Boredom has driven me to write up my own (post-draft) 2008 Offseason Power Rankings for the AFC.
I always enjoy reading these, and love the discussions they stir up. I feel like I kept things relatively safe (few major surprises here), but I anticipate outrage from more than one fan.
That's fine; let me know where I screwed up and why, and I'll happily take your opinion into consideration. In the meantime, enjoy!
1. New England Patriots
Hate 'em all you want, the Pats are still the team to beat in the AFC.
They should skate through their 2008 schedule (the league's easiest, based on 2007 win/loss percentages) and reclaim the No. 1 playoff seed.
If Super Bowl XLII was any indication, strong pass-rushing teams should be able to make headway on the offensive side.
The Pats virtually always draft well, and Jerod Mayo is a promising pick, but their defensive backfield remains somewhat vulnerable. It will be interesting to see how New England compensates for the losses of Samuel, Stallworth, and Gay.
Personally, I think they'll be almost as productive, but we'll see. They won't repeat their 16-0 regular season, but Belichick and Brady will continue to terrorize the competition. They have unfinished business, to be sure.
I hope these cheaters go down in flames, but until that happens, the road to the Super Bowl runs through Foxboro.
2. San Diego Chargers
I'll keep it relatively brief, they're the most talented team in the league.
Like the Patriots, they enjoy a somewhat soft 2008 schedule, and there's no reason they shouldn't be competing for the No. 1 seed in the conference, especially since they will be fortunate enough to face the Colts and Patriots at home, providing potential tie-breaking edges.
Cason should solidify the suddenly stifling secondary, and I can't wait to witness the dimension Hester adds to the offense. Time will tell whether he was a reach or not, but I like his potential, and I trust A.J. Smith.
Rivers and Tomlinson should be good to go, but the questions surrounding Gates and Hardwick are cause for careful concern.
The AFC is so loaded (and Charger history so tragic) that it's impossible to feel comfortable, even for a second.
That said, I know they have the tools necessary to capture their first Lombardi Trophy. I anticipate growth within Norv's offense, and expect big things from the Chargers in early 2009, so long as they manage to stay healthy.
3. Indianapolis Colts
A few days ago, I read a Giants fan's Power Rankings, which stated something to the effect of, "Anyone who doesn't put San Diego ahead of Indy has no brains or no balls."
Well, I wouldn't go quite that far, but one has to ask how many times they need to defeat the Colts before the nation realizes that yes, sorry, they're the better team.
They beat them the playoffs, in their house, without L.T., using half of their junior-varsity squad. For God's sake, give them a little credit.
Don't get me wrong, Indianapolis is an elite team, and they deserve respect, but aside from reclaiming Dominic Rhodes (who disappointed in '07), I don't know what they've done to improve their shot at another ring (though I'm sure several Colts fans will emerge to inform me).
Anyway, I don't mean to slander their stock, because with Peyton at the helm, and plenty of playmakers, Indy's window isn't closing anytime soon.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
Everyone's jumping on the Jags bandwagon, and for good reasons.
They feature a ferocious running-back tandem, steady, effective quarterbacking, and a dominant defensive line.
If Harvey and Groves apply consistent pressure on Manning and others, they could usurp the Colts and capture the AFC South crown, and/or make a deep playoff run.
Placing them ahead of Indy before the season starts is premature, but they're certainly gaining ground.
Sound, fundamental, and physical, the Jags are the dangerous team no one wants to face, but I still feel they can be outmatched and outgunned by the big three in the AFC.
They're pretty far up on my list of fears, behind Indy and New England, but a couple slots ahead of Ebola.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
I want to put the Cleveland Browns here but I just can't...yet.
I do believe the Browns take first place in the AFC North, not necessarily because they're the best team, but because they face a favorable second-place schedule, when compared with that of the Steelers, who look to be tested virtually every week (Pats, Colts, and Chargers along with the AFC South, NFC East, and their own competitive division...ouch).
The Steelers could go 11-5 or 5-11 (I'm guessing a realistic 9-7). Their offensive line is cause for concern, but they managed to draft a big target for Big Ben, and had the considerable fortune of having one Rashard Mendenhall fall into their lap.
