Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Seattle Seahawks aren't the rule. They're the exception that proves it.
The Seahawks ruled the roost in the NFL a season ago, but if you're a defensive coordinator in this league, it's probably time to think about buying those Tums in bulk.
Offense continues to be the story in professional football and it's hardly a trend expected to slow down in 2014 despite the anomaly that is the reigning and defending Super Bowl champions.
A record 11,985 points were scored in the NFL a season ago, with games averaging 46.8 points, the highest level in history. Meanwhile, a high-water mark of 1,338 total touchdowns were scored and 11 different rang up at least 400 points, easily topping the previous record of nine set in 2008 and 2012.
The AFC champion Denver Broncos were the first team in NFL lore to crack the 600-point barrier and league-wide passer rating (86.0), and TD pass totals (804) both hit all-time highs.
As defenses around the league continued to be spread out and handcuffed, the average NFL game saw a total of 697 yards amassed and there were 24 individual 400-yard passing games, the most ever.
Seven different signal callers finished with 100-plus passer ratings, the most in history and five-time MVP Peyton Manning set single-season passing records for yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55).
With everything from rule changes to coaching philosophies continuing to point toward the offense, don't expect those kinds of numbers to be scaled back dramatically in 2014.
The up-tempo offenses Tom Brady and Manning brought to the table years ago were only accentuated by the innovative Chip Kelly in Philadelphia last year, and that's the template copycats from around the league are looking at now in an attempt to keep defenses from substituting.
That's a tactic only enhanced by the fact those same defensive coordinators with the indigestion problems began going to rotational fronts in order to keep their rushers fresh for the fourth quarter.
SO, CAN THOSE SEAHAWKS REPEAT?
The Seahawks are fresh off the franchise's first Super Bowl win, a 43-8 drubbing of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, and are the most talented team in football from one through 53 now that division rival San Francisco has taken a step back due to injury and suspension issues.
Seattle's stellar defensive backfield, however, has been targeted with an increased emphasis on both illegal contact and defensive holding penalties. That, along with the human nature aspect of being satiated by winning the big game, makes a return trip to the Super Bowl highly unlikely when you examine the analytics.
Champions have repeated just eight times since the first Super Bowl in 1967 and the past eight kingpins weren't even able to win one playoff game while shooting for the sequel.
"We have a target on our back now," said Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. "But our mentality is that this is a brand new year. And we're trying to do better than we did last year."
OLD FACES/NEW PLACES:
There are seven new head coaches in the NFL in 2014 -- Jim Caldwell in Detroit, Jay Gruden in Washington, Bill O'Brien in Houston, Mike Pettine in Cleveland, Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay, Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee and Mike Zimmer in Minnesota.
The high-profile player movement starts with the pass rushers as Jared Allen made the short trip from Minneapolis to the Windy City, while Julius Peppers exited Chicago for Titletown, and DeMarcus Ware decided Denver was preferable to north Texas.
Star defensive backs with Mayflower Moving on the speed dial include Jairus Byrd, who left Buffalo for New Orleans, Darrelle Revis, who exited Tampa stage left and went to New England, Aqib Talib, who left the Pats for the Broncos and Alterraun Verner, a former Titan who is now a Buccaneer. Safety T.J. Ward, meanwhile, left the Forest City of Cleveland for the Rocky Mountains.
Skill position talent filing change of address forms include wide receivers Eric Decker (Denver to the New York Jets), DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia to Washington) and Steve Smith (Carolina to Baltimore), as well as running backs Chris Johnson (Tennessee to the Jets), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville to Oakland), Knowshon Moreno (Denver to Miami) and Darren Sproles (New Orleans to Philadelphia).
The quarterbacks with new homes are Josh McCown in Tampa Bay, Matt Schaub with Oakland and Michael Vick with the Jets.
OUTHOUSE TO THE PENTHOUSE:
Conventional wisdom says there is always a worst-to-first scenario in the NFL and that held true in 2013 when both the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles reversed their fortunes and went from the outhouse to the penthouse
Parity is a way of life in the 21st century NFL and nearly every organization enters a new season with significant hope. There are simply no more five-year plans and the mantra for most teams is win and win now. If you can't, it's on to the next guy who can.
