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.

 

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Minnesota Vikings 2014-2015 Season Preview

By: Prad

NFC North Rank: 4th

Projected Record: 6-10

 

The Minnesota Vikings are the clear cellar of the NFC North. They finished 5-10-1 in a division that was stifled by some injuries to significant players last year. This ineffectiveness cannot be attributed to one sole aspect of the team though. There are a multitude of factors contributing to their dismal performance. The quarterback controversy in Minnesota consumed too much time over the course of the regular season. Meanwhile, RB Adrian Peterson was not even close to duplicating his feats from the incredible 2012 campaign. The defense did not play particularly well in either the pass or run defense despite what we are accustomed to watching. As a result of these failures, HC Leslie Frazier was fired immediately at season’s end. But more importantly, does this year hold any more optimism?

 

Minnesota boasted three quarterbacks on their roster who each held starting jobs at some point in their respective careers. QBs Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, and Josh Freeman are not exactly adept enough to hold starting roles around the league. Neither one was able to effectively lead the offense, as they threw a combined 18 touchdowns all of last season. With Ponder and Cassel returning for the upcoming season, Vikings fans can only hope for a better outcome. The coaching staff believes they have sorted out the issue for this season by naming Cassel the starter prior to Week 1. Minnesota additionally drafted QB Teddy Bridgewater in the first round. The Louisville product will backup Cassel for the time being. However, if he can prove himself, perhaps the Vikings will give him an opportunity. Cassel did not answer the call last season despite constant pressure from the backups, so Bridgewater starting is certainly in the realm of possibility.

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The Vikings have a decent wide receiver corps surrounding Cassel and Bridgewater. WR Greg Jennings brings veteran leadership to the table as the number one option in the passing game. He caught 68 receptions for 804 yards and four touchdowns. The last statistic was the most important, since it indicated the passing game failed to work in the Redzone. This may have been obvious by the underwhelming passing touchdowns from the quarterbacks, but Jennings has caught 54 touchdowns in the last seven seasons. He should be an endzone option each year, so he’ll look to bounce back as the quarterback play improves in the coming season.

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WR Cordarrelle Patterson is the consensus breakout candidate on this roster. He will undoubtedly add another dimension to this offense. His “deep threat” label is due to his tremendous speed and agility and he showed it off during his first year in the league. In his rookie season, Patterson not only served as a good receiver but as an incredible kick returner. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and averaged 32.4 yards on 43 returns. His receiving is second on the team to Jennings. Patterson caught 45 passes for 469 yards and tied for a team-high four receiving touchdowns. His status as a deep threat is only cemented by the fact that he led the team in touchdowns but was always an afterthought in his capacity as a receiver. Cordarrelle has the potential to reach the 75-reception threshold, eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, and even attain eight or nine touchdowns next season. His transition to the number one option in the passing game will be critical to the elevation of Minnesota and its offense.

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The running game in Minnesota has never seen better days. The Adrian Peterson era has seen players come and go, but the only constant has been of course, Peterson. He has been the fail-safe for the offense for the last seven years and intends on being just that in Year Eight. With a questionable passing game, OC Norv Turner will look to AP for another big statistical season. Yet, as we saw last season, opposing defenses are stacking the line with more men to contain Peterson. His numbers saw an inevitable dip from the prior season as he ran for 1,266 yards compared to 2,097 yards in 2012. His success will largely be determined by how well the quarterback performs. Last season, Peterson saw his numbers dwindle as atrocious quarterback play impacted the offense. There is a clear correlation between the defense committing more men to shrouding Peterson in the box and his lower rushing total. AP will be able to surpass last year’s rushing total, as it will be difficult for his quarterbacks to do worse than last year.

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The defensive unit’s ineffectiveness last season was shrouded by the offense’s dreadful play. DE Jared Allen has been a menace on the Vikings’ defensive line for the last six seasons. In that span, he’s tallied 85.5 sacks and made the Pro-Bowl four times. Allen is consistently listed as one of the league’s top pass rushers each year. Despite his success in a Vikings uniform, he left for the division rival Bears this offseason, leaving a void in the heart of the defense. DE Everson Griffen will look to fill the hole as a young pass rusher. Meanwhile, the middle of the line consists of DTs Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd. Those two big men will be the biggest factors in stuffing opposing running backs.

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The group of linebackers acts as the backbone for the defensive unit. Veteran LB Chad Greenway led the team last season in interceptions and tackles with three and 134 respectively. LBs Anthony Barr and Jasper Brinkley round out the group. Barr was Minnesota’s first round selection in the draft this year. The former Bruin is set to use his natural athleticism to help out in pass defense, where the Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL. He will end up being more likely to get to the quarterback than defending the run. Barr will unsurprisingly improve the starting core of the linebacker roster.

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The Vikings have improved this offseason through the draft. That’s not an understatement. Teddy Bridgewater may be on the bench at the beginning of the season, but he will see playing time as the season progresses. The coaching staff will have a hard time keeping him as a backup as Cassel once again proves his doubters right. Additionally, Anthony Barr will make an immediate impact on the defense as he fills into a starting outside linebacker role. Those additions were absolutely vital for the future of the franchise. Adrian Peterson will continue to do what he’s always done, but the rest of the team will not necessarily follow. It will take some time for the quarterbacks to click in the offense, so Vikings’ fans should not expect much out of the first few games. Even if the rest of the team works well under the new leadership of head coach Mike Zimmer, it will be difficult to win at the start of the season. A difficult division coupled with issues stemming from last season will force the Vikings into succumb.

