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2014 NFL season preview

2014 NFL preview: Dig deep into the new season with ESPN NFL Nation expert insight, statistical analysis and more for every team.

NFL Preview 2014

ANALYSIS, INSIGHT AND PREDICTIONS GALORE: Dig deep into the new season with expert takes from NFL Nation, video overviews, statistical analysis and more for every team. Teams are listed in order of results projected by Advanced Football Analytics.

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1

New England

Patriots

2013 Record: 12-4Lost in AFC Championship Game
video
Jets Should Improve To 9-7

Jets reporter Rich Cimini says the schedule doesn't favor New York, which faces six of the top 10 passing offenses from a year ago.

Revis + Belichick: Perfect pairing?

by Mike Reiss | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

LB Jamie Collins

In the playoffs vs. Indy, Collins notched four run stops and a sack and allowed two catches for 12 yards. His +7.0 Pro Football Focus grade was the best by a 4-3 OLB in 2013. Expect more in Year 2.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 14 if Darrelle Revis is the D's missing piece and TE Rob Gronkowski plays 16.

Will win 10 if DT Vince Wilfork, LB Jerod Mayo and Gronk miss 30-plus games like they did in 2013.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Patriots' Projected Record

12-4

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ MIA 28-14
  • Sept. 14 @ MIN 30-13
  • Sept. 21 vs. OAK 38-24
  • Sept. 29 @ KC 16-6
  • Oct. 5 vs. CIN 38-31
  • Oct. 12 @ BUF 38-10
  • Oct. 16 vs. NYJ 13-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. CHI 33-10
  • Nov. 2 vs. DEN 31-27
  • Nov. 16 @ IND 15-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. DET 20-13
  • Nov. 30 @ GB 27-17
  • Dec. 7 @ SD 31-9
  • Dec. 14 vs. MIA 21-14
  • Dec. 21 @ NYJ 27-24
  • Dec. 28 vs. BUF 28-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

8-1

Over/Under Wins

10.5

Revis Island Relocation

In case the Patriots didn't already know what Darrelle Revis could do, the All-Pro cornerback intercepted Tom Brady twice on the third day of training camp. "A lot of times he runs routes before the receivers run them," says coach Bill Belichick. But before Belichick and Revis could join forces, they had to clear the air. As a Jet, Revis once called Belichick a jerk. Meanwhile, Revis had no idea how Belichick truly viewed him. "Everything changed when we sat down," Revis says. "We put it behind us." In so doing, they ensured that the Patriots can move on to the business of trying to stay atop the AFC East.

Best-Kept Secret

Belichick might have the best linebacker corps in his 15 years as coach with Jerod Mayo in the middle, flanked by Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower. When the Patriots were winning Super Bowls, one could make the argument that the linebacker position -- with Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Willie McGinest, Ted Johnson, Roman Phifer, Bryan Cox, Rosevelt Colvin and Co. -- was the heart and soul of the defense. This season's group has the potential to have a similar impact and Belichick has invested significant capital to put it all together, tabbing Mayo (2008, 10th overall) and Hightower (2012, 25th overall) in the first round and Collins in the second (2013, 52nd overall). Because Mayo and Collins are understated and seldom offer up a sizzling sound bite, and Hightower seems to prefer to fly under the radar, the spotlight hasn't really shined on this group. That could quickly change once the games start.

Worst-kept secret

The Patriots' offense needs tight end Rob Gronkowski badly, especially in the red zone. Consider that in the seven games Gronkowski was active last season, the Patriots converted 69 percent of their trips inside the red zone into touchdowns. New England was much less productive in that area when Gronkowski wasn't active in the first six weeks (41 percent) and the last three weeks (46 percent). Gronkowski says he plans to play the full 16-game regular season, and that would change everything for the Patriots, who don't have great depth at the position behind him. Outside of Brady, and perhaps Revis, there is no more important player to the team than Gronkowski.

Elise Amendola/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Tom Brady:

"With him, you really have to do your job and whatever your assignment is. If you got man [coverage], stay locked up on him. If you have zone [coverage], stay in your zone, because if you try to freelance and jump a route, he is too smart for that. He will read it and expose you. So stay back, do your assignment and make the plays when it comes to you. That's how you beat him. He's very smart. He is a guy that takes what is given to him. He's going to throw to the open guy. He has a good offensive line, so he's going to have time to throw the ball and he's going to take the matchups that he likes."

Make-or-break stretch

Brady recently said that a team truly doesn't know what it has until December, and it's almost as if he was looking at the schedule when he said that. A Nov. 2 home game against the Broncos, followed by the bye and then a Sunday night road game against the Colts looks like the iron of the schedule. After a home date with Detroit, then it's a challenging back-to-back road set against the Packers (Nov. 30) and Chargers (Dec. 7) in which Belichick is considering keeping the team out West for the week leading into the Sunday night game at San Diego. That stretch should tell us all we need to know about the Patriots.

Reiss' prediction

The Patriots remain the class of the AFC East and should once again be in the playoff mix, posting double-digit wins in the regular season (we went with 12-4, agreeing with the Advanced Football Analytics projection). Then the question becomes whether they're healthy and built to last in the playoffs. With so many resources devoted to defense the past few years, and the possibility of having seven first-round draft picks on D on the field at the same time, the foundation is there to answer that question with authority. This team has Super Bowl potential.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

LB Jamie Collins

In the playoffs vs. Indy, Collins notched four run stops and a sack and allowed two catches for 12 yards. His +7.0 Pro Football Focus grade was the best by a 4-3 OLB in 2013. Expect more in Year 2.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 14 if Darrelle Revis is the D's missing piece and TE Rob Gronkowski plays 16.

Will win 10 if DT Vince Wilfork, LB Jerod Mayo and Gronk miss 30-plus games like they did in 2013.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Patriots' Projected Record

12-4

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ MIA 28-14
  • Sept. 14 @ MIN 30-13
  • Sept. 21 vs. OAK 38-24
  • Sept. 29 @ KC 16-6
  • Oct. 5 vs. CIN 38-31
  • Oct. 12 @ BUF 38-10
  • Oct. 16 vs. NYJ 13-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. CHI 33-10
  • Nov. 2 vs. DEN 31-27
  • Nov. 16 @ IND 15-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. DET 20-13
  • Nov. 30 @ GB 27-17
  • Dec. 7 @ SD 31-9
  • Dec. 14 vs. MIA 21-14
  • Dec. 21 @ NYJ 27-24
  • Dec. 28 vs. BUF 28-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

8-1

Over/Under Wins

10.5

close

2

Miami

Dolphins

2013 Record: 8-8 3rd in AFC East
video
Back To The Big Game?

ESPN.com Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold says the team's new defense will ensure a return trip to the Super Bowl.

Time for Tannehill to take over

by James Walker | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Randy Starks

Starks is the only defensive tackle whose Pro Football Focus grades against the run (+10.5) and the pass (+11.8) both ranked in the top seven last season. In all, he totaled 40 QB pressures (11th in NFL) and 35 stops (seventh).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Ryan Tannehill is better on vertical throws and Bill Lazor's creative scheme clicks.

Will win 6 if the O-line fails to improve (58 sacks allowed, worst in NFL) and the RB corps underwhelms again.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Dolphins' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. NE 28-14
  • Sept. 14 @ BUF 34-17
  • Sept. 21 vs. KC 35-27
  • Sept. 28 @ OAK* 27-21
  • Oct. 12 vs. GB 38-17
  • Oct. 19 @ CHI 31-7
  • Oct. 26 @ JAC 24-14
  • Nov. 2 vs. SD 35-31
  • Nov. 9 @ DET 27-9
  • Nov. 13 vs. BUF 23-3
  • Nov. 23 @ DEN 33-24
  • Dec. 1 @ NYJ 42-24
  • Dec. 7 vs. BAL 24-7
  • Dec. 14 @ NE 21-14
  • Dec. 21 vs. MIN 20-17
  • Dec. 28 vs. NYJ 34-6
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

50-1

Over/Under Wins

8

Tannehill Lights A Fire

There's a new vibe on the Miami offense, starting with Ryan Tannehill. Exhibits A and B: After Rishard Matthews quit on a broken play in practice, resulting in a sack, and then rookie Gerald Ford ran the wrong route, Tannehill yelled at both receivers in front of the team and media. "Now I'm more apt to say something, make a statement," the formerly mild-mannered quarterback says. Coming off a 15-17 record in his first two seasons, Tannehill is fully aware of the pressure he faces in new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor's offense, which emphasizes motion and quick-hitting plays. Another losing season could result in changes -- including at QB.

Best-Kept Secret

Miami's most formidable position grouping this year should be its three-receiver sets, due to the team's strength in the slot. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline are the top wideouts, and slot receivers Brandon Gibson, Matthews and rookie Jarvis Landry have all made attention-grabbing plays in training camp and the preseason. Gibson most likely will be primary slot option Week 1 because he has the most experience, but Landry and Matthews have made it difficult to keep them off the field.

Worst-kept secret

Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert is the glue to the offensive line and must stay healthy for all 16 games to protect Tannehill's blind side. This is a talented roster with depth in a lot of areas -- but not at left tackle. Jason Fox and Nate Garner worked behind Albert in training camp but are not the answers. Albert, who signed a $47-million contract this offseason, has been steady this summer. But he had injury issues in the past, missing seven games the past two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Brian Blanco/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Ryan Tannehill:

"If you don't get close to him, he looks great. He can make it look easy, like it's a 7-on-7 drill in practice. But when you get a little pressure on him, he's a totally different quarterback. If you can squeeze him from the outside and make him stay in the pocket, he gets jittery and doesn't set his feet when he throws. All you have to do is get guys flying around his legs. I'm not suggesting anything malicious, nothing like that. Just get some bodies around him and it makes him uncomfortable. He can run but doesn't do it often enough. It makes no sense because he could really use that to his advantage."

Make-or-break stretch

Miami begins with division games against New England and in Buffalo, followed by a visit from Kansas City and a trip to London to play Oakland before the bye. These games are key because Miami will be without Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey (hip injury), starting safety Reshad Jones (suspension) and former No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan (suspension). How the Dolphins hold up during this stretch could define their season.

Walker's prediction

I agree with the 8-8 prediction from Advanced Football Analytics. The Dolphins are better in some areas, but it will be a struggle to overcome their tougher strength of schedule and major weaknesses, such as linebacker and the offensive line.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Randy Starks

Starks is the only defensive tackle whose Pro Football Focus grades against the run (+10.5) and the pass (+11.8) both ranked in the top seven last season. In all, he totaled 40 QB pressures (11th in NFL) and 35 stops (seventh).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Ryan Tannehill is better on vertical throws and Bill Lazor's creative scheme clicks.

Will win 6 if the O-line fails to improve (58 sacks allowed, worst in NFL) and the RB corps underwhelms again.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Dolphins' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. NE 28-14
  • Sept. 14 @ BUF 34-17
  • Sept. 21 vs. KC 35-27
  • Sept. 28 @ OAK* 27-21
  • Oct. 12 vs. GB 38-17
  • Oct. 19 @ CHI 31-7
  • Oct. 26 @ JAC 24-14
  • Nov. 2 vs. SD 35-31
  • Nov. 9 @ DET 27-9
  • Nov. 13 vs. BUF 23-3
  • Nov. 23 @ DEN 33-24
  • Dec. 1 @ NYJ 42-24
  • Dec. 7 vs. BAL 24-7
  • Dec. 14 @ NE 21-14
  • Dec. 21 vs. MIN 20-17
  • Dec. 28 vs. NYJ 34-6
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

50-1

Over/Under Wins

8

close

3

New York

Jets

2013 Record: 8-8 2nd in AFC East
video
Bengals Headed To Playoffs Again

Bengals reporter Coley Harvey says Cincinnati will go 10-6 and make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, a first in team history.

If Geno doesn't arrive, Rex could depart

by Rich Cimini | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Damon Harrison

Harrison won't be a secret for long. The 6-foot-4, 350-pound mammoth finished 2013 with a +33.2 Pro Football Focus grade vs. the run. That was nearly 15 points more than the next-closest DT.
--Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Geno Smith becomes an above-average game manager and the front seven remains elite.

Will win 7 if Eric Decker isn't a true No. 1 WR and Smith reverts to rookie habits.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Jets' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. OAK 27-23
  • Sept. 14 @ GB 24-20
  • Sept. 22 vs. CHI 16-7
  • Sept. 28 vs. DET 24-23
  • Oct. 5 @ SD 24-3
  • Oct. 12 vs. DEN 27-22
  • Oct. 16 @ NE 13-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. BUF 34-24
  • Nov. 2 @ KC 24-6
  • Nov. 9 vs. PIT 30-7
  • Nov. 23 @ BUF 33-10
  • Dec. 1 vs. MIA 42-24
  • Dec. 7 @ MIN 23-10
  • Dec. 14 @ TEN 33-9
  • Dec. 21 vs. NE 27-24
  • Dec. 28 @ MIA 34-6

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

60-1

Over/Under Wins

7

New Year, New Geno, Same Jets?

QB Geno Smith is more assertive in Year 2 -- and it shows in the huddle. Last season he sometimes stumbled when relaying the playcall and leaned on center Nick Mangold. But in camp this summer? "It's gotten away from me telling him exactly what to do," Mangold says. "It's a two-way discussion." Smith acts like a starter now -- even with Michael Vick now in town. When receiver Eric Decker signed, Smith tracked down his number and reached out, sharing everything from X's and O's to places to live in New Jersey. The most prized piece of real estate, of course, is the end zone at MetLife Stadium. Smith and Decker need to take the Jets there.

Best-Kept Secret

Look for the Jets to incorporate more of the pistol formation into their offensive repertoire. They ran 46 times out of the pistol last season (seventh-highest in the NFL), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They showed it in the preseason with the speedy Chris Johnson, who fits the formation because it provides a longer runway, so to speak. Johnson loves the diversity of the Jets' running game, which he believes will re-energize his career. The pistol also provides a wrinkle for Smith, who threw 80 percent of his passes last season out of a standard shotgun.

Worst-kept secret

The lack of depth and talent at cornerback could be the demise of this team. The front office failed to adequately address the issue in the offseason, and it was exacerbated by training-camp injuries to Dee Milliner and Dexter McDougle and the suspension of starter Dimitri Patterson. Even if Milliner (high ankle sprain) returns for the opener, it'll probably take him several weeks before he's truly comfortable. Rex Ryan, a defensive mastermind, will have to scheme up ways to camouflage the weakness. He might have to use the two-deep safety look more than he prefers.

Frank Franklin II/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Geno Smith:

"You got to keep him in the pocket. Crowd it, keep him in the pocket. I feel like disguising him really gets him. Putting pressure on him. Letting him see one thing but it's really another. ... Get a good amount of pressure on him, let him feel that pressure. Hopefully he gets the happy feet a little bit and [he'll] just let one go."

Make-or-break stretch

In a span of 12 days in October, the Jets face San Diego (away), Denver and New England (away) -- Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, respectively. For the Jets and their suspect secondary, it will be the Missiles of October. It would be an extraordinary accomplishment if they could win two out of three. If they can get through the Patriots with a 4-3 record or better, they'd be in great shape for a second-half run. On the flip side, the Jets' season could be blown up by Halloween if they fall apart against the Rivers-Manning-Brady troika.

Cimini's prediction

The Jets are better than Advanced Football Analytics' 7-9 projection. They'd better be or else Ryan will be looking for a job. Except for the secondary, they should be better at every position. If Smith slashes his interception total by a third (21 to 14), they will finish 9-7.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Damon Harrison

Harrison won't be a secret for long. The 6-foot-4, 350-pound mammoth finished 2013 with a +33.2 Pro Football Focus grade vs. the run. That was nearly 15 points more than the next-closest DT.
--Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Geno Smith becomes an above-average game manager and the front seven remains elite.

Will win 7 if Eric Decker isn't a true No. 1 WR and Smith reverts to rookie habits.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Jets' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. OAK 27-23
  • Sept. 14 @ GB 24-20
  • Sept. 22 vs. CHI 16-7
  • Sept. 28 vs. DET 24-23
  • Oct. 5 @ SD 24-3
  • Oct. 12 vs. DEN 27-22
  • Oct. 16 @ NE 13-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. BUF 34-24
  • Nov. 2 @ KC 24-6
  • Nov. 9 vs. PIT 30-7
  • Nov. 23 @ BUF 33-10
  • Dec. 1 vs. MIA 42-24
  • Dec. 7 @ MIN 23-10
  • Dec. 14 @ TEN 33-9
  • Dec. 21 vs. NE 27-24
  • Dec. 28 @ MIA 34-6

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

60-1

Over/Under Wins

7

close

4

Buffalo

Bills

2013 Record: 6-10 4th in AFC East
video
Giants Will Finish Season 8-8

ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano says the team is in for another transition year as it tries to reclaim its status as a contender.

Plenty of questions beyond potent D-line

by Mike Rodak | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

LB Nigel Bradham

Bradham played only 24 percent of Buffalo's snaps on D in 2013, but his 0.39 yards per coverage snap allowed (best among ILBs) will help him see the field more with Kiko Alonso out for the year (ACL).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 9 if LT Cordy Glenn stays healthy and the D keeps up the pressure (57 sacks in 2013, second).

Will win 5 if EJ Manuel stares down WRs and the D can't replace Jairus Byrd (FA) or Alonso.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Bills' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ CHI 34-10
  • Sept. 14 vs. MIA 34-17
  • Sept. 21 vs. SD 36-20
  • Sept. 28 @ HOU 26-13
  • Oct. 5 @ DET 34-27
  • Oct. 12 vs. NE 38-10
  • Oct. 19 vs. MIN 24-17
  • Oct. 26 @ NYJ 34-24
  • Nov. 9 vs. KC 22-14
  • Nov. 13 @ MIA 23-3
  • Nov. 23 vs. NYJ 33-10
  • Nov. 30 vs. CLE 38-10
  • Dec. 7 @ DEN 28-13
  • Dec. 14 vs. GB 38-10
  • Dec. 21 @ OAK 27-14
  • Dec. 28 @ NE 28-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

60-1

Over/Under Wins

6.5

Bonding is the Target

When coach Doug Marrone canned an OTA session for a team-building activity in the spring, it wasn't just for players. The coaches also tagged along to an Airsoft range to shoot one another with rubber pellets. It was Marrone's attempt to grow chemistry on a disjointed staff that had been overhauled starting in January. Marrone fired two assistants, and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine poached a few when he took the Browns job. The result is a revamped staff in Buffalo -- one that aims to get along much better this year thanks to those rubber pellets.

Best-Kept Secret

Which team has the NFL's best defensive line? It's probably the Bills, who sent three linemen -- Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus -- to the Pro Bowl last season. Add Jerry Hughes (10 sacks) and you have a formidable unit. With so much attention paid to EJ Manuel, Sammy Watkins and the offense, it's easy to forget that the Bills ranked second last season with 57 sacks. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn't blitz as much as Pettine, but he doesn't need anything more than his defensive line to generate pressure.

Worst-kept secret

The Bills are standing on thin ice at quarterback. They were put in a bind last season when Manuel went down three separate times with knee injuries, and they did nothing in the offseason to address the position. Teams rarely advance deep into the playoffs -- or into the postseason at all -- without a capable quarterback, and Manuel has yet to prove he's the guy as he enters his second season. Expect opposing defenses to shadow Watkins with their best cover man and try to make Manuel beat them in other ways. If last season was any indication, he could struggle to do so.

Don Wright/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB EJ Manuel:

"The main thing we focused on with Manuel was trying to keep him in the pocket and making him beat us with his arm. He has a strong arm and is athletic, with the ability to run, so you want to see him consistently have to make throws from the pocket, given that he's still a young quarterback. You test his patience a bit. ... Setting a good edge is so important, both with the idea of keeping Manuel in the pocket or C.J. Spiller from bouncing outside."

Make-or-break stretch

The Bills will run the gantlet in December. They begin on the road in Denver, return home to face Green Bay, make a cross-country trip to Oakland and then conclude their regular season in New England. That stretch includes games against three of the NFL's best quarterbacks -- Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady -- and will test the Bills' mettle. They might need to enter December with at least eight or nine wins to have a shot at the playoffs.

Rodak's prediction

I disagree with Advanced Football Analytics' prediction of five wins. The Bills probably aren't ready to be serious contenders, but they're not at the bottom of the barrel, either. This team won six games last season with a carousel at quarterback and no Watkins at receiver. This is a talented roster that should get to seven wins.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

LB Nigel Bradham

Bradham played only 24 percent of Buffalo's snaps on D in 2013, but his 0.39 yards per coverage snap allowed (best among ILBs) will help him see the field more with Kiko Alonso out for the year (ACL).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 9 if LT Cordy Glenn stays healthy and the D keeps up the pressure (57 sacks in 2013, second).

Will win 5 if EJ Manuel stares down WRs and the D can't replace Jairus Byrd (FA) or Alonso.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Bills' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ CHI 34-10
  • Sept. 14 vs. MIA 34-17
  • Sept. 21 vs. SD 36-20
  • Sept. 28 @ HOU 26-13
  • Oct. 5 @ DET 34-27
  • Oct. 12 vs. NE 38-10
  • Oct. 19 vs. MIN 24-17
  • Oct. 26 @ NYJ 34-24
  • Nov. 9 vs. KC 22-14
  • Nov. 13 @ MIA 23-3
  • Nov. 23 vs. NYJ 33-10
  • Nov. 30 vs. CLE 38-10
  • Dec. 7 @ DEN 28-13
  • Dec. 14 vs. GB 38-10
  • Dec. 21 @ OAK 27-14
  • Dec. 28 @ NE 28-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

60-1

Over/Under Wins

6.5

close

1

Denver

Broncos

2013 Record: 13-3Lost in Super Bowl

Peyton and pals have one goal in mind

by Jeff Legwold | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Malik Jackson

Jackson was one of only three DTs to rank in the position's top 14 for pass-rushing productivity (9.2, fifth), run-stop percentage (9.3, 14th) and overall Pro Football Focus grade (13.0, 12th).
--Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 13 if a revived D can keep Peyton Manning out of weekly shootouts.

