campbell (nine QB sacks) and Frostee Rucker, who will being filling a big role left vacant by Darnell Dockett, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Others in the fold up front include Alameda Ta'amu, Ed Stinson, Anthony McCloud and rookie Kareem Martin (North Carolina).
The linebackers are inside men Kevin Minter and Larry Foote, who comes over via free agency and will step in for Daryl Washington, who is serving a season long suspension. The outside linebackers are John Abraham (11.5 sacks) and Matt Shaughnessy.
In the secondary the corner men are Antonio Cromartie (three interceptions with New York Jets last year) and Patrick Peterson, who also picked off three passes. The safeties are Tyrann Mathieu and possibly top rookie draft pick Deone Bucannon (Washington State). Others looking to contribute are Jerraud Powers, Tony Jefferson, Rashad Johnson, Orhian Johnson and Curtis Taylor.

STATS - This defense played superb against the run last year, allowing just 84 yards per game, which was first in the NFL. The pass defense was 14th, giving up 233 yards. The Cardinals finished sixth overall in total defense, allowing 317 yards per game. The scoring defense finished seventh, giving up 20 points per game. Arizona had 47 QB sacks and intercepted 20 passes while recovering ten fumbles.

OUTLOOK: For the Arizona Cardinals to duplicate last season's surprising success (even though they did not make the playoffs) they will need the defense to have an encore performance, in particular against the run while also continuing to be an opportunistic defense with the turnovers.
Head Coach Bruce Arians showed he can succeed as the top man after helping lead the Indianapolis Colts to the NFL playoffs in 2012 as the interim Head Coach while Chuck Pagano was being treated for cancer.
The Cardinals offense showed they can move the ball with QB Carson Palmer hooking up with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd on a regular basis. The running game needs to improve, so Andre Ellington will be on display in that area in 2014.
Turnovers were a problem last year (Palmer threw 22 picks) so the Cardinals must cut down in that area if they want to move up in the NFC West standings, where San Francisco and the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks loom large.
If the defense can play dominant football once again (Cards were the number one run defense in the NFL last year) and the offense can show more spark on the scoreboard while limiting the turnovers, the Cardinals can indeed win ten games (or more) again this season.
The call here is for an 8-8 season in Arizona this year as the Cardinals will not be sneaking up on opposing teams as they seemed to do last year when they were taken lightly.  It's up to them to show that last season was not a fluke.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. San Diego
Week 2- at NY Giants
Week 3- vs. San Francisco
Week 4- BYE WEEK
Week 5- at Denver
Week 6- vs. Washington
Week 7- at Oakland
Week 8- vs. Philadelphia
Week 9- at Dallas
Week 10- vs. St. Louis
Week 11- vs. Detroit
Week 12- at Seattle
Week 13- at Atlanta
Week 14- vs. Kansas City
Week 15- at St. Louis
Week 16- vs. Seattle
Week 17- at San Francisco

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY PACKERS                                       


2013 Record: 8-7-1

Key Additions: LB-DL Julius Peppers; DL Letroy Guion; RB Michael Hill.

Key Losses: WR James Jones; TE Jermichael Finley; OL Evan Dietrich-Smith; DL Johnny Jolly; S M.D. Jennings; DL Ryan Pickett; DL C.J. Wilson; OL Marshall Newhouse.

HEAD COACH: Mike McCarthy

Offense: The Packers have quarterback Aaron Rodgers (2,536 passing yards in just nine games with 17 touchdowns and only six interceptions) back healthy again and that is huge. The backup will be either Matt Flynn (1,146 yards with seven TD and four INT) or Scott Tolzien, who had 717 passing yards with one touchdown and five interceptions.
Eddie Lacy helped to solve the Packers' rushing dilemma in his rookie season, going for1,178 yards (4.1 ypc average) and scored eleven touchdowns. James Starks is a good backup, who went for 493 rushing yards (5.5 ypc) and scored three times.
The wide receiving troops will have a slight shakeup this season as James Jones left for Oakland via free agency and tight end Jermichael Finley was not re-signed in the off-season. However, Jordy Nelson, the team's leading receiver in 2013, is coming off a big time year, as he had 85 receptions for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns.
Along with Nelson is Randall Cobb, who made 31 catches for 433 yards with four touchdowns. Jarrett Boykin (49, 681, three TD) is the third receiver. Rookies Davante Adams (Fresno State) and Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin) are also looking to get on the field. The tight end is Andrew Quarless, who has overcome injury plagued seasons to become the starter. Quarless made 32 receptions for 312 yards and two scores a year ago. He will likely have rookie Richard Rodgers (California) as the backup.
The offensive line will have J.C. Tretter at center while Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang will play the guard positions. The tackles are David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga.

STATS - The Packers ranked third in the NFL in total offense (400 yards per game) last year. The running game was seventh overall with 133 yards per game while the passing game hummed along with 267 yards per game, which ranked sixth. Green Bay averaged 26 points per game to finish eighth in scoring last season. They turned the football over 25 times (16 INT and nine fumbles) while giving up 45 quarterback sacks.

Defense: Datone Jones and Julius Peppers (7.5 QB sacks with Chicago last season) are the likely starting defensive ends this season in the 3-4 set while either Josh Boyd or Letroy Guion will be the nose tackle following the season ending injury to B.J. Raji (torn biceps) in the pre-season. Mike Daniels (6.5 sacks) will rotate up front between end and tackle. Rookie Khyri Thornton (Southern Miss) will also get a look on the defensive front.
The Packers linebackers will be Clay Matthews (7.5 sacks) and Nick Perry (four sacks) on the outside while A.J. Hawk (five sacks) and either Brad Jones or Jamari Lattimore will be on the inside.
The secondary showed significant improvement from 2012 and will have Morgan Burnett and rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the safety positions while the corners are Tramon Williams (three interceptions) and Sam Shields, who led the team with four interceptions.
Backing up in the defensive backfield will be Casey Hayward, Davon House, Micah Hyde, Chris Banjo and Sean Richardson.

STATS - Giving up 372 yards per game ranked Green Bay 25th in total defense last year. The Packers gave up 125 yards rushing per game (25th) while the pass defense yielded 247 yards, which was 24th overall. The scoring defense also ranked 24th in the NFL, allowing just under 27 points per game. Green Bay registered 44 quarterback sacks and made eleven interceptions while recovering eleven fumbles.

OUTLOOK: With quarterback Aaron Rodgers back at full strength headed into the 2014 season, the Green Bay Packers are one of the top picks in the NFC to possibly reach the Super Bowl.
The former league MVP and Super Bowl champion QB came back in the final regular season game last year to lead the Packers into the playoffs. Head Coach Mike McCarthy will have plenty of weapons surrounding his quarterback and that makes life easier for the Packers in the rugged NFC North division.
The running game looks to be solid once again with the one-two punch of Eddie Lacy and James Starks. The receivers always play well enough (thanks to Rodgers) for the Packers to be among the top offenses in the NFL.
On defense, the Packers will have to go at it without massive B.J. Raji up front at nose tackle, but they do have two adequate backups and the "next man up" mentality in Green Bay will be put to the test once again this year. The addition of pass rush specialist Julius Peppers should help ease the burden on linebacker Clay Matthews, whose sack numbers were down last season as he had some nagging injuries.
The secondary has to get back to the ball hawking ways of a few seasons ago when the Packers led the league in the turnover category in addition to not giving up so many big plays.
All in all, the Packers seem to be in good shape heading into the 2014 season as they and Chicago seem to be the favorites to win the NFC North. A 10-6 record (or possibly better record) is likely and how far Green Bay goes in the post-season will depend on their ability to win on the road in the playoffs. 

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- at Seattle
Week 2- vs. NY Jets
Week 3- at Detroit
Week 4- at Chicago
Week 5- vs. Minnesota
Week 6- at Miami
Week 7- vs. Carolina
Week 8- at New Orleans
Week 9- BYE WEEK
Week 10- vs. Chicago
Week 11- vs. Philadelphia
Week 12- at Minnesota
Week 13- vs. New England
Week 14- vs. Atlanta
Week 15- at Buffalo
Week 16- at Tampa Bay
Week 17- vs. Detroit

Monday, August 25, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES                                       


2013 Record: 10-6-0

Key Additions: RB Darren Sproles; QB Mark Sanchez; OL Andrew Gardner; LB Bryan Braman; CB Nolan Carroll; S Malcolm Jenkins.

Key Losses: WR DeSean Jackson; WR Jason Avant; QB Michael Vick; S Patrick Chung.

