How Good Can Buffalo Be In 2014?

By: Brad Carrion of FanDuel

Out of all the 2-0 teams in the NFL right now, the biggest surprise without question has been the Buffalo Bills. They have taken on two very tough teams in the Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins, and they have been able to score at will. The defense has been strong as well, making this a very good team so far in 2014. The question is, can this franchise actually be a playoff contender despite their flaws?

In the 1st week of the regular season, Buffalo faced a daunting task by going to Soldier Field and taking on the Chicago Bears. All they were able to do was put up some pretty nice points at the most opportune times, and that led to an overtime victory. They showed their composure, which is pretty impressive considering that they have a pretty young offense right now that they are relying on.

Chicago is not exactly a team that has a very tough defense, so some people wondered just how good they would be in week 2 when they would face the Miami Dolphins. Remember, Miami was coming off a very impressive win of their own in week 1 against the New England Patriots. Even though they were traveling to Buffalo, quite a few people thought that Miami was the better team on paper. It ended up being a blowout, as Buffalo scored 29 more points and held the Dolphins to just 10.

The naysayers will say that Miami was at a disadvantage once Knowshon Moreno went down with a pretty significant elbow injury that will keep them out for a few weeks. While missing their best fantasy football player definitely handicapped them a little bit, Buffalo was able to dominate on both sides of the ball for most the game. This was not a close contest, and all of a sudden Buffalo looks like the real deal.

Sammy Watkins was probably the most impressive player on offense for Buffalo, as he had his 1st and looked overwhelmed at times. In week 2, he was able to finish with 117 yards and a touchdown at wide receiver. Buffalo traded up to get him this draft, so they feel like he is going to be a focal point of the offense for the next several years. As long as he develops a very strong relationship with EJ Manuel, the 2 players can certainly benefit each other.

Special teams were also very strong for Buffalo in the week to contest against Miami. Every single part of special teams is playing well, and it looks like Buffalo made the right moves during the summer to improve compared to a year ago. CJ Spiller had the highlight of the day by taking off for a 102 yard kickoff return in the 2nd effectively ended the chances for Miami as they had a little bit of momentum going.

New England is still going to be considered the favorite in the AFC East and so they are dethroned. However, Buffalo has shown that they can go up against some of the best teams in the NFL and have success. After a 2-0 start, it probably is not time to go out and regular performance at the NFL level. In week 1, he was a bit banged up half. His play try to purchase playoff tickets just yet. However, this team is starting to come together able but sooner than some people thought. With a strong defense and in improving offense, this team could be very dangerous all season long as a playoff contender.

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