It took until the last minute but it’s here. With just two days until the NFL regular season officially kicks off it’s time to roll out the red carpet with conference previews. Last year I wasn’t too bad with breaking down the AFC and NFC. It was the Super Bowl picks that made me so so ashamed.
Let’s cut the irrelevant talk and discuss some football. Will the Steelers repeat? Will the Broncos suck? Any chance New England returns to dominance? Find out after the jump.
1.) New England Patriots (12-4*)
I put that asterisk on New England’s record in case Tom Brady gets another season ending injury. This time if he does go down I don’t think there is a backup QB on their roster that will pull a Matt Cassel. Otherwise this is absolutely New England’s division to lose. They’ve got their star QB healthy and he’s got a plethora of receivers ready to catch the football. I’m slightly concerned with their running game. Laurence Maroney is always injured and Fred Taylor is their biggest acquisition at that spot. But you know what? Bill Belichick always manages to squeeze out the last bit of life in the old guys he signs.
Say what you want about Hoodie, he has got a well-oiled machine up in Foxboro that can only be destroyed with key injuries. They were unlucky to miss the playoffs last season, especially since San Diego made it with an 8-8 record, but that’s how life goes some times.
Expect this year’s Patriots team to make another deep run in the postseason.
2.) Buffalo Bills (8-8)
Maybe with the firing of Turk Schonert and the hiring of Alex Van Pelt as offensive coordinator, Trent Edwards will actually be allowed to attempt downfield passes more than 5 times per game. Seriously, Schonert is uber-conservative with his playcalling and it may be a good thing the Bills fired him.
Alas this entire team is just average. Under Dick Jauron they always hover in the 6-8 win range but nothing more. Outside of the Schonert firing there is nothing that convinces me that this trend will change. Even with the T.O signing that’s still not guaranteed success (right Dallas?).
I see Jauron getting canned at season’s end.
3.) Miami Dolphins (6-10)
Despite getting blown out in their home playoff game last year, the Miami Dolphins were one of the best stories of the 2008 NFL season. From 1-15 to 11-5 and a division title is an amazing feat. However, unless they change their tune, the Wildcat will take a dive. Way too many teams decided to copy it, and now the opposition can easily adjust and find ways to defend it.
Their Cinderella story will get a hard dose of reality.
Be on the look out for former CFL standout DE Cameron Wake. He was a stud for the BC Lions recording over 20 sacks last season and is a fierce pass rusher. I think he’ll succeed in the NFL.
4.) New York Jets (5-11)
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets finished with a better record than this but I don’t see playoffs in these guys. Mark Sanchez WILL be a bust, I guarantee it. He’s going to get rocked by the likes of Tennessee and really welcomed to the NFL.
Rex Ryan will get their defense in great shape, however. Bart Scott is a solid linebacker and maybe he can help youngsters like Vernon Gholston perform better at that position. Jim Leonhard is a Mr. Everything Safety. He can return kicks, hit hard, and get in position to get INTs or break up a play. Sort of like the Anti-Russell (couldn’t resist).
The offense? Not convinced they’re ready for primetime.
1.) Tennessee Titans (12-4)
I’m very hesitant when it comes to the Titans winning the division again, but I believe in Jeff Fisher to pull through. Kerry Collins did well last year and now he has a new guy to throw to in Kenny Britt out of Rutgers. The running game should be dangerous as usual, but this time LenDale White won’t look out-of-shape. I guarantee though he’ll be just as powerful running inside.
Obviously losing Albert Haynesworth hurts. Not only is he one of the best DTs in the game but he is virtually the heart and soul of Tennessee’s defense. Time for Kyle Vandenbosch to step up his game a little bit and anchor that front 4. In the coaching department the Titans lost defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who is now head man for the Lions. Luckily replacement Chuck Cecil has been around the organization for several years so it won’t be an uneasy handoff. Lest we forget their tremendous secondary featuring Chris Hope, Cortland Finnegan, and Nick Harper.
2.) Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
This kind of seems like the obvious choice. New coach but the system is pretty much the same. Marvin Harrison is out and the Reggie Wayne/Anthony Gonzalez era has gone permanent. Peyton Manning is still a top 5 QB in this league with a good receiving tandem.
I haven’t seen much of him in preseason, but rookie running back Donald Brown looks beastly. Enough quickness to burst through the hole and he isn’t the easiest to bring down. If he lives up to his first round selection he could easily form a dual set with Joseph Addai to help the Colts’ below-average running game.
The main concern I have with Indy is their rushing defense. Darren Sproles tore them apart in last season’s playoff game and literally wore them down. Their pass defense was 6th in the NFL but 24th against the run. Fix that and you’ve got yourself a contender.
3.) Houston Texans (9-7)
Umm….the Texans are the new Cardinals. Not in the sense of long history of missing the playoffs before an unexpected run, but this is the team that is often hailed as the team that will break out and sneak into the postseason.