Will win 10 if the schedule -- which includes the NFC West -- becomes a slog and a few of their elites go down.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Broncos' Projected Record

13-3

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. IND 41-13
  • Sept. 14 vs. KC 23-14
  • Sept. 21 @ SEA 30-23
  • Oct. 5 vs. ARI 27-10
  • Oct. 12 @ NYJ 27-22
  • Oct. 19 vs. SF 24-10
  • Oct. 23 vs. SD 27-20
  • Nov. 2 @ NE 31-27
  • Nov. 9 @ OAK 37-20
  • Nov. 16 @ STL 31-6
  • Nov. 23 vs. MIA 33-24
  • Nov. 30 @ KC 27-7
  • Dec. 7 vs. BUF 28-13
  • Dec. 14 @ SD 27-10
  • Dec. 22 @ CIN 31-22
  • Dec. 28 vs. OAK 35-24

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

5-1

Over/Under Wins

11.5

Peyton 101

The reigning MVP doesn't do downtime. Any player strolling down the hall of the Broncos' facility risks being confronted with a pop quiz. As one teammate says: "Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning all ... the ... time." After botching a route in camp, new WR Emmanuel Sanders got an earful from his QB -- then made quality plays in the same drill. That's what Denver wants and needs. "Nobody feels sorry for you in this league," says John Elway, the chief decision maker. "You want guys who understand that." In Year 3 with Manning, the Broncos get it, all right -- and they're better set for the crucible of a title run.

Best-Kept Secret

Most descriptions of the Broncos' offense begin and end with love for their three-wide receiver look. And that grouping will propel this high-powered offense much of the time. But when the Broncos want to settle things down and rebound from a turnover or a three-and-out, they will put in a two-tight end formation and proceed to get themselves back on track. And this year there may be three- and four-tight end looks to go with a the formation of two tight ends and three wide receivers.

Worst-kept secret

The Broncos like backup QB Brock Osweiler's development and believe he has shown potential as a future starter, but their entire offensive philosophy is built around a once-in-a-generation quarterback. The Broncos are all-in on Manning in the construction of the playbook, how they practice and what kind of personnel they put around him in the formation. (For example, right tackle Orlando Franklin's move to left guard from right tackle was the result of trying to create a cleaner pocket for the non-scrambling Manning in the middle of the field.) If Manning isn't in the lineup, the Broncos have plenty of adjustments to make.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Peyton Manning:

"The thing with Peyton is you're not really going to trick him, at least not very often. So, you're not really going to be able to show him a look, a scheme, formation, whatever, that he hasn't seen before. He remembers what you did every time you've played him before. He knows what you're trying to do. I mean, he studies what your coordinator has done before. So you can't make mistakes. Some guys you make mistakes and they don't find it. He almost sees your mistake as soon as it happens or knows it's coming, and he takes advantage of it. ... If you can't rush three or four and get seven or eight into coverage and disrupt him, it's going to be a tough day. And the guys up front have to be able to go from pass rush to run defense if he checks out to a run play because he sees you in a lighter front. He likes to be on schedule, so if you get him off schedule, that's your only chance really."

Make-or-break stretch

There are plenty hills to climb in this schedule -- yet another trip to New England to go with a spin through the rugged NFC West. From Nov. 2 to Dec. 22 the Broncos play six of eight games on the road including three road games in a row Weeks 9-11. Those road games include '13 playoff teams in New England, Kansas City, San Diego and Cincinnati. Couple that with the early bye -- Week 4 -- and the Broncos will play 13 consecutive weeks to close out the regular season, a run that will test both their resolve and depth chart.

Legwold's prediction

12-4. Advanced Football Analytics puts the Broncos at 13 wins, and in reality they are among the elite and anything between 11 and 14 wins is on the table. But the schedule is daunting with road games against five playoff teams from a year ago. The Broncos are deep, they have Manning in an offense that may have improved, and they won 13 games last year despite five defensive starters being on injured reserve by the time they went to the Super Bowl.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Malik Jackson

Jackson was one of only three DTs to rank in the position's top 14 for pass-rushing productivity (9.2, fifth), run-stop percentage (9.3, 14th) and overall Pro Football Focus grade (13.0, 12th).
--Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 13 if a revived D can keep Peyton Manning out of weekly shootouts.

Will win 10 if the schedule -- which includes the NFC West -- becomes a slog and a few of their elites go down.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Broncos' Projected Record

13-3

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. IND 41-13
  • Sept. 14 vs. KC 23-14
  • Sept. 21 @ SEA 30-23
  • Oct. 5 vs. ARI 27-10
  • Oct. 12 @ NYJ 27-22
  • Oct. 19 vs. SF 24-10
  • Oct. 23 vs. SD 27-20
  • Nov. 2 @ NE 31-27
  • Nov. 9 @ OAK 37-20
  • Nov. 16 @ STL 31-6
  • Nov. 23 vs. MIA 33-24
  • Nov. 30 @ KC 27-7
  • Dec. 7 vs. BUF 28-13
  • Dec. 14 @ SD 27-10
  • Dec. 22 @ CIN 31-22
  • Dec. 28 vs. OAK 35-24

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

5-1

Over/Under Wins

11.5

close

2

San Diego

Chargers

2013 Record: 9-7Lost in Divisional Round

Riding Rivers as far as he'll take them

by Eric Williams | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

TE Ladarius Green

Green is 6-foot-6, 240 pounds and runs a 4.53 40, so it shouldn't surprise you that he made his 17 catches count in 2013. His 2.67 yards per route run ranked second among TEs (minimum 100 routes).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if an underrated O-line makes the leap and a loaded RB corps improves its 4.04 ypc from '13.

Will win 7 if they still can't force turnovers (30th in '13) and their undersized CBs get eaten up vs. bigger wideouts.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Chargers' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 8 @ ARI 28-7
  • Sept. 14 vs. SEA 24-10
  • Sept. 21 @ BUF 36-20
  • Sept. 28 vs. JAC 45-17
  • Oct. 5 vs. NYJ 24-3
  • Oct. 12 @ OAK 28-17
  • Oct. 19 vs. KC 36-19
  • Oct. 23 @ DEN 27-20
  • Nov. 2 @ MIA 35-31
  • Nov. 16 vs. OAK 26-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. STL 29-16
  • Nov. 30 @ BAL 33-13
  • Dec. 7 vs. NE 31-9
  • Dec. 14 vs. DEN 27-10
  • Dec. 20 @ SF 26-24
  • Dec. 28 @ KC 32-28

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

30-1

Over/Under Wins

8

Free Rivers

During most drills this offseason, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers could be seen running the no-huddle offense. That's new offensive coordinator Frank Reich's doing; he played in the fast-paced K-Gun offense as QB for the Bills. The scheme tweak is working, specifically in the red zone -- a point of emphasis after the Chargers scored a touchdown on only 50 percent of trips there last season (tied for 26th in the NFL). In one practice, Rivers found emerging TE Ladarius Green on back-to-back plays for TDs. Rivers will get more freedom to call plays at the line this season. And if more freedom leads to even better production -- he set a career high with a 69.5 percent completion rate in 2013 -- the Chargers will challenge for another playoff berth.

Best-Kept Secret

A lot of the talk about San Diego's potent offense centers on Rivers and a talented group of playmakers, but the Chargers' big, physical offensive line really makes everything work. Led by veteran center Nick Hardwick and coached by one of the best in the business, Joe D'Alessandris, the Chargers allowed only 30 sacks in 2013. San Diego's offensive line also paved the way for 1,965 rushing yards last season, which was 13th in the NFL. With all five of the team's starters up front returning, expect more of the same for San Diego.

Worst-kept secret

After his breakout rookie season, finishing with 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns, every opposing defense will know where receiver Keenan Allen is on the field in his second season. The Cal product worked on improving his speed during the offseason and says he feels faster heading into the regular season. Allen continued to develop a better rapport with Rivers, which has been evident in practice and in games. But what will really help Allen is the return of wide receiver Malcom Floyd, who played only two games last season before suffering a serious neck injury. Because Floyd is 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds with good speed, defenses will have to account for him, which means they can't consistently double-team Allen.

Stephen Brashear/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Philip Rivers:

"When we prep for Rivers, we're thinking he's not going to take a lot of chances, especially in their offense now. He's not going to force something. He's not going to just come out and throw deep. He's going to throw, if there's nothing there, those little checkdowns, and he moves on to the next play. He's going to make sure they don't have third-and-longs. He's great at throwing outside the numbers; that's something a lot of other guys struggle with. They're not as accurate outside the numbers as Philip is. You have to take away the short stuff where he can keep the offense moving and he has that comfort level, you want him to have to throw deep center. If you can get him to have to throw deep, it's more manageable, especially if you can get the rush up the middle, because he doesn't like to move side to side all that much."

Make-or-break stretch

How San Diego finishes out the season likely will determine whether it reaches the playoffs for a second straight year. The Chargers will play three of their last five games on the road -- facing four playoff teams from last season in New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City. San Diego won its last four games last season to reach the postseason for the first time since 2009, but the Chargers will be hard-pressed to do that again if placed in a similar situation.

Williams' prediction

10-6. The Chargers' finishing at the .500 mark, as Advanced Football Analytics projects, is a realistic scenario if key players suffer injuries, such as Rivers and Dwight Freeney. But if San Diego remains healthy, the defense should be better than last year's unit, which played pretty well in the backstretch of 2013, helping the Chargers make a surprising postseason run. San Diego has several playmakers on offense and should put up enough points each week for this team to compete with Denver for the top spot in the AFC West.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

TE Ladarius Green

Green is 6-foot-6, 240 pounds and runs a 4.53 40, so it shouldn't surprise you that he made his 17 catches count in 2013. His 2.67 yards per route run ranked second among TEs (minimum 100 routes).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if an underrated O-line makes the leap and a loaded RB corps improves its 4.04 ypc from '13.

Will win 7 if they still can't force turnovers (30th in '13) and their undersized CBs get eaten up vs. bigger wideouts.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Chargers' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 8 @ ARI 28-7
  • Sept. 14 vs. SEA 24-10
  • Sept. 21 @ BUF 36-20
  • Sept. 28 vs. JAC 45-17
  • Oct. 5 vs. NYJ 24-3
  • Oct. 12 @ OAK 28-17
  • Oct. 19 vs. KC 36-19
  • Oct. 23 @ DEN 27-20
  • Nov. 2 @ MIA 35-31
  • Nov. 16 vs. OAK 26-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. STL 29-16
  • Nov. 30 @ BAL 33-13
  • Dec. 7 vs. NE 31-9
  • Dec. 14 vs. DEN 27-10
  • Dec. 20 @ SF 26-24
  • Dec. 28 @ KC 32-28

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

30-1

Over/Under Wins

8

close

3

Kansas City

Chiefs

2013 Record: 11-5Lost in Wild Card

Pressure's on defense to create pressure

by Adam Teicher | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

FB Anthony Sherman

Think FBs are a thing of the past? Ask Jamaal Charles. KC's stud back averaged 5.3 ypc with Sherman lead-blocking in 2013 and 4.6 without him. In all, Sherman led Charles on eight of his 12 rushing TDs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Charles gets help; he accounted for 35 percent of KC's yards in 2013 (highest among RBs).

Will win 7 if the pass rush can't mask limitations in the secondary. Eric Berry is the only returning DB starter.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Chiefs' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. TEN 22-0
  • Sept. 14 @ DEN 23-14
  • Sept. 21 @ MIA 35-27
  • Sept. 29 vs. NE 16-6
  • Oct. 5 @ SF 28-26
  • Oct. 19 @ SD 36-19
  • Oct. 26 vs. STL 24-13
  • Nov. 2 vs. NYJ 24-6
  • Nov. 9 @ BUF 22-14
  • Nov. 16 vs. SEA 15-10
  • Nov. 20 @ OAK 27-14
  • Nov. 30 vs. DEN 27-7
  • Dec. 7 @ ARI 25-20
  • Dec. 14 vs. OAK 37-17
  • Dec. 21 @ PIT 38-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. SD 32-28

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

50-1

Over/Under Wins

8

A Step Ahead

How quick is rookie Dee Ford's first step? During one drill at training camp, the first-round outside linebacker was nearly to the quarterback before the lineman blocking him made a move. "He kind of reminds me of Von Miller with the way he gets off the ball," says linebacker Joe Mays, a former Bronco. "He's a freak." If the Chiefs learned anything from last season, it's the importance of edge pressure. They had 36 sacks during their 9-0 start and 12 in their final eight games, when they went 2-6. Ford will help rectify that one first step at a time.

Best-Kept Secret

The Chiefs are better at tight end than they've been since trading Tony Gonzalez before the 2009 season. The starter, Anthony Fasano, is a solid player who has become a reliable short- and medium-range receiver. Travis Kelce is 260 pounds but is fast enough to be a big-play threat down the field. He had two touchdowns of longer than 40 yards in the preseason. Demetrius Harris played basketball, not football, in college, so he's developing and may not play a lot. But the 6-foot-7 Harris could be a nice red zone target. The Chiefs will get more than the 53 catches they got from their tight ends last season.

Worst-kept secret

The Chiefs are in trouble if they can't generate more pass rush than they did over the last several games of last season. Other than safety Eric Berry, the Chiefs are thin in the secondary. Two of the players competing for starting spots at cornerback, Ron Parker and Marcus Cooper, were waiver claims last season. Berry has missed practice time at training camp and preseason games because of tendinitis in his heel. If the Chiefs don't get big seasons from outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston and contributions from Ford, they will allow a lot of big pass plays.

Jeff Moffett/Icon SMI

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Alex Smith:

"People don't really see him as a runner, but he can escape pressure, run, get out and hurt you there. If you don't remember that, he's going to convert some of those third-and-5s on you even if you think you did everything right. He's very smart, very smart. ... He's smart enough to check out of something if we had the right call on, and then he can take off and run if he doesn't like what's there. He's not like Kaepernick fast or anything, but he can run, man, so you have to keep him in the pocket. You know he isn't going to take a lot of risks, and he hasn't really shown he'll push the ball down the field into tight windows. So if you keep him in the pocket and take away his progressions, especially his first options, you can slow that offense down."

Make-or-break stretch

After beginning the season at home against Tennessee, the Chiefs have a stretch of five games that will determine the fate of their season. Included are four road games (against Denver, Miami, San Francisco and San Diego) and a Monday night home game against New England. If the Chiefs can get two wins here and beat the Titans to begin the season, that would get them to 3-3, where they presumably wouldn't be buried. The schedule flattens out to an extent after that, but it's still difficult to see the Chiefs rallying from 2-4 (or worse) to become a serious playoff contender.

Teicher's prediction

8-8. A win total somewhere between the seven projected by Advanced Football Analytics and nine sounds about right for the Chiefs. They aren't as good as their 9-0 start from last season and not as bad as their 2-6 finish. A difficult schedule dictates a lesser win total than in 2013.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

FB Anthony Sherman

Think FBs are a thing of the past? Ask Jamaal Charles. KC's stud back averaged 5.3 ypc with Sherman lead-blocking in 2013 and 4.6 without him. In all, Sherman led Charles on eight of his 12 rushing TDs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Charles gets help; he accounted for 35 percent of KC's yards in 2013 (highest among RBs).

Will win 7 if the pass rush can't mask limitations in the secondary. Eric Berry is the only returning DB starter.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Chiefs' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. TEN 22-0
  • Sept. 14 @ DEN 23-14
  • Sept. 21 @ MIA 35-27
  • Sept. 29 vs. NE 16-6
  • Oct. 5 @ SF 28-26
  • Oct. 19 @ SD 36-19
  • Oct. 26 vs. STL 24-13
  • Nov. 2 vs. NYJ 24-6
  • Nov. 9 @ BUF 22-14
  • Nov. 16 vs. SEA 15-10
  • Nov. 20 @ OAK 27-14
  • Nov. 30 vs. DEN 27-7
  • Dec. 7 @ ARI 25-20
  • Dec. 14 vs. OAK 37-17
  • Dec. 21 @ PIT 38-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. SD 32-28

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

50-1

Over/Under Wins

8

close

4

Oakland

Raiders

2013 Record: 4-12 4th in AFC West

No quick fixes but a brighter future

by Paul Gutierrez | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Pat Sims

Sims was the lone bright spot on the Raiders' D (29th scoring D in NFL). He missed just one tackle in 44 attempts and racked up three sacks. Overall, Sims' 8.1 Pro Football Focus grade placed him among the top 20 DTs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 8 if DEs Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and CB Carlos Rogers can improve a D that ranked 29th in ppg allowed.

Will win 4 if a lack of playmakers at WR and RB fails an already uncertain QB situation.
--Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Raiders' Projected Record

4-12

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ NYJ 27-23
  • Sept. 14 vs. HOU 24-10
  • Sept. 21 @ NE 38-24
  • Sept. 28 vs. MIA* 27-21
  • Oct. 12 vs. SD 28-17
  • Oct. 19 vs. ARI 33-14
  • Oct. 26 @ CLE 27-17
  • Nov. 2 @ SEA 22-10
  • Nov. 9 vs. DEN 37-20
  • Nov. 16 @ SD 26-10
  • Nov. 20 vs. KC 27-14
  • Nov. 30 @ STL 14-6
  • Dec. 7 vs. SF 27-7
  • Dec. 14 @ KC 37-17
  • Dec. 21 vs. BUF 27-14
  • Dec. 28 @ DEN 35-24
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

5

A Brand New Carr

Any thought that QB Derek Carr would redshirt his rookie year disappeared when he stepped into the huddle. His command and aura were so impressive that coaches elevated Carr to QB2 behind Matt Schaub. "He's a very mature player," says OC Greg Olson. "We felt we should accelerate his learning curve." That could include starting should Schaub flop or get hurt. But the most important part of the game plan is patience. DE Justin Tuck and first-round OLB Khalil Mack headline a retooled D, but there are no quick fixes in Raiderland -- just hints of a brighter future.

Best-Kept Secret

It's so well kept, the Raiders themselves might not know the answer yet -- how to keep both Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden healthy and happy at running back. Splitting reps is never an easy chore, and Olson's challenge is to get both players primed without letting one or the other cool down. The diminutive MJD is shiftier and more effective between the tackles while the larger and faster Run DMC can be devastating in open space. In the preseason, Jones-Drew has been the bell-cow back, so to speak, with McFadden becoming a third-down back.

Worst-Kept secret

If Schaub flops, then the quarterback-analyzing skills of general manager Reggie McKenzie and his staff are in serious trouble. After jettisoning Carson Palmer following a 4,000-yard passing season for a bad team, the Raiders went all in with Matt Flynn, who was cut midseason. Then their fourth-round pick, Tyler Wilson, could not make the 53-man roster before being scooped off the practice squad by Tennessee. Schaub is the latest guy Oakland has gone all in on and the ironic thing is, if he's shot, McKenzie and Co. can then point to their second-round pick as a sure thing. Paging Derek Carr.

Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Matt Schaub:

"Pressure, pressure, pressure with a hand in his face and you're set against him. He has a nice deep ball, has a nice intermediate ball, too. You always have to keep a hand in his face. If you keep him in the pocket, you can jump routes. You're in trouble once he gets out the pocket because he scrambles a little bit. He moves around, which is why the Texans kept him on the edge by running bootlegs and misdirection passes. Once he gets on the edge, that's when he makes most of his bread. Keep him in the pocket, and that's when you can get your jump on the ball."

Make-or-break stretch

No question the NFL scheduling gods did coach Dennis Allen in particular, and the Raiders in general, no favors with their early slate of games. Oakland's issues in the Eastern time zone are well documented -- the Raiders have lost 13 straight games three time zones away by a combined score of 416-225 -- and guess where they play two of their first three games? At the New York Jets to open and at the New England Patriots in Week 3 before going across the pond for a "home" game in London against the Miami Dolphins. That's three out of four games away from Oakland to start the season and then comes the bye.

Gutierrez's prediction

6-10. Advanced Football Analytics sees the Raiders finishing 4-12 for the third consecutive season. While I could see that, I can also see the veteran leadership the team acquired coalescing late in the season. The talent on the roster is much improved, but I'm not sure if it translates to many more victories with such a killer schedule. Still, the Raiders should be able to make progress in the win column.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Pat Sims

Sims was the lone bright spot on the Raiders' D (29th scoring D in NFL). He missed just one tackle in 44 attempts and racked up three sacks. Overall, Sims' 8.1 Pro Football Focus grade placed him among the top 20 DTs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 8 if DEs Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and CB Carlos Rogers can improve a D that ranked 29th in ppg allowed.

Will win 4 if a lack of playmakers at WR and RB fails an already uncertain QB situation.
--Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Raiders' Projected Record

4-12

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ NYJ 27-23
  • Sept. 14 vs. HOU 24-10
  • Sept. 21 @ NE 38-24
  • Sept. 28 vs. MIA* 27-21
  • Oct. 12 vs. SD 28-17
  • Oct. 19 vs. ARI 33-14
  • Oct. 26 @ CLE 27-17
  • Nov. 2 @ SEA 22-10
  • Nov. 9 vs. DEN 37-20
  • Nov. 16 @ SD 26-10
  • Nov. 20 vs. KC 27-14
  • Nov. 30 @ STL 14-6
  • Dec. 7 vs. SF 27-7
  • Dec. 14 @ KC 37-17
  • Dec. 21 vs. BUF 27-14
  • Dec. 28 @ DEN 35-24
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

5

close

1

Indianapolis

Colts

2013 Record: 11-5Lost in Divisional Round

Having Luck on their side means plenty

by Mike Wells | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

TE Dwayne Allen

After leading rookie TEs with 521 yards in 2012, Allen saw his 2013 end with a Week 1 hip injury. His elite run blocking (17.4 Pro Football Focus grade, top among TEs) has him ranked No. 2 at his position.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if RB Trent Richardson improves and their AFC South foes don't.

