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2014 NFL team-by-team record predictions, playoff picks

The Seahawks' reign over the NFC West isn't over yet. (USATSI)
The Seahawks' reign over the NFC West isn't over yet. (USATSI)

Football season is about to begin and that means a clean slate for 32 teams, all of whom would like to be able to call themselves division champions or better when the dust settles.

While we still have the entire season in front of us, let's take a look at how all eight divisions stack up. I'll let you know who I think has the best shot at making the playoffs and I'll give you my predicted division standings, complete with each team's projected regular season record.

Here are my thoughts prior to season kickoff.

* -- Playoff teams

AFC EAST

There are young quarterbacks all over the AFC East in EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Ryan Tannehill. But still standing at the front of the pack is Tom Brady, who had a challenging 2013 and still managed to get the Patriots to the AFC Championship game.

Brady is getting older, but he's far from finished. After all this time, the Patriots are still the team to beat in the AFC East.

AFC East: Pat Kirwan's 2014 Projected Team Records
PlaceTeamProjected RecordPat Kirwan's Take
1.*New England
New England
12-4The AFC East is not ready to dethrone Tom Brady. Brady is 58-16 against his division and he should add at least four more wins to that total this year.
2.N.Y. Jets
N.Y. Jets
7-9The Jets are solid on defense and may have the best defensive line in the game. If Geno Smith falters, Michael Vick will get the call. Chris Johnson could reinvent his career in this run-oriented offense.
3.Miami
Miami
7-9The Dolphins' offensive line is being rebuilt and just had a setback with the hip surgery for Mike Pouncey, which only adds to the pressure on Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins' first two games are against New England and Buffalo.
4.Buffalo
Buffalo
7-9The Bills go as EJ Manuel goes and he may be a year away from being ready to lead his team to the division title. There's little doubt the Bills are headed in the right direction and could be better than anticipated.

AFC NORTH

This is one of the most interesting divisions in the NFL right now. The always-tough Ben Roethlisberger heads up a Steelers team that nearly fought their way into the playoffs in 2013 after a rough start.

Also in the North, the Browns have more attention on them than they have had in years thanks to a guy named Johnny Manziel, who -- for now -- will serve as Brian Hoyer's backup at QB, but will surely be a lightning rod for scrutiny all season long.

As if that weren't enough, you've got John Harbaugh's Ravens struggling to get back to the top of the league and the Bengals pushing for a division title.

AFC North: Pat Kirwan's 2014 Projected Team Records
PlaceTeamProjected RecordPat Kirwan's Take
1.*Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh
10-6Lots of people think the Steelers are old and over the hill. I'm not one of them. Big Ben took control of the offense in the second half of the season last year and finished 6-2 down the stretch. This year they win a close division race.
2.*Cincinnati
Cincinnati
9-7The Bengals have roster depth, which comes in handy in the rough AFC North. Losing both coordinators to head coaching jobs is a problem but there are enough play makers to make the playoffs.
3.Baltimore
Baltimore
8-8There's always an adjustment after a Super Bowl win and it looks like the Ravens may need two years for their adjustment. There have been some off-the-field issues that are frustrating to the organization and their leader, Ray Rice, may be sidelined for a while.
4.Cleveland
Cleveland
4-12Cleveland has solid leadership in the front office and on the coaching staff but they are not ready for prime time just yet. Look for a solid finish to the season and a glimmer of hope for 2015.

AFC SOUTH

There's a lot of building and re-building going on in the AFC South, a division that on paper looks like it belongs to Andrew Luck and the Colts.

The Texans hope to rebound from a very disappointing 2013 and will do it with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. The Titans head into 2014 with a strong defense and big ambitions, and the Jaguars are building for the future with rookie QB Blake Bortles in the fold.

AFC South: Pat Kirwan's 2014 Projected Team Records
PlaceTeamProjected RecordPat Kirwan's Take
1.*Indianapolis
Indianapolis
10-6Andrew Luck gives the Colts a chance every week and the return of Reggie Wayne gives him so many weapons. Luck is already 10-2 against division opponents and his run at QB for the Colts is starting to resemble the Peyton Manning era.
2.Tennessee
Tennessee
8-8The Titans are solid on defense, especially up front. New head coach Ken Whisenhunt will get the quarterback situation sorted out. The offense simply needs to score more points. Last year they had eight games where they scored 20 or less points.
3.Houston
Houston
6-10The Texans are better than their 2013 record would indicate, but how far can they really go with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center?
4.Jacksonville
Jacksonville
4-12Gus Bradley has his young team pointed in the right direction but he needs more talent on offense. They had 13 games where they scored 20 or less points. This year Bradley brought over some of his former Seahawks players to fortify the defense.

