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2015 Playoff Surprises

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The NFL season is fast approaching with preseason starting in August before the regular season begins in September. It’s well known in the NFL that it’s hard to reach the postseason and the numbers back that up. Typically, almost half of the 12 teams that earned a playoff spot last year will NOT return in the following season.
 
Who will be the new faces in the 2014 playoffs?
 
I’ve got my eye on five teams that finished at .500 or below in the 2013 season and I believe they have a great chance to improve this fall.
 
Pittsburgh Steelers
2013 Record: 8-8
 
The Steel Curtain looked more like Vinyl Curtains last year. In their eight losses opponents averaged 30 points per game. After the Steelers horrible 0-4 start, they came on strong finishing 8-4. The Steelers focused on their defensive needs during the draft. The selections in the first 4 rounds were excellent.

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First round pick Ryan Shazier will pay immediate dividends. He will give the Steelers the athletic linebacker they desperately need to help put pressure on the quarterback. Sacks were something Pittsburgh seldom accomplished last year ranking 25th. The Steel curtain could be revived with 2nd round pick Stephon Tuitt, a defensive lineman from Notre Dame. He is a physical specimen that will demand double teams hence freeing up the LBs to attack the QB.

Big Ben Roethlisberger needed a companion wide receiver to line up across Antonio Brown and they will get it with the rookie Martavis Bryant from Clemson.
 
2014 Impact Player: Dri Archer - RB/KR is the fastest player in the draft
2014 Prediction: Steelers 11-5 (AFC North Winner)
 
Baltimore Ravens
2013 Record: 8-8
 
The defending Super Bowl champions of 2013 had a letdown thanks to its inept offense. The Ravens boosted their chances to get back to the Super Bowl this offseason by adding free agent wide receiver Steve Smith. He is a possession WR that was needed by quarterback Joe Flacco.

Tight end Dennis Pita is healthy again and will add another valuable receiver for Flacco. Another great pick up in the draft was Wake Forest WR Michael Campanaro. He is a slot WR and could be considered a poor man’s Wes Welker. Baltimore also added some great picks on the offensive line, which was certainly needed to help the running game and Flacco.
 
2014 Impact Player: CB/FS Terrence Brooks from FSU
2014 Prediction: Ravens 10-6 (AFC Wild Card)
 
Chicago Bears
2013 Record: 8-8
 
The Bears front office gets an A+ for their recent free agent moves and draft selections. Bears will go from Cubs to Grizzlies with new FA acquisition of Jared Allen from the Vikings.
 
Chicago was ranked last in defense in both sacks (31) and rushing yard allowed (2,500). While Allen gives the Bears a pass rush, the recent additions of Lamar Houston and Willie Young give them depth on defense. These moves will allow undersized Shea McClellin to move back to his natural position of linebacker.
 
In the draft, Chicago used its first three picks on defense. Cornerback Kyle Fuller was selected 14th overall and should help a secondary that’s getting older. Defensive linemen Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton are expected to add depth and help the loss of defensive end Julius Peppers.
 
Offensively, the Bears picked up Ka’deem Carey out of Arizona in the fourth round, which should help spell Matt Forte.
 
If QB Jay Cutler can stay healthy with his returning OL, the offense should continue to excel, especially with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.
 
2014 Impact Player: Ego Ferguson DL 
2014 Prediction: Bears go 11-5 to win Division.
 
Detroit Lions
2013 Record: 7-9
 
Will Detroit finally roar like a Lion or disappoint and purr like a kitten? Something you might not know. The Lions were made “Kings” by Las Vegas last year as they made them the favorites in 14 out of 16 games. After the Lions started the 2013 season with a 6-3 record, they took their customary nose dive going 1-6 the rest of the season.
 
They went out and picked a TE Eric Ebron from North Carolina in the 1st round which made no sense to me as they are loaded on the offensive side of the ball, led by WR Calvin Johnson. It's their second round selection of LB from BYU Kyle Van Noy that makes sense. He will help open things up for the heralded defensive of the Lions and will help relieve Ndamukong Suh from double teams. They also got IVY-league sleeper Caraun Reid, a defensive tackle from Princeton that is expected to create problems. 
 
2014 Impact player: LB Kyle Van Noy
2014 Prediction: 10-6 (NFC Wild Card)
 
Washington Redskins
2013 Record: 3-13
 
So far we have picked four teams that were not shockers. This Redskins selection is one. They have gone through a completely different coaching staff. There biggest offseason move was a good one in getting former Philadelphia Eagles WR Desean Jackson, who always gave the ‘Skins fits when he played for Philadelphia. One of the biggest issues for the Redskins was protecting QB Robert Griffin III. Washington elected to draft two offensive linemen in Morgan Moses and Spencer Long, which will boost depth.
 
The biggest reason why I’m high on the Redskins is because of their schedule. The NFC East is tough but I’m predicting a 3-3 record and that’s worst-case scenario. Outside of those six matchups, Washington will face Jacksonville, Tennessee, Houston, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, and Minnesota. All winnable games in my opinion.
 
2014 Impact player: WR Desean Jackson
2014 Prediction: 9-7 (NFC East Winner)
 
 

  
HEADLINES
Mejia: Week 2 Preseason Notes - NFC
Lawrence: 2014 AFC Season Preview
Mejia: Week 2 Preseason Notes - AFC
ASA: NFC North Notebook
ASA: NFC South Notebook
Marshall: Philadelphia Hype
Rogers: AFC North Preview
Browns tab Hoyer as starting QB
Cowboys worth more than $3 billion
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