While every NFL team starts the year 0-0, there are clearly some squads that are better than others.
Heading into Week 1, some teams are hoping to start their Super Bowl run while others are praying they can win just a few games.
Of course, the great thing about this league is that anyone is capable of turning things around in a hurry. The 2013 Kansas City Chiefs and 2012 Indianapolis Colts both made the playoffs after posting the worst record in the NFL the year before.
Any of these squads can prove doubters wrong, but here are projections for what to expect in 2014.
32. Oakland Raiders
There is certainly a lot of excitement in Oakland with the recent announcement that rookie Derek Carr will start at quarterback in Week 1. At the very least, this brings more hope for the future than if Matt Schaub remained under center.
ESPN's Bill Williamson is with the many who believe this is the right decision for the organization:
Bill Williamson @BWilliamsonNFL
#Raiders it is clear Carr over Schaub is a football decision and it's the right one2014-9-1 23:08:33
However, it is naive to think Carr will step in and automatically be among the best players at his position. He will make a lot of rookie mistakes in his first year as he gets acclimated to the NFL.
Meanwhile, the rest of the roster is filled with a number of cast-offs from other organizations after being past their prime. Aside from Carr, Khalil Mack and a few others, there is little to look forward to this season in Oakland.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are heading in the right direction as Gus Bradley continues to build his style of defense. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles also looked solid in the preseason and provides a glimpse into the future on offense.
Unfortunately, the team is still a year or two away from actually being competitive on a weekly basis. There will be a few more growing pains this season.
30. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are counting on second-year quarterback EJ Manuel to take a big jump this season. He will have more help in the form of Sammy Watkins, but the offense still leaves a lot to be desired.
On the other side of the ball, losing Jairus Byrd will hurt more than many people realize.
29. Houston Texans
Defense was not the problem last season and will not be this year either with the addition of first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Pairing him with J.J. Watt is terrifying for opposing offenses.
However, the offense is heavily reliant on Arian Foster, who is coming off a lost season due to back problems. This is not a good recipe for success as the squad is likely looking at another poor year.
28. Tennessee Titans
The Titans have a few promising pieces on both sides of the ball, but it all comes down to Jake Locker. The former first-round pick has yet to live up to his lofty expectations in three years, and this might be his last chance to show what he can do.
If he struggles early, it would not be surprising to see Zach Mettenberger sooner than later.
27. Washington Redskins
Fans in Washington are expecting a bounce-back year from Robert Griffin III after the former Rookie of the Year struggled in year two. Either that or Kirk Cousins will take over the reins after a promising preseason.
Of course, neither will make up for a defense that allowed the second-most points in football last season. There were few improvements made on that side of the ball, and you can expect some more problems throughout 2014.
26. Cleveland Browns
While the focus of the preseason was on Johnny Manziel, Brian Hoyer will start the year as the quarterback in Cleveland. The problem is that either player would struggle with virtually no one to throw to once Josh Gordon was suspended for the season.
The defense should take a big step this year under Mike Pettine's leadership, and there is talent on both sides of the ball, but wins might still be tough to come by.
25. Minnesota Vikings
You never want to bet against Adrian Peterson, no matter who else is on the team. However, there is no way to trust a defense that allowed the most points in the NFL last season.
Matt Cassel will be the starting quarterback until Teddy Bridgewater is ready to take over, but until then this team is just hanging around waiting for the future.
24. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have drafted extremely well over the past few years to build a team around quarterback Sam Bradford. The defense has become one of the best in the league behind an elite defensive line, and there are intriguing weapons on offense.
Unfortunately, the injury to Bradford puts Shaun Hill in charge, and that does not bode well for the squad's playoff chances. The good news is the future is bright once a franchise quarterback is put in place.
23. New York Giants
While the Giants technically finished their preseason 5-0, no one is thrilled about the way things went over the past month. The starting unit seemed to struggle whenever it was on the field, especially Eli Manning and the offense.
