My absence of content in the past month or so is very much inexcusable, but I hope you’ll accept my sincere apology. In an effort to get at least a basic summary of the remaining teams on record a few days before the draft, I’ve bulked together those teams I didn’t more comprehensively review already. Also, a short explanation of why I chose not to follow the suit of every other football guru and make a mock draft of my own, following the reviews.
This breaks down by division, starting with the AFC East and ending with the NFC West.
Miami Dolphins – 8-8 (Regular Season) (Missed Postseason)
Brief Review: Their was more fight in this team than I expected, and less wins than might have been earned with a handful of better plays. Seemingly every game was decided on one or two ‘hinge’ plays, a deciding factor that separates good teams from great ones. They’re on the cusp, but time will tell. The production of Ryan Tannehill didn’t jump as drastically as some Dolphins fans would have liked, but overall the offense was more competent in the passing game despite the worst offensive line in football. This must be addressed, along with moderate weaknesses in the back seven of the defense, if the Dolphins hope to unseat the Patriots going forward.
MVP: Brian Hartline, WR
Biggest Disappointment: Johnathan Martin-Richie Incognito/Whoever else fiasco
Early 2014 Prediction: 9-7, No Playoff Berth
New York Jets 8-8 (Regular Season) (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: The Jets shocked many people by not dwelling in the basement they seemed destined for, clawing their way to a respectable (given their talent base) even record. The emergence and continued growth of their stout defensive linemen Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson were the foundation of Rex Ryan’s always relevant defense, but this team has more needs than wants right now, and can’t expect to overachieve to reach their goals. General Manager John Idzik brought in former All-Pro Chris Johnson to help in the running game and Eric Decker to fortify the pass, but this draft will be key to improving a roster that is lacking talent at vital positions. Time will tell if the Michael Vick signing helps or hinders the overall production at the QB position, whether he or Geno Smith are starting.
MVP: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE
Biggest Disappointment: Offensive stagnancy and Geno Smith’s lack of production, even for a rookie.
Early 2014 Projection: 7-9, No Playoff Berth
Buffalo Bills (6-10) (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: The tides continue to shift in Buffalo, as the defense took a step forward from their 2012 doldrums only to see their offense, keyed by a strong running game and hopeful aspirations for first round rookie QB E.J. Manuel, never get past their theorized productivity. Injuries to both of their backs and Manuel seemed to derail the offense, and their defense, despite obvious improvements, still underachieved considering their talent base. Losing Jarius Byrd will weaken their secondary regardless of how they address the safety position, and much depends on the continued improvement of Manuel and the last couple of draft classes, as this team’s veterans have proven to be nothing more than money draining middle-of-the-road types.
MVP: Kiko Alonso, MLB
Biggest Disappointment: Injuries and underachieving ‘studs’.
Early 2014 Projection – 5-11, No Playoff Berth
Baltimore Ravens 8-8 (Regular Season, Missed Postseason)
Brief Review: As much as it was expected, the fashion in which the Ravens missed the playoffs coming off of a Superbowl victory was not. With the strength of their offense, despite overpaying the overhyped Joe Flacco and expecting too much from a thin receiving corps, residing in their backfield, the combination of Ray Race and Bernard Pierce couldn’t break more than three yards per carry on the year. The offensive line was a major mess, but in typical Ravens fashion, GM Ozzie Newsome has already begun to plug it up. Signing Eugene Monroe to an extension after trading for him last year was pivotal, and the addition of Steve Smith will add a needed veteran presence to the passing game, improving Flacco’s game in the process. The defense needs to see young investments begin to more fully contribute.
MVP: Justin Tucker, K
Biggest Disappointment: Where’s the run?
Early 2014 Projection: 9-7, Wildcard
Cincinnati Bengals 11-5 (Regular Season, Won Division)
Brief Review: No doubt 11-5 is impressive in the NFL, but with this team’s level of talent, they seemed to struggle more than necessary through various stretches. The jury, surprisingly, is still out on QB Andy Dalton. How much longer HC Marvin Lewis and the Bengals brass keep him behind center is all up to Dalton, but if he doesn’t show more consistency, the choice will be made for him. Giovanni Bernard was a revelation of big play ability at HB, A.J. Green continued to show his elite abilities and the defense was quite often as stifling as any in the league. The loss of DC Mike Zimmer may or may not hurt them, and their relative inactivity in the offseason might have a similar effect, but this is a team stacked with talent with little room for excuse.
