AFC Projections…..Not Predictions
Here we go again! Welcome back to the “Controversial Truth”. Yesterday your were given the NFC Projections in which its projected, by myself, the Seahawks will play in MetLife stadium in early February. Today we take a glance at the AFC, division by division, and project which team will advance to the big game. Last season, the Ravens were my selection based off the fact the window of opportunity was closing for a few core guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed while guys like Ray Rice and Joe Flacco were entering their prime. Good coaching to go along with great veteran leadership also played a huge role in the Ravens success. Who is that team this season? Well, lets start by taking a peek at the AFC east.
Lets call it the AFC (L)EAST
In the AFC east there is one team that reigns supreme. The Patriots have won the AFC east 4 seasons in a row and have won the division 9 of the past 10 seasons. Tom Brady has led the Patriots to 10 division titles in 12 seasons. So what’s to stop the Patriots this season?
Let us take a moment to review the other combatants in the AFC east starting with the Bills. Here is a franchise without a winning record since 2004. They are coming into this season with a new head coach, Doug Marrone, who last season led Syracuse to an 8-5 record and a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl. In 4 seasons at Syracuse their record was 25-25. The Bills finally drafted a “franchise” quarterback in E.J. Manual out of Florida State. He’ll start the season after having minor knee surgery and missing the final 2 preseason games. Kevin Kolb is out for the season with a concussion and I drafted rookie, Jeff Tuel out of Washington State, being the only back up. The defense hopes to improve from 26th a year ago by returning a healthy Mario Williams who has to live up to his contract. Who are we kidding? This team has no shot to win the division. Let us move on to the Dolphins.
Now, here is a team that made major moves in the off season on both sides of the ball. The Dolphins drafted defensive end Dion Jordan out of Oregon with the 3rd pick of the 1st round to go along with Cameron Wake on what has the potential to be one of the more lethal pass rushes in the league. The Dolphins also acquired ex-Raven, Dannell Ellerbe and ex-Falcon, Brent Grimes to help shore up an already solid defensive unit. On the offensive side, say good bye to Reggie Bush as the explosive play maker and say hello to super fast, Mike Wallace. The Dolphins could have a solid team strong enough to compete for a division title if 2nd year quarterback Ryan Tannehill can avoid the sophomore jinx, limit his turnovers and manage games.
As far as the J-E-T-S go……Just End The Season already. Rex Ryan should be fired and seems to be a dead man walking. The Jets have no chance in hell of winning anything outside of back page headlines in the New York Times. The best bet in the AFC east is a sure thing. Though Tom Brady lost his entire receiving core, it’s safe to believe in Brady, Belichick and the system run by the Patriots over the unproven commodities in the AFC east.
Going out west in the AFC
The AFC west is very similar to the AFC east. On the top of the division there seems to be a clear cut favorite in the Broncos followed by a very talented Chiefs squad then a mediocre Chargers team and finishing up with the lowly Raiders who have no shot.
This division may not seem hard to decipher seeing the Raiders and Chargers are subpar in the talent department. Many people may want to write the Chiefs off but not so fast! The Chiefs, who were 2-14, just a season ago have more talent than the record reflects. Last season the Chiefs defense that ranked 25th in the league had 4 pro bowl players on that side of the ball. All 4 pro bowlers on the defense are returning to compliment an offense containing pro bowl running back Jamaal Charles and newly acquired Alex Smith to run new head coach, Andy Reid, system. The Chiefs added a right tackle in the draft taking Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan with the 1st pick. There are playmakers on the outsides with Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, tight end Anthony Fasano and offensive weapon, Dexter McCluster. Any result outside of the playoffs is failure and shame for a team with so much talent.
With that stated, it’s hard to go away from a for sure thing. Peyton Manning has led his teams to division titles in 8 of the last 9 seasons he has started going back to his days as a Colt. True, the defense is a concern after losing Elvis Dumervil to the Ravens, Von Miller 6 game suspension for substance abuse and Champ Bailey is talking to Father Time. Nothing new to the “sheriff” who often played with mundane defenses in Indy. The Broncos drafted Monte Ball to replace Willis McGahee in the run game while adding Wes Welker to an already stout receiving core. Peyton Manning’s arm strength seems to have improved over the off season. His work ethic is 2nd to none. Another season with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker along with finally healthy Julius Thomas, is sure to make this a top offense in the NFL and more than likely another division crown.
The rough and tough, AFC NORTH
You talk about a tough pick! This, in my opinion, is the toughest division in football. When you talk about grit and grind in the NFL, you talk the AFC north division. This is the home of the champion, Baltimore Ravens. The home of the Pittsburg Steelers who have 3 Superbowl appearances in the last 7 seasons, winning twice. The Cincinnati Bengals reside here in the AFC north and though they don’t have the same stellar resume as the previous mentioned teams, they seem to be everyone’s favorite to come out the AFC this season. Then there’s Cleveland’s Browns, a team that’s easy to dismiss but they actually seem to be moving in the right direction.