Will win 9 if their NFL-low 14 turnovers regress and the D ails without Robert Mathis (four-game suspension).
--Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Colts' Projected Record

10-6

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ DEN 41-13
  • Sept. 15 vs. PHI 23-14
  • Sept. 21 @ JAC 27-15
  • Sept. 28 vs. TEN 17-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. BAL 32-17
  • Oct. 9 @ HOU 21-20
  • Oct. 19 vs. CIN 27-7
  • Oct. 26 @ PIT 31-17
  • Nov. 3 @ NYG 23-13
  • Nov. 16 vs. NE 15-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. JAC 32-23
  • Nov. 30 vs. WAS 26-23
  • Dec. 7 @ CLE 30-13
  • Dec. 14 vs. HOU 24-6
  • Dec. 21 @ DAL 26-20
  • Dec. 28 @ TEN 23-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

20-1

Over/Under Wins

9.5

Six For One

Upon his return from a torn ACL suffered in October, WR Reggie Wayne heard cheers ring from the practice-field bleachers -- after simply stepping onto the turf and making two routine catches. Wayne, newly healthy TE Dwayne Allen and newly signed WR Hakeem Nicks are a trio of trusted targets from which Andrew Luck now has to choose. Luck is also getting more freedom in the offense, choosing from up to six audibles instead of two. "You're always trying to get better," Luck says. "But I think we could be more efficient, more productive." And more likely to hear cheers.

Best-Kept Secret

As much as the Colts talk about having a running game, their best offensive set could be when they go with five wide. Receivers T.Y. Hilton, Wayne and Nicks lined up on one side with tight ends Allen and Coby Fleener, who stand 6-foot-3 and 6-6, respectively, lined up on the other side with an empty backfield. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton's creativity and Luck's intelligence are a nightmare for opposing coordinators. Allen and Fleener have the height to outleap defensive backs for the ball. Hilton and Nicks have the speed, and Wayne simply knows how to get open.

Worst-kept secret

The Colts have had a difficult time keeping Luck standing during his first two seasons because of poor play on the interior part of the offensive line. Luck will really be scrambling if something happens to left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who protects his blind side. Castonozo has started all 16 games each of the past two seasons at left tackle. There's no stability behind Castonzo at tackle. Joe Reitz, who plays guard and tackle, is listed as the backup. The other option would be sliding rookie starter Jack Mewhort from left guard to tackle. Mewhort spent his final two seasons at Ohio State playing left tackle. That would mean the Colts are trusting a rookie to protect the blind side of their franchise quarterback.

MSA/Icon SMI

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Andrew Luck:

"He's a young guy but he definitely plays like an older guy, so he's pretty much seen a lot of things and he's very smart. Sometimes forcing him to read it on the run can't always be good for you. It may sometimes be good for him because he's so good at it. I think you definitely want to try to mix it up as much as possible. He was hard to confuse his rookie year, but the second year, he was definitely a lot harder to confuse because he had seen so much. He's a great runner, too, so you don't want to bring so much pressure because he can extend plays and he's hard to tackle. You definitely want to hold the front and keep him in the pocket rather than him running because he's a tough guy to bring down and extends plays like that. He's so accurate and he throws with a lot of power, so he can win down the field, the middle of the field and outside the numbers. Your coverage has to be as tight as possible and you have to give him a lot of different looks."

Make-or-break stretch

The Colts will make the playoffs this season because of their talent and their division. The AFC South is the weakest division in the NFL. It's all about getting one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs, which means having an extra week off. The Colts' toughest stretch starts Oct. 9, when they have go from playing Baltimore Oct. 5 to facing Houston on the road four days later. The Colts then play three of their next four games against teams expected to compete for playoff spots: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and New England. That string of games will likely determine whether the Colts can get one of the top two seeds in the AFC.

Wells' prediction

I'm giving them one more win than the Advanced Football Analytics projection, and I'll say 11-5. The Colts will win at least five games in the AFC South. They've got to find a way to go at least 3-1 while linebacker Robert Mathis is serving his four-game suspension at the start of the season. Indianapolis could have one of the best offenses in the league if the line blocks. Chuck Pagano may have his best defense since taking over as coach in 2012.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

TE Dwayne Allen

After leading rookie TEs with 521 yards in 2012, Allen saw his 2013 end with a Week 1 hip injury. His elite run blocking (17.4 Pro Football Focus grade, top among TEs) has him ranked No. 2 at his position.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if RB Trent Richardson improves and their AFC South foes don't.

Will win 9 if their NFL-low 14 turnovers regress and the D ails without Robert Mathis (four-game suspension).
--Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Colts' Projected Record

10-6

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ DEN 41-13
  • Sept. 15 vs. PHI 23-14
  • Sept. 21 @ JAC 27-15
  • Sept. 28 vs. TEN 17-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. BAL 32-17
  • Oct. 9 @ HOU 21-20
  • Oct. 19 vs. CIN 27-7
  • Oct. 26 @ PIT 31-17
  • Nov. 3 @ NYG 23-13
  • Nov. 16 vs. NE 15-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. JAC 32-23
  • Nov. 30 vs. WAS 26-23
  • Dec. 7 @ CLE 30-13
  • Dec. 14 vs. HOU 24-6
  • Dec. 21 @ DAL 26-20
  • Dec. 28 @ TEN 23-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

20-1

Over/Under Wins

9.5

close

2

Houston

Texans

2013 Record: 2-14 4th in AFC South

New start with new QB, help for Watt

by Tania Ganguli | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OG Brandon Brooks

In only his second season out of Miami (Ohio), Brooks ranked third among guards with a +17.8 Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade. And get this: RB Arian Foster averaged 5.1 ypc when running behind Brooks versus only 4.5 on all runs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if the DBs can lock down playing with an unreal front seven and Foster can carry the O as he did in '11.

Will win 6 if lack of depth at ILB and safety proves problematic and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's INTs pile up.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Texans' Projected Record

9-7

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. WAS 28-10
  • Sept. 14 @ OAK 24-10
  • Sept. 21 @ NYG 34-7
  • Sept. 28 vs. BUF 26-13
  • Oct. 5 @ DAL 26-17
  • Oct. 9 vs. IND 21-20
  • Oct. 20 @ PIT 24-14
  • Oct. 26 @ TEN 20-16
  • Nov. 2 vs. PHI 22-17
  • Nov. 16 @ CLE 17-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. CIN 19-16
  • Nov. 30 vs. TEN 23-14
  • Dec. 7 @ JAC 19-10
  • Dec. 14 @ IND 24-6
  • Dec. 21 vs. BAL 23-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. JAC 27-15

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

25-1

Over/Under Wins

7.5

No Pressure, Rook

Jadeveon Clowney took a deep breath when recently reminded of everything the Texans are teaching him, audibly acknowledging the weight of expectations. He spent his offseason learning outside linebacker, defensive end and even nose tackle in Houston's 3-4, a system foreign to him. One thing is clear to Clowney: DE J.J. Watt (10.5 sacks) needs help. Houston's sacks dipped from 44 (tied for fifth in the NFL) in 2012 to 32 (T29) last season. That's why the team is counting on its top pick to reach his top gear no matter where he lines up.

Best-Kept Secret

The Texans' receivers, beyond star Andre Johnson, will be a big part of their improvement this year. DeAndre Hopkins was the Texans' first-round pick in 2013. He had some flashes as a rookie, but lacked the consistency to truly make him another threat opponents had to worry about. This season that will change. Hopkins was a star during training camp, grabbing anything within a wide radius, taking advantage of the extra time he got with Johnson out for several practices. Slot receiver Mike Thomas has been difficult to guard since his arrival. He was one of the few offensive bright spots in the Texans' first preseason game. Keshawn Martin, a returner and slot receiver, and DeVier Posey, two years removed from a devastating Achilles injury, have both improved tremendously during training camp. Once a thin position group after Johnson, the Texans' receivers are now a strength.

Worst-kept secret

The Texans can't have the same quarterback meltdown they did last season, and it's not likely they will. Matt Schaub's implosion carried with it disastrous consequences for the Texans. He threw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in four consecutive games -- a league record. They were devastating plays that affected the quarterback's psyche as well as the rest of the team's psyche. The Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency to stabilize their offense. Fitzpatrick has had his own turnover issues in the past, but never did he struggle as much as Schaub did last season. Stability at that position will do for the Texans as long as Fitzpatrick makes smart decisions, uses his running ability well and communicates well with his offense -- something Fitzpatrick's teammates often say he does.

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick:

"With Fitzpatrick, you want to try to force him to try to step up in the pocket. He's a little shorter guy, but he definitely can throw the ball downfield. You definitely want to give him a lot of different looks and disguising [coverages], but probably more pressure off the edge will be more effective with Fitzpatrick. He's definitely mobile. He can run when he has to. He's a good scrambler and throws on the run very well. He's a good quarterback who makes good throws and is sort of a gunslinger, so to speak."

Make-or-break stretch

The Texans' schedule is favorable this season. They have the benefit of playing a last-place schedule, rather than the brutal first-place schedule they played in 2013. Their NFC matchup is also kinder -- the NFC East instead of the daunting NFC West. But the month before their bye week could prove to be a serious barometer. These things always change during the season, but, as it appears right now, that is the toughest part of the Texans' schedule -- and it will include two division games. They'll face the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans and fast-paced Philadelphia Eagles. However that stretch goes, the Texans' will go into their bye week with plenty of time to think about it.

Ganguli's prediction

I have them at 8-8. A combination of the Texans being better, recovering key players who were injured for half of last season (Brian Cushing, Arian Foster), and the lighter schedule will help the Texans. I wouldn't vehemently disagree with anyone who varies up or down one game, as does Advanced Football Analytics with its nine-win projection. Unless the Texans get very unlucky, there were too many losses by a touchdown or less for a repeat of last year, or anything close.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OG Brandon Brooks

In only his second season out of Miami (Ohio), Brooks ranked third among guards with a +17.8 Pro Football Focus run-blocking grade. And get this: RB Arian Foster averaged 5.1 ypc when running behind Brooks versus only 4.5 on all runs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if the DBs can lock down playing with an unreal front seven and Foster can carry the O as he did in '11.

Will win 6 if lack of depth at ILB and safety proves problematic and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's INTs pile up.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Texans' Projected Record

9-7

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. WAS 28-10
  • Sept. 14 @ OAK 24-10
  • Sept. 21 @ NYG 34-7
  • Sept. 28 vs. BUF 26-13
  • Oct. 5 @ DAL 26-17
  • Oct. 9 vs. IND 21-20
  • Oct. 20 @ PIT 24-14
  • Oct. 26 @ TEN 20-16
  • Nov. 2 vs. PHI 22-17
  • Nov. 16 @ CLE 17-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. CIN 19-16
  • Nov. 30 vs. TEN 23-14
  • Dec. 7 @ JAC 19-10
  • Dec. 14 @ IND 24-6
  • Dec. 21 vs. BAL 23-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. JAC 27-15

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

25-1

Over/Under Wins

7.5

close

3

Tennessee

Titans

2013 Record: 7-9 2nd in AFC South

With new staff, it's Locker's last stand

by Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Jurrell Casey

Casey won't be thrown off by the Titans' transition to a 3-4. He played different positions in 2012 and '13 and turned in two top-10 Pro Football Focus grades. Last year he ranked top-three among DTs in both defensive stops (39) and PFF pass-rush grade (+27.1).
--Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 9 if high-ceiling WR Kendall Wright thrives under Ken Whisenhunt and a loaded O-line boosts rookie RB Bishop Sankey.

Will win 5 if Jake Locker has durability issues; he has missed 44 percent of potential starts since '12.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Titans' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ KC 22-0
  • Sept. 14 vs. DAL 34-17
  • Sept. 21 @ CIN 24-10
  • Sept. 28 @ IND 17-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. CLE 38-17
  • Oct. 12 vs. JAC 21-20
  • Oct. 19 @ WAS 24-14
  • Oct. 26 vs. HOU 20-16
  • Nov. 9 @ BAL 23-14
  • Nov. 17 vs. PIT 38-10
  • Nov. 23 @ PHI 24-21
  • Nov. 30 @ HOU 23-14
  • Dec. 7 vs. NYG 33-20
  • Dec. 14 vs. NYJ 33-9
  • Dec. 18 @ JAC 31-6
  • Dec. 28 vs. IND 23-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

7

Under Pressure

On a crucial third-and-1 late in a tie game at Houston last season, QB Jake Locker faced a blitz and missed an open target. The drive stalled, and Tennessee went on to lose in OT. The play is emblematic of Locker's three-year career: The QB quarterback has completed only 57.2 percent of his passes and 51.3 percent vs. the blitz. Year 4 will be a definitive one, with a new contract hanging in the balance. Enter tailback Dexter McCluster, who had 53 catches in Kansas City last season. "With this offense, the checkdowns are big," McCluster says. "Running backs can leak out and make plays." Provided, of course, that Locker hits his target.

Best-Kept Secret

Shawn Jefferson is a hard-charging position coach who's in the faces of his receivers, providing inspiration through tough love. He tells them they have to block if they want the rock. While we don't know who will makes it and how they stack up after the top three, the guys the Titans will roll out in three-wide formations should be a dynamic and productive group. Jefferson thinks Kendall Wright can revolutionize the slot position, largely because he can work just as effectively outside. Justin Hunter can out-jump most everybody on fades and should take the safeties away from other receivers while streaking deep. And Nate Washington is a well-rounded, reliable target. The Titans aren't listed among teams with the highest-rated receiving corps, but this trio should be very good.

Worst-kept secret

It's do-or-die time for Locker. Through three years the quarterback has endured three serious injuries. Since becoming the starter, he has missed 14 of a possible 32 starts. Presuming he avoids another injury, he needs to be more accurate and avoid trying to do too much. He's a hard worker who's well-liked and well-respected by teammates and coaches. But it's about production, and he's got to prove he can be the team's quarterback of the present and the future. He's in a contract year, as the Titans declined to execute his 2015 option. Veteran backup Charlie Whitehurst is unlikely to be the guy if Locker isn't. But the Titans feel they got a steal in the sixth round with Zach Mettenberger, and the strong-armed pocket passer is the kind of guy head coach Ken Whisenhunt appears to prefer.

Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Jake Locker:

"I think he kind of struggles a little bit when there's people around his feet. I think forcing them to think on the run is toughest thing for each of the quarterbacks in this division, so forcing him to think on the run and give him a lot of looks on the back end. Definitely up the middle [pressure]. It forces him to win outside the numbers, and I think he has a little trouble with it outside the numbers, making some of those throws. I think that's the biggest part of giving him a little trouble. Getting in his face, forcing him to go through all of his progressions and win on the outside, I think that's the biggest thing with Locker."

Make-or-break stretch

Coming out of their Week 9 bye, the Titans have an especially tough three-game stretch. They play at Baltimore, host Pittsburgh in their one "Monday Night Football" game of the season and travel to Philadelphia. The Ravens and Steelers will pose physical challenges. And the Eagles play at a high tempo under a very creative offensive coach in Chip Kelly. If the Titans are to surprise and make a bid for a wild card playoff slot, they will need to stand their ground during this stretch.

Kuharsky's prediction

Advanced Football Analytics' five-win projection is too low. The Titans are playing in a weak division and against a schedule that won't be as difficult as last year's. They have better coaching and play-callers than they had when they went 7-9 in 2013. The roster has not changed dramatically. I think they will be right in the middle of the pack. Forced to put a number on it, I'll go with a repeat of 7-9.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Jurrell Casey

Casey won't be thrown off by the Titans' transition to a 3-4. He played different positions in 2012 and '13 and turned in two top-10 Pro Football Focus grades. Last year he ranked top-three among DTs in both defensive stops (39) and PFF pass-rush grade (+27.1).
--Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 9 if high-ceiling WR Kendall Wright thrives under Ken Whisenhunt and a loaded O-line boosts rookie RB Bishop Sankey.

Will win 5 if Jake Locker has durability issues; he has missed 44 percent of potential starts since '12.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Titans' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ KC 22-0
  • Sept. 14 vs. DAL 34-17
  • Sept. 21 @ CIN 24-10
  • Sept. 28 @ IND 17-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. CLE 38-17
  • Oct. 12 vs. JAC 21-20
  • Oct. 19 @ WAS 24-14
  • Oct. 26 vs. HOU 20-16
  • Nov. 9 @ BAL 23-14
  • Nov. 17 vs. PIT 38-10
  • Nov. 23 @ PHI 24-21
  • Nov. 30 @ HOU 23-14
  • Dec. 7 vs. NYG 33-20
  • Dec. 14 vs. NYJ 33-9
  • Dec. 18 @ JAC 31-6
  • Dec. 28 vs. IND 23-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

7

close

4

Jacksonville

Jaguars

2013 Record: 4-12 4th in AFC South

Future on hold as Bortles watches, learns

by Mike DiRocco | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

CB Alan Ball

Playing often in the slot, Ball allowed seven TDs in coverage for Dallas in 2010 (worst among safeties). As a Jaguar, playing 99 percent outside, he had a combined 15 INTs and passes defended in '13 (eighth in NFL).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 8 if Gus Bradley's Seattle blueprint on D pans out and RB Toby Gerhart is the No. 1 back they need.

Will win 4 if no WR surprises with a breakout year to take the pressure off QB Chad Henne and Blake Bortles is forced to play.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Jaguars' Projected Record

4-12

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ PHI 23-17
  • Sept. 14 @ WAS 27-10
  • Sept. 21 vs. IND 27-15
  • Sept. 28 @ SD 45-17
  • Oct. 5 vs. PIT 34-14
  • Oct. 12 @ TEN 21-20
  • Oct. 19 vs. CLE 19-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. MIA 24-14
  • Nov. 2 @ CIN 28-14
  • Nov. 9 vs. DAL* 34-16
  • Nov. 23 @ IND 32-23
  • Nov. 30 vs. NYG 20-13
  • Dec. 7 vs. HOU 19-10
  • Dec. 14 @ BAL 27-24
  • Dec. 18 vs. TEN 31-6
  • Dec. 28 @ HOU 27-15
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

200-1

Over/Under Wins

5

Sit This One Out

Blake Bortles, the third pick overall and Jacksonville's quarterback of the future, won't take a snap this year if all goes to plan. His time will instead be spent fixing lower-body mechanics and improving accuracy. Bortles' biggest issue is his footwork: He is stepping out, not toward his target when he throws to his left. That impacts his accuracy, which showed as he misfired on back-to-back 12-yard outs in drills during the offseason. "We don't want to put him in a bad position," says OC Jedd Fisch. That's what happened with Blaine Gabbert, the 10th pick overall in 2011, who helped the Jags write the book on how not to handle a young quarterback. Chapter 1: Don't rush it.

Best-Kept Secret

The defensive line is going to be the biggest reason why the Jaguars have a chance to be much better in 2014. It's not just because of the addition of pass-rushing end Chris Clemons (58 career sacks) and run-stuffing end Red Bryant, either. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks is a very good interior rusher and he'll be backed up by Ziggy Hood, who is moving back inside after spending the past five seasons at end in Pittsburgh. Hood thrived as an attacking, pass-rushing tackle at Missouri. The most over-looked aspect is the health of tackle Roy Miller, who played the entire 2013 season with a bad shoulder. He is healthy after offseason surgery and had a fantastic camp. He has consistently been in the offensive backfield during the preseason games. This unit will be much stouter against the run and the pass rush will be markedly better. That should result in more plays by the linebackers and secondary and keep the Jaguars in most games into the fourth quarter.

Worst-kept secret

No matter how impressive Bortles has been, Chad Henne will be the starter in the Sept. 7 season opener at Philadelphia. In what general manager David Caldwell called the ideal scenario, Bortles wouldn't even see the field in 2014. Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley have been saying since March that Henne is the starter and they didn't want to play a rookie quarterback. Though there's no guarantee that sitting Bortles this year will ensure future success, the Jaguars believe this is the best way to handle the situation. It allows Bortles to focus on only one thing: getting better. He can fix some fundamental and footwork issues that were never addressed at Central Florida, learn the offense, and adjust to the speed of the game without the pressure of having to win games. It's probably unrealistic to expect Bortles to sit the entire season, but Caldwell and Bradley have been adamant that they're not going to play him until they believe he's completely ready.

Stephen B. Morton/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Chad Henne:

"He has a strong arm and can make the throws. He tries to take care of the ball and not create many turnovers so his offense isn't put in a bad situation. He's not a quarterback that you're afraid is going to break the game open by throwing for 400 yards and five touchdowns like some of the elite quarterbacks in the league. If they're going to win games with him at quarterback, it'll be because of the players around him making a lot of plays."

Make-or-break stretch

The Jaguars will face four teams that made the playoffs in 2013 and three of those will come in the first four weeks: at Philadelphia, vs. Indianapolis, and at San Diego. The remaining game in the first month is at Washington, and that's a tough start for a franchise that has won just six games in the past two seasons and needs a good start. The Jaguars need to at least be competitive in that stretch to show that the franchise has made some progress in Year 2 of the rebuild. Getting blown out, like they did in the first eight games of 2013, will ruin the offseason momentum generated by the development of Bortles and the stadium renovations that include two pools and the world's largest video boards.

DiRocco's prediction

It is possible for the Jaguars to be an improved team but not have a better record than they did last season (another 4-12 season is the projection by Advanced Football Analytics), but that seems unlikely. Even with the tough opening stretch, two games against Indianapolis, and the game in London against the Dallas Cowboys, the Jaguars should surpass four victories. I've got them at 6-10. The defense should be better and there are more offensive weapons than the past several years, including second-round pick Marqise Lee and a healthy Marcedes Lewis. The second half of the schedule is significantly easier, and much like last season the Jaguars could pad the victory total in the final eight games.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

CB Alan Ball

Playing often in the slot, Ball allowed seven TDs in coverage for Dallas in 2010 (worst among safeties). As a Jaguar, playing 99 percent outside, he had a combined 15 INTs and passes defended in '13 (eighth in NFL).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 8 if Gus Bradley's Seattle blueprint on D pans out and RB Toby Gerhart is the No. 1 back they need.

Will win 4 if no WR surprises with a breakout year to take the pressure off QB Chad Henne and Blake Bortles is forced to play.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Jaguars' Projected Record

4-12

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ PHI 23-17
  • Sept. 14 @ WAS 27-10
  • Sept. 21 vs. IND 27-15
  • Sept. 28 @ SD 45-17
  • Oct. 5 vs. PIT 34-14
  • Oct. 12 @ TEN 21-20
  • Oct. 19 vs. CLE 19-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. MIA 24-14
  • Nov. 2 @ CIN 28-14
  • Nov. 9 vs. DAL* 34-16
  • Nov. 23 @ IND 32-23
  • Nov. 30 vs. NYG 20-13
  • Dec. 7 vs. HOU 19-10
  • Dec. 14 @ BAL 27-24
  • Dec. 18 vs. TEN 31-6
  • Dec. 28 @ HOU 27-15
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

200-1

Over/Under Wins

5

close

1

Pittsburgh

Steelers

2013 Record: 8-8 2nd in AFC North

Big Ben gets help, but he's still the key

by Scott Brown | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DE Cameron Heyward

After playing just 26 percent of snaps as a rookie, Heyward started in 2013 and had 47 QB pressures, eighth among 3-4 DEs. In Year 3, he'll be a staple on a new-look D-line.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if the new speed on D means more sacks and Le'Veon Bell gets 300 carries.