Not only is Manning coming off his worst season in years, but the offensive line is one of the worst in the league. Bruce Beck of WNBC NY made this observation during the preseason:
Bruce Beck @BruceBeck4NY
Offensive line has to give Eli a chance! Peyton Manning would be in danger too! #giants2014-8-22 23:59:17
Adam Levitan of Rotoworld points out this problem will be noticed right away in Week 1:
Adam Levitan @adamlevitan
Creating pressure leads to big plays on defense. Lions' front four vs. Giants' offensive line is one of Week 1's biggest mismatches.2014-9-3 16:08:49
Add this to a defensive line that will have a hard time creating any pass rush, and the Giants will have trouble all year long.
22. New York Jets
Rex Ryan built a strong defense behind one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The problem is he has done little to improve things on offense.
Geno Smith is hoping to improve upon his poor rookie year, but even adding Eric Decker in free agency does not provide too much help. Unless he becomes a Pro Bowl level quarterback who can create a lot of opportunities on his own, the Jets will likely still be on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
21. Atlanta Falcons
Most people were surprised to see a team that was a few plays away from the Super Bowl in 2012 drop all the way to 4-12 in 2013. The offensive line could not protect the quarterback and the defensive line could not get any sacks.
Some of these issues were solved this offseason, but most importantly both Julio Jones and Roddy White are healthy enough to create an elite tandem at wide receiver. The defense will still have question marks, but the passing attack will win a number of games on its own.
20. Dallas Cowboys
After three 8-8 seasons in a row, there is little reason to believe the Cowboys will do any better in 2014. Tony Romo should be able to put up a lot of points while airing it out to Dez Bryant and others, but the defense remains historically bad after giving up the most yards in football.
Expect a lot of high-scoring losses for America's Team this season.
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If there is a team this season that will go from one of the worst in the league to a legitimate playoff contender, it is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Lovie Smith inherits a squad with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, but just needs some direction.
The return of Doug Martin should give the offense some explosiveness to be a legitimate contender in the tough NFC South.
18. Miami Dolphins
An improved offensive line will solve a lot of problems from last season. Ryan Tannehill had a hard time improving his play when he was on his back so often, playing behind a line that allowed a league-high 58 sacks last season.
In a jumbled AFC, this squad has a good chance at besting their 8-8 record from 2013 and reaching the playoffs.
17. Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith signed an extension to remain in Kansas City for the near future, but we still do not know if he is really the type of player capable of taking the team to the next level. The offense is still based on giving the ball to Jamaal Charles as much as possible, although things will be less fluid with a weaker offensive line.
Last season featured a great turnaround, but expect the group to come back to earth in 2014.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
The preseason is just that. It's for kind of getting the chance to look at things, different reads. We move guys around to see where guys could best fit. It's the preseason. We've stayed healthy, and that was the most important thing.
If the team can stay healthy, both sides of the ball should be improved from last season. Meanwhile, the division is tough but still winnable as each squad has its pros and cons.
As long as the squad can find some balance on offense, the Steelers should once again be a playoff contender.
15. Baltimore Ravens
After winning the Super Bowl two years ago, everything seemed to go wrong for the Ravens in 2013. Joe Flacco certainly did not appear worthy of the major contract extension he earned after winning Super Bowl MVP.
However, adding Steve Smith and a healthy Dennis Pitta will help provide some balance to the offense. This might not be enough to win another title, but a playoff spot is certainly a possibility.
14. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers surprised many last season with a 12-4 record and an NFC South title. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to repeat this performance with a weaker receiving corps, the retirement of left tackle Jordan Gross and multiple injuries to Cam Newton.
Although the defense will keep the team in most games, expect a drop-off in 2014.
13. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals were the best non-playoff team in the league last season with a 10-6 record. With a few lost pieces on defense and a still tough division, though, it will be hard to improve upon this record.
There are some exciting players on both sides of the ball, but this team will remain just on the brink of the playoffs, with a few games deciding its fate.
12. Detroit Lions
After years of Matthew Stafford staring down Calvin Johnson in the passing game, the Lions actually have a number of weapons to utilize. Golden Tate and Eric Ebron will join an attack that already has quality pass-catchers out of the backfield in Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.
If the secondary can improve at least a little bit, this team has a chance to contend for a division title in the tough NFC North.