HEAD COACH: Chip Kelly

Offense: The Eagles found a gem in quarterback Nick Foles, who took over as the starter last year and passed for 2,891 yards with 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions in eleven games. Former New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley will be ready in reserve.
Running back LeSean McCoy had a monster season, rushing for a league best 1,607 yards (5.1 ypc average) and scored nine touchdowns while also making 52 receptions for 539 yards and two scores. Darren Sproles (220 rushing yards along with 71 catches for 604 yards and four total TD with New Orleans) is on board in Philadelphia this season and adds versatility to the offense with his quickness. Chris Polk will carry the ball in mop up time.
The wide receivers get a big boost as Jeremy Maclin returns this year after missing 2013 with a knee injury. Along with Maclin is Riley Cooper, who had 47 catches for 835 yards (17.8 ypc) and eight touchdowns. Two rookies in the mix are Josh Huff (Oregon) and Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) along with Jeff Maehl, who played sparingly last season. The tight ends are Brent Celek (32, 502, six TD) and Zach Ertz, who made 36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns.
The line has center Jason Kelce along with guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. The tackles will be Lane Johnson and Jason Peters.

STATS - The Eagles went for 417 yards per game a year ago, which was second in the NFL in total offense. They also scored just under 28 points per game, which ranked fourth. The running game was first in the NFL, averaging 160 yards per game. The passing game averaged 257 yards, which was ninth overall. The Eagles turned the ball over 19 times while their quarterbacks were sacked 46 times.

Defense: Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton are the ends in the 3-4 set while Bennie Logan will play nose tackle. Brandon Bair, Damion Square and Vinny Curry (four QB sacks) are ready to go up front as well.
The linebacking unit has Conner Barwin (five QB sacks) and Trent Cole (eight sacks) on the outside while DeMeco Ryans (four sacks) and Mychal Kendricks (four sacks and three interceptions) will play on the inside. Top rookie pick Marcus Smith (Louisville) will see action at linebacker as well as Emmanuel Acho, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman and Jason Phillips.
In the secondary, Cary Williams (three picks) and Bradley Fletcher (two INT) will man the corner spots while Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen will play the safety positions. Brandon Boykin led the team with six interceptions last season and along with rookie Jaylen Watkins (Florida),  Nolan Carroll, Earl Wolff and Chris Maragos, will be ready to help out this season.

STATS- The defense was lackluster, especially against the pass. The Eagles gave up 394 yards per game, which was 29th overall. They also allowed 24 points per game (17th) while the pass defense was dead last in the NFL, giving up an average of 290 yards per game. The run defense allowed 104 yards per game, which was tenth overall. The Eagles did get 37 QB sacks and forced 31 turnovers, including 19 interceptions to go with twelve fumble recoveries.

OUTLOOK: It's hard to pick against the Eagles in the NFC East after the way they rolled down the stretch last year to win the division title under first year Head Coach Chip Kelly.
The offense is fast paced and can roll up the yardage and score points under the direction of quarterback Nick Foles, who was brilliant last season. The Eagles need more of the same from Foles again this year. Meanwhile, running back LeSean McCoy dominated the NFL last year, going for over 2,100 yards from scrimmage while leading the league in rushing.
If wide receiver Jeremy Maclin can come back from knee problems of a year ago, he adds to the attack along with Foles and McCoy. Throw in versatile Darren Sproles in the backfield and that adds to the mix of potent offense.
In other words, this team is loaded on offense.
The defense needs to step up, especially the secondary, which did get 19 interceptions a year ago, but was also torched too many times for a league worst pass defense in 2013. If the Eagles can right that problem area and also get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they very well could be right there with Seattle, San Francisco and Green Bay as NFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl.
Another 10-6 looks to be in the future this season and that should be good enough for the Eagles to win the NFC East once again.
Whether or not they can get out of the first round of the playoffs this season will depend mainly on the defense and how much further progress Foles can make come playoff time.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. Jacksonville
Week 2- at Indianapolis
Week 3- vs. Washington
Week 4- at San Francisco
Week 5- vs. St. Louis
Week 6- vs. NY Giants
Week 7- BYE WEEK
Week 8- at Arizona
Week 9- at Houston
Week 10- vs. Carolina
Week 11- at Green Bay
Week 12- vs. Tennessee
Week 13- at Dallas
Week 14- vs. Seattle
Week 15- vs. Dallas
Week 16- at Washington
Week 17- at NY Giants

Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Tennessee Titans

TENNESSEE TITANS                                              


2013 Record: 7-9-0

Key Additions: RB-WR Dexter McCluster; OL Michael Oher; OL Eric Olsen; LB Shaun Phillips; QB Charlie Whitehurst; LB Wesley Woodyard.

Key Losses: RB Chris Johnson; WR Kenny Britt; QB Ryan Fitzpatrick; CB Alterraun Verner.

HEAD COACH: Ken Whisenhunt

Offense: Jake Locker is back as the starting quarterback after missing nine games last season with injuries. Locker was off to good start prior to being knocked out and passed for 1,256 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. His backup will likely be Charlie Whitehurst.
The running backs will have a new face leading the way this season as CJ2K (Chris Johnson) was not retained and left for the New York Jets this year. So it will likely be Shonn Greene (295 rush yards last year with a 3.8 ypc average and four touchdowns) taking over as the lead back. Dexter McCluster comes over from Kansas City and will fill a role in the backfield and he is very adept as a receiver, catching 53 passes for 511 yards and two scores last season. He can also return kicks. Bishop Sankey (rookie from Washington) will be on hand for the Titans as well.
The wide receivers are Nate Washington (58 receptions for 919 yards and two TD) and Kendall Wright, who snared 94 passes for 1,079 yards and two touchdowns. Also in the mix is Justin Hunter (18, 354, four TD with a 19.7 ypc), Marc Mariani and Michael Preston. The tight end is Delanie Walker (60, 571, six TD) and he is backed up by Craig Stevens.
The line has center Brian Schwenke, guards Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack and the tackles get a big addition with Michael Oher coming over from Baltimore, and he will line up with Michael Roos.

STATS - Tennessee's offense ranked 22nd overall in 2013, gaining 337 yards per game. The rushing attack was 14th, getting 118 yards per game and the passing game went for 219 yards per game, which was 21st in the NFL. The Titans scored just under 23 points per game (24th) and turned the ball over 25 times (16 INT and nine fumbles) while their quarterbacks got sacked 37 times.

Defense: With the 3-4 set on defense, the Titans line up with Jurrell Casey (10.5 QB sacks) and/or Sammie Hill at the nose tackle. The ends are Derrick Morgan (six sacks) and Al Woods. Morgan also lines up in the linebacker position as well. Meanwhile, Casey, Ropati Pitoitu and Mike Martin will rotate at defensive end as well.
The linebacking unit will also see a number of players who can rotate according to game situations as Shaun Phillips and Akeem Ayers look to be on the outside while the inside spots have Wesley Woodyard and Zach Brown. Other players getting time at linebacker are Moise Fokou, Colin McCarthy, Brandon Copeland, David Gooden and Patrick Bailey.
The defensive backfield lost cornerback Alterraun Verner, who was co-leader in the AFC with five interceptions, to free agency. In 2014, they will be with Jason McCourty and either Blidi Wreh-Wilson or Coty Sensebaugh at the corners while Bernard Pollard (three interceptions) and Michael Griffin play the safety spots.

STATS - Giving up 338 yards per game was good for 14th in the NFL in total defense for Tennessee. The Titans allowed just under 24 points per game (16th) while giving up 226 yards passing each week (11th) and finished 20th in the NFL by allowing 112 yards rushing per game. Tennessee sacked opposing quarterbacks 36 times and forced 25 turnovers, getting twelve fumble recoveries and 13 interceptions.

OUTLOOK: It's a new look for the Titans in more ways than one as new Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt takes over for the 2014 season. While he was in Arizona as the top coach, the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl following the 2008 season.
The offensive backfield gets an overhaul as Chris Johnson is no longer around and now Shonn Greene and a supporting cast (including rookie Bishop Sankey) will shoulder the load in the running game. Quarterback Jake Locker will look to bounce back from the injuries that kept him out for more than half of last season and has a vast array of targets to get the ball to.
The defense played decent enough to keep the Titans in games last year, evidenced by the six one-score losses they had. They have a solid front seven with all the players who can interchange up front and at linebacker.
The AFC South is an interesting division in that while the Indianapolis Colts appear to be the favorite to win the division once again, the Titans (along with Houston and Jacksonville) are on the come and could be right there should Indy stumble.
The Titans have been mediocre the past five seasons, finishing over .500 just once and haven't made the playoffs since the 2008 season. For that trend to change in 2014, they will need to win the division games to avoid the wild card chase.
While it's not out of the question a team can turn it around in one year, the Titans have had trouble doing just that as they always seem to be around .500 every season as the season winds into December. A good start would be the key for them to finish with a winning record and possibly getting back into the playoffs.
There are many questions surrounding them as the season nears and if they don't find the answers quickly, it could be another .500 or lower finish once again. A 7-9 season could be where Tennessee finishes again. But with some breaks here and there, making the playoffs isn't out of the question.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- at Kansas City
Week 2- vs. Dallas
Week 3- at Cincinnati
Week 4- at Indianapolis
Week 5- vs. Cleveland
Week 6- vs. Jacksonville
Week 7- at Washington
Week 8- vs. Houston
Week 9- BYE WEEK
Week 10- at Baltimore
Week 11- vs. Pittsburgh
Week 12- at Philadelphia
Week 13- at Houston
Week 14- vs. NY Giants
Week 15- vs. NY Jets
Week 16- at Jacksonville
Week 17- vs. Indianapolis

Saturday, August 23, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Houston Texans

HOUSTON TEXANS                                                


2013 Record: 2-14-0

Key Additions: RB Andre Brown; QB Ryan Fitzpatrick; S Chris Clemons; RB Ronnie Brown; S Kendrick Lewis; DL Jerrell Powe.

