The 2014 NFL season is primed to be an extremely competitive season, especially at the top of the AFC. The AFC has two legitimate title contenders in the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
At least two other upstart franchises, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, may be in position to sneak past either of the previously mentioned title contenders. So who comes out on top?
Prediction #1: New England Patriots finish the regular season with the NFL’s best record. Prediction #2: Denver Broncos have the second best record in the NFL and AFC.
So what separates the Broncos and Patriots from the rest of the NFL? Quarterbacks. New England and Denver both have sufficient defenses, at least to keep the opposition from scoring as much as their quarterbacks will facilitate. With the current offense favoring rules, defenses will have trouble reacting to the strategic genius of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.
Luckily for the Patriots and the Broncos, the bottom half of the AFC is weak. Both New England and Denver will capitalize on a strength of schedule advantage, over their NFC counterparts, to capture the best regular season records.
Prediction #3: The Colts have the third best record in the AFC and win the AFC South.
Prediction #4: The Bengals win AFC North and capture the fourth seed.
As the previous predictions noted, quarterback is an important piece to the Super Bowl puzzle. For the Colts, that portion of the puzzle is already in place. Andrew Luck has shown an incredible ability to compete in the most important times; making the Colts competitive in every playoff game they play.
The Bengals on the other hand, don’t have an elite quarterback. However, Andy Dalton is absolutely good enough to make his team competitive. One puzzle piece the Bengals have that the Colts are still lacking is a stout defense. The Bengals can consistently rush the passer with seven defensive ends currently on the roster, of which at least four would start on most rosters in the NFL. A consistent pass rush is the only way to keep pass happy teams in check. A dominate pass rush limits offensive opportunities to what an offense can produce in three or four seconds.
Prediction #5: San Diego Chargers finish the regular season with a better record than their over achieving division rivals Kansas City Chiefs and take the first wildcard spot.
Last season, Kansas City miraculously won twelve of sixteen games. This year the Chiefs won’t be so lucky to have one of the weakest schedules in the NFL. The Chargers have displayed they are capable for consistently achieving regular season records of 9-7. This year the Chargers take a baby step forward to 10-6 but still lose to the Colts in the wildcard round.
Prediction #6: The Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs all finish with a 9-7 record but the Dolphins take the wildcard spot on tiebreakers.
The Jets underperformed. The Chiefs overperformed. The Dolphins fought for mediocrity. Maybe it’s because I live in South Florida, but I see the Dolphins significantly improving once they get their locker room shenanigans under control. Especially because pass plays where Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill had that extra half second to a second to examine the field his talent leaped off the field. Is Tannehill the “field general” Brady, Manning or even Luck are? No, but he doesn’t have to be for the Dolphins to make the playoffs. The Jets don’t have any semblance of consistency at quarterback, but as usual will surprise teams with a breakout defensive performer. The Chiefs are simply mediocre, mediocre quarterback, mediocre offense, mediocre defense and mediocre coaching; one star running back isn’t enough to make it to the NFL playoffs anymore.