Will win 7 if the D fails to force turnovers (T27 in '13) and Ben Roethlisberger struggles without Emmanuel Sanders.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Steelers' Projected Record

10-6

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. CLE 24-17
  • Sept. 11 @ BAL 34-20
  • Sept. 21 @ CAR 20-0
  • Sept. 28 vs. TB 19-13
  • Oct. 5 @ JAC 34-14
  • Oct. 12 @ CLE 27-13
  • Oct. 20 vs. HOU 24-14
  • Oct. 26 vs. IND 31-17
  • Nov. 2 vs. BAL 21-16
  • Nov. 9 @ NYJ 30-7
  • Nov. 17 @ TEN 38-10
  • Nov. 30 vs. NO 31-21
  • Dec. 7 @ CIN 30-12
  • Dec. 14 @ ATL 22-10
  • Dec. 21 vs. KC 38-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. CIN 30-26

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

20-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

Rushing reinforcements

LeGarrette Blount tried to be inconspicuous as he approached a group of reporters interviewing DE Cameron Heyward. Borrowing a small recorder, Blount asked, "I want to know, how do you feel about LeGarrette Blount coming to your team?" Not missing a beat, Heyward said, "Who?" Both cracked up. But the Steelers' 27th-ranked run game is no joking matter, and Blount hasn't been all laughs. When starting RB Le'Veon Bell got into a training camp scrape with LB Vince Williams, Blount jumped to his defense, even though he wasn't in pads, and delivered punches, not punch lines.

Best-Kept Secret

The Steelers should be able to generate a pass rush from the middle of their defense, which would alleviate some of the pressure on outside linebackers Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons have the speed defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will put to good use when he is designing his signature blitzes. New free safety Mike Mitchell is also a good blitzer, and the Steelers could get a consistent push up front from Heyward, Brett Keisel and Stephon Tuitt when they play defensive tackle in the nickel package. The fortifications the Steelers have made in an area in which they are not known for bringing pressure should allow them to improve on the 34 sacks they managed in 2013 -- their lowest total since 1990.

Worst-kept secret

The Steelers have to generate a consistent pass rush to take pressure off a suspect secondary. The Steelers are no better than average at cornerback, where they are hoping for a bounce-back season from 34-year-old Ike Taylor and expecting Cortez Allen to finally emerge as a No. 1 cornerback. Their secondary will be exposed if they don't get a consistent pass rush from outside linebackers Worilds and Jones, who come with their own questions. Worilds has to prove that he can deliver for an entire season, and Jones looked shaky in the preseason after the former first-round pick managed just one sack in 2013 as a rookie.

Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Ben Roethlisberger:

"Believe it or not, I think you want Ben being Ben, running around, trying to make plays. I know he can hurt you with that, but that's the best chance of beating him -- getting him off his spots. Make him play backyard ball, and let the conventional football play its course out as far as, 'You can't beat me doing that the entire game.' You've got mix it up on him and try to confuse him the best way you can. When Ben's on, there's nobody in the league better than him, but the key is getting him on the ground, too."

Make-or-break stretch

The Steelers play four of their first six games away from Heinz Field. A 4-2 start with early games at Baltimore and Carolina would bode well for the Steelers' rebounding from back-to-back 8-8 seasons, especially given that they play three consecutive home games after that opening stretch. Another slow start might allow doubt to seep into the Steelers' locker room, and it will certainly turn up the heat on coach Mike Tomlin.

Brown's prediction

The 10-6 mark projected by Advanced Football Analytics sounds about right for a team that might need its offense to carry a young defense for the first part of the season. The good news for the Steelers is an offense that averaged just fewer than 28 points per game in the final eight games of 2013 is poised to be even better this season. And a defense that has been overhauled the past few years is considerably faster, though cornerback could be a problem after the Steelers didn't do much to try to upgrade that position.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DE Cameron Heyward

After playing just 26 percent of snaps as a rookie, Heyward started in 2013 and had 47 QB pressures, eighth among 3-4 DEs. In Year 3, he'll be a staple on a new-look D-line.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if the new speed on D means more sacks and Le'Veon Bell gets 300 carries.

Will win 7 if the D fails to force turnovers (T27 in '13) and Ben Roethlisberger struggles without Emmanuel Sanders.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Steelers' Projected Record

10-6

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. CLE 24-17
  • Sept. 11 @ BAL 34-20
  • Sept. 21 @ CAR 20-0
  • Sept. 28 vs. TB 19-13
  • Oct. 5 @ JAC 34-14
  • Oct. 12 @ CLE 27-13
  • Oct. 20 vs. HOU 24-14
  • Oct. 26 vs. IND 31-17
  • Nov. 2 vs. BAL 21-16
  • Nov. 9 @ NYJ 30-7
  • Nov. 17 @ TEN 38-10
  • Nov. 30 vs. NO 31-21
  • Dec. 7 @ CIN 30-12
  • Dec. 14 @ ATL 22-10
  • Dec. 21 vs. KC 38-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. CIN 30-26

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

20-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

close

2

Cincinnati

Bengals

2013 Record: 11-5Lost in Wild Card

Will Dalton deal pay off in playoffs?

by Coley Harvey | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

WR Marvin Jones

Jones scored 10 TDs on just 77 targets (second-best rate in the NFL) and forced a missed tackle on one-quarter of his catches (third). And get this: Andy Dalton's passer rating was at its peak when targeting Jones (119.2), not A.J. Green (76.8).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if DC Paul Guenther can maximize talent the way Mike Zimmer did and Dalton plays like a $115M man.

Will win 7 if vet CBs no longer exceed expectations and rook CB Darqueze Dennard is slow to develop.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Bengals' Projected Record

9-7

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ BAL 24-14
  • Sept. 14 vs. ATL 27-20
  • Sept. 21 vs. TEN 24-10
  • Oct. 5 @ NE 38-31
  • Oct. 12 vs. CAR 20-3
  • Oct. 19 @ IND 27-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. BAL 34-33
  • Nov. 2 vs. JAC 28-14
  • Nov. 6 vs. CLE 35-9
  • Nov. 16 @ NO 31-17
  • Nov. 23 @ HOU 19-16
  • Nov. 30 @ TB 27-14
  • Dec. 7 vs. PIT 30-12
  • Dec. 14 @ CLE 24-16
  • Dec. 22 vs. DEN 31-22
  • Dec. 28 @ PIT 30-26

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

20-1

Over/Under Wins

9

On His Shoulder

When Andy Dalton connected with A.J. Green on two bombs on the first day of minicamp, many did a double take. Was this the same QB who mustered a meager 14.2 Total QBR in a playoff loss to San Diego? Dalton looked sharper due to better mechanics. Later, he told me that if he hadn't opened his front shoulder when he threw deep in 2013, some of his 20 interceptions would have been catches. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But as the bombs continued to fly this summer, Cincy's six-year, $115 million bet on Dalton's future didn't seem so crazy.

Best-Kept Secret

Co-defensive backs coach Vance Joseph, hired after he spent three seasons in Houston, is widely regarded in NFL circles as an assistant on the rise. Many believe the 41-year-old will be a coordinator somewhere in the next three years. A few coaches on opposing teams whom I've talked to about Joseph have called the Bengals hire a "steal." He not only coaches, but he also teaches, they said. Joseph began assisting Mark Carrier with the defensive backs after Paul Guenther's promotion to defensive coordinator and Mike Zimmer's departure for Minnesota's head-coaching vacancy.

Worst-kept secret

The Bengals better cross their fingers and hope Dalton stays healthy this season. If we've learned anything about the team this preseason, it's that it hardly has any depth behind Dalton, who has played in all 51 games -- including postseason -- the Bengals have had the past three seasons. Veteran Jason Campbell has been dealing with an elbow injury, but even when he was healthy in the preseason opener, he threw two interceptions to go with his two touchdowns. Third-string quarterback Matt Scott was unimpressive at times in relief this preseason. A healthy Dalton could mean a potentially long postseason run. A banged-up Dalton could lead to Cincinnati's first postseason absence in four years.

Jeff Moffett/Icon SMI

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Andy Dalton:

"He hasn't made that leap that I thought he might. I think him signing a long-term deal in Cincinnati will be a benefit to Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cleveland because I don't think he's that good. He manages a game well. He's got a good receiver in A.J. Green and they've got a good rapport together, and he has good tight ends. But if he doesn't make that leap, he's just another guy. He's got a good winning percentage and he's made the playoffs his first three years, so I'm not going to say he's a bum. But with that talent, if they had a top-tier quarterback, they'd be a threat in the playoffs."

Make-or-break stretch

You're going to learn a lot about the Bengals in Weeks 11-13 when they go through a grueling run of mid-November road games. The back end of that three-game stretch doesn't scream intimidation (Houston and Tampa Bay), but the challenge comes in having to weather the barrage of road trips after an early Week 4 bye. Since the Texans' defense should be improved and the Buccaneers have three former Bengals players, the road trip has other challenges. It also starts with a Sunday afternoon game at New Orleans. If the Bengals can win two of three through this stretch, they will know how legitimate of a playoff contender they can be.

HARVEY'S PREDICTION

While I did think early in the offseason that nine wins (as was projected by Advanced Football Analytics) probably was the Bengals' ceiling because of a slightly tougher schedule and a retooled AFC North, I have to change my prediction. After watching new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's offense at work in training camp and preseason games, I now believe the Bengals can get to 10 wins.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

WR Marvin Jones

Jones scored 10 TDs on just 77 targets (second-best rate in the NFL) and forced a missed tackle on one-quarter of his catches (third). And get this: Andy Dalton's passer rating was at its peak when targeting Jones (119.2), not A.J. Green (76.8).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if DC Paul Guenther can maximize talent the way Mike Zimmer did and Dalton plays like a $115M man.

Will win 7 if vet CBs no longer exceed expectations and rook CB Darqueze Dennard is slow to develop.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Bengals' Projected Record

9-7

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ BAL 24-14
  • Sept. 14 vs. ATL 27-20
  • Sept. 21 vs. TEN 24-10
  • Oct. 5 @ NE 38-31
  • Oct. 12 vs. CAR 20-3
  • Oct. 19 @ IND 27-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. BAL 34-33
  • Nov. 2 vs. JAC 28-14
  • Nov. 6 vs. CLE 35-9
  • Nov. 16 @ NO 31-17
  • Nov. 23 @ HOU 19-16
  • Nov. 30 @ TB 27-14
  • Dec. 7 vs. PIT 30-12
  • Dec. 14 @ CLE 24-16
  • Dec. 22 vs. DEN 31-22
  • Dec. 28 @ PIT 30-26

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

20-1

Over/Under Wins

9

close

3

Baltimore

Ravens

2013 Record: 8-8 3rd in AFC North

Flacco, offense aim for efficiency

by Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

LB Daryl Smith

Long undervalued, the 32-year-old Smith was first among full-time ILBs in completion percentage allowed (58.9 percent), second in passes defended (eight) and fourth in passer rating allowed (76.0) in 2013.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 11 if Gary Kubiak's scheme can alleviate O-line woes and the safeties help out a loaded front seven.

Will win 8 if WR Steve Smith's newfound youth is a mirage and RB Ray Rice (3.1 ypc) gets bottled up again.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Ravens' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. CIN 24-14
  • Sept. 11 vs. PIT 34-20
  • Sept. 21 @ CLE 27-23
  • Sept. 28 vs. CAR 25-10
  • Oct. 5 @ IND 32-17
  • Oct. 12 @ TB 24-14
  • Oct. 19 vs. ATL 21-6
  • Oct. 26 @ CIN 34-33
  • Nov. 2 @ PIT 21-16
  • Nov. 9 vs. TEN 23-14
  • Nov. 24 @ NO 35-17
  • Nov. 30 vs. SD 33-13
  • Dec. 7 @ MIA 24-7
  • Dec. 14 vs. JAC 27-24
  • Dec. 21 @ HOU 23-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. CLE 26-23

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

25-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

The Short Answer

The drill is nondescript: QB Joe Flacco takes a three-step drop and throws a short pass to a receiver. It's also an exercise that nobody can recall the veteran doing much in his first six NFL seasons -- not that he's complaining. "There's no real guesswork, no real gray area," he says of the short throws. Flacco threw 290 passes of 25 yards or more the past six seasons (most in the NFL by 12), but new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak wants Flacco to make more of the simple throws to improve his completion rate of 59 percent in 2013. The hope? Increased efficiency can take pressure off a sputtering run game and spell a return to the playoffs.

Best-Kept Secret

The Ravens feel like they can be an extremely effective screen team, which will surprise teams that regularly play Baltimore. This is a team that rarely has called screens in its history, throwing 123 such passes since 2001 -- the fourth fewest in the NFL during that span. The Ravens want to capitalize on two of the best guards in the game, Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele. They're known for their physical play in the running game, but Yanda and Osemele are underrated athletes who can run and get in front of running backs in the flat. Increased efficiency is a priority for Kubiak and his style of West Coast offense, and the screen pass fits that philosophy.

Worst-kept secret

The Ravens are extremely vulnerable at cornerback. Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb represent one of the best young tandems in the NFL. The concern is their durability. Smith and Webb have combined to miss 19 games over the past three seasons. The Ravens won't be able to adequately replace either one because the drop-off from the starters is significant. Chykie Brown struggled mightily in training camp, and Asa Jackson never has played a defensive snap in the NFL. If Smith and Webb can't stay healthy, the Ravens are going to be in trouble against Drew Brees, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers.

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Joe Flacco:

"If you can take away the long ball, Flacco is an average quarterback. Just have your defensive backs get their track shoes on and get ready to play the deep ball. You want to hit Flacco, and once you start hitting a quarterback, they're not going to be stepping up and finishing their throws like they normally do when they have a clean pocket. He's a pocket passer, and what he does extremely well is throw the long ball. ... If the defensive backs are up for the challenge and you take that away, you've got a great chance of beating him."

Make-or-break stretch

The obvious choice is the first three games of the season because they're all against AFC North teams. The tougher stretch starts in October, when the Ravens have to play four of five games on the road. It begins with an Oct. 5 trip to AFC South favorite Indianapolis, where the Ravens are 0-5. After a road game in Tampa Bay and a home contest against Atlanta, the Ravens play consecutive road games at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, their two biggest rivals for the AFC North title. If the Ravens can survive that stretch, they have a favorable homestretch. Their final seven opponents combined for a 45-67 record (.401) in 2013.

Hensley's prediction

The Ravens may have the look of team that will go 8-8 for a second consecutive season, as Advanced Football Analytics projects, but they should get at least nine wins based on the schedule. It's not out of the question to think the Ravens can get six wins in playing the AFC South and NFC South, two of the weaker divisions in the NFL. If the Ravens split in the AFC North, that will put them in playoff contention.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

LB Daryl Smith

Long undervalued, the 32-year-old Smith was first among full-time ILBs in completion percentage allowed (58.9 percent), second in passes defended (eight) and fourth in passer rating allowed (76.0) in 2013.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 11 if Gary Kubiak's scheme can alleviate O-line woes and the safeties help out a loaded front seven.

Will win 8 if WR Steve Smith's newfound youth is a mirage and RB Ray Rice (3.1 ypc) gets bottled up again.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Ravens' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. CIN 24-14
  • Sept. 11 vs. PIT 34-20
  • Sept. 21 @ CLE 27-23
  • Sept. 28 vs. CAR 25-10
  • Oct. 5 @ IND 32-17
  • Oct. 12 @ TB 24-14
  • Oct. 19 vs. ATL 21-6
  • Oct. 26 @ CIN 34-33
  • Nov. 2 @ PIT 21-16
  • Nov. 9 vs. TEN 23-14
  • Nov. 24 @ NO 35-17
  • Nov. 30 vs. SD 33-13
  • Dec. 7 @ MIA 24-7
  • Dec. 14 vs. JAC 27-24
  • Dec. 21 @ HOU 23-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. CLE 26-23

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

25-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

close

4

Cleveland

Browns

2013 Record: 4-12 4th in AFC North

Is QB, coaching stability finally in sight?

by Pat McManamon | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

WR Andrew Hawkins

Hawkins (4.34 40) is the ultimate jitterbug. He ranked seventh in yards per route run from the slot last year (2.66). And during his 2012 season for Cincy, he gained 65.7 percent of his yards after the catch (second most). He'll be a welcome spark in Cleveland.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 9 if Johnny Manziel starts early and OC Kyle Shanahan has success relying on short passes while manufacturing rushing touches.

Will win 5 if poor QB production and a lack of big-play WRs puts too much pressure on the D.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Browns' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ PIT 24-17
  • Sept. 14 vs. NO 28-14
  • Sept. 21 vs. BAL 27-23
  • Oct. 5 @ TEN 38-17
  • Oct. 12 vs. PIT 27-13
  • Oct. 19 @ JAC 19-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. OAK 27-17
  • Nov. 2 vs. TB 33-12
  • Nov. 6 @ CIN 35-9
  • Nov. 16 vs. HOU 17-10
  • Nov. 23 @ ATL 27-16
  • Nov. 30 @ BUF 38-10
  • Dec. 7 vs. IND 30-13
  • Dec. 14 vs. CIN 24-16
  • Dec. 21 @ CAR 24-21
  • Dec. 28 @ BAL 26-23

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

6.5

Johnny Football's Speed Limit

It's second-and-8, and Johnny Manziel is running a two-minute drill. Stepping to the line in the offseason practice, he must recognize the pre-snap read, call protections and, of course, signal the play. But as he settles under center, time runs out. Classic rookie gaffe, but one that shows perhaps Manziel's biggest hurdle as he jumps from college to the pros. "It's hard coming in as a rookie from a very simple system to a complex NFL system," he said. Manziel didn't even have a playbook for the Texas A&M attack; he's learning Cleveland's playbook one phase at a time. How fast he picks it all up will be the key to how fast he plays in Year 1 for the Browns.

Best-Kept Secret

The Browns have had a lot of coaches and quarterbacks since 1999, but one staggering reality is a neon sign for how not to build a team. Since the Browns returned in 1999, the team has had 12 different offensive coordinators (twice it was the head coach serving as coordinator). The Browns have gone from Chris Palmer to Pete Carmichael to Bruce Arians to Terry Robiskie to Maurice Carthon to Jeff Davidson to Rob Chudzinski to Brian Daboll to Pat Shurmur to Brad Childress to Norv Turner to Kyle Shanahan. Twelve coordinators, all with different systems. NFL teams preach continuity and consistency. The Browns have been the standard-bearer for the opposite, with players' heads spinning every preseason as they try to learn nuances of a system while their rivals refine theirs. The results should be no surprise; the Browns have six consecutive 10-loss seasons.

Worst-kept secret

Johnny Manziel is on the Browns. But based on precedent, when all is said and done, the move to sign Rex Grossman might matter more. The Browns have been the poster child for impatience, with 20 different starting quarterbacks since 1999. They've also been the poster child for the point that a bad team can't keep quarterbacks healthy. Only once since 1999 have the Browns started a quarterback in 16 games -- that was in 2002, when Tim Couch started all of them, then missed the playoff game because of injury and lost his job the next season. The past six seasons, the Browns have had 16 different starters (some repeated year to year), or just fewer than three per season. In three of the past six seasons, they've started three, which means that as the 2014 season progresses, the Browns have as good a chance of putting Grossman on the field as they do Manziel or Brian Hoyer.

Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Brian Hoyer:

"I was impressed at how poised he was, for where he was at in his career, especially playing quarterback. I'm not saying he was Tom Brady or anything, but he seemed like he was very in control, not jittery or panicky. I can think of a couple plays where I could tell where he knew what we were in, and he made the right choices off that. That's something that young guys struggled with. I was impressed with him. It seemed like he had a lot of good things going for him."

Make-or-break stretch

The NFL did the Browns no favors right out of the gate. Scheduling the opener in Pittsburgh is the toughest draw the Browns could expect, and Rob Ryan's New Orleans defense and the Ravens are tough follows. An 0-3 start would be immensely difficult to overcome. Simple math says a team that starts 0-3 would have to go 9-4 the rest of the season to even sniff the playoffs. That's a tough challenge for a team that's lost 10 games or more in each of the past six seasons.

McManamon's prediction

Painful as it is for Browns fans to read, the Advanced Football Analytics win total of five comes close to being spot on. The Browns are a team with major needs at receiver, and without playmakers at that position, they become a much easier team to defend. Combine that with a serious lack of depth, the transition to new systems, uncertainty at the most important position (quarterback) and a brutal early schedule, and seven wins would be reason for celebration. Simple logic says the "Factory of Sadness" will eventually shut down, but it won't happen in 2014.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

WR Andrew Hawkins

Hawkins (4.34 40) is the ultimate jitterbug. He ranked seventh in yards per route run from the slot last year (2.66). And during his 2012 season for Cincy, he gained 65.7 percent of his yards after the catch (second most). He'll be a welcome spark in Cleveland.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 9 if Johnny Manziel starts early and OC Kyle Shanahan has success relying on short passes while manufacturing rushing touches.

Will win 5 if poor QB production and a lack of big-play WRs puts too much pressure on the D.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Browns' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ PIT 24-17
  • Sept. 14 vs. NO 28-14
  • Sept. 21 vs. BAL 27-23
  • Oct. 5 @ TEN 38-17
  • Oct. 12 vs. PIT 27-13
  • Oct. 19 @ JAC 19-7
  • Oct. 26 vs. OAK 27-17
  • Nov. 2 vs. TB 33-12
  • Nov. 6 @ CIN 35-9
  • Nov. 16 vs. HOU 17-10
  • Nov. 23 @ ATL 27-16
  • Nov. 30 @ BUF 38-10
  • Dec. 7 vs. IND 30-13
  • Dec. 14 vs. CIN 24-16
  • Dec. 21 @ CAR 24-21
  • Dec. 28 @ BAL 26-23

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

6.5

close

1

Philadelphia

Eagles

2013 Record: 10-6Lost in Wild Card

Foles, Kelly look for more in Year 2

by Phil Sheridan | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DE Vinny Curry

Curry got after the QB in limited snaps in 2013: His 11.6 pass-rushing productivity score is the second best Pro Football Focus has ever seen from a 3-4 DE, just behind the once incomparable J.J. Watt (12.8).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if RB LeSean McCoy gets room to run behind the NFL's best O-line and Nick Foles keeps his picks down.