Key Losses: QB Matt Schaub; TE Owen Daniels; S Danieal Manning; CB Brice McCain; DL Earl Mitchell; RB Ben Tate; DL Antonio Smith.

HEAD COACH: Bill O' Brien

Offense: After several years of close calls and near misses in the post-season with former quarterback Matt Schaub, the Texans decided to go a different way and now have Ryan Fitzpatrick, a journeyman QB who played with Tennessee last season. Fitzpatrick passed for 2,454 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions after the Titans' starting QB went down with a season ending injury. Case Keenum (1,760 passing yards with nine TD and six INT in 2013) and Tom Savage (rookie from Pittsburgh) will battle it out for the backup role.
Arian Foster was injured last year and ran for just 542 yards with a 4.5 ypc average and one score in seven games. Gone is Ben Tate, who filled in admirably so now the Texans have former Giants' RB Andre Brown (492 yards with three TD last year) and Ronnie Brown, who played sparingly with San Diego last season, rushing for 157 yards and one touchdown, as the backups to Foster.
The wide receivers are led by the durable Andre Johnson, who's now in his 12th season after making 109 receptions last season for 1,407 yards and five touchdowns. DeAndre Hopkins (52, 802, two TD) and Keshawn Martin (22, 253, two TD), along with tight end Garrett Graham (49, 545, five TD) will be the main targets in the passing game.
The offensive line will see Chris Myers at center while either Xavier Su'a-Filo (rookie from UCLA) or Cody White will man a guard spot along with right guard Brandon Brooks. The tackles are Derek Newton and Duane Brown.

STATS - Houston averaged 347 yards in total offense a year ago (11th in NFL) while scoring an average of just under 25 points per game. The passing game was 15th overall, going for 238 yards per game while running game averaged 109 yards (20th). The Texans turned the ball over 31 times (22 picks and nine fumbles) for a league worst minus-20 in the turnover category. They also gave up 42 QB sacks last season.

Defense: Playing the 3-4 set, the Texans feature defensive ends J.J. Watt (10.5 QB sacks) and Tim Jamison at the ends while rookie Louis Nix (Notre Dame) is looking to be the nose tackle. Jerrell Powe is another option for Houston at the nose position.
The linebackers will have top NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) and Whitney Mercilus (seven sacks) on the outside with Brooks Reed and Brian Cushing playing the inside spots. Cushing has missed most of the last two seasons with knee injuries and is a big part of the Texans defense. Clowney is being counted on to be a force in his first year as a pro.
The secondary features corners Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph (three interceptions) and the safeties are D.J. Swearinger and either Kendrick Lewis or Chris Clemons.

STATS - Houston didn't give up a lot of yardage (318 yards per game) last season, ranking seventh overall on defense, but they did allow an average of just under 27 points per game, meaning too many big plays against them. The pass defense finished seventh in the league, allowing 195 yards per game while the run defense surrendered 123 yards per game (23rd). The Texans had just seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries and sacked opposing quarterbacks only 32 times last year.

OUTLOOK: The 2013 season was a nightmare for the Houston Texans, as they lost 14 consecutive games after winning the first two.
New Head Coach Bill O' Brien comes over from Penn State and will have a new quarterback running the show as journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick takes over this season. The Texans need a healthy Arian Foster at running back as well. When playing at one hundred percent, he has put up big numbers for the team in years past.
The defense will likely have two rookie starters in Clowney (at linebacker) and Nix up front at the nose tackle. Along with veterans J.J. Watt, whose sack numbers were way down from the year before, and Brian Cushing and Whitney Mercilus at linebacker, the Texans should be a solid defense as they were prior to last season, when they had just the 32 QB sacks and eleven takeaways.
The AFC South is looking like perhaps a one horse race again this season (Indianapolis Colts) but if the Texans can right the ship on offense and improve in the turnover category, they could very well be right back in the thick of the division race this season.
The schedule appears to be on the lighter side in the first four weeks, so if the team can get out of the gate quick and maintain some momentum, anything is possible in the NFL these days as evidenced by numerous one season turnarounds in recent years.
The Texans are not as bad as what they appeared to be last season, but with the changes on offense, they may not be as good as the teams they are chasing in their division either. Expect improvement, but probably not a playoff season this year as they get things headed back in the right direction with a 7-9 record or even a .500 finish. Considering what happened last year, that would be a big improvement.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. Washington
Week 2- at Oakland
Week 3- at NY Giants
Week 4- vs. Buffalo
Week 5- at Dallas
Week 6- vs. Indianapolis
Week 7- at Pittsburgh
Week 8- at Tennessee
Week 9- vs. Philadelphia
Week 10- BYE WEEK
Week 11- at Cleveland
Week 12- vs. Cincinnati
Week 13- vs. Tennessee
Week 14- at Jacksonville
Week 15- at Indianapolis
Week 16- vs. Baltimore
Week 17- vs. Jacksonville










Friday, August 22, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH STEELERS                                    


2013 Record: 8-8-0

Key Additions: RB LeGarrette Blount; WR Lance Moore; DL Cam Thomas; WR Darrius Heyward-Bey; LB Arthur Moats; S Mike Mitchell; CB Brice McCain.

Key Losses: WR Emmanuel Sanders; FS Ryan Clark; LB LaMarr Woodley; WR Jerricho Cotchery; DL Ziggy Hood; DL Al Woods.

HEAD COACH: Mike Tomlin

Offense: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the key to the offense, coming off a season in which he threw for 4,261 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Bruce Gradkowski appears to be the backup quarterback this season.
The running game may be in question following the arrests of both LeGarrette Blount and Le'Veon Bell for illegal possession of marijuana. As far as on the field, Blount came over to the Steelers from New England, where he rushed for 772 yards (5.0 ypc average) and scored seven touchdowns. Bell led Pittsburgh in rushing last year with 860 yards (3.5 ypc) and scored eight touchdowns while also catching 45 passes for 399 yards. Rookie Dri Archer (Kent State) may get a shot if either or both of the top runners gets suspended for any prolonged length of time this season.
The wide receivers are led by Antonio Brown, who stepped up big time last year, catching 110 passes for 1,499 yards (13.6 ypc average) and scored eight touchdowns.
Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey or Lance Moore (37, 457, two TD with New Orleans last season) are the other receivers looking to line up opposite Brown this year. Rookie Martavis Bryant (Clemson) is another option for the Steelers. Tight end Heath Miller (58, 593, one TD) is steady and will be a main target for Roethlisberger once again.
The line has center Maurkice Pouncey, guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro and the tackles will be Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert.

STATS - Pittsburgh's offense was lackluster a year ago, averaging 337 yards per game (20th in NFL) while the running game finished a disappointing 27th overall, gaining just 86 yards per game. The passing game averaged 251 yards, which ranked 12th overall. The Steelers averaged just over 22 points per game (21st) while turning it over 24 times. Roethlisberger was sacked 43 times last year.

Defense: Steve McLendon is the nose tackle along with ends Cameron Heyward (five QB sacks) and either Cam Thomas or rookie Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame) in the 3-4 defense. Veteran DE Brett Keisel is back for another season to add depth.
The linebackers are Jason Worilds (eight QB sacks) and either Jarvis Jones or Chris Carter on the outside along with either rookie Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) or Vince Williams playing the inside backer along with ILB Lawrence Timmons.
The secondary has safeties Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu (two interceptions) and cornerbacks Ike Taylor and either William Gay or Cortez Allen.

STATS - The defense was in the top ten last year, allowing 338 yards per game to finish ninth overall while giving up 23 points per game. The run defense was surprisingly vulnerable, finishing 21st in the NFL and allowing 116 yards per game. The pass defense was average at best, giving up 222 yards (9th overall) and the Steelers had just 34 QB sacks. The takeaways were down as well as Pittsburgh had just ten interceptions and ten fumble recoveries.

