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2014 Bold Predictions: Racing to catch Super Bowl champion Seahawks

The SportsXchange

By the second week of January, only eight teams will remain in the chase for the Lombardi Trophy. While the league's elite wage a dramatic battle to reach the Super Bowl, 24 other teams will already have their sights set on the 2014 NFL Draft - which has now been pushed back to May.

With a strong front office and solid offseason moves, just asked the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles how fast fortunes can change in the NFL. Then again, you can also ask the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans.

The Sports Xchange polled its professional correspondents for a bold prediction on all 32 NFL teams.

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: It's Groundhog Day in Dallas seemingly every year. For the past three years the Cowboys have gone down to the season finale in a win-or-go home scenario for the NFC East title and the playoffs. As long as they have Tony Romo at quarterback they will stay in contention in a mediocre division. As long as they have Jerry Jones as owner, they will be hard-pressed to win big because of bad decisions on players, contracts and the salary cap. They are already $30 million over next year's cap. So it will be 8-8 again.

New York Giants: Despite several late-season performance pushes by some players who have otherwise been inconsistent, the Giants are sure to have a significantly different look next year. Players such as defensive ends Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka and cornerback Terrell Thomas are just some of the long-time familiar faces who could be part of the forthcoming sweeping changes - while tweaks to the coaching staff on offense (coordinator, quarterbacks, receivers) and special teams will also be in the works.

Philadelphia Eagles: From four wins in 2012 to 10 wins and the playoffs in head coach Chip Kelly's first season. They appear to have found their long-term quarterback in Nick Foles, which means they don't have to use their first-round pick next May on one. And they have considerable salary cap space to add a couple of quality free agents. The Eagles should be a Super Bowl contender in 2014.

Washington Redskins: Quarterback Robert Griffin III will return to form in 2014 under the guidance of a new coach, but the Redskins will still miss the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

NFC NORTH

Chicago: Just a year after the Bears rebuilt the offense from scratch, they'll be doing the same to their defense now that it has fallen to pieces. Expect them to spend all draft day and free agency bringing in defensive players. And at this point, backing off the one-gap, 4-3 style Tampa-2 and going instead to a two-gap with bigger defensive linemen looks like a more viable choice for them.

Detroit Lions: Dominant individual talents never jelled to form a dominant team for Jim Schwartz, but the Lions come together quickly under a more disciplined leader despite more average results from quarterback Matt Stafford thanks to a young core of defensive players led by first-round linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah after adding a fourth front four beast with the 10th overall pick in May.

Green Bay Packers: Big hits and sacks may have broken the bones of some notable players this season, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews, but the myriad missed games may not hurt a proud and talented team in the long run. After all, even at considerably less than full strength, the Packers won another NFC North title going down to the wire this season and should quickly work their way back into the talk for Super Bowl contenders next season.

Minnesota Vikings: Even with the commonplace worst-to-first ebbs and flows that come with every NFL season, the Vikings won't win more than eight games in 2014. They'll be regrouping with a new head coach, new coordinators and a new quarterback, plus they won't have the noise advantage of the Metrodome since they'll be in their first of two seasons outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium, home of the University of Minnesota.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons: Perhaps the Super Bowl hopes were unrealistic after coming up 10 yards short in 2012, but the Falcons will try to re-tool and get back in the playoff mix after making trips for four of the past five seasons and posting five consecutive winning seasons. Look for them to pull out all the stops to trade up in the draft to land South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Carolina Panthers: Coming off their first playoff appearance in five years, high expectations swirl around the Carolinas. But when all the breaks the Panthers got in 2013 go the other way, quarterback Cam Newton becomes mopey again during an early losing streak, general manager Dave Gettleman's cheap free agent finds turn out to be duds and Carolina is irrelevant again by Halloween.

New Orleans Saints: An overhaul of the offensive line is due, actually overdue, because they can't run the ball or protect quarterback Drew Brees the way he needs to be protected. It wouldn't be a shock to see three new starters there because they have to somehow try and balance the pass-heavy offense with some productive running in order to keep their $100 million quarterback healthy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs cleaned house, and now the fun begins. Former Bears coach Lovie Smith takes over, finds an impact quarterback in the draft to complement a defense with a strong core of playmakers and Tampa Bay finishes second in the NFC South.

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals: It's going to be difficult for the Cardinals to replicate this season. But after another year under coach Bruce Arians, and with general manager Steve Keim in charge if player acquisition, the Cardinals should be able to sustain success. Look for a playoff appearance in 2014.

St. Louis Rams: In the third year of the Jeff Fisher-Les Snead pairing, the Rams parlay the second pick in the draft into additional choices. Quarterback Sam Bradford recovers from a knee injury to propel the Rams to their first playoff berth since 2004 in the toughest division in the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers: After signing quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a $90 million extension, the 49ers leave play-calling to head coach Jim Harbaugh with offensive coordinator Greg Roman accepting a head coaching position. San Francisco signs wide receiver Eric Decker from the Denver Broncos and running back Darren McFadden from across the bay with the Oakland Raiders.

Seattle Seahawks: With a Super Bowl title in the fold, the Seahawks attempt to show they are not just a one-hit wonder. But salary cap issues that the team was able to largely avoid the past two seasons catch up to Seattle and the team falls short of a repeat.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: It has been 14 years since the Bills have earned a playoff berth, but the streak of futility will end in 2014. Another draft and free-agent crop will be enough to finally get this team over the hump with the leadership of head coach Doug Marrone.