AFC WEST

As long as Peyton Manning is healthy and productive, the Broncos will remain the team to beat in the AFC West. But that doesn't mean the Chargers and Chiefs will go away quietly.

The Raiders are still struggling and might be playing their final season in Oakland, with Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Tuck and promising rookie Khalil Mack among the many new faces on the team.

AFC West: Pat Kirwan's 2014 Projected Team Records
PlaceTeamProjected RecordPat Kirwan's Take
1.*Denver
Denver
11-5The Super Bowl may prove to be a blueprint for playing against the Broncos offense, but it doesn't mean teams can stop Peyton Manning. Plus the division is nudging closer to Denver.
2.*San Diego
San Diego
9-7Philip Rivers had a great season last year and now he gets Malcom Floyd back to go along with Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates. The defense gave up under 18 points a game over the last seven weeks of the season including the playoffs. I think they return to the playoffs.
3.Kansas City
Kansas City
8-8The Chiefs delivered under Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith last year but they were 2-6 over the last eight games, including the playoffs. It's hard to double down on 11-win seasons.
4.Oakland
Oakland
5-11This is a must-win season for the Raiders' coaches and front office but it would serve the organization well to give them contract extensions now and build this team the right way. I suspect we will see Derek Carr under center before the season is over.

NFC EAST

The Redskins and Giants are both looking for redemption, with Washington in particular needing to bounce back from a disastrous 2013. With new head coach Jay Gruden running the show, things could get interesting there.

In Philadelphia, Nick Foles will try to replicate a surprisingly productive 2013 effort under now second-year NFL head coach Chip Kelly. As for the Cowboys, well, things aren't looking very good in Dallas, particularly on defense.

NFC East: Pat Kirwan's 2014 Projected Team Records
PlaceTeamProjected RecordPat Kirwan's Take
1.*Philadelphia
Philadelphia
9-7Chip Kelly did a masterful job in his first season ever in the NFL on any level. Can Nick Foles throw just two interceptions again? If so, they win more games than the nine games I predicted.
2.Washington
Washington
8-8I spent time with RG3 this spring and I was so impressed about his focus and leadership. The defense will be better. This could be a surprise team.
3.N.Y. Giants
N.Y. Giants
8-8The Giants brought in a lot of veteran players for experience and to plug holes. Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin have a solid history of rebounding from bad seasons. Do they have the pass protection and playmakers to do it again?
4.Dallas
Dallas
6-10The Dallas defense is going to be an issue once again. No DeMarcus Ware, no Sean Lee, no Jason Hatcher and as good as the offense might be, they will not score 35 points every week.

NFC NORTH

While the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers at QB, it could be the Green Bay defense that keeps them truly dangerous in 2014. The division-rival Bears and Lions both need to get their defenses cooking, but on the other side of the ball, the Bears have guys like Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall to help put up points.

Having left the Metrodome behind, the Vikings will face an uphill battle in this division while they wait out the construction of their new stadium. QB Matt Cassel now has rookie Teddy Bridgewater beneath him on the depth chart, waiting for an opportunity.

NFC North: Pat Kirwan's 2014 Projected Team Records
PlaceTeamProjected RecordPat Kirwan's Take
1.*Green Bay
Green Bay
11-5Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has a lot of 'jokers' on his defense now. Quarterbacks will struggle to figure out all the exotic pressures with Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Nick Perry.
2.Chicago
Chicago
8-8I might have this team undervalued with all the offensive weapons they have, but that Bears defense needs to make big strides.
3.Detroit
Detroit
8-8I don't think you can win by outscoring teams. Sooner or later the defense has to win games. The back end of the defense is the biggest question for me. Last year, Matthew Stafford only threw two touchdown passes in his last four games.
4.Minnesota
Minnesota
5-11The Vikings aren't that far away, but this division is tough and they may have lost their home-field advantage by moving outside when the Metrodome closed for good. Minnesota was 25-15 at home since 2009.

