Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, the best team in the league (Larry Maurer)
Here in Los Angeles, the leaves aren’t turning and it’s still hot, but football season has come anyway. Whether you want to see how your favorite team is looking or find out which match ups are worth watching, Living Out Loud has you covered with a preview of the 2014 NFL season.
Cincinnati Bengals – It looks as though the Bengals are going to have a great defense this year with a lot of players returning from injuries and coming from draft picks. QB Andy Dalton’s performance is going to determine if the team repeats in the most competitive division in the AFC.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens need to improve their run game this season after being the third worst in the NFL. New addition WR Steve Smith is going to be an excellent target for Joe Flacco. As for the defense, it’s a younger squad that has to learn quickly if Baltimore wants to win the division.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns had a pretty good offseason, picking up QB Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert. Unfortunately, Johnny Football has not performed well in the preseason, and the Browns’ starter QB Brian Hoyer hasn’t done much better.
Pittsburgh Steelers – LB Ryan Shazier is starting for the Steelers in order to give their defense a much needed boost. QB Ben Roethlisberger needs his O-line to improve if he is going to be a presence in the pocket.
Indianapolis Colts – It’s going to be a pretty easy division win for the Colts this year, with Andrew Luck leading the offense and throwing to the now-healthy Reggie Wayne. But their running game and rush defense has to improve from last year if they want to be Conference Champions.
Jacksonville Jaguars – The Jags are starting QB Chad Henne instead of their third overall pick, Blake Bortles. It might not matter who is throwing, though, if no one in the receiving core can rise above and beyond.
Tennessee Titans – The Titans are hoping to keep Jake Locker healthy and for Justin Hunter, who showed some promise last season, to have a breakout season. They are also attempting to run a 3-4 defense, but so far the change has proven difficult in the preseason.
Houston Texans – It’s all about J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans defense really has to perform for there to be any hope of a winning season.
Buffalo Bills – Here we have another situation of a potentially great WR with Sammy Watkins, but a relatively young QB, EJ Manuel. This team is going to look to their defense, which was second in sacks, to carry them through this season.
Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill is going to play as best as he can, but the real concern here is the O-line. They also hope that signing Knowshon Moreno will give their run game the boost it needs.
New England Patriots – It seems like the Patriots are always in the running for a championship, and this year is no different. They have a lot of new additions to the team, most notably, a recovered CB Darrelle Revis who will be a big help to their secondary.
New York Jets – Last year the Jets had some problems with their pass defense, so they really need to pick it up if they want to compete with the Pats this year. Although they have Eric Decker as a pretty reliable WR, they are relying on the second-year QB, Geno Smith, to get the ball to him.
Denver Broncos – The offseason and preseason were all about improving the defense for Denver. With Peyton Manning at the helm, you know the offense is going to be able to put up the points, but it’s just a matter of their improvements being enough to win it all. Wes Welker, however, is suspended for the first four games of the season because of amphetamine use.
Kansas City Chiefs – If you believe in momentum, then you better believe the Chiefs are going to have a rough year after coming back from some devastating losses at the end of last season. But there is hope in RB Jamaal Charles and new LB Dee Ford.
San Diego Chargers – Here’s another team that had an Achilles’ heel of a defense last year. It’s an area that new addition CB Brandon Flowers hopes to bolster, while the offense led by Philip Rivers continues to put points on the board.
Oakland Raiders – To put it simply, Oakland’s offseason strategy doesn’t make any sense. Head coach Dennis Allen appears to not be too concerned with improving a defense that came in 28th overall last year. They also seem to be putting a lot of hope in QB Matt Schaub who is coming off of a disastrous year in Houston.
Green Bay Packers – Julius Peppers and “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix are hoping to lead a defense that struggled last year. On the other side of the ball, a healthy Aaron Rodgers can cement this team as the best in the division.
Detroit Lions – Matthew Stafford is going to be under a lot of pressure this year. With a new head coach and offensive coordinator, he is going to have to adjust quickly if he wants to lead the team. He is getting some help from Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson, but on the defensive front, their secondary is still a big issue.
Minnesota Vikings – Anthony Barr is expected to come up big this season while playing LB and coming up to rush in the nickel package. Matt Cassel is going to start at QB, but RB Adrian Peterson leads the offense with an excellent running game.
Chicago Bears – The Bears need to improve their defense from last year. They have a solid offense with QB Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and RB Matt Forte all contributing, but it seems like whatever defensive additions that were made offseason were also balanced by losses.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons have a little hope now that WR Julio Jones is back in business. They also have a new DT from the Dolphins (Paul Soliai), who should benefit a defense that was less than impressive last year.
Carolina Panthers – With the loss of Steve Smith, the Panthers are looking for QB Cam Newton to connect with rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin. On the defensive front, the secondary, which performed well last year, is forced to reconfigure itself after losing some key players.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints are looking to their rookie WR Brandin Cooks and second-year Kenny Stills to connect with QB Drew Brees. They are also hoping SS Kenny Vaccaro can stay flexible and effective on defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The good news is that RB Doug Martin is back. The bad news is that QB Josh McCown had some problems getting the offense going in the preseason opener.
Philadelphia Eagles – If RB LeSean McCoy and QB Nick Foles do anything nearly as well as they did last season, this should be another division win for the Eagles. It’s really the defense that is going to determine how far this team will go.
Washington Redskins – QB Robert Griffin III and WR DeSean Jackson can make for a serious threat, but it’s unsure if the combo are enough to counter an iffy defensive game.
New York Giants – QB Eli Manning cannot afford to have another season like last year, and neither can the O-line. If they can get their act together and the new recruits can help the defense, the Giants could be a threat to the division this year. But that’s a whole lot of ifs.
Dallas Cowboys – Not a lot of positive things to say about the Cowboys defense, but on the bright side WR Dez Bryant is always a dominant presence and QB Tony Romo isn’t all that bad either.
San Francisco 49ers – The Niners have been in the running for a Super Bowl win for a couple of years now, but have failed to make it to the big game. With QB Colin Kaepernick, WR Michael Crabtree and solid defense, this year might be their year.
Arizona Cardinals – They have lost a lot of their defense, which was one of the best in the league last year. So they have to rely more on their offense, led by QB Carson Palmer and the receiving core of Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and newcomer John Brown.
St. Louis Rams – Losing Sam Bradford in the preseason was a devastating blow to the team. It is going to take a lot for them to recover from it.
Seattle Seahawks – It seems as though all the doubts I hear about this team – “it’s hard to repeat” or “something is bound to happen” – are almost superstitious. The truth of the matter is that, right now, the Seahawks are the best team in the league. An excellent defense coupled with the amazing QB Russell Wilson is a hard combination to beat this year.