Denver Broncos 2014-2015 Season Preview

Offseason Storylines

The Denver Broncos’ offense is coming off of the best statistical season in the history of NFL. The Broncos were great because Peyton Manning posted the greatest season for a quarterback in NFL history. Although they had the best offense in history, they were physically abused during the Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks. Along with Manning’s success, he was surrounded by an elite offensive line, talented wide receivers, and a quality running back. Although the Broncos’ offense should be stacked this season, they lost a few pieces during the offseason. Manning will be without his second wide receiver, Eric Decker, running back, Knowshon Moreno, and possibly slot receiver, Wes Welker, if he can not return from his concussion injury. Although they lost solid players, they will still have a do it all running back in Montee Ball and solid receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Cody Latimer. The two young receivers and the returning stars should keep the Broncos as the best offense in the league and lead the Broncos into the playoffs.

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While the Broncos were solely praised for their offensive skill, they possessed an above average defense. Similar to the offense, the Broncos’ defense was exposed for its lack of physicality against the Seahawks. Although the Broncos did not have a lot of cap room this offseason, they were able to enhance their secondary and pass rushing ability. Through the draft and free agency, the Broncos were able to add Bradley Roby, former Patriot corner Aqib Talib, former All-Pro DeMarcus Ware, and physical safety TJ Ward. Although the foursome has dealt with injuries throughout their career, they are coming into the season healthy and should make a positive impact on the Broncos. With Roby and Talib in the secondary, the secondary possess one of the most talented, but raw corners in the league. Along with the flashy corners that will force turnovers, the Broncos will return stud defensive end Von Miller alongside of former All-Pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

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Offensive X-Factor

In order for the Broncos to maintain their status as the one of the best offenses in history, Denver will need one of their young receivers to step up and become legitimate threats on the outside. Even without the injury to Wes Welker, the Broncos needed to replace Eric Decker, who has been one of the most consistent wide receivers the last few seasons. With the head injury to Welker, the Broncos do not know if he will return or if he will be the same player when he comes back to the field. The Broncos attempted to prepare for the departure of Decker with the addition of Latimer and Sanders. Over the past few seasons, Sanders has steadily improved as a receiver while he has moved up the ranks as part of the Steelers’ offense. Unlike Latimer, Sanders has experience playing in a pass happy offense, played in numerous big games, and caught passes from a star quarterback.  Along with the talent of Sanders, many believe that Cody Latimer has a great chance of becoming a solid number 2 on a championship caliber team. During his years at Indiana, Latimer quietly posted great stats with a below average supporting cast.

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Defensive X-Factor

The defensive X-Factor for the Broncos this season will be DeMarcus Ware. The former Cowboys’ legend and All-Pro has been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL over the pas decade. For the first time in his career, Ware did not play 16 games and it resulted in the lowest sack total in his career, 6. Before last season, Ware had a streak of 7 straight seasons in which he recorded at least 11 sacks. Ware will have the opportunity to regain his sack numbers as he will play opposite of Von Miller. Although Miller is coming off a bad knee injury, he is still one of the best pass rushers in the league. Due to his age and skill, many teams will opt to double team Miller, which will leave Ware one on one for the first time in his career. Last season, only one Bronco totaled double digit sack numbers, Shaun Phillips. The lack of pressure on opposing quarterback made Denver one of the worst teams against the pass. Ware should provide consistent pressure on quarterbacks and add physicality to a defense that needs improvement.

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Projections

The Broncos have won the AFC West the past two seasons and are predicted to remain the top team. As long as Peyton Manning is the quarterback of the Broncos, they will be contenders to win the conference. On offense, the unit should remain the best in the league because they have too many weapons for opposing defenses. Whether it is Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker, or Montee Ball, they have the ability to break big plays and score 6 points. Last season, the offense averaged 38 points per game, 10 more than any other team in the league. Although it is unlikely that they will repeat their historic season and Manning will break every passing quarterback record in NFL history, the offense should post 30-35 points per game. Although the offense is set to take a step backward, the defense should become more than an average defense. Although a lot of their stats are inflated because of their great offense, their defense should be an above average defense. If the Broncos are going to win the Super Bowl this season, the Broncos need to play with physicality and convert turnovers like the current Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

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Record: 13-3

First in AFC West

Fantasy Pick

Last season, Knowshon Moreno took the fantasy world by storm when he finished fifth among running backs. The replacement for Moreno will be Montee Ball. Many expect that Ball has a chance to be a top ten running back because he has more talent than Moreno. If Ball can learn to block for Peyton Manning, he will stay on the field for 85% of the plays and take almost all of the touches. Along with running opportunities, the former Wisconsin Badger star can catch the ball out of the backfield.