OUTLOOK: After missing the playoffs for the last two years, the Steelers are anxious to get back to it and Head Coach Mike Tomlin knows they can do better.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can't do it by himself and the team needs the rest of the offense (beside Big Ben and Antonio Brown) to step up in 2014 if they are to return to the post-season for the first time since 2011.
The defense has to play better as well, especially against the run, which has always been a strong point for this team in the recent run of success they have enjoyed in the past ten years, including two Super Bowl titles.
If the defense improves and the offense gets things going with the running game to ease the pressure on Big Ben and company in the passing game, the Steelers will be a team that could very well make a deep playoff run but if they don't, then expect another mediocre type season in Pittsburgh.
The call here is for a 9-7 finish for the Steelers in 2014 and a third straight season of missing the playoffs.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. Cleveland
Week 2- at Baltimore
Week 3- at Carolina
Week 4- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 5- at Jacksonville
Week 6- at Cleveland
Week 7- vs. Houston
Week 8- vs. Indianapolis
Week 9- vs. Baltimore
Week 10- at NY Jets
Week 11- at Tennessee
Week 12- BYE WEEK
Week 13- vs. New Orleans
Week 14- at Cincinnati
Week 15- at Atlanta
Week 16- vs. Kansas City
Week 17- vs. Cincinnati

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND BROWNS                                            


2013 Record: 4-12-0

Key Additions: LB Karlos Dansby; S Donte Whitner; RB Ben Tate; WR Nate Burleson; WR Andrew Hawkins; WR Miles Austin; OL Paul McQuistan; TE Jim Dray; DB Isaiah Trufant.

Key Losses: LB D'Qwell Jackson; S T.J. Ward; QB Jason Campbell; QB Brandon Weeden; OL Oneil Cousins.

HEAD COACH: Mike Pettine

Offense: The Browns will be going with Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback as training camp/pre-season winds down. Hoyer was 3-0 as a starter last year and passed for 615 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Heralded first round draft choice rookie Johnny Manziel (Texas A & M) will be the backup for now.
The running game features Ben Tate (771 yards, 4.3 ypc average and four TD with Houston last year) as the starter with either Dion Lewis or rookie Terrance West (Towson University) as the backup.
The wide receiving corps is hopeful to have Josh Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 receving yards in 2013 to go along with his 87 receptions (18.9 ypc average) and nine touchdowns. Gordon is facing a season-long suspension for multiple offenses regarding illegal substance abuse.
The Browns also have Miles Austin (24 receptions for 244 yards with Dallas), Andrew Hawkins (12 catches for 199 yards with Cincinnati), Nate Burleson (39, 461 and one TD with Detroit) and tight end Jordan Cameron, who hauled in 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns with the Browns last season.
The offensive line consists of tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz along with center Alex Mack while the guards are John Greco and either Paul McQuistan or rookie Joel Bitonio (Nevada).

STATS - The passing game was decent last year, averaging 253 yards per game (11th in NFL) while the running game lagged behind with an average of 86 yards per game, which was 27th overall. The Browns finished 17th in total offense, averaging 339 yards per game. They scored 19 points per game (27th) while giving up 49 QB sacks and turning the ball over 29 times.

Defense: Playing the 3-4 set, the Browns have Phil Taylor at nose tackle with Desmond Bryant and Ahtyba Rubin playing the ends. The linebackers are Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard (5.5 QB sacks to lead the team) on the outside with Karlos Dansby (6.5 sacks with Arizona) and either Christian Kirksey or Craig Robertson on the inside.
The secondary is solid with Joe Haden (four interceptions) at one corner spot and the team's top draft pick Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) at the other corner. The safeties are Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson, who tied for the AFC lead last year with five interceptions.

STATS - Cleveland finished ninth in total defense in 2013, giving up 332 yards per game, but they were 23rd overall in scoring defense, allowing over 25 points per game. The pass defense was good, ranking eighth overall (221 yards allowed) and the run defense finished 18th in the league, giving up 111 yards per game. The Browns registered 40 QB sacks and 21 takeaways, getting 14 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

OUTLOOK: The Browns started out decent last year, but then faded fast as they lost their final seven games that paved the way for new Head Coach Mike Pettine coming along for the 2014 season.
The offense has a lot of questions with top receiver Josh Gordon facing a season-long suspension this year. Brian Hoyer will be the starting QB and Ben Tate, who had some decent seasons in Houston, takes over as the number-one running back.
The defense lost some starters from last year to free agency, but the Browns added in some top name veterans to fill the gaps left in those spots. Karlos Dansby (linebacker), Donte Whitner (safety) and rookie Justin Gilbert (cornerback) will be counted on to help the defense remain a top flight unit once again in 2014.
Playing in the AFC North isn't easy and Cleveland has been the division door mat for many years. If they want to make a move toward the top, the offense must improve and the team needs to convert chances when they have them into points on the scoreboard. The Browns had four one-score losses last season, so they appear to be on the cusp of better things.
With so many question looming this season, a 5-11 record seems to be on the horizon as the Browns look to turn the corner and show improvement for the future.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- at Pittsburgh
Week 2- vs. New Orleans
Week 3- vs. Baltimore
Week 4- BYE WEEK
Week 5- at Tennessee
Week 6- vs. Pittsburgh
Week 7- at Jacksonville
Week 8- vs. Oakland
Week 9- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 10- at Cincinnati
Week 11- vs. Houston
Week 12- at Atlanta
Week 13- at Buffalo
Week 14- vs. Indianapolis
Week 15- vs. Cincinnati
Week 16- at Carolina
Week 17- at Baltimore

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Seattle Seahawks

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS                                      


2013 Record: 13-3-0

Key Additions: QB Terrelle Pryor; TE Travis Beckum; CB Phillip Adams; CB A.J. Jefferson; OL Stephen Schilling.

Key Losses: WR Golden Tate; DL Chris Clemons; CB Brandon Browner; CB Walter Thurmond; DL Red Bryant; DL Clinton McDonald; RB Michael Robinson; OL Breno Giacomini; OL Paul McQuistan.

HEAD COACH: Pete Carroll

Offense: Quarterback Russell Wilson followed up a strong rookie season with a Super Bowl title in his second season and will be back again in 2014 after passing for 3,357 yards with 26 touchdowns and only nine interceptions last year. Wilson also rushed for 539 yards (5.6 ypc average) and scored one touchdown. Backing him up will be either Tarvaris Jackson or Terrelle Pryor, who came over from the Oakland Raiders in a trade.
Marshawn Lynch powers the Seahawks running game, going for 1,257 yards last season with a 4.2 ypc average and 12 touchdowns. Robert Turbin (264 rushing yards) and Christine Michael will back up Lynch.
Seattle lost leading receiver Golden Tate to free agency following the Super Bowl victory, but they expect to have Percy Harvin for the entire season in 2014 after the six-year veteran missed nearly the entire season before returning in time to help make an impact in the team's title run.
Along with Harvin at wideout is Doug Baldwin (50 receptions, 778 yards with a 15.6 ypc average and five touchdowns), Jermaine Kearse (22, 346, four TD) and possibly two rookies in Paul Richardson (Colorado) and Kevin Norwood (Alabama). The tight end is Zach Miller, who made 33 receptions for 387 yards and five scores.
The line has center Max Unger, guards J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter and tackles Russell Okung and Michael Bowie.

STATS - The Seahawks used a balanced attack to gain 339 yards per game (18th in NFL) as they rushed for 137 yards per game (4th) and 202 passing yards, which was 26th overall. They averaged 26 points per game (8th) while WIlson was sacked 44 times. Seattle turned the ball over just 19 times last season.

Defense: Cliff Avril (eight QB sacks) and Michael Bennett (8.5 sacks) are the ends in the 4-3 scheme for the Seahawks. The tackles are Tony McDaniel and Brandon Mebane. Outside linebackers Bruce Irvin and Malcolm Smith team with middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (five sacks) to round out the front seven of last season's top defense in the NFL.
Others in the mix to play up front are linebackers K.J. Wright, Kevin Pierre-Louis (rookie from Boston College) and Korey Toomer. On the line, Jordan Hill, Jesse Williams, Gregg Scruggs and rookie Cassius Marsh (UCLA) add depth.
The most popular members of the Seattle defense is the "Legion of Boom" secondary featuring All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions last season. Along with Sherman is corner man Byron Maxwell, who picked off four passes. The safeties are Earl Thomas (five INT) and Kam Chancellor, who intercepted three passes. Also contributing in the secondary are Eric Pinkins, Jeron Johnson, Jeremy Lane and Phillip Adams.

