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Latest Win-Loss Predictions for Every NFL Team, Preseason Week 1 Edition

Ryan RiddleCorrespondent IAugust 6, 2014

Latest Win-Loss Predictions for Every NFL Team, Preseason Week 1 Edition

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Very rarely does an NFL season play out like we think it will, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to predict the outcome of each team’s season.

    Now that the offseason is behind us and the pads are officially on, it’s time to revisit every organization’s win/loss predictions heading into the 2014 season.

    Obviously, not every team can have a winning record, which means many of you out there will be upset to read that your favorite team is predicted for failure. This would fly directly in the face of your unfounded optimism and loyalty for said team—in which case, allow me to apologize in advance. 

Buffalo Bills

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: LB Brandon Spikes

    Key Departures: WR Stevie Johnson, S Jairus Byrd, DL Alex Carrington 

    Key Rookies: WR Sammy Watkins, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, OT Seantrel Henderson, OG Cyril Richardson, CB Ross Cockrell, LB Preston Brown

    Key Injuries: LB Kiko Alonso (ACL - out for season)

    Key Suspensions: LB Nigel Bradham (eligible to return Week 2)

    2013 Record: 6-10

    2014 Projected Record: 8-8

     

    Each of the past 11 seasons, at least one team has made the transition from last place in its division the previous season to first place in the division the next season. The Bills are in a great position to come in and be the Cinderella team of 2014. 

    Buffalo currently holds the distinction of having the league’s longest active postseason drought. The last time it saw a playoff game was in 1999. 

    Losing linebacker and rising star Kiko Alonso hurts the Bills' potential but bringing in Brandon Spikes as a run-stuffer will be a nice addition. In any case, the defense should be able to pull its weight.

    Fans are certainly excited to see what first-round pick Sammy Watkins can do. The expectations cannot be higher.

    If EJ Manuel can make the necessary strides at quarterback, this team is loaded with offensive weapons primed to put up big numbers. However, that will all depend on the guy under center. If EJ struggles, this team will be no better than the six wins it amassed in 2013.

Miami Dolphins

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: OT Branden Albert, RB Knowshon Moreno, CB Cortland Finnegan, DT Earl Mitchell

    Key Departures: DT Paul Soliai, S Chris Clemons, CB Nolan Carroll

    Key Rookies: OT Ja'Wuan James, WR Jarvis Landry, OT Billy Turner 

    Key Injuries: C Mike Pouncey (Out five to eight weeks)

    2013 Record: 8-8

    2014 Projected Record: 6-10

     

    Last year the Dolphins had one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Those troubles proved to go beyond the field and ended up becoming a bullying scandal that captured the nation’s attention. This year, that unit is completely revamped and will likely do a better job. But young offensive lines are bound to have some growing pains early on in the season. Mike Pouncey’s hip injury won’t help the cause either.

    Ryan Tannehill shows promise and continues to get better, but playmakers and difference-makers are in short supply throughout this roster, relative to the rest of the league. Behind Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Charles Clay, the Dolphins' pass-catching corps is thin and unproven. Of the names mentioned, they combined for only 15 receiving touchdowns in 2013.

    Can backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas provide enough production on the ground? Will Dion Jordan show that he can play at a high level with his hand in the dirt?

    This roster is loaded with too many questions, but as always, the potential for more is certainly there.

New England Patriots

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: CB Brandon Browner, S Patrick Chung, CB Darrelle Revis, WR Brandon LaFell, DE Will Smith

    Key Departures: RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Aqib Talib

    Key Rookies: DL Dominique Easley, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, OC Bryan Stork, RB James White

    2013 Record: 12-4

    2014 Projected Record: 13-3

     

    Bill Belichick has had enough of coming close to a Super Bowl and is looking to end his relative drought since the Patriots' victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. The Pats have returned to the big dance a couple of times since but came up short despite being one of the best teams of the last decade. The major acquisition of cornerback Darrelle Revis is meant to change all of that.

    The Patriots struggled with inexperience in a complex passing system that forced Brady to dig deep. They also suffered from a string of injuries on defense that hindered them from stopping the run. By the season’s end, their defense ranked 26th overall—a fact that’s hard to digest from a Belichick-led team.

    Those issues have been addressed with Rob Gronkowski returning from an injury-riddled 2013. Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Jerod Mayo are also back from injuries that caused them to miss time last year.

    Expect the Patriots to compete with Denver for AFC supremacy in a wire-to-wire, season-long battle that should be one of the highlights of 2014. A record of 13-3 shows this team will be one of the toughest teams to beat in the league this year.

New York Jets

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: WR Eric Decker, RB Chris Johnson, QB Michael Vick

    Key Departures: CB Antonio Cromartie, OT Austin Howard, QB Mark Sanchez, OG Vladimir Ducasse

    Key Rookies: S Calvin Pryor, TE Jace Amaro, WR/KR Jalen Saunders 

    2013 Record: 8-8

    2014 Projected Record: 6-10

     

    Rex Ryan returns for another year as he attempts to bring the Jets back to the postseason relevancy that he helped initiate not long ago. He is lucky enough to have been retained during the roster overhaul thanks to the team's surprising success in 2013 with very little offensive talent.