Will win 9 if Jeremy Maclin can't stretch defenses and the run game stalls.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Eagles' Projected Record

10-6

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. JAC 23-17
  • Sept. 15 @ IND 23-14
  • Sept. 21 vs. WAS 24-7
  • Sept. 28 @ SF 31-12
  • Oct. 5 vs. STL 40-16
  • Oct. 12 vs. NYG 34-24
  • Oct. 26 @ ARI 23-13
  • Nov. 2 @ HOU 22-17
  • Nov. 10 vs. CAR 34-24
  • Nov. 16 @ GB 35-15
  • Nov. 23 vs. TEN 24-21
  • Nov. 27 @ DAL 40-27
  • Dec. 7 vs. SEA 31-14
  • Dec. 14 vs. DAL 30-21
  • Dec. 20 @ WAS 27-20
  • Dec. 28 @ NYG 17-12

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

25-1

Over/Under Wins

9

Now Comes The Hard Part

This is Nick Foles' job, this is Nick Foles' team, and he's conducting himself accordingly. During a drill this offseason, the third-year quarterback sprinted downfield to high-five a receiver after a long completion. When rookies have questions, they get answers in the huddle from Foles. The reason he's brimming with confidence? Foles ran Chip Kelly's high-powered attack to near perfection last season, throwing 27 TDs and only two INTs. "You reflect on 2013 for like five seconds, and then you move on," says Foles. Moving on is the easy part. But if he actually wins the franchise's first playoff game since 2008? Then this is Nick Foles' city.

Best-Kept Secret

Jason Kelce somehow wasn't selected for the Pro Bowl last season. Left tackle Jason Peters and left guard Evan Mathis were, so they don't qualify as secrets. Kelce, the Eagles' smart, technically sound center, does more than bend over and push a football through his legs. He reads defenses and makes sure the linemen on either side of him are all on the same page. After snapping the ball, Kelce gets moving. He pulls along with guards on some plays. He fends off massive defensive tackles to stabilize the pocket on others. The Eagles had all five linemen start every game last season. That continuity and stability helped explain LeSean McCoy's NFL-leading ground game as well as Foles' breakout year as a passer. It took all five linemen to make it happen, but Kelce was right in the middle of it all.

Worst-kept secret

Psssst. Did you hear McCoy is pretty good? Pass it on. Yes, that's the definition of a "worst-kept" secret. McCoy was a very good running back during Andy Reid's tenure and he led the NFL in rushing in his first year under Kelly. Those who wondered what McCoy would do once freed from Reid's pass-happy offense got their answer: McCoy averaged 5.1 yards per carry on his way to 1,607 rushing yards. So it will be fascinating to see what McCoy is capable of with a year's experience (and after dropping a few pounds to improve his quickness) in Kelly's offense. McCoy's production is directly tied to the Eagles' chances for success in 2014. The good news for Eagles fans is he knows it. McCoy says he would be happy to run for 50 yards as long as the Eagles win. But he knows that the Eagles' chances for winning increase with his yardage. A big year from Shady means a big year for the Eagles.

Charles Krupa/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of Nick Foles:

"If you don't change up the coverages on him you're going to have problems. [The Eagles] make their offense so simple and they go so fast with the run game and the pass game and even a little bit of the [read-option] play to make sure you stay honest, so that a lot of teams don't want to change coverages. The defenses say, 'We're staying Cover 2 no matter what,' and he knows it. He knows where the holes are going to be. He's going to kill you. When you go against them you have to say, 'OK, we're going to change the coverages but keep the defensive line the same.' The defensive line is the key. If you stop the run and make it longer for them on third down, you can be effective against him. But if you let him dink and dunk against you and the defensive line is worrying about the run or the read play, then you have problems with him."

Make-or-break stretch

It is tempting to cite that early season stretch -- Indianapolis, Washington, San Francisco, all without suspended right tackle Lane Johnson -- as the key to the Eagles' season. But the NFL has backloaded the schedule with divisional opponents. That last five weeks will tell the tale. The Eagles have two games against the Cowboys, one against the defending champion Seahawks, and one each against Washington and the Giants. The Eagles could use a good start during that early stretch, but they absolutely must finish strong in order to repeat as NFC East champions.

Sheridan's prediction

I'll go just over the Advanced Football Analytics projection and say 11-5. There are reasons to predict a less successful record for the Eagles: The rest of the division is working to improve; that first-place schedule is a bit more difficult. But there's no reason to believe Kelly isn't a smart, effective NFL head coach. I just don't see him taking a step back. Besides, the rest of the division doesn't seem all that much better, does it?

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DE Vinny Curry

Curry got after the QB in limited snaps in 2013: His 11.6 pass-rushing productivity score is the second best Pro Football Focus has ever seen from a 3-4 DE, just behind the once incomparable J.J. Watt (12.8).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if RB LeSean McCoy gets room to run behind the NFL's best O-line and Nick Foles keeps his picks down.

Will win 9 if Jeremy Maclin can't stretch defenses and the run game stalls.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Eagles' Projected Record

10-6

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. JAC 23-17
  • Sept. 15 @ IND 23-14
  • Sept. 21 vs. WAS 24-7
  • Sept. 28 @ SF 31-12
  • Oct. 5 vs. STL 40-16
  • Oct. 12 vs. NYG 34-24
  • Oct. 26 @ ARI 23-13
  • Nov. 2 @ HOU 22-17
  • Nov. 10 vs. CAR 34-24
  • Nov. 16 @ GB 35-15
  • Nov. 23 vs. TEN 24-21
  • Nov. 27 @ DAL 40-27
  • Dec. 7 vs. SEA 31-14
  • Dec. 14 vs. DAL 30-21
  • Dec. 20 @ WAS 27-20
  • Dec. 28 @ NYG 17-12

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

25-1

Over/Under Wins

9

close

2

Dallas

Cowboys

2013 Record: 8-8 2nd in NFC East

Plenty riding on Romo's arm, health

by Todd Archer | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

WR Cole Beasley

Beasley's 75 percent catch rate ranked seventh in the league last season. Expect the 2012 undrafted free agent's playing time (28.1 percent of snaps in 2013) and targets (52) to increase this year.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if the D is merely average and not historically awful and their explosive O can keep them in high-scoring games.

Will win 6 if the defense is as bad as advertised and Tony Romo misses time. Brandon Weeden is their No. 2.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Cowboys' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. SF 20-13
  • Sept. 14 @ TEN 34-17
  • Sept. 21 @ STL 33-27
  • Sept. 28 vs. NO 19-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. HOU 26-17
  • Oct. 12 @ SEA 23-3
  • Oct. 19 vs. NYG 24-13
  • Oct. 27 vs. WAS 31-23
  • Nov. 2 vs. ARI 36-21
  • Nov. 9 @ JAC* 34-16
  • Nov. 23 @ NYG 34-21
  • Nov. 27 vs. PHI 40-27
  • Dec. 4 @ CHI 35-20
  • Dec. 14 @ PHI 30-21
  • Dec. 21 vs. IND 26-20
  • Dec. 28 @ WAS 25-13
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

75-1

Over/Under Wins

8

A rested development

On the first day of minicamp, Tony Romo was so eager for an extra rep or two that he switched jerseys with reserve Caleb Hanie. Romo, who had back surgery in December, broke the huddle but couldn't take a snap before coach Jason Garrett caught on. "Any time you're getting healthier, you want to ramp it up," Romo says. The staff would prefer he take it easy -- just like he did in 2013 when, after having a cyst removed from his back, he abstained from on-field work before camp. The Cowboys need a rested Romo at his best if they hope to avoid the most mediocre run in NFL history. No team has ever gone 8-8 four consecutive seasons.

Best-Kept Secret

From 2009-13 Scott Linehan directed the pass-happy Detroit Lions offense. Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford put up staggering numbers together. With the Cowboys, Linehan has a much more balanced offense with an uber-talented receiver in Dez Bryant and a top QB in Romo. He also has a Pro Bowl tight end in Jason Witten, who is not slowing down, and a Pro Bowl runner in DeMarco Murray. He also has one of the better offensive lines. The Cowboys' offense was productive the last few years under Garrett and Bill Callahan, but it got a little stagnant. Linehan has brought some subtle changes with the passing game, while incorporating what the Cowboys did well on the ground in 2013. The in-game adjustments will be much better and as a result the offense should be much better.

Worst-kept secret

The Cowboys, the only team in the league to give up more than 400 yards a game last season (415.3), will struggle defensively. They are without linebacker Sean Lee for the season because of a knee injury. They won't have cornerback Orlando Scandrick for the first four games because of a suspension. Second-round pick DeMarcus Lawrence (foot) will miss the first 3-6 regular-season games. They lost their two best pass-rushers from last year in DeMarcus Ware (released) and Jason Hatcher (free agency). The Cowboys are hoping defensive end Henry Melton, their biggest free-agent signing, can rebound to the Pro Bowl form he had under Rod Marinelli in Chicago, but he is coming off a torn ACL that limited him to three games in 2013. They also are hoping to get career years from the likes of Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie, Tyrone Crawford, Bruce Carter, Justin Durant, Kyle Wilber, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. It's a tall order for any defense to get that many players to play at their highest level.

William Purnell/Icon SMI

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Tony Romo:

"He's athletic, so you have to be ready for him to spin out and juke you one way or another. He makes guys miss. If you rush and he pumps the ball, you can't jump. I've seen that happen a couple times where he's had a guy open on the blitz and he'll pump fake, the guy leaves his feet and he buys time. Then, you're one-on-one in the back end and it's a tough deal for the defense. When you rush him, you have to make sure you attack the up-field shoulder. If your angle is too much inside, then it's too easy to spin out and then get out of the pocket. You can't allow him out of the pocket to his right. He's a lot more effective throwing the ball when rolling out to his right."

Make-or-break stretch

The end of the season has not been kind to the Cowboys in recent years. It's not been just a Garrett problem, but the Cowboys lost three of their last four in 2013, their final two in 2012 and four of their last five in 2011 to finish 8-8 all three years. This year's late-season schedule is difficult -- five of the last seven away from home -- but the pivotal stretch will be early in the year to make sure the end of the year is relevant. Six of the Cowboys' first nine games are at AT&T Stadium, which has not provided the greatest of home-field advantages since opening. The Cowboys have a three-game homestand from Oct. 19-Nov. 2 against three NFC teams that they almost have to sweep to stay in contention in the division or help in the wild-card standings.

Archer's prediction

Advanced Football Analytics is right on the money at 8-8. Nothing says history like a fourth straight eight-win season. The Cowboys' offense should be among the NFL's best. The defense could be among the NFL's worst without top-flight pressure players. It all adds up to .500. Again.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

WR Cole Beasley

Beasley's 75 percent catch rate ranked seventh in the league last season. Expect the 2012 undrafted free agent's playing time (28.1 percent of snaps in 2013) and targets (52) to increase this year.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if the D is merely average and not historically awful and their explosive O can keep them in high-scoring games.

Will win 6 if the defense is as bad as advertised and Tony Romo misses time. Brandon Weeden is their No. 2.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Cowboys' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. SF 20-13
  • Sept. 14 @ TEN 34-17
  • Sept. 21 @ STL 33-27
  • Sept. 28 vs. NO 19-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. HOU 26-17
  • Oct. 12 @ SEA 23-3
  • Oct. 19 vs. NYG 24-13
  • Oct. 27 vs. WAS 31-23
  • Nov. 2 vs. ARI 36-21
  • Nov. 9 @ JAC* 34-16
  • Nov. 23 @ NYG 34-21
  • Nov. 27 vs. PHI 40-27
  • Dec. 4 @ CHI 35-20
  • Dec. 14 @ PHI 30-21
  • Dec. 21 vs. IND 26-20
  • Dec. 28 @ WAS 25-13
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

75-1

Over/Under Wins

8

close

3

New York

Giants

2013 Record: 7-9 3rd in NFC East

Manning & Co. look to regain footing

by Dan Graziano | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Johnathan Hankins

Last season, Hankins earned a run defense grade (+9.5) that was +1.5 better than starter Linval Joseph, who walked in free agency, in around a third of the snaps. Hankins played only 195 snaps, but he made a stop on 10.5 percent of his run plays, better than all but six out of 81 qualifying DTs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Ben McAdoo's scheme and healthy WRs help reduce Eli Manning's INTs.

Will win 5 if the remade O-line flops and DE Jason Pierre-Paul can't jump-start the pass rush.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Giants' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 8 @ DET 35-21
  • Sept. 14 vs. ARI 19-3
  • Sept. 21 vs. HOU 34-7
  • Sept. 25 @ WAS 37-13
  • Oct. 5 vs. ATL 34-17
  • Oct. 12 @ PHI 34-24
  • Oct. 19 @ DAL 24-13
  • Nov. 3 vs. IND 23-13
  • Nov. 9 @ SEA 23-3
  • Nov. 16 vs. SF 31-13
  • Nov. 23 vs. DAL 34-21
  • Nov. 30 @ JAC 20-13
  • Dec. 7 @ TEN 33-20
  • Dec. 14 vs. WAS 17-13
  • Dec. 21 @ STL 18-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. PHI 17-12

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

40-1

Over/Under Wins

8

Laying Blame At His Feet

As Eli Manning drops back, you can tell he's thinking about his footwork. In training camp, he drilled basic techniques over and over, all in an effort to accommodate the switch to Ben McAdoo's West Coast scheme. It's vital for Manning's timing to be in sync with his receivers' quick-hitting routes. "It's not only remembering the play and protection," Manning says, "but also, 'Do I take a step with my right foot first or my left foot?' That has to become second nature." Especially if Manning wants to avoid the missteps that led to the worst season of his career.

Best-Kept Secret

It remains to be seen what the Giants' new pass rush looks like with 2013 sack leader Justin Tuck gone off to Oakland. They tried several combinations in camp, and at this point it's unclear whether Mathias Kiwanuka or Robert Ayers will start opposite Jason Pierre-Paul. What is clear is that the Giants want to be able to move the linemen all over the formation. They've lined Ayers, Pierre-Paul and Kiwanuka up as defensive tackles on passing downs and can play tackle Cullen Jenkins at end in a pinch. It might take some time yet to sort out all the possible defensive line combinations.

Worst-kept secret

For all of the changes made to this roster, the 2014 Giants season likely comes down to the performance of two players -- Manning on offense and Pierre-Paul on defense. If Manning can rebound from his 27-interception season and Pierre-Paul can become a dominant pass-rusher again after two injury-wrecked years, they are the players who can help elevate the others around them. If Manning and Pierre-Paul struggle (or get injured), there's really no hope for the rest of the roster to make anything out of the mess that would be left behind.

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Eli Manning:

"He's not fleet of foot like Tony Romo, but he's still effective when rolling out. You have to keep him in the pocket, especially with the deep threats he has. They're good at buying time and extending plays -- and you have to force him to his left. One thing I noticed in playing against him is that you have to disguise well pre-snap if you're going to blitz because he's very good at identifying things pre-snap. He's in sync with his receivers after that; they communicate and make adjustments on the fly."

Make-or-break stretch

The Giants play all three of their division road games in a four-week stretch from Sept. 25 to Oct. 19. They're at Washington, home vs. Atlanta, at Philadelphia and at Dallas, which leads right into their Week 8 bye. Because what ensues is a Colts-Seahawks-49ers meat grinder, it's crucial for the Giants to play well on the road against their division opponents before the bye if they want to avoid getting buried in the standings for the second season in a row.

Graziano's prediction

Advanced Football Analytics gives the Giants seven wins, which is the same number they got last year and a totally reasonable guess. Give them a 3-3 division record, home wins against Atlanta and Houston and road wins in Jacksonville and Tennessee, and that makes seven. I think Tom Coughlin can coach his way to an eighth win, but they'd need a lot of breaks and a lot of offensive players to exceed that total.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Johnathan Hankins

Last season, Hankins earned a run defense grade (+9.5) that was +1.5 better than starter Linval Joseph, who walked in free agency, in around a third of the snaps. Hankins played only 195 snaps, but he made a stop on 10.5 percent of his run plays, better than all but six out of 81 qualifying DTs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Ben McAdoo's scheme and healthy WRs help reduce Eli Manning's INTs.

Will win 5 if the remade O-line flops and DE Jason Pierre-Paul can't jump-start the pass rush.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Giants' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 8 @ DET 35-21
  • Sept. 14 vs. ARI 19-3
  • Sept. 21 vs. HOU 34-7
  • Sept. 25 @ WAS 37-13
  • Oct. 5 vs. ATL 34-17
  • Oct. 12 @ PHI 34-24
  • Oct. 19 @ DAL 24-13
  • Nov. 3 vs. IND 23-13
  • Nov. 9 @ SEA 23-3
  • Nov. 16 vs. SF 31-13
  • Nov. 23 vs. DAL 34-21
  • Nov. 30 @ JAC 20-13
  • Dec. 7 @ TEN 33-20
  • Dec. 14 vs. WAS 17-13
  • Dec. 21 @ STL 18-13
  • Dec. 28 vs. PHI 17-12

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

40-1

Over/Under Wins

8

close

4

Washington

Redskins

2013 Record: 3-134th in NFC East

Will RG III thrive or dive in new system?

by John Keim | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

TE Jordan Reed

Reed compiled 2.19 yards per route run, which trailed only Rob Gronkowski among tight ends with 30 or more targets. Reed's 75 percent catch rate should give RG III plenty reason to look his way.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Jay Gruden's pass-heavy offense gets RG III in sync with his explosive trio of weapons.

Will win 6 if their failure to address a horrid secondary proves costly and the O has to score 30 to win.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Redskins' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ HOU 28-10
  • Sept. 14 vs. JAC 27-10
  • Sept. 21 @ PHI 24-7
  • Sept. 25 vs. NYG 37-13
  • Oct. 6 vs. SEA 37-8
  • Oct. 12 @ ARI 34-23
  • Oct. 19 vs. TEN 24-13
  • Oct. 27 @ DAL 31-23
  • Nov. 2 @ MIN 35-33
  • Nov. 16 vs. TB 20-14
  • Nov. 23 @ SF 20-17
  • Nov. 30 @ IND 26-23
  • Dec. 7 vs. STL 28-17
  • Dec. 14 @ NYG 17-13
  • Dec. 20 vs. PHI 27-20
  • Dec. 28 vs. DAL 25-13

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

50-1

Over/Under Wins

7.5

RG III's New Toy

Early this offseason, DeSean Jackson raced past the secondary and hauled in a long pass from Robert Griffin III. In a blink, D-Jax reaffirmed his biggest asset: getting separation. In 2013, Griffin averaged just 8.98 yards per attempt on throws of 20-plus yards (39th in the NFL). One veteran says the coaches last year made the offense too one-dimensional, in part because they wanted to simplify Griffin's reads. Jackson, WR Pierre Garcon and TE Jordan Reed -- all of whom can win one-on-one -- will help turn RG III's limitations into a thing of the past.

Best-Kept Secret

The Redskins did a good job of hiring assistant coaches who harped on fundamentals and are good teachers. It makes -- and has made -- a difference. At linebacker, outside linebackers coach Brian Baker has proven to be a stickler for details when it comes to rushing the passer. So the players at those positions, Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in particular, have received tutoring they had not yet had in the NFL. The same is true inside with assistant Kirk Olivadotti, who will be a key reason why new starter Keenan Robinson develops. Tight ends coach Wes Phillips has an offensive line background and worked hard on developing blocking skills in second-year player Reed. In the past, the Redskins' staff was more focused on players' assignments, but did not always equip them with the knowledge of how to win on a certain play. This style might take a little longer to reap the benefits, but it's a good way to go.

Worst-kept secret

The Redskins want Griffin to become a more effective pocket passer. Coach Jay Gruden's offensive system uses a lot of drop-back action, and though Griffin wants to be strong in this area, he's still a work in progress. The Redskins have been clear since the offseason that it will take time for Griffin to master this considering it's not something he did in college, and in his first two years the Redskins used him in a variety of ways. It's about improving with his progressions, knowing when and how to escape the pocket, and when to throw the ball away. The Redskins have plenty of weapons offensively, and that will help offset some of Griffin's growing pains. And the run game should be what powers this offense. But the more Griffin matures as a passer, the more this offense will expand.

Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Robert Griffin III:

"I think you just have to find some way of making him uncomfortable. And that's obviously easier said than done, because when he's really on his game he's so fast and slippery. But if you can get to him or just get near him and at least just kind of make him think a little bit, make him wonder -- not even necessarily hit him, even though that's ideal, but if you can just get him wondering about getting hit -- I think you see a difference. What we saw last year was different from the year before because I think he was in a stretch where they weren't protecting him well and it was in his head. He's still dangerous, but it's like anyone else. If you get them just a little uncomfortable, that might be enough to get them off their game."

Make-or-break stretch

When you're coming off a 3-13 season, any stretch is pivotal. The Redskins do have a chance for a 2-0 start with games against Houston and Jacksonville to open the season. And then it gets interesting with four tough games: at Philadelphia, New York Giants, Seattle, at Arizona. That's two divisional games followed by two tough defenses, which makes the three games after that as pivotal a stretch as any. After that four-game stretch, the Redskins host Tennessee before road games at Dallas and Minnesota. But those are three winnable games. If the Redskins struggle before this point, it's a chance for them to reach the bye with momentum for a second-half push.

Keim's prediction

I agree with Advanced Football Analytics' prediction of seven wins for a couple of reasons. First, though, I can see Washington doing better, but a lot of the signs this summer suggest some growing pains after a 3-13 season and with a new coach. Griffin's development will lead to highs and lows, but as long as he finishes strong then there's definite hope for the future. The defense could be fine if it limits big plays (and gets help from special teams and fewer turnovers by the offense). But the big question remains durability for a unit that has five potential starters who are 30 or older. All that adds up to 7-9 for me.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

TE Jordan Reed

Reed compiled 2.19 yards per route run, which trailed only Rob Gronkowski among tight ends with 30 or more targets. Reed's 75 percent catch rate should give RG III plenty reason to look his way.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if Jay Gruden's pass-heavy offense gets RG III in sync with his explosive trio of weapons.

