I know it's June and the closest thing to football we have to look forward to is the OTAs and training camps...
it is never to early to look at how the draft and free agency has affected your favorite team, and take a look at who will make the playoffs come year's end
Here is who I think will make the playoffs in each of the divisions in the AFC, along with the wild cards.
The Colts have easily been the most dominant team in the south for the past five years, and after a 13-3 year, all looks good for the Colts, right?
Not so much.
After missing their top-tier receiver Marvin Harrison for most of the regular season, optimism is the only thing Harrison has heading into the 2008 regular season. Especially after a knee injury which he suffered Week Four. Harrison needs to rehabilitate to 100 percent if he expects to be the go-to receiver in this pass-happy offense. We also can't forget all of the trouble off the field with the shootings in Philadelphia; which I personally do not care much for. We're talking football here.
Still, Indianapolis has the nod in the conference. The offense did not miss a beat, having the third-ranked point-scoring offense in the league. Reggie Wayne formed into what we all thought he would be, a great receiver. Manning, of course, had another Manning-like year, and Tony Ugoh slowly became an anchor on that already packed Indianapolis O-line.
The defense is a bit of a concern though. Now, I know what you're thinking: They're bringing back the reigning Defensive POY in Bob Sanders, and a pretty sturdy LB corps. But the big question is Dwight Freeney's health. Freeney suffered a Lisfranc fracture (which is a dislocation of the joints in the middle of the foot) last year. If he is healthy, expect Indy to be competitive in not only the south, but the entire AFC, like they tend to do year in and year out.
Dungy is still a great coach. Manning is still going to awe us every Sunday. And make damn sure that Bob Sanders is going to level whoever he comes in contact with.
Colts' Final Record: 12-4
How surprising was the immediate success of Mike Tomlin in the Steel City? Although Cowher left Tomlin with a whole mess of talent and depth at almost every position, let's face it; Cowher did win the Super Bowl with that team. You could not help but get the feeling that Tomlin was using his players to the best of their ability in a tough AFC North.
Going 5-1 in any conference is almost a guarantee for a good seed in the playoffs, and the Steelers broke about even this offseason. After the monumental loss of Alan Faneca, the Steelers would rebound with a great draft class, headlined by Illinois' star running back Rashard Mendenall and second-round choice (should have been first round), wide receiver Limas Sweed.
I see a lot of a Bill Belichick in Mike Tomlin. Not the whole videotaping aspect (I know, I know; I am sorry Patriots fans, that was low, even for me), but in Tomlin's ability to use players to their fullest potential. Look at his third-round selection, DE Bruce Davis. He can convert, he can tackle, he is a lot like Jason Taylor (a lanky structure at 6'3", 252 lbs.), and a great straight-line speed player. He seems like the perfect fit in Pittsburgh's defense.
Even with the loss of Faneca, Roethlisberger will have time to throw, thanks to a healthy line containing Marvel Smith, Kendall Simmons, Willie Colon, and Sean Mahan. The great Hines Ward leads a group of solid receivers, with Santonio Holmes, who is not only a fantasy sleeper, but will be a good receiver this year.
Before I start showering Mendenhall with praise, Big Willie Parker is still the starter, and I have no problem with saying that he might top 1,500 yards if they can find a solid replacement at the left guard position
With the resurgence of the Cleveland Browns, it is kind of hard to choose otherwise, but Pittsburgh can hang with anyone.
Steelers' Final Record: 13-3
New England Patriots
The East is by far the least competitive division in the AFC. But there is hope in the future, as three of the teams had a draft pick within the first 11 picks (Miami-1, NY-6, and Buffalo-11). But hope is nothing but that, just an estimation of how things may turn up. What I am focusing on right now is who has the best team currently, and currently, that team is the New England Patriots.
NFL.com has selected Tom Brady has the fifth-overall player in fantasy leagues. But he is the No. 1 QB, and he will prove that this year. I learned at the tender age of 13, as a diehard St. Louis Rams fan that you do not bet against Tom Brady.
Then I learned at the tender age of 19 that you do not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to beat Tom and the Pats, just look at what the Giants did in Tempe.
But aside from past Super Bowls, Tom Brady delivers in the regular season. He still has Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Ben Watson, and maybe even Chad Jackson. Now Brady needs time to hand the ball off to Maroney or Faulk. Coppen, Mankins, and Light give him enough time.
I expect this offense to still be as explosive as it was previously, even with the offseason loss of Donte Stallworth. Laurence Maroney might have an even bigger role in this offense this year, considering Tom Brady threw the ball 578 times last year, and I