In 2013, almost 70 percent of NFL games were within one score (eight points or fewer) in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, there were five new playoff teams from the prior year: the Panthers, Eagles, Kansas City, New Orleans and San Diego.
Since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990, at least four teams have qualified for the playoffs in every season that were not in the postseason the year before.
With that in mind, here's The Sports Network's predictions for the 2014 NFL campaign:
NFC EAST CHAMPS: Philadelphia Eagles - The Eagles win this division again by default. Kelly is mentoring a good team with some significant holes, especially on the defensive side of the ball. That said, the rest of the NFC East looks like a moribund bunch incapable of reaching past eight wins.
NFC NORTH CHAMPS: Green Bay Packers - The Packers were dismal without Aaron Rodgers last season and still won the division. If their superstar is under center for 16 games this time around forget about anyone challenging Green Bay for this division crown, although Chicago will be explosive offensively and Minnesota, under new coach Zimmer, will make major inroads.
NFC SOUTH CHAMPS: New Orleans Saints - If the Saints figure out how to win away from the Superdome on a more consistent basis, there is a very good chance Sean Payton's club will be playing in Glendale come February.
NFC WEST CHAMPS: Seattle Seahawks - Injury woes, suspensions and potential suspensions have taken a bite out of the San Francisco 49ers and the NFL's best rivalry. There is a natural inclination to feel satisfied after you win a Super Bowl but the Seahawks enter 2014 as the best team in all of football.
NFC WILD CARDS: Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Smith's old team and his new one will round out the NFC playoff field. The Bears had the second- best offense in all of football last season and sport an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions. If their veteran defensive talent like Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and D.J. Williams can hold up and stay injury-free, a postseason berth is within reach.
As for Tampa, Smith's steady hand will get the defense moving in the right direction and the Bucs did a nice job trying to duplicate what McCown had in the Windy City last year.
McCown put together an amazing 13-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while completing 66.5 percent of his passes and amassing an impressive 8.2 yards per attempt, a plain indication he was able to get the football down the field with the Bears.
The veteran free agent pickup had huge, talented receivers while in Chitown like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, along with tight end Martellus Bennett, and excelled while tossing jump balls and back-shoulder fades. The Bucs attempted to copy that blueprint by drafting Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, both 6-foot-5 players, to team with just as lengthy Vincent Jackson.
AFC EAST CHAMPS: New England Patriots - "Tom Terrific" gets it done yet again in what looks like a one-deep division.
AFC NORTH CHAMPS: Baltimore Ravens - The Bengals will not be able to overcome the losses of both of their coordinators (Gruden and Zimmer) from last season. The Ravens, meanwhile, upgraded their offensive line, which means a better running game, and Joe Flacco will have far more targets to work with as Steve Smith is now on hand along with a healthy Dennis Pitta.
AFC SOUTH CHAMPS: Indianapolis Colts - This might be the Colts' division for the next decade or so if Andrew Luck continues to develop at a rapid pace.
AFC WEST CHAMPS: Denver Broncos - Denver was always going to be a serious threat to get back to the Super Bowl as long as Payton Manning returned, but by "winning" free agency, the Broncos have seemingly lapped an AFC field they were already dominating.
AFC WILD CARDS: Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers - The Steelers are renowned for their stability, employing all of three coaches since Chuck Noll arrived in western Pennsylvania in 1969. That continuity has spawned a record six Super Bowl titles with each coach -- Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin contributing to the Lombardi Trophy collection, but the legacy has morphed into mediocrity over the past two seasons, with Pittsburgh posting a Dallas Cowboys-like 16-16 mark over that span. It begins to shift back to normal this year.
The Chargers, meanwhile, possess a quarterback in Philip Rivers who may not have the reputation of the true elites but plays at a level only those top- tier signal callers can reach. In a quarterback-driven league, that's kind of a big deal.
