As kickoff of the NFL season approaches, FOXSports.com will preview how the year will play out, from the regular season standings to round-by-round postseason predictions. Today, we start with the division winners and playoff seeds in parentheses. When you’re done, feel free to let us know what you think about our picks.
First, the bad. I once picked the Lions to make the playoffs. Instead, they finished as the only 0-16 franchise in league history. That painful experience taught me not to get carried away with how a team performs in the preseason (Detroit was 4-0).
The good? I’ve learned. Don’t fall in love with every team you see first-hand during training camp. Success from the previous year doesn’t guarantee a repeat the following season in a league where roughly a half-dozen playoff teams change annually and there is usually a worst-to-first success story.
Now, onto the picks:
1. New England (1):Yaaawn. At this point, a 12th consecutive season with double-digit wins is taken for granted.
2. Miami: The Dolphins have enough talent to make a playoff run, but improvement by third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill and an overhauled offensive line is a must.
3. New York Jets: Rex Ryan is a good head coach, but this roster smacks of a fourth consecutive season without a winning record.
4. Buffalo: Second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel still looked like a rookie during the preseason and recently signed veteran Kyle Orton isn’t the answer under center.
1. Cincinnati (2): This is the division’s most complete team – and one poised to finally win in the postseason after three consecutive first-round losses.
2. Baltimore (6): Re-tooling the offense should push the Ravens back into the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.
3. Pittsburgh: The Steelers fell just short of the playoffs in 2013. Expect the same this season without significant defensive improvement, especially in the secondary.
4. Cleveland: Playoffs? Ha! Progress will be marked by whether the Browns can win more than five games for the first time since 2007.
1. Indianapolis (4): Thanks to quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts will make the playoffs. How far Indianapolis advances depends on improvement in the ground game and run defense.
2. Tennessee: Quarterback Jake Locker has quietly enjoyed a quality preseason. This is a dark-horse playoff contender if he stays healthy and the Titans improve upon a shaky preseason defensive effort.
3. Jacksonville: The Jaguars are still a year away from being a bona fide playoff contender. But at least Jacksonville has found its franchise quarterback in rookie Blake Bortles.
4. Houston: A defense led by J.J. Watt and rookie Jadeveon Clowney should be downright nasty. It had better be based upon how shabby Houston is shaping up to be on offense.
1. Denver (3): For 42 years, no team that suffered a Super Bowl loss has rebounded to win a championship the following season. The high-powered Broncos have a legitimate shot at ending the streak.
2. San Diego (5): A second-round playoff appearance last season wasn’t a fluke. The Chargers will push Denver for AFC West supremacy.
3. Kansas City: Offense usually isn’t a concern on an Andy Reid-coached squad. It is for the 2014 Chiefs because of a leaky offensive line and shaky wide receiver corps.
4. Oakland: Whether it’s Matt Schaub or Derek Carr at quarterback, the Raiders don’t have enough horsepower to compete for a playoff spot.
1. Philadelphia (2): The success of head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles in 2013 wasn’t a fluke.
2. Washington: The Redskins are an under-the-radar playoff contender provided first-year Redskins head coach Jay Gruden can get quarterback Robert Griffin III back on track.
3. Dallas: The Cowboys could lead the league in scoring and points allowed. That forebodes yet another 8-8 kind of season.
4. New York Giants: Despite going 5-0, no club is hoping its preseason is an aberration more than the punch-less Giants.
1. Green Bay (4): On paper, this is the deepest and most complete team the Packers have fielded since their Super Bowl-winning squad of 2010.
2. Chicago: There’s lot to like on offense, but the Bears have too many questions on defense and a brutal backup situation behind injury-prone quarterback Jay Cutler.
3. Detroit: The Lions will be a better team under first-year head coach Jim Caldwell, but not good enough for the postseason.
4. Minnesota: The Vikings could surprise with a healthy roster but it’s hard to get too excited until either Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater proves a difference-maker at quarterback.
1. New Orleans (1): With the way the Saints are looking, Mardi Gras might not be the only big party this February in New Orleans.
2. Carolina (6): The Panthers will be forced to lean even heavier on their defense until solutions are found for offseason losses at wide receiver and along the offensive line.
3. Atlanta: The same problems from last season with the pass rush and running game remain worrisome in 2014.
4. Tampa Bay: If the offense gets its act together, the Buccaneers will make a playoff push in Lovie Smith’s first year as head coach.
1. Seattle (3): The Seahawks are in much better position talent-wise to repeat as Super Bowl champions than the previous two winners (Baltimore and the New York Giants).
2. San Francisco (5): The nine-game Aldon Smith suspension is another blemish in what so far has proven a brutal offseason for the 49ers.
3. Arizona: The Cardinals must overcome three major defensive losses in their front seven to leapfrog the Seahawks and 49ers.
4. St. Louis: The Rams’ chances of breaking a decade-long streak without a playoff appearance plummeted earlier this month when quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a season-ending knee injury.
FOX Sports 1’s’ Peter Schrager also provides his picks for the 2014 regular season: