As promised, so delivered.
1. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals were already pretty good in 2013. They won 10 games and were the only team to beat the Seahawks at home. Michael Floyd and Tyrann Mathieu emerged as young playmakers and Carson Palmer had a career saving revival. Despite all that, the Cardinals were edged out of the playoffs in a tough NFC. If the Cardinals had played in the AFC, they would have been in the conference championship game. This year. Mathieu is back after a torn ACL sidelined him prematurely last season. The Cardinals are also getting back Jonathon Cooper, their 1st round pick from a year ago. Cooper missed all of his rookie campaign with a broken leg suffered in training camp. The Cardinals also added talented safety Deone Bucannon in the first round of this year’s draft. A secondary of Bucannon, Mathieu, Antonio Cromartie, and Patrick Peterson ranks as one of the league’s best. Offensively, the Cardinals started slow last year before Carson Palmer really picked it up after some early stumbles. The Cardinals play in a killer division with powerhouses Seattle and SF and the talented young Rams. This year, they will capture the second NFC Wild Card spot.
2. Chicago Bears
Da Bears. I’m cheating a little bit here, picking them after they beat the Niners, but the talent is there. The offense is simply unstoppable and the defense stepped up nicely last week. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey are both monster receivers with terrific hands. You can’t double team both of them. That doesn’t mention Matt Forte, perhaps the league’s most dynamic receiving back. QB Jay Cutler may have the most natural arm talent in the NFL when he can stay on the field. The defense raises major concerns, especially now that Lance Briggs is getting a little long in the tooth and Charles Tillman is done for the season with a triceps injury. Rookie Kyle Fuller looked really good against San Francisco last week. The NFC North features 4 teams with major flaws. If the Bears stay healthy, they could steal the division.
3. Detroit Lions
Much like the Bears, this team is loaded with offensive talent. Matthew Stafford has an absolute cannon, Calvin Johnson is an all-time great, and Reggie Bush is a threat in either the passing game or on the ground. This year, they’ve finally added a legitimate number 2 receiver in Golden Tate. Tate has spent his entire career to this point with the Seattle Seahawks, and he was a key piece in their championship run last year. Tate has great hands, which is a perfect fit for the Lions because the number one issue for Detroit receivers other than Megatron last year was drops. They also added an exciting young tight end in Eric Ebron. On defense, DeAndre Levy is making a name for himself as one of the premier linebackers in the NFL. Detroit has the talent to go 10-6 or 11-5