NFC CHAMPIONS: New Orleans
AFC CHAMPIONS: Denver
SUPER BOWL XLIX WINNERS: Denver - If you were thinking the Broncos' 43-8 thumping at the hands of the Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII would cause Manning to ponder his football mortality, think again. The reigning NFL MVP, who turned 38 in March, has flashed a sense of urgency highlighted by his organization's high-profile foray into free agency. That's enough to get Denver over the hump.
AND THE WINNER IS
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay - In his last healthy season, Rodgers led the league in passer rating (108.0) for the second consecutive year, becoming the first QB to do so since Peyton Manning led the NFL in the category in three straight seasons (2004-06). Meanwhile, his combined passer rating of 114.9 from 2011-12 was the best two-season passer rating in NFL history. Figure on more of the same this time around.
In the mix: Manning; Adrian Peterson, Minnesota; Calvin Johnson, Detroit; Matt Ryan, Atlanta; Drew Brees, New Orleans; Luck
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: J.J. Watt, Houston - When talking about a normal player, you might worry about the work ethic after a check for $30 million of guaranteed money is cashed, but you don't have to be concerned with Watt, the poster child of the high-motor mentality defensive coaches look for. He still wants to be the first 20-20-20 player (20 sacks, 20 knockdowns and 20 tackles for loss) ever.
In the mix: Luke Kuechly, Carolina; Robert Quinn, St. Louis; DeMarcus Ware, Denver; Lavonte David, Tampa Bay
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Brandin Cooks, New Orleans - Opportunity is big when looking at this award and Cooks will slide in nicely as Darren Sproles' replacement in the "Where's Waldo" role for Drew Brees.
In the mix: Sammy Watkins, Buffalo; Blake Bortles, Jacksonville; Johnny Manziel, Cleveland
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Anthony Barr, Minnesota - Zimmer is no slave to a scheme. He's the type of coach who looks at talent he has and molds his plans around it. Barr is a raw, physical freak who will be asked to go get the quarterback in a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role.
In the mix: Jadeveon Clowney, Houston; Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh; C.J. Mosley, Baltimore.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Smith - It's probably fair to think Smith has a ceiling as far as success goes. His long-term stint in Chicago foreshadows that he's not getting you the Lombardi Trophy, but he is going to make you very competitive and do it rather quickly.
In the mix: Sean Payton, New Orleans; Chip Kelly, Philadelphia; Zimmer
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Percy Harvin, Seattle - The Seahawks finally saw the kind of big-play ability Harvin provides in the Super Bowl. The receiver, who was acquired from Minnesota for a first-round pick before the 2013 season, spent the majority of 2013 rehabbing from hip surgery before piling up 137 all-purpose yards (team-leading 45 rushing, five receiving and an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the second half) in the Super Bowl. Harvin is a heck of a talent and one of the best playmakers in all of football, a YAC (yards after catch) machine and an absolute field-tilter as the game's best pure kickoff returner.
In the mix: Robert Griffin III, Washington; Julio Jones, Atlanta; Rob Gronkowski, New England; Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
MVP: Rodgers - A-Rod will pilot the Packers back to the postseason again and lead the NFL in passing while doing it.
In the mix: Manning, Brees
- Denver QB Peyton Manning needs 18 touchdown passes to pass Brett Favre (508) for the most all-time.
- New Orleans QB Drew Brees needs only 395 passing yards to pass John Elway (51,475) for fourth place all-time.
- New England QB Tom Brady needs two regular-season wins to become the third starting quarterback with 150 wins
- Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson needs two 200-yard rushing games to surpass O.J. Simpson (6) for the most in NFL history.
- Detroit WR Calvin Johnson needs one 200-yard receiving game to pass Lance Alworth (5) for the most all-time.
- Oakland DB Charles Woodson needs one interception-return TD to tie Rod Woodson (12) for the most all-time, while Atlanta KR Devin Hester needs one return TD to pass Deion Sanders (19) for the most in NFL history.
THE BILL MAHER SEGMENT/NEW RULES:
There are several new rules and points of emphasis for the 2014 season in the NFL.
- Unnecessary roughness: In the interest of player safety, the prohibition on offensive blockers rolling up on the back of the legs of a defender has been extended to include the side of the legs.