    This year the offensive side of the ball is clearly upgraded with the additions of wide receiver Eric Decker, tight end Jace Amaro and running back Chris Johnson. These new faces, combined with a more experienced Geno Smith, should infuse life into an anemic offense, but it likely won’t be enough to combat one of the toughest schedules in the NFL or a questionable secondary.

    Coach Ryan relies heavily on elite cornerback play in order for his aggressive defense to function. This is one of the more questionable secondaries he has had in New York. Guys like Dimitri Patterson, Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson will all have to play to levels we have yet to see in their careers. This could be asking too much.

    The Jets did get better this offseason despite their projected record.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: DT Henry Melton, QB Brandon Weeden, ILB Rolando McClain, DE Jeremy Mincey

    Key Departures: OC Phil Costa, DT Jason Hatcher, DE DeMarcus Ware, WR Miles Austin 

    Key Rookies: OT/OG Zack Martin, DE Demarcus Lawrence DE, WR Devin Street, S Ahmad Dixon 

    Key Injuries: LB Sean Lee (out for season with knee injury), DE Demarcus Lawrence (out eight to 10 weeks with foot injury)

    2013 Record: 8-8

    2014 Projected Record: 5-11

     

    What do you do when your defense finishes dead last in the league? Well, if you’re the Dallas Cowboys, you fix it by drafting an offensive lineman in the first round. No wait, that doesn’t help. You fix it by releasing the most prolific playmaker you have on defense.

    Yeah, that is what we like to call addition by subtraction—right?

    It’s OK because they did draft a defensive player early on with the same first name: Demarcus Lawrence out of Boise State. He was set to make an early impact before suffering a foot injury that’s expected to sideline him for half the season.

    Things just keep getting better for America’s Team.

    At least there’s Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. It’s always nice to have something good to fall back on. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem as long as those guys can stay healthy, but the defense is just too iffy to expect much from Big D this year.

    Dallas failed to manage its salary cap and keep up with the competition these past few offseasons, and it's starting to catch up to the team. This will be Jason Garrett's last year as head coach. 

New York Giants

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: DE Robert Ayers, QB Josh Freeman, WR/KR Trindon Holliday, RB Rashad Jennings, WR Mario Manningham, LB Jameel McClain, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, OG Geoff Schwartz, CB Walter Thurmond

    Key Departures: OG Kevin Boothe, RB Andre Brown, DT Linval Joseph, S Ryan Mundy, TE Brandon Myers, WR Hakeem Nicks, DE Justin Tuck, OG Chris Snee, OL David Diehl

    Key Injuries: RB David Wilson (neck - out for season/career)

    Key Rookies: WR Odell Beckham, OC Weston Richburg, RB Andre Williams

    2013 Record: 7-9

    2014 Projected Record: 5-11

     

    Losing Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck and Andre Brown won’t help this team fight back from a 7-9 season. Eli Manning is trying to learn a completely new system for the first time since his rookie year. Does this favor the Giants, who are looking to return to their postseason form?

    I can’t say that this team has gotten any better on offense from a year ago. Rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham and running back Andre Williams should contribute, but they will also be making the usual rookie mistakes as they make the difficult transition to the NFL.

    Tight end is a glaring weakness when you look at the depth chart. Adrien Robinson, Kellen Davis, Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells will all be competing for playing time this preseason. If you don’t know who these people are, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

    Admittedly, the Giants added some nice talent to their secondary with Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond. This is one area of the team that did actually get better.

    The linebackers are comprised of a makeshift group that will likely fall short of anything spectacular.

    Overall, Tom Coughlin will not be able to motivate this group of guys into the postseason or to a winning record.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: CB Nolan Carroll, S Malcolm Jenkins, QB Mark Sanchez

    Key Departures: QB Mike Vick, WR DeSean Jackson, S Patrick Chung, WR Jason Avant 

    Key Rookies: LB Marcus Smith, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Josh Huff, CB Jaylen Watkins

    2013 Record: 10-6

    2014 Projected Record: 9-7

     

    With DeSean Jackson now in Washington and Jeremy Maclin attempting to come back after sitting out the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL, the Eagles have some questions in the receiving corps.   

    Head coach Chip Kelly is certainly the right man for the job as he enters his second year with the team. This should allow for his staff to take the next step with the roster, going deeper into the system and learning new ways to maximize a return on talent.

    The defense should be improved with a year of experience under the 3-4 system, but some playmakers must emerge on this side of the ball. Cornerback Brandon Boykin is one name on the rise. Rookie linebacker Marcus Smith is a talented rusher who should contribute early. 

    LeSean McCoy is clearly one of the best players in the NFL. But will Nick Foles be able to build on what he started last year, or has his luck run out?

Washington Redskins

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: S Ryan Clark, DT Jason Hatcher, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Andre Roberts, CB Tracy Porter

    Key Departures: WR Josh Morgan, CB Josh Wilson 

    Key Rookies: DE/LB Trent Murphy, OT Morgan Moses, CB Bashaud Breeland, RB Lache Seastrunk 

    2013 Record: 3-13

    2014 Projected Record: 7-9

     

    Despite their 3-13 record in 2013, the Redskins finished ninth in total yards.

    Robert Griffin III looks to be physically improved from last season.

    New head coach Jay Gruden is still learning about his players and will need to be a quick study in becoming a head coach.

    This team has playoff potential and can take the unstable NFC East division. On the other hand, there is a good chance Washington fails to cement a winning record for the second year in a row.

