Posted By Jack Tumen
Predictions predictions predictions. We make a million of them and we’re probably right about less than half of the time. Nonetheless, we continue to predict because let’s be honest, it’s fun to say “I told you so.” So here are three of my “told you so’s” for the 2014 NFL season.
1. The Baltimore Ravens will win 11 games in 2014.
Birdland experienced a classic Super Bowl hangover following their 2012 championship run, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs all together. Safe to say, losing Ray Lewis left a glaring hole in the leadership department. Ray Rice had his worst season since his rookie year in 2008, rushing for a meager 660 yards with 4 TDs on a career-worst 3.1 yards per carry. Joe Flacco actually set a career mark in passing, going for 3,912 yards, but negated that with only 19 TDs to 22 INTs. Previously, he’d only thrown 10 or 12 INTs in a season (10 twice, 12 three times.)
Let’s be real; Flacco didn’t deserve half of that $120 mil. contract. It was more like a “thanks for winning us a Super Bowl.” He’s not an elite QB; he’s a totally fine QB. At the same time, losing Dennis Pitta hurt the team in a huge way. It further exploited the lack of depth they had at the receiver position. I’m a huge fan of Torrey Smith, but Jacoby Jones was forced to do his best impersonation of a number two receiver when in reality he’s a number three at best.
I really think that Steve Smith was a great addition for that offense. He may not be as explosive as he was five years ago but he’s an emotional leader that will steady the offense and draw some attention away from Torrey Smith. Having Pitta back for a full season will also help Flacco regain his underlying sense of confidence. On top of that, the Ravens received four compensatory picks from the league: a 3rd, two 4ths and a 5th rounder. That’s quite generous if you ask me. Look for a bounce-back year from these fellas.
2. Rashad Jennings will rush for 1,000 yards.
One of the best free agent signings, in my opinion, was the Giants grabbing running back, Rashad Jennings. Any time this guy gets the rock – whether it was behind MJD in Jacksonville or filling in for DMC in Oakland – he gives it 110%. Jennings is a fluid north-south runner with excellent hands out of the backfield. Heck, he even blocked a punt in 2013! Most importantly, he’s a high-character guy who will bring much needed stability to a Giants’ backfield that ranked 29th in rushing last year.
After losing David Wilson to injury early in the year, Big Blue was forced to shuffle between Peyton Hillis, Michael Cox and Brandon Jacobs while waiting for Andre Brown’s return from a broken leg. Jennings’ signing doesn’t bode well for Wilson, a former first round pick who possesses all the athleticism in the world but lacks consistency with ball protection. With Andre Brown hitting the free agent market, look for the 29-year-old Jennings to lead the Giants’ backfield and surpass 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career. His highlight reel is pretty impressive too.
3. Tampa Bay Will Have a Top 5 Defense.
With the nightmare that was the Greg Schiano era behind them, the Buccaneers get a fresh start with new Head Coach, Lovie Smith. Lovie returns to Tampa Bay where his NFL career began as their linebackers’ coach from 1996-2000. Now he has a chance to turn around a young roster that’s full of potential.
A defensive-minded coach, Lovie inherits a defense loaded with talent. Gerald McCoy is a top three D-tackle. Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron might be the best safety duo in the league. Adrian Clayborn is one of the best lineman that no one talks about. Lavonte David and Mason Foster are studs at linebacker while Jonathan Banks is an up-and-coming corner.
Yet, this group was utterly average last year, ranking 17th in total defense. So with a few quick phone calls, Lovie decided to bolster that defense by cleaning up in free agency. He signed DE Michael Johnson, CB Alterraun Verner, DT Clinton McDonald and CB Mike Jenkins (also TE Brandon Meyers on offense, pictured above. Major bouce-back candidate.)
Johnson is only two years removed from an 11.5 sack season; he was sidelined by a concussion for most of 2013 but is a fine-tuned machine at defensive end when healthy. Verner was brought in to replace the baggage that is Darrelle Revis and will pair up with a comeback-minded Jenkins and Jonathan Banks to make an athletic and fast trio in the secondary. McDonald is the least-known name on this list, but he knows what a defense is supposed to look like after contributing to Seattle’s Super-Bowl-winning squad last season.
On top of all that, maybe Lovie will be able to wake up the sleeping giant inside Da’Quan Bowers, who has been a disappointment thus far in his NFL career.
New GM, new Head Coach and new uniforms; there’s a lot to like about this group and it’s one that I have high hopes for going into 2014.