STATS - The Seahawks led the league in defense, allowing only 274 yards per game last year. They gave up a paltry 102 yards on the ground, which ranked them seventh overall. The pass defense was outstanding, intercepting 28 passes (which contributed to a league best plus-20 in the turnover category) while allowing just 172 yards per game. The scoring defense was also stingy, allowing a league low 231 points (14.4 average) while getting 44 QB sacks, which was eighth in the league.

OUTLOOK: After steam rolling over the mighty Denver Broncos, 43-8 in the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks know they have a huge target on their backs this season as the defending champions.
They are not fazed and it shows in the swagger they possess on the playing field, particularly on defense, and especially in the secondary. This defense is loaded and should be as good as ever in the 2014 season, despite losing some starters from last year to free agency.
Head Coach Pete Carroll is well revered by his players and the chemistry is all good, especially after running back Marshawn Lynch ended his brief holdout during training camp and is gearing up to get back in "Beast Mode."
Lynch and QB Russell Wilson lead the offense and having Percy Harvin around for the entire season only adds to the weapons the Seahawks have. Barring injuries to any key players, Seattle should be just as good, if not better, on offense this year.
Repeating as Super Bowl champions is always tough and the Seahawks face stiff competition in the NFC West with San Francisco, Arizona and St. Louis all looking to take them down. The schedule is loaded as well, especially in the first three weeks.
Look for a 12-4 season, which should be enough to re-claim the division title again. How far this team goes in the post-season in 2014 will depend on the offense, in particular Wilson, and of course, the "Legion of Boom" defense continuing their winning ways.
It could be another Super Bowl title season in the Great Northwest ... stay tuned.



2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. Green Bay
Week 2- at San Diego
Week 3- vs. Denver
Week 4- BYE WEEK
Week 5- at Washington
Week 6- vs. Dallas
Week 7- at St. Louis
Week 8- at Carolina
Week 9- vs. Oakland
Week 10- vs. NY Giants
Week 11- at Kansas City
Week 12- vs. Arizona
Week 13- at San Francisco
Week 14- at Philadelphia
Week 15- vs. San Francisco
Week 16- at Arizona
Week 17- vs. St. Louis





Monday, August 18, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - St. Louis Rams

ST. LOUIS RAMS                                                      


2013 Record: 7-9-0

Key Additions: WR Kenny Britt; QB Shaun Hill; DL Alex Carrington.

Key Losses: QB Kellen Clemens; OL Shelley Smith; OL Harvey Dahl; CB Cortland Finnegan; S Darian Stewart; OL Chris Williams.

HEAD COACH: Jeff Fisher

Offense: Keeping quarterback Sam Bradford in one piece will be a priority for the Rams this season after he went down with a knee injury. Bradford played in only seven games but did pass for 1,687 yards with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He should be ready to go for the season opener and will be backed up by Shaun Hill.
Zac Stacy (973 yards, 3.9 ypc average and seven TD) leads the way in the backfield for the running game. Benny Cunningham (261, 5.6, one TD) and rookie Tre Mason (Auburn) figure to get some playing time this year.
The receivers include Tavon Austin (40 receptions, 418 yards, four TD), Austin Pettis (38, 399, four TD), Chris Givens (34 catches for 569 yards), Stedman Bailey (17, 226) and Brian Quick, who made 18 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Kenny Britt comes over from Tennessee after an injury plagued season that limited him to just eleven receptions.
Tight end Jared Cook was the Rams' leading receiver in 2013, catching 51 passes for 671 yards and five touchdowns. Lance Kendricks is the other tight end and caught 32 passes for 258 yards and four scores.
The offensive line has center Scott Wells, tackles Joe Barksdale and Jake Long and guards Roger Saffold and rookie Greg Robinson (Auburn). Mike Person, Brandon Washington, Tim Barnes and Barrett Jones will be ready to go when needed.

STATS - St. Louis ranked 30th in the NFL on offense last season, gaining 305 yards per game while scoring just under 22 points per game. The passing game averaged 195 yards (27th) and the running game 110 yards (19th) each week. The Rams committed 21 turnovers and their quarterbacks were sacked 36 times.

Defense: A solid front seven buoys this defense, led by ends Robert Quinn (NFC leading 19 QB sacks last year) and Chris Long, who had 8.5 sacks. The tackles are Michael Brockers and either Kendall Langford (five sacks) or rookie Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh). William Hayes (five sacks), Eugene Sims and Alex Carrington provide depth.
The linebackers are James Laurinaitis in the middle and Alec Ogletree and Jo-Lonn Dunbar on the outside. Tavarius Wilson, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Philip Steward will back up.
The secondary has Trumaine Johnson (three interceptions) and Janoris Jenkins at the cornerback spots while T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod are the safeties.

STATS - The Rams played solid run defense (103 yards allowed per game) and ranked ninth in that area. The pas defense was 19th overall, giving up 242 yards per game. Overall, the Rams defense was 15th in the NFL, giving up an average of 345 yards per game. St. Louis allowed just under 23 points per game last year. They showed they can get turnovers, which totaled 29 last season (14 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries) while sacking the quarterback 53 times, the third highest total in the league.

OUTLOOK: Following a roller coaster season, Head Coach Jeff Fisher would like to see more consistency from the Rams in 2014.
For that to happen, they need to have a healthy Sam Bradford playing quarterback. The running game seems to be in decent shape and there are multiple receivers to spread the football around to.
The defense stops the run well and is fast in getting after opposing quarterbacks, evidenced by the 53 sacks last year. As long as they keep getting play like that, they should be solid again. The secondary need to show improvement after allowing too many big plays and getting just 14 interceptions.
The NFC West is one of the better divisions in pro football, so the Rams have their work cut out if they want to contend and challenge for a playoff spot this year.
An 8-8 season is not out of the question this year and who knows, if Bradford stays healthy all season and the offense continues to improve, there's no reason to think this team can't make a run for the playoffs.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. Minnesota
Week 2- at Tampa Bay
Week 3- vs. Dallas
Week 4- BYE WEEK
Week 5- at Philadelphia
Week 6- vs. San Francisco
Week 7- vs. Seattle
Week 8- at Kansas City
Week 9- at San Francisco
Week 10- at Arizona
Week 11- vs. Denver
Week 12- at San Diego
Week 13- vs. Oakland
Week 14- at Washington
Week 15- vs. Arizona
Week 16- vs. NY Giants
Week 17- at Seattle

Sunday, August 17, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS                                      
                          

2013 Record: 4-12-0

Key Additions: QB Josh McCown; OL Anthony Collins; OL Evan Dietrich-Smith; DL Michael Johnson; DL Clint McDonald; TE Brandon Myers; CB Alterraun Verner.

Key Losses: CB Darrelle Revis; RB Brian Leonard; OL Davin Joseph; OL Jeremy Zuttah; OL Donald Penn.

HEAD COACH: Lovie Smith

Offense: Quarterback Mike Glennon (2,608 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions) filled in admirably for the Buccaneers last year when the wheels came off the offense and former (starter) Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman was sent packing. This year the Bucs have Josh McCown (1,829 yards with a 67 percent completion rate and 13 TD with just one INT with Chicago) vying for the starting spot. Both of these quarterbacks have been backups but will get their chance to become the starter in 2014.
The running game has Doug Martin, who was sensational as a rookie in 2012 but was injured for most of last year and was limited to only six games, as he finished with 456 rushing yards (3.6 ypc average) and just one score. Mike James played sparingly (due to injuries as well) and ran for 295 yards and a 4.9 ypc average. The third runner for the Bucs could be either Bobby Rainey (532 yards, 3.9, five TD) or rookie Charles Sims (West Virginia).
Vincent Jackson is the top wide receiver, making 78 receptions for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago. Along with Jackson is Mike Evans (rookie from Texas A & M) as well as Tommy Streeter, Chris Owusu and Louis Murphy. The tight ends are Timothy Wright (54 receptions, 571 yards and five TD) along with Brandon Myers and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington).
The line consists of center Evan Dietrich-Smith, guards Patrick Omameh and Carl Nicks and tackles Demar Dotson and Anthony Collins.

STATS - The Buccaneers had the worst offense in pro football last season, averaging just 277 yards per game. The rushing attack went for 101 yards per game (22nd) while the passing game averaged only 176 yards each game, which was dead last in the NFL. Not surprisingly, the Bucs averaged just 18 points per game, which ranked 30th overall. Opponents sacked Tampa Bay quarterbacks 47 times last year. The Bucs turned it over only 21 times with 12 interceptions and nine fumbles.

Defense: Gerald McCoy (9.5 QB sacks) and Akeem Spence play the tackles while the ends are Adrian Clayborn (5,5 sacks) and Michael Johnson in the 4-3 set. In reserve are Clinton McDonald, Da'Quan Bowers and William Gholston.
The linebackers are Mason Foster (three interceptions) in the middle while Lavonte David (six sacks and five interceptions) and Danny Lansanah man the outside spots. Dane Fletcher, Jonathan Casillas and Ka'Lial Glaud provide the depth at linebacker.
In the secondary, Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron play the safety positions along with corners Jonathan Banks (three picks) and Alterraun Verner. Adding some depth in this area are Major Wright, Keith Tandy (three INT), Mike Jenkins and Leonard Johnson.

