NFL Season Preview

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Updated: September 4, 2014
AFC EAST 
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - These guys have 11 straight 10+ win seasons. I tried betting against them last year winning this division and failed. You would think they would be as good are better with the addition of Revis to bolster the secondary. Add in their young LBs getting better, plus Vince Wolfork back from injury, the defense should improve. Brady is well, Brady. Who know what they will get out of Gronk, but Belichick seems to find the right players to put around his HOF QB.
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BUFFALO BILLS - I am going outside the box with this play here. I think their defense will be solid. The problem is with young QB EJ Manuel. He needs to take a big step forward. The kid has the pieces around him. The Bills traded up for WR Sammy Watkins. Coupled with their other WRs, Manuel has some options. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson man the backfield. This team has the potential to really surprise some people this year.
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MIAMI DOLPHINS - Last year couldn't end fast enough for this crew. But the drama has past. They went out and signed a pretty good OL in Branden Albert then drafted another in Jawuan Jones. QB Ryan Tannehill will be looking to last year's FA WR Mike Wallace to improve. And he should. Coupled with Bryan Harline and LSU rookie Jarvis Landry, Tannehill has some talent around. Knowshon Moreno was also signed to help in the backfield. I thought the defense was the strength of the team last year, and they should be just as good here. The schedule is a bit soft so the Dolphins should improve and get over .500.
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NEW YORK JETS - I think this bunch were overachievers last season. I didn't think they would win many games. They managed an 8-8 record with a QB who tossed 21 INTs. I can't discount this defense. They are very good. But I do see a bit of regression overall. Vick isn't the answer and Geno is still raw. I like Rex Ryan. The guy gets a ton of grief. I have said before on my podcast, this guy should have a statue outside of the stadium. He managed to get this team to back to back AFC Championship Games! Give him some credit already. I like the Eric Decker and Chris Johnson signings. Listen. These aren't terribly flashy signings. Yes Decker took a boatload of cash. He is a great guy for Geno to throw to. CJ will have some life in him after the way things played out in Tennessee. I still think this team is under .500 though.
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AFC NORTH 
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CINCINNATI BENGALS - In my eyes, this is a make or break year for HC Marvin Lewis. The Red Rocket has taken this team to the playoffs the last few years. It is time for them to get over the 1st round hump and the pieces are in place. AJ Green is primed to really take his game to the next level. Marvin Jones caught 10 TDs last  year. I like Gresham at TE. The backfield is stacked with Benjarvis Green (trade rumors) and Giovani Bernard. Add in rookie Jeremy Hill from LSU and the offense should really move the ball. The defense is very good unit also. I loved when the stole Burfict in the draft. Another one of those cases where teams shy away from a guy with a perceived problem. Darqueze Dennard should help right from the jump at corner.
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PITTSBURGH STEELERS - This team went 8-8 last year, 6-2 down the stretch. I actually had these guys going under their posted win total this year at first. But I do like their veteran WR signings. Lance Moore from NO and Darius Bey from Oakland aren't big sexy names. But they can play. The Steelers, like the Patriots, seem to find guys who fit their scheme. Big Ben gets some help in the backfield with big bruiser back Blount coming over from NE. The defense needs to continue to improve if they are to challenge the Bengals for the division and to make the playoffs.
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BALTIMORE RAVENS - I think this guys don't get to .500 this year. I know they signed Steve Smith at WR, but I think Flacco will be hard pressed to win games this year. Ray Rice only gets 2 games for beating his girl, which is an outrage. I mean, if he does something like that to a 275 guy in pads, he would get 4 games! Anyway. The guy was barely rushing for 3 yards a carry LY. Not sure with all the off field issues he will be breaking any rushing records. Even using their first 3 picks on defense, I think the Ravens are a little long in the tooth. Suggs, Dumervil and Ngata are a bit older. I think this team falls again this season.
