2014 NFL Preview: Who Might Rain on Another 12th Man Parade?

Expect more turmoil in the Johnson household when the Super Bowl rolls around.

Like last year Lukas and I will be torn on who we want to win the Super Bowl. Unlike last year I won’t have to worry about my non-loving football dad yelling “Go Hawks!” and taunting me throughout the contest, and that’s not because I moved to the other side of the state.

It’s been a different sort of football offseason for me this year. After sitting through one of my worst sports viewing experiences of all-time (more on that in a bit), I vowed I wouldn’t pay attention to any NFL news. I blocked all notifications on my phone, Facebook feed, and Twitter feed about the NFL. I put my Manning jerseys on sabbatical. I focused my attention on my first love, baseball, skipping over any NFL free agency frenzy, OTA news and the draft. And then came Johnny Manziel.

Darn Johnny Football.

I don’t know what it is but he had me (and millions of others) glued to the NFL draft, waiting anxiously to see who would pick him and where he would end up. I didn’t even like the dude in college, but I was rooting for him now. I even went as far as to make my second stupid NFL bet in four months (my Super Bowl buzzcut was the first), betting a friend of mine that if Manziel drops past pick 8 in the NFL draft, I would take him in the fifth round of our 16-team fantasy draft in August. He was drafted No. 22 overall, I took him with the third pick in the fifth round of our fantasy draft, thus ruining what was a good start to my draft, and forcing me to select Carson Palmer for insurance purposes. UPDATE: Manziel has been benched thanks to a lackluster performance in the preseason and a middle-finger wave to the Washington Redskins Native Americans. Since he and Palmer have the same bye week do I drop Manziel? I’ll keep you posted.

I still vowed to stay away from football in the middle of baseball season, but eventually fantasy football preparations came around and … here we are! My third straight NFL season preview!

I’m no expert. I’m not an analyst. I don’t breakdown film. I don’t throw stats at you (which I miss because 14-year-old Kevin would pepper you with stats to prove his point. Gosh, I miss those days when the only thing I was interested in were sports and stats. Now there are three kids, attempting to please my wife, wondering when we will please each other, work, paying bills, making sure I LIKE stuff on Facebook, you know LIFE!). I do some reading about each team, and when I get my Sports Illustrated I do a lot of reading, depending on my toilet time. But mostly I’m going off of feeling.

Feeling.

Yikes, just realized I am a very “feeling” person. I am always worried about hurting people’s feelings. I wonder how people will feel about everything. I love the feeling that my favorite music gives me. I love the feeling I get when I watch my kids do whatever they may be doing. I love feeling up my wife. Feeling. I do a lot of stuff based on feelings. And after writing ‘feeling’ 11 times I am wondering if I spelled it correctly.

Last year I felt like the Seattle Seahawks would win the Super Bowl. They did (though I had them playing the Houston Texans, who finished with the worst record in the NFL). The year before I felt like the Atlanta Falcons would defeat the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl. Instead the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers, who defeated the Falcons in the NFC championship game. Two years before that I felt the Green Bay Packers were the team to beat, turns out I was right, correctly predicting them to win Super Bowl XLV.

This year … you’ll have to wait for that answer (or skip the nonsense and scroll to the bottom of this post – JERK! I’m sorry I hope that didn’t hurt your feelings.)

Before I start, a little housecleaning items to discuss.

Gone are the days of Team 1A and Team 1B. I know that caused people a lot of confusion when the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, along with the hometown Seahawks, were making postseason runs.

“Wait, you like the Colts? But I thought you were a Peyton Manning fan?”

“Oh, jumping on the Broncos bandwagon because they’re in the Super Bowl eh?”

“Wait, don’t you live in Seattle? Why are you rooting against the ‘GO HAWKS’ and rooting for the Broncos?”

So let’s clear this up.

After the Broncos were humiliated in the Super Bowl I decided that I’m going all in on ONE team. This way it hurts less when only one team is throttled and not two. And that team?

The Indianapolis Colts.

I’ve rooted for the Colts for 10 seasons while Mr. Manning played for them. I struggled through their 2-14 season, hoping and praying to replace Manning with Andrew Luck. I rooted for them during Luck’s first season and my fandom was tested last season when the Colts and Broncos faced each other in the regular season. I found myself rooting more for the underdog Colts than my beloved Peyton Manning. And then Luck led them on that wild, incredible Wild Card weekend comeback win over the Chiefs, where I fought through every emotion possible, eventually tearing up when they pulled out the win. That’s when I thought, “That’s it! This has been my team! And this will be my team from here on out!”

