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History is not kind to the Super Bowl runner-up. It's been over 40 years since a club won the Big Game following a second-place finish the season before. According to Vegas, that streak is in jeopardy, as the Broncos - coming off the business end of a 43-8 beatdown by the Seahawks - enter the 2014 NFL campaign as favorites. The team with the next-best odds? You guessed it: the reigning title contenders in the Emerald City.
Not to say a rematch is a foregone conclusion. Seattle lost key contributors in Brandon Browner, Chris Clemons and Golden Tate, and have the misfortune of competing in one of the toughest divisions in football. Denver, meanwhile, has more than a few question marks on offense, with Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker departing in free agency and Wes Welker suspended for the first quarter of the season.
Besides, as recent years have illustrated, preseason love does not parallel to winter success. The Baltimore Ravens, the defending Super Bowl champs at this juncture last year, failed to make the playoffs. San Francisco, the 2013 favorite, saw Richard Sherman knock down their Lombardi hopes in the NFC Championship Game. The NFL, she is a fickle mistress.
So which teams will face off in the Big Dance? To answer this question, WhatIfSports.com is proud to present its annual NFL playoff and Super Bowl picks. As always, all of our simulated NFL content is based on the statistical DNA of the league's 32 teams. The simulation process takes into account team depth charts, injuries, passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards, turnovers, rush defense, pass defense, offensive philosophy (pass versus rush), the aptitude of the local PED dealer, etc.
The rosters and depth charts used were up-to-date and accurate as of September 2, 2014.
Please note: Complete projected standings can be found at the end of the article.
Wild Card Predictions
|@ Indianapolis Colts||53.5||20.9|
|Kansas City Chiefs||43.3||18.0|
|@ Baltimore Ravens||56.7||20.5|
|San Francisco 49ers||52.9||21.7|
|@ Philadelphia Eagles||47.1||20.5|
|@ New Orleans Saints||47.2||22.0|
For those seeking an AFC title contender not named the Broncos or Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts, under the direction of third-year arm Andrew Luck, have emerged as a dark horse candidate. Although the Horseshoes have a pedestrian backfield and feast-or-famine defense, the combination of Luck and head coach Chuck Pagano - along with a feeble AFC South slate - has equated to a favorable outlook for the Colts. Indianapolis takes care of business in the Wild Card round, dispatching the Cincinnati Bengals in Indy, bringing Andy Dalton's playoff record to a sizzling 0-4 mark. I'm sure Cincinnati fans will take that in stride.
Sticking in the AFC North, after missing the postseason for the first time in John Harbaugh's tenure last season, the Ravens return to January football, and in fine fashion, sending home the Kansas City Chiefs. Baltimore has quietly rebuilt its defense, and although Joe Flacco will never deliver eye-popping numbers, the Ravens' passing game has more than enough ammo in its arsenal.
In the NFC, Chip Kelly and his up-tempo attack have made the Eagles an enticing watch. Alas, the defense remains a porous unit, one that dooms the club as it falls to the San Francisco 49ers in Philly. The Niners' resistance isn't as stout as years' past, as injuries and suspensions have taken their toll; nevertheless, the defense remains one of the best in the conference.
Also seeing an end to their title aspirations are the New Orleans Saints, with Marc Trestman and the Chicago Bears advancing in the Wild Card round. The Bears made a concerted effort to surround Jay Cutler with more than enough weapons in the aerial attack. Look for Cutler to take advantage of these dividends, overcoming a so-so Chicago defense to reach the next weekend of playoff action.
|@ Denver Broncos||62.4||24.9|
|@ New England Patriots||55.3||21.3|
|@ Seattle Seahawks||65.8||23.5|
|San Francisco 49ers||49.9||21.3|
|@ Green Bay Packers||50.1||21.5|
Bad news for any mushy Colts fans who also root for Denver because, well, you know. Indianapolis travels to Mile High for the Divisional round of the playoffs, and the results aren't pretty, with Peyton Manning and the Broncos winning a robust 62.4 percent of the simulated matchups. Although the issue was a bit more in doubt on the other side of the bracket, New England comes out on top of Baltimore in Foxborough, claiming victory 55.3 percent of the time.
In a rematch from last year's playoffs, the Green Bay Packers get revenge on the 49ers, upending San Francisco in a closely-combatted battle. Many are envisioning the Packers as the squad with the best bet to give the Seahawks a run. Green Bay's defense is nowhere near as proficient as the Legion of Boom, yet the complement of Eddie Lacy to Aaron Rodgers makes the Packers an opponent no one wants to see in the postseason.
Speaking of Seattle, the Hawks start their title defense by sending home Chicago in style, notching a W in 65.8 percent of the simulated outings. Though Seattle's offense leaves much to be desired, few are better at managing the game than Russell Wilson, and it doesn't hurt to have Marshawn Lynch at your disposal. If Seattle can maintain most of its defensive aptitude from a season ago, watch out.
Conference Championship Predictions
|New England Patriots||46.8||21.3|
|@ Denver Broncos||53.2||23.1|
|Green Bay Packers||39.4||19.2|
|@ Seattle Seahawks||60.6||22.6|
Green Bay revisits the scene of the season's opener. Unfortunately for the Cheeseheads, it proves to be the place of their demise, with the Seahawks returning to the Super Bowl. Rodgers and company fail to do much of note against the Hawks, as Seattle limited the Pack to an average of 19 points in the simulated results.
Waiting for Seattle is...Denver, as the Broncos wave goodbye to the Patriots for the second year in a row. The average point totals (listed above) of the matchup may seem close; in truth, the Orange Crush wins a sizeable 53.2 percent of the games. It seems history will repeat itself, with the Broncos and Seahawks taking their rivalry to the sands of Arizona.
Super Bowl XLIX Prediction
|vs. Seattle Seahawks||54.3||23.1|
The Broncos get the opportunity for redemption...but fail to make good on the platform. According to the WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, the Seattle Seahawks win Super Bowl XLIX 53.6 percent of the time by an average margin of 23-20.
Manning and the Broncos may be the favorites in Sin City. But in the simulation world, the Seahawks still reign supreme.
Projected NFL Standings
Playoff participants are denoted by * (division winners) and + (wild card recipients). Tie breakers are based on projected win percentage.
|New England Patriots*||10||6|
|New York Jets||8||8|
|Kansas City Chiefs+||9||7|
|San Diego Chargers||7||9|
|New York Giants||7||9|
|Green Bay Packers*||10||6|
|New Orleans Saints*||10||6|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||5||11|
|San Francisco 49ers+||10||6|
|St. Louis Rams||6||10|
Joel Beall is the Assistant Content Manager for WhatIfSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.