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Aug 30

TABM 2014 NFL Preview: Season Predictions

After over two weeks of previewing what major points of regression will occur and what trends each team will have, it’s time to put some pride on the line with the 2014 NFL Predictions. These predictions were originally made during “Pro Football Preview Show” on Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS-FM. Since then, adjustments were made to compensate for some cuts and personnel changes, made on Sept. 4 at 6pm. Also, the postseason results were adjusted based simply on the changing of seeds, as every postseason prediction was determined by match-up and precedent. The original predictions claimed that the Seahawks would repeat in defeat over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLIX. Does this match-up hold? Let’s get to business.

Note: all projected win ranges are created individually. They are created by intuition and regression. There’s no mathematical formula used, and they are not considering other expert opinions.

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AFC North Division

Baltimore Ravens: Projected 8-12 wins
Baltimore Ravens
After the Ravens hung on to an 8-8 record despite some of the weakest offensive play in the league, the 2014 team should have a great shot at returning to the postseason. The offense will bounce back for several regression-based reasons. Joe Flacco will bounce back after an uncharacteristically poor season. The offensive line and running game can’t get any worse than it was in 2013. Finally, the offense should be able to at least throw together a few strong offensive games in terms of play-by-play efficiency. With Baltimore’s history of defensive success, even middle-of-the-pack offense will be enough to get the Ravens back to the postseason and back in the running for a Super Bowl run. Prediction: 11-5, AFC #3 seed

Pittsburgh Steelers: Projected 8-12 wins
Pittsburgh SteelersAfter back-to-back 8-8 seasons in Pittsburgh, the writing might be on the wall for a change. Thanks to Big Ben seemingly warming up to Todd Haley’s offense, the normally defensive-oriented Steelers have a new look. The team may continue to create turnovers like they did in Super Bowl-winning seasons, but it should at least happen more frequently than it did in 2013. Remember, if that did happen last year, the Steelers likely make the playoffs. (Remember, they finished 2-5 in one-possession games.) Furthermore, the running game is destined to gear up some with Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. We think the Steelers return to the playoffs. Prediction: 10-6, AFC #6 seed

Cincinnati Bengals: Projected 6-10 wins
Cincinnati BengalsAndy Dalton and crew already received three shots at winning a playoff game. They failed each time. Since the league expanded to a 16-game regular season in 1978, on only four occasions has a team went one-and-done in the playoffs in three consecutive seasons. Each of the first three times, the fourth year ended without a postseason appearance (for the 1993 Saints, 1995 Vikings and 1996 Lions). Can the 2014 Bengals break that trend? We think not, given the expected offensive regression and guaranteed step back at home. Unless the Bengals get the lucky breaks to get to 10 wins, the playoff run ends here. Last year gave the Bengals their best chance at a postseason run. Prediction: 7-9

Cleveland Browns: Projected 4-8 wins
Cleveland Browns
With all the hype surrounding Johnny Manziel, we suggest the Browns with Brian Hoyer as the starting quarterback until that experiment falls apart. Hoyer gave Cleveland momentary hopes last year with a 3-0 run as the starter, and he’s become a seasoned veteran after learning under Bill Belichick. Playing the weak AFC South will help the franchise to get a better taste of winning, as will the team’s boost from a plus-2.09 Expected Win Differential in 2013. Cleveland’s defense quietly proved to be an asset, as long as it can handle the clutch moments. Subset-based regression says the unit will, so the Browns should get close to reaching the .500 mark. Prediction: 7-9

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AFC East Division

New England Patriots: Projected 9-13 wins
New England Patriots
Rarely do we get to talk back about regression favoring an improvement for the New England offense, but that’s likely the case heading into 2014. The problem is that a 12-4 record and AFC Championship Game appearance oversold the quality of the 2013 Patriots. While Tom Brady will bounce back after an usually pedestrian season, he will also not provide the fourth-quarter dramatics needed to scrape to a first-round bye. All said, the franchise remains the class of the AFC East, and a first-round bye is most likely once again in the works. And once again, postseason match-ups will determine how deep this team goes. We don’t know if they have the team balance fit for a champion. Prediction: 11-5, AFC #2 seed

