With classes back in session and students hitting the books once again, the stress of school is evident, but alleviation to this stress can be found for many students in the return of NFL football. Last season ended in shock and heartbreak for many Denver Broncos fans as the Seattle Seahawks demolished the competition en route to their franchise’s first ever Super Bowl win.
This season brings the excitement of a new cast of playmaking rookies into the league such as Johnny Manziel, Sammy Watkins, and Jadeveon Clowney. It also features completely different teams and personnel as a dramatic offseason has shaken the playing field. Here are a few things you need to know for the upcoming NFL season.
AFC (American Football Conference)
While the personnel of the AFC has shifted dramatically, the outcome of the division should not change too much, as the powerhouses of the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have only gotten better. Denver strengthened their defense with the additions of DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib, and T.J. Ward. New England stayed right with them in the defensive stockpiling by adding defensive backs Darrell Revis and Brandon Browner.
Expect these two teams to be right back at the head of the back as they both scramble for another Super Bowl win with their aging future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. What may change is who is the stiffness of competition in the playoffs. The Indianapolis Colts have also bolstered their defense to complement developing superstar quarterback Andrew Luck, with the addition of Hakim Nicks to a wideout core that already includes T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne.
Do not be surprised if the Colts are right back in the mix. The Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers were the other playoff contenders last year, and with the return of Geno Atkins, the Bengals could be a force to be reckoned with. If Andy Dalton can prove himself to be the franchise quarterback he wants to be, do not expect them to go anywhere.
Teams to Watch
Despite finishing 2-14 last season, the Houston Texans finished sixth in the league in fewest yards allowed per game on defense, and with the addition of number-one pick Jadeveon Clowney, this defense shouldn’t stray far from the top. New quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and head coach Bill O’brian are looking to get that offense right back up to where it was in 2012.
Also with the continued development of Ryan Tannehill and a reworked offensive line, be ready for a Miami Dolphins run in 2014.
NFC (National Football Conference)
The reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks should continue to dictate the pace of the NFC, as their defense has stayed intact for the most part. The runner-up San Francisco 49ers’ window for a championship may be narrowing, and with the loss of many key defenders, it will be a challenge for them to outcompete the Seahawks.
As Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees go, so do the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. Their high-powered offenses will most likely propel them into the postseason once again. 2014 could be the year of the Eagle, as Nick Foles leads and offense with a star-studded backfield and receiving core. If their defense can improve, they could be one of the top contenders to come out of the NFC.
With the additions of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron, the Detroit Lions are poised to have one of their best offenses ever produced, and the same can be said about the Chicago Bears. Expect the NFC north to be as tight as it always is. Despite offensive line woes, the Arizona Cardinals feature one of the toughest defenses in the league, and after just missing the playoffs last season, they will be hungry for another chance in 2014
Teams to Watch
The Atlanta Falcons, if healthy, have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. After a devastating season in 2013, do not be surprised if Matt Ryan and his superstar receivers can put them right back into the postseason.
In a league where good defense and quarterbacks are hard to come by, do not expect the Carolina Panthers to fall as much as people are saying they will. Luke Keuchly and Cam Newton will find a way to win despite losing the entirety of their receiving core.