I still rooted hard for the Broncos, and had confidence that they would put up a fight in the Super Bowl, but … that’s all I have to say about that. Watching that game (while living in the Hawks Nest) with some friends and family was brutal. I spent most of the third quarter watching a bootlegged version of Frozen with my daughter (Let It Go, Kevin, Let It Go!). The weeks afterward were brutal. Not since John Paxson’s dagger to the heart of KJ, Barkley and the rest of my beloved Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals, did I feel such disappointment and heartbreak while watching a sporting event. I couldn’t take it! No more “GO HAWKS!” No more blue and neon green! No more talk about how Manning choked again. Writing this makes me bring back those memories, I must stop, a new season is upon us!

I haven’t given up on Manning. I’ll still root for the Broncos. But only one team’s schedule is in my daily planner (yes, I’m a dude and use one! Leave me alone!) and on my HTC EVO Design 4G by Boostmobile calendar – the Indianapolis Colts!

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And those Seahawks? If my buddy scores free tickets for us again I’ll dress the 12th Man part. I’ll borrow that ‘Hawks hat. I’ll bundle my No. 32 James (for ex-Colts running back Edgerrin James, who played all of seven games for the ‘Hawks before he retired in 2009) over a sweatshirt, I’ll stand the entire game, and I’ll scream while the ‘Hawks are on defense. But darnit, I can’t help but admit that I’m holding out hope that this side of the mountains are a little less 12th Man bandwagon crazy, because this team, with their Legion of Boom, and Skittles lovin’ running back, are going to be darn good again.

As I do every year I’ll give my rundown of each division, along with a not-that-bold prediction about each division. Every year there are a couple of hits (and mostly misses) that make me look like I know my football.

Before the 2012-13 season I predicted that the Colts will rebound from their 2-14 season and actually surprise people (they surprised me, by earning a playoff berth), and predicted that the 49ers were the best in the West but that the Seahawks will return to that spot in ’13 (49ers outlasted the ‘Hawks in 2013, then finished 13-3 in 2014 and blah, blah, blah!). But I also stated that Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis will rush for 1,000 yards each (Charles 1509, Hillis 309, do I get bonus points for closing in on 2,000 yards?) and that Aaron Hernandez would have a better year than Rob Gronkowski (not only did Hernandez battle injuries on the field, but he battled demons off the field, and is now sitting in prison).

Before last season I said Manning will test Patriots quarterback, ol’ what’s his face’s single-season touchdown record. Nailed it! Manning 55, Gisele’s Babies Daddy 50! However, I countered that by saying that Cleveland running back Trent Richardson will finish as the No. 1 or No. 2 running back in all of fantasy football. Richardson was traded to the Colts before Week 3 and was a complete disappointment. I’m still all in on Richardson in 2014, but won’t be making any bold predictions about him this season.

Quit yapping Kevin! Let’s get to those predictions!

Oh, and to make it more fun, Lukas wanted to throw in his playoff predictions, so I’ll add those to the bottom of this post.

AFC East
New England Patriots (2)
Miami Dolphins (6)
Buffalo Bills
New York Jets

No surprise here! I’m taking Miami because rumor has it they beefed up their O-Line, nearly made the postseason in 2013, and didn’t feel excited about Cincinnati, Baltimore or those Houston Texans. Buffalo, despite what could end up being an exciting young receiving core, and the Jets are still a solid quarterback away from a postseason berth.

AFC East Not-That-Bold Prediction: Kenbrell Thompkins will be singing Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” this season, earning Tom Brady’s trust and passes, and leaping him into the hearts of fantasy owners.

thompkins

AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers (4)
Baltimore Ravens
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns

Once again it’s a crapshoot with the AFC North. I’m taking Pittsburgh because they came on strong towards the end of last season, have a solid back in Le’Veon Bell, and well, they are the Steelers, they can’t possibly miss the playoffs in three straight seasons can they? Any one of these teams can come away with this division – except the Browns. With Josh Gordon suspended for the season, their fans clamoring for Manziel (wait until Week 5 Dawg Pound), and Manziel not being ready for the hype and speed of the NFL, the Browns are still about a year away from serious postseason contention. Look out for their defense though…seriously.

