It has been five long and miserable months since the NFL season came to a close in New Jersey. Fans witnessed a very anti-climactic Super Bowl filled with super human defensive backs from Seattle, Mr. Wilson taking the next step, and of course plenty of Manning Faces. The beauty of the NFL is everyone gets a clean slate once the season ends. All teams are undefeated, all thirty-two NFL fan bases start thinking this is “their year”, and franchises begin planning immediately for the scouting combine, free agency, and the later than usual NFL draft. While we didn’t get the fireworks of last summer like the Hernandez arrest, plenty of story lines emerged from the off-season which will play out over the course of the 2014 season. We are exactly one month away from kicking off the season in the Pacific Northwest, which means it is time for our Lucky Number Sleven Bold Predictions for the NFL season along with Postseason Awards.
1) The Green Bay Packers will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl – Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to have to win every game on his own this year. The Packers have one of the best running backs in football in only his second season, and the guy runs with an attitude. Eddie Lacy broke free from the ‘Curse of Nick Saban’ (If you don’t know what the Curse of Nick Saban is, that is when any guy who plays offense down in Alabama is completely burnt out or hurt in his first year in the pros) and proved he can shoulder the load with a less than stellar passing game during Rodgers’ absence. With the addition of Julius Peppers in conjunction with AJ Hawk and Clay Matthews, the Pack will be back in the big dance in Arizona.
2) Michael Strahan’s single season sack record will be broken – The year the man gets inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, is the year his fraudulent NFL single season sack record gets broken. There are a plethora of guys who can take down Strahan’s mark, especially with some of the help they got in the offseason. I can see guys like Tamba Hali, Robert Quinn, or even youngster Chandler Jones making a run at the record. In a pass heavy league, it gives these defensive linemen more opportunites to get after the quarterback, which should equate to higher sack numbers.
3) Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will meet for another AFC Championship – Outside of Denver and New England, whom else is there in the AFC? Indianapolis is still couple of years away, Kansas City showed who they really were last year, the Bengals are still the Bengals, and Baltimore can’t get out of their own way off the field let alone on it. Brady and Manning, most likely for the last time, will be what everyone is watching come mid-January. Sure both of these teams meet sometime in the middle of the season, but what really matters is the postseason. New England grabbed one of the best defensive players on the planet in the off-season, where Denver grabbed a few guys to sure up their defensive side of the ball as well.
4) Calvin Johnson will flirt with 2,000 receiving yards – Detroit needed someone to take the focus off the best receiver on the planet, so they went out and signed Golden Tate and drafted Eric Ebron. The key to this coming to fruition is Matthew Stafford’s ability to protect the football. As a fantasy owner of him last season, the amount of interceptions he threw were mind numbing. Given the fact they got rid of their Napoleon complex coach, things should already be improving in the Motor City.
5) A team will be 11-0 heading into week twelve and then lose – Every year there is a team whom rattles off a half dozen wins to start the year and the 1972 Dolphins chatter begins. A handful of teams can make a run at it, but is it realistic? The iron of the league, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, New England, Green Bay all have legitimate chances, but winning on the road is tough, especially in divisional play.
6) Johnny Manziel and the hype that goes along with him will die out when he gets hurt – I, like many, watched the Browns/Lions preseason match up on Saturday night. Manziel looked like any rookie quarterback does in his first preseason action, but missed some wide open reads in order to use his legs to make a play. Having seen Brian Hoyer first hand during his tenure in New England, I’d say he is the more pro ready guy. We have to give Johnny the benefit of the doubt here, given he is only a few weeks into training camp. However, I foresee Johnny Football becoming Johnny Injured if/when he gets his chance.
7) A big name player will be arrested for doing something idiotic- It is a shame we have become accustomed to seeing/expecting professional athletes let their money and common sense get the best of them and go completely off the rails. We’ve seen marquee players beat up their wives and get only a two game suspension, which in my mind sets a precedent for other players. A very bad one at that. It has also come to the point where there is a “Days without an NFL Arrest” counter on a very popular pro football media website. Let’s just say I expect a first tier NFL player to go “off the reservation” and end up in jail and suspended indefinitely.
Postseason Award Predictions:
MVP – Drew Brees – Brees is midway through the back nine of his career and wants to get back to the big dance again. His security blanket just got a monster new contract and his big wide out from Hofstra is in line to become a free agent. Look for Brees to put up video game numbers this season in the Bayou. He has to, look at what he is working with at the running back position, and Darren Sproles is off in the City of Brotherly Love catching balls from Napoleon Dynamite.
Offensive Player of the Year – Lesean McCoy – Shady can do it all, as we have seen year after year. I expect McCoy to get at least 20 touches a game on the ground and a handful of targets coming out of the backfield. The up tempo Chip Kelly offense is going to continue to keep the chains moving and points on the board, but will they burn out come December? McCoy showed no signs of slowing down killing fantasy hopes and dreams everywhere during the blizzard game against the Lions.
Defensive Player of the Year – Darrelle Revis – This is the homer pick of the year, and the one I put the most stock in. For years we have heard of the “defensive genius” of Bill Belichick and how he is a mastermind on this side of the ball. Do yourself a favor and take a look at the Patriot defenses the last seven or eight seasons. Bill has I believe eight first-round picks on defense this year and multiple pro bowlers as well. He most likely is going to tell #24 to go cover the opposing team’s number one receiver and have at it. This will and should allow Belichick to do the things that gave him that mastermind reputation years ago. Look for Revis to return to the player we saw when playing for the New Jersey Jets. If the Patriots aren’t a top 10 overall defense, I put it on Bill.
Offensive Rookie of The Year – Bishop Sankey – I’ll catch some flak for this one, but I’m not budging. Sammy Watkins is flashing signs of Randy Moss in camp, I get that. However, I am not a big buyer of EJ Manuel. I wasn’t when he played at Florida State and I’m still not sold on him in Buffalo. All the one handed grabs in the world won’t change my mind. Sankey is going to be asked to carry a good chunk of the load down in Tennessee sooner rather than later. McCluster isn’t an every down back and Shonn Greene is still Shonn Greene. This isn’t the sexiest pick, but hey that is life.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jadaveon Clowney – Really, how can you not pick this guy? With the few series I watched that he played against the other night he looked every bit of the superhuman we have labeled him. Paired up with JJ Watt on the defensive line and having Romeo Crenel draw up multiple schemes where he can be lined up anywhere, watch out Andrew Luck.
Comeback Player of the Year – Rob Gronkowski – Has anyone had worse injury luck than Gronk over the past few seasons? Some will say this is all in connection with his style of play, in which I will agree with you. However TJ Ward delivered a very low hit in the late season game against Cleveland that set off the latest and hopefully last chain of Gronkowski injuries. Gronk is expected to be back week one in Miami and should torment opposing defenses all season long.