11. San Diego Chargers
While the Chargers surprised people with their playoff appearance last season, it was not a fluke. Philip Rivers showed why he is still a top quarterback in this league with his great accuracy and ability to spread the ball around.
With a few improvements on the defensive side of the ball, San Diego should be able to get back to the postseason.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have made the playoffs in each of the last three years behind Andy Dalton, and for three straight years the squad has been knocked out in the first round. While the team wants to take the next step, it first must focus on getting back to this stage.
After losing both offensive and defensive coordinators, the players have to find a way to keep producing in what could end up being a tough division.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
Chip Kelly took the NFL by storm last season with a fast-paced offense that few opponents could figure out. The question is whether the coach can keep things new before being figured out, while Nick Foles will try to show that his breakout year was not a fluke.
Of course, none of this will matter if the defense cannot start getting some stops.
8. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers have been one of the best teams in football over the past few years, thanks mostly to the strength of the defense. Unfortunately, the unit will have to deal with a number of key losses, as Pete Prisco of CBS Sports points out:
Pete Prisco @PriscoCBS
The front seven, the power of the 49ers' defense, now will be without Bowman and Smith for two months -- and Justin Smith a year older.2014-8-29 20:05:47
Combine this with a secondary that is starting three new players, and it is hard to imagine the same level of success right out of the gate.
Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick has looked lost in the preseason, even with a number of elite weapons around him. The pressure is on offensive coordinator Greg Roman to get the most out of his players, otherwise this team will struggle a lot more than usual this season.
7. Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler is healthy and has a chance to throw the ball to one of the best receiving tandems in the NFL between Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. This might finally be his chance to live up to expectations and become the elite passer everyone expects him to be.
On the other hand, another mistake-ridden season and he might be out of chances to prove himself.
6. Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck is clearly on his way toward becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and he should be in line for even better numbers this season with a healthy Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen in addition to free-agent signing Hakeem Nicks.
The young defense should continue to improve as the squad takes the next step as legitimate contenders.
5. New England Patriots
Tom Brady might have had a down year, but he is still Tom Brady. With him at quarterback and Bill Belichick on the sidelines, the Patriots will always be one of the best in the NFL.
Although you might not want to trust any of the skill players in fantasy football, there is a lot of talent at running back and receiver, which will again help bring about one of the top offenses in the league.
4. Green Bay Packers
Even after losing Aaron Rodgers for most of eight games last season, the Packers still sneaked their way into the playoffs. If he is able to play all year, this should again be one of the top squads in the NFC.
There are certainly questions on the defensive side of the ball, but the goal in Green Bay is definitely a Super Bowl title.
3. New Orleans Saints
Two years ago, the Saints had one of the worst defenses in league history. This changed immediately as Rob Ryan brought an aggressive style that helped the unit rank fourth in the NFL in yards allowed. Another year in the system, plus the addition of Jairus Byrd at safety, will keep this group one of the best in the league.
Of course, Drew Brees and company will keep the offense running smoothly as the Saints become one of the favorites to bring home the Lombardi Trophy.
2. Denver Broncos
Peyton Manning had the most productive season in NFL history in 2013. Even without Decker and a suspended Wes Welker, the quarterback knows how to spread the ball around regardless of who is catching it.
With offseason additions of T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware, the defense now has a chance to catch up to the offense and finally get a championship.
1. Seattle Seahawks
The Super Bowl champions kept most of their major pieces, which means they remain the favorites until someone beats them.
Of course, the biggest challenge will be finding a way to focus after already achieving the highest honor in the sport. Head coach Pete Carroll recently discussed the chances of repeating, via Tim Booth of the Associated Press:
I love this opportunity that we have. We are so fortunate to have this chance to come back after a season like that to see if we can find that kind of discipline and find that kind of ability to focus. It's challenging, it's difficult, it hasn't happened a lot and we are going to see what happens.
Even with more emphasis on defensive penalties, the secondary with Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman will still find a way to shut down the passing game, giving them an advantage each time out.
As long as Russell Wilson does not take a step back, the offense will keep doing enough to keep this team in contention for another Super Bowl.
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