AFC North Not-That-Bold Prediction: Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are known for their D’s. However, Cleveland will be the best defensive team in this division. Too bad about that offense eh? Expect a lot of 17-13 games when these four teams face each other.

Karlos Dansby leads what should be a good Cleveland defense.
Karlos Dansby leads what should be a good Cleveland defense.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts (3)
Houston Texans
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans

As mentioned I’m all-in on the Colts – once again. I want to pick them as a No. 2 seed, but they have a couple of tough games, plus, despite the so-called improvement on defense, and on the O-line, I’m still not sold that it will lead to improvement. The Colts are still an 11-5 squad, Andrew Luck continues to amaze everyone, which is good enough to get by in this lackluster division. The Texans will be vastly improved, but need a quarterback. I like what the Jaguars are doing (give them a couple more years) and the Titans … will they really have a backfield of Washington Huskies (QB Jake Locker, RB Bishop Sankey)?

luck

AFC South Not-That-Bold Prediction: Ryan Mallet or Kirk Cousins will be the Houston Texans starting quarterback by year-end. EDITOR’s NOTE: This note was written three days before the Patriots traded Mallet to the Texans. Now for Mallet to take over the QB job from Ryan Fitzpatrick and I will have nailed my first prediction before midseason.

AFC West
Denver Broncos (1)
San Diego Chargers (5)
Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders

The Broncos did everything they possibly could in trying to assure themselves a return to the Super Bowl. DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and Von Miller the entire season will help the defense immensely. Manning will regress a bit (he can’t possibly throw for 60 TDs could he?), but the addition of Emmanuel Sanders will counter the loss of Eric Decker. After watching the Chiefs fall apart in against the Colts in last year’s Wild Card game, and really since their bye in Week 10, it’s hard to pick them to rejoin the playoff picture. With a strong offense and decent defense, I’ll take the Chargers to earn the sixth-seed. Oakland’s just a mess, I mean are you seriously going to start Maurice Jones-Drew and back him up with Darren McFadden?!

Mr. Manning has a new toy this year!
Mr. Manning has a new toy this year!

AFC West Not-That-Bold Prediction: Fresno State alum, second round draft pick and soon-to-be Raiders starting quarterback Derek Carr will be the rookie quarterback we’ll all talk positively about by the end of the season. Seriously, they can’t go with Matt Schaub all season can they? UPDATE RIGHT BEFORE I PRESSED ‘PUBLISH’: Carr is starting Week 1.

AFC Wild Card Round:
Indianapolis easily over Miami
San Diego over Pittsburgh

AFC Divisional Round:
Indianapolis over New England
Denver over San Diego

AFC Championship:
Denver over Indianapolis

Denver Broncos v Indianapolis Colts

When last season ended I was quick to throw out a Colts – Niners Super Bowl in 2015. But the offseason happened (and in Denver really happened), the Broncos improved a ton and Manning, still burning from this year’s Super Bowl debacle, will earn another shot at that elusive second ring. Meanwhile, as disappointed as Colts’ fans may be about losing to Manning, they’ll realize that what they have in Andrew Luck may be more special than what they had in Manning. Heck, Manning didn’t continue to take them to three levels of the postseason in his first three years did he? Psst…the answer is no!

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles (3)
Washington Redskins
New York Giants
Dallas Cowboys

Think the Eagles were fun to watch last year? Welcome to Year 2 of the Chip Kelly era. The Eagles will be high-flying, their defense, already strong, will be improved thus making them a tough match-up for everyone on their schedule. The Redskins, will still be trying to find their way on offense, as will the regressing New York Giants. How ’bout them ‘Boys? They’ll be fun on offense, but unable to stop everyone on defense.

NFC East Not-That-Bold Prediction: Tony Romo will nearly double Eli Manning’s touchdown and interception numbers.

tonyeli
Interceptions on the field. Not-so-much off the field.

NFC North
Green Bay Packers (2)
Chicago Bears (5)
Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings

I must be a Detroit Lions fan because every year I want to take them as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed, but the NFC is so tough, I’ve got to leave them out. Odd to say because in years past it’s been all about the D, but the Bears offense will be fun to watch. I’ve gone all-in on them in fantasy, targeting Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett. Still, how can you pick against a healthy Aaron Rodger, Eddie Lacy and Packers defense? I’ll take them in what could be a tough division battle. Oh, Minnesota … I got nothing.