- Unsportsmanlike conduct: The rule prohibiting players from using the ball, pylon or other objects as props as part of a demonstration has been expanded to include the crossbar and goalpost. Call this the Jimmy Graham rule.
- Instant replay: The referee will now be able to consult with senior members of the officiating department during replay reviews. In addition, the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play will now be reviewable.
- Goal posts: The uprights will now extend to 35 feet above the crossbar, up from 30 feet in previous seasons, to help officials make definitive rulings on field goal attempts that previously crossed above the top of the uprights.
- Game clock: The clock will no longer be stopped after a quarterback sack outside two minutes of either half.
- All rules that encourage player safety will continue to be strictly enforced. The focus is on eliminating these tactics from the game. Players must avoid hitting or blocking opponents in the head or neck area, or using the crown or hairline parts of the helmet to make forcible contact anywhere on the body.
- Rules relating to illegal hands to the face also have been clarified. It is a foul if direct and forcible contact to the head, neck or face of an opponent, regardless of whether it pins the opponent's head back or is prolonged.
- Contact between receivers and defensive players prior to a pass will be a major point of emphasis as seen in the preseason. Defenders cannot initiate contact with eligible receivers more than five yards from the line of scrimmage when the quarterback is in the pocket with the ball. Grabbing a jersey or any other part of a receiver's uniform prior to a pass is defensive holding and will be penalized regardless of whether the official deems the grab to have impeded or restricted the receiver. Receivers can use their hands or arms to ward off contact initiated by a defender, but cannot push off to gain separation.
- Movement on the offensive line will continue to be a point of emphasis. Prior to the snap, any quick or abrupt movement by an offensive player or players in unison that simulates the start of a play is prohibited.
The NFL will take another step in its international development in 2014 by playing three regular-season games at London's Wembley Stadium.
The Oakland Raiders will face the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 28, the Atlanta Falcons will play the Detroit Lions on Oct. 26 in the first-ever nationally- televised game kicking off at 9:30 a.m. ET, and the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys will meet on Nov. 9.
THE GAMES (All Times Eastern) - WEEK 1
Green Bay at Seattle (-6), Thursday, 8:30 p.m. - The Seahawks have a 17-1 record at CenturyLink Field (including the playoffs) since Russell Wilson took over the team and that trend will continue in "Fail Mary II."
Seahawks 27, Packers 20
Jacksonville at Philadelphia (-10), Sunday, 1 p.m. - Chad Henne is the bridge in Jacksonville and the Jags just don't have the horses to keep up with the high-powered Eagles.
Eagles, 34, Jaguars 14
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-6 1/2), Sunday, 1 p.m. - The "Johnny Football" era in Cleveland will have to wait for now as Brian Hoyer, who passed for 615 yards and five TDs with 82.6 passer rating in his three starts with the Browns last season before tearing his ACL, tries to solve Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, a daunting task. "Big Ben" is 17-1 as a starter in his career against Cleveland.
Steelers 27, Browns 14
Minnesota at St. Louis (-4), Sunday, 1 p.m. - Zimmer will have the Vikings playing 21st century defense for the first time and the limited Shaun Hill, who will be making his first NFL start since 2010, doesn't have enough bullets in his right arm to combat what the Vikings' new coach will be throwing at him.
Vikings 23, Rams 16
New Orleans (-3) at Atlanta, Sunday, 1 p.m.- The Saints fancy themselves as a true Super Bowl contender, but they must prove they can pick up their play away from the cozy confines of the Superdome. Atlanta is looking at a bounce-back year now that Matt Ryan's two favorite targets -- Julio Jones and Roddy White -- are healthy.
Falcons 27, Saints 24
Cincinnati at Baltimore (-1 1/2), Sunday, 1 p.m. - Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has an 11-0 home record as a starter in September, deadlocked with ex- Redskin Jay Schroeder for the best mark among Super Bowl-era signal callers. Meanwhile, since joining NFL in 2008, Flacco is 62-34 record (a .646 winning percentage) as a starter, and is a stellar 24-12 (.667) against AFC North foes. This is a tough spot for the Bengals in their first regular-season game without Gruden and Zimmer.