Chicago Bears 2014-2015 Season Preview

By: Prad

NFC North Rank: 2nd

Projected Record: 9-7

 

The Chicago Bears have failed to make the playoffs the last three seasons despite boasting a winning cumulative record in those years. It is a combination of misfortune (10-6 in 2012 but did not clinch a berth) and inept play on both sides of the ball at times. They have been a perennial defensive powerhouse in the league, but the landscape in Chicago has been changing for the past couple years. The Bears won all eight of their games last season, because of their performance on offense, not on defense. This offseason was critical in building young talent on defense. In recent history, the Bears have had a tendency to start each season out strong, but the finish has not always been perfect.

The quarterback play in Chicago was better last year than it has been for a few seasons. It is typically hard to come by two different starters who both prove their worth over the course of the season. However, that was the case in the Windy City last year. QBs Jay Cutler and Josh McCown both had seasons that parted from the ineffectiveness that plagued them in the previous few years. Cutler was playing incredibly well within the context of the offense for the first seven games before going down with a torn groin. The injury did not force new HC Marc Trestman to embark on anything drastic though. He coached like he always has, by emphasizing quarterback play and the results showed.

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McCown immediately filled the void at quarterback by throwing 13 touchdowns to just one interception after six starts. Despite McCown’s strong performance, he was unable to attain a full-time starting role under center after Cutler came back with three games remaining. Cutler did prove his worth though by posting 713 yards and six touchdowns in those final three games. Although the Bears were unable to clinch a playoff spot in those three games by going 1-2, it was certainly not Cutler’s fault. With McCown off to the Buccaneers, Cutler does not have that same pressure to perform, as his starting role is not in jeopardy. As long as he does not become complacent in the upcoming season, he has the talent and resources to win on the offensive side of the ball.

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The receiving corps in Chi-town is among the league’s best. Cutler’s top two options are WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, both of whom are among the top 10 receivers in the league. Jeffery broke out of his shell and had massive numbers last season ranking 6th in the league in receiving yards (1,421) and 10th in receptions (89). Marshall, who played opposite of Jeffery, had yet another spectacular season catching 100 balls for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns. These two made up the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL last season. And they will duplicate their feats. Jeffery is only getting better with experience while Marshall has been a top three receiver for some time and only just turned 30 this year. Cutler and Marshall have been together for two years in Chicago in addition to the three seasons they spent together in Denver building their rapport. If Jeffery can build that constant chemistry with Cutler, then both are primed to have big seasons. If the passing game is utilized effectively in tandem with the running game, then opposing defensive coordinators have a reason to worry.

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RB Matt Forte is certainly in the upper echelon of the league’s running backs. He is even elite by many standards. Forte has rushed for more than 6,600 yards in his first six seasons in the league. The scary part is that he might even have better statistical seasons in the immediate future. Some elite running backs are surrounded by inept passing games, so the defense stacks men in the box to contain the back. This is and will not be the case in Chicago. With a new and improved passing game, Forte will strike. Opposing defenses cannot overcommit on any single individual, as he is also one of the best receiving backs in the game. He caught a whopping 74 receptions for 594 yards last year, so Cutler has a reliable presence in the backfield. Forte adds another tangible dimension to this already potent offense.

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The aforementioned defense has seen better days. The Bears ranked dead last in rush defense by allowing 161.4 rushing yards per game. To make matters worse, DE Julius Peppers departed the team this offseason for the division rival Packers. Peppers was good in his four years in Chicago, but did not live up to the hype. His exorbitant six-year $91.5 million contract made it quite difficult for him to live up to any expectations. The Bears believe they have found a suitable replacement in DE Jared Allen though. He signed with Chicago after six stellar seasons in Minnesota. He will help more with rushing the quarterback but has the ability to stop the run as well.

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The team completely revamped the interior of the line to help with the run. The signing of DT Lamarr Houston will make an instant impact on the line. His play on Oakland’s line showed with the Raiders ranked 13th in run defense a season ago. Chicago also used their second round draft pick on a big Ego Ferguson, who weighs in at 315 pounds.  He has decent upside but more importantly, will be able to start early in the season. The combination of these two new signings automatically improves the previously lackluster interior.

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Da Bears have had a tough time contending in the past few years, but bad luck has played an immense role in that. The combination of injuries and sheer unluckiness in the NFC North standings has cost them trips to the playoffs. In the upcoming season though, Chicago will be strong from the get-go showing tremendous chemistry on offense. The majority of Chicago’s victories will be contingent upon the play of Jay Cutler, but once the passing game works in unison with Matt Forte and the ground game, this offense will become elite. The defense has inevitably improved from some key additions to the line, so it will be hard to see them let up as many yards and points as last year’s unit. Ultimately, Chicago’s position in the division will be determined by one or two games and the team has a habit of not showing up when it matters most. Therefore, winning the division may prove to be futile, but a Wild Card berth is absolutely in the realm of possibility.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com