Miami Dolphins: Projected 6-10 wins
Miami DolphinsThe Dolphins just seem to continue to be towing the line of average. Sure, the team should be able to pick up some of the pieces of its offensive line in 2013, but it likely won’t be enough to turn Ryan Tannehill into a playoff-caliber quarterback. Entering year three, we see Tannehill as the classic “he could be worse, but he definitely could be better” quarterback. He should be able to take a few steps forward, but the defense may take a few steps back. It’s just not very inspiring in Miami right now, so prepare for another season of the ‘Phins hovering around the .500 mark. Maybe the franchise will be motivated to make more aggressive moves in the next offseason. Prediction: 7-9

Buffalo Bills: Projected 4-8 wins
Buffalo Bills
That Buffalo defense last year was REALLY good at times (which was the exact opposite of what we said during last year’s predictions). However, the Bills didn’t do a good job at all of putting rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel to good use. Buffalo failed to properly utilize C.J. Spiller as well. That worries us, especially with what we think will be some notable regression for the defense. Maybe if the team was more committed to slowing the game down and resting the defense, instead of maintaining the second-fast pace in the league, we could buy into Buffalo’s potential for success. Instead, we still think the men of power are out of touch, forcing Bills fans to suffer for yet another playoff-less year. Prediction: 6-10

New York Jets: Projected 3-7 wins
New York Jets
In spite of looking like one of the worst teams in the league, the Jets went 8-8 last year. Unfortunately, the organization didn’t see the urgency in improving the team that much for 2014. We see the negative-97 scoring differential from last year, worst among non-losing teams since the merger, as a sign of doom. Oh, and did we mention that the Jets run defense is set to take a step back? Rex Ryan can only do so much for this team. Outside of an impressive defensive line, the roster looks like one fit for a basement-dwelling team. Let this be a year of growing pains for Geno Smith and a year for Rex Ryan. Having any higher expectation for Gang Green would be a big err of judgment. Prediction: 5-11

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AFC South Division

Indianapolis Colts: Projected 7-11 wins
Indianapolis Colts
In both seasons with quarterback Andrew Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano, the Colts are seriously defied the odds. That makes us believers, as we don’t like to be fooled three times. With this particular win projection, we suggest you lean towards the winning half. The AFC South won’t be a challenge for the Colts, so winning at least five intra-divisional games is no stretch. Just by achieving that and going .500 against the rest of the league, Indianapolis would be in store for another double-digit win season. Some publications are going as far as considering the Colts to be Super Bowl contenders, but we just don’t see that much yet. Prediction: 10-6, AFC #4 seed

Houston Texans: Projected 5-9 wins
Houston Texans
All the signs point to the Texans bouncing back in major fashion. Everything and then some went wrong in Houston in 2013, so an easy schedule now will be of much help. Plus, the team will have J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney pairing up at defensive end. The only uncertainly involves how much the Texans will improve. With Ryan Fitzpatrick expected to be the starting quarterback, the team has an option that will help its growth. However, it doesn’t have a playoff-caliber quarterback that’s need to keep up with the stronger offenses in the league (Denver, Indianapolis, New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego). A playoff run will have to wait a year or two. Prediction: 7-9

Jacksonville Jaguars: Projected 3-7 wins
JaguarsThe Jaguars were an awful team last year, but they still earned three wins against the AFC South. Jacksonville may be able to do that again, despite what’s going to be another long year. Chad Henne will probably eventually give way to Blake Bortles, and neither will translate to many wins. The offense simply has too long of a way to go, and we don’t see the progress in the backfield or on the offensive line. Defensive progress will be more notable to monitor, and we believe it will happen under head coach Gus Bradley. Without much help from the offense, though, the defensive progress will be limited. Jacksonville will have yet another double-digit loss season. Prediction: 5-11