So, while Faneca will be missed, they shouldn't plummet down the power rankings. I do believe they represent a clear second-tier of AFC team (while the Jags occupy a muddied middle between the eligible and elite).
Don't forget that they were one fourth-down stop away from besting those Jags, and meeting the Patriots in the 2007 Divisional Round. Not a sleeper team, nor one to sleep on.
6. Cleveland Browns
Well, the Brownies boast an explosive offense. The addition of Dante Stallworth gives them a receiving corps on par with any team in the league.
Derek Anderson may be harder pressed to make another Pro Bowl, but he's legit.
Shaun Rodgers may help their porous defense stop the run, but they have trouble pressuring the passer, and their secondary has been decimated by injury and free agency.
They'll put plenty of points on the board, and they'll need to, since their own end zone should be left wide open.
They're an interesting, entertaining, wild-card sort of group, but they need to beat some playoff-caliber teams and contain the quarterback before they crack the top five in the AFC. They're rounding, but not yet rounded.
7. Tennessee Titans
Here's where the list starts to get especially tricky. Each team in the top six has a chance to capture their respective division. The following teams might make runs for Wild Cards, but are miles away from any sort of home-field advantage.
I'm tempted to put the Buffalo Bills here, since the Titans' offense can be absolutely impotent.
That said, I like Vince Young (and hope he pans out), but without a game-breaking receiver in sight (though Alge Crumpler could offer a reliable target), I don't know how much he'll manage to progress this year.
On positive notes, LenDale White is an above-average back, and first-round pick Chris Johnson adds serious speed, so Tennessee should maintain a formidable ground game.
Obviously, Albert Haynesworth is a savage beast on the defensive line, and their backfield is respectable enough, so I expect the Titans to keep games close. Win ugly, as usual.
Ultimately, the Titans come off as a milder version of division rival Jacksonville. No offense.
8. Buffalo Bills
I suppose this is one of the "sleeper teams" in the AFC.
Bills' fans have to be encouraged by what they saw from Trent Edwards and Marshawn Lynch in 2007. Lee Evans is a solid wideout, and James Hardy (great value pick) could contribute this year, particularly in the red zone (the boy is 6'6").
Leodis McKelvin was widely regarded as the top cornerback in the draft. He helps to fill the void left by Nate Clements. With a stout, if unheralded, young defense, the Bills are prepared for modest success for years to come.
They simply cannot compete with the Patriots in the AFC East, but are perfectly capable of qualifying for the playoffs come January. They just might give those Canadians a good show.
9. Houston Texans
Give the Texans credit, they're a relatively new team, slowly, but steadily, building through the draft.
Now that their defense is relatively stable, they're looking towards their needs on offense.
Duane Brown may not have been the best player available at 26th overall, but he was the best pick for their zone-blocking mission. I had hoped Frank Okam would fall to the Chargers in late rounds, but the Texans snatched him up in the fifth—potentially a great offensive-line project.
Anyway, Andre Johnson is a standout, and if Schaub can stay healthy, Houston can make a serious run at third place. That might sound unimpressive, but when you play in the same division as league-heavyweights Indy and Jacksonville, it doesn't mean you're soft.
10. Oakland Raiders
This represents my riskiest pick among these admittedly tame power rankings.
As a Charger fan, I absolutely loathe the Raiders. Their pain is my petty gain, and I'd like little more than to see them twist and turn in the AFC West cellar for all eternity.
That said, I think they're breaking the lock, finally ready to surface. The Raiders lost several close games in 2007, and at times, they were better than their 4-12 record.
They've accumulated enough talent through the draft and free agency to post some Ws. Coach Kiffin should have plenty of weapons in his arsenal.
Oakland enjoys a lax schedule (and less-competitive AFC West) this year, so don't be surprised if they make the postseason (without being the fifth or sixth best team in conference).
They have the look of a franchise fed up with losing, and if Russell and McFadden approach their potential, the Raiders could be viable for the next decade.
I don't know how they expect to pay all these big contracts while addressing the glaring needs that remain, but there's no excuse for tanking in 2008. If they display a few ounces of team chemistry, they could jump past the Texans and Bills.
11. Baltimore Ravens
Obviously, Baltimore has some rebuilding to do before they conquer the AFC North.
