The Broncos are coming off a historic offensive season in 2013 that was led by QB Peyton Manning. The Broncos finished 13-3 and won the AFC West division and Championship game before falling to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. The Broncos were determined to enhance their team via free agency and did just that by signing DE Demarcus Ware, S TJ Ward, CB Aqib Talib, and WR Emmanuel Sanders as the notables. Though they were aggressive in free agency, the Broncos lost WR Eric Decker, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, RB Knowshon Moreno to free agency while releasing CB Champ Bailey. RB Montee Ball takes over as the full time bell cow in his second season as the only question mark for the Broncos. Denver returns with a better defense in 2014 and will look to return to the Super Bowl behind Peyton Manning.
Kansas City Chiefs:
Andy Reid did wonders in his first season as head coach of the Chiefs turning the worst record in football from 2012, to a 11-5 mark with a playoff appearance in 2013. The Chiefs had a quiet offseason besides releasing CB Brandon Flowers and not signing any real impact player on either side of the ball. Kansas City relied on their draft to produce a spark in 2014 by drafting DE Dee Ford and RB De’Anthony Thomas. Alex Smith will have another year under Reid’s system with Jamaal Charles still in the backfield, though they will rely on WR Dwayne Bowe to play to his potential for the offense to improve. Kansas City’s defense was the anchor for the 11-5 team in 2013 and will have to be so again if the Chiefs want to stay in the postseason picture for 2014.
San Diego Chargers:
The Chargers rallied in 2013 by winning their last four regular season games to punch a ticket to the postseason with a 9-7 record where they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round before losing to the Denver Broncos in the Divisional round. San Diego spent the offseason upgrading the defense’s secondary by signing CB Brandon Flowers and drafting CB Jason Verrett with their first round selection in the draft. Former Colts RB Donald Brown enters San Diego’s crowded backfield this season as their offense and QB Philip Rivers were revived by head coach Mike McCoy last season. Second year WR Keenan Allen looks to build on his rookie season as he emerged as a serious WR1 talent among the NFL. As long as the offense doesn’t experience serious regression, the new and improved secondary seems to be enough to put the Chargers back in the postseason entering the 2014 season.
Oakland enters the 2014 season with an entirely new cast on both sides of the football after a 4-12 record in 2013. The Raiders attacked the free agency market by signing RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR James Jones, T Austin Howard, DE Justin Tuck, LB Lamarr Woodley, CB Tarell Brown, CB Carlos Rogers, while resigning RB Darren McFadden and acquiring QB Matt Schaub. Oakland brought many veterans in during free agency, but also made an impact by drafting LB Khalil Mack and QB Derek Carr in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. The offense will be led by Schaub with a timeshare at RB between Jones-Drew and McFadden, while Jones, Andre Holmes, and Rod Streater will be depended on at the WR position. The revamped defense will carry the responsibility of keeping the Raiders in games due to a high octane offensive division. 2014 success relies on Schaub’s arm and the many free agent signings, but the Raiders seem a year or two away from postseason play.
AFC SOUTH PREVIEW
Thanks to a weak division and the talent of Andrew Luck, the Colts posted a 11-5 record in 2013 and won the AFC South as well as a playoff game. The Colts return the majority of the same team entering 2014 besides signing WR Hakeem Nicks. The key to the Colts’ offseason was resigning stud CB Vontae Davis to ensure a solid secondary behind a below average front seven. Indianapolis will rely on it’s high powered offense again in 2014 as Andrew Luck seems to officially breakout and become a the league’s next superstar with deep threat WR T.Y. Hilton. and the return of Reggie Wayne. The Colts’ biggest mystery is their running game as they possess struggling backs in Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw. If the Colts can avoid regression and figure out the running game, they’re destined to a longer postseason run in 2014.
The Titans finished 2013 at a 7-9 mark after injuries to starting QB Jake Locker and WR Kenny Britt. A total makeover of the Titans was born in the offseason as Ken Whisenhunt was hired as the head coach and the team cut ties with former superstar RB Chris Johnson. The offense should be improved under Whisenhunt’s system and a healthy Jake Locker throwing to under the radar WR Kendall Wright. Rookie RB Bishop Sankey will share carries with Shonn Greene to replace Chris Johnson along with Flex position Dexter McCluster. The defense will embrace Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme as DC where he coached Arizona last season. The biggest impact from the defensive scheme change will result in DE Derrick Morgan who could be moved to OLB to provide more of a pass rush. A lot rides on the growth of Jake Locker in 2014 to prove if he is the QB for the future and if the Titans will win games this season.