Tennessee Titans: Projected 4-8 wins
Tennessee Titans
We thought the Titans were bound for one of the worst records in the league last year, but they held their own quite well. Problem is that there’s very little that will transfer from 2013. After losing Alterraun Verner, the Tennessee pass defense will take a notable step back. That’s going to become a problem, but the offense is surrounded by uncertainly. Jake Locker isn’t a good option at quarterback. The running back isn’t favorable either. The offensive line has its problems as well. We know less about this team than any other in the league, and we don’t think any of those questions give promise to the Titans. Somebody’s got to be bad, and the Titans are our pick. Prediction: 4-12

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AFC West Division

Denver Broncos: Projected 10-14 wins
Denver Broncos
We’re going to look at this with the clear understanding that the offense can’t keep up with its 2013 production. However, the Broncos should be notably better on defense. As long as Von Miller stays healthy, the defense as a whole takes a step up. Remember that Denver’s defense quietly was one of the most efficient in the league in 2012. With Miller’s return and the secondary’s additions of Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, we think the Broncos get at least close to their 2012 form. This could actually the Broncos a more ideal Super Bowl contender if we’re talking about team balance. Expect Denver to quickly to quickly shake off its Super Bowl hangover and be back in the hunt for an AFC championship. Prediction: 13-3, AFC #1 seed

San Diego Chargers: Projected 8-12 wins
San Diego ChargersThe Chargers may be the most interesting team among possible AFC contenders. San Diego has a potentially elite offense for the 2014 season, as Philip Rivers seems to fit very well in Mike McCoy’s offense. The Chargers might have some regression in store, but we think the regression will be limited. Meanwhile, regression will go only so far to help a defense that was awful last year. That’s where cornerback Brandon Flowers will be a big help. He has the potential to cement the secondary and make the defense good enough to earn another playoff win or two. More importantly, we think San Diego will avoid the ugly losses of 2013 and take a step forward in 2014. Consider the Chargers to be a dark horse. Prediction: 11-5, AFC #5 seed

Kansas City Chiefs: Projected 5-9 wins
Kansas City Chiefs
We can guarantee the Chiefs won’t win another 11 games. The 9-0 start last year was a huge product of an easy schedule and some key factors (re: turnovers and return touchdowns) that are bound to regress. The question is: how much will Kansas City regress? Do they have the foundation to still succeed after regression hits? Or are they going to collapse? Looking at the “foundation,” we see a three good things: (1) a defense that is much better than its 2-5 finish when Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are healthy, (2) an elite run game led by Jamaal Charles, and (3) a quarterback who plays well with a strong run game and defense. The Chiefs may set up the pieces to contend in 2015. Prediction: 8-8

Oakland Raiders: Projected 2-6 wins
Oakland Raiders
It’s going to be a very long year in Oakland. In an updated development (edited on 9/4), rookie Derek Carr was named the starting quarterback. We think he’s ill prepared to thrive as a rookie, and he will have a lot of growing pains as a result. All this will do is make matters even tougher for the Raiders. We don’t like the prospects of their passing game or running game on offense. As for the defense, the pass game may regress, but it will still likely be one of the worst in the league. There is frankly no element of the game that the Raiders are good at to sneak them more than a few wins. The best Oakland can do is have Carr survive the full 16 games. Prediction: 2-14

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NFC North Division

Green Bay Packers: Projected 11-15 wins
Green Bay Packers
As long as Aaron Rodgers stays healthy this time around, the Packers will be in good shape. Green Bay didn’t play well when Rodgers went down with injury, and the impact was felt on all sides of the football. Rodgers will take control of the offense, which will in turn allow the defense to focus on its strengths (as opposed to hold up the offense). So, if the offense will be better and the defense will be better, expect the Packers to easily reach double-digit wins. The only question we have is if they can finally defeat the balanced Super Bowl contenders. The Week 1 showdown in Seattle will be key for the team’s playoff hopes, even if the Packers earn home-field advantage. Prediction: 13-3, NFC #1 seed

