What We Know About the NFL
The AFC East better be thankful to have the Patriots residing within the division, otherwise this division would rank as one of the worst in the history of the NFL. The Pats should cruise to the division title, while the rest of the teams may only beat each other.
The New England Patriots are quite simply the best team in the NFL. Be it home, be it away, be it on defense, be it with the running game, or be it with the passing game, the Patriots are just better than everyone else. The offense is 2nd in the league, the defense tops, and Tom Brady has just 25 incompletions all season long. Might this be the best New England team yet?
The New York Jets may have been the darling of the league last year and Eric Mangini was being billed as the next great coach, but anyone could see through the smoke and mirrors and see that this team had some real problems. Those problems continue to arise this year. Chad Pennington completes 32 of 39 passes yet they STILL lose to the Bills? The reason is no running game, averaging around 80 ypg. The Thomas Jones signing has yet to reap any rewards as Jones is averaging a mere 3.4 ypc and doesn't have a touchdown yet this year.
Does it get much worse than Buffalo right now? Well, maybe if you're a Jets fans. The Buffalo Bills rank at the bottom of the league in offense and defense and are now relying on rookie quarterback Trent Edwards (even though he did help "engineer" their lone win thus far). When you're allowing over 420 ypg on defense, prospects don't look good for the rest of the season.
While the Miami Dolphins might be 0-4, statisticaly you could argue this is the second best team in the division. The problem is the inability to make big plays. They only have five sacks and two interceptions on defense and are unable to put the ball in the endzoe. Ronnie Brown is averaging over 5 ypc with a trio of touchdowns. The problems at quarterback with old man Trent Green appear to be what's holding this team back. The offense is still 17th in the NFL, and the defense 21st, numbers not as depressing as though in Buffalo, but the one that matters, wins, the 'Phins still have a zero. If any team in this division shows any potential to righten the ship, it's Miami.
The AFC North isn't exactly going as planned. Pittsburgh looked heads and shoulders above the rest of the division, and then they lost to Arizona. The Bengals and Ravens both look lost right now, and unbelievably, the Browns might be the biggest threat to Pittsburgh at the moment.
Do not underestimate the importance of Hines Ward to the Pittsburgh Steelers offense. He's the security blanket for Big Ben and like an extra tight end when it comes to blocking for the running game. His absence was felt on Sunday. Despite the loss, there is no reason to think this team won't win the division. They are doing it in typical black and gold fasion. They run the ball, stop the run, and keep opponents out of the endzone, having allowd just four offensive touchdowns in four games. Their home game with Seattle this week though will be a nice test of how well this team responds to adversity.
Who in their right mind would have picked the Cleveland Browns to be 2-2 right now, with two divisional wins? The answer is probably nobody, but it's where the Browns stand, and the Brady Quinn experiment may have to be delayed a year (ala Carson Palmer). The Browns offense is 6th in the NFL, and are a last second timeout by Lane Kiffin away from being 3-1. As bad as the Browns looked to open the year, they've looked pretty impressive the past three weeks. One concern though is the workload of Jamal Lewis. He apparently is back to his normal self with his 4.9 ypc, however his 79 carries put him on pace for over 300 for the year and you wonder how his body will hold up. The Browns defense still needs plenty of work, it's one of the league's worst, but the offense just might be good enough that the Browns could actually be what everyone thought the Bengals would be, and that might be enough to keep them in the playoff picture.
The Baltimore Ravens seem to have more questions than answers, but in reality, this is a 2-2 team who should be better. One of their big problems is the fact they have two losses in the division. Amazingly the offense is 9th in the NFL right now and it's the defense 10th. However, when it comes to scoring, the Ravens rank 18th in the league in both offense and defense. Redzone woes on both sides of the ball are a problem. The talent is there for this team to fix the issues, and they could start with running the ball inside the 20 better and getting their prized offseason acquisition, Willis McGahee, into the endzone.
After their Monday night opening win over Baltimore, already high expectations in the Queen City soared a little higher for the Cincinnati Bengals. Since then, the Bengals have plummeted into the NFL's abyss and Marvin Lewis seems like he's going to take this team all the way to the depths of NFL obscurity. Injuries are a problem on defense, but even when this defense was healthy, it was never any good. When your coach is a defensive guru like Lewis and he still hasn't fixed that side of the ball, your team has some problems. Thinks may get worse before they get better in Cincinnati.
