Four sides that performed well last year, did very little in free agency but lost some key players. How will the young guys step up?
Green Bay Packers (10-6)
Coach: Mike McCarthy (2006, 104-55-1) Veteran coach who is one of the best offensive minds in the game.
QB: Aaron Rodgers (2008) Rodgers is currently arguably the best QB in the NFL.
Kenny Clark (27) NT, UCLA
Jason Spriggs (48) T, Indiana
Kyler Fackrell (88) OLB, Utah State
As usual the Packers did not make any significant Free Agent transaction.
B.J. Raji NT (hiatus)
John Kuhn FB (FA)
Casey Hayward CB (FA)
James Jones WR (FA)
Andrew Quarless TE (FA)
As is the norm in Green Bay, the Packers were quiet during the offseason but historically that is the Packers, quietly re-sign young players and build through the draft. The healthy return of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb is going to make the Packers very dangerous again offensively and will stretch the field allowing slimmed down Eddie Lacy to return to his 2013 and 2014 form.
The huge hit of the offseason though was the “retirement” of B.J. Raji, the run stuffing behemoth who has anchored the Packers defense. If young tackle Letroy Guion can step up or even rookie Kenny Clark then the Packers defense will continue to hold strong. One of the best young safeties in the game in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and solid vet Morgan Burnett anchor a strong secondary and if Clay Matthews who has moved back to outside linebacker and evergreen Julius Peppers can create constant pressure teams will struggle to beat the Packers.
Buy low – 9 wins
Buy High – 13 wins
Cincinnati Bengals (12-4)
Coach: Marvin Lewis (2003, 112-92-2)
QB: Andy Dalton (2011) For many Dalton is considered the benchmark of mediocre at QB, pundits surmise that he is the minimum standard you would require for a starting QB and suggest any team with QB’s ranked lower are in need of an upgrade.
William Jackson III (24) CB, Houston
Tyler Boyd (55) WR, Pittsburgh
Nick Vigil (87) MLB, Utah state
Andrew Billings (122) DT, Baylor
Christian Westerman (161) G, Arizona State
Brandon LaFell WR (FA)
Karlos Dansby LB (FA)
Taylor Mays S (FA)
Mohamed Sanu WR (FA)
Marvin Jones WR (FA)
Reggie Nelson S (FA)
Leon Hall CB (FA)
The Bengals are in one of the strongest periods in club history with 5 straight playoff appearances (for five straight losses). Despite this the Bengals may find a drop off this season, with the loss of key receivers Sanu and Jones the pressure is going to be on journeyman Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd to step up. This means Dalton needs to develop rapport with them and if teams continue to double on AJ Green the Bengals offense could be in trouble.
Defensively Marvin Lewis has quietly built a very strong unit, ranking near the top of the league in the past few years. This group will need to continue to play at a high level to make up for what could be a drop off on offense. The Bengals will also need to play a potent Steelers and the resurgent Cleveland Browns twice and will also be playing one of the toughest schedules after winning the division last year.
Buy Low – 7 wins
Buy High – 9 wins
Seattle Seahawks (10-6)
Coach: Pete Carroll (2010,60-36) (93-67 overall) One of the most experienced coaches in the NFL, Carroll is still an aggressive play caller who backs himself and his players.
QB: Russell Wilson (2012) Ultra-competitive Wilson has become one of the premier field generals in the NFL, using his athleticism and a strong arm to combine with a great ability to make the right decisions in game, Wilson gives the Seahawks an edge on a weekly basis.
Germain Ifedi (31) G, Texas A&M
Jarran Reed (49) DT, Alabama
C.J. Prosise (90) RB, Notre Dame
J’Marcus Webb T (FA)
Bruce Irvin LB (FA)
Alvin Bailey G (FA)
Brandon Mebane DT (FA)
Russell Okung LT (FA)
Marshawn Lynch RB (retired)
Typically quiet offseason in Seattle under Pete Carroll’s regime, as always quiet during free agency and build from within. Some key veterans have been moved on and younger guys will need to step up, Michael Morgan will have to try and fill the void left by Bruce Irvin and 3rd year tackle Jordan Hill will likely move into the starting side. The Seahawks will continue to be a solid defensive unit but may find age is starting to catch them by seasons end.
The Seahawks biggest change in the offseason was the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, whether last years boom rookie Thomas Rawls and a revitalised Christine Michael can fill the void will be key to the Seahawks season. The second major change was the loss of Left Tackle Russell Okung to free agency, how Garry Gilliam goes protecting the blind side this year will be key to the Seaawks success.
While still one of the better sides in the NFL the Seahawks win totals have dropped over the past 4 seasons and this may be a trend that continues as veterans get a step slower and other teams improve.
Buy Low – 7 wins
Buy High – 9 wins
Washington Redskins (9-7)
Coach: Jay Gruden (2014, 13-19) An offensive minded coach in his third season as an NFL head coach, previously filled roles as Offensive Co-Ordinator for the Bengals and as an assistant on his brother Jon’s Tampa Bay staff in the early 2000’s.
QB: Kirk Cousins (2014) Beat out RG3 for the starting role last preseason and then delivered a high calibre performance, demonstrating pin-point passing and leading the Redskins offense to its best result for many years. He now enters this year as the presumptive starter with RG3 being released.
Josh Doctson (22) WR, TCU
Su’a Cravens (53) OLB, USC
Kendall Fuller (84) CB, Virginia Tech
Josh Norman CB (FA)
Robert Griffin III QB (released)
Alfred Morris RB (released)
Dashon Goldson S (released)
The Redskins had a very quiet offseason roster wise. Offensively they will look the same with the exception of 2nd year runner Matt Jones taking over fulltime in the backfield after Alfred Morris’ release. The run game last year was poor, partially scheme related, partially performance, Jones will have his hands full moving the chains consistently again this year. Kirk Cousins retains the job leading this team, having posted very strong numbers last year and delivered very consistent play throughout the year, if he can build on that the Redskins offense should improve further.
Defensively the Redskins made a huge splash, paying big dollars to secure Josh Norman, one of the premier shutdown corners in the game. They needed to, the Redskins defensive play was sporadic last year and the secondary was constantly under pressure. Norman will need to be at his best to help a defense in need.
In a division which is very open, mostly through a shared level of mediocrity, the Redskins could again be looking for the division crown, but may find a couple better this year.
Buy Low – 6 wins
Buy High – 8 wins