Quarterback has been their need position since time immemorial. I remember worrying about the Ravens in 2006, when their defense dominated the competition.
At this point, everyone's two years older, and in 2007, the unit seemed rather pedestrian (at times), so I'm not sure whether Baltimore should feel especially secure on either side of the ball.
Luckily for first-round pick Joe Flacco (or incumbent underachiever Kyle Boller), Willis McGahee and Todd Heap are studs.
Still, it should be at least another year before Cam Cameron can get that offense on track. By then, many key defensive players may need to be replaced, making things more difficult for the franchise. This is a team that outplayed the Patriots, and lost to the Dolphins...it's hard to place 'em.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Most entertaining team of the offseason, for all the wrong reasons.
Needless to say, how the relationship issues between the organization and Chad Johnson are resolved (or terminated) is one major concern going into the 2008 season. While the Bengals clearly need a back-up plan at wide receiver, it's hard for me to justify drafting so many, when the defense isn't up to snuff.
Keith Rivers should have some answers at linebacker, but there's still plenty of work to be done (offense included). Rudi Johnson was uninspiring in 2007. You'd think a team with a potent aerial attack would allow the man room to run, but I guess that wasn't the case.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh will continue to emerge as an elite receiver, whether Johnson wraps up his pity party or not.
While (outside looking in) I find the entire situation hilarious, I do feel for Carson Palmer (seems like a stand-up guy). Too bad he's surrounded by so much dysfunction.
I could put the Bengals a little lower, but they played acceptable ball during the second half of the '07 season, and they still have enough talent to eek a few out. Emphasis on "few." Their schedule is brutal. Sorry, Cincy.
13. Denver Broncos
Perhaps it's unfair, or myopic, to drop the Broncos this low. It's certainly unfamiliar. Throughout my lifetime, they've enjoyed the most consistent success in the AFC West. Now, it's hard for me to zero in on a clear-cut team strength beyond the cornerback position.
It's not that they're devoid of talent—they have some potential weapons.
The jury's still out on Cutler, but he has the physical tools to become a top-five QB. It's his job to live up to that hype. Stokley's solid, Sheffler's fine, and Marshall has plenty upside. He just needs to stay off his forearm and backside.
Ryan Clady should aide Travis Henry and help restore their ground game, but after witnessing the steamrolling San Diego doled out to these Broncos in 2007, and observing the losses of Elam and Walker, it's hard for me to give crafty ol' Shanahan the benefit of the doubt with this group.
I think they're on the decline and could bottom out this year.
14. New York Jets
This team could make a modest jump up the chart if their free-agent acquisitions pan out, but it will be a number of years before they return to playoff form.
I have to ask myself why I seem to assume that the Raiders will integrate their own newcomers more readily, given that organization's inability to synchronize anything over the last several seasons, when I have more faith in Mangini and the Jets.
I can't really say.
Mercenaries aside, Vernon Gholston is a beast, so there is some reason for optimism, but until the Jets have a true franchise quarterback, they'll lag behind the Bills and the behemoth of the AFC East.
I don't anticipate a shake-up in the division pecking order, but hey, I've been wrong before.
15. Kansas City Chiefs
Everyone knows that this team is in rebuilding mode. They've almost always hung tough with the rest of the AFC West, so it's strange to see this team in such a predicament.
They got good value for Jared Allen, and drafted well (must have been ecstatic to have landed Glenn Dorsey).
Dwayne Bowe was a bright spot during his rookie season. Croyle has his work cut out for him, but should receive enough help from Johnson and Gonzalez to afford the organization some respect in these dark days.
16. Miami Dolphins
No surprise here. Instead of filleting the poor Fish, I'll note their impressive draft—Long, Merling, and Henne (three serious prospects within the first two rounds).
If Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are healthy, they should have some success on the ground.
I hope they keep Jason Taylor. In my opinion, the Chargers should have little interest in the guy, but I'd hate to see him upgrade a competitor's pass rush, even for a season.
Anyway, the Fin's franchise will turn around in a few years in the capable hands of Bill Parcels, though it seems like it will take the better part of a decade to swim past New England.
I guess that leaves the NFC...