Chicago Bears: Projected 7-11 wins
Chicago Bears
In some ways, our outlook on the Bears is similar to that of the Chargers. Both teams are set for some offensive regression after providing plenty of hope in 2013. Meanwhile, both defenses are set for some regression that could make the team balanced enough to compete deep into the postseason. Comparing to the two teams, we trust the Chicago defense more. However, we don’t nearly trust the Chicago offense as much as do with the San Diego offense. Jay Cutler hasn’t proved he can win big games, and his inconsistency has plagued the Bears. They will be balanced enough to sneak into the postseason on tiebreaker, but we doubt they make anything more of it. Prediction: 9-7, NFC #6 seed

Detroit Lions: Projected 6-10 wins
Detroit Lions
After seven blown fourth-quarter leads last year, the Lions are bound to have some luck go in their favor. The problem we simply don’t trust Matthew Stafford enough to consider Detroit to be a legitimate contender. Stafford still does not have a single win on the road against a winning team. Furthermore, Detroit close-game regression will be tempered some red zone and third down regression. The subsets will cancel each other out enough to limit the Lions to the .500 mark. It’s not like Detroit was a playoff-worthy team last year. The Lions would need to step up big somewhere, and we only think the defense can possibly do that. Ndamukong Suh would have the carry the team to the postseason. Prediction: 8-8

Minnesota Vikings: Projected 5-9 wins
Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota will begin the season having their rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater sit on the bench. However, he’s the one quarterback of this past draft we feel would be able handle playing as a rookie. Under head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings defense can and will only get better. Meanwhile, whenever Bridgewater gets playing time and gets settled, the offense can start coming together. That would make Minnesota a nice contender in a few years. For now, we look at the Bridgewater situation to determine our prediction. We think the Vikings start slow, allowing Bridgewater to eventually go under center and lead Minnesota to a .500 record in the second half of the season. Prediction: 6-10

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NFC East Division

New York Giants: Projected 7-11 wins
New York Giants
At a cursory glance, the Giants would look like a primary candidate to finish worse than their 7-9 record last year. However, as we discovered during our analysis of turnover-based regression, there is more than what meets the eye. Furthermore, with injury-based regression, the Giants are actually in line to get better. The biggest wild card for this team involves the hiring of Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator. Quarterback Eli Manning is used to an wide receiver option-based scheme, but we think he’ll enjoy the commanding and quick-rhythm nature of the West Coast Offense. That’s why we have the Giants unexpectedly winning the division. Prediction: 10-6, NFC #4 seed

Philadelphia Eagles: Projected 6-10 wins
Philadelphia Eagles
The league will face no surprises with Chip Kelly’s offense now. As a result, we expect at least a slight step back for the Eagles. The extent of Philadelphia’s decline will have to do with two things: (1) how much Kelly can continue to develop an offensive scheme that utilizes pace and space, and (2) how much the defense improves or declines. The problem with Kelly’s fast-paced offense is that put the defense on the field too much. If the unit struggles, it could go down hill very quickly. Expect the Eagles to defeat the inferior offenses and the poor defenses. However, against the better coached and more balanced teams, Philadehlpia will suffer enough losses to miss the playoffs. Prediction: 9-7

Dallas Cowboys: Projected 7-11 wins
Dallas Cowboys
We’d love to trust the Cowboys to trust what regression and talent evaluation says. Regression says the defense will take a step or two forward after last year’s horrid display. Talent evaluation says the offense has the potential to be one of the best units in the league as long as the coaching staff commit to balancing out the running game and passing game. The problem is two-fold: (1) the coaching staff shown such a commitment, even though the franchise recently dedicated early draft picks to the offensive line, and (2) the team has found unique ways to lose close games. Until we see the Cowboys reach their potential, we’ll peg them once again as an 8-8 team. Prediction: 8-8