Lets start in Cleveland where the Browns, in my lifetime, have been known for being a rough, dirty, competitive, losing team. They are the definition of mediocre since the days of Madden ’95. The Browns are the only team in the AFC north to never win a division title. The Browns are going in the 2nd year with quarterback Brandon Weeden and stud running back Trent Richardson as they look to build on a 5-11 record from last season. They added linebacker, Barkevious Mingo through the draft and linebacker, Paul Kruger via free agency to bolster a defense that finished 19th in the league. Look for them to improve this season but a division title is a stretch.
The AFC north comes down to 3 teams and the Browns ain’t one of them. The Bengals have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons and are a favorite to come out the AFC. You have to love the defense headed by Geno Atkins and run by head coach, Marvin Lewis. The defensive unit is usually solid, finishing 8th in the league last season. Andy Dalton has been able to manage the offense, improving from year one to year two. It has to be great playing with A. J. Green, a threat at wide receiver having caught 18 touchdowns from Dalton in his first 2 seasons, and pro bowl tight end, Jermaine Gresham. The special teams are good. Hey, why not the Bengals? Andy Dalton taking the next step from game manager to game winner will perhaps determine whether the Bengals can reach the big chill in February. Or maybe the Bengals will fold under the hype. I believe the former to be true but we’ll see.
That brings us to the 2012-13 Superbowl champion Baltimore Ravens. Yea, the lost some old players on defense and replaced them with younger, talented players at those positions. There is no need to focus on that. Sure the offense lost Anquan Boldin who was a big piece during the playoff run and a key cog to the Ravens being champions. Again, no need to concern yourself with that. Just know, since Joe Flacco has been at the helms, the Ravens have been to the playoffs every season, winning fewer than 10 games only once. They have won the AFC north the past 2 seasons and they will compete for the crown this season.
The Steelers could be the odd team out, though it is hard to fathom the Steelers missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons, something they have not done in this millennium. The defense is a concern after losing James Harrison to the Bengals while stars in other areas are getting older. Troy Polamalu is back but very injury prone. The offense has 3 key pieces missing after losing Mike Wallace to the Dolphins, draftee Le’veon Bell to a mid-foot sprain and tight end Heath Miller also out with an injury. They don’t have the best O-line which is why Ben Roethlisberger is constantly on the run, getting hit and playing through injuries which he was not able to avoid last season. Could we be witnessing the fall of the Steelers? Just 2 seasons ago, 3 teams made the playoffs in this division. It’s a long shot it happens again soon. I’ll pick the Ravens to 3-peat the division title but this is one of the few divisions up for grabs.
Welcome to the AFC SOUTH
Last season the Texans took the AFC south and they have done nothing to cause me to think they will not win it again. The Texans took a very good roster from a season ago and made it better. It’s Superbowl or bust for Houston. They added Ed Reed to shore up the secondary. Brian Cushing is returning from a season ending injury from the year prior and he is a real game changer at the linebacker position especially when J.J. Watts is dominating the trenches. The offense, ranked 8th in the league last season, brings back its core pieces and adds the explosive DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson) to play opposite Andre Johnson. The offense is good. The defense is good. The special teams are good. Can Matt Shaub come through when playoff time roll around or is he the AFC version of Tony Romo? Either way the Texans should win the division comfortably.
The Colts are a team seemingly on the rise as well coming off an 11-5 season under rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck. Chuck Pagano is back on the sidelines after missing just about all of last season after being diagnosed with cancer. Therein lies my concern with the Colts. How well can Chuck coach’em up? Last season Bruce Arians took over in Chuck’s absence doing a superb job. Will Luck avoid a sophomore slump? He has a lot on his shoulders. Yes, the Colts added to the offense signing Darrius Heyward-Bey and Ahmad Bradshaw to go along with the reliable Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton who shows much promise as a wide out and return man. With a defense that ranked 21st int the league last season, Andrew Luck may be forced to do too much which may result in a season not quite as good as the previous year.
While the Titans are a team not to be slept on, they are also a team with a lot to prove if they are to be taken seriously. The Titans are solid on both sides of the ball but they have question marks at the quarterback position and on the side lines where the head coach, Mike Munchak. Until we see who Jake Locker really is it will be difficult to gauge how good or bad the coach and this team is. You can’t pick’em that’s for sure!
No need to waste time on Jacksonville.
The Final AFC Projections
In conclusion, the Patriots, Broncos, Ravens and Texans win their respective divisions. The wild card goes to the Chiefs and Bengals. When its all said and done, the Texans seem to be the most complete team with the formula to reach a Superbowl considering it has a good offense, defense and special teams. Shaub can be either Tony Romo or Joe Flacco. Gary Kubiak now has to prove if he’s a great head coach or just a great offensive coordinator. My pick to come out the AFC is the Houston Texans.
That sums up my 2013-14 NFL preseason projections. I project the Seahawks will face the Texans in a bad weather game at MetLife stadium come February. Peyton Manning will win the MVP and Eddie Lacy will win rookie of the year. Those are my projections and I’m sticking to them. Til next time, this has been the truth! Thank you and stay blessed.