    The addition of wide receiver DeSean Jackson gives this offense a home run hitter that it lacked before, and Alfred Morris has been consistently brilliant in his first two years as a pro.

    Keep an eye on rookie running back Lache Seastrunk. His speed could get him some playing time early.

    Year 1 for Gruden will be an improvement from the three wins in 2013, but taking a bigger leap will have to wait a little longer.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: TE Owen Daniels, WR Steve Smith

    Key Departures: TE Ed Dickson, CB Corey Graham, S James Ihedigbo, DE Arthur Jones, LB Jameel McClain, OT Michael Oher 

    Key Rookies: LB C.J. Mosley, DT Timmy Jernigan, S Terrence Brooks, TE Crockett Gillmore 

    Key Suspension: RB Ray Rice (two games)

    2013 Record: 8-8

    2014 Projected Record: 9-7

     

    Last year the Ravens failed to defend their championship belt by missing the playoff for the first time since 2007.

    This defense is talented and deep and will only be stronger with the addition of first-round pick C.J. Mosley.

    Joe Flacco failed to live up to his lucrative contract extension with a passer rating of just 73.1 while completing less than 60 percent of his throws. The return of tight end Dennis Pitta from injury and the addition of receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniel should help make the passing game more efficient.

    Big concerns remain up front, where the Ravens have been less than stellar. The offensive line didn’t add any big names this offseason, yet it will need to do a lot better if the Ravens are to see the postseason. 

    Expect a strong defense and a slightly more productive offense to get this team to nine wins.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: S Danieal Manning, QB Jason Campbell, OT Marshall Newhouse 

    Key Departures: OT Anthony Collins, WR Andrew Hawkins, DE Michael Johnson

    Key Rookies: CB Darqueze Dennard, RB Jeremy Hill, QB AJ McCarron 

    2013 Record: 11-5

    2014 Projected Record: 10-6

     

    With his newly signed contract extension, QB Andy Dalton can now focus his attention on football. This Bengals squad returns another talented group of playmakers. Of course, the club is still seeking its first postseason win since 1990.

    Talent across the roster is abundant, but success will depend on how newly appointed offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Andy Dalton can lead the way. If these two underwhelm at their positions, this team will suffer the consequences.

    Last year the Bengals reigned supreme in the bruising AFC North. Repeating this feat with the rise of the Ravens and Steelers will be a difficult challenge. The journey there a second time will prove to be just a tad more difficult.

Cleveland Browns

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: WR Nate Burleson, WR Miles Austin, LB Karlos Dansby, WR Andrew Hawkins, RB Ben Tate, S Donte Whitner

    Key Departures: QB Jason Campbell, LB D'Qwell Jackson, S T.J. Ward, QB Brandon Weeden 

    Key Rookies: CB Justin Gilbert, QB Johnny Manziel, OT/OG Joel Bitonio, RB Terrance West, CB Pierre Desir

    2013 Record: 4-12

    2014 Projected Record: 5-11

     

    This is a club that has lost 11 or more games for six straight years. Cleveland hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002. Furthermore, no AFC North team besides the Browns has finished with a losing record in any of the last three seasons.

    Surpassing the Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens is no easy task. Potentially losing Josh Gordon to suspension, who is potentially the best receiver in football, will only make things more challenging.

    The Browns should have a solid defense and expect to be much more competitive than in years past. However, this is unlikely the year this team gets over the hump. With Gordon in the lineup, the Browns have the potential to push for a .500 record, but without their star player, the magic in Cleveland will just have to wait.

    With that said, this group should be fun to watch all season and Johnny Manziel could bring the city some hope. There is a chance he has enough magic for an entire organization, but I’m not willing to bank on it just yet.  

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR Lance Moore

    Key Departures: S Ryan Clark, WR Jerricho Cotchery, RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Emmanuel Sanders, LB LaMarr Woodley, DE Ziggy Hood

    Key Rookies: LB Ryan Shazier, DL Stephon Tuitt, RB/WR/KR Dri Archer, WR Martavis Bryant, LB Jordan Zumwalt, DT Daniel McCullers, TE Rob Blanchflower 

    2013 Record: 8-8

    2014 Projected Record: 10-6

     

    Pittsburgh added some nice, young talent on defense this offseason.

    Ryan Shazier is one of the most physically gifted prospects in this draft and will instantly make the unit faster. Stephon Tuitt was the best defensive end for a 3-4 defense available in this draft, and he provided great value when the team selected him in the second round.

    Any team with Ben Roethlisberger under center is one that can win on any given week. It now looks as though he’ll have some big-bodied weapons to throw to. Rookie Martavis Bryant has been impressing everyone in camp this summer, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and even looks like he can be competing for a big role in 2014.

    Free-agent pickup LeGarrette Blount should pair nicely with Le'Veon Bell in the backfield, as they have the ability to wear down a defense with physicality and athleticism.

    The secondary will be a big concern in Pittsburgh, though, and it may ultimately keep the team from advancing far in the postseason. Veteran safety Ryan Clark migrated to Washington, while Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor are getting up there in age. 

    Pittsburgh has always remained competitive, even while it sat out of the postseason the past two years. Look for the Steelers to return to their playoff form this year.

