Sunday, August 31, 2014

NFL 2014 preview, part 2

Let's move North, shall we?

NFC North: The four teams in the division used to be, of course, in the Central, which ESPN's Chris Berman used to lovingly refer to as the "Norris Division", after one of the former divisions in the NHL. Calling it the Norris today would still be appropriate.

Chicago lost one of their best defensive players in Julius Peppers (Green Bay), and let backup QB Jordan Palmer (Buffalo) walk a week ago. So who gets to back up injury-prone Jay Cutler now? Mr. Magoo? Mr. Miyagi? Hong Kong Phooey? Who cares. Tight end Martellus Bennett, in his 2nd year after coming over from the Giants, was suspended for detrimental conduct or whatever, which won't help Cutler and the offense.

Having Peppers in Green Bay is a good thing for the Packers, since B. J. Raji was injured a couple of weeks back. What will ensure the Pack and QB Aaron Rodgers going deep into the playoffs is Rodgers not making any more stupid ads for State Farm. Instead, he could team with Tim Tebow and do an instructional DVD available at churches for the kids. Minnesota drafted QB Teddy Bridgewater (Louisvile), and will have him sit behind Matt Cassel to start the season. Good move, but what happened to Christian Ponder? I'll skip the obvious puns and suggest that this wasn't such a good idea.

That leaves us with Detroit, which needs to figure out how to keep Subway pitchman Ndamakong Suh out of the NFL's doghouse. If he stays focused and doesn't draw too many penalties, he could finally be among the league's elite on defense. Offensively, Matthew Stafford and the Lions could stand some consistency in order to stay in the playoff hunt all the way into Christmas. Not much has changed.

Projected order of finish:

1. Green Bay

2. Detroit

3. Chicago

4. Minnesota

AFC North: Cincinnati has won 3 straight division titles, coinciding with the Bengals drafting QB Andy Dalton & receiver A. J. Green 3 years ago. However, winning a 4th straight title won't be so easily accomplished. The running game took a hit Saturday when Benjarvus Green-Ellis, who came over from New England last year, was cut. One step up and two steps back, as Springsteen once said.

Cleveland did the smart thing and named Brian Hoyer the starting QB over Johnny Manziel. Manziel is the new Tebow, really, although from a moral standpoint, he's the diametric opposite of Tebow. He relishes being a tabloid magnet. In this writer's opinion, he came out too soon, letting his freshman success at Texas A & M go to his head very quickly. Doesn't help that like a lot of kids his age, he's surrounded by a bunch of glad-handing leeches telling him what he wants to hear. He could learn a lot from Baltimore's Joe Flacco, for example. Flacco came from a smaller school (Delaware), but has put up the necessary numbers to be an elite QB, and already has something that Manziel and the Browns covet---a Super Bowl title. The Ravens picked up Steve Smith (Carolina), which fills a void created a year ago when Anquan Boldin fled west to San Francisco. However, standing pat on defense might not have been the best move for the Ravens.

Age is an issue in Pittsburgh, where Ben Roethlisberger begins his 11th season. Receiver Jerricho Cotchery is gone (Carolina), and after picking up LeGarrette Blount (New England), coach Mike Tomlin couldn't be too happy to have Blount and Le'Veon Bell picked up for drugs on a traffic stop. Who did they think they were? Brewer & Shipley? On defense, Larry Foote left, this time for Arizona, and Lamar Woodley is in Oakland. It's going to be a long season. Maybe Tomlin can call Bill Cowher, provided he's not on a soundstage filming a Time Warner Cable commercial, for help........

Projected order of finish:

1. Baltimore

2. Cincinnati

3. Pittsburgh

4. Cleveland

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