MVP: Tie between A.J. Green (WR) and Vontaze Burfict (OLB)
Biggest Disappointment: One-and-Done playoff appearance, a sad trend for the Bengals.
Early 2014 Prediction – 10-6, Division Champs
Pittsburgh Steelers 8-8 (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: The Steelers were, to quote an infamous coaching rant, who I thought they’d be: average. Too many losses, too much age, and slow balancing of that age with a lack of young prospects had Pittsburgh struggling to remain relevant until they hit a bit of a stride on the back half of the season. With a dwindling receiving corps, an aging roster signifying a moderate transitional period and many gaps in their talent base, the Steelers will have to pull off some magic to stay relevant in 2014 in a strong NFC North.
MVP: Ben Roethlisberger, QB
Biggest Disappointment: The slow start kept a hard fighting team out of playoff contention down the stretch, where a handful of close/inexcusable losses could have translated into a postseason berth.
Early 2014 Projection: 7-9, No Postseason Berth
Cleveland Browns 4-12 (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: The Factory Of Sadness continued to pump out the depression, once again floundering in most aspects of the game, particularly on offense. The question of quarterback is still unsolved, their running game was absent and is now dependent on a career backup (ex-Texan Ben Tate) and, apart from the sudden emergence of WR Josh Gordon and a glimmer of hope from TE Cameron Jordan, not much to be hopeful for going into 2014. A(nother) new regime will seek to find the answers to the problems that have plagued this team since they were reinstated into the league over a decade ago.
MVP: Josh Gordon, WR
Biggest Disappointment: The flop that was Brandon Weedon.
Early 2014 Projection: 4-12, No Playoff Berth
Tennessee Titans 7-9 (Missed Postseason)
Brief Review: Close, but not as close as their record might indicate, the Titans spent most of 2014 fighting for seven wins with limited talent while losing key players like Jake Locker to injury all the while. It’s not set in stone that Locker is the future at QB, but he was showing signs of improvement before the injury. They’ve lost more than they’ve gained in free agency, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing considering what they had wasn’t enough to push them over the hump. A replacement for Chris Johnson must be found, because this team cannot mask their inability to run with a dominant passing game. Losing Alterraun Verner stings as well, and their secondary is a hole that needs filling.
MVP: Bernard Pollard, SS
Biggest Disappointment: Losing Locker and perhaps setting him back in his development in the process.
Early 2014 Projection: 6-10, No Playoff Berth
Houston Texans – 2-14 (Missed Postseason)
Brief Review: I still have a hard time believing what I saw from this team in 2013. I’m slowly coming to realize that, despite some of the top-end talent that one focuses on (Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Duane Brown, J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing), the rest of the roster fluctuates between decent and backup quality depending on where you look. It was no accident that this team went 2-14, but it was a blunder the likes of which nobody was unaccountable: gone is HC Gary Kubiak, QB Matt Shaub and, hopefully, the stigma of being the worst team in football despite having a handful of the best players in football.
MVP: J.J. Watt, DE
Biggest Disappointment: The sudden and total collapse of Matt Shaub as a viable starter in the NFL.
Early 2014 Projection: 7-9, No Postseason Berth
Denver Broncos 13-3 (AFC Champions, Lost In Superbowl)
Brief Review: The best offense in the history of the NFL? The numbers say so. The Seahawks might argue otherwise. In a surprisingly naive attempt to improve, the Broncos have gone off the deep end in signing big-name defensive free agents to shore up a side of the ball that will do nothing to help Peyton Manning run a more balanced offense. If Monte Ball isn’t the answer at running back (not saying Knowshon Moreno was, but he’s gone now, and so is his production from last year), the Broncs will find themselves in similar situations as they found themselves against physical defenses. Losing Eric Decker won’t hurt as much, as former Steeler Antonio Brown is a clear upgrade.
MVP: Peyton Manning, QB
Biggest Disappointment: How can it not be that Superbowl flop of a performance?