Chicago Bears

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: DE Jared Allen, OC Brian De La Puente, WR Domenik Hixon, DE Lamarr Houston, WR Josh Morgan, S Ryan Mundy, DE Willie Young

    Key Departures: WR/KR Devin Hester, QB Josh McCown, DT Henry Melton, DE Julius Peppers, DT Corey Wootton, S Major Wright  

    Key Rookies: CB Kyle Fuller, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Will Sutton, RB Ka'Deem Carey, S Brock Vereen, QB David Fales  

    2013 Record: 8-8

    2014 Projected Record: 8-8

     

    In 2013, the Bears defense ranked 31st out of 32 teams in total yards allowed. That is very uncharacteristic of this franchise, which is historically known for good defenses. So the team added defensive linemen Ego Ferguson, Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen and Will Sutton to shore up a leaky front line.

    But along with those new additions came some important losses, like defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive tackles Henry Melton and Corey Wootton.

    2013 proved to be a breakout year for wideout Alshon Jeffery as he and Brandon Marshall established the most dominant receiving tandem in the NFL. Jay Cutler received a lucrative contract extension and hopes to build on last year’s success.

    However, it doesn’t seem like the Bears improved enough defensively to make a huge leap there, and Cutler was outplayed by his backup quarterback a year ago.

    Head coach Marc Trestman has done a good job so far, but it doesn’t look like this roster was able to keep up with its division, which has gotten significantly more talented. Another 8-8 season is about right.

Detroit Lions

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: S James Ihedigbo, WR Golden Tate

    Key Departures: WR Nate Burleson, S Louis Delmas, QB Shaun Hill, DE Willie Young  

    Key Rookies: TE Eric Ebron, LB Kyle Van Noy, OC Travis Swanson, WR T.J. Jones

    2013 Record: 7-9

    2014 Projected Record: 9-7

     

    From the looks of it, we should all agree that Detroit’s offense is going to put up points in 2014. The big question mark coming from that roster will be on the back end of the defense. Big plays were something this team could use a bit more of. Last year this group only forced 11 fumbles, recovering seven of them.

    The addition of rookie Kyle Van Noy is going to make a huge difference in that regard. He is a natural playmaker with a knack for game-changing turnovers.

    The secondary is one of the thinnest in the league on paper and will need to prove that it can hold up in a division that faces Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers twice per year.

    There has been a lot of emphasis on Matthew Stafford's mechanics this offseason, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects his consistency throughout the season. Having Calvin Johnson, Eric Ebron, Golden Tate and Reggie Bush to throw to certainly makes his job easier.

    Unfortunately, the defense is likely going to keep this team out of the playoffs. A winning season, however, is a good start to a new regime under Jim Caldwell.

Green Bay Packers

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: DE Julius Peppers

    Key Departures: OC Evan Dietrich-Smith, WR James Jones, OT Marshall Newhouse

    Key Rookies: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, WR Davante Adams

    2013 Record: 8-7-1

    2014 Projected Record: 11-5

     

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed part of last season with a broken collarbone. He is now healthy and ready to establish himself once again as an elite quarterback. One luxury he isn’t used to having is a solid running attack led by rising star Eddie Lacy.

    Green Bay also added Julius Peppers, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Davante Adams to the roster to give the team some promising new weapons. The Packers are cautious about adding free agents but feel good about the addition of Peppers.

    Don’t be surprised to see this squad in competition for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by season’s end.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: LB Jasper Brinkley, S Kurt Coleman, CB Derek Cox, OG Vladimir Ducasse, DT Linval Joseph, CB Captain Munnerlyn, DE Corey Wootton 

    Key Departures: DE Jared Allen, QB Josh Freeman, RB Toby Gerhart, CB Chris Cook

    Key Rookies: DE/LB Anthony Barr, QB Teddy Bridgewater, DE Scott Crichton, OG David Yankey, CB Antone Exum

    2013 Record: 5-10-1

    2014 Projected Record: 7-9

     

    Generally speaking, there looks to be a lot of potential on a team that should be one of the NFL's youngest yet again, including the continued development of the seven first-rounders from the past three drafts.

    Being able to snag quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Anthony Barr in the first round should pay off in the near future. According to Jay Glazer via Twitter, Bridgewater continues to impress this offseason and seems like a serious contender to start the the regular-season opener against the Rams at St. Louis.

    If the quarterback plays decently, whomever that may be, while relying on the legs and heart of running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikes could surprise. Right now, there’s a lot of optimistic vibes in Mankato. Keep in mind, however, this team has finished last in the NFC North three of the last four years.

    The Vikings will look to the leadership of defensive mastermind Mike Zimmer to turn this talented group of defenders around. At the very least, we should expect significant improvement.

    It’s tough to peg down the potential of this team considering the changes and new faces. Despite another season with a losing record, expect this group to be competitive each and every week in 2014.

Houston Texans

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: RB Andre Brown, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

    Key Departures: TE Owen Daniels, LB Joe Mays, NT Earl Mitchell, DE Antonio Smith, RB Ben Tate 

    Key Rookies: DE Jadeveon Clowney, OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, NT Louis Nix III, QB Tom Savage 

    2013 Record: 2-14

    2014 Projected Record: 7-9

     

    We’ve seen teams like the 2012 Indianapolis Colts and 2013 Kansas City Chiefs finish with 11-5 records after suffering through two-win seasons the year before. Can the Texans bottle up the magic needed for such a dramatic turnaround?

    There’s a new head coach in Bill O’Brien, new quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick and new defensive coordinator in Romeo Crennel.