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CLEVELAND BROWNS - Oh my. Who is catching the ball for this team? Mile Austin and Nate Burleson? I like Austin. I followed him in Dallas. But the guy has some injury concerns. And let's be honest. Even if you are a Romo hater, the guy is head and shoulders above Hoyer or Manziel. And, are you really sold on Hoyer after a couple games. The defense is for real and will keep this team in games. But that is simply because the offense is good for about 10ppg while the defense won't give up much. I will be looking at Under Totals for all Browns games this season.
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AFC SOUTH
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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS - I will be the first to say I thought these guys overachieved the last 2 seasons with Luck. But I was wrong. It isn't overachieving when you are talented. I think the defense gets by with a little smoke and mirrors, but the offense is legit. Luck is a great leader and the team follows him. Now, they get WR Wayne back and with TY Hilton should be a good combo for Luck. I still think the run game needs some work. But this team is built around the strengths of their QB. The defense needs helps. Thankfully, they play in what I think is the weakest division in football. They face only 4 teams that had winning records last year. Their are some 8-8s in the bunch, but still, that is a favorable schedule.
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HOUSTON TEXANS - These guys had 2 wins last year. I had them or Cincy picking off Denver to get to the Super Bowl. Ok, that didn't go as played. The QB play was horrible. I don't expect to see that many picks for 7 again in my lifetime by one quarterback. We know the defense has talent. Clowney and Watt will be something to see on Sundays. This is about the offense and the QB play of Ryan Fitzpatrick. I think he is serviceable. But serviceable might not be enough to get you to the playoffs. WR Andre Johnson is back, albeit another year older. Arian Foster is also back to run the ball.
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TENNESSEE TITANS - This is one of my surprise teams this year. I should probably put them ahead of the Texans. I like new HC Ken Whisenhunt. He has a good mix of talent plus a weak schedule on his doorstep. I will be playing the Titans to go over their win total. The OL looks good and should be able to open up some running lanes for Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and rookie RB Bishop Sankey. Loved that kid in college. These guys lost 6 games by 8 or less, so were right in the mix. QB Jake Locker must stay healthy and Whisenhunt will have in position to win games.
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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - HC Gus Bradley has a new QB in town with 1st round selection Blake Bortles. I liked him at UCF, so I am interested in seeing what kind of reps he gets coming up. Sitting at 1-9 the could have packed it, but they reeled off 3 straight. That shows me a little heart and that they were buying into their coach. They went offense with their first 3 picks. They are rebuilding for sure, but I can see them matching last years win total.
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AFC WEST
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DENVER BRONCOS - What is there to say about this team? Yes, they ran into a defensive buzz-saw in the Super Bowl. From their first snap, you knew it was going to be a long night. No surprise for us there as we were all over Seattle though. We know that barring injury, no team is stopping Manning. The guy has two monster pass catchers in Demaryius and Julius Thomas. Wes Welker just produces numbers. The defense wasn't terrible. They have brought in Ware from Dallas who will be a great pass rusher in that situation. Von Miller is back. Talib is over from the Pats to man the CB position. Good veterans who are still producing.
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SAN DIEGO CHARGERS - These guys surprised me last year. I really didn't think they were going to be good. 2nd year man Mike McCoy has this team believing. 10 wins will do that. I wonder what the loss of Whisenhunt to the Titans will mean to the offense. That can make or break playoff aspirations. But in this division, they should be able to win some games.
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KC CHIEFS - Last year I had this group as a prime over play and they did not disappoint. With Andy Reid facing his old foes in the NFC East, you knew he would be looking for revenge. And he got it. But I expect a step back with a tougher schedule. They get the NFC West which is a tough draw. This is a major Under play for me in regards to team totals. I think they will have a long, sub .500 year.
