Monday, September 3, 2012

2012 NFL Season Preview: AFC

This post is in conjucture with my 2012 - 2013 season predictions. The difference as you will shortly see, is that this post gives my thoughts in words as opposed to my thoughts in records and predictions. Hope you enjoy!

It is pretty much a given that the Patriots will dominate this division. I don't see the Jets, Bills, or Dolphins giving them much of a challenge for the divisional crown. While the Patriots defense is a bit weak, their offense is killer. One writer has now claimed that Tom Brady is the best quarterback to ever play the game. While I don't agree with that, it's hard to argue that he is one of the best currently playing. With targets such as Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, and Brandon Lloyd for Brady to throw to, it should make the Pats pretty hard to stop this season. The big question this season is what is going to happen with the rest of this division? Who will come in second place and who will make the playoffs is the tricky thing to predict. The Jets are certainly on the media spotlight even more than ever with Tim Tebow drama added to the already annoying media drama of Rex Ryan. Honestly I think they are going to blow up. One wrong move by Sanchez and the crowd starts chanting Tebow. If Sanchez doesn't step up and/or lets it all get to his head, he is going to get pulled and the Tebow era will start. And honestly, when that happens, the Jets season will be over in my opinion. The Dolphins have completely started over with a new head coach and a new starting quarterback. I can see Ryan Tannehill having a decent outing in his rookie season, but I can't see the Dolphins doing much damage as I see them ending mediocre as always with somewhere between 6 and 8 wins. In my opinion the surprise team to look out for is the Buffalo Bills and here's why. While I wouldn't consider them a great team, I would say that they are a good team and when you look at their schedule, it is almost ridiculously easy. In addition to playing the Dolphins and the Jets twice, they also have games against the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals, Titans, Colts, Jaguars, Rams, and Seahawks. Finishing with anything less then 7 - 9 wins for the Bills will be extremely embarrassing. That schedule could even help them sneak into the playoffs.

With the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals in this division, it is always one of the tougher divisions to both play in and predict. This season each of the four teams will get the honor of playing the AFC West (Broncos, Raiders, Chiefs, Chargers) and the NFC East (Giants, Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins). While that doesn't make for an incredibly difficult schedule, it should make for a challenging schedule for each team as all 8 of those teams are teams that should make a run for at least a playoff spot. Ravens and Steelers should come out on top as always, although in which order they will finish always seems to vary. The Browns should finish last as always. It's been since 2002 since the Browns made a playoff appearance and 1994 since they won a playoff game and they didn't do enough in the offseason to make me believe it will be they will end those streaks. Sure the Trent Richardson addition will be nice, but Brandon Weedon and Colt McCoy headache should hurt them and with still no receivers to throw to, neither quarterback will do well. The Bengals are the most interesting team to discuss out of these four. They surprised most people last season by making a playoff appearance, but when you look at their schedule from last year that becomes less impressive. They didn't have a single win against a playoff team last year and so the schedule for this division that I mentioned before will hurt them the most I think. They do have a great young team to build off in Andy Dalton and AJ Green, but it's been over 20 years since the Bengals have made two straight playoff appearances and I don't think that streak ends this year.

It shouldn't be a huge shocker to you when I claim that this division will be the worst division in the AFC this year. The Jacksonville Jaguars are a real mess this year and will be one of the top teams in the Matt Barkley sweepstakes. Blaine Gabbert had no one to throw to last season, but even with that in mind he looked especially bad. You would've thought that he was a 6th or 7th round pick with the way he was throwing, not a 1st round pick. He could get the official bust label as early as midseason this year. The Jags did attempt to get one good receiver for him to throw to by drafting Justin Blackmon, but he immediately added character issues to his resume by getting arrested shortly after. The only thing the Jags have going for them is MJD, but there are even troubles there as he was holding out for a new contract and the Jags refused to pay him. Yes, he did end that recently, but he may not be playing with his whole heart this year. The Colts are also a disaster, but yet they do have promise with Andrew Luck. The story with them will be how well Andrew Luck does this year. I think he'll give them some promise, but the Colts will have to actually put a team around him before the Colts start contending again. The Titans could surprise people as they didn't do that poorly last year, but it will require Jake Locker to make a huge step forward if they are going to win the division. I don't think that it is being too bold for me to predict that the Texans come out on top once again. The issue they have is staying healthy. Sure they lost Mario Williams on defense and that hurts, but Wade Phillips in his first year as defensive coordinator led that defense to being one of the top in the league, which is impressive. Then there's that offense. If Matt Shaub, Arian Foster, Ben Tate, and Ande Johnson all stay healthy the whole year, which is actually a lot to ask out of that crew, then the Texans could actually make a Super Bowl push.

This is the toughest division to pick this year. Coming off a year where there was a three way tie for first place, all at 8-8, with the fourth team just a game behind at 7-9, literally anything could happen and I wouldn't be surprised. In my opinion the Broncos have the heads up with Peyton Manning now running the show there. The biggest concern with him is obviously being completely recovered from neck surgery, but if healthy he has the ability to make everyone around him good. He got the Colts playoffs countless times with almost no help and the Broncos have a better corps of players than the Colts did. They managed to make the playoffs and even win a game with Tim Tebow at the head, so Bronco fans should be happy. Last year Oakland fared decently well until the crashed at the end of the season. However, a lot of the games they lost were close games they could have won, so if quarterback Carson Palmer steps up his game, they could be in for another good run this season. Now that's a big if as Carson played pretty poorly last season. In his defense, though, he thought he was retired until he got the phone call midseason that he was going to play for the Raiders. With an offseason to prepare, he could easily be back to his old self. The Chiefs are essentially the same team this year as they were last year, so what they do is up in the air. The biggest change is that they will have Romeo Crennell on full time as their head coach and so how you think the Chiefs will do will essentially rely on how well you think Romeo will do as a head coach. Many think they will win the division, but I don't think they will. He's proved to be a great coordinator, but his only stint as a head coach didn't go very well. Yes, it was with the Browns, who are pretty much a cursed franchise anyways, so you could see this as his first real head coaching job. We'll see how he does. Last but not least is the San Diego Chargers. Once upon a time the Chargers were the kings of this division, but now that the division has caught up to them recently, they are on a two year skid of missing the playoffs that could very well continue this season. Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback who has recently forgotten that he plays for the Chargers (33 interceptions in the last 2 years - 20 last year). They did a good job of scaring off their best receiver in Vincent Jackson and only hope that the WRs the brought in this year can fill the void. There is also a lot of hope on the thus far underachieving Ryan Matthews. They could either pull themselves together or fall completely apart and neither would surprise me.

(continue with the NFC preview here)

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