On the cusp of the 2014 NFL season, our analysts provide their predictions, including the winners of individual awards, playoff teams for each conference and Championship Sunday/Super Bowl forecasts.
Charley Casserly: Eagles. Despite average defensive play, Philly wins again in a weak division. The Redskins are sleepers, but Robert Griffin III has to get going and their secondary is a weakness. I still believe in Eli Manning, but does he have enough help around him in New York? Dallas can't stop anybody.
Dave Dameshek: Eagles. Of all the Super Bowl contenders, the Eagles are the most prohibitive favorite to win their division. Even if Nick Foles regresses a bit -- and even if the defense is nothing more than mediocre -- who else in the woeful East can pose a challenge? (That was a rhetorical question, the answer to which is: no one.)
Gil Brandt: Packers. When you consider all the facets of the game, the Packers have the best team in this division. I'm not worried about the loss of B.J. Raji, who hasn't been that big of a player lately -- certainly not when Aaron Rodgers is slinging the ball from under center. Plus, Green Bay has what is probably one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL.
Charley Casserly: Packers. This is the most competitive division in the NFL now that the Rams have lost Sam Bradford in the NFC West. Minnesota is a QB and some good cornerback play away from the playoffs -- and there is the potential for both of those areas to be better in 2014. Chicago has enough offense to win the division and -- on paper -- is better on defense. Detroit is the sleeper. The Lions have the pieces to form a top-five offense, but their secondary remains an issue (especially at the CB position). Since the Pack have Aaron Rodgers under center, though, I'll roll with them.
Dave Dameshek: Packers. If the fact that the Packers have the best quarterback in a quarterback league isn't enough to justify my pick here, take a look at the D. With a young and speedy secondary ready to complement what should be a fierce pass rush, the Pack will (finally) be tough on both sides of the ball.
Brooks: Scariest offense in football
Charley Casserly: Saints. I'll take the most well-rounded team: New Orleans. Carolina has issues on offense (O-line, wide receiver). Tampa Bay is poised to potentially make a jump with a strong roster, but can Josh McCown lead the charge? Atlanta can bounce back on offense if Julio Jones stays healthy, but I am not sold on the defense.
Gil Brandt: Seahawks. I don't think the 'Hawks will win 13 games again, but I do like them to be serious contenders to return to the Super Bowl. Russell Wilson just keeps getting better every game, and he'll have Percy Harvin for a full year. Watching Seattle in the preseason, I saw nothing not to like about this team.
Dave Dameshek: Seahawks. It's not just Richard Sherman who plays with a chip on his shoulder; this entire team knows how to use the slightest slight as fuel. In other words, the typical Super Bowl hangover doesn't apply here. And if he's healthy, Percy Harvin will swing the NFC playoff race more than any free agent or rookie.
NFC WILD CARD 1
Brian Billick: Green Bay Packers. Even with a steady rushing attack, the Packers aren't anything without Aaron Rodgers -- keeping him healthy has to be priority No. 1. Green Bay gave up 45 sacks last season; only the Cardinals have given up more since 2009. If Rodgers plays all 16 games, the Packers make the playoffs.
Dave Dameshek: Bears.Jay Cutler's occasional bad decision notwithstanding, the Bears are going to be an offensive juggernaut in Year 2 of the Marc Trestman era. If the defense can stuff the run -- one of the few legit concerns this team has right now -- Chicago might even take down the Packers for the NFC North title.
NFC WILD CARD 2
Debate: Dethroning the 'Hawks?
Dave Dameshek: Detroit Lions. Sorry, Niners fans, but a lot of people are starting to see what I've been saying for the past eight months: That dominant defense is gonna regress. Meantime, the Lions' offense -- in an NFC North sure to feature tons of shootouts -- is loaded for bear. If Ziggy Ansah can build on his promising rookie season, the defense might be pretty good, too.