STATS - Tampa Bay finished in the middle of the pack defensively a year ago, allowing 348 yards per game (17th) which included 238 passing yards (17th) and 110 rushing yards, which was 15th overall. Scoring defense was weaker as the Bucs gave up 24 points per game, which put them 21st in the NFL. The team did do well in the turnover category, getting 21 interceptions and ten fumble recoveries for a plus-10 on the turnover charts. Tampa Bay sacked opposing passers 35 times last season.

OUTLOOK: Playing in the NFC South, the Buccaneers finished last and need a shot in the arm and so they brought in some new personnel on defense as well as a new QB in Josh McCown to try and ignite a spark for the team.
New Head Coach Lovie Smith had some past success in Chicago and now would like to see his new team get off to a good start and compete with New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta for the division title.
The offense must produce more and the running game definitely needs to improve as well as the anemic passing attack the Bucs showed last year. Less than 200 yards per game passing does not cut it in today's NFL.
The defense was decent last year and proved to be opportunistic with the turnovers, but the team needs to convert the turnovers into points on the scoreboard. McCown showed he can be a leader as he played very well in Chicago when Jay Cutler was out with injuries last year. The Bucs will need some of that from McCown and the offense this year if they want to improve.
The fact is the NFC is loaded and this team seems to be in transition with a new coaching staff and many questions needing to be answered once the 2014 season starts. Figure the Buccaneers to improve slightly and go 5-11 this season as they look to better days in the future.

TEAM SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. Carolina
Week 2- vs. St. Louis
Week 3- at Atlanta
Week 4- at Pittsburgh
Week 5- at New Orleans
Week 6- vs. Baltimore
Week 7- BYE WEEK
Week 8- vs. Minnesota
Week 9- at Cleveland
Week 10- vs. Atlanta
Week 11- at Washington
Week 12- at Chicago
Week 13- vs. Cincinnati
Week 14- at Detroit
Week 15- at Carolina
Week 16- vs. Green Bay
Week 17- vs. New Orleans





Saturday, August 16, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - New Orleans Saints

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS                                           



2013 Record: 11-5-0

Key Additions: S Jairus Byrd; CB Champ Bailey; RB Erik Lorig.

Key Losses: RB Darren Sproles; DL Will Smith; LB Jonathan Vilma; OL Brian de la Puente; S Roman Harper; S Malcolm Jenkins; CB Jabari Greer; OL Charles Brown.

HEAD COACH: Sean Payton

Offense: What more can you say about Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees? The 14-year veteran just seems to get better with age as he has thrown for over 5,000 yards for the last three seasons, including last year when he had 5,162 passing yards with 39 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions.
As long as Brees stays healthy, New Orleans will have one of the top passing attacks in the NFL. He is backed up by Luke McCown.
The receivers for this team are led by All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham, who made 86 receptions for 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. The wideouts include Marques Colston (75 receptions, 943 yards and five TD), Kenny Stills (32, 641 for 20.0 ypc and five TD), Robert Meacham (16, 324, two TD) and rookie Brandin Cooks, a burner from Oregon State who will provide the team with another deep threat for Brees to throw to.
The running game is sufficient for the team's offensive game plan and has versatility with the likes of Pierre Thomas (549 rushing yards, 3.7 ypc average and two TD), Mark Ingram (386, 4.9 ypc and one TD) and Khiry Robinson, who gained 224 yards with a rushing touchdown in limited action last year.
The O-Line has center Tim Lelito, guards Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans and tackles Terron Armstead and Zach Strief.

STATS - The Saints can produce big numbers with the passing game a they finished second in the NFL last year, averaging 307 yards per game. They scored an average of 26 points per game while the running attack lagged behind with 92 yards per game, which was 25th overall. Brees was sacked 37 times and the Saints turned the ball over 19 times with 12 picks and seven fumbles lost.

Defense: Up front in the 3-4 defense is nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley along with ends Akiem Hicks and Cameron Jordan, who was the team co-leader in 2013 with 12 QB sacks. The linebackers have Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne inside while Junior Galette (12 sacks) and either Victor Butler or Parys Haralson man the outside spots.
Jairus Byrd, who had four interceptions with Buffalo last season, will be the free safety while Kenny Vaccaro will be the strong safety. The corner men are Keenan Lewis (four picks) and 16-year veteran Champ Bailey. Vaccaro can also double as a cornerback as well as play safety. Marcus Ball and Rafael Bush are other options at safety while Patrick Robinson, Corey White and rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska) provide adequate depth at the corner spots.

STATS - The Saints finished fourth overall in total defense a year after allowing the most yardage in NFL history, so not a bad turnaround as they gave up 306 yards per game last season. The run defense allowed 112 yards (19th) while pass defense was outstanding, giving up just 194 yards per game, which ranked second in the league behind Seattle. New Orleans was also stingy when it came to giving up points as they allowed just 19 per game, which was fourth overall. They also sacked opposing quarterbacks 49 times while getting 19 takeaways, including twelve interceptions.

OUTLOOK: With QB Drew Brees teamed with Head Coach Sean Payton, the Saints will again be a team to be reckoned with each week on offense.
Brees has a vast array of wide receivers to pass the ball to and the steady flow of running backs should show improvement as long as they all can stay healthy this season. Ingram and Robinson missed time last year with different injuries. Thomas has been around the block, but he has shown he can do the job on a regular basis. Tight End Jimmy Graham is a beast and is arguably the best TE in the NFL today.
The defense showed great improvement in 2013 playing under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who got the most out of his troops last season. Repeating the feat will be a challenge because the game of pro football is all about adjustments and opposing teams will not be taking the Saints defense lightly this year.
The NFC South is a battle ground and the Saints know they must win within the division to take back the crown they held in years past. Carolina and Atlanta have won the division the last two seasons and for New Orleans to get back on top, they have to squeeze just a little more out of this team in the 2014 season.
It should be another exciting football season down in the "Big Easy" and there is no reason to doubt the Saints will likely finish with an 11-5 record and get back into the playoffs once again. How far they  advance will depend on the defense and the running game helping out Brees and company come January.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- at Atlanta
Week 2- at Cleveland
Week 3- vs. Minnesota
Week 4- at Dallas
Week 5- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 6- BYE WEEK
Week 7- at Detroit
Week 8- vs. Green Bay
Week 9- at Carolina
Week 10- vs. San Francisco
Week 11- vs. Cincinnati
Week 12- vs. Baltimore
Week 13- at Pittsburgh
Week 14- vs. Carolina
Week 15- at Chicago
Week 16- vs. Atlanta
Week 17- at Tampa Bay

Friday, August 15, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Carolina Panthers

CAROLINA PANTHERS                                      


2013 Record: 12-4-0

Key Additions: WR Jericho Cotchery; S Thomas DeCoud; S Roman Harper; WR Jason Avant; CB Antoine Cason.

Key Losses: WR Steve Smith; WR Ted Ginn, Jr.; CB Captain Munnerlyn; WR Brandon LaFell; OL Jordan Gross; OL Geoff Hangartner; S Mike Mitchell.

HEAD COACH: Ron Rivera

Offense: Quarterback Cam Newton is the oil the makes the machine go for the Carolina Panthers' offense and he is coming off a good season in which he passed for 3,379 yards with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions while also rushing for 585 yards (5.3 ypc average) with six touchdowns. The backup QB is Derek Anderson.
DeAngelo Williams (816 yards with 4.2 ypc and three TD) is the featured back and has Jonathan Stewart, who played in only six games last year, and Mike Tolbert (361 yards and with five TD) as his sidekicks in the backfield.
The receiving corps is undergoing an overhaul this season as Steve Smith was not re-signed and left for Baltimore in the off-season.
Jerricho Cotchery (46 receptions for 602 yards and 10 TD) comes over from Pittsburgh and will likely start along with rookie Kelvin Benjamin (Florida State) or possibly Jason Avant (38, 447, two TD). Tiquan Underwood is also on hand for depth. The tight end is Greg Olsen, who led the Panthers with 73 receptions for 816 yards and six touchdowns. Ed Dickson (25, 273, one TD with Baltimore) is on hand this season to spell Olsen at tight end.
The line will be anchored by center Ryan Kalil. The guards are Chris Scott and Amini Silatolu and the tackles are Byron Bell and either Garry Williams or Nate Chandler.