They are certainly capable of doing it this year.
Andre Johnson? Great receiver. Best in the AFC (yes, even better than Randy Moss). Steve Slaton? Potentially a star running back for many years to come. Mario Williams? Right now worth the #1 overall pick. All the right tools except…
Matt Schaub? Injured. Sorry, but the buck stops with the lack of continuity at the QB position for the Texans. Matt Schaub isn’t a bad QB but he was already hobbling in the 3rd preseason game and their backup is Dan Freaking Orlovsky. If Schaub is hurt again they’re dead.
That will be the case. No playoffs for them.
4.) Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Come on, an aging Torry Holt and a bust in Troy Williamson are your top two receivers? Jacksonville barely did anything to improve the team. No wonder tickets aren’t selling.
1.) Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)
Who is to stop the defending Super Bowl champs from repeating? Their receivers are back, Rashard Mendenhall is healthy and can play an amicable backup role to Willie Parker, and the Steelers apparently play defense well.
They’re in a division where only the Ravens can challenge them and they are still not ready to compete with Mike Tomlin’s team. Ben Roethlisberger will be ready to run 97 yards for a touchdown with the entire Titans defense on his back tomorrow night. Of course, it’s up to the offensive line to decide whether or not they’re interested in protecting their star QB and assure there are running lanes for Parker and Mendenhall.
2.) Baltimore Ravens (10-6)
Behind a rookie head coach (John Harbaugh) and a rookie QB (Joe Flacco), and one of the scariest defense in the NFL, the Ravens went from sucking all the way to the AFC Championship Game. But with the loss of defensive genius Rex Ryan to the Jets, Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard also went bye-bye.
They have enough depth to fill those holes but we have to go back to the offense. Will Harbaugh let Flacco loose and have him take charge of the offense full-time? Maybe start to make him the main focal point for the Ravens? Baltimore did well to sign former Minnesota Viking Matt Birk to help that offensive line and help protect Flacco from doom.
As long as the defensive coordinator Greg Mattison doesn’t change things to the point where Baltimore’s defense isn’t the same, and Flacco can improve from his 1st year, they will sneak into the playoffs once more.
3.) Cleveland Browns (6-10)
What an unholy mess the Browns are. We don’t even know who their starting QB is. It doesn’t matter anyway because they are the Browns and with no Stallworth (thankfully) and no Kellen Winslow, it’s going to be tough throwing to Braylon Edwards all the time. The Mangini experiment will fail in Cleveland too.
4.) Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)
Your #1 draft pick broke his foot. Carson Palmer is banged up (again!). The solution to your loss of TJ Houshmandzadeh is to sign Laveranues Coles. Marv Lewis is still employed. What are the encouraging signs that this isn’t just another dysfunctional season for the Bungles?
1.) San Diego Chargers (9-7)
There is no competition for the Chargers this year. They should win this division easily because the other three teams in this division are in disarray alone. Instead of saying why San Diego will win, the focus should be on how much gas LT has left in the tank. He just hit 30 over the summer and that’s when running backs usually start to wind down their career and move past their peak.
We know Philip Rivers will be excellent and a bit of a crybaby. Shawne Merriman will find a way not to play football. Darren Sproles will take 15 steps to go 5 yards but he’ll just zoom by everybody anyway.
Antonio Cromartie is a ballhawk.
Norv Turner is the head coach…which is why San Diego will finish 9-7. Sorry dude, your miracle run last season was a combination of luck and the will to not quit….but mostly luck.
2.) Kansas City Chiefs (6-10)
This is the next best team in the division, ladies and gents. Amani Toomer and Bobby Engram are next after Dwayne Bowe. Already their offensive line is trying to end Matt Cassel’s season. Todd Haley fired Chan Gailey (haha that rhymes), and they lost Tony Gonzalez.
They actually showed signs of life towards the latter stages of last season but by then it was way too late and they ended up with pick #3. Speaking of which, Tyson Jackson is going to be a feared man on defense this year.
3.) Oakland Raiders (5-11)
Run a fast 40 time, get drafted by the Raiders. Al Davis’ logic will always trump real-world logic. Another season of FAIL in Oakland.
4.) Denver Broncos (3-13)
My objectivity stops here because Seattle has Denver’s 1st round pick next season. Since Josh McDaniels, Jay Cutler, Pat Bowlen, and Brandon Marshall managed to destroy this once proud franchise in a few months there is pretty much no hope for them.
Kyle Orton is not a starting QB in this league and is not the solution to losing Jay Cutler. Sorry guys, but DENVER HAS NO HOPE AND SEATTLE WILL GET A TOP 5 PICK!!!!!!!!! MWHAHAHAHA!!!!
If I remain objective for a moment, this record is entirely possible with their offseason moves and drama.
That’s all I have for the AFC. Late today or tomorrow morning we’ll finish off the two part preview with the NFC. Then by tomorrow evening, Super Bowl picks!!!!