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OAKLAND RAIDERS - Oakland brings in the Pick 6 champion to QB the offense in Matt Schaub. I like Schaub. I can't see that happening again. HC Dennis Allen in 8-24 entering his 3rd here in Oakland. Not sure he will be around much longer. And you can't blame him for the mismanagement above him. Raiders face the toughest schedule in the league this year with 11 teams with winning records. Now, they did go out and sign some veteran guys. RB MJD, plus WRs James Jones and Greg Little. On defense they added Woodley, Tuck, Carlos Rodgers. Not sure how that will play out. Maybe these vets have something in the tank and the youngsters take a step forward. Rookie LB Mack should be exciting. And QB David Carr will be staring over Schaub's shoulder if he gets INT-itis again.
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NFC EAST
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PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - I am going with the Eagles here almost by default. Nick Foles had a great year under first year HC Chip Kelly. We know the offense will be good. Philly added Darren Sproles who should excel with the calling. With another year learning the coaches system, I think the Eagles are the team to beat here.
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DALLAS COWBOYS - Until this team breaks out of there string of 8-8 seasons (3 straight), I can't put them any higher. They did go 5-1 vs the East last year. That has to be mean something doesn't it? The key is Romo. How will he respond coming off his back surgery. He has plenty of helpers on offense. The OL is improving. But the problem for the Cowboys has been the defense. Demarcus Ware is in Denver. The lost defensive leader Sean Lee for the season already. Like I said, these guys have lost 24 games the last 3 years. Good news is that 15 of those loses were by a TD or less. So they are right there but need to make plays to turn that into 15 win. Hot seat alert for Jason Garrett. I can't see how Jerry Jones keeps this guy around if they go 8-8 again.
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NY GIANTS - I am putting the Giants here behind Dallas. I know these guys dropped 6 straight to start last year. Eli, even with the his 2 rings, has been a INT machine. He tossed a league high 27 last year, and was sacked 39 times. If the OL can't do a better job, it will be another losing season for Tom Coughlin's bunch. It really comes down to the defense. When this team was beating the Patriots in past Super Bowls, they were getting unbelievable pressure on QBs. They need to find that again if they are to make a run into the playoffs.
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WASHINGTON REDSKINS - New HC Jay Gruden becomes the Redskins 9th coach the last 15 years. I thought RGIII was rushed back last year and he clearly wasn't 100%. It should in Washington's 3-13 record. It is tough putting them here finishing last. I think they have some real talent on both sides of the ball. Jason Hatcher comes over from Dallas with his 11 sacks and joins Orakpo and Kerrigan. Was I just mentioning QB pressure? DeShaun Jackson will be lining up opposite Pierre Garcon which RGIII will love. HC Gruden made the Red Rocket look good in Cincy. He will have something up his sleeve here in Washington. I just wonder why they kept DC Jim Haslett.
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NFC NORTH
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CHICAGO BEARS - I like this coach. Marc Trestman enters year 2 and hopes he has a healthy Jay Cutler for an entire season. WRs Marshall and Jeffery are a pair of big, physical guys. Forte is a beast who should have another solid year behind an OL that played all 16 games together last year. On defense, I like the move of bringing in Jared Allen. Peppers loss will hurt, but Allen should bring the same kind of leadership to the defense. The Bears went defense with their first 4 draft picks in hopes of turning the page on a poor defensive season.
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GREEN BAY PACKERS - Tough to put this team here. Aaron Rodgers alone makes these guys a legit threat every year. HC Mike McCarthy has a HOFer leading his team. The guy lifts the entire team around him. Problem is, he can't play defense. That is what has hurt this team. They bring in Julius Peppers for a bit of spark. Have to like the pick of Ha Ha Clinton Dix to bolster the secondary. Let's be honest here. This team can easily put things together and go 12-4, especially in this division of underachievers.
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DETROIT LIONS - Speaking of underachievers, the Lions are like the Cowboys of the North. Very talented, yet chronically failing in big spots. I believe that the hiring of new HC Jim Caldwell will be a huge success. The guy can coach. He know has some studs in QB Stafford and WR Johnson. Caldwell coached the Colts, so he knows a thing or two about having a decent QB and WR. The defense is loaded with former #1s. This team is screaming to take a major leap. I will be honest. Part of me wanted to pick these guys to win the division. It would not shock me to see these guys win 10 games. Nor would it shock me to see them lose 10.