    There is also the same solid talent with stars such as wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Arian Foster, defensive end J.J. Watt and inside linebacker Brian Cushing. Expect a big year from former first-round pick Whitney Mercilus as well. He should get one-on-one attention all season long.

    This defense is stacked and appears fully capable of carrying the franchise should it fail to generate enough production behind journeyman QB Fitzpatrick.

    According to the guys at Football Outsiders, who use a complex simulator to project the 2014 season a million times, Houston was tabbed with the easiest projected schedule in the league. That should bode well considering this offense is going through a systematic transition.

    Matt Schaub might have been justifiably run off by both the fans and the front office, but the big question will be whether the Texans managed to upgrade their biggest weakness last season.

    Schaub's output over the course of his career is greater than Fitzpatrick's. Schaub has managed an 89.8 passer rating over his career, good for ninth among active QBs with at least 1,500 pass attempts, while Fitzpatrick has a 77.5 career rating.  

    Did the Texans really upgrade the position?

    In any case, Houston’s playoff hopes reside on defense, and first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney should make life easier on everyone with the attention he'll see.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: LB D'Qwell Jackson, DE Arthur Jones, WR Hakeem Nicks

    Key Departures: S Antoine Bethea, RB Donald Brown, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey

    Key Rookies: OT Jack Mewhort, WR Donte Moncrief, LB Jonathan Newsome

    2013 Record: 11-5 

    2014 Projected Record: 12-4

     

    The Colts were far from satisfied with an 11-5 record last year. Proof of this was their aggressive nature to improve this offseason by bringing in talented players such as linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, defensive end Arthur Jones and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.

    Apparently, Nicks has been struggling to impress as he tries to get back in football shape. You can read more about this in Dan Hope’s slideshow.  

    In any case, Nicks should provide Luck with a veteran option if he can find his way. And getting Reggie Wayne back after his ACL injury last October will be a huge boost to the offense.

    This young roster is slowly finding its way and doesn’t show any signs of taking a step back. If Trent Richardson can do what the Colts hoped he could do when they gave up a first-round pick for him, this team will be in position to compete for a Super Bowl by the end of the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: OG Zane Beadles, DL Red Bryant, DE Chris Clemons, RB Toby Gerhart, DE Ziggy Hood 

    Key Departures: RB Maurice Jones-Drew, QB Blaine Gabbert 

    Key Rookies: QB Blake Bortles, WR Marqise Lee, WR Allen Robinson, CB Aaron Colvin, LB Telvin Smith, RB Storm Johnson

    Key Injuries: WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring)

    Key Suspensions: WR Ace Sanders (four-game suspension), WR Justin Blackmon (out for season)

    2013 Record: 4-12

    2014 Projected Record: 6-10

     

    This organization is heading in the right direction under Gus Bradley as it continues to retool the roster from the ground up.

    Last year the Jaguars were the worst-ranked team in the league in third-down percentage on offense. Led by QB Chad Henne, this unit also averaged the fewest points per game with 15.4.

    Drafting Blake Bortles was a good move for this organization. It’s yet to be determined whether he is ready to start right away as a rookie, but the initial plan is to have patience and let the experienced Henne start things off. As noted by Bradley, per Dan Hanzus of NFL.com, Bortles could benefit from spending a year learning the ropes:

    We really felt comfortable with (Henne) coming back with another year in the system. I think it gave us flexibility. When Blake was there available for us, we really wanted to capture that opportunity. And we do feel good about where Blake's at, but we feel like this time that he has under Chad, a year to develop, will be really good in the end result.

    The Jaguars also added two dynamic weapons on the outside in Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, who should both see significant playing time as rookies. Having such a young group of receivers is also why it might be best to have an experienced quarterback starting.

    So are they legitimate playoff contenders in 2014-15? The Jaguars' four wins last season did come in the second half of the campaign, though being without Justin Blackmon and Ace Sanders does not help their cause in 2014.

    Keep an eye on rookies Storm Johnson and Telvin Smith. Both of these players could emerge as future stars in this league.

Tennessee Titans

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    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: WR Dexter McCluster, OT Michael Oher, LB Shaun Phillips, NT Al Woods 

    Key Departures: WR Kenny Britt, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Chris Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner

    Key Rookies: OT Taylor Lewan, RB Bishop Sankey, DT DaQuan Jones, QB Zach Mettenberger 

    2013 Record: 7-9

    2014 Projected Record: 5-11

     

    Tennessee’s playoff hopes reside on defense. 

    Aside from Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy, Jurrell Casey was the best 3-technique in the NFL last season. The Titans also have some young, athletic linebackers who will need to increase their football IQ in order to excel in their new system. They will be making the transition to a traditional 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton.

    One of the biggest issues that new head coach Ken Whisenhunt will face is trying to make something of Jake Locker. He is an athletic QB who struggles mightily with accuracy beyond 10 yards. It’s possible the team finds ways to get him out of the pocket and utilize his athleticism, but over time his weaknesses should prove to be more of a detriment than an asset.

