Tuesday, August 28, 2007

AFC Preview

An exercise in futility, I know, but here goes...

AFC East

New England Patriots 12-4, first place
This one's easy. Best QB in football, best DL, and one of the top 3 OLs as well. Additions like Adalius Thomas and Randy Moss are just a bonus. Additional depth at LB, WR, and DB will help when the usual rash of injuries hits this team. Weaknesses would be safety and RB depth, but those are easily overcome with strength at the three key positions. Only way this team doesn't win the division is if Brady gets hurt.

Buffalo Bills 7-9, second place
The Bills didn't do themselves any favors in the offseason by letting good players like London Fletcher, Nate Clements, Takeo Spikes, and Willis McGahee walk away without any immediate compensation. The young talent on defense is very good, but they'll need time to develop. Weaknesses include the second WR, TE, and nickel CB. Expect this team to have a streaky offense combined with a defense that makes mental mistakes and has trouble getting off the field on third down. Not a recipe for a great 07/08 season, although the future is bright.

New York Jets 6-10, third place
Last year's 10-6 record was a mirage, bolstered by weak competition and an inexplicable resurgence by Chad Pennington. The Jets come back to earth this season, and are exposed as a team that is weak on both lines and at QB. Thomas Jones is a great upgrade, but he'll miss Pete Kendall tremendously. The Kellen Clemens era begins by Week 11.

Miami Dolphins 4-12, fourth place
A 37-year-old immobile QB behind a makeshift OL, along with an aging defense. Weaknesses are everywhere, including the secondary, DT, and the entire OL. Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas can only do so much.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5, first place
I don't really want to make this pick, but my initial projections included the same 8 division winners as last season, and the odds against that happening are astronomical. This seems like a reasonable spot to take a chance. Pittsburgh isn't the most talented team in the division, but the more I watch Mike Tomlin, the more I'm convinced that the Steelers caught lightning in a bottle with their new head coach...again. Bill Cowher was the best in the NFL, so they will definitely miss him, but they are a lot close to the team that finished 6-2 than the one that started 2-6.

Baltimore Ravens 10-6, second place
Easily the best team on paper in the division. But the Ravens have a way of underperforming when the lights shine brightest (their Super Bowl year excepted, of course.) Haloti Ngata will be a beast, Willis McGahee will be an upgrade, and Demetrius Williams could give this offense an explosive threat that they've lacked for years. With all that said, they've lost 2/5 of their OL, their starting FB, and an impact LB in Adalius Thomas. Important players like Steve McNair, Ray Lewis, and Samari Rolle are aging fast and could be injury concerns. Expect a strong start followed by a fade as the season wears on.

Cincinnati Bengals 9-7, third place
Not much has changed here - explosive offense coupled with a bad defense.

Cleveland Browns 5-11, fourth place
They just aren't talented enough. Key areas like the DL and QB remain weak. Secondary is close to awful. LBs D'Qwell Jackson and Kameiron Wembley (I know I spelled that wrong, but too lazy to look it up) will develop into studs, and RB Jamal Lewis will be better than expected. What really kills them is the division they play in - they could be 0-6 in division again, and 5-5 vs. the rest of the league.

AFC South
Jacksonville Jaguars 11-5, first place
Just about everyone has given up on the Jaguars, which means it's about time for them to put it all together. Jack Del Rio is too good a coach, and there's too much talent on this team, to allow them to be down forever. Both lines are very strong, with Tony Pashos added via Baltimore, and the QB play of Byron Leftwich (in a contract year) should be good enough. They are extremely physical on both sides of the ball, and will pound opponents mercilessly. I expect them to finally break through, with a little help from the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts 10-6, second place
Bill Polian really does an excellent job of replacing talent with talent through the draft. Keep in mind what the Colts were last year - a 10-6 team that played over their heads on defense for three games to win the Super Bowl. Losing Nick Harper, Jason David, Mike Doss, Cato June, Dominic Rhodes, Booger McFarland and Tarik Glenn will be simply too much to handle. The young talent replacing these studs has a chance to be really good, but they are also raw, and I don't expect their defense to hold up against the run over the course of a season.

Houston Texans 8-8, third place
This team has more talent than they've had in a while. The OL and DL will play inconsistently, but overall much better than last year. Matt Schaub isn't anything special, but he's an NFL QB who will make quick reads and release the ball. DeMeco Ryans is an emerging superstar, and Jacoby Jones will have a Devin Hester-like impact on special teams.

Tennessee Titans 5-11, fourth place
How good would the Titans have been last year without their leading RB, WR, CB, and TD-scoring KR? This team is so good that Eric Moulds, who couldn't produce with Andre Johnson on the opposite side last year, walked in off the street and became the starting WR within a couple weeks. They amazingly drafted a safety in the first round and turned him into their starting CB. Problems abound on the OL, at RB, and in the secondary. Vince Young will have trouble developing with no help around him. A young and developing front seven on defense will be the lone bright spot.

AFC West

San Diego Chargers 12-4, first place
The offseason was a joke, and the coaching staff's a mess because of it. Still, it will take Norv Turner more than a year to screw up this amount of talent. Young offensive stars like Marcus McNeil, Phillip Rivers, and Vincent Jackson will continue to develop, adding a very dangerous complement to the All-Pro defense. The secondary and MLB are the only potential weaknesses.

Denver Broncos 9-7, second place
The preseason hasn't done much to dissuade me of the opinion that the Broncos' offseason acquisitions were overrated. Travis Henry has been injured for most of his career, Daniel Graham doesn't frighten defenses, and Dre Bly is no better than Darrent Williams was. Cutler should continue to develop, and the connection with Javon Walker will be deadly. He'll remain inconsistent, however, and make a few awful turnovers in big spots. The run defense is questionable, which is a scary thing given that they face LT and LJ twice each.

Oakland Raiders 7-9, third place
The Raiders' improvement this season will emphasize just how awful the previous coaching staff was. QB and OL will both play better, but remain question marks. The defense should continue to improve, although Michael Huff seems to be regressing (the same Michael Huff they passed on Matt Leinart to take.)

Kansas City Chiefs 4-12, fourth place
Weak OL, no DTs, and two choices at QB: mediocre or bad. Other than an aging Tony Gonzalez, and an overworked Larry Johnson, I just don't see any playmakers on this team. They have a couple decent DEs in Allen (who is suspended for the first two games) and Hali, but they lack speed in the secondary. Will be competitive most weeks but unable to close out games.

1st - Patriots
2nd - Chargers
3rd - Steelers
4th - Jaguars
5th - Ravens
6th - Colts


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