Early 2014 Projection: 12-4 (Division Champs)
San Diego Chargers 9-7 (Wildcard)
Brief Review: No team fought harder (and got luckier) last year than the Chargers, who kept themselves on the edge of the wildcard hunt while the Ravens, Dolphins and Steelers essentially gave up down the stretch. No disrespect meant: this is a team back on the upswing after a couple of unusual seasons. Their defense is coming along, Philip Rivers is looking like Philip Rivers again, Keenan Allen is the real deal at WR and the team finally has a head coach at head coach instead of an offensive coordinator.
MVP: Phillip Rivers, QB
Biggest Disappointment: I expected more from Manti Te’o, personally. With the speed of the game under his belt, though…look out…
Early 2014 Projection: 8-8, No Postseason Berth
Chicago Bears 8-8 (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: What could have been if Jay Cutler would have stayed healthy? Not the question we need to ask. Instead, what could have been if the defense wasn’t a complete mess? We might get the chance to find the answers to both questions in 2014, but the team has a long way to go to rectify their aged, talent-deficient defense. On the plus side, a healthy Cutler, despite being less than elite, can be made to look so with the talents of Brandon Marshall, the emerging Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennet and Matt Forte around him. The NFC North will be hotly contested as it was last year, and I expect the Bears to be in the thick of it down the stretch.
MVP: Brandon Marshall, WR
Biggest Disappointment: What happened to defense in Chicago?
Early 2014 Projection: 8-8, Wildcard
Green Bay Packers 8-7-1 (Division Champs)
Brief Review: If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t miss time, they win the division with much less effort. Regardless, this team isn’t ready to compete with the big dogs of the NFC West and have done almost nothing (Julius Peppers is almost nothing) to change that this offseason. They believe in the draft to make such a difference: if Eddie Lacy can continue to produce, Rodgers stays healthy and at least two defensive draft picks this year turn into regular contributors, they might have a chance to be more than division champions.
MVP: Jordy Nelson, WR
Biggest Disappointment: The defense continues to be an achilles’ heel.
Early 2014 Projection: 10-6, Division Champs
Detroit Lions 7-9 (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: With the division in their reach, the Lions, in a fashion that must feel like a trend to Detroit fans, crapped the bed and not only missed their chance; they seemingly dodged it on purpose. Excuses are now a thing of the past: Jim Caldwell will hopefully solidify the point of leadership at HC, but the talent level this team has is clearly the best in the division overall. They need to start playing like it.
MVP: Calvin Johnson, WR
Biggest Disappointment: Their apparent fear of success.
Early 2014 projection: 8-8, No Postseason Berth
Carolina Panthers 12-4 (Division Champs)
Brief Review: The NFC North is going to be a hotly contested division in 2014, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the Panthers are going to regress. In a big way. I would have said this even if they were bringing back the same roster as 2013; but they’re not, and this young upstart will have a down season before getting back into the thick of things. Just call it a hunch. Without a doubt, their 2013 was a brilliant season, particularly defensively, where they look like one of the few teams who can match up against the offensive juggernauts popping up across the league.
MVP: Luke Kuechly, MLB
Biggest Disappointment: An offseason gripe, but how do you replace every non-RB catch on your team in one offseason?
Early 2014 Projection: 7-9, No Postseason Berth
New Orleans Saints 11-5 (Wildcard)
Brief Review: Say hello to the new leader of the crowded NFC South pack. A strong team is now adding one of the best safeties in the game to their ranks in Jarius Byrd, as Rob Ryan’s newly inspired defense continues to grow and Drew Brees continues to do his Drew Brees thing. This team might have what it takes to go all the way in 2014. Losing Darren Sproles will sting, but HC Sean Payton can replace his production in a variety of ways.
MVP: Drew Brees, QB
Biggest Disappointment: Should have resigned Sproles and cut Mark Ingram, but at least they kept Pierre Thomas.
Early 2014 Projection: 13-3 (Division Champs)
Atlanta Falcons 4-12 (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: What? How? Julio Jones is injured, Roddy White is hobbled, Tony Gonzalez can only do so much, the offensive line collapses, Steven Jackson is hurt/ineffective when he isn’t, the defense shows up every other series. Ultimately, everything that could go wrong almost did, and you have to believe they’ll improve in 2014. By how much is anyone’s guess, but I’m not holding out hope for their lackluster D.