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MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Have to feel for AP. The best player in the league continues to languish in Minnesota. Enter new HC Mike Zimmer, former DC of the Bengals. Well he did a decent job there and will have his work cut out for him here. Vikings gave up a league worse 30ppg last year. Back to AP. He will again be the focus of the offense with the QB situation undecided.
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NFC SOUTH
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ATLANTA FALCONS - HC Mike Smith and his trusty side-kick QB Matty Ice are off their first losing season together. Injuries really knocked this team for a loop. They have a healthy Julio Jones to team with Roddy White now. Granted, Jones is off another foot injury. But everything I have seen says he is ready to go. They drafted a beast OL to protect their franchise QB. We can't forget this group is a playoff tested bunch. They did go to the NFC Championship game a couple years ago. The schedule sets up nicely also.
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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS - I love to throw out surprises. I am sure everyone was expecting to see Drew Brees and friends here. Well, I like to think outside the box. I LOVE the hiring of Lovie Smith. He is exactly what this group needs. He brings his old backup Bears QB Josh McCown who enjoyed a career season last year. McCown has a great RB behind him in Doug Martin, plus some play making WRs in Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans. I think Evans is going to be excellent. On defense, I again LOVE the hiring of Leslie Frazier. I would not be shocked to see these guys win 10 games. This is a playoff team.
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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - It is tough to go against Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Jimmy Graham can catch 2 TDs a week from Brees, but that doesn't mean NO will win every game. I know the defense was a huge improvement under Rob Ryan. I like him as a coach. But they improved so drastically, I can't see them getting better. I think the loss of Sproles hurts. Not a fan of their run game at all. I think the two teams above them are a little more complete.
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CAROLINA PANTHERS - Tough times ahead for Cam Newton here. I can't see how you replace and entire OL and not have some rough patches. Also, is it me or does it feel that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been in Carolina since Kerry Collins was taking snaps? The loss of WR Steve Smith is also a blow for the offense. Luke Kuechly is still only 1 man when you need 11. If the Panthers continue to give up a little more than 2 TDs a game, they might squeeze out some wins. For me, I will find out nice and early, as in Game 1 September 7 when Tampa comes to town to see where both these teams are.
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NFC WEST
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SAN FRANCISCO 49ers - I thought this guys would take the Super Bowl step after failing short he year before. But it was division rival Seattle hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. I again will back SF to get to the promised land. Niners bring in some more veteran help for Kaepernick with WRs Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd to go with Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Add in TE Vernon Davis and a RB combo of Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter and the offense should be moving the ball pretty well. The defense again is strong as it has been a top unit in the league since HC Harbaugh took over the club.
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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - Seattle is loaded. I can't lie. But when you are the defending champs, you have the bulls-eye on your back every week. So they will be getting everyone's "A" game every week. They have a tough schedule with 6 road games vs teams that won 10 games last year. Let's not go with the obvious choice and think Seattle falters here.
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ARIZONA CARDINALS - What a tough division. These guys won 10 games last year, and I think they improved, yet they will have a hard time duplicating last years win total or making the playoffs. There is no denying that players love HC Bruce Arians. There isn't anything sexy about Arizona. They are solid units on both sides of the ball.
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ST LOUIS RAMS - I really want to move the Rams up here. But this division is brutal. Jeff Fisher is another coach that gets the most out of his players. These guys won the NFC West in 2012! The OL got another top player in Greg Robinson. The defense gets what I think is a great player in Aaron Donald who just adds to a top DL unit. Just by playing in the West the Rams schedule gets boosted to the top. I mean SF and Seattle played in the last 2 Super Bowls! Personally, I think this is it for QB Sam Bradford. He needs to really make a move this season. They have tried putting some pieces around him and its time for him to step up.
Sean
SeanHiggsWins.com

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