Cleveland Browns 2014-2015 Season Preview

Offseason Storylines

The only team that may have received more attention than the Browns this offseason is a fellow team from Cleveland, the Cavaliers. As anyone who is connected to the internet or watches TV would know, the Browns selected Johnny Manziel, “Johnny Football”, in the first round of the 2014 draft. Manziel is similar to former SEC and Heisman winner Tim Tebow because he is bigger than the team. However, Manziel is different than Tebow because he has a higher ceiling and better skills inside the pocket. During the preseason, Manziel proved that he is not ready to play starting quarterback at the NFL level. At this point in time, Johnny does not have the instincts, discipline, or technique to lead the Browns to more than 6 wins. Manziel’s and  Brian Hoyer, current starting quarterback’s, jobs was made even harder this week when Josh Gordon was suspended for the season. Last season, Gordon posted the best numbers for a wide receiver even though he had horrible quarterbacks and played 14 games. In order to replace Gordon’s production, the Browns signed a few veteran wide outs, Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, and Nate Burleson.  Although the three receivers have experienced success in the past, they are over the hill. Along with the additions of wide receivers, the Browns signed running back, Ben Tate, from the Houston Texans. Tate is set to replace former first round pick, Trent Richardson, who was traded for a first round pick to the Colts. Tate has a lot of talent and should help the lackluster Browns’ offense, if he is able to stay on the field. The signing of Tate and the selection of Terrence West in the third round will help ease the progress of Manziel or Hoyer.

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On defense, the Browns are hoping to improve a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league, 23rd. The Browns continued to build their solid secondary when they signed safety Donte Whitner and drafted cornerback Justin Gilbert. Donte Whitner is coming from the 49ers and should bring a veteran and physical presence that the Browns have been lacking. Whitner can help teach the young Browns’ defense how to win. While Donte is a proven veteran, they took a risk when they used the eighth overall pick on Justin Gilbert. Although Gilbert has a lot of talent and ball skills, he is not a great tackler and he is incredibly raw. Gilbert’s progress into the league will be facilitated by Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden. Haden is one of the best corners in the league, which will allow Gilbert to cover the opposing team’s number two option.

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Offensive X-Factor

The Browns are like most teams as their offensive productivity will be determined by the play of their quarterback or quarterbacks. The only chance for the Browns to win 8 games this season will be if Brian Hoyer plays well and plays most of the games. Last season, Hoyer was held to only two and a half games, but played valiantly during those games. In the three games he played, he threw for 615 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. However, most importantly the Browns won the three games, including a game against the division champion Cincinnati Bengals. Although Hoyer is not suppose to be the quarterback of the future, he has the talent to succeed and lead the Browns to 6 wins, if they do not switch to Manziel. Even though Hoyer does not have the same talent without Gordon, he has one of the best offensive lines in the league and the running game should free the wide receivers with a play action pass. Hoyer will likely never become an above average quarterback for the Browns. If he can limit his turnovers and be a game manager, the Browns have a chance to win games as they have a decent defense and solid running game.

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Defensive X-Factor

The Browns need to have a big season from Paul Kruger, if the entire defense is going to succeed. Last offseason, the Browns lured Kruger away from the World Champion Ravens because of the pass rushing ability he demonstrated during their Super Bowl run. However, Kruger was a major bust during his first season in Cleveland as he recorded 4.5 sacks and did not apply enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Outside of Kruger, the Browns do not have any pass rushers that have the potential to post double digit sacks. During his last year in Baltimore, Kurger was able to total 9 sacks during the regular season and an additional 4.5 during the postseason. If Kruger can return to becoming a dominant pass rusher, the Browns’ defense will significantly fly up the rankings. More pressure on quarterbacks will force more errant passes and more turnovers for their ball hawking corners. Along with applying pressure from the outside, Kruger can enhance the Browns’ rush defense, which was only an average unit last season.

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Projections

The Browns have finished last over the past few seasons in the AFC North because they are not a stable organization. This season, the Browns are set to finish last in the division, especially if they decide to start Manziel more than 8 games. The Browns’ offense is destined to be one of the worst in the leagues, unless every thing falls right for the team. The Browns do not have any weapons on the outside, which will forced Cleveland to face 8 men in the box. Ben Tate should have a solid year in Cleveland, which will minimally ease the quarterbacks’ pressure. On defense, the Browns will be built around their secondary. The Browns’ corners and safeties should be one of the units that records the most interceptions in the league. If Sheard and Kruger can meet their expectations, the Browns’ defense could become a top ten defense and help their mediocre offense.

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Record: 4-12

4th in AFC North

Fantasy Pick

The player with the most potential on the Browns will be Ben Tate. Tate has a perfect situation in Cleveland because he is the only running back, catches the ball out of the backfield, and will take a majority of the red zone touches. Although Tate will not be a top 15 running back because of his injury concerns, he should be a consistent option when he is in the lineup. Tate is a great number 2 or flex player, but fantasy owners should have a decent fantasy running back when Tate is off the field.

 

Pics and Stats from ESPN.com