    Sometimes before you can advance, you have to take a few steps backward.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: CB Javier Arenas, OG Jon Asamoah, WR/KR Devin Hester, DE Tyson Jackson, DT Paul Soliai, CB Josh Wilson 

    Key Departures: S Thomas DeCoud, WR Brian Robiskie, TE Tony Gonzalez 

    Key Rookies: OT Jake Matthews, DL Ra'Shede Hageman, LB Prince Shembo

    Key Injuries: LB Sean Weatherspoon (Achilles, out for the season) 

    2013 Record: 4-12

    2014 Projected Record: 6-10

     

    After a decent string of success under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons fell to a 4-12 finish in 2013. 

    Looking forward, Atlanta tried to address its struggling offensive line in the draft as well as free agency. Jake Matthews should come in and start right away at tackle, while guard Jon Asamoah will upgrade the interior.

    The return of a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White could also generate some more wins, but the defensive side of the ball will prove to be the biggest hurdle.

    Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is out for the season with an Achilles injury, leaving behind a thin unit all trying to make a difficult transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive front. This plan may seem more advantageous long term, but in the immediate future it should cause problems. The Falcons lack the personnel to bring pressure from the outside and would need to feature linebackers, which is their weakness.

    Last year the running game ranked dead last, and now Steven Jackson is healthy but also a bit older. Hopefully, that revamped offensive line can open bigger holes than it did a year ago. Perhaps this can help make up for the gaping hole left at tight end with the retirement of Tony Gonzalez. 

    Atlanta should be more competitive in 2014, but this is not the year the Falcons return to the top of the division.

Carolina Panthers

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: WR Jason Avant, CB Antoine Cason, WR Jerricho Cotchery, S Thomas DeCoud, TE Ed Dickson, S Roman Harper 

    Key Departures: WR Steve Smith, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Domenik Hixon, WR Brandon LaFell, S Mike Mitchell, CB Captain Munnerlyn, OT Jordan Gross 

    Key Rookies: WR Kelvin Benjamin, DE Kony Ealy, OG Trai Turner, S Tre Boston

    Key Suspensions: DE Frank Alexander (eligible to return Week 5), DE Greg Hardy (pending)

    2013 Record: 12-4

    2014 Projected Record: 7-9

     

    After a dominant season against a tough schedule, the Carolina Panthers have a lot to be proud of. However, gone are wideouts Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn Jr. Not to say this is a group that was too talented to let go, but the least the Panthers could have done was replace them with comparable talent.

    The doubts are in as to whether a group comprised of Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and rookie first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin qualify, but at least they were cost-efficient.

    If the Panthers were serious about a Super Bowl in 2014, they would have been more serious about bringing in some actual weapons for their franchise quarterback. Benjamin has talent and size but doesn’t seem ready to carry the burdens that come with being a No. 1 receiver. That is something he didn’t even have to deal with in college.

    Unfortunately, we’ll have to go yet another year wondering what Cam Newton is capable of with a star-studded receiving corps.  

    Additionally, stalwart left tackle Jordan Gross traded in his helmet for a 9-iron, leaving more questions for the offense to answer.

    The defensive front seven should be a team strength yet again, but will it be enough to wrangle in another division title?

New Orleans Saints

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    Chris Tilley/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: CB Champ Bailey, S Jairus Byrd

    Key Departures: OT Charles Brown, OC Brian De La Puente, S Roman Harper, S Malcolm Jenkins, WR Lance Moore, RB Darren Sproles, DE Will Smith  

    Key Rookies: WR Brandin Cooks, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste

    2013 Record: 11-5

    2014 Projected Record: 10-6

     

    Quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton are one of the NFL’s best QB/coach combinations. Both guys are strategic thinkers and know how to find the best matchups on offense.

    New rookie wideout Brandin Cooks should provide Brees with potentially the fastest weapon he has ever thrown to. There is no doubt the Saints will figure out creative ways to take advantage of his unique abilities.

    On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Co. are making the most of what they have to work with. The free-agent acquisition of Jairus Byrd was huge for this group, and he should pair up nicely with Kenny Vaccaro, who returns from an injury suffered during his rookie season.

    The Saints also added leadership and a veteran presence at cornerback in Champ Bailey. He may not be the player he once was, but he can serve as a coach on the field and mentor some of the younger guys.

    The Saints should be favored to win the NFC South unless their overachieving defense suffers any setbacks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: OT Anthony Collins, OC Evan Dietrich-Smith, DE Michael Johnson, QB Josh McCown, DT Clinton McDonald, CB Alterraun Verner, S Major Wright

    Key Departures: OG Ted Larsen, CB Darrelle Revis

    Key Rookies: WR Mike Evans, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, RB Charles Sims

    2013 Record: 4-12

    2014 Projected Record: 8-8

     

    Tampa Bay started the offseason right by hiring head coach Lovie Smith to take over for Greg Schiano. Then the Bucs brought in veteran QB Josh McCown, who is coming off a career year.

    He maintained a 13-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio while completing 66.5 percent of his passes (8.2 yards per attempt) in backup duty to Jay Cutler in Chicago. He is set to start in place of second-year QB Mike Glennon.

    On the offensive line, the older and slower Donald Penn is gone, and former Bengal Anthony Collins was brought in as a quality upgrade to the blind side.

    Doug Martin returns to the lineup after missing 10 games last year to injury. He is a quality, young running back with a ton of upside.

    The Bucs have a lot of young talent on defense that could become dominant if they can all come together.

    The Buccaneers are actually a team that is capable of winning the division, but inexperience will likely hold them back as of now.

