The Denver Broncos just put together one of the most impressive offensive seasons in NFL history, becoming the first team to eclipse 600 points. But during the offseason, Denver lost two key cogs from that unit in Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles, who ranked second in total offense last season, look to be even more explosive in Chip Kelly's second year at the helm. And the New Orleans Saints, who've led the NFL in total offense in four of the seven seasons Drew Brees and Sean Payton have spent together, appear as potent as ever. Oh, and then there's the NFC North, which features three potential offensive juggernauts (Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions).
All of this begs one simple question: Which team will field the NFL's most prolific offense in 2014?
Drew Brees, Brandin Cooks and the Saints are about to go nutsPeyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are the only quarterbacks in NFL history with outlier seasons featuring at least 4,500 passing yards, 45 touchdowns and a QB rating over 115.0. This is the year Drew Brees joins that exclusive club.
Jimmy Graham was on an MVP pace prior to last October's plantar fascia injury. Now he's back to full health and should once again be unguardable. In addition to old reliable Marques Colston and dangerous deep threat Kenny Stills, explosive rookie Brandin Cooks is poised to take the league by storm. The Saints' play calling had grown too predictable with Darren Sproles on the field for passes and Mark Ingram in for runs. Now that Cooks is playing the Sproles mismatch role -- with a four-pack of running backs capable of playing in all personnel packages -- opposing defenses won't know what's coming. Brees is going to lead the NFL in total offense for the fourth time in the past seven years.
All of that said, don't sleep on a Tom Brady bounceback or a Lions breakout.
Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys have the firepower to surpriseI think the Dallas Cowboys have a good chance to push their way to the top of the offensive pile, provided quarterback Tony Romo stays healthy. They have plenty of pieces on offense, starting with the line, where center Travis Frederick and left tackle Tyron Smith shine. Then there's running back DeMarco Murray, who topped LeSean McCoy in yards per carry last year (5.2 to 5.1); he's a special player, and I think the Cowboys will run the ball well, especially with the talented Ryan Williams joining Murray in the backfield. Tight end Jason Witten is older (32), but he also looks to be in better shape than I've ever seen him before, and he's an important leader on this team. Finally, there's uncoverable receiver Dez Bryant, who is so good and big, he often looks like a man playing against high school freshmen.
I know the Broncos still have Peyton Manning and a loaded receiving corps, but I think they'll fall back a bit, as Jacksonville -- which gave them a run for their money last season -- and Seattle have demonstrated how to successfully slow them. Denver also lost running back Montee Ball to an appendectomy, and while he's supposed to be back by Week 1, that has historically been a tough thing to recover from. As for the Philadelphia Eagles, I'm not sure Nick Foles can replicate his awesome performance (27 touchdowns against just two picks) from last season, and I think they'll miss DeSean Jackson.
So I'll go with Dallas, and slot the New England Patriots second.
Good luck slowing Drew Brees and New Orleans' attackThe stars are aligned for a monster year in the Superdome.
It all starts with Drew Brees, who has averaged 5,272 yards and 43 touchdowns over the past three years. He'll continue to be one of the best facilitators of his generation. A healthy (and fiscally satisfied) Jimmy Graham is an all-world talent at tight end, making a 100/1,300/15 season well within reach. Brees calls Pierre Thomas the best all-purpose running back in the league. That's a stretch, but there's no denying he's a perfect fit in the scheme.
Finally, there's the wild card: Brandin Cooks, who is poised for a major breakout campaign as a rookie. Cooks is a special talent who can transition the Saints from difficult-to-contain to just-about-impossible-to-stop. I'll be very surprised if this team averages less than 30 points per game.
No reason not to stick with the reigning offensive kingThis is a great question, because there are a number of talented offenses in the NFL, but until Peyton Manning is dethroned, I'm going with him and the Denver Broncos.
Yes, they lost receiver Eric Decker to free agency, but new acquisition Emmanuel Sanders will bring more speed to the position, while stud wideout Demaryius Thomas and the tight end combination of Julius Thomas and youngster Virgil Green should continue to improve. Meanwhile, the return of left tackle Ryan Clady, who missed almost all of last season with a Lisfranc injury, will only make the offensive line stronger. That said, Montee Ball will have to return as planned from his appendectomy to provide Denver with a running game.
Whole lotta camp buzz around the potent attacks in New Orleans and PhiladelphiaTwo teams immediately come to mind: the New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Saints are going to sizzle. New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis, who appeared last week on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," is very pleased with how first-round pick Brandin Cooks is looking. The electric wide receiver brings quite a blend of speed, power and hands, plus he has a knack for scoring. Jimmy Graham is in a good place mentally after resolving a contract stalemate -- and as scary as it sounds, the tight end is still young enough (27) to continue getting better. Don't overlook the Saints' ground attack, either. New Orleans has three capable backs in Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson. Keep an eye on the 24-year-old Robinson in particular, as he surprised everyone as an undrafted rookie last season, gaining some tough, clutch yards.
Love what I'm hearing from Eagles camp. Nick Foles is not a flash in the pan. Rookie receiver Jordan Matthews is going to shine in the slot. Chip Kelly's system is fantastic. The talent and the coaching in Philadelphia stands out.
Forced to predict an offensive pecking order, I'll go with this: 1) Saints, 2) Eagles, 3) Broncos.
Matthew Stafford and the Lions look explosiveAs with deciding whether to have French fries, onion rings or tater tots with your cheeseburger, it's hard to go wrong with any pick in this, The Age of Prolific Offenses (unless you choose the Giants, a.k.a. the steamed veggies of pro football). In no particular order, the Eagles, Packers, Bears, Saints, Niners, Seahawks, Colts, Broncos, Chargers and Bradys are likely to rank among the top third of NFL offenses, and all are virtual locks to dominate in 2014.
With those teams noted, here's one not-so-dark horse to be the NFL's No. 1 offense this season: The Detroit Lions. After five years as Drew Brees' quarterback coach in New Orleans, new Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (whose last name is, after all, Lombardi) figures to take full advantage of Detroit's gaggle of playmaking weapons. Matthew Stafford is just two seasons removed from a 5,000-yard, 41-touchdown effort -- and he's just months removed from facing public criticism, which oughta result in him playing with a chip on his shoulder. The running game offers prototypical thunder-and-lightning potential with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. Rookie Eric Ebron, who looks like the second coming of Vernon Davis, highlights a deep collection of versatile tight ends. New addition Golden Tate brings a winning way and bona fide playmaking abilities from Seattle. And, of course, there's Calvin Johnson, a.k.a. the second-best wide receiver in NFL history.