As usual, the Colts are the kings of the AFC South, though the competition is going to be much tougher this time around. The other three teams in this division are all playoff caliber teams, and all could push Indianapolis for the division crown. Will anyone knock the Colts off? Probably not, but it will be fun to watch them try.
If it weren't for the Patriots the Indianapolis Colts would easily be considered the class of the AFC. As is, they'll have to settle for playing second fiddle. Everyone knows all about the offense, but the run defense still has plenty of questions, and in a division with the Titans and Jaguars, that could catch up with them. Beyond that, the Colts two road wins in the division are by a combined 8 points. While it's unlikely they lose to Tennessee or Houston at home, it certainly is a possibility as both teams showed an ability to be competitive with the Colts. If the run defense gets shored up though, the Colts should be set to meet New England with a Super Bowl trip on the line. Stop me if you've heard that before.
The Tennessee Titans are good. Or are they? They are just 22nd in total offense and their pass defense ranks in the bottom fourth of the league. When you look at those numbers, and look at the overall talent on this team, you can see why some, including yours truly, might still be skeptical of the Titans. If the Titans are for real, we'll see them prove it with convincing wins over NFC south foes Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the next couple of weeks.
The Jacksonville Jaguars looked horrible in week one against Tennessee, showing no ability to stop the run whatsoever. In the two games since the run defense showed back up, complementing a good pass defense. Jacksonville still needs to find some kind of offense. Byron Leftwich wasn't the answer, but right now, it doesn't appear David Garrard is either. Can an offense this bad win in a division that's littered with other good offenses?
Matt Schaub is clearly a better fit for the Houston Texans than David Carr was, but with injuries to Ahman Greene and Andre Johnson, they need Schaub to be a savior right now, and that he's not. Ron Dayne is averaging only 3 ypc, certainly not enough to instill fear into opposing defenses. Granted, his time in the backfield coincides with the loss of Andre Johnson as well. If the Texans don't get healthy on offense, their promising start will wilt into a disappointing finish. The defense didn't look very good against an Atlanta offense that has struggled much of the year. They've been solid against the run this year, but outside of Daunta Robinson, their secondary leaves a lot to be desired, though within the division it shouldn't hurt them too much.
Before the season I projected the NFL standings in a separate forum and omitted the San Diego Chargers from the playoffs. It may have seem far fetched at first, but if you look at the standings, the Chargers are the only team not in first place in the wild AFC West.
The Denver Broncos are probably the most complete team in this division, but they aren't exactly playing like it. The offense is moving the ball, even if they are struggling to put up points. Travis Henry has 433 yards rushing, but just one touchdown. If the Broncos don't start putting the ball across the goal line more often, the are going to have a hard time hanging on in this division. They've been fortunate to win their two games thus far this year and their rush defense is the 2nd worst in the entire NFL. It's not exactly a formula for success.
Believe it or not, the Oakland Raiders just might have a crack at winning this division. Denver's inability to stop the running game, and coaching questions in San Diego and Kansas City leave the door open. Remember, this team nearly beat Denver already this season. Daunte Culpepper's passing numbers weren't very impressive against Miami, but he looked physicaly fit to play, and play like the Culpepper of old. Once the rust gets off of him, he should continue to improve. He's aided by a running game that is tops in the NFL with both Lamont Jordan and Justin Fargas averaging over 5 ypc. Defensively they've improved as the year has gone on, and as the offense gets better, the defense should too. Don't sleep on the Silver and Black for the rest of this season.
Outscoring everyone didn't work, so now the Kansas City Chiefs are trying another route. Playing defense. Unfortunately for them right now, with under 80 ypg, they don't have a running game to compliment it, so you wonder how long the defense can hold up. The losses on the offensive line are finally starting to pile up and it shows up with Larry Johnson's numbers. Neither Damon Huard nor Brodie Croyle exactly scream "dangerous" to anyone, so it's vital that the running game turns it up a notch. The Chiefs aren't likely in this for the long haul, but it is interesting to watch this team play a completely different style.
Norv Turner is doing what Norv Turner does. He's losing football games. The San Diego Chargers defense, one of the best in the NFL a year ago, is 25th in the NFL. While they are still solid against the run, teams can throw at will on the Chargers, and seemingly score at will as well. Offensively the problems are even bigger, which for an offensve minded coach inherriting this kind of talent is inexcusable. Granted, there isn't a lot of weaponry on the outside, but that didn't hold this offense back a year ago. San Diego has the individual pieces to right the ship, but I don't believe the man in charge of putting this puzzle together is capable of doing it.
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