Will win 6 if their failure to address a horrid secondary proves costly and the O has to score 30 to win.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Redskins' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ HOU 28-10
  • Sept. 14 vs. JAC 27-10
  • Sept. 21 @ PHI 24-7
  • Sept. 25 vs. NYG 37-13
  • Oct. 6 vs. SEA 37-8
  • Oct. 12 @ ARI 34-23
  • Oct. 19 vs. TEN 24-13
  • Oct. 27 @ DAL 31-23
  • Nov. 2 @ MIN 35-33
  • Nov. 16 vs. TB 20-14
  • Nov. 23 @ SF 20-17
  • Nov. 30 @ IND 26-23
  • Dec. 7 vs. STL 28-17
  • Dec. 14 @ NYG 17-13
  • Dec. 20 vs. PHI 27-20
  • Dec. 28 vs. DAL 25-13

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

50-1

Over/Under Wins

7.5

close

1

Seattle

Seahawks

2013 Record: 13-3Won Super Bowl

Talented champs loaded for title defense

by Terry Blount | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

CB Byron Maxwell

In 2013, Maxwell rivaled Richard Sherman: a 51.1 percent completion rate to Sherman's 50.9 (11th and 13th in NFL) and a 47.8 passer rating to Sherman's 36.2 (second and first).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 13 if the NFL's deepest team gets the luxury of 16 Percy Harvin starts.

Will win 9 if the slate wears on them; three cross-country treks and opening with GB, SD and Denver ain't easy.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Seahawks' Projected Record

12-4

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 4 vs. GB 33-21
  • Sept. 14 @ SD 24-10
  • Sept. 21 vs. DEN 30-23
  • Oct. 6 @ WAS 37-8
  • Oct. 12 vs. DAL 23-3
  • Oct. 19 @ STL 17-14
  • Oct. 26 @ CAR 27-13
  • Nov. 2 vs. OAK 22-10
  • Nov. 9 vs. NYG 23-3
  • Nov. 16 @ KC 15-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. ARI 28-23
  • Nov. 27 @ SF 24-12
  • Dec. 7 @ PHI 31-14
  • Dec. 14 vs. SF 21-7
  • Dec. 21 @ ARI 17-10
  • Dec. 28 vs. STL 24-10

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

9-2

Over/Under Wins

11

Wingin' It With Wilson

Seattle, the avionics capital of the world, should be glad to hear that the Seahawks, whose 420 pass attempts last season ranked 31st, will air it out in 2014. As one offensive lineman says: "We didn't draft two receivers in the first three picks, including a 4.3 speedster, if we didn't plan on throwing it more." That 4.3 speedster is Paul Richardson (second round), who has consistently beaten teammates for long TDs this offseason. He has the right quarterback on his side: Since 2012, Russell Wilson is one of four with a Total QBR of 99-plus on throws of 20 yards or more. Let it rain.

Best-Kept Secret

The Seahawks' ability to win games with their special teams. No team in the league emphasizes the importance of special teams more than Seattle. Maybe that isn't a big secret, but the part most people don't know is that the Seahawks' coaches use many of their best players, including Pro Bowlers, on special teams. The list includes free safety Earl Thomas, strong safety Kam Chancellor, wide receiver Doug Baldwin, and linebackers K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith. The Seahawks believe in using the best people on special teams, regardless of what they do on offense or defense. "It's another football play," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on his 710 ESPN Seattle radio show. "You can talk about people getting hurt doing anything. People get hurt stepping off the curb. You guys can think that way all you want. But do you know Earl and Kam led our team in tackling on kickoffs last year with 19 tackles? I don't live in the world of what things can go wrong. It's not the way we think. You guys have to get over it."

Worst-kept secret

Everyone knows about the Legion of Boom secondary. And people saw last season how much pressure the Seattle defensive line puts on quarterbacks with its pass rush. But players around the league will tell you the real glue of the Seahawks' defense is the speed and athletic ability of its linebackers. Only Carolina's Luke Kuechly can compete with Bobby Wagner, a middle linebacker who is just beginning to realize his level of talent. Outside linebacker Wright can play all three linebacker spots at a high level, and he may be the best coverage linebacker in the NFL. He shut down New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham in the playoffs last season. And if outside linebacker Smith was a secret before the Super Bowl, he's no secret now after being named the game's MVP. The Seahawks also have third-year player Bruce Irvin, a hybrid linebacker/defensive end, who linebackers coach Ken Norton calls the best athlete on the team.

Elaine Thompson/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Russell Wilson:

"The best way of stopping him is keeping a tight defense on the edges. You have to keep him in the pocket. That's the only way to try to beat him. He's short, and if he is kept in the pocket, he can't do the things he does best. Once he gets outside the pocket, you are compromised because that allows him to be him. He has quick feet and he can make plays. You lose when he gets outside the pocket. You have to keep that pocket tight."

Make-or-break stretch

If the Seahawks are to get back to the Super Bowl, they will have to weather a grueling final seven games, four of them against 2013 playoff teams -- Kansas City and Philadelphia on the road and San Francisco twice -- along with two games against the Arizona Cardinals, who won 10 games last season. The Seahawks staff was not happy about getting a bye week in September, meaning the team has to play 13 consecutive weekends to the end of the regular season. And the fact the defending Super Bowl champions have only one Monday night game, and it's on the road at Washington, didn't sit well with the fans.

Blount's prediction

I'll say 13-3, but I can't argue too hard against Advanced Football Analytics' 12-win projection. Either way, it's probably enough to win the NFC West. And this team has the best chance to win consecutive Super Bowls since the Patriots did it 10 years ago.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

CB Byron Maxwell

In 2013, Maxwell rivaled Richard Sherman: a 51.1 percent completion rate to Sherman's 50.9 (11th and 13th in NFL) and a 47.8 passer rating to Sherman's 36.2 (second and first).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 13 if the NFL's deepest team gets the luxury of 16 Percy Harvin starts.

Will win 9 if the slate wears on them; three cross-country treks and opening with GB, SD and Denver ain't easy.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Seahawks' Projected Record

12-4

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 4 vs. GB 33-21
  • Sept. 14 @ SD 24-10
  • Sept. 21 vs. DEN 30-23
  • Oct. 6 @ WAS 37-8
  • Oct. 12 vs. DAL 23-3
  • Oct. 19 @ STL 17-14
  • Oct. 26 @ CAR 27-13
  • Nov. 2 vs. OAK 22-10
  • Nov. 9 vs. NYG 23-3
  • Nov. 16 @ KC 15-10
  • Nov. 23 vs. ARI 28-23
  • Nov. 27 @ SF 24-12
  • Dec. 7 @ PHI 31-14
  • Dec. 14 vs. SF 21-7
  • Dec. 21 @ ARI 17-10
  • Dec. 28 vs. STL 24-10

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

9-2

Over/Under Wins

11

close

2

San Francisco

49ers

2013 Record: 12-4Lost in NFC Championship Game

It's time for Kaepernick to finish job

by Bill Williamson | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

CB Tramaine Brock

A year after Brock was buried on a loaded depth chart, his 10.6 Pro Football Focus coverage grade ranked ninth among all CBs. And his five INTs while in coverage were behind only Richard Sherman and Brandon Boykin.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if they remain the NFL's most physical team and Colin Kaepernick gets more freedom in the pass game.

Will win 9 if the D, No. 1 in ppg allowed since 2009, slides while waiting for LB NaVorro Bowman (ACL).
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

49ers' Projected Record

11-5

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ DAL 20-13
  • Sept. 14 vs. CHI 30-14
  • Sept. 21 @ ARI 20-6
  • Sept. 28 vs. PHI 31-12
  • Oct. 5 vs. KC 28-26
  • Oct. 13 @ STL 27-13
  • Oct. 19 @ DEN 24-10
  • Nov. 2 vs. STL 31-20
  • Nov. 9 @ NO 13-6
  • Nov. 16 @ NYG 31-13
  • Nov. 23 vs. WAS 20-17
  • Nov. 27 vs. SEA 24-12
  • Dec. 7 @ OAK 27-7
  • Dec. 14 @ SEA 21-7
  • Dec. 20 vs. SD 26-24
  • Dec. 28 vs. ARI 38-23

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

10-1

Over/Under Wins

10.5

Digging Out The Red

Colin Kaepernick got paid (up to $126 million over seven years). Now it's time for him to earn his green in the red zone. This offseason, the 49ers' offense camped out inside the 20 as Kaepernick threw pass after pass -- all in an effort to right past wrongs. The 49ers (21st and 11th in red zone efficiency the past two years) lost Super Bowl XLVII and last season's NFC title game when last-second drives died inside the 20, so the added reps are understandable. There are 126 million reasons another costly stall won't be so easily forgiven.

Best-Kept Secret

Coaching on defense. There is some concern the 49ers' defense could slide from the NFL's elite because inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman (ACL) will miss about half the season and Aldon Smith (legal issues) could be suspended by the league. Glenn Dorsey could miss the season with a torn biceps, and there is flux in the secondary. But the 49ers have perhaps the best defensive staff in the NFL, led by coordinator Vic Fangio. Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and secondary coach Ed Donatell are also at the top of their profession. Fangio will adjust to his personnel. That was evident last season when the 49ers went 5-0 when Smith was in rehab after a DUI. There was also no drop-off when Tramaine Brock went from special teams to the 49ers' best cornerback. Fangio and crew will weather the storm.

Worst-kept secret

The 49ers should be much, much better at receiver. It would be a challenge to find a position group anywhere in the league that is more dramatically improved from 2013. Michael Crabtree missed 11 games last season with a torn Achilles. He is fully healthy and could be an All-Pro candidate. Former Buffalo Bills star Stevie Johnson is the No. 3 receiver. Last season, the 49ers ran fewer three-receiver sets than any team in the NFL. Crabtree, Johnson and starter Anquan Boldin will change that. Add veteran Brandon Lloyd, explosive rookie Bruce Ellington and promising second-year player Quinton Patton, and the 49ers will have perhaps the best receiving crew in the NFL.

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Colin Kaepernick:

"I don't think he's a factor if we're on our stuff. They run a bunch of phantom routes to get him free to run. You know you're digging to your last shell if you have to do all that. You can't do anything else but play backyard football. Really it's up to the D-Line and linebackers to contain him and make him be a passer, because really he's not a great quarterback when he is throwing the ball inside the pocket. When you're playing Kaepernick, you can read his shoulders and his eyes. He's average to me overall. He's a great athlete, so you just have to keep him from getting outside where he can make things happen. It's his legs. When he's able to get outside the pocket and create, it's hard to stop him."

Make-or-break stretch

Week 13 and 15 games against Seattle jump off the schedule. These are the two best teams in the NFL, and the late-season battles loom huge. But the truth is the 49ers cannot afford any stumbles. They started 1-2 last season and could never catch up as the Seahawks finished 13-3 and the 49ers 12-4. It cost the 49ers home field in the playoffs. They have road games at Dallas and Arizona and home games against Chicago and Philadelphia in the first quarter of the season. If they are anything less than 3-1, they could be in a hole. On the flip side, if the 49ers -- who will not be at full strength on defense to start -- can navigate a perfect first quarter, it could set up a special season.

Williamson's prediction

12-4. I think the 49ers will be slightly better than the 11-5 Advanced Football Analytics prediction. This is a loaded, veteran team with few major flaws. The Super Bowl is the focus. They know wins must be piled up in the regular season to make that happen.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

CB Tramaine Brock

A year after Brock was buried on a loaded depth chart, his 10.6 Pro Football Focus coverage grade ranked ninth among all CBs. And his five INTs while in coverage were behind only Richard Sherman and Brandon Boykin.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if they remain the NFL's most physical team and Colin Kaepernick gets more freedom in the pass game.

Will win 9 if the D, No. 1 in ppg allowed since 2009, slides while waiting for LB NaVorro Bowman (ACL).
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

49ers' Projected Record

11-5

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ DAL 20-13
  • Sept. 14 vs. CHI 30-14
  • Sept. 21 @ ARI 20-6
  • Sept. 28 vs. PHI 31-12
  • Oct. 5 vs. KC 28-26
  • Oct. 13 @ STL 27-13
  • Oct. 19 @ DEN 24-10
  • Nov. 2 vs. STL 31-20
  • Nov. 9 @ NO 13-6
  • Nov. 16 @ NYG 31-13
  • Nov. 23 vs. WAS 20-17
  • Nov. 27 vs. SEA 24-12
  • Dec. 7 @ OAK 27-7
  • Dec. 14 @ SEA 21-7
  • Dec. 20 vs. SD 26-24
  • Dec. 28 vs. ARI 38-23

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

10-1

Over/Under Wins

10.5

close

3

Arizona

Cardinals

2013 Record: 10-6 3rd in NFC West

Can offense make up for losses on D?

by Josh Weinfuss | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

CB Tyrann Mathieu

Before tearing his ACL in Week 14, Mathieu played 65.4 percent of his snaps in the slot, allowing the 10th-fewest yards per coverage snap (0.9). With eight stops (tied for eighth among CBs) and 12 QB pressures (second), the Honey Badger did it all as a rook.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if a rebuilt line is the missing piece this skilled O needs; Carson Palmer can sling it if given time.

Will win 7 if starting the season without their top five tacklers from '13 is too much to overcome vs. an unrelenting schedule.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Cardinals' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 8 vs. SD 28-7
  • Sept. 14 @ NYG 19-3
  • Sept. 21 vs. SF 20-6
  • Oct. 5 @ DEN 27-10
  • Oct. 12 vs. WAS 34-23
  • Oct. 19 @ OAK 33-14
  • Oct. 26 vs. PHI 23-13
  • Nov. 2 @ DAL 36-21
  • Nov. 9 vs. STL 24-9
  • Nov. 16 vs. DET 23-14
  • Nov. 23 @ SEA 28-23
  • Nov. 30 @ ATL 26-7
  • Dec. 7 vs. KC 25-20
  • Dec. 11 @ STL 22-17
  • Dec. 21 vs. SEA 17-10
  • Dec. 28 @ SF 38-23

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

40-1

Over/Under Wins

7.5

Second Time Around

A common refrain this summer: The Cards' offense is light-years ahead of where it was during Bruce Arians' first season. The coach himself says, "We ran situations last offseason, but we didn't have a clue what we were doing. Now they understand." Instead of WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd asking each other where to line up, the offense is operating seamlessly. And QB Carson Palmer, instead of watching cut-ups of Arians' attacks in Indy and Pittsburgh, is studying Cardinals film. For Palmer's sake, let's hope the revamped O-line doesn't need a year to catch on, too.

Best-Kept Secret

Training camp lasted less than a month, but three players lined up at left guard. A position once thought of to be firmly decided is now an issue. Jonathan Cooper was expected to return from a broken leg and not miss a beat, but he has struggled with both the physical and mental parts of his comeback. Earl Watford was given a chance to unseat Cooper but was unable to run away with the job. Then Ted Larsen, a veteran who was signed mainly as the backup swing guard and center, was inserted into the starting lineup, and he has a chance to win the job once and for all.

Worst-kept secret

Last season, Calais Campbell was playing with four current or former Pro Bowlers -- linebacker John Abraham, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, linebacker Daryl Washington and cornerback Patrick Peterson. This season may be Campbell's turn. Campbell, who was a Pro Bowl alternate last season, has been labeled as underrated by more than just Arians. At 6-foot-8, 300 pounds, Campbell has a body that may be better suited to post up than chase quarterbacks, but he's one of two players currently on NFL rosters with at least 299 tackles and 36.5 sacks since 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2013, Campbell had a career-high nine sacks. There's no reason to believe that he won't top that in 2014.

Greg Trott/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Carson Palmer:

"We always feel like if [Palmer] is in a rhythm, the ball is coming out quick and he's putting most of the throws in between the numbers somewhere. Let him do that, and he's a big, strong dude with plenty of arm. We always feel like if you can make him get off the first read, make him hold it and clog things up in the middle, make him throw outside, that his effectiveness goes down. And not just a little. I think he beats blitzes because he's better working fast, but if you rush four and get some traffic around him in the middle, he doesn't like that, and you're going to have a chance to get a takeaway, push him into a bad decision."

Make-or-break stretch

The Cardinals' toughest stretch comes at the end of the season. Arizona visits St. Louis on Thursday night in Week 15, hosts Seattle in Week 16 and travels to San Francisco for the finale. This stretch will dictate Arizona's New Year's plans, either propelling the Cardinals into the postseason or sending them packing to ring in 2015 on a tropical beach somewhere. Arizona's resolve will be tested.

Weinfuss' prediction

9-7. I don't agree with Advanced Football Analytics' prediction the Cardinals will win seven games. The defense, although decimated by losses to three of its starters from a year ago, is still a solid unit, especially in the secondary. And the offense has improved and is strong enough to carry the team to at least nine wins.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

CB Tyrann Mathieu

Before tearing his ACL in Week 14, Mathieu played 65.4 percent of his snaps in the slot, allowing the 10th-fewest yards per coverage snap (0.9). With eight stops (tied for eighth among CBs) and 12 QB pressures (second), the Honey Badger did it all as a rook.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if a rebuilt line is the missing piece this skilled O needs; Carson Palmer can sling it if given time.

Will win 7 if starting the season without their top five tacklers from '13 is too much to overcome vs. an unrelenting schedule.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Cardinals' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 8 vs. SD 28-7
  • Sept. 14 @ NYG 19-3
  • Sept. 21 vs. SF 20-6
  • Oct. 5 @ DEN 27-10
  • Oct. 12 vs. WAS 34-23
  • Oct. 19 @ OAK 33-14
  • Oct. 26 vs. PHI 23-13
  • Nov. 2 @ DAL 36-21
  • Nov. 9 vs. STL 24-9
  • Nov. 16 vs. DET 23-14
  • Nov. 23 @ SEA 28-23
  • Nov. 30 @ ATL 26-7
  • Dec. 7 vs. KC 25-20
  • Dec. 11 @ STL 22-17
  • Dec. 21 vs. SEA 17-10
  • Dec. 28 @ SF 38-23

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

40-1

Over/Under Wins

7.5

close

4

St. Louis

Rams

2013 Record: 7-9 4th in NFC West

Tough schedule could limit progress

by Nick Wagoner | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OT Joe Barksdale

Barksdale was a backup on his second team in three seasons when a Week 2 injury to Rodger Saffold forced him into duty. Barksdale allowed just 24 QB pressures the rest of the year -- seven fewer than LT Jake Long.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 6 if Shaun Hill proves to be sufficient fill-in and speed on D makes the group elite.

Will win 3 if Sam Bradford's injury leaves the passing game listless; the difficult schedule is hard to ignore.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Rams' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. MIN 27-9
  • Sept. 14 @ TB 23-19
  • Sept. 21 vs. DAL 33-27
  • Oct. 5 @ PHI 40-16
  • Oct. 13 vs. SF 27-13
  • Oct. 19 vs. SEA 17-14
  • Oct. 26 @ KC 24-13
  • Nov. 2 @ SF 31-20
  • Nov. 9 @ ARI 24-9
  • Nov. 16 vs. DEN 31-6
  • Nov. 23 @ SD 29-16
  • Nov. 30 vs. OAK 14-6
  • Dec. 7 @ WAS 28-17
  • Dec. 11 vs. ARI 22-17
  • Dec. 21 vs. NYG 18-13
  • Dec. 28 @ SEA 24-10

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

75-1

Over/Under Wins

6.5

In Williams They Trust

The belief among Rams players and executives is that no addition will have a bigger impact than defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Upon his arrival, Williams -- he of Bountygate infamy -- made a list of 101 projects for the team to accomplish in the offseason. Almost all of them emphasized forcing players to push through fatigue. He loves a drill that requires five guys to do up-downs, hit a blocking sled and sprint to a sideline where three footballs are waiting. Those who come up empty-handed then have to do 10 more up-downs. It's grueling, but Williams believes in finishing what you start, which is why all 101 of those projects were completed before camp.

Best-Kept Secret

Rams pass-catchers come in many sizes, including smaller options such as Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. That doesn't necessarily jibe with the team's desire to be a physical, punishing offense. But with the offseason addition of Kenny Britt, don't be surprised to see the Rams go big on a regular basis. With Britt (6-foot-3, 223 pounds) and Brian Quick (6-3, 218) on the outside and tight end Jared Cook (6-5, 254) in the slot, the Rams can deploy a group that should be able to handle itself in the heavyweight fights that are NFC West division games. It should also help an offense that was 24th in red-zone touchdown efficiency in 2013.

Worst-kept secret

The Rams' projected starting offensive line has the potential to be one of the league's best, especially in the run game. But it is walking the injury tightrope for the second straight year, considering three starters -- left tackle Jake Long, center Scott Wells and right guard Rodger Saffold -- have lengthy injury histories. That wouldn't be so worrisome if guard Davin Joseph wasn't the only backup with meaningful playing experience. Line coach Paul Boudreau can coach up the young backups to hold the fort, but considering the Rams' desire to dominate the line of scrimmage, holding the fort won't suffice.

Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Shaun Hill:

"You can't just think because [Sam] Bradford isn't out there that this is just some guy coming in off the street. This is a guy who's done it before. He's shown he can put the ball on the spot. But there's a reason he's not a starter. He's going to have some limitations, and those will show up on film. That's up to the defensive coordinators to figure out what it is, but no matter who it is, you've got to pressure him. Very few guys can make plays under pressure. The great ones can, but the rest can't."

Make-or-break stretch

Is it going too far to call half the season a stretch? Beginning in Week 5 and running through Week 12, the Rams will play seven games against 2013 playoff teams and another against a 10-6 finisher. That's the crucible through which the Rams must emerge if they are to make a run to the postseason. While it's imperative the Rams get off to a fast start to have a chance, they must find a way to get at least three or four wins in a slate that includes two games against San Francisco, home games against Seattle and Denver, and games at Philadelphia, Kansas City, Arizona and San Diego.