STATS - Carolina ran the ball well last year, gaining 127 yards per game (11th in NFL) while passing for 190 yards (29th) for a rather dismal 26th overall rank in total offense as they averaged 317 yards per game. The line allowed 43 QB sacks and the Panthers turned the ball over just 19 times (13 INT and six fumbles) while averaging 23 points per game.

Defense: Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy (Ends), Dwan Edwards and Star Lotulelei (Tackles) comprise the front four of a ferocious defense that terrorized opposing quarterbacks last season.
Hardy compiled 15 QB sacks while Johnson had eleven while playing up front. Rookie Kony Ealy (Missouri), Kawann Short, Colin Cole and Mario Addison are ready to go when called upon.
The linebacking unit has Luke Kuechly (four interceptions) in the middle with Thomas Davis and Chase Blackburn on the outside positions.  Jason Williams, A.J. Klein and D.J. Smith give the team depth in this area.
The secondary has Thomas DeCoud coming over from Atlanta this year to play safety and he will be joined by either Roman Harper or Robert Lester, who had three picks last year. The cornerbacks are Melvin White and Antoine Cason.

STATS - Carolina was the number two overall defense in the NFL in 2013, allowing 301 yards per game while also finishing second overall in scoring defense, allowing just 15 points per game. They amassed an astounding 60 QB sacks to lead the league in that category. The run defense was solid, giving up only 87 yards per game (2nd in NFL) and the pass defense was just as good, finishing sixth overall by allowing 214 yards per game. The Panthers intercepted 20 passes and finished with a plus-11 in the turnover category.

OUTLOOK: With the changes made on the offensive side of the ball, especially with the wide receivers, the Panthers will be under the microscope early on in the new season, but with a quarterback like Cam Newton, who can hurt opposing defenses with both his arm and his legs, the Panthers should be fine.
Head Coach Ron Rivera gets a break this year and will not be on the proverbial "hot seat" going into the 2014 season after the team's first playoff appearance in five years.
The defense is outstanding and rivals that of Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC, which gives the Panthers a chance every week they suit up. The front seven are outstanding and led by Luke Kuechly, the linebacking is among the best in the game.
As long as Newton remains healthy and the running game keeps things moving along, the offense should provide enough to not put any unnecessary pressure on the defense. This team could very well win the NFC South again this season, but they have to control the division games, which they did last year by going 5-1 against division foes.
Repeating in the NFC South is always tough and this year should be no different as the Panthers will not be sneaking up on their opponents like they did last year after a slow start. A 9-7 finish is the likely outcome this season, which could be good enough for a wild card spot in the playoffs. But more likely, Carolina will miss the post-season this time around as a much tougher schedule looms large.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- at Tampa Bay
Week 2- vs. Detroit
Week 3- vs. Pittsburgh
Week 4- at Baltimore
Week 5- vs. Chicago
Week 6- at Cincinnati
Week 7- at Green Bay
Week 8- vs. Seattle
Week 9- vs. New Orleans
Week 10- at Philadelphia
Week 11- vs. Atlanta
Week 12- BYE WEEK
Week 13- at Minnesota
Week 14- at New Orleans
Week 15- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 16- vs. Cleveland
Week 17- at Atlanta

Thursday, August 14, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA FALCONS                                          


2013 Record: 4-12-0

Key Additions: CB Javier Arenas; DL Tyson Jackson; WR-KR Devin Hester; OL Jon Asamoah; DL Paul Solaia.

Key Losses: TE Tony Gonzalez; CB Asante Samuel; S Thomas DeCoud; OL Jeremy Trueblood; LB Stephen Nicholas; OL Sean Locklear; OL Garrett Reynolds.

HEAD COACH: Mike Smith

Offense: Quarterback Matt Ryan is the key to the Falcons offense after passing for 4,515 yards with 26 touchdowns and 17 interceptions last year. The seventh year QB had an "off" season by his standards but the running game also lacked as Steven Jackson ran for only 543 yards with a paltry 3.5 ypc average and scored only six touchdowns. Jacquizz Rodgers backs up and had 332 yards (3.5 ypc) with two scores.
The wide receiving corps has Roddy White (63 receptions for 711 yard and three TD) along with Julio Jones, who had 41 receptions for 580 yards and two touchdowns in only five games played last season. Tight end Tony Gonzalez retired so that leaves Levine Toilolo and Bear Pascoe as the potential starters in 2014. Other wideouts looking to contribute to the offense will be Harry Douglas, who led the injury depleted wide receivers last season with 85 catches, good  for 1,067 yards and two touchdowns. Drew Davis (12, 216, two TD) and possibly Devin Hester (who is also a top notch kick returner coming over this season from Chicago) will be on hand as well.
The offensive line has center Joe Hawley, guards Jon Asamoah and Justin Blalock and tackles Sam Baker and rookie Jake Matthews (Texas A & M), whom the team drafted sixth overall in the NFL Draft. Backups include Gabe Carimi, Ryan Schraeder, Peter Konz, Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes.

STATS - Atlanta ranked 14th last season in the NFL, averaging 343 yards per game. The passing game gained 265 yards (7th in NFL) but the running game ran for a league worst 78 yards per game. The Falcons turned the football over 28 times with 17 picks and 11 fumbles while their quarterbacks were sacked 44 times last year. In addition, the Falcons finished 22nd overall in scoring, averaging 22 points per game.

Defense: The 4-3 set for the Falcons will see Tyson Jackson and Jonathan Massaquoi (four QB sacks) playing the end positions with Paul Soliai and Jonathan Babineaux at the tackle spots. Top rookie draft pick Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota) will get a long look in the pre-season as he attempts to crack the starting line.
The team also employs the 3-4 set and when they do this, they have outside linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and either Kroy Bierman or rookie Prince Shembo (Notre Dame) along with inside backers Paul Worrilow and Akeem Dent. Osi Umenyiora (7.5 sacks) can play linebacker or defensive end and he was the team leader in sacks last season.
The secondary will go with William Moore (three interceptions) and Dwight Lowery at the safety positions while Desmond Trufant and either Robert Alford (two picks), Javier Arenas or Josh Wilson will be at the cornerback spots.

STATS -  Atlanta was weak against the run (31st overall) as they allowed 136 yards per game a year ago. The pas defense finished 21st by allowing 243 yards each game. Overall, the Falcons finished 27th in total defense, giving up 379 yards per game. They also finished 27th in the NFL in scoring D a they gave up just under 28 points per game last year. Turnovers were low as Atlanta intercepted just ten passes all season and sacked opposing quarterbacks 32 times.

OUTLOOK: Was last year just a hiccup in the recent run of success for the Atlanta Falcoins or do they have some serious issues as the 2014 NFL season approaches?
Head Coach Mike Smith wants answers and fast as the team needs to rebound on both ends of the ball.
Matt Ryan is the unquestioned leader of the offense and he needs a full fleet of healthy wide receivers this season. The running game would get a huge boost if Steven Jackson comes back from the nagging injuries that limited him to his lowest production as a pro player. You don't replace a future Hall-of-Famer like TE Tony Gonzalez, but the Falcons would like to see production from that spot as well this year.
The defense needs to get back to their ball hawking ways that produced so many turnovers two years ago when the team narrowly missed going to the Super Bowl. Better pressure on opposing team quarterbacks would be welcome this season to help the secondary out.
The Falcons did lose twelve games last season, but seven of those were one score games, meaning a break here and there would make a difference in the overall record this time around. The players have to make that happen and if they do, this team could be back in business (AND the post-season as well) in 2014.
Look for a slight bounce back this season as Carolina and New Orleans loom large in the NFC South along with an improving Tampa Bay squad as well. The Falcons should finish 8-8 this year, but could be better if the offense avoids the injury bug, the defense plays more consistent and Ryan returns to his old form from the playoff seasons. That could be asking too much, but it's a new season and Atlanta would prefer to forget last season.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. New Orleans
Week 2- at Cincinnati
Week 3- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 4- at Minnesota
Week 5- at NY Giants
Week 6- vs. Chicago
Week 7- at Baltimore
Week 8- vs. Detroit (London, England)
Week 9- BYE WEEK
Week 10- at Tampa Bay
Week 11- at Carolina
Week 12- vs. Cleveland
Week 13- vs. Arizona
Week 14- at Green Bay
Week 15- vs. Pittsburgh
Week 16- at New Orleans
Week 17- vs. Carolina

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Minnesota Vikings

MINNESOTA VIKINGS                                      



2013 Record: 5-10-1

Key Additions: DL Linval Joseph; OL Vladimir Ducasse; S Kurt Coleman; CB Captain Munnerlyn; DL Corey Wootton.

Key Losses: DL Jared Allen; DL Kevin Williams; RB Toby Gerhart; CB Chris Cook; QB Josh Freeman; QB Joe Webb; DL Letroy Gulon.