NFC North Not-That-Bold Prediction: A healthy Jay Cutler means that Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte end up as the top receiver and running back in football.

We gonna have fun this year!
We gonna have fun this year!

NFC South
New Orleans Saints (4)
Atlanta Falcons
Tampa Buccaneers
Carolina Panthers

I wanted to pick the Falcons to surprise people (Why?! Why do I always pick the Falcons?!), but there are just too many holes. The Bucs are well-improved both on and off the field. The Panthers went 12-4 last year, but just have only one offensive weapon, and though Cam Newton can both run and throw, he can’t catch his own passes either, so I’m picking the steady Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, and their too-many-to-name running backs as the division champ. I have them as a four-seed just because this division may be the toughest in football.

NFC South Not-That-Bold Prediction: Too late to call out sleepers, but Saints’ wideout Brandin Cooks will win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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NFC West
Seattle Seahawks (1)
San Francisco 49ers (6)
Arizona Cardinals
St. Louis Rams

Odd to say, but thanks to the loss of Aldon “Da Bomb” Smith (for nine games), and Navarro Bowman, it’ll be the Niners offense that gets them into the playoffs – barely. They’ll need to hold off conference-mates Arizona, along with the Falcons, Buccaneers and Lions. Meanwhile with another ACL tear for Sam Bradford, the Rams will be looking toward Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in next year’s draft.

NFC West Not-That-Bold Prediction: Welcome to the Wild Wild West! I know ex-All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez said the Denver Broncos will go unbeaten. Wrong! The Seattle Seahawks will flirt with the ’07 Patriots and ’72 Dolphins as the only unbeaten teams in league history. Seattle plays most of its non-divisional tough games at home (notably, Green Bay and Denver) and only have to worry about division foes Arizona and San Francisco on the road, along with possibly the Eagles and Chiefs, if you consider those two teams tough. I don’t. Meanwhile, Denver goes to two of the toughest places to play, Seattle and New England.

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NFC Wild Card Round:
Philadelphia over San Francisco
New Orleans over Chicago

NFC Divisional Round:
Seattle over New Orleans
Green Bay over Philadelphia

NFC Championship:
Green Bay over Seattle

Green-Bay-Packers-Seattle-Seahawks

Just like the AFC title match, these two Week 1 opponents will face each other, this time with a Super Bowl appearance on the line. Knowing what I know about the 12th Man, Thursday night’s opener against the Packers will be more raucous than the NFC Championship game, meaning Green Bay, despite a close loss in Week 1, will be tested for the title bout. Aaron Rodgers seems like he handles pressure better than some quarterbacks I’ve come to admire, and has enough swagger to counter the cockiness of the Legion of Boom and their fans.

Super Bowl:
Denver Broncos over Green Bay Packers

Back to the original line of this post. Lukas, for some reason (favorite color green?) likes the Packers. You all know I love Manning. Once again we’ll have opposite rooting interests. This time I feel I will actually be smiling after the game. Thanks to Denver’s D and Manning dreading last year’s result, I’m taking the Denver Broncos in what might be Manning’s last ride into the sunset.

Lukas’s Predictions:

As mentioned Lukas set up his own playoff bracket and here’s what he has in store for this season:

AFC Wild Card:
New England over Kansas City
Cincinnati over Houston

Why Houston? “Their defense is stinkin’ good.”

NFC Wild Card:
San Francisco over Philadelphia
New Orleans over Tampa Bay

Why Tampa Bay? “That was a tough one. They’re the only one that might be good.”

AFC Divisional:
Denver over New England
Indianapolis over Cincinnati

NFC Divisional:
San Francisco over Seattle
Green Bay over New Orleans

San Francisco OVER Seattle? He blamed that on experience stating, “Just because the 49ers have been to the final four three years in a row.”

AFC Championship:
Indianapolis over Denver
Green Bay over San Francisco

Super Bowl:
Green Bay over Indianapolis

Despite having the same prediction as SI’s Peter King (King has Packers over Colts too), Lukas admits that he had this predicted after last year’s Super Bowl, and that he thinks it’s the Colts and the Packers time.

See you in February!

One thought on “2014 NFL Preview: Who Might Rain on Another 12th Man Parade?

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