Just like the proceeding article, the AFC Conference Preview will give you an outlook of the coming season—withen the AFC.
Once again I'll be providing standing and playoff previews first, followed by trophy winners, coaching forecast, a free agent signing recap, and a schedule preview.
WILD CARD: Titans over Chargers, Colts over Ravens.
DIVISIONAL ROUND: Patriots over Titans, Steelers over Colts.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Steelers over Patriots.
SUPER BOWL XLIV: Steelers over Eagles.
New England Patriots
Tom Brady's back, and the world's gonna know. While losing some players on defense, they also gained Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs hopefully finding a starting CB. They also drafted rookie Patrick Chung at Safety, possibly getting a start. The Patriots are absolutely a Super Bowl contender once again.
Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Steelers intend to defend their title, hanging onto the Lombardi Trophy one more year. They didn't lose any major talent not easily replaced, so it will basically be the same team from least year—just better.
Mike Tomlin has done an excellent job so far, and might just make a dynasty out of the Steelers...
The Titans edge out the Colts for a few reasons. A) The Colts are getting old, and with a new coach things could go wrong. B) The Titans actually have two decent QB's, not a lot of teams can say that. C) There schedule works in their favor. Count one loss to the Colts, a loss to New England, and maybe another in there...and it's another 13-3 team. Look out, the Titans could contend for the Super Bowl this year...
Although they have a new coach, the players are getting old, the Colts still have major talent, and playoff experience. If Caldwell does a good job on his end, the Colts will once again be a playoff contender.
The Ravens should just barely make the playoffs. Joe Flacco has his weapons. The defense lost some depth, but kept the major stars. Matt Birk was a great addition, and should give Flacco more protection. All in all, they should be a playoff contender as last year.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers edge out the Texans in the final playoff spot. Phillip Rivers is more experienced, he has weapons on offense. The defense is headed by Shawne Merriman once again. A wildcard victory would be huge, as this could be LT's last good season before the Chargers realize his game has lost it's edge.
They have a lot of talent this year. Matt Schaub is getting better this off-season, they also have one of the best receivers in the league Andre Johnson. The defense also looks promising with Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, and some new additions. Next year the Texans will be looking at a playoff run, possibly getting a couple victories as well.
The most impressive turnaround, possibly of all time, happened to Miami last year. Bill Parcels and Tony Sparano did an amazing job taking the 07 1-15 Dolphins, to a 11-5 team the next year.
This year I see Miami just losing out on the playoffs. The AFC is a tough place to play, and no one will underestimate the Dolphins this year. Next year though, with two years under his belt...Sparano just might lead the Dolphins to their first playoff victory since the 00-01 season.
T.O. coming to Buffalo has brought them more publicity then four Super Bowl's ever did...that being said, can he really be the savior for the Bills? Dick Jauron sucks lets face it. He sucked at Chicago, Detroit, and has a terrible record in Buffalo. I think that if they ever want to win a playoff game, they need to fire him.
They have the talent. That's apparent in Evens, T.O., Lynch, Posluszny, McGee, and McKelvin among others. But changes must be made before they make it to the playoffs.
Maurice Jones-Drew can't do it all. That just about sums it all up. They lost 10 players this off-season, five of which were key players including three wide receivers. They gained Torry Holt, and drafted two OT's.
They also picked up veteran Tra Thomas. The team reversed their record last year going 5-11. I don't see Jacksonville getting back in the playoffs anytime soon.
This is where the AFC starts to get ugly. Denver's new coach Josh McDanials is off to a rocky start. With talent like Brandon Marshall, a killer O-line, rookie Knowshown Moreno, D.J. Williams, Champ Bailey, and two great safeties...its a wonder why they wouldn't make the playoffs.
Two main reasons. 1) McDaniels has A LOT of work to do. He's brand new. 2) Kyle Orton sucks, and the backup isn't good either. I think they should've drafted a QB sooner. But in any case, I think they're a 9-7 team a best this year.
New York Jets
While the Jets may be last in the AFC East, they do have some good prospects. This team is my wildcard. They could jump up to number seven or eight if new coach Rex Ryan impresses and USC rookie Mark Sanchez performs up to par. Of course all I see is another bust like Matt Lienert so I guess we'll wait and see.
They got coach Eric Mangini, who looks promising to me. In a few years, they could be on the top half of the league. Derek Anderson was a huge part of Cleveland's offense, and I can't see why they'd put Quinn as their starter. With Braylon Edwards, some powerful linemen, Jamal Lewis, Shaun Rogers, and D'Qwell Jackson it's a wonder they suck so bad. I see them winning about 4 games.
They play in a tough league, simply because of the Steelers. They added 19 players with draft picks, and lost six this off-season. Maybe, just maybe, they can be back in the running in a few years.
Kansas City Chiefs
Todd Haley is yet another rookie coach in the AFC. The Chiefs are really sucking it up right now. After a 2-14 season last year, their schedule has some major potholes. They travel to Philly, they play San Diego twice, and they play the Steelers. Matt Cassel adds some depth at QB, but nothing else looks promising as I predict the Chiefs stay at the bottom.
