I'm not entirely sure what constitutes a "bold" prediction anymore in the NFL. With media coverage at saturation levels year-round and games only actually being played five months a year, there is no shortage of opinions out there and people willing to spout off about just about anything related to the world of football.
So allow me to whip out my laptop -- come on people, get your minds out of the gutter -- and enter the fray. The assignment was to come up with some bold predictions for this 2014 season; I guess that means I'm charged with coming up with some projected storylines and developments that you aren't going to find anywhere else on this sprawling World Wide Web of ours.
Are these predictions bold enough? You be the judge. Do they pan out? Well, we'll all find out soon enough.
1. At least seven rookie QBs start games this season: As I write this, the entire rookie class of quarterbacks was still slated to open the season holding a clipboard. But soon enough that will change. Their teams will struggle, the veteran incumbents were always on a short leash and as the weeks go by more and more of these kids will be flinging the ball. I still wouldn't be shocked to see Derek Carr be the first to start, though his injury has slowed that process, while Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel will be starting by October, I reckon. Teddy Bridgewater is there by midseason, I say. And, due to injuries or otherwise, I bet at least two more do as well. Zach Mettenberger and Tom Savage would get my early nod to be those guys.
2. Trade The Coach: If the 49ers fail to win the Super Bowl, then I don't see them resolving the impasse with Jim Harbaugh's contract. If they shop him, the numerous league sources believe the Raiders and Dolphins would be at the top of the list of teams wooing him. Steve Ross has to get his guy eventually, right? If Harbaugh wins the Super Bowl, they'll have to pay top dollar; if he does not I could see the 49ers promoting defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and getting multiple draft picks for Harbaugh.
3. Someone's On The Move: The siren call of LA is getting too loud and overt to ignore, and with leases up in St. Louis and Oakland, I believe some franchise will notify the NFL of an intent to move by February. Mark Davis has no real options, and I don't see Stan Kroenke getting something built in St. Louis or wanting to go year-to-year on his lease. This stuff is hitting critical mass and no one wants to be the second team to LA.
4. Manning's Record Falls: I could see either Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees breaking the passing yards mark Peyton Manning just set in 2013. It's too easy to pass in this league, they have brilliant play callers with them and are loaded with weapons. I would come right out and say Brees, given he plays in a dome, but his lack of preseason action gives me some pause. And I expect the Packers to be a pretty balanced run/pass team, but with this crackdown on illegal contact defenses will be even more on their back feet, especially against passers as gifted as these two. (As for Peyton, check out the defenses he faces).
5. One North rises; One North Falls: The AFC North is back, ya'll. Three of those teams will reach the postseason -- which we've seen before. The Bengals are loaded and the Ravens and Steelers are getting back to where they are accustomed to being. On the NFC side, however, the Packers will run away with things and the rest of the group will be shuffling along.
6. Return of Chucky: Jon Gruden can't stay away too much longer. He's not wired to call games forever and with his brother now head coach in Washington, the competitive juices are firing. Strong batch of rookie passers could be coming out, and some high-profile jobs like Miami and Dallas could be opening up ... and a return to Oakland (or is that San Antonio Raiders, or LA?) has always pulled at his heartstrings.
7. Josh Over Jay: A year ago, the Bears offense was unreal under Josh McCown, but the Bears paid Jay Cutler and McCown landed in Tampa. Both QBs have plenty of talent around them, but I'll go out on a limb and say McCown's TD/INT ratio bests Cutler's ratio this season.
8. Wattage: Seeing JJ Watt up close for two days terrorizing the Broncos made an impression. A big one. Not that I didn't know he was a stud, but he's an angry stud now with he and the Texans unable to bridge their gaps financially and Watt set to make a ridiculous $1.9M this season. The better he plays, the more the price tag keeps going up. I believe he could have a historically dominant season with Jadeveon Clowney now on the other side and break the sack record.
9. Pats clinch by Thanksgiving: I don't see anyone in the AFC East remotely challenging the Pats, which is nothing new -- but how about them clinching the division by Turkey Day? They'll win the division by four games or more and with no perfect season to chase, maybe Bill Belichick rests a few guys down the stretch ...
10. East is a Beast: To piggyback off that last item, with the rest of the AFC East suffering, change could be in the air. At least two teams in that division will end up making coaching and/or front-office changes by the end of the season, and it won't be in New England. And I actually think the Jets have a chance to at least duplicate what they did a year ago. The other two teams in the division, we shall see.