Monday, August 26, 2013

2013 NFL Season Preview: AFC

Recently I posted my 2013 NFL season predictions and when I do those I go game by game, week by week instead of pulling random records out of the air based on how I think things are going to happen. In doing so, I often surprise myself with the actual records I come up with, but now that that is all done, it's time to follow that up with the actual explanations behind those picks. I will begin with the AFC. In the past decade, the AFC has been the more dominant conference, but recently that has changed and in looking forward, it seems almost certain that the AFC will be the weaker conference again this year. With the NFC this year, you can make a case for every team to make the playoffs. With the AFC, it's hard to determine which six teams will make the playoffs. So let us begin!

AFC East:

With all that has happened to the New England Patriots this offseason, it would be an easy prediction to say that they will struggle and drop the division. Wes Welker is in Denver. Aaron Hernandez is in prison. Gronk's injury status is still in question. They still have Tom Brady, but who the heck is he going to throw the ball to? The hope is for Amendola to be the next Wes Welker and I actually think that he will have a huge year, but I have no idea about anyone else. However, in the end I think the Patriots will still pull off the division title mainly because I don't quite trust the Dolphins and that is their only competition.

Like I just mentioned, the Miami Dolphins are the only competition for the Patriots. They do have a decent defense that added Dion Jordan in the draft. Then they made the biggest offseason acquisition by grabbing Mike Wallace to team alongside Brian Hartline. One big question comes with who is playing runningback. Also, can Ryan Tannehill step up his game in his second season. This team could challenge the Patriots, but I don't see them overcoming them.

The Buffalo Bills have been stuck in the basement of this division for a long time now and I don't see that changing this season, especially with how they handled the draft. EJ Manuel in the first round? And now with Kevin Kolb's career apparently in question, he'll have to be the man. And if he's not... the Bills have Matt Leinart now? New coach Doug Marrone will have to pull some serious magic out his hat to make this work.

And finally the New York Jets. Last year I thought the Jets would be awful  and they somehow managed six wins. Now it seems like they are depleted as ever and neither Sanchez nor Geno Smith is looking good at all in the preseason. The Jets could be headed for the top of the draft next season. Or they could pull out a handful of wins since they do have the Browns, Raiders, Bills (x2), Titans, and Panthers on their schedule. They could also sneak a win from the Dolphins and Patriots without surprising me.

AFC North:

Normally the defending Super bowl champs would be considered as the favorite to win the division, but that is not the case this year for the Baltimore Ravens. It seems everyone jumped ship. The Ravens did a decent job of replacing people, but the enormous contract they were pretty much forced to give Joe Flacco didn't give them much breathing room. Flacco has proven that he's a winner in the playoffs, but outside the playoffs he is nowhere near the likes of Brady and Manning and he may have a hard time carrying a depleted Ravens team back to the playoffs.

Some say that the Cincinnati Bengals are the team to beat in this division. Honestly, I'm not ready to crown just yet. Sure they've made the playoffs two years in a row and they do have a good young team, but all they've proven the last two years is that they can sneak into the playoffs but when they get there they just lay over and play dead. If they as a team take their game to the next level, then I can see them winning the division, but if they don't, it could be a rough ride as they face a really hard schedule this year as four of their first five games are against the Bears, Steelers, Packers, and Patriots. Around that comes road games against the Browns, Lions, and Bills, which all should be winnable, but yet they are on the road. We are going to learn very quickly if this Bengals team is for real or not.

My personal favorite to win the division this year is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes their situation is very much like the Patriots in that talent in the skilled positions is a bit sparse, but also like the Patriots they have a great coach and quarterback and as long as Mike Tomlin and Big Ben are a part of this organization, you can never count this team out. And if the Bengals and Ravens struggle a bit like I think they may, this will be the Steelers division to lose.

The Cleveland Browns could be the sleeper team this year. Unfortunately for the Browns this is the case every year and mostly they just stay asleep. But they do have a pretty good defense put together and with Trent Richardson just waiting to break out as a stud, their offense could surprise, especially because they quietly put together a decent receiving corps. I don't really trust Brandon Weeden, but if he steps up, they could do some damage.

AFC South:

Houston Texans are one of the surefire teams in the AFC. I'd say it's between them and the Broncos for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs. The Texans started last season looking like the team to beat in the NFL, but kinda sputtered and died towards the end of the season. However, they still have a killer team that they improved in the draft by selecting receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round to play alongside Andre Johnson. If Arian Foster can get to full speed, this team will roll.

Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts were probably the best story in football last year and I think that Andrew Luck has a really bright career ahead of him. However, I'm not so sure that the Colts will match their record from last year as teams from the AFC West and NFC West that they will be playing will most likely give them greater challenges than what they faced on their schedule last year.

In Jake Locker we trust? No, I didn't think so either. But if the Tennessee Titans are going to provide even some bit of challenge this season, they need him to step up his game. The positive thing is that CJ2K is on the roster and if he turns back the clock a few years, he could make this team dangerous. However, I just think there are too many holes in this roster and ultimately they will sputter and fail.

I don't know quite what the Jacksonville Jaguars are thinking with their team. They had a pretty bad team last year and for some reason they still think that Blaine Gabbert is the answer at quarterback when he has already proven that he is not. But they didn't even draft a 2nd or 3rd round quarterback when there were plenty available at that time. They have Blackmon as a good receiver, but he is a proven trouble maker and will miss the first month of the season. They also have MJD, but that is about it. Sometimes I think that this team just enjoys losing.

AFC West:

The other team that is a surefire pick for the playoffs is the Denver Broncos. I already would've considered them a contender before they signed Welker, but with him that offense looks unstoppable. Peyton Manning, Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker? Yeah, that sounds scary. And adding to the mix is Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, and Knowshon Moreno at running back. They just need to make their way through Von Miller's six game suspension and they are set!

Is it possible that the league's worst team from last year, the Kansas City Chiefs, could be fighting for a playoff spot this year? You bet! Despite the awful record, the Chiefs did have multiple pro bowlers on their roster which means the team was talented. Add in Andy Reid as head coach and Alex Smith as quarterback and I think this team actually has a lot of promise.

The San Diego Chargers don't look like they have much on paper but Phillip Rivers is still a good quarterback and they have a lot of players around them that have potential. The key here will be new head coach Mike McCoy. I honestly believe that he is a guy that can make the best out of this team. Also the Chargers do have a somewhat favorable schedule that could help them become a surprise team.

The Oakland Raiders are a confusing franchise and their lack of patience in recent years with head coaches I think killed any potential they had to be good. And this year their preseason quarterback battle is Matt Flynn vs Terrell Pryor. It's pretty sad when those are your only two options. Add to the fact that their only talented player they have on their roster is one that can't stay healthy. It's going to be a long season for Raider fans.


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