Marvin Lewis has one winning season under his belt. One lousy season. He also has two years on his contract to make a miracle happen. He has addition Laveranues Coles, Ochocinco, Cedric Benson, Antwan Odom, and new safety Roy Williams. The team isn't going anywhere fast and if I were the GM, I'd fire Lewis fast.
The worst. Simply, the worst team in the AFC, and possibly the NFL. Even the Lions could beat the team this year. They suck, simply put. It's time to give up on JaMarcus Russell. And who would they turn to? Oh, great...washout Jeff Garcia. Tom Cable is in a deep load of you know what, and isn't climbing out any time soon.
They have a few good players, but not near enough for even five games in my eyes. And yet, their fans are as crazy as ever. "Just wait till next year" or something like that...
AFC TROPHY WINNERS:
Offensive Player Of The Year: Randy Moss, WR, New England
Moss and Brady is a dangerous duo. Last time they played together a lot of NFL records went out the window.
Runner up: Tom Brady, Andre Johnson
Defensive Player Of The Year: Troy Polamalu, S, Steelers
He'll lead the Steelers defense to a second straight Super Bowl win. He's the star of the Pittsburgh defense, and don't forget it.
Runner up: Mario Williams, Bob Sanders
Comeback Player Of The Year: Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Cassel kept his seat warm, but defenses will tremble in fear once again at the sight of Brady and co.
Offensive Rookie Of The Year: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos
He'll hopefull change the game in Denver, and take some pressure off of Kyle Orton.
Runner up: Michael Crabtree
Defensive Rookie Of The Year: Brian Cushing, LB, Houston
With Cushing, DeMeco Ryans, and former Pro Bowler Cato June, the Texans could have a fearsome Linebacker corps.
Runner up: Tyson Jackson, Robert Ayers
Coach Of The Year: Mike Tomlin, Steelers
He's only been here two seasons, and could end up giving Pittsburgh two Super Bowl victories. Definitely a huge accomplishment.
Runner up: Jim Caldwell, Jeff Fisher, Bill Belichick
On The Hot Seat
There's two main coaches on the Hot Seat for me. Gary Kubiak, Houston is one of them. The Texans still don't have a playoff victory. If he doesn't produce this year, I'd fire him if they ever want to move up in the world.
Another is Norv Turner, San Diego. He's underachieved. True, he has some playoff wins, but they just can't seem to get past the Wildcard. I blame Turner. True, Tomlinson is on the decline but every year I expect good things to come. They have such potential. And with that kinda talent, there's only one person to blame. The Coach.
Easiest Debut: Todd Haley, Chiefs
The Chiefs are going nowhere fast, but how hard can it be to improve? Win three games and you'll be a hero. Especially in a week division like the AFC West.
Hardest Debut: Josh McDaniels, Broncos. Jim Caldwell, Colts
McDaniels handled the Cutler event poorly. He'll have a tough time following two-time Super Bowl champion Mike Shanahan.
Caldwell also will have big shoes to fill. He may have only won one Super Bowl, but Tony Dungy was an amazing coach, and an amazing person. He led the team to a lot of playoff victories, and the players all loved that guy. Good luck Caldwell, you'll need it.
Coach Most Missed: Tony Dungy, Colts
As said before, people loved this guy. The team, the fans, even I'm gonna miss him even though I don't care for the Colts. It was more then great coaching with Dungy.
Key Addition: Mike Nolan, Broncos
The new defensive coordinator, he has to fix a broken unit that, had it been good last season, could've prevented the termination of Shanahan, and Cutler leaving.
FREE AGENCY RECAP
Best Signing: Bart Scott, LB, Jets
Ryan knows Scott well, and he should prove to be a key addition to a rebuilding offense.
Best Re-Signing: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Raiders
If the Raiders will ever come around, they needed to hang on the only quality defensive player on the roster.
Biggest Question: Tank Johnson, DT, Bengals
So they finally clear the team of players with character issues, and this is who they sign?
Riskiest Signing: Terrell Owens, WR, Bills
Without a doubt, TO has some issues. He has talent of course, but his off the field reputation could catch up to him. The Bills may have made a bad move, but only time will tell.
Best Overhaul: Broncos
The defense needs some work, and they sure improved it. Signing Linebacker Andra Davis, Safeties Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill, and Cornerback Andre Goodman will be great additions to a rebuilding defense.
Toughest Schedule: Miami Dolphins
Miami faces a full plate this year as their opposition posts a .601 win percentage. The schedule includes games against Atlanta, the Colts, and on the road to San Diego, finishing off with Pittsburgh.
Easiest Schedule: Pittsburgh Steelers
Sure they're defending champs, but really. The two Cleveland and Cincinnati games are a given, they'll beat the Ravens at least once, and with the Lions, Chiefs, and Raiders there that's like half a season of gimmies.
Easiest Run: Baltimore Ravens
They also play Oakland and Detroit, and only the Steelers have made the playoffs among their opposition.
Hardest Run: Buffalo Bills
If TO and co. somehow look good coming into December, they won't come January. They play Atlanta, New England, and Indianapolis to finish off the season.
There ya go, the NFC and AFC season previews. I personally am very excited and can't wait to see what happens. It promises to be a great one!