Washington Redskins: Projected 4-8 wins
Washington Redskins
For all the talent Robert Griffin III has, the recent franchise discord with their young quarterback is disconcerting. Before heading out the door, Mike Shanahan stunted Griffin’s progress by sitting him at the end of last season. This was after Shanahan ran him into the ground literally and figuratively with overuse after a major knee injury two years ago. Washington’s defense will play better, but the team as a whole still has a long way to go. We don’t think the defense will do enough to help out Griffin, who himself still needs to play better now that NFL defense figured out his strengths. Washington will be in a multi-year rebuilding project, which means another double-digit loss season. Prediction: 5-11

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NFC South Division

New Orleans Saints: Projected 8-12 wins
New Orleans Saints
Expect the defense to came back to Earth. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s history isn’t impressive one bit, and we expect the defense to reflect that after one surprising campaign. However, the New Orleans offense under head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees is continually one of the best in the league, and we actually foresee the unit to be slightly better in 2014 than 2013. With this elite offense, even an average defense should lead to another double-digit win season. Given how we envision the NFC South being this season, that will be more than enough to earn the division crown. We don’t know if that’s enough for the postseason, though. Prediction: 11-5, NFC #3 seed

Atlanta Falcons: Projected 6-10 wins
Atlanta Falcons
The “Minus-7” regression will lend to the Falcons bouncing back towards the .500 mark. The problem is we simply don’t see enough on the defensive side or in the running game for Atlanta to become a quality team. Basically, Matt Ryan is the only true asset on the team, and he hasn’t shown the ability to single-handedly carry a team. He’ll win you close games during the two-minute drill, but he won’t take over the game like the league’s best quarterbacks. Yes, the offense will benefit from New Orleans and Carolina’s respective defensive regression, but it still won’t be the juggernaut many thought it used to be. Atlanta still has some way to go to make the playoffs. Prediction: 7-9

Carolina Panthers: Projected 6-10 wins
Carolina Panthers
This is the NFC team we have the most confidence will take a serious step back. Two years of unlucky underachievement led to one year of lucky overachievement for the Panthers. We assume everything will break even this year. Unfortunately, Carolina doesn’t have the franchise structure to seriously contend for a playoff spot. Quarterback Cam Newton isn’t a proven winner despite last year’s NFC South championship, and he has a long way to go to become a truly good quarterback. Meanwhile, the defense is too pass rush heavy to succeed with the regression at hand. The secondary isn’t a proven asset, and it will be put to the test too much this season. The playoffs are out of the question. Prediction: 7-9

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Projected 4-8 wins
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In year one under Lovie Smith, everything will be about the slow build. The offensive line has all new pieces. Josh McCown will need to adjust to Jeff Tedford’s offense after playing in Marc Trestman’s quarterback-friendly offense, but Tedford’s status is unknown after underdoing a recent undisclosed medical procedure. The defense should benefit from additions of Smith and cornerback Alterraun Verner, and it certainly isn’t good enough to overcame the offensive growing pains. Expect a slow first half and much improved second half. Many think Tampa Bay can be a surprise playoff team, and we think the growing pains make that claim a reckless reach. Prediction: 6-10

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NFC West Division

Seattle Seahawks: Projected 9-13 wins
Seattle Seahawks
We absolutely love how the Seahawks are structured to success for years to come. Experts truly underrate Russell Wilson, as the Mainstream Sports Media seems to be tweaking their game theory too much in favor of the pass. Wilson can command the passing offense, and he’s proven it time after time after time. Regardless, Seattle shouldn’t feel back for the run-first balanced approach on offense. It will lead this team to contention. Meanwhile, the defense is due for regression, but that regression will merely make an all-time defense become an elite defense. There’ll be a small Super Bowl hangover, but the team will eventually be ready to compete for a repeat. The Seahawks are the class of the NFC. Prediction: 12-4, NFC #2 seed

