A number of individual units around the NFL have a chance to do great things in 2014. Or they could just as easily crash and burn.
#5 – Chicago Bears defense
Phil Emery vowed he would do everything possible to repair the Chicago Bears 30th ranked defense from last season. If nothing else, he certainly took a heck of a crack at it. Through NFL free agency and the draft he completely rebuilt the defensive line with veterans like Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston and rookies like Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Together with some intriguing young athletes at linebacker and some Pro Bowl vets in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings at corner, this unit has a chance to rebound. However, lingering issues at safety could just as easily sink it.
#4 – New York Giants offensive line
Eli Manning was under siege all year for the New York Giants. That was a major contribution to his league-leading 27 interceptions. The offensive line was in dire need of a makeover and the Giants didn’t waste time enacting a plan. It started in free agency with the addition of solid guard Geoff Schwartz, who came from Kansas City. Then they looked to add help at the center position with rookie Weston Richburg. The hope is that these two can fortify the interior blocking, where the problem was greatest. Whether it was enough is yet to be answered.
#3 – New England Patriots linebackers
Ever so quietly the New England Patriots have constructed a very intriguing defense for the 2014 NFL season. The secondary and defensive line are both getting a lot of attention, but in fact it could turn out to be their linebackers that drive the ship forward. Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo is returning from a season-ending injury last season. Dont’a Hightower is coming off his best season yet as a pro. Add with those two the surprising Jamie Collins who came out of nowhere late last season and the Pats have a group rich with athletic skill but haven’t yet played together.
#2 – Philadelphia Eagles receiving corps
Chip Kelly gets the benefit of the doubt in regards to the Philadelphia Eagles offensive roster because he knows offensive football. However, to simply give a passing grade to his new receiving corps would be a bit premature. One can say it’s an intriguing collection of talent. Riley Cooper became a folk hero of sorts last season. Jeremy Maclin is back after missing 2013 with an injury. Add in promising rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff and the Eagles have a mix of size and speed in their group. Still, it’s not enough to convince anybody they can so easily get over the loss of Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson. That scenario certainly bears watching.
#1 – Oakland Raiders running game
Nobody is entirely sure what to make of the Oakland Raiders roster just yet. It’s largely a collect of veterans mixed with intriguing youths trying to mesh into a cohesive unit. The only thing that has become clear about a possible identity for the 2014 NFL season is that they could end up being a great running team. Thanks to careful maneuvering they brought back Darren McFadden and signed Maurice Jones-Drew in free agency. Together with talented second-year man Latavius Murray they have a high-upside stable of running backs. The second part is their offensive line. With free agents like Donald Penn, Khalif Barnes and Austin Howards who came from other teams that excelled running the ball, it’s clear the Raiders have the beef up front to do the same. As with anything else, it’s a question of health and whether those players can mesh.