HEAD COACH: Mike Zimmer

Offense: Who will be the starting quarterback in Minnesota for the 2014 season?
That's the burning question as Matt Cassel (1,807 passing yards with 11 TD and nine INT), Christian Ponder (1,648 yards, seven TD and nine INT) and rookie Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville) go at it in pre-season to determine the starter for the season.
There's no doubt as to rules the roost for the Vikings' running game ... that would be Adrian Peterson, who did not top 2,000 yards rushing for a second straight year, but did manage to go for 1,266 yards (4.5 ypc average) and scored ten touchdowns while playing very little in the final four games last season.
The wide receivers are Greg Jennings (68 receptions, 804 yards and four TD) and Cordarelle Patterson (45, 469, four TD) with Jerome Simpson (48, 726, one TD) and Jarius Wright (26, 434, three TD) ready to contribute. The tight end is Kyle Rudolph, who had 30 receptions for 313 yards with three touchdowns.
The offensive line has John Sullivan at center while Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco are the guards. The tackles are Phil Loadholt and Matt Kalil.

STATS - The Viking running game is solid with Peterson carrying the ball as they averaged 130 yards per game in 2013 (8th in NFL) but the passing game lagged behind at 23rd overall, averaging just 214 yards per game. Minnesota averaged 344 yards a game, which was 13th in the NFL and scored an average of just over 24 points per game, which was good for 14th overall. Vikings' quarterbacks were sacked 44 times last year and the team turned the football over 32 times with 19 interceptions and 13 lost fumbles.

Defense: Pass rush mad man Jared Allen is gone (via free agency to Chicago) this season after leading the team in quarterback sacks yet again, so the team will have Everson Griffen (5.5 QB  sacks) and Brian Robison (nine sacks) at the ends this season in the 4-3 set. The tackles are Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd.
The linebacking unit will have Jasper Brinkley in the middle along with outside linebackers Anthony Barr (rookie from UCLA) and Chad Greenway, who led the team with three interceptions last season. The secondary has safeties Jamarca Sanford and Harrison Smith while the corners will be Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn, who made two interceptions with Carolina last year.

STATS - Minnesota was decent against the run last season (110 yards allowed per game for 16th overall) but the pass defense was weak, finishing 31st overall while being torched to the tune of 287 yards per game. The Vikings ranked 31st overall in total defense as well, yielding 397 yards per game. They allowed a league worst 478 points in the 2013 season while only getting twelve interceptions. Minnesota collected 41 QB sacks.

OUTLOOK: With a new Head Coach in Mike Zimmer, the team seems to be in transition this year with a quarterback battle going on during training camp and pre-season while the defense looks to re-discover some of the lost magic it displayed during the playoff season of just two years ago.
Adrian Peterson is the man on offense and the Vikings build the game plan for him and the offense centers around him. If he is fully healthy this season and gets it going, it will do wonders for the passing game, which struggled last year with three different quarterbacks playing for the team.
The Vikings must find a replacement for Allen to utilize the pass rush on defense while limiting the big plays opposing teams were able to get against the pass defense as the secondary was scorched too often.
That's a lot to ask for at this time in a strong division that features teams like Green Bay and Chicago with strong passing attacks to go with solid running games on offense. Therefore, expect Minnesota to probably finish last again in the NFC North with a 5-11 record as they look to get back in the groove while building for the future.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- at St. Louis
Week 2- vs. New England
Week 3- at New Orleans
Week 4- vs. Atlanta
Week 5- at Green Bay
Week 6- vs. Detroit
Week 7- at Buffalo
Week 8- at Tampa Bay
Week 9- vs. Washington
Week 10- BYE WEEK
Week 11- at Chicago
Week 12- vs. Green Bay
Week 13- vs. Carolina
Week 14- vs. NY Jets
Week 15- at Detroit
Week 16- at Miami
Week 17- vs. Chicago

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

2014 NFL PREVIEW - Chicago Bears

CHICAGO BEARS                                                  


2013 Record: 8-8-0

Key Additions: DL Jared Allen; DL Lamarr Houston; DL Willie Young; OL Brian de la Puente; S Adrian Wilson; S  M.D. Jennings; S Ryan Mundy.

Key Losses: KR Devin Hester; DL Henry Melton; QB Josh McCown; DL Julius Peppers; S Major Wright; DL Corey Wootton.

HEAD COACH: Marc Trestman

Offense: It will be Jay Cutler at quarterback once again after he passed for 2,621 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while missing five games last year. Jordan Palmer or Jimmy Claussen will back up.
Matt Forte is the top running back after going for 1,339 yards (4.6 ypc average) with nine touchdowns while also catching 74 passes for 594 yards and three more scores. Ka'Deem Carey (rookie from  Arizona) and Michael Ford will be on hand to provide depth.
The wide receiving duo of Brandon Marshall (100 receptions for 1,295 yards and 12 TD) and Alshon Jeffery (89, 1,421 yards and seven TD) is among the best, if not the best in pro football. Tight end has depth this season as well as Martellus Bennett returns after making 65 receptions for 759 yards and five touchdowns. Veteran Zach Miller is also ready to play this season as is Dante Rosario. Josh Morgan is in camp this year looking to make an impact as well as Josh Bellamy and Eric Weems, who can also return kicks. Marquess Wilson was injured in training camp and there is no telling if he will be available this season. The Bears also signed veteran Santonio Holmes (23, 456, 19.8 ypc, one TD) during training camp to fill the void.
The offensive line has Roberto Garza at center along with tackles Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills. The guards are Kyle Long and Matt Slauson.

STATS - The Bears ranked eighth in the NFL last year, averaging 382 yards per game. The passing game went for 268 yards a game (5th) while the rushing attack averaged 114 yards, which was 16th overall. Scoring wise, the Bears averaged 28 points per game, which was second overall. The quarterbacks were sacked only 30 times, which was a huge improvement from seasons past. Chicago committed 23 turnovers last year.

Defense: The line has gone through a major overhaul and will have five players, including newcomers Jared Allen (11.5 QB sacks with Minnesota last year), Willie Young and LaMarr Houston, who had six sacks with Oakland, playing the end position. Stephen Paea and Jeremiah Ratliff are the tackles.
The linebackers include middle man D.J. Williams and outside backers Shea McClellin (four sacks) and twelve-year veteran Lance Briggs. Jonathan Bostic, Jordan Senn and Khaseem Greene will provide relief.
The secondary has veteran Charles 'Peanut' Tillman returning for his twelfth season after missing several games with injuries in 2013. Tillman, who had three interceptions, will play cornerback along with Tim Jennings (four picks) while Chris Conte (three INT) and Ryan Mundy will play safety. Backing up in the defensive backfield are M.D. Jennings, Brock Vereen, top rookie pick Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Kelvin Hayden (injured last year), veteran free agent Adrian Wilson and Craig Steltz.

STATS - The defense, especially against the run, was terrible last year and that is unacceptable for a team that usually ranks highly in this area. The Bears allowed an astounding 161 yards rushing per game last season, which was last in the NFL. The pass defense was 15th overall, giving up 233 yards. Overall, Chicago placed 30th in the NFL, allowing 394 yards per game. The Bears gave up 30 points a game, which was tied for worst in the NFL along with Minnesota and Washington. The team did get 19 interceptions, including two for touchdowns. The Bears amassed 31 quarterback sacks last year.

OUTLOOK: Keeping QB Jay Cutler healthy is the key for the Bears this season, because there are major question marks surrounding the backups this season. Cutler has been injured and missed time in four of the five seasons he's been with the team.
The offense should be solid once again and score points on a regular basis with the top flight wide receivers they have as well as a top notch running game with Matt Forte leading the way.
Head Coach Marc Trestman knows this team can reach the playoffs and anything short of that goal will be a disappointment.
The defense must improve, especially against the run if the team wants to achieve any measure of success in the 2014 season. There were wholesale changes made in the off-season to shore up the defensive front, including bringing in veteran defensive ends Jared Allen (Minesota), LaMarr Houston (Oakland) and Willie Young (Detroit) to help improve the pass rush while looking to shut down opposing running attacks.
As long as they remain somewhat healthy and the defense shows improvement, the Bears should contend against Green Bay in the NFC North division. A wild card spot should happen along with a 10-6 record this season. How the team does in the post-season (should they make it) will ride on Jay Cutler and the play of the defense.

2014 SCHEDULE:
Week 1- vs. Buffalo
Week 2- at San Francisco
Week 3- at NY Jets
Week 4- vs. Green Bay
Week 5- at Carolina
Week 6- at Atlanta
Week 7- vs. Miami
Week 8- at New England
Week 9- BYE WEEK
Week 10- at Green Bay
Week 11- vs. Minnesota
Week 12- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 13- at Detroit
Week 14- vs. Dallas
Week 15- vs. New Orleans
Week 16- vs. Detroit
Week 17- at Minnesota