Arizona Cardinals: Projected 7-11 wins
Arizona Cardinals
With a defense set to get worse in the run game and get better in the pass game, we think the unit might actually be a playoff-caliber unit. Meanwhile, Carson Palmer won’t be fantastic, but he’s certain to limit his turnovers and guide this team into a playoff push. The little things might make the difference, namely special teams and the turnover battle. The favorable regression will certainly help Arizona. Ultimately, we think the Cardinals will get a lucky break or two to overcome the Eagles and 49ers in a deep playoff race in the NFC. The team isn’t particularly strong in any area, but it should be balanced enough to have a winning record and a wild card playoff berth. Prediction: 9-7, NFC #5 seed

San Francisco 49ers: Projected 8-12 wins
San Francisco 49ers
As we mentioned in the NFC West Five Factors feature, it’s boom or bust for the 49ers in 2014. Here, we’re going to make the case for a “bust” in San Francisco. On offense, we simply haven’t seen enough of Colin Kaepernick progressing through his reads to carry this team to a Super Bowl appearance again. Opposing teams are starting to figure out how slow down this dangerous option, especially as the running game will continue to decline. Running back Frank Gore and the offensive line are starting to get older (and possibly over the hill). Meanwhile, the defense will be hurting some without NaVorro Bowman, and that’s enough to make the 49ers miss the playoffs. Prediction: 8-8

St. Louis Rams: Projected 4-8 wins
St. Louis Rams
The Rams don’t have Sam Bradford, which means Shaun Hill will be under center. We figure the Rams have enough offensive limitations to the point that they will lose to great offenses and strong offenses. The problem is that the Rams will face a lot of great offenses (Denver, San Diego, Philadelphia, Dallas and Seattle) and strong defenses (Kansas City, Seattle and San Francisco). That accounts for nine games alone. St. Louis will probably only win one or two those games. This dooms the Rams to a double-digit loss season. We actually think this team isn’t particularly terrible, but it will be victimized harshly by circumstance. Maybe next year will treat the Rams better. Prediction: 4-12

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Wild Card Weekend

AFC #6 Pittsburgh Steelers over AFC #3 Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh SteelersBaltimore RavensIn terms of how we will use the Four Postseason Factors to predict postseason winners, we don’t see anything that separates the two. Maybe we will find a match-up advantage come January if/when the teams lock up, and that will probably determine who wins. As a result, good ol’ intuition will have to do. Our intuition says that Joe Flacco won a playoff game in each of his first five seasons before missing the playoffs together last year. We haven’t seen a one-and-done yet. We think that streak eventually has to come an end. If any team knows what it takes to end Flacco’s run, it will be the Steelers.

AFC #5 San Diego Chargers over AFC #4 Indianapolis Colts
San Diego ChargersIndianapolis ColtsThis match-up will come down to systematic strengths beating a superstar quarterback in the making. Quite simply, Andrew Luck doesn’t have enough support around him to keep up with the Philip Rivers-led Chargers offense and Brandon Flowers-led defense. Furthermore, we really the Chargers as a dark horse, and sometime in mid-August we feel more confident in them edging out the chic pick Colts as the best AFC team outside of the Broncos and Patriots. This match-up puts us to the test.

NFC #3 New Orleans Saints over NFC #6 Chicago Bears
New Orleans SaintsChicago BearsThe Saints are virtually unbeatable at home in big games. The home crowd will certainly be amped up for a playoff game. Furthermore, they will go up against an improved Chicago defense, but one that isn’t particularly good. Drew Brees will have a big game picking against the Bears. On the flip side, Jay Cutler doesn’t have a road win against a winning team with the Bears (heading into 2014), and that will play a big role in this loss. Brees versus Cutler is honestly all you need to know here.

NFC #4 New York Giants over NFC #5 Arizona Cardinals
New York GiantsArizona CardinalsThis match-up could get particularly hairy for Arizona, especially if this game is rewarded the early Sunday slot. It’s a hard task to ask the Cardinals to travel across a few time zones and perhaps even have an early kickoff. We don’t see either team standing out in any particular way in 2014, so this why the home/road factor plays an important role. Playoff experience will also play a defining role. Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, while Carson Palmer has no playoff wins at all.

