As the off-season hype of the draft and free agency comes to an end, speculation and evaluation soon begins to set upon the the many who's seasons never end.
Football has officially entered the "dead season" (time between the draft/free agency and summer camps). For many, this is the time of the year that seems to never end, as if Fall is never getting closer. The appetite of tackling and touchdowns is substituted with fastballs and home runs.
For those who are not ready to begin their fastening of football, this writer is here to help satisfy your hunger.
Here are the unofficial preseason rankings in the AFC.
1. New England Patriots.
- Though many are upset to hear this, you can't deny that the Patriots are a spectacular team. To make things more convenient for Tom and friends, the Patriots were given the easiest rated schedule for the upcoming season. The biggest question remaining for the Patriots is who will step up to replace Asante Samuel.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers.
- The Steelers are going to be a very tough, fast, and an all around athletic team. Wille Parker and Rashard Mendenhall will be an instant tandem to be feared. Big Ben is healthy and the WR's are plentiful with Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Limas Sweed. Defense is still very versatile and will get the job done. Only problem: the Steelers have the toughest schedule to deal with in the entire NFL. The Cowboys, Patriots, Giants, and Chargers are just a few obstacles for the Steelers to hurdle.
- Until I see Jacksonville actually overcome the Colts, this team remains to be my favorite from the AFC South. With one of the best offenses, the defense only needs to be satisfactory for this team to be able to get to the World Series. The largest problems for this team has inconsistency though, and a brutal schedule doesn't benefit that type of problem. If the defense can play at a high level for the majority of the season, expect the Colts to remain your AFC South Champs.
4. San Diego Chargers.
- This team remains to be one of the most talented overall group of players individually, but in the past they haven't done a great job of putting all the pieces together. Philip Rivers is becoming more and more experienced, and LT surely isn't getting worse. A somewhat average schedule should help the Chargers, but they once again seem to be the victims of constant travel.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars.
- As I said, Indianapolis deserves the top AFC South spot until proven otherwise. David Garrard should benefit from getting a year of starting experience under his belt. Best of all for the Jags, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew became a ferocious double-team for opponents to contain. The defense should be aided by Darrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, who were both selected in the recent draft.
6. Cleveland Browns.
- The Browns could either rise or fall, it just depends on if they execute on offense and if their defense can step up. On paper, the Browns have one of the best offensive teams in the NFL, but Jamal Lewis is getting older and older and pressure will be aimed towards the WR's. Expect a big year once again from Kellen Winslow along with Braylon Edwards. Shawn Rogers should help contribute to the defensive line.
7. Tennessee Titans.
- I really don't know exactly how to explain positives for the Titans, except for the fact they just win. As long as they get the W, it frankly doesn't matter to me how they do it. Besides that, playing the Colts and the Jags twice each year requires more than just talent that barely gets you by.
8. Denver Broncos.
- Really, this team has a pretty good future ahead of them. Jay Cutler has matured well for only being in the league for two years. The criticism he gets seems a little harsh for someone who hasn't had much time to settle down. Ryan Clady should help protect Cutler and open up some more holes for the RB's. The defense should be able to hold their own.
9. Houston Texans.
- I'm glad to see this team finally getting off the ground. Mario Williams has proven to be worthy of being taken as first in his draft over Reggie Bush, and ending the David Carr era seems to have been the smart choice. Duane Brown should give extra support for Matt Schaub in the pocket, and I predict Xavier Adibi to be a great sleeper pick at linebacker.
10. Buffalo Bills.
- The Bills unfortunately had much more than just a bad year in football alone. Kevin Everett's situation and other important injuries caused the Bills to never get their feet settled in the game. I personally liked what I saw from Trent Edwards at quarterback, and Marshawn Lynch showed great signs of a great player. Leodis McKelvin will be a great addition to the defense and James Hardy will be able to alleviate some of the pressure off of Lynch's role in the Bill's offensive scheme. My problem about this team is offensive line trouble and defensive positions that have no depth (DE, DT, LB).
11. Kansas City Chiefs.
- This is definitely the team who will get instant impact from this year's draft. Glenn Dorsey should be an impact player from the beginning of the season, Brandon Flowers could very well be starting or getting substantial time, and Branden Albert will be rejuvenate an offensive line that was once considered the best in the league. Expect an 8-8 season, or very close, for the Chiefs.
12. Cincinnati Bengals.
- Offensively, this team has been known to be a playoff caliber team over the past few years, but with the (probable) absence of Chad and the cutting of Chris Henry, the once deep WR core is now only one man strong. TJ Houshmanzadeh is a great player, but he will never be a #1 type of receiver. TJ is about possession, not spectacular dives and game-breakers. Defensively, this team is arguably the worst in the league. On the brighter note, Odell Thurman's reinstatement should help improve the LB core, and Keith Rivers should be able to make a solid contribution early. The case of Jerome Simpson from Coastal Carolina is still a large question mark for the Bengals' wide receiving core.
13. New York Jets.
- It truly is hard to think that this team only four or so years ago was in the playoffs. Chad Pennington and Kellen Clemens accomplished all season long, and there is a lack of play-making ability from any player present on the offense. The offensive line is still solid with Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson still getting settled in the NFL. The defensive line is a whole other story, though...
14. Oakland Raiders.
- Darren McFadden could very well contribute as much to his team as Adrian Peterson did for the Vikings during his rookie season. Deangelo Hall is also a great CB who was brought into the organization during free agency, and expect the defense to get back to its strong ways as it was a couple years ago. Jamarcus Russell hasn't shown much improvement, then again we haven't had enough time to watch him to be able to make a complete analysis at the QB situation. It's safe to say though that Russell will certainly be the starter.
15. Miami Dolphins.
- I understand that the Dolphins only won just a single game last season, and that this season has already been established as a "rebuilding step" for the future. Even with the changes that will be occurring, A strong draft with Jake Long and Philip Merling will quickly contribute to both sides of the ball. Chad Henne will also bring good competition into the franchise at the QB position.
16. Baltimore Ravens.
- Funny. The only team that the Dolphins are ranked above is the only team that they defeated. The Ravens have completely gutted their coaching staff and their defensive side of the ball is getting older and older. Joe Flacco may have been loved by scouts, but the transition from small ball in college to the NFL is more than just throwing the ball 70 yards down a field. Don't expect much from either side of this team. I expect a 4-12 season.