Wagoner's prediction

I've adjusted down to 6-10, still above the projection by Advanced Football Analytics. I originally had the Rams pegged as an 8-8 team if only because coach Jeff Fisher has gotten teams less talented than this one to .500. Losing Bradford takes this team from the type capable of making a playoff run if things fall right to one that's probably 8-8 only under ideal circumstances. The Rams will be competitive with Hill under center, but it's going to be difficult for them to take the leap they'd hoped to make against a brutal schedule with a backup quarterback.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OT Joe Barksdale

Barksdale was a backup on his second team in three seasons when a Week 2 injury to Rodger Saffold forced him into duty. Barksdale allowed just 24 QB pressures the rest of the year -- seven fewer than LT Jake Long.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 6 if Shaun Hill proves to be sufficient fill-in and speed on D makes the group elite.

Will win 3 if Sam Bradford's injury leaves the passing game listless; the difficult schedule is hard to ignore.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Rams' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. MIN 27-9
  • Sept. 14 @ TB 23-19
  • Sept. 21 vs. DAL 33-27
  • Oct. 5 @ PHI 40-16
  • Oct. 13 vs. SF 27-13
  • Oct. 19 vs. SEA 17-14
  • Oct. 26 @ KC 24-13
  • Nov. 2 @ SF 31-20
  • Nov. 9 @ ARI 24-9
  • Nov. 16 vs. DEN 31-6
  • Nov. 23 @ SD 29-16
  • Nov. 30 vs. OAK 14-6
  • Dec. 7 @ WAS 28-17
  • Dec. 11 vs. ARI 22-17
  • Dec. 21 vs. NYG 18-13
  • Dec. 28 @ SEA 24-10

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

75-1

Over/Under Wins

6.5

close

1

New Orleans

Saints

2013 Record: 11-5Lost in divisional round

NFC's top seed is realistic goal

by Mike Triplett | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

WR Kenny Stills

Stills averaged an NFL-high 20.0 yards per reception as a rookie, 6.1 of which came after the catch. That helps explain why QB Drew Brees' passer rating was 139.3 when targeting Stills, the best of any QB-WR combination in the league.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 13 if the hype is real for rookie WR Brandin Cooks; he could be a hybrid of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore in the Saints' O.

Will win 10 if the O-line takes a few games to mesh and the division is stronger than expected.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Saints' Projected Record

13-3

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ ATL 24-10
  • Sept. 14 @ CLE 28-14
  • Sept. 21 vs. MIN 37-22
  • Sept. 28 @ DAL 19-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. TB 27-16
  • Oct. 19 @ DET 34-10
  • Oct. 26 vs. GB 24-17
  • Oct. 30 @ CAR 28-24
  • Nov. 9 vs. SF 13-6
  • Nov. 16 vs. CIN 31-17
  • Nov. 24 vs. BAL 35-17
  • Nov. 30 @ PIT 31-21
  • Dec. 7 vs. CAR 31-6
  • Dec. 15 @ CHI 31-20
  • Dec. 21 vs. ATL 28-20
  • Dec. 28 @ TB 41-10

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

7-1

Over/Under Wins

10

Strip, Mine

Charles Tillman. He's the player defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was thinking about this summer, so he showed his Saints a highlight reel of the Bears cornerback, who has forced 42 fumbles since entering the NFL in 2003. The obsession with turnovers permeated offseason practices, as defenders constantly went for strips and chased loose balls. This comes a season after New Orleans had just four takeaways over the final nine games -- and none in two playoff games. "It was a glaring weakness," Ryan says. "We did pretty decent as a unit. But we want to be great. And to be great, you have to take the ball away."

Best-Kept Secret

The Saints allowed just 19 points per game in 2013, fourth in the NFL -- yet I'm still not sure people realize just how good this young defense is. This D's breakout performance in its first year under Ryan was no fluke, thanks to a bunch of guys just coming into their prime. Defensive end Cameron Jordan made his first Pro Bowl, and he could be joined soon by defensive backs Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro, outside linebacker Junior Galette or fellow end Akiem Hicks. And this year the Saints have added safety Jairus Byrd to help in the one area where they fell short: forcing turnovers.

Worst-kept secret

The strained oblique that kept quarterback Drew Brees sidelined for two weeks this summer was a reminder of how important he is to this team. The Saints are deep and balanced enough that they would probably be able to win a game or two without Brees if needed, but he is obviously essential to any Super Bowl hopes. There are no glaring concerns among New Orleans' starting units, but two other areas where depth would be an issue in the case of injuries are cornerback behind Lewis and left tackle behind Terron Armstead.

Ric Tapia/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Drew Brees:

"He's going to make some plays no matter what you do, and you're not going to outsmart him. He's a machine, and that offense is a machine. He'll tear you up in a hurry if you let him. ... The key against him is to realize that he's going to make some plays, but you can have success if you pick your spots and make big plays against him. It's hard, but it's not impossible. ... The best thing you can do against Drew is get the pass rush going. And, really, you have to get it from your front four because he's going to burn you if you blitz too much. [Guard] Jahri Evans is a stud, but the rest of their offensive line isn't dominant."

Make-or-break stretch

The Saints -- who are a juggernaut at home -- face their toughest road games later in the season: Carolina in Week 9, Pittsburgh in Week 13, Chicago in Week 15 and Tampa Bay in the finale. For that reason, I would consider the Saints' first seven games as their make-or-break stretch. They must take advantage of their soft early schedule and start something like 6-1 or 5-2 if they want to ultimately earn the NFC's top seed.

Triplett's prediction

I'm not surprised one bit to see Advanced Football Analytics' prediction of 13 wins; it's entirely possible. I'm a little more conservative, predicting 11 wins because of those one or two off days that always sneak up. But the Saints are absolutely in the mix for the NFC's top seed and are the clear favorites in the NFC South.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

WR Kenny Stills

Stills averaged an NFL-high 20.0 yards per reception as a rookie, 6.1 of which came after the catch. That helps explain why QB Drew Brees' passer rating was 139.3 when targeting Stills, the best of any QB-WR combination in the league.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 13 if the hype is real for rookie WR Brandin Cooks; he could be a hybrid of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore in the Saints' O.

Will win 10 if the O-line takes a few games to mesh and the division is stronger than expected.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Saints' Projected Record

13-3

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ ATL 24-10
  • Sept. 14 @ CLE 28-14
  • Sept. 21 vs. MIN 37-22
  • Sept. 28 @ DAL 19-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. TB 27-16
  • Oct. 19 @ DET 34-10
  • Oct. 26 vs. GB 24-17
  • Oct. 30 @ CAR 28-24
  • Nov. 9 vs. SF 13-6
  • Nov. 16 vs. CIN 31-17
  • Nov. 24 vs. BAL 35-17
  • Nov. 30 @ PIT 31-21
  • Dec. 7 vs. CAR 31-6
  • Dec. 15 @ CHI 31-20
  • Dec. 21 vs. ATL 28-20
  • Dec. 28 @ TB 41-10

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

7-1

Over/Under Wins

10

close

2

Carolina

Panthers

2013 Record: 12-4Lost in Divisional Round

Receiver upheaval looks like an upgrade

by David Newton | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Kawann Short

As a rookie, Short shined against the pass with 36 QB pressures (14th overall among DTs). His 8.4 pass-rush-productivity score ranked ninth and was 62 percent above the league average.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 11 if the D, with a fierce line and zone-oriented DBs, builds on its No. 2 scoring performance in '13.

Will win 6 if a brutal midseason slate spells regression and a questionable O-line limits a developing pass game.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Panthers' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ TB 27-3
  • Sept. 14 vs. DET 27-23
  • Sept. 21 vs. PIT 20-0
  • Sept. 28 @ BAL 26-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. CHI 30-24
  • Oct. 12 @ CIN 20-3
  • Oct. 19 @ GB 23-6
  • Oct. 26 vs. SEA 27-13
  • Oct. 30 vs. NO 28-24
  • Nov. 10 @ PHI 34-24
  • Nov. 16 vs. ATL 31-13
  • Nov. 30 @ MIN 20-13
  • Dec. 7 @ NO 31-6
  • Dec. 14 vs. TB 31-23
  • Dec. 21 vs. CLE 24-21
  • Dec. 28 @ ATL 31-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

60-1

Over/Under Wins

8

Look Ma, One Hand

During a summer practice, Kelvin Benjamin soared into the air, and, with one hand, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver snagged a pass that looked to be 12 feet off the ground. Panthers GM Dave Gettleman bent over, then stood and clutched his heart. "What goes through your mind are the possibilities," he said of his first-rounder. This is why the Panthers aren't worried after cutting franchise mainstay Steve Smith and losing their next three leading receivers to free agency. And it's why tight end Greg Olsen tweeted: "Getting tired of hearing Panthers have nobody for @CameronNewton to throw to." After all, Cam Newton now has a guy he just has to throw near.

Best-Kept Secret

Tight end Ed Dickson didn't draw headlines when signed as a free agent from Baltimore. Some said he had hands of stone -- but he has caught almost everything thrown at him at Carolina. He has looked almost as good as Olsen, who led the Panthers in catches last season. Put them on the field together, as the team plans to do often, and opponents will have their hands full. Toss in Brandon Williams, and the Panthers have their most depth ever at tight end.

Worst-kept secret

The loss of the team's top four wide receivers from 2013 really wasn't a loss. Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon collectively averaged less than 10 receptions per game. Smith no longer was a No. 1, and the rest were average at best. In Benjamin, the Panthers have a dynamic player who legitimately is a No. 1 option, even though many didn't have him ranked in the first round. Free-agent acquisitions Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant have done more in their careers than LaFell and Ginn can hope to.

Bob Leverone/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Cam Newton:

"You've got to contain him because he's so athletic. But that's definitely the game plan. He wants to take off and run [if his first or second option isn't there], and if you have good contain, you get the sack. Or if you force him to not be able to set his feet and get him moved around, he has to make that off-balance throw, and there's not many quarterbacks that can do that and be accurate with it. ... But you have to cover the guys. If you want that to work, you gotta also have blanket coverage because he has maybe a top-three arm in the NFL. He has a rocket. He can make the all-the-way-across-the-field, deep-out throw on the sideline."

Make-or-break stretch

It's easy to point to a five-game stretch beginning in Week 6 with trips to Cincinnati and Green Bay, followed by home games against Seattle and New Orleans and a visit to Philadelphia. Those teams were a combined 53-26-1 last season, with four winning their division and all five making the playoffs. However, I'm going to go with the first four games, at Tampa Bay, home against Detroit and Pittsburgh, and at Baltimore. The Panthers have started 1-3 in each of their past three seasons. Another slow start followed by the five-game stretch above and they're done.

David Newton's prediction

The eight wins predicted by Advanced Football Analytics isn't unfair since the Panthers never have produced consecutive winning seasons, but I look for nine to 10. With the entire front seven returning from the league's second-ranked defense, they will be in most games. And the roster turnover at wide receiver, which seems to influence most opinions about the offense, won't be a factor if Benjamin plays like he has in the preseason.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Kawann Short

As a rookie, Short shined against the pass with 36 QB pressures (14th overall among DTs). His 8.4 pass-rush-productivity score ranked ninth and was 62 percent above the league average.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 11 if the D, with a fierce line and zone-oriented DBs, builds on its No. 2 scoring performance in '13.

Will win 6 if a brutal midseason slate spells regression and a questionable O-line limits a developing pass game.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Panthers' Projected Record

8-8

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ TB 27-3
  • Sept. 14 vs. DET 27-23
  • Sept. 21 vs. PIT 20-0
  • Sept. 28 @ BAL 26-10
  • Oct. 5 vs. CHI 30-24
  • Oct. 12 @ CIN 20-3
  • Oct. 19 @ GB 23-6
  • Oct. 26 vs. SEA 27-13
  • Oct. 30 vs. NO 28-24
  • Nov. 10 @ PHI 34-24
  • Nov. 16 vs. ATL 31-13
  • Nov. 30 @ MIN 20-13
  • Dec. 7 @ NO 31-6
  • Dec. 14 vs. TB 31-23
  • Dec. 21 vs. CLE 24-21
  • Dec. 28 @ ATL 31-17

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

60-1

Over/Under Wins

8

close

3

Altanta

Falcons

2013 Record: 4-12 3rd in NFC South

Offense should rebound; D has questions

by Vaughn McClure | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Paul Soliai

The former Dolphin should beef up Atlanta's front four: His 3.6 Pro Football Focus grade against the run was tied for 18th and ranked better than all Falcons DTs. And his five batted balls in 2013 was second most among DTs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if the offense gets close to its scary-high ceiling with Julio Jones and Roddy White healthy again.

Will win 6 if the edge rushers play the way they did in '13 (T29 with 32 sacks) and a young LB corps can't stop the run.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Falcons' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. NO 24-10
  • Sept. 14 @ CIN 27-20
  • Sept. 18 vs. TB 34-17
  • Sept. 28 @ MIN 34-29
  • Oct. 5 @ NYG 34-17
  • Oct. 12 vs. CHI 27-14
  • Oct. 19 @ BAL 21-6
  • Oct. 26 vs. DET* 36-13
  • Nov. 9 @ TB 22-19
  • Nov. 16 @ CAR 31-13
  • Nov. 23 vs. CLE 27-16
  • Nov. 30 vs. ARI 26-7
  • Dec. 8 @ GB 31-20
  • Dec. 14 vs. PIT 22-10
  • Dec. 21 @ NO 28-20
  • Dec. 28 vs. CAR 31-17
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

60-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

Keeping Up With Jones

How important is Julio Jones to the Falcons? Panic ensued when the media didn't immediately see Jones, who missed the final 11 games last season with a broken foot, at the start of organized team activities. But watching Jones cut on a dime while running routes this summer made it easy to believe his game-breaking ability will be in tip-top shape. (Jones' 6.5 yards after catch since 2011 is second to only Percy Harvin among receivers with 150 catches.) "I feel great," Jones says. "I'm back doing the little things that I used to do. I'm back to the old Julio." Old Julio? The Falcons would prefer that their 25-year-old star be as good as new for the season opener vs. New Orleans.

Best-Kept Secret

Pulling the center will be much more of a factor in the Falcons' offense this season, a concept new offensive line coach Mike Tice used plenty in his days working with Matt Birk and Jeff Christy in Minnesota. Tice wants to take advantage of the athleticism he has in Joe Hawley. Getting Hawley out and pulling should only help enhance a run game that averaged just 3.9 yards per play a year ago. Tice also strongly believes in left guard Justin Blalock's ability to pull, despite some previous doubts about Blalock's footwork.

Worst-kept secret

The Falcons' pass rush was virtually nonexistent last year -- and on paper it hasn't gotten much better. The lack of elite pass-rusher is magnified when you see opponents such as Greg Hardy and Cameron Jordan in the NFC South. The Falcons hope bulking up the defensive line with Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson will help shut down the run, lead to opponents being more one-dimensional and create more third-and-long situations. But they still need a player or two to emerge as consistent pass-rushers, which might be a tall task.

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Matt Ryan:

"If you sit back on Matt Ryan, he will pick you apart. He's one of the better throwers, pure passers, in our league. He can put the ball on a dime, and he can throw one of the prettiest deep balls. ... You have to be able to press their receivers. If you disrupt their timing and get in their face, then he gets a little antsy. He moves a lot more in the pocket once the receivers aren't wide open. You have to take that security blanket away from him."

Make-or-break stretch

A five-game stretch before the Falcons' Oct. 26 trip to London to face the Lions could reveal a lot about which way the team is headed. It starts with a Thursday night game against the improved Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome. Then the Falcons have three road games -- at Minnesota, the New York Giants and Baltimore -- in a four-game span. The Falcons could face an 0-2 start to the season with the opener against New Orleans and a road trip to Cincinnati, which makes Weeks 3-7 that much more important.

McClure's prediction

Advanced Football Analytics has the Falcons improving by three wins from last season, to seven. I'm more optimistic about their chances of rebounding, although that won't necessarily translate into a playoff spot. I see the Falcons going 9-7, which won't be good enough to win the NFC South. With help, maybe they'll be in contention for one of the two wild-card berths. Then again, the NFC wild-card teams had double-digit wins last season.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DT Paul Soliai

The former Dolphin should beef up Atlanta's front four: His 3.6 Pro Football Focus grade against the run was tied for 18th and ranked better than all Falcons DTs. And his five batted balls in 2013 was second most among DTs.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if the offense gets close to its scary-high ceiling with Julio Jones and Roddy White healthy again.

Will win 6 if the edge rushers play the way they did in '13 (T29 with 32 sacks) and a young LB corps can't stop the run.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Falcons' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. NO 24-10
  • Sept. 14 @ CIN 27-20
  • Sept. 18 vs. TB 34-17
  • Sept. 28 @ MIN 34-29
  • Oct. 5 @ NYG 34-17
  • Oct. 12 vs. CHI 27-14
  • Oct. 19 @ BAL 21-6
  • Oct. 26 vs. DET* 36-13
  • Nov. 9 @ TB 22-19
  • Nov. 16 @ CAR 31-13
  • Nov. 23 vs. CLE 27-16
  • Nov. 30 vs. ARI 26-7
  • Dec. 8 @ GB 31-20
  • Dec. 14 vs. PIT 22-10
  • Dec. 21 @ NO 28-20
  • Dec. 28 vs. CAR 31-17
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

60-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

close

4

Tampa Bay

Buccaneers

2013 Record: 4-12 4th in NFC South

Martin to shoulder load for retooled team

by Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OT Demar Dotson

The Bucs had one of the NFL's worst pass-blocking units in 2013, allowing 47 sacks (tied for 26th in the NFL). But only five of those were Dotson's fault. Overall, he allowed 26 percent fewer QB pressures than fellow tackle Donald Penn.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David and CB Alterraun Verner fit the Tampa 2 scheme as perfectly as expected.

Will win 6 if QB Josh McCown's phenomenal '13 with Chicago was more aberration than ability.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Buccaneers' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. CAR 27-3
  • Sept. 14 vs. STL 23-19
  • Sept. 18 @ ATL 34-17
  • Sept. 28 @ PIT 19-13
  • Oct. 5 @ NO 27-16
  • Oct. 12 vs. BAL 24-14
  • Oct. 26 vs. MIN 26-17
  • Nov. 2 @ CLE 33-12
  • Nov. 9 vs. ATL 22-19
  • Nov. 16 @ WAS 20-14
  • Nov. 23 @ CHI 23-16
  • Nov. 30 vs. CIN 27-14
  • Dec. 7 @ DET 28-7
  • Dec. 14 @ CAR 31-23
  • Dec. 21 vs. GB 38-6
  • Dec. 28 vs. NO 41-10

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

7

It's In The Bag

A shoulder injury cut short Doug Martin's 2013 season in October. So after months of careful rehab, the Buccaneers tailback was eager for contact. "I went to the workout room and just rammed my shoulder into the punching bag," he says. "I did it 100 times a day for a couple of weeks. It probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I needed to make sure the shoulder was intact." In 2012, Martin rushed for a franchise-rookie-record 1,454 yards and became the 17th rookie in history with 300-plus carries. He'll be the Bucs' main man again this season -- as long as that shoulder holds up to the pounding.

Best-Kept Secret

The Bucs were vanilla offensively in the preseason, so we don't really know what coordinator Jeff Tedford's scheme is going to look like. This is Tedford's first time running an NFL offense, and there have been only a few clues about how it will operate. Players and coaches have said the offense will be up-tempo. I don't expect Tedford's offense to be a duplicate of what Chip Kelly and the Eagles run, but there could be times when the Bucs speed things up and go without a huddle. The running game will be the backbone of the offense, but the passing game could end up being good. The Bucs have three huge targets in Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and they could provide all sorts of matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Worst-kept secret

Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy no longer can sneak up on offensive lines. After flirting with the "bust" label in the first two injury-filled years of his career, McCoy is the best player on the Buccaneers and quite possibly the best defensive tackle in the NFL. McCoy has put together two very strong years and is coming off a career-best 9.5 sacks last season. But here's what's scary: McCoy is only getting better and is more dedicated than ever. He was the first player on the practice field every day during training camp. He was dominant in camp and in the preseason games. McCoy is highly motivated in large part due to the arrival of coach Lovie Smith. The Bucs are going with the Tampa 2 defense that the team ran in its glory years. In that scheme, McCoy's three-technique position is the key to the entire defense. He'll play the same role Hall of Famer Warren Sapp once did, and other teams will be gearing their offensive game plans toward slowing McCoy.

Stephen B. Morton/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Josh McCown:

"The most impressive thing was there was no drop-off from Jay Cutler to him [in Chicago]. That's no disrespect to Jay, but with McCown you could tell he was a professional and practices well. It was like he'd been in there forever. ... When you face him, you can't rush as wide open as you would with quarterbacks who are more stationary. You have to be more conscious of your rush lanes. His mobility makes it difficult not only on the rushers but on the guys in the back end. He had good pocket awareness, too. There was one time I thought I had a for-sure sack on him and he stayed in the pocket, was able to evade my rush without breaking the pocket and then he made a play."

Make-or-break stretch

The Bucs are going to find out early how good they are. After opening at home against Carolina and St. Louis, they have a three-game stretch of road games against teams that should be good. The string starts on a Thursday night at Atlanta. Next is a Sept. 28 game at Pittsburgh, followed by an Oct. 5 game at New Orleans. That's a huge early test for a team that has a new coaching staff and lots of new players. If the Bucs don't win at least one of those three games, they could fall out of playoff contention early.

Yasinskas' prediction

I disagree with the five-win prediction by Advanced Football Analytics. I think the Bucs will be an 8-8 team. Their defense is good enough to keep them in just about any game. If the offense produces, the Bucs could be better than .500.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OT Demar Dotson

The Bucs had one of the NFL's worst pass-blocking units in 2013, allowing 47 sacks (tied for 26th in the NFL). But only five of those were Dotson's fault. Overall, he allowed 26 percent fewer QB pressures than fellow tackle Donald Penn.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 10 if DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David and CB Alterraun Verner fit the Tampa 2 scheme as perfectly as expected.

