Bold Prediction No. 1: Seattle’s defense will not be the No. 1 defense in 2014
Reason: Take nothing away from Seattle. They’re a great defense. But in 1986, after the Bears won their Super Bowl, everybody thought the defense was going to dominate for years to come. But remember, this is the NFL, and there are some incredibly smart coaches who spend more time in the film room than their house. They get paid millions to figure out how to stop the opposition. You know what they say ‘nothing fails like success.’
The Seahawks also lost defensive linemen Chris Clemons and Red Bryant. Clemons accounted for 4.5 total sacks and while he wasn’t a starter, proved to be a nice rotational guy that kept the top guys fresh. Their division is also tougher, with the Rams improving defensively as are the Cardinals. Plus, the San Francisco 49ers nearly defeated Seattle in the NFC Championship game.
No. 2: Julio Jones will win the receiving title this season
Reason: Last year, Jones was on pace for more than 1,800 yards. He has fractured the same spot in his foot twice, but optimism is high enough to warrant this prediction. He’s reportedly back to 100 percent and is cutting fine during OTA’s, so the foot appears to no longer be an issue. Atlanta’s offense is among the most pass-happy in the NFL. They drafted top tackle Jake Matthews from Texas A&M to protect Matt Ryan’s blindside. Jones has clearly cemented himself ahead of Roddy White as the team’s go-to guy based on last season’s target numbers. The situation is perfect for him in 2014 to dominate.
No. 3: Matt Stafford is in for a big rebound season (5,000+ yards, 35 touchdowns, 15 interceptions)
Reason: The Detroit Lions brought in Jim Caldwell as head coach, someone with a proven track record for helping quarterbacks improve their mechanics. Stafford’s footwork has been a question mark in recent years and the Lions are coming off a disappointing 2013 where they failed to make the playoffs despite playing in a weak division. They added Golden Tate, who can finally address the ‘Calvin Johnson can’t do everything’ problem. Plus Eric Ebron, while still a rookie, will make an immediate impact due to his Vernon Davis-like talent.
Remember, Caldwell was also instrumental in helping Joe Flacco in taking the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl.
No. 4: The Cleveland Browns will lead the league in takeaways this year
Reason: They signed No. 6-ranked safety Donte Whitner from the San Francisco 49ers to replace the departed T.J. Ward. They added linebacker Karlos Dansby, a guy who was the fifth-highest rated linebacker according to Pro Football Focus. They drafted Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State to go alongside pro bowl corner Joe Haden. We’ve seen takeaways fluctuate from year to year, so it’s impossible to predict if the Browns will actually accomplish this feat, but their secondary is among the fiercest in the league. This prediction is just to help get the word out that the Browns are for real on the defensive side and have plenty of playmakers. They also ranked 10th in fantasy points last season. Consider them a Top 5 fantasy defense this season.
No. 5: Bishop Sankey will be the top rookie running back this season
Reason: Sankey could be special in his rookie season. The Titans have a very good offensive line. He put up solid numbers at the University of Washington. He had 58 catches, 3,000 yards rushing, 500 receiving yards for a combined 35 touchdowns. Anytime you can get a running back that can catch the ball, it’s a dual threat. Take him over Tre Mason and Terrance West.