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Divisional Round

AFC #1 Denver Broncos over AFC #6 Pittsburgh Steelers
Denver BroncosPittsburgh SteelersPeyton Manning has eight one-and-done’s in his playoff career. Perhaps his most painful one came in 2005, which occurred against the sixth-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the 2014 Steelers will not be the 2005 Steelers. That defense was an elite unit. This defense will be lucky to be good. As a result, we see the Broncos advancing. They honestly what it takes to have the better offense and better defense. Pittsburgh simply isn’t ready to contend for a Super Bowl, while Denver most certainly is.

AFC #5 San Diego Chargers over AFC #2 New England Patriots
New England PatriotsSan Diego ChargersWe have to go with an upset somewhere, because we simply don’t see back-to-back AFC Championship Games between Manning and Tom Brady. Also we don’t see three of the same four conference championship teams, something that already happened in 2012. As we see it, we don’t like the New England defense enough for the Patriots to have a match-up advantage. We’re reaching in saying that some form of precedence evens out Bill Belichick’s coaching advantage.

NFC #1 Green Bay Packers over NFC #4 New York Giants
Green Bay PackersNew York GiantsOnce again, we revisit a major playoff upset. In 2011, the fourth-seeded Giants upset the top-seeded Packers. That Packers team was horribly unbalanced, and the franchise has at least taken some steps forward in that department. Eddie Lacy did well a rookie last year, and he’ll continue to help make the running game a legitimate threat. Also, Green Bay will know Ben McAdoo’s offense well. We think that will be enough to make Green Bay the favorite to defeat New York.

NFC #2 Seattle Seahawks over NFC #3 New Orleans Saints
Seattle SeahawksNew Orleans SaintsIn a rematch of last year’s Divisional Round win for Seattle, we’ll see much of the same. The Seahawks burst out to an nice early lead last year, but the New Orleans defense helped to keep the game close. That’s probably where we see a slight change. We don’t expect the Saints defense to slow down the Seahawks this time. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch both are set for strong games. Meanwhile, the 12th Man will support the defense to make enough big plays to seal the win.

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Conference Championships

AFC #1 Denver Broncos over #5 San Diego Chargers
Denver Broncos
San Diego ChargersWe saw three good match-ups between these division rivals last year. Expect to see the same again this year. However, with the expected improved balance for Denver, that should allow the Broncos to prevail once again at home in the playoffs. We like the Denver defense much more so than the San Diego defense, even if we feel the Chargers are more balanced than they were last year. We see the first Super Bowl loser to repeat as conference champions since the 1993 Bills.

NFC #2 Seattle Seahawks over NFC #1 Green Bay Packers
Seattle SeahawksGreen Bay Packers
We take another shot at predicting this mass media-hyped conference championship game. In the rebirth of the “Fail Mary” game, we see how team balance will come into play. Seattle has a short running game with a smart quarterback who plays to an elite level against his best opponent. The Seahawks also have an elite defense. This is the formula that undid the Packers in each of the last two years against San Francisco. Because Seattle is better than that, we see a Super Bowl rematch in the making.

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Super Bowl XLIX

Seattle Seahawks 31, Denver Broncos 17
Seattle Seahawks
Denver BroncosHere lies only the second Super Bowl rematch in NFL history. In the first such match-up, the Dallas Cowboys confirmed their repeat by defeating Buffalo Bills, 30-13, in Super Bowl XXVIII. We find the comparison to be relevant. The early 10’s Seahawks look much like the early 90’s Cowboys. A strong running game and a strong deep passing game highlight the offense. Elite and physical play highlight the defense. Finally, swagger puts this team over the top. Meanwhile, Peyton Manning’s Broncos are reminiscent of the early 90’s Bills, who were great but just not balanced enough to win it all. The passing and offensive oriented Broncos should shake off a historic blowout, much like the 1993 Bills did in overcoming the 52-17 loss in Super Bowl XXVII. However, shaking off the devastation wasn’t enough to win the rematch. Seattle will get the repeat and will cement itself as a true champion capable of building a dynasty.

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