Will win 6 if QB Josh McCown's phenomenal '13 with Chicago was more aberration than ability.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Buccaneers' Projected Record

5-11

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. CAR 27-3
  • Sept. 14 vs. STL 23-19
  • Sept. 18 @ ATL 34-17
  • Sept. 28 @ PIT 19-13
  • Oct. 5 @ NO 27-16
  • Oct. 12 vs. BAL 24-14
  • Oct. 26 vs. MIN 26-17
  • Nov. 2 @ CLE 33-12
  • Nov. 9 vs. ATL 22-19
  • Nov. 16 @ WAS 20-14
  • Nov. 23 @ CHI 23-16
  • Nov. 30 vs. CIN 27-14
  • Dec. 7 @ DET 28-7
  • Dec. 14 @ CAR 31-23
  • Dec. 21 vs. GB 38-6
  • Dec. 28 vs. NO 41-10

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

7

close

1

Green Bay

Packers

2013 Record: 8-7-1Lost in Wild Card

Peppers adds spice to perennial power

by Rob Demovsky | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DE Mike Daniels

A 2012 fourth-rounder out of Iowa, Daniels was the only Packers D-lineman to get a positive Pro Football Focus grade last season (17.3, sixth among 3-4 DEs). He ranked in the top 11 in both QB pressures (39, 11th) and pass-rush productivity (9.3, fifth).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if Eddie Lacy is one of the NFL's best RBs and Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews solidify the rush.

Will win 9 if the O-line opens up Aaron Rodgers to injury; he's been sacked 2.7 times per game since '11, second most in the NFL.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Packers' Projected Record

12-4

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 4 @ SEA 33-21
  • Sept. 14 vs. NYJ 24-20
  • Sept. 21 @ DET 42-29
  • Sept. 28 @ CHI 34-20
  • Oct. 2 vs. MIN 21-16
  • Oct. 12 @ MIA 38-17
  • Oct. 19 vs. CAR 23-6
  • Oct. 26 @ NO 24-17
  • Nov. 9 vs. CHI 31-10
  • Nov. 16 vs. PHI 35-15
  • Nov. 23 @ MIN 33-13
  • Nov. 30 vs. NE 27-17
  • Dec. 8 vs. ATL 31-20
  • Dec. 14 @ BUF 38-10
  • Dec. 21 @ TB 38-6
  • Dec. 28 vs. DET 37-20

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

10-1

Over/Under Wins

10.5

Buddy System

During one recent practice break, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers knelt side by side to hold a lengthy conversation with defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Such moments were the norm during camp; the two have been virtually inseparable since Peppers' arrival. The Packers assigned Peppers, a longtime DE, to LB coach Winston Moss in part so he and Matthews could game-plan together. The hope? That their interaction off the field results in a deadly pass-rushing combo on it. "I haven't played with a guy like Clay my whole career," Peppers said. Just what opposing quarterbacks want to hear.

Best-Kept Secret

Capers has something different cooked up for this season, and coach Mike McCarthy wants to be able to spring it on the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1. For that reason, the Packers doubled the number of closed practices in training camp. Neither Capers nor McCarthy will talk in specifics about what they have been working on, but here's one thing we do know: It will involve a variety of roles for their linebackers, both on the inside and the outside, and it might be the biggest change Capers has made in his 3-4 base scheme since he came to Green Bay in 2009. The signing of pass-rusher Peppers will allow OLB Matthews more freedom. Matthews has talked about having the opportunity to line up both on the outside and in the middle more often this season.

Worst-kept secret

Eddie Lacy will become an even larger part of the offense than he was the past season, when he rushed for a Packers' rookie record of 1,178 yards and was named the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. McCarthy wants to leave Lacy on the field for all three downs so he does not have to slow down the no-huddle offense for substitutions. It means Lacy should have a greater role in the passing game. His first responsibility on third down will be to pick up blitzes, but it also should mean more chances to catch the ball out of the backfield.

Tom Gannam/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Aaron Rodgers:

"Basically, the trick versus Rodgers is to make it as hard on him as possible pre-snap. If he understands where he is going with the ball pre-snap, it's over. You have to try and give him different looks and make him go through all of his progressions with the football. If you can mix it up and force him to pause for a couple of seconds, you at least give the rush a chance to get to him and alter the course of the play. Cloud his mind. That's the best way I can put it: Cloud his mind. That's the focus every time we prepare to face Rodgers."

Make-or-break stretch

While the first month of the season has the Packers on the road for three out of four games, including a pair of NFC North games back-to-back against the Lions and Bears to close out September, it's the middle of the schedule that might determine whether they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Sandwiched around the Week 9 bye are games at the Saints and home against the Bears and Eagles. The Saints are the favorites in the NFC South and the Eagles in the NFC East, while the Bears are probably the biggest threat to the Packers in the NFC North.

Demovsky's prediction

From 2009 to 2012, the Packers averaged 11.75 wins per season. They likely would have hit that mark -- or higher -- the past year had quarterback Rodgers not broken his collarbone in Week 9 and missed the next seven games. Rodgers' .750 winning percentage in games he started or finished in 2013 would have put the Packers on a 12-win pace. If he stays healthy this year, they will reach that total (which also is the projection by Advanced Football Analytics) and be set up for a deep playoff run.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

DE Mike Daniels

A 2012 fourth-rounder out of Iowa, Daniels was the only Packers D-lineman to get a positive Pro Football Focus grade last season (17.3, sixth among 3-4 DEs). He ranked in the top 11 in both QB pressures (39, 11th) and pass-rush productivity (9.3, fifth).
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 12 if Eddie Lacy is one of the NFL's best RBs and Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews solidify the rush.

Will win 9 if the O-line opens up Aaron Rodgers to injury; he's been sacked 2.7 times per game since '11, second most in the NFL.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Packers' Projected Record

12-4

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 4 @ SEA 33-21
  • Sept. 14 vs. NYJ 24-20
  • Sept. 21 @ DET 42-29
  • Sept. 28 @ CHI 34-20
  • Oct. 2 vs. MIN 21-16
  • Oct. 12 @ MIA 38-17
  • Oct. 19 vs. CAR 23-6
  • Oct. 26 @ NO 24-17
  • Nov. 9 vs. CHI 31-10
  • Nov. 16 vs. PHI 35-15
  • Nov. 23 @ MIN 33-13
  • Nov. 30 vs. NE 27-17
  • Dec. 8 vs. ATL 31-20
  • Dec. 14 @ BUF 38-10
  • Dec. 21 @ TB 38-6
  • Dec. 28 vs. DET 37-20

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

10-1

Over/Under Wins

10.5

close

2

Chicago

Bears

2013 Record: 8-8 2nd in NFC North

If defense does its share, look out

by Michael C. Wright | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OG Kyle Long

Long's -1.7 Pro Football Focus grade was 43rd out of 81 guards. He showed promise as a rookie, allowing a sack every 315 snaps, but was 28th in pass-blocking efficiency. Expect a more consistent Year 2.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 11 if the D-line earns its pay and the pass game attacks D's at all depths.

Will win 8 if a weak safety corps keeps the defense from improving and injuries expose a lack of depth at skill positions.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Bears' Projected Record

9-7

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. BUF 34-10
  • Sept. 14 @ SF 30-14
  • Sept. 22 @ NYJ 16-7
  • Sept. 28 vs. GB 34-20
  • Oct. 5 @ CAR 30-24
  • Oct. 12 @ ATL 27-14
  • Oct. 19 vs. MIA 31-7
  • Oct. 26 @ NE 33-10
  • Nov. 9 @ GB 31-10
  • Nov. 16 vs. MIN 31-23
  • Nov. 23 vs. TB 23-16
  • Nov. 27 @ DET 45-21
  • Dec. 4 vs. DAL 35-20
  • Dec. 15 vs. NO 31-20
  • Dec. 21 vs. DET 41-7
  • Dec. 28 @ MIN 27-21

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

20-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

Equal Opportunity for All

Each week during Marc Trestman's first season as coach, the Bears' defense took half the typical number of reps. "Last season was all about the offense," one team source said. It showed. The offense improved from 28th overall to eighth, while a banged-up D plummeted from fifth to 30th. But this training camp, the D-line got hands-on training from a martial arts expert, and the overall reps were decidedly even. Chicago even splurged on three D-linemen, including Jared Allen, in free agency. Several defenders described the difference in the front four as "night and day." Good thing: After giving up 29.9 points per game (tied for 30th), this unit needed a wake-up call.

Best-Kept Secret

The Bears overhauled the defense to throw out the penetration element previously featured in the system. Now, the defensive linemen will play 1½ gaps with a premium placed on the front four using their hands to stack offensive linemen and shed once the ball carrier is found. By stacking linemen, the defensive linemen keep blockers off the linebackers, which in turn frees the linebackers to run and make plays. To assist in transforming the defensive linemen into technicians with their hands, the club brought in martial arts expert Joe Kim to teach the art of hand fighting.

Worst-kept secret

At least one assistant has privately said that if Jay Cutler misses time, this team is done. But that could probably be said about any team losing its starting quarterback for any long stretch. What makes Chicago's situation a little more interesting is the fact that Cutler hasn't finished an entire 16-game regular season since 2009. Backup Jimmy Clausen has played fairly well throughout the preseason, but he's 1-9 as a starter in his career.

Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Jay Cutler:

"You have to be able to get pressure on him. He's jittery in the pocket. You can change coverages and things like that, but he's quick enough to see it and dump the ball off to his backs. You have to get pressure on him, and you have to keep hitting him to keep him from beating you. You definitely have to keep his awareness in the pocket. Keep people coming at him. If you let him sit in the pocket, he'll crush you. I don't care what coverage you're in. He's a playmaker now."

Make-or-break stretch

The first half of this team's schedule fits that description, considering the Bears play five of their first seven outings on the road against the 49ers, Jets, Panthers, Falcons and Patriots. If the Bears go into their Nov. 2 bye relatively healthy with a record of at least .500, the rest of the schedule sets up nicely, with just three road games remaining and the rest set for the frigid winter conditions at Soldier Field, a definite home-field advantage during the latter portion of the season.

Wright's prediction

I disagree strongly with Advanced Football Analytics' nine-win prediction because this year's edition of the Bears isn't a rebuilding project. They're built to win now, which is why the club overhauled the X's and O's of the scheme with proven veterans and other players set to hit the sweet spot of their careers. I'm expecting at least 10 wins -- 11 or 12 if everything falls right for the Bears.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OG Kyle Long

Long's -1.7 Pro Football Focus grade was 43rd out of 81 guards. He showed promise as a rookie, allowing a sack every 315 snaps, but was 28th in pass-blocking efficiency. Expect a more consistent Year 2.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 11 if the D-line earns its pay and the pass game attacks D's at all depths.

Will win 8 if a weak safety corps keeps the defense from improving and injuries expose a lack of depth at skill positions.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Bears' Projected Record

9-7

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 vs. BUF 34-10
  • Sept. 14 @ SF 30-14
  • Sept. 22 @ NYJ 16-7
  • Sept. 28 vs. GB 34-20
  • Oct. 5 @ CAR 30-24
  • Oct. 12 @ ATL 27-14
  • Oct. 19 vs. MIA 31-7
  • Oct. 26 @ NE 33-10
  • Nov. 9 @ GB 31-10
  • Nov. 16 vs. MIN 31-23
  • Nov. 23 vs. TB 23-16
  • Nov. 27 @ DET 45-21
  • Dec. 4 vs. DAL 35-20
  • Dec. 15 vs. NO 31-20
  • Dec. 21 vs. DET 41-7
  • Dec. 28 @ MIN 27-21

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

20-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

close

3

Detroit

Lions

2013 Record: 7-9 3rd in NFC North

Keeping Stafford healthy a major priority

by Michael Rothstein | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

RB Joique Bell

Bell is a better playmaker than Reggie Bush. He forced just three fewer missed tackles than Bush on 58 fewer touches. His 52.2 Pro Football Focus elusive rating ranked fifth in the NFL.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 9 if balance on O and a legit No. 2 WR (Golden Tate) means fewer Matthew Stafford INTs (17.3 per season since '11).

Will win 6 if CB Darius Slay doesn't improve and the DBs are a weak point again.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Lions' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 8 vs. NYG 35-21
  • Sept. 14 @ CAR 27-23
  • Sept. 21 vs. GB 42-29
  • Sept. 28 @ NYJ 24-13
  • Oct. 5 vs. BUF 34-27
  • Oct. 12 @ MIN 27-13
  • Oct. 19 vs. NO 34-10
  • Oct. 26 @ ATL* 36-13
  • Nov. 9 vs. MIA 27-9
  • Nov. 16 @ ARI 23-14
  • Nov. 23 @ NE 20-13
  • Nov. 27 vs. CHI 45-21
  • Dec. 7 vs. TB 28-7
  • Dec. 14 vs. MIN 24-17
  • Dec. 21 @ CHI 41-7
  • Dec. 28 @ GB 37-20
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

40-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

Ladder Control

Matthew Stafford's success this season will come down to his brain -- and a ladder. During offseason workouts, the new Lions coaching staff set up a ladder behind the QB with a camera attached. The goal was to see on film where Stafford was looking during pre- and post-snap reads. Why the concern? Stafford made dicey decisions down the stretch last year, throwing 13 interceptions during the second half of the season, six of which came in the fourth quarter. If Stafford improves on those numbers, he and the Lions will take several steps up.

Best-Kept Secret

New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has often talked about his plan to move players into different spots throughout a game, but how he plans on deploying all of his offensive options remains to be seen. What is known: Calvin Johnson and Eric Ebron will be positioned in various spots this season. Johnson will line up on the outside, the slot and perhaps even closer to the offensive line. Ebron will be in the backfield, on the line, in the slot and out wide. Reggie Bush might see time outside as a receiver as well. This doesn't even account for moving receivers and tight ends in motion during plays, including Johnson. The versatility has been talked about a lot -- but it's still not clear how it is going to be actually used.

Worst-kept secret

If the Lions lose either of their starters at cornerback, it could be a long season -- and it might be anyway. Rashean Mathis is 34 years old, and while he has been healthy for a good chunk of his career, players often start declining in their mid-30s. Darius Slay is in his second season and had an inconsistent rookie year. Behind them are a bunch of players who either were cut from other teams or have been unable to distinguish themselves. In a division with receivers such as Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Greg Jennings, there are plenty of tough matchups anyway. If the Lions are without one of their top two corners, it will become nearly impossible for Detroit to stop teams from throwing the ball.

Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Matthew Stafford:

"Some quarterbacks you want to keep in the pocket, but he's one that you want to make run as much as you can and force bad throws. So you have to pressure him and collapse on him. He'll make that sidearm throw, which can get him in trouble. Sometimes he'll pull those off, but pressure is the key. Just don't let Stafford get in a groove where he's spreading the ball around to his other targets. Calvin is never going to truly be stopped, he's an amazing player, but it's hard for one guy to beat an entire team at this level."

Make-or-break stretch

If Detroit navigates the first half of its season and is still in playoff contention, how it fares during the second half of November could dictate the Lions' playoff fate. Back-to-back road games against Arizona and New England followed by a quick turnaround to face Chicago on Thanksgiving are three games against likely playoff contenders in a short stretch. It is a brutal schedule for the Lions. Survive that -- going 2-1 or better -- and the Lions could end up in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Rothstein's prediction

Advanced Football Analytics' prediction of seven wins seemed like the right number for Detroit this season, with the questions at receiver and in the secondary, with the new coaching staff and with a rough second-half schedule. I still think the Lions end up in the seven-win area, but I'm thinking Jim Caldwell goes 8-8 in his first year. The Lions -- and yes, this will sound familiar -- start off strong with a rough second half due to the schedule and lack of depth at certain positions.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

RB Joique Bell

Bell is a better playmaker than Reggie Bush. He forced just three fewer missed tackles than Bush on 58 fewer touches. His 52.2 Pro Football Focus elusive rating ranked fifth in the NFL.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 9 if balance on O and a legit No. 2 WR (Golden Tate) means fewer Matthew Stafford INTs (17.3 per season since '11).

Will win 6 if CB Darius Slay doesn't improve and the DBs are a weak point again.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Lions' Projected Record

7-9

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 8 vs. NYG 35-21
  • Sept. 14 @ CAR 27-23
  • Sept. 21 vs. GB 42-29
  • Sept. 28 @ NYJ 24-13
  • Oct. 5 vs. BUF 34-27
  • Oct. 12 @ MIN 27-13
  • Oct. 19 vs. NO 34-10
  • Oct. 26 @ ATL* 36-13
  • Nov. 9 vs. MIA 27-9
  • Nov. 16 @ ARI 23-14
  • Nov. 23 @ NE 20-13
  • Nov. 27 vs. CHI 45-21
  • Dec. 7 vs. TB 28-7
  • Dec. 14 vs. MIN 24-17
  • Dec. 21 @ CHI 41-7
  • Dec. 28 @ GB 37-20
  • * In London

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

40-1

Over/Under Wins

8.5

close

4

Minnesota

Vikings

2013 Record: 5-10-1 4th in NFC North

Holding down fort until Teddy's ready

by Ben Goessling | ESPN.com

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OG Brandon Fusco

Fusco, who ranked 73rd out of 81 qualified guards in 2012, vaulted up to fifth on the run-blocking charts last season. A team-high seven of Minnesota's 23 rushing TDs came behind Fusco.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 8 if Mike Zimmer works his magic with the DBs and Teddy Bridgewater keeps it simple when/if named the starter.

Will win 5 if Bridgewater's accuracy is spotty and the D struggles to improve at the second and third levels.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Vikings' Projected Record

4-12

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ STL 27-9
  • Sept. 14 vs. NE 30-13
  • Sept. 21 @ NO 37-22
  • Sept. 28 vs. ATL 34-29
  • Oct. 2 @ GB 21-16
  • Oct. 12 vs. DET 27-13
  • Oct. 19 @ BUF 24-17
  • Oct. 26 @ TB 26-17
  • Nov. 2 vs. WAS 35-33
  • Nov. 16 @ CHI 31-23
  • Nov. 23 vs. GB 33-13
  • Nov. 30 vs. CAR 20-13
  • Dec. 7 vs. NYJ 23-10
  • Dec. 14 @ DET 24-17
  • Dec. 21 @ MIA 20-17
  • Dec. 28 vs. CHI 27-21

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

6

When Play Is Work

In college, Teddy Bridgewater would load Louisville's playbook onto his Xbox so he could get some "virtual reps" while playing "NCAA Football 14." Bridgewater, the No. 32 pick, used a similar tactic to learn the Vikings offense before organized team activities. "You get one more rep than you had in practice," he said. Bridgewater will start the season as the No. 2 quarterback, but not because he doesn't have the ability to digest complex schemes or the willingness to study in any manner available to him. "Teddy will be, still, in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come," coach Mike Zimmer said after naming Matt Cassel his starting quarterback.

Best-Kept Secret

The Vikings have high hopes for their running back group beyond Adrian Peterson. Matt Asiata ran for 115 yards in the season finale last year and could find a niche as a between-the-tackles runner as the Vikings try to take some of the toll off the 29-year-old Peterson. Third-round pick Jerick McKinnon -- a converted triple-option quarterback from Georgia Southern -- also could have a significant role in the offense as a third-down back. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 32 times at the NFL scouting combine.

Worst-kept secret

If the Vikings are going to have any chance at a playoff berth, they will need more stability at quarterback than they had last year, when an ongoing circus at the position helped steer the Vikings' season off course. The position should be in more stable hands this year, with Cassel the starter until Bridgewater is good enough to surpass him. Whatever happens, the Vikings can't be in a situation like last year, when they were often making week-to-week decisions about whom their starting quarterback would be. Peterson has been among those calling for stability at the position, and the Vikings probably won't go anywhere without it.

Ed Zurga/AP Images

QB Confidential

As told to NFL Nation, an active player gives his assessment of QB Matt Cassel:

"Cassel has an OK arm and can make some difficult throws. I remember he burned us on a big fourth-down completion. I didn't think he was capable of fitting the ball into the tight spot he did, but I was wrong. See, whenever we prepare for Minnesota, the No. 1 issue for us is Adrian Peterson. We pour a lot of effort into attempting to stop the run. So the quarterback in Minnesota isn't usually the priority for us in the meeting room. But I respect Cassel. He sure looked good when he played for New England years ago."

Make-or-break stretch

The Vikings begin the season with a difficult stretch of games that could take them out of the running for a playoff spot early if their defense isn't better than it was last year. They open on the road at St. Louis and then face the Patriots, Saints, Falcons and Packers between Sept. 14 and Oct. 2. That's a 18-day stretch where the Vikings will see Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, and if they can't emerge from their Thursday night game at Lambeau Field with at least two wins, they will have a tough time making the rest of their season count for much.

Goessling's prediction

Even though they are a team in transition, I think the Vikings will win more than the four games predicted by Advanced Football Analytics. They have a tough early schedule that will test their defense, but it wouldn't shock me to see Zimmer -- who has fared well against Brady and Rodgers in the past -- draw up a defensive plan with enough unscouted looks to steal a game from one of those two teams. With a defense that should improve as the year goes on and more stability on offense, I think the Vikings are capable of a 7-9 season that would have to be viewed as a step in the right direction.

SECRET SUPERSTAR

OG Brandon Fusco

Fusco, who ranked 73rd out of 81 qualified guards in 2012, vaulted up to fifth on the run-blocking charts last season. A team-high seven of Minnesota's 23 rushing TDs came behind Fusco.
-- Sam Monson

best & worst

Will win 8 if Mike Zimmer works his magic with the DBs and Teddy Bridgewater keeps it simple when/if named the starter.

Will win 5 if Bridgewater's accuracy is spotty and the D struggles to improve at the second and third levels.
-- Field Yates

GAME-BY-GAME PREDICTIONS

By Advanced Football Analytics

Vikings' Projected Record

4-12

WIN  LOSS
  • Sept. 7 @ STL 27-9
  • Sept. 14 vs. NE 30-13
  • Sept. 21 @ NO 37-22
  • Sept. 28 vs. ATL 34-29
  • Oct. 2 @ GB 21-16
  • Oct. 12 vs. DET 27-13
  • Oct. 19 @ BUF 24-17
  • Oct. 26 @ TB 26-17
  • Nov. 2 vs. WAS 35-33
  • Nov. 16 @ CHI 31-23
  • Nov. 23 vs. GB 33-13
  • Nov. 30 vs. CAR 20-13
  • Dec. 7 vs. NYJ 23-10
  • Dec. 14 @ DET 24-17
  • Dec. 21 @ MIA 20-17
  • Dec. 28 vs. CHI 27-21

Vegas Vibe

By LVH SuperBook

Super Bowl Odds

100-1

Over/Under Wins

6

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