MVP: Tony Gonzalez, TE
Biggest Disappointment: 4-12.
Early 2014 Projection: 6-10, No Postseason Berth
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4-12 (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: The Bucs in 2013 were a joke, and nobody in Tampa was laughing. Greg Schiano was either an utter failure or was dealing with players that wouldn’t buy in…which could be the same thing. Anyway, he’s gone, and Lovie Smith and a large amount of free agents are coming in to sway this team’s fortunes. Only problem? They seem hell-bent on giving up on young signal caller Mike Glennon, who showed a lot of promise and grit in limited time. This is going to bite them. Hard.
MVP: Lavonte David, LB
Biggest Disappointment: What happened to Josh Freeman?
Early 2014 Projection: 3-13, No Postseason Berth
Seattle Seahawks 13-3 (NFL Champions)
Brief Review: If a repeat was ever likely, this group makes it so. Proving (much to my joy) that defense can win championships just as easily as offense, the Seahawks still have most of their team in place to make another run at it. No reason to think they can’t do it, but they’ll have to claw and fight past the 49ers and Saints along the way.
MVP: Earl Thomas, FS
Biggest Disappointment: Percy Harvin’s fickle health
Early 2014 Projection: 13-3 (Division Champs)
San Fransisco 49ers 12-4 (Wildcard)
Brief Review: The next-best team in the NFC is going to have an uphill climb to keep up with the Seahawks, but no defense in the league is more gritty than this group. Offensively, however, Colin Kaepernick seemed to take a step back from his excellent beginning, leaving an unasked but lingering question of whether or not he can get the job done in the long term.
MVP: Navarro Bowman, ILB
Biggest Disappointment: Kaep’s decline.
Early 2014 Projection: 11-5, Wildcard
Arizona Cardinals 10-6 (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: Despite some growing pains, Bruce Arians’ new look Cardinals found some success throughout the year and, in two other divisions in the NFC, would have made the playoffs. Alas, with the Seahawks and 49ers hovering overhead, this team’s upside is limited despite their best efforts. And I cannot trust a Carson Palmer-led offense to keep mistakes to a minimum, which is going to be their downfall in a division that feeds off of poor offensive play (or causes it, in most cases).
MVP: Patrick Peterson, CB/KR
Biggest Disappointment: Publicly backing Carson Palmer as the QB to lead this team to the promised land. That’ll be the day.
Early 2014 Projection: 8-8, No Postseason Berth
St. Louis Rams 7-9 (Missed Playoffs)
Brief Review: Found a breath of fresh air in running back Zac Stacy? Alright, let’s watch our starting QB go down for the year and our passing attack disappear. One of the best pass rushers in the league? Alright, but our secondary is swiss cheese and we can’t stop the run. The Rams are a decent team, but in the NFC West, they might as well be the Browns at this point. No team is better set up to take advantage of the draft, though, with two first round picks (one of which is 2nd overall).
MVP: Robert Quinn, DE
Biggest Disappointment: Another year for Sam Bradford, another offseason questioning Sam Bradford.
Early 2014 Projection: 5-11, No Postseason Berth
Why I Am Not Posting A Mock Draft
To begin with, I never even considered doing one. Why? To be blunt, and perhaps a bit to my own shame, I’m not qualified. Unlike many NFL analysts who either are or like to pretend they are, I’m under no such illusion and have no such qualifications. If I were to even attempt a first-round mock, I would be ashamed of myself. I never considered it, and I won’t be doing it this year or any year in the future unless I start spending more time watching college ball. Why don’t I watch college ball? Because it’s college ball. This answer is enough for me, but if you need more, think of it like this: would you rather watch the best B-movies you can find, or stick with the Hollywood circle and catch the occasional glimpse at cinematic glory? No right or wrong answer, it’s just preference.
So yeah, no mock draft. No draft review, either. I may put something together that essentially comes down to guessing what each prominent draft pick might do. Of course, we can all guess which turd will flush first or whether or not it’ll rain next week, but we don’t make blogs for this, do we?
God, I’m afraid to know the answer to that question. Until next time…enjoy the draft!