NFC SOUTH

While the Falcons hope to bounce back from a difficult 2013, the Saints refuse to go away and they remain the team to beat in the NFC South. Cam Newton's Panthers might have a rough go this season if Newton doesn't get some help on offense.

The Buccaneers are pinning their hopes on new QB Josh McCown and coach Lovie Smith to right the ship.

NFC South: Pat Kirwan's 2014 Projected Team Records
PlaceTeamProjected RecordPat Kirwan's Take
1.*New Orleans
New Orleans
10-6The Saints are led by Drew Brees and his arsenal of weapons, and that equals points. The defense is going to be much improved and home field means more wins. The Saints are 31-9 at home since 2009 and that includes a season without their head coach.
2.*Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay
9-7Lovie Smith will get this team turned around in a hurry, especially on defense. The offense will be up and running quickly with Josh McCown under center and those giant receivers.
3.Carolina
Carolina
8-8Cam Newton needs more receiving weapons to keep up with the Saints and Falcons in scoring. Throw in the new offense in Tampa Bay and the Panthers offense comes up a little short.
4.Atlanta
Atlanta
7-9There are still questions about the pass rush, pass protection and who replaces Tony Gonzalez. The season-ending injury to Sean Weatherspoon didn't help the defense.

NFC WEST

The NFC West is a very tough division and the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks will have their work cut out for them if they plan to return to the big game.

The 49ers are still a formidable team despite many players being plagued by non-football issues. The Cardinals will have a tall task matching last year's success due to a hard schedule. In St. Louis, the Rams will attempt to fight through a season without injured starting QB Sam Bradford.

NFC West: Pat Kirwan's 2014 Projected Team Records
PlaceTeamProjected RecordPat Kirwan's Take
1.*Seattle
Seattle
10-6The Seahawks have a winning formula and should repeat, but like the Broncos, teams are focused on breaking down their offense. The Seahawks have five road games against 2013 playoff teams.
2.*San Francisco
San Francisco
10-6It was and continues to be a strange offseason for the 49ers. Too many off-the-field issues to feel great about the upcoming season in the toughest division in the league. Kaepernick is 8-4-1 in division games.
3.Arizona
Arizona
8-8The Cardinals should have been in the playoffs last year with their 10 wins. They will not sneak up on anyone this year. Eight games against 2013 playoff teams isn't an easy task.
4.St. Louis
St. Louis
6-10The loss of Sam Bradford for the season really hurts, but they're not completely without hope. The Rams defense will hold up their end of the bargain.

PLAYOFFS

I struggled with my decision to leave Baltimore out of the playoffs, especially since the Chargers travel to Baltimore on Nov. 30 and that head-to-head could decide the last wild card spot. The Bengals have a deep roster and the Chargers have a good-looking passing game with Philip Rivers, so they are my wild card teams.

After visiting the Steelers, Patriots and Broncos this summer, I feel good about all three teams to win their divisions. The Colts division doesn't appear ready to dethrone Andrew Luck so the AFC picture is set for the time being.

In the NFC I like the Seahawks, Eagles, Saints and Packers to win their divisions and the 49ers as a wild card was an easy choice. The Bucs under Lovie Smith have a real chance to turn things around quickly and become the longshot for the playoffs.

When the dust settles, I see Peyton Manning and an improved Denver defense heading up to Foxboro to battle the Patriots for the right to go to the Super Bowl. When I looked at both teams' schedules, the Broncos have to go into Foxboro on Nov. 2 and that will be the reason the Pats get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and return to the Super Bowl.

In the NFC, it feels like it is coming down to the Seahawks and Packers, which ironically is the opening game for the 2014 season. After watching Seattle and San Francisco this summer I like Seattle to win the division, but getting home-field advantage throughout the playoffs could be tough to achieve. The wild card in the NFC race for me is New Orleans. If the Saints ever get home field throughout the playoffs, it will throw my predictions for the NFC upside down.

Finally, the Super Bowl will come down to Green Bay and New England. After watching the Patriots a few times this summer, they look ready to regain the world title.

Playoffs:
AFC wild cards -- Cincinnati and San Diego
NFC wild cards -- San Francisco and Tampa Bay
AFC Championship game -- New England over Denver
NFC Championship game -- Green Bay over Seattle
Super Bowl -- New England over Green Bay

>> Need more Week 1 prep? NFL Expert Picks

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