2014 NFL Preview and Predictions

Aaron Rodgers

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons 11-5: If the Atlanta Falcons had won the NFC South in 2013, no one would have batted an eye. Possibly America’s favorite preseason pick last year, everything that could have gone wrong for the Falcons, did. Wide receiver Julio Jones is one of the league’s most dynamic and game-changing players, and quarterback Matt Ryan could be approaching the Aaron Rodgers stage of a few seasons ago. The team hardly ever loses at home, and the injuries that plagued the Falcons last year are long gone. Atlanta should bounce back in epic fashion.

New Orleans Saints 10-6 Wild Card: One year removed from Sean Payton’s season-long suspension, the Saints immediately returned to the playoffs, sparked by a 5-0 start. Payton remains one of the league’s best head coaches, while Drew Brees continues to deliver as a top-three quarterback. The Saints are typically a cut above the rest, and their consistency allows them to be in the playoff hunt each year. They may not win the division, but they’ll get in, regardless.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8-8: Much like the Minnesota Vikings, if the Bucs didn’t play in a division with two (possibly three, depending on the Carolina Panthers) contenders, they would be ranked much higher on the list. Josh McCown, as detailed in the Bears’ prediction, now leads the charge in Tampa Bay. Doug Martin is poised for a bounce-back season, and the Buccaneers had arguably the best draft of any team. If not for the Saints and Falcons, Tampa Bay would be in the playoffs. They, at least, deserve the honorable mention.

Carolina Panthers 6-10: Cam Newton has not missed an NFL game since being drafted by the Carolina Panthers, but to say that he is playing at 100 percent is dangerous. The man possesses all the physical tools to be an incredibly successful NFL quarterback, but what does that mean if his physicality is limited? The Panthers’ defense ranked second in the NFL last year, and outperformed all expectations with twelve wins. If Cam Newton plays at the high level we have seen at times and the defense remains impenetrable, the Panthers can return to the playoffs. Last year seems to be more of the outlier than the norm.

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Mario Mergola
Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow @MarioMergola

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