The 2014 NFL regular season gets underway Thursday night in Seattle. But before things kick off, here are our official predictions for what is sure to be another unpredictable year. Why bother? Because it’s fun, even when you know you’ll be wrong.
Predicting the playoff teams
1. Denver Broncos (13-3)
2. Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
3. New England Patriots (12-4)
4. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
5. Miami Dolphins (9-7)
6. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
I know it’s rare, but we’re going with the same division winners as last year. We tried to rationalize moving Houston back ahead of Indy or Miami in front of the Patriots, but we just can’t see that happening. Those four division winners are head and shoulders above all else.
The Bengals are so strong on both sides of the ball and are just getting better, so we’ve moved them into a bye week spot along with the powerhouse Broncos, who should again be dominant. Cincy wins a neck-and-neck battle with the Patriots and Indy sits alone in the fourth spot.
The Chiefs are bound to come back to earth, so we’re replacing them with the Dolphins, who we think have an edge over the Jets, Steelers and Chargers as they continue to steadily improve with lots of talented young players on both sides of the ball. We don’t totally trust the Chargers, but Philip Rivers has some great weapons and is coming off a big bounce-back season. We think they keep it going.
1. Green Bay Packers (13-3)
2. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
3. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
4. Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
5. Chicago Bears (11-5)
6. Washington Redskins (9-7)
That’s right, no San Francisco. Someone has to plummet every year, and the 49ers are a mess right now. Plus, we still don’t totally trust Colin Kaepernick and that offense. They’re aging, they’re dealing with a ton of injuries, losses and suspensions, and they’re just the obvious candidate to fall off a cliff this year.
While we’re at it, we’re giving the Seahawks a Super Bowl hangover, but they’ll still edge out San Fran and the Cardinals to win the division and get back to the playoffs.
We’ve also kept Carolina out after a really difficult offseason, replacing them with the jacked-up Saints, who should stave off Atlanta and the Panthers in a tough division. That stiff competition costs them a first-round bye because the Eagles get to beat up on the crappy NFC East.
This league is all about quarterbacks nowadays, and a healthy Aaron Rodgers is back. That’s enough for us, but watch for Philly and New Orleans to put up a fight.
The team we have climbing from rock bottom to a wild-card spot this year is Washington. We know the Redskins have it in them from 2012, and they’ve got a hell of a lot of talent on both sides of the ball.
Predicting what will go down in January (and Feb. 1)
Patriots over Chargers
Colts over Dolphins
Saints over Redskins
Bears over Seahawks
We can see Chicago finally peaking at the right time and slaying the defending champs. Everything else goes as expected.
Broncos over Colts
Bengals over Patriots
Packers over Bears
Eagles over Saints
So we don’t get Manning vs. Brady right after Manning vs. Luck, but Cincy offers a tougher challenge.
Conference championship games
Bengals over Broncos
Packers over Eagles
Almost had a Super Bowl between two teams that had never won it. I think Packers-Eagles is the game of the year, with Green Bay pulling off a narrow victory. Cincy is a much better all-around team that holds up better in January, so they smoke Peyton Manning and Co. in a shocker.
Super Bowl XLIX
Packers over Bengals
Not going to deny Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Co. This was supposed to be a dynasty back in 2010 and some tough breaks have held it up. Now, everything comes together again.
MVP: Rodgers — We’ve already pumped his tires enough.
Coach of the year: Marc Trestman — He finally gets the Bears to click, beating out Jay Gruden by a narrow margin.
Offensive player of the year: Rodgers — It’ll all come together.
Defensive player of the year: Robert Quinn — Watch for the 24-year-old to make a run at the single-season sack record.
Offensive rookie of the year: Cody Latimer — Peyton Manning is going to have no choice but to make him into a star right away. He edges out Mike Evans, who has everything he needs in Tampa.
Defensive rookie of the year: Jadeveon Clowney — You’d be crazy not to go with a No. 1 overall pick on a tear, especially with all the support he’ll have in Houston.