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Cincinnati Bengals 2014-2015 Season Preview

Offseason Storyline

On offense, the Bengals have very few flaws and should be one of the most potent offenses this season. In terms of the offensive line, quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end the Bengals have young and athletic talent at each position. The Bengals’ lone addition to the offense this offseason was Jeremy Hill. Jeremy Hill was a solid running back for LSU and was a second round pick for the Bengals. Hill is similar to second year running back Giovanni Bernard because he is a physical runner, but also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Hill will likely see little time this season, but he will provide fresh legs when Bernard needs a breath.

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Similar to the Bengals’ offense, the Bengals’ defense is absolutely stacked at all levels. Last season, the Bengals were like the old Ravens and Steelers as they ranked top five against the pass and the run. Two of the Bengals’ biggest offseason additions are Daniel Manning and Darqueze Dennard. The only position that the Bengals are lacking talent is at safety. Although Manning does not have the same talent as during his prime, Manning has a lot of experience and should be a solid player in the secondary. While Manning is ending his career and lacks great physical abilities, Dennard is the Bengals’ first round pick and may have been the best corner in the draft. During his time in Michigan State, Dennard was the prototypical shut down corner. Although he might immediately start in front of Leon Hall and Terrence Newman, he will receive enough time on the field because of the playing style of today’s offenses.

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Offensive X-Factor

The most important player on the Bengals is the highest paid player on Cincinnati, Andy Dalton. Over the first three seasons of his career, Dalton surprisingly has stats comparable to Peyton Manning through his first three seasons. However, no one is comparing Dalton to Manning because he has does not have similar skills or expectations. Last season, Dalton was one of the better quarterbacks during the regular season as he threw for over 30 touchdowns and led the Bengals to one of the best records in the league. Dalton has some of the best weapons in the NFL, including AJ Green and Giovanni Bernard. Although no one is doubting Dalton’s ability to win games and record great stats during the regular season, many experts are questioning if he has the mental and physical talents to lead the Bengals to a playoff win. Over the past three seasons, he has made the playoffs, but is 0-3 during those games. This past season, the Bengals were huge favorites over the San Diego Chargers, but lost the game, threw 2 interceptions, and posted a QBR of 14. After signing a deal for over $100M, the Bengals are expecting at least one playoff win this season.

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Defensive X-Factor

An important aspect of the Bengals’ 2014-2015 defense will be the return of All-Pro defense tackle Geno Atkins. Last season, Atkins was limited to only 9 games due to an ACL tear against the Miami Dolphins. Atkins was the best player on the Bengals’ defense because he has the ability to clog holes and apply pressure on the quarterback. Atkins is one of the best in the league because it is rare for a player to record a lot of sacks from the inside positions. Last year, Geno was on pace for double digit sack totals for the second straight season. After Geno was done for the season, the Bengals’ defense took a step backwards against the best quarterbacks in the game. It was evident during the game against the Chargers in the playoffs that they missed Atkins ability to stuff the run and sack Philip Rivers. The Bengals were only able to accumulate one sack against San Diego’s quarterback. This season, Cincinnati is counting on Atkins to return to his prior former because they are set to play quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Big Ben, and Peyton Manning.

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Projections

The Bengals have made the playoffs the last three seasons and it will be a major disappointment if they do not make the playoffs or even win the AFC North. Many experts would agree that the Bengals have the most talent of any roster in the NFL, including the Super Bowl Champions Seattle Seahawks. During the regular season, very few doubt that Andy Dalton has the capability to win 11+ games for the Bengals in one of the toughest divisions in football. Many people believe in Dalton because his job is made easier by AJ Green, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, Marvin Jones, Giovanni Bernard, and a solid offensive line. Last year, the Bengals scored 27 points per game and ranked 6th in the league. However, this season, I expect the Bengals to take another step forward as their key players enter their prime. The Bengals ranked 18th in rushing yards per game, but the number should improve as they give more carries to Bernard and Hill versus the “Law Firm”, BenJarvis Green Ellis. While the Bengals’ offense is pretty underrated, the defense receives a lot of respect and deserves the praise. Last year, the Bengals’ defense was the only unit in the league to rank top five against the pass, run, and points per game. Like the Bengals’ offense, the defense should only improve as many of their key players are young. Also, the addition of Dennard in the secondary and the return of Geno Atkins to the front four will help the defense become dominant like the Seahawks and 49ers.

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Record: 12-4

Fantasy Pick:

Giovanni Bernard has the potential to be a top 10 or even a top 5 running back this season. Bernard has the potential to be very good because he is the main work horse, runs the ball in the red zone, and catches the ball out of the back field. Last season, Bernard was very good and finished 18th among running backs although he never recorded more than 15 rushing attempts per game. This year, the “Law Firm” will not steal carries and they will be more likely to run the ball more often.

 

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