Denver Broncos

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    Chris Schneider/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DT Marvin Austin, CB Aqib Talib, S T.J. Ward, DE/LB DeMarcus Ware

    Key Departures: DE Robert Ayers, CB Champ Bailey, OG Zane Beadles, WR Eric Decker, WR/KR Trindon Holliday, RB Knowshon Moreno

    Key Rookies: CB Bradley Roby, WR Cody Latimer, OT Michael Schofield 

    2013 Record: 13-3

    2014 Projected Record: 12-4

     

    The Broncos are all-in for 2014. General manager John Elway understands how close they came to a championship, and he is looking to finish what they started a year ago, only this time they plan to do the butt-kicking in the big game.

    Bringing in DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib via free agency were outstanding moves that sent an undeniable message throughout the organization—this year is Super Bowl or bust. They may have mortgaged a bit of the future for the desire to win now, but when you have Peyton Manning on your team, that is exactly what you’re supposed to do.

    Their window won't be open much longer, but they have a huge opportunity this year. Given the upgrades on defense and the record-setting offense from a year ago, the Broncos should be favorites to win it all.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: OG Jeff Linkenbach, DT Vance Walker 

    Key Departures: OT Branden Albert, OG Jon Asamoah, DE Tyson Jackson, S Kendrick Lewis, WR Dexter McCluster, OG Geoff Schwartz 

    Key Rookies: DE/LB Dee Ford, CB Phillip Gaines, RB/WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas, QB Aaron Murray

    2013 Record: 11-5

    2014 Projected Record: 7-9

     

    Kansas City took advantage of weak opposition in the first half of 2013 and got hot. The Chiefs slowed down once they had to deal with the meat of their schedule and started to look mortal once a few injuries hit the defensive front.

    Jamaal Charles accounted for 40 percent of the total offense in 2013, and his health will be vital to their season.

    With an offensive line that has been plundered by other teams, a quarterback who is overly conservative and a lack of weapons outside, it's unlikely the Chiefs will return to the playoffs in 2014. In fact, high expectations could demoralize this team if it starts off poorly.  

    Despite the projected losing record, this team will demonstrate fight and still flash signs of a potent defense throughout the season. When the smoke clears, Alex Smith may be sent packing without a contract extension.

Oakland Raiders

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: CB Tarell Brown, OT Austin Howard, WR James Jones, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, CB Carlos Rogers, DE Antonio Smith, DE Justin Tuck, LB LaMarr Woodley

    Key Departures: DE Lamarr Houston, CB Mike Jenkins, RB Rashad Jennings, CB Tracy Porter, OT Jared Veldheer

    Key Rookies: LB Khalil Mack, QB Derek Carr, OG Gabe Jackson, CB Keith McGill

    2013 Record: 4-12

    2014 Projected Record: 5-11

     

    The Raiders spent the entire offseason signing veterans who could help them be competitive, but the ultimate success of this team will fall upon the arm of the quarterback, which appears to be Matt Schaub for now.

    He is coming off his worst season as a pro but is normally a guy who does all the little things well. There's a chance Schaub could rebound a bit in his new home under offensive coordinator Greg Olson's tutelage.

    Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has "star" written all over him. His contributions on defense could be the difference between winning eight games or four.

    Unfortunately for the Raiders, they have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL.

    With all the veteran free agents that general manager Reggie McKenzie rented to save his job, the Raiders may be more mature, but can all of these established guys form a cohesive unit? The team could struggle early and quit on head coach Dennis Allen.

    At best, the Raiders may be good enough for eight wins, but that would require a lot of things to fall into place.

San Diego Chargers

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    John Cordes/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: RB Donald Brown

    Key Departures: CB Derek Cox

    Key Rookies: CB Jason Verrett, LB Jeremiah Attaochu, OG Chris Watt, NT Ryan Carrethers, RB Marion Grice, WR Tevin Reese

    2013 Record: 9-7

    2014 Projected Record: 6-10

     

    The San Diego Chargers will be entering the 2014 season with the momentum of a late surge that propelled them into the postseason last year. Their success under new head coach Mike McCoy was a bit unexpected, as was the phenomenal play of Philip Rivers all season long.

    The emergence of young wideout Keenan Allen should pair nicely with Malcolm Floyd, who returns from an injury that kept him sidelined for the 2013 season.

    On the defensive side of the ball, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of outside pressure Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram can provide. Keep an eye on rookie corner Jason Verrett. This kid is the real deal and would have been a top pick if he measured in taller than 5’9”.

    If this team is to have success, it will need to generate more big plays on defense. Last year, San Diego had only 17 takeaways all season long.

    The Chargers overachieved a bit last year down the stretch and could certainly keep that going, but even talented teams have to suffer losing records this year—especially those matching up against the NFC West while playing the AFC West teams twice.  

Arizona Cardinals

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: TE John Carlson, CB Antonio Cromartie, RB Jonathan Dwyer, WR Ted Ginn Jr., OT Jared Veldheer

    Key Departures: LB Jasper Brinkley, CB Javier Arenas, LB Karlos Dansby, WR Andre Roberts 

    Key Rookies: S Deone Bucannon, TE Troy Niklas, DE Kareem Martin, WR John Brown, QB Logan Thomas, WR John Brown

    Key Suspension: LB Daryl Washington (out for season)

    2013 Record: 10-6

    2014 Projected Record: 7-9

     

    The Cardinals seemed to click on offense during the second half of the season. Their offensive line went from embarrassing in 2012 to not that good in 2013, which is an improvement. That unit should make an even bigger leap this year with the return of last year’s first-round pick Jonathan Cooper and the free-agent acquisition of tackle Jared Veldheer. 