Ravens 23, Bengals 21
Buffalo at Chicago (-7), Sunday, 1 p.m. - Buffalo just won't be able to keep up with the Bears, who figure to unleash their high-powered offense featuring quarterback Jay Cutler, who has won his past eight starts against AFC competition, and receivers Jeffery and Marshall, who combined for 2,716 receiving yards in 2013, the most by any duo in the NFL.
Bears 33, Bills 17
Washington at Houston (-3), Sunday, 1 p.m. - A pair of rookie head coaches take their first test in south Texas as Washington's Gruden matches wits with Houston's O'Brien. Gruden will rely on embattled third-year QB Robert Griffin III, who is only player in the NFL with 6,000-plus passing yards, a 90-plus passer rating and 1,300-plus rushing yards over the past two seasons, while O'Brien turns to journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has started 77 games in four previous NFL stops.
Texans 20, Redskins 17
Tennessee at Kansas City (-3 1/2), Sunday, 1 p.m. - Armed with a new contract, Chiefs AB Alex Smith will try to build on his impressive 30-9-1 record as a starter since 2011. Meanwhile, it's Jake Locker's last chance to prove he's the guy for the Titans.
Chiefs 23, Titans 17
New England (-5) at Miami, Sunday, 1 p.m. - Don't look at the numbers here if you are a Miami fan. The Patriots have won 10-or-more games in 11 consecutive seasons, the second-longest double-digit run in history, while Bill Belichick is one win away from becoming just the sixth head coach with 200 regular- season wins and Tom Brady is two wins shy of becoming the third QB with 150 regular-season victories. Meanwhile, Brady is 17-7 in his career versus the Dolphins. The Pats own the AFC East and nothing changes here.
Patriots 24, Dolphins 21
Oakland at New York Jets (-5 1/2), Sunday, 1 p.m. - It's not Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. The Raiders' Derek Carr will be the first rookie QB to start in 2014 after an impressive 11-of-13, three-TD performance against Seattle in the preseason. The Jets, meanwhile, are looking to build on Geno Smith's franchise rookie marks in passing yards (3,046) and rushing yards for a signal caller (366) during the 2013 season.
Jets 21, Raiders 13
San Francisco (-4 1/2) at Dallas, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. - Injuries and suspension issues may be an issue for the 49ers at some point, but this is a team that has gone to three straight NFC Championship Games against a club that was dead last in defense last year when they it had DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee at its disposal.
49ers 31, Cowboys 17
Carolina at Tampa Bay (-1 1/2), Sunday, 4:25 p.m. - Smith makes his Bucs debut after an impressive 81-63 stint in Chicago with three division titles, two NFC Championship Game appearances and a berth in Super Bowl XLI. The Panthers are coming off a 12-4 season and an NFC South championship but are dealing with significant issues on the offensive line, as well as wide receiver, along with a banged-up Cam Newton.
Buccaneers 17, Panthers 13
Indianapolis at Denver (-7 1/2), Sunday 8:30 p.m. - Manning gets another chance at his old team. Last year, his heir in Indianapolis, Luck, threw for 228 yards and three TDs while the Colts defense forced four turnovers and recorded a safety as Indy won, 39-33. Star pass rusher Robert Mathis, who recorded the safety for the Colts in last year's contest, is suspended as is Denver slot stalwart Wes Welker.
Broncos 37, Colts 27
New York Giants at Detroit (-5 1/2), Monday, 7:10 p.m. - The Giants will be searching to win their 50th road opener in the franchise's storied history with Eli Manning under center for the 151st straight game, by far the longest active streak by a QB. The Lions, meanwhile, open the Jim Caldwell era with their first "Monday Night Football" game on kickoff weekend since 1971.
Lions 27, Giants 23
San Diego at Arizona (-3), Monday, 10:20 p.m. - For the second time in 11 days, the Chargers and Cardinals will be squaring off. This time it counts, however. The two teams kick off the regular season against each other less than two weeks after closing the preseason in San Diego, a 12-9 Chargers victory.
Cardinals 21, Chargers 20.