Why This Year Will Surprise You (AFC)

Ryan FliederContributor IAugust 13, 2009

This upcoming NFL season is laden with surprises waiting to unfold. From massive trades to upcoming stars, this year is bringing about a shift in the landscape of the NFL. Don't believe me? Well let's go division by division and I'll show you what I mean...

AFC South

Disappointments: Titans, Colts
Surprises: Texans

The Titans experienced an amazing run at the beginning of last year, but teams found out that Kerry Collins just wasn't a threat, and good defenses could pile seven or eight men in the box to stop Chris Johnson and LenDale White.

Also note that Collins is turning 37 at the end of this year. With his age, the likelihood of injury becomes a serious issue, then who will they turn to...Patrick Ramsey? Vince Young? The Titans are destined to be the team that everyone thinks can win but will be lucky to end up at .500 at the end of the season.

The Colts...God, I'm so sorry Peyton.

I love you, I really do, but you guys are going to disintegrate this year.

They lost Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy, there's still no timetable for Bob Sanders' return, and now Antoine Bethea has a broken hand? They've still got a lot of the pieces to carry your offense, but their lack at WR makes Peyton less of a threat, and having their two starting safeties hurt if not out will vastly open up their already-weak run defense.

I don't doubt that they can put up numbers offensively, but their weak run defense is going to spiral out of control, and when they have to face off twice each against three of the best runningbacks in the NFL, I can't see how those guys can manage to even get to .500.

Honestly, I really hope I'm wrong here, but I think the Colts will be one of the biggest disappointments of the 2009 season.

If Houston's ever going to step up, now is the time. They have one of the better young QBs, one of the best wideouts, and the best sophomore running back in the league. Their defense is solid in that they don't have glaring imbalance, and while they're not likely to win a game 7-3, they can definitely win one 42-35.

Now that Sage Rosenfels is gone, they don't have a ton of wiggle room...so if Schaub goes down, they'll have to rely on Orlovsky or Grossman—or put more accurately if Schaub goes down they'll have to rely *more* on Steve Slaton. However, with the Titans being so one-dimensional (Brian Cushing, gogo!) and the Colts being so weak defensively, they will win this division. Good luck in the playoffs.

AFC West

Disappointments: Broncos
Surprises: Chiefs

Now, honestly I have no idea what the hell Denver was thinking making the trade they did, but obviously they're working toward the future.

I've got a lot of love for Kyle Orton, and he could fare well with Brandon Marshall to throw to, but they fired arguably the best head coach in the NFL, and traded away arguably the best young QB. They know they're going to be a disappointment this year, so they should just suck it up, take their 3-13 record like a man, and pray that they can pick up Colt McCoy or some other star QB next year.

I don't think the Chiefs are going to win the division. I think that's going to San Diego, who were really just a Merriman short of going deep into the playoffs last year.

I do think that they'll make the playoffs, though. No, I don't think Matt Cassel is the reason...he could be a part, but mostly it's because of Larry Johnson, Dwayne Bowe, and Bobby Engram. I also think Tyson Jackson is going to make a lot more of an impact than he's getting credit for.

It's not that they picked up one star player who's going to fix all their ails, but that they have a lot of playmakers, most of whom weren't there last year for whatever reason. Look for KC to lock up the wildcard spot.

AFC East

Disappointments: Patriots, Dolphins

Okay Patriots fans, get ready to hate me: there is absolutely no chance the Patriots' offense will perform anywhere near 2007 levels this year.

Joey Galloway and Randy Moss are approximately 94 years old, and signing Fred Taylor is an obvious sign that they're going to need a more balanced game. In a weird way, Laurence Maroney's injuries helped to spark your offense over the last couple seasons because they COULDN'T rely on a ground game.

Add the laundry list of cheating scandal accusations against Bill Belichick, and he won't be able to get away with ANYTHING this season, even if most other coaches do get away with some mildly underhanded stuff. The Pats are going to end up with a far more balanced game, and it's going to work against them.

Add the age factor and now the possible rustiness of Tom Brady, as well as the fact that people are going to be constantly hanging over Belichick's shoulder watching everything he does with a critical eye, and I don't think the Patriots will be anywhere near what people are expecting of them.

Dolphins? I know, they've got Tuna, and he has built a complete organization, but the Dolphins will fail because nobody is surprised by the wildcat anymore.

If they are, then someone needs to bash their linebackers in the face with a sign that reads "IT'S A RUNNING FORMATION". The wildcat formation was a gimmick that worked because it was a surprise, but petered out against defenses that were good but not great like the 49ers and Seahawks.

They could win their division if they can come up with some good singleback or full house formations that play to the team's strength, but I think the Dolphins last season were just a bottle rocket that popped and now is going to fall back down to reality.

The Bills now...this one you can give to T.O.

Don't get me wrong, I don't love Terrell Owens, I don't even really like him...hell, I chuckle just thinking of his "that's my quarterback!" speech. But the Bills have always been just a half step from being a playoff team. I know Marshawn is suspended for the first three games of the season, but they've got a handful of viable running backs with Fred Jackson and Dominic Rhodes.

Their defense is middle-of-the-pack in almost all statistics, but what they really needed was an offensive playmaker. Someone who can shake up the defenses to give their running game and—more importantly—Lee Evans a chance to shine.

Of course, T.O. can make some good plays on his own. Look for the Bills to have a frighteningly potent offense this season, and to win this division because of it.

AFC North

Disappointments: Steelers
Surprises: Ravens, Bengals

*Obligatory "F the steelers, refs love you, blah blah blah, sincerely a Seahawks fan"*

In all seriousness though, the Steelers will disappoint this year. As history will tell you, Super Bowl winning teams almost always have trouble making it back to the playoffs the year after.

The thing with the steelers is that they are very mediocre. Ben Roethlgeeghjhdgjhkjghjgberger is a decent QB but nothing really special (he's basically Tim Tebow in an NFL uniform). Hines Ward is a pretty good receiver but nothing special.

Willie Parker is now having back problems. For an injury-plagued running back it's a virtual kiss of death.

The only position where the Steelers really excel is at safety with Polamalu. To be frank, the team is well-coached but very average. It will take another big bunch of luck (and some more referee assistance) for them to make it to the playoffs again.

Baltimore made it to the AFC Championship last year, so it seems a little wild for me to call them a surprise. Look at their OOC schedule though. Last year they had to play Tennessee, Miami, Indy, Oakland, Houston, NYG, Philly, Washington, Dallas, and Jacksonville. This year they get to play Kansas City, San Diego, New England, Minnesota, Denver, Indy, Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay, and Oakland.

It's a much easier schedule for a team that did lose Bart Scott but for the most part only got better. Look for the ravens to end up with at least 10 wins.

Now when I say the Bengals will be a surprise, don't get me wrong: I'm not saying they'll go 14-2 and win the Super Bowl. I doubt they'll make it to the playoffs; however, Cincinnati does have an easier schedule, and Carson Palmer and Chad Whatever-his-name-is-this-week are waiting to spring back to life.

This one is arguably more of a gamble prediction-wise. I don't even have a whole lot to back it up other than gut feeling, but look for the Bengals to get at least eight or nine wins and possibly snatch that second wild card spot.

So those are my AFC predictions for the 2009 season. Take 'em or leave em (I'm sure Patriots and Steelers fans will opt for the latter). Hopefully, I can break down my thoughts on the NFC soon!


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