1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will win the NFC South. You may recall my prediction last year about the Eagles being the upstart team to rebound from a last-place finish in 2012 to win their division in 2013. I expect the Bucs to be this year's edition of this long-running trend. They have a stout defense, they'll have Doug Martin back from a torn ACL, and they drafted Mike Evans who will have a heavy impact on the offense as a rookie. The elephant in the room about Tampa is what kind of play can they expect at QB, which is the key to their entire season. I expect Josh McCown to play effectively enough for the Bucs to win double-digit games. I also doubt the Falcons will be much better than they were last year, and the Panthers played over their heads for most of last season. The Saints will be the heavy competition within the division for the Bucs, and I think they will play just slightly better than New Orleans in 2014.
2. Demaryius Thomas will break Randy Moss's single season touchdown reception record. Moss set his record in 2007 when the Patriots went 16-0 during the regular season. The Patriots had also set the record for most points scored by an offense that season, which was shattered by the Broncos last year. The next offensive record previously set by a Patriot that a Bronco will break will be Thomas surpassing Moss's touchdown reception total of 23. Despite Denver's seemingly-endless supply of wide receivers and tight ends for Peyton Manning to target, Thomas will have a career year in 2014. Fantasy football geeks will love his performance, especially those lucky enough to double dip and have both Manning and Thomas.
3. The Dallas Cowboys will lose at least 10 games and Jason Garrett will finally be fired. The Cowboys have been the poster child of mediocrity the last three years, having won 8 games every season. In a season where they hope to take the next step up in the NFC East, they will instead step backwards, winning no more than 6 games. The Redskins will be much better than they were last year, the Giants will be at least average, and the Eagles are still the best team in the division. Jason Garrett could be fired as early as Week 11 when the Cowboys enter their bye week. There will be some major changes coming to Dallas very soon.
4. Jay Cutler will have a better statistical year than Aaron Rodgers. To be more specific, Cutler will throw for more yards and touchdowns than Rodgers will. The reasoning for my logic is fairly simple: Cutler has Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, and Martellus Bennett to throw the ball to, all of whom are far better than Rodgers's three best targets. The Bears are going to be a really good team this year, getting into the playoffs by winning the NFC North. I also expect the Packers to struggle quite a bit this season because...
5. The Green Bay Packers will fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Fun piece of trivia: Entering the 2014 season, the Packers are tied with the Patriots for the longest active streak of consecutive seasons with playoff appearances. That streak will come to an end this season for the Packers for a couple reasons. I already said I'm picking the Bears to win the NFC North, and the Saints are good enough to compete with the Bucs for the NFC South title (since I've picked the Bucs to win the South, I think the Saints will get one of the two Wild Cards in the NFC). That leaves one Wild Card spot for teams like the Redskins, Lions, and Packers to fight for, in addition to the dog fight that will happen in the NFC West. That's one of the toughest log jams imaginable, and I don't see luck falling the Packers' way this season.
7. Giovani Bernard will finish in the top five in rushing yards this season. Bernard was the back up to BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Cincinnati last year, but this year the roles will flip flop as Bernard will be one of the big breakout players in the league this season. Last year, Bernard gained 695 yards on 170 carries, but I think both those numbers will jump significantly in 2014. The highest any Bengal has finished in rushing yard totals since 2002 was sixth when Rudi Johnson finished with 1454 yards in 2004. The Bengals have a great young running back now in Bernard, and he will show his stuff this season.
8. The Houston Texans will still draft in the top 10 in May. The Texans were one of the most disappointing teams last year, winning only their first two games of the season, and then dropping every game thereafter. A new GM and head coach later, and the team is working towards competing again after winning the division in 2011 and 2012. They will not win more than 5 games this season though, largely because their offense is either old or below average. Their defense, particularly their front seven, will continue to be their strength. Their inability to draft a franchise quarterback in May will set them back for the time being, but few people discuss their key offensive play makers, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, are both in the twilight of their careers. In addition to their internal issues, their divisional rival Jaguars are quickly building up both sides of the ball and could be competitive in the next year or so if their rookie QB Brian Bortles shows promise.
9. Andrew Luck will be the league MVP. Luck has already shown he has the qualities a team and organization needs to be a franchise quarterback. He's quickly led the Colts back to being competitive after their awful 2011 season, and now that he's reached year three of his career, he will take the next step with the team. Even though I'm a measly little blogger who writes only for the fun of it, I usually look at a QB's completion percentage and his TD/INT ratio to evaluate his overall performance. Luck's completion percentage increased by 6% from 2012 to 2013, and if he gets his percentage up to 63-64% in 2014 (which would be another 3-4% increase from last year), he'll move into the top tier in the league in that stat. His TD/INT ratio was cut in half over the same period though, but I attribute a lot of that to poor offensive line play and losing Reggie Wayne halfway through the season. If that ratio jumps back up to around 2.5:1 or even 3:1, he can lead the Colts to a deep playoff run. In fact, I expect the Colts to even get past the big dogs in the AFC, except....
10. The Philadelphia Eagles will bring home the Lombardi trophy for the first time and defeat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl 49. Chip Kelly already has shown his offensive style can put 40 points on the board on any given Sunday, and losing DeSean Jackson to the Redskins will prove to be no matter for the team. The Eagles have Jeremy Maclin back and they added Darren Sproles to bolster their running and passing game. I'm not about to predict the Eagles will break the Broncos' offensive scoring record set only last year, but it won't really matter. Philly fans will finally get a taste of what it's like to win an NFL championship come February 2015.