Miami Dolphins: After a 2013 season chock full of drama, including a two-game collapse to miss the playoffs, the Dolphins plummet to the bottom of the division. Miami takes a step back while breaking in several rookie offensive lineman, a painful experience - especially for quarterback Ryan Tannehill - that doesn't pay dividends until 2015.

New England Patriots: The Patriots will have an aggressive offseason in pursuit of another Super Bowl title before the window closes on the Belichick/Brady era in New England. Though the team is usually conservative in free agency and even the draft, don't be surprised to see Belichick go after elite playmakers on both sides of the ball in an effort to surround Brady with a more talented roster.

New York Jets: Owner Woody Johnson did the unexpected by not firing Rex Ryan -- but doesn't extend him either as he chooses to let Ryan coach out the final year of his deal. General manager John Idzik is either unable or unwilling to upgrade the talent, though, so Ryan's time finally runs out, even though the Jets once again overachieve despite missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season.

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: Under the direction of first-year coach Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, the Texans lead the NFL in defense and rebound to win the AFC South with a 13-3 record, riding a dynamic pass rush from J.J. Watt and rookie Jadeveon Clowney -- acquired in a lopsided draft-day trade out of the No. 1 spot -- to erase the gap on the Indianapolis Colts.

Indianapolis Colts: Better health coverage across the board. The Colts were hit hard by injuries to key offensive personnel in 2013, most notably wide receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dwayne Allen and guard Donald Thomas along with running backs Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw. The return of Wayne and Allen, in particular, to the offensive mix should give quarterback Andrew Luck more of a comfort level as the Colts make a true run at the AFC title.

Jacksonville Jaguars: EverBank Field will have a new look when it gets a $63 million upgrade, including the world's biggest video boards and some kind of water feature, maybe a waterfall, to highlight the fact that the Atlantic ocean and St. Johns river are part of Jacksonville's identify. On the field, the Jaguars will continue the rebuilding project with a new quarterback and pass rusher and aim for a .500 mark in 2014 to set the stage for a playoff run in 2015.

Tennessee Titans: General manager Ruston Webster and Tennessee's fresh ownership turn the page, letting go of coach Mike Munchak after heavy deliberation, and their patience pays off with the February hire of 35-year-old Denver Broncos offensive coordinator wunderkind Adam Gase, who lights it up with a multiple-receiver offense directed by fellow Michigan State product Kirk Cousins and the defense, coached by father-in-law Joe Vitt, makes major strides to get the Titans into the playoff picture.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens won't struggle in 2014, winning on a consistent basis after overhauling the offensive line and getting a more creative playbook for quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens also draft a wide receiver to complement Torrey Smith. The team parts ways with fullback Vonta Leach, defensive end Chris Canty and inside linebacker Jameel McClain, while re-signing offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Cincinnati Bengals: A postseason win to end a 22-year drought, which would allow Marvin Lewis to not be nicknamed the Susan Lucci of NFL head coaches. Lewis still has the league record for most games coached with one team and no postseason victories, but at least one win should take some of the heat off him and quarterback Andy Dalton as the franchise continues to make steady progress.

Cleveland Browns: Josh McDaniels replaces one-and-done Rob Chudzinski and sells the front office on Johnny Manziel with the No. 4 overall pick. Johnny Football quickly finds out how fast NFL linebackers, and one of his trademark backfield 360s winds up in the grill of Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs and results in a season-ending September back injury.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Long the strength of the team, the Steelers defense will continue to release iconic veterans and continue in decline. In the meantime, their offense will rise to become one of the best and most balanced in the league. More 38-31 scores are in the offing for 2014 in Pittsburgh.

NFC WEST

Denver Broncos: A trip to their first Super Bowl in spite of injuries to Ryan Clady and Von Miller, an offseason of difficult salary-cap choices and then ... their fourth consecutive division title. With starters Eric Decker, Zane Beadles, Knowshon Moreno and Zane Beadles set for free agency, the Broncos will take a hit, but as long as Peyton Manning remains healthy and under center, they will remain elite.

Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid did a phenomenal job turning around the long-moribund franchise in just one season. But in the NFL, if you're not improving you're falling behind. Alex Smith is serviceable, but he's not leading the Chiefs to the Super Bowl without significant upgrades at wide receiver. The Chiefs take a stab at one of the top juniors set to make the jump to the NFL, but wide receiver is one of the most difficult positions to project to the NFL. The Chiefs whiff, and find themselves third in the AFC West scrambling to reach .500.

Oakland Raiders: If Al Davis were running the show, you could bet the house on the Raiders pulling out all the stops to land Johnny Manziel. But this team has holes almost across the board and general manager Reggie McKenzie plays the prudent role - actually dealing back to land Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and a few mid-round picks to slowly restock the roster.

San Diego Chargers: Head coach Mike McCoy's team bows out in the first round of the playoffs, but the momentum from a four-game winning streak to reach the postseason is hardly stunted. With quarterback Philip Rivers revitalized and injured wide receivers Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander returning to join Keenan Allen, the Chargers invest the No. 22 overall pick in Oregon play-making cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to help win double-digit games ... and still fall far short of Denver.
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