Part of the fun during an NFL off-season is to make aggressive predictions about what will happen in the coming year. What are some plausible long shots?
Seattle Seahawks start 0-3 and still win the NFC West
Many great players over the years have said defending the crown is so much harder than chasing it. The Seattle Seahawks are about to find out if that’s true. While the key parts of their roster are intact, they did lose a lot of veteran depth in free agency. On top of that they sit in the toughest division in football in the NFC West and have a very trying first part of the schedule against three 2013 playoff teams in Green Bay, San Diego and Denver. So here’s a prediction. The title defense for Seattle will start horribly as they lose three-straight games. Then, coming out of their bye week, not only will they roll off a win streak that gets them to the playoffs, they will also win the division.
Jadeveon Clowney finishes with more sacks than J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt is the best pass rusher in the NFL. It was for that reason that the Houston Texans decided to make Jadeveon Clowney their #1 draft pick back in May in hopes of teaming the two together into some sort of mutant combination that would devastate opposing quarterbacks. Clowney of course has a lot to live up to and a lot to prove after finishing his junior year with just three sacks. That being said, Texan fans should be ready for a shot. Not only will he top that lowly number his rookie season, but he will in fact notch more than Watt when the season is over.
The Miami Dolphins reach the AFC championship
Nobody is paying attention to the Miami Dolphins of late. Why should they? The team has been largely irrelevant for so long it’s difficult to give them any air time. It’s easy to forget they finished 2013 with an 8-8 record. Their defense allowed just 20 points per game and quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 3,900 yards and 24 touchdowns despite standing behind the worst offensive line in the NFL. A group that allowed 58 sacks.
Since the off-season began the Dolphins have made significant improvements to that front including solid veteran tackle Branden Albert and rookie Ja’Wuan James. This team beat both the Jets and mighty Patriots last season so they are not far from contention. It stands to reason they will be better this season. Not only will they prove it by making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, they will go on a run that reaches the AFC title game.
Minnesota, Chicago and Green Bay all field top ten defenses
Defense in the NFC North was pitiful last season. The Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers all finished ranked 25th or lower in the league. To keep that from continuing each took an aggressive approach in the off-season to improve.
The Packers added Julius Peppers in free agency to team with Clay Matthews then landed rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to solve a long nagging problem at safety. Chicago rebuilt their defensive front by adding Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young at defensive end before shoring up the secondary with polished cornerback Kyle Fuller. Minnesota added Linval Joseph to the middle of their front and then put athletic UCLA star Anthony Barr to their underwhelming linebacking corps. However their biggest addition was likely head coach Mike Zimmer, a defensive specialist.
Improvements are expected from each team heading into 2014. That shall come to pass, just far more than envisioned when all three finish in the top ten rankings for total defense.
Tony Romo goes undefeated in December
Part of the fun of the NFL is recognizing interesting trends, such as when a team thrives or struggles during a given time of year. That has become especially true for quarterback Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys during the month of December. Since becoming their starting quarterback in 2006, Romo is 13-21 for Dallas during the final month of the year. There is no question it is a big reason why the Cowboys continue to just miss the playoffs. Will anything be different for them in 2014? As far as the playoffs go, that is up for debate, but fans can expect Romo to salvage at least one small part of his reputation when he finishes his first December as a pro undefeated.