The 2015 NFL season will be upon is sooner than you think and how many of the 2014 AFC playoff teams will make a return trip to the 2015 NFL Playoffs?
Although the season is still about three months away and we are still a couple of days shy of the official start of summer, in is never too early to start looking at the NFL, especially since the NFL odds for Week 1 of the regular season have already been up for a while.
So for the next two weeks, we are focusing on the teams that made the NFL Playoffs last season and presenting what we feel their prospects are of returning to the playoffs this season. We are taking a look at the AFC this week and will follow up with our view of the NFC next week.
As you will soon see, we are projecting three division winners from the AFC last season to repeat that role this year, and we also expect a fourth repeat playoff team that was a wild card last year that we project to be a division winner this year. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are two 2014 playoff teams that we are expecting to miss the playoffs this year, including a 2014 division winner!
And who would that be, you may ask? Well, with no further ado, here are our 2015 predictions for the six 2014 AFC playoff teams.
2014 AFC Playoff Teams
New England Patriots: The last time we saw the Patriots, they were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champs. However there has been notable attrition to the roster since then with Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Brandon Browner, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley all now departed. And do not forget about the suspension of Tom Brady to begin the season, leaving New England with the raw Jimmy Garoppolo under center early on. And if Brady does not get his four-game suspension reduced, the Patriots may do well to go 2-2 with Garoppolo with a date with Jacksonville being the only near-certain win as the other three games are at home to Pittsburgh to open the season, on the road vs. an improved Buffalo team and at Dallas. And on top of all this, the Miami Dolphins join the Bills as improved teams inside the AFC East. So what does that all mean? Well, in the end, we feel not enough as we still see the Patriots having enough to win the division, although the final margin figures to be closer than recent years.
Prediction: In as AFC East Champions
Denver Broncos: The Broncos failed to win a playoff game last year as they were upset at home by Andrew Luck and the Colts in the divisional round, but remember that Peyton Manning played with a torn right quadriceps for the last month of the season, which was not revealed until after the loss and explains why he looked so terrible at the end of the year and vs. the Colts. Manning is now presumably healthy, but even so, new head coach Gary Kubiak is more run-oriented. That could be a good thing though because we love running back C.J. Anderson, who was the leading rusher in the league over that final month when Manning could not throw too well and who lost weight during the off-season, perhaps in response to the claims of former offensive coordinator Adam Gase that Anderson struggled with his conditioning at times last year. A well-conditioned Anderson and a healthy Manning could me a more balanced offense similar to the one that set an NFL scoring record two years ago, except that Anderson is a much better back than Knowshon Moreno. The San Diego Chargers could pose a threat but expect the Broncos to prevail in the AFC West.
Prediction: In as AFC West Champions
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts have taken advantage of a weak AFC South while winning the division the last two years, and now they have improved this year with the additions of Frank Gore and Andre Johnson. Gore may be getting long in the tooth but he still rushed for over 1100 yards last year on 4.3 yards per carry and he remains a huge upgrade over what Indianapolis had at running back last year in major bust Trent Richardson and Dan Herron, who was never really an every-down back. And Johnson goes from wasting his talents with terrible quarterbacking in Houston to having Luck passing to him, which should be good enough to revive his career. The Colts obviously have bigger aspirations than just a division title after losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last year and the division remains fairly weak with the Houston Texans probably a very distant second in terms of talent, so picking an Indy repeat to win the South seems like an obvious no-brainer.
Prediction: In as AFC South Champions
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers won the AFC North last season at 11-5, but we feel they greatly overachieved and will struggle just to finish 8-8 this season. Yes they have talent at the offensive skill positions with running back Le’Veon Bell (once he finishes serving his suspension) and wide receiver Antonio Brown both among the best players in the NFL at their respective positions and Ben Roethlisberger still an excellent quarterback even after taking a beating in recent years. But the defense deteriorated with age last year and we do not see much improvement this season as while Bud Dupree, Senquez Golson and Doran Grant were all nice draft picks (especially Dupree so late in the first round), that bodes much better for the future than it does for this season with the expected growing pains that come with that youth. Look for Pittsburgh to go from a division winner last season to out of the playoffs this year with possibly a third place finish.
Prediction: Out of Playoffs
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens were the team that ousted the Steelers in the wild card round of the playoffs last year and we now see Baltimore as the heir apparent to the AFC North title. Now we are fully aware that not everyone agrees with our assessment as the Ravens will indeed have a different look this season after losing the likes of Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, Haloti Ngata and even backup running back Bernard Pierce. However, we do not see these losses as the end of the world as they have ample replacements in Breshad Perriman for Smith, Maxx Williams for Daniels and some combination of Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams and rookie Carl Davis for Ngata. Ironically, the biggest loss would be that of the backup Pearce, as it leaves very little quality depth behind the newly re-signed Justin Forsett, who comes off of a 1266-yard rushing season while also adding 44 receptions for another 263 receiving yards. As long as Forsett stays healthy, we see non reason why this team cannot be as good as it has been in recent years even with all of the new faces other than long-time quarterback Joe Flacco, which this year should translate to a division championship.
Prediction: In as AFC North Champions
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals have surpassed our expectations by making the playoffs in each of the last four seasons, but we still think this team is highly overrated and we are picking that string of playoff seasons to come to an end this year as we simply feel they are not as good this season as the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins or San Diego Chargers, all of whom should be in the wild card mix. This is a team that has no pass rush to speak of and a mediocre at best quarterback in Andy Dalton, who received what we believe to be a ridiculous $115 million, six year-contact. This could result in two scenarios for Dalton, both of which we feel are detrimental: either he presses to prove that he is worth that kind of money, which would be a mistake because he is not, or he takes a “fat cat” attitude and goes through the motions knowing he committed highway robbery. Cincinnati does have a great wide receiver in A.J. Green, but we do not think he will ever fulfill his potential with Dalton under center.
Prediction: Out of Playoffs