Big "O" or Big "No": A Half-Glassed AFC Preview

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It’s early September in the world of football, and that means you’re going to hear plenty of the “O” word.

No, not “Ochocinco"—get your mind out of the gutter.

Optimism.

The Vikings are feeling it.The Lions, Bengals, and Bears are, too. If Bill Belichick had a soul, it would be brimming with unbridled hope for the brave new season to come.

And really, why not? No professional sport offers a better chance at upward mobility. Rosters are torn down and rebuilt on an annual basis. Playoff teams come and go via revolving door. Champions come out of nowhere (your '99 Rams) and fade fast (your '02 Bucs). 

The downside of taking a sunny outlook into the year, of course, is that there aren't enough happy endings to go around. While 32 teams get to dream big every year, 31 of them are in for a rude awakening. Twenty won't make it past the first weekend in January.

So where does your club fit in? If we knew, we'd be riding our own optimism all the way to the sports book at the Wynn.

But we're more than happy to make it all up. And in the spirit of the season, we'll prognosticate two sides to every club's story—one informed by a healthy dose of "O," and one that ends in resounding "no."

Today, we'll predict the divisional finishes in the AFC. On Wednesday, we'll predict the NFC, and roll out our playoff picks in time for Thursday night's opener.


AFC East


1. New England

The "O": Brady-to-Moss is back, nobody notices that Seymour guy is missing, and Belichick remains stoic in the face of victory.

The "No": Brady is back on a stretcher, nobody fills in for that Seymour guy, and Belichick remains stoic in the face of defeat.


2. New York

The "O": Mark Sanchez plays like Joe Namath, and Rex Ryan coaches like John Harbaugh.

The "No": Mark Sanchez drinks like Joe Namath, and Rex Ryan coaches like Buddy Ryan.

 

3. Miami

The "O": Jason Taylor waltzes back into form, as Ronnie Brown and rookie Pat White run wild.

The "No": Taylor shuffles his way toward retirement, the 'Cat loses its claws, and last year's turnaround team turns around yet again.

 

4. Buffalo

The "O": T.O. butters Trent Edwards' popcorn in a honeymoon year, and the act isn't half as dirty as it sounds.

The "No": The "Pop Warner" offense that fired offensive coordinator Turk Schonert claims Dick Jauron wants to install gets Pop Warner-caliber results.

 

AFC North


1. Pittsburgh

The "O": Mike Tomlin does it again, and the sense of accomplishment the typical 37-year-old man feels after mowing the lawn loses a little bit of its luster.

The "No": The AFC title game is in Foxboro.

 

2. Baltimore

The "O": Joe Flacco keeps playing catch with Mark Clayton, opposing quarterbacks keep playing catch with Ed Reed, and the Ravens manage to catch the Steelers.

The "No": Turns out Rex Ryan—not Ray Lewis—was the straw that stirred the drink.

 

3. Cincinnati

The "O": The dawn of the Rey Maualuga era.

The "No": The dawn of the Andre Smth era.

 

4. Cleveland

The "O": Eric Mangini reveals his starting quarterback: A clone grown from a lock of Tom Brady's chest hair.

The "No": 2009's answer to the Super Bowl Shuffle? "I'm Mangini in a bottle, baby."


AFC South


1. Indianapolis

The "O": Jim Caldwell hits the ground running, and Peyton Manning is back in the Super Bowl.

The "No": Bob Sanders hit the ground wincing, and Manning is back in Super Bowl commercials.

 

2. Houston

The "O": Matt Schaub's arm leads a top-five offense.

The "No": Rex Grossman's arm leads this team God knows where.

 

3. Tennessee

The "O": Kyle Vanden Bosch sacks his way to a fat new contract.

The "No": It's discovered that LenDale White was a way better goal-line back while drunk.

 

4. Jacksonville

The "O": Maurice Jones-Drew makes fantasy owners across America very, very happy.

The "No": The Jags go 6-10...and 0-10 against the blackout spread.

 

AFC West


1. San Diego

The "O": LT's groin, Antonio Gates' toe, and Shawne Merriman's testimony all hold up just fine.

The "No": Norv Turner continues his run in San Diego as a Super Bowl favorite by failing to appear in the Super Bowl.

 

2. Kansas City

The "O": Somebody in this scrap heap has to come in second.

The "No": Bernard Pollard, cut this weekend, lands with the Raiders in time for a Week Two showdown at Arrowhead, and trips over a blocking Larry Johnson on a blitz. "This is my nightmare!," a distraught Scott Pioli cries.

 

3. Denver

The "O": In an intervention, Elvis (Dumervil) convinces Brandon Marshall not to leave the building.

The "No": The Seattle Seahawks turn Alphonso Smith into the No. 5 pick in the 2010 Draft.

 

4. Oakland

The "O": JaMarcus Russell makes the smooth transition to mediocrity.

The "No": Tom Cable makes the smooth transition to unemployment.

 

This article is also featured on Purple Reign, a part of MTR Media. For more on the Vikings, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.

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