Jacksonville started the 2013 season 0-8, but ended 4-4 over the final eight weeks to produce a 4-12 record. The strong finish to the season provides optimism for the future to come for Gus Bradley’s football team as they improved drastically over the offseason while laying their blueprint for the future via draft. The Jaguars added two pieces of Seattle’s defense in the offseason in DE/LB Chris Clemons and DE Red Bryant, while also signing RB Toby Gerhart to replace the franchise’s cornerstone for many years, Maurice Jones-Drew. Gerhart will serve as a workload back for the first time in his career after backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. The Jaguars selected QB Blake Bortles third overall in the NFL draft and immediately provided him with weapons for years to come in the second round in WRs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson to already add to WR Cecil Shorts. Bortles may not start right away in another rebuilding year for Jacksonville, but he is their future at QB and the make or break player for the franchise for years to come.
Houston’s 2014 season was an unpredictable nightmare that corresponded with Matt Schaub’s season and Arian Foster’s back injury. The 2-14 record landed Houston the number one pick in the NFL Draft that Jadeveon Clowney was selected with under new coaching regime Tom O’Brien, former New England OC and Penn State head coach. The Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stopgap at the QB position for the 2014 season, but Fitzpatrick will be tooled with the right weapons for a solid season behind a healthy Arian Foster and WRs Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. The defense becomes majorily improved with the Clowney selection as they look to return to their stout 2012 form along with the force of J.J. Watt and company. The Texans should experience more success than the 2013 season, but a playoff appearance in 2014 is doubtful and would require a Coach of the Year performance in O’Brien.
AFC NORTH PREVIEW
Cincinnati enters the 2014 season as reigning champions of the AFC North division, but look to ignite their postseason success as they’ve been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the past three seasons. The Bengals extended QB Andy Dalton’s contract to a staggering 6 years $115 million figure as he carries the franchise’s trust on his arm. Second year running back, Giovani Bernard, is bound for a breakout season switching to a run-oriented offense behind new OC Hue Jackson. Though the offense will be more run-oriented, WR AJ Green will try to build on another incredible season as a top five wide receiver and a security blanket for Andy Dalton. The Bengals embrace the return of All-Pro DE Geno Atkins as his 2013 season was cut short due to a torn ACL. The return of Atkins and the addition of Darqueze Dennard via the draft should bolster an already strong defensive unit as the Bengals look to repeat as division champs.
Pittsburgh enters the 2014 season in attempt to get over the 8-8 record posted in 2012 and 2013, missing the playoffs in back to back seasons. The Steelers’ were determined to make the defense younger this offseason and did so via the NFL Draft as their first two selections were defensive players. Though the defense got younger, the Steelers lost LB Lamarr Woodley to free agency where they hope rookie Ryan Shazier will fill the void of Woodley. The Steelers offense lost two WRs to free agency as well in Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, but added WR Lance Moore and RB Legarrette Blount. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will see high volume of touches this season as Ben Roethlisberger’s playmakers in an offense that seems under tooled. The expansion of Todd Haley’s offense may lead to a more up-tempo style of play featuring no huddle in attempt to take the Steelers back to the playoffs and over the 8-8 hump.
Baltimore comes off a Super Bowl hangover season in 2013 as they went from champions to mediocrity as an 8-8 team. Gary Kubiak brings his explosive offense to Baltimore as new OC that seems to benefits the likes of Joe Flacco, Dennis Pitta, and Torrey Smith. Baltimore will look to get Ray Rice back to 2012 form after his two game suspension as they establish the zone-blocking scheme. The Ravens selected defensive players in the first three rounds of the NFL draft to add to the makings of a very talented defense led by Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. Baltimore made a few low-key signings to the offense by adding Steve Smith and Owen Daniels. The Ravens hope the new offense translates to a playoff appearance as they enter 2014.
The Browns disastrous season had few bright spots in Brian Hoyer and Josh Gordon, but the 4-12 record shows the negatives outweighed the positives immensely. The Browns were determined to improve the team this offseason as they fired coach Rob Chudzinski and hired defensive minded, Mike Pettine, as the head coach, Kyle Shanahan as OC, and hiring Ray Farmer as GM. The offseason was an A+ effort by the Cleveland Browns as they signed LB Karlos Dansby, S Donte Whitner, RB Ben Tate and WRs Nate Burleson, Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin. The impressive offseason didn’t end there as they selected CB Justin Gilbert and QB Johnny Manziel in the first round of the NFL draft as well as RB Terrance West who will possibly share carries as a rookie. The potential year long Josh Gordon suspension looms over Cleveland’s 2014 campaign as well as QB controversy between Hoyer and Manziel, but regardless, Cleveland had a stellar offseason and should be improved.