    However, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com, Cooper has looked rusty in camp so far and may be in jeopardy of losing his starting job. 

    Carson Palmer will need to play the best football of his career in order to compete in this division. He appears to have the coaches, receivers and blocking to make it happen. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown and running back Andre Ellington could prove to be one of the league’s most feared arsenals in 2014. (For more on rookie John Brown, click here.)

    Not having Karlos Dansby or Daryl Washington should set the defense back somewhat, but former second-round draft pick Kevin Minter will be a name to keep an eye on in the linebacker group this season. He was one of the most impressive tacklers I scouted coming out of the 2013 draft class.  

    Another impressive addition to the defense will be first-round safety Deone Bucannon. This kid is the complete package and will provide immediate help to the back end that will feature Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie.

    This roster is fully capable of winning 11 games in 2014 in any other division. Unfortunately, the Cardinals will have to scratch and claw in the NFC West. Even with seven wins projected, this roster is getting better.

St. Louis Rams

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: WR Kenny Britt, DL Alex Carrington, QB Shaun Hill, WR T.J. Moe

    Key Departures: QB Kellen Clemens, CB Cortland Finnegan

    Key Rookies: OT Greg Robinson, DT Aaron Donald, CB Lamarcus Joyner, RB Tre Mason, CB E.J. Gaines

    2013 Record: 7-9

    2014 Projected Record: 9-7

     

    Sam Bradford enters perhaps the most important season of his career. This is his big chance to prove to the fans in St. Louis that he is the face of the franchise and capable of staying healthy while leading this team out from the basement of the NFC West.

    Bradford should benefit from continuity in the offensive system and from having a solid running game in Zac Stacy and Tre Mason.

    Tavon Austin needs to come to life as a dangerous offensive weapon, as his rookie season was disappointing. If he and the other young receivers show up, this could be the surprise team of the year.

    The Rams should dominate on defense with one of the most feared defensive fronts in football. A wild-card berth is possible, though that would require Bradford to play like a former first overall selection.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Key Vet Arrivals: S Antoine Bethea, CB Chris Cook, WR Stevie Johnson

    Key Departures: CB Tarell Brown, WR Mario Manningham, CB Carlos Rogers, S Donte Whitner, RB/ST Anthony Dixon, RB Kendall Hunter

    Key Rookies: S Jimmie Ward, RB Carlos Hyde, OC Marcus Martin, LB Chris Borland, WR Bruce Ellington 

    Key Injuries: LB NaVorro Bowman (expected to return midseason), DL Glenn Dorsey (biceps, out for season)

    2013 Record: 12-4

    2014 Projected Record: 10-6

     

    The 49ers have one of the top defensive units in the NFL, but even they had issues they had to address this offseason. They lost two of their top three cornerbacks, as well as a starting safety, to free agency. 

    Tramaine Brock played decently during the early stages of 2013 to warrant a contract extension. However, he struggled down the stretch a bit and will be asked to cover the opponent’s top receivers.

    The legally troubled Chris Culliver, who missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL, is expected to start across from Brock. He showed promise in 2012, which was overshadowed by a horrendous performance in the Super Bowl.

    Even if these guys step up and rookie Jimmie Ward is stellar, the secondary can still be picked apart by teams that spread the ball out and take advantage of the third and fourth options.

    The 49ers should be a more complete offense with a full arsenal of receivers and a solid backfield, but Colin Kaepernick must show signs of improvement from inside the pocket if they are to be taken seriously as a true passing team.

    In a tough division, the 49ers will battle their way into another wild-card spot. Once there, anything can happen.  

Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Key Free-Agent Arrivals: CB Phillip Adams 

    Key Departures: CB Brandon Browner, DL Red Bryant, DE Chris Clemons, OT Breno Giacomini, DT Clinton McDonald, WR Golden Tate, CB Walter Thurmond 

    Key Rookies: WR Paul Richardson, OT Justin Britt, DE Cassius Marsh, WR Kevin Norwood, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis

    2013 Record: 13-3

    2014 Projected Record: 11-5

     

    The reigning Super Bowl champs return with another stacked roster from top to bottom, only this time the stars who led the way in 2013 are now part of a new tax bracket. Will their fattened wallets slow down their drive for a repeat performance?

    Despite their success, the Seahawks struggled on the offensive line last year with injuries and a lack of impact players. This year they will hope that unit is improved not by any significant additions but by being a healthier, more cohesive group.

    The secondary, or Legion of Boom, will be somewhat thinned out with the departures of Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner. This shouldn't hurt Seattle too badly considering Browner didn't play much in 2013. Last year this defense allowed a league-low 14.4 points per game, which is nine fewer points than the league average. Expect this side of the ball to remain a strength in 2014.

    Offensively, Russell Wilson has to be excited to have Percy Harvin for an entire season. He should more than make up for the loss of Golden Tate.

    In the toughest division in the league, the Seahawks still have the most talented roster. They should be the favorites to win that division for yet another year. Only this time the journey will be tougher.

     

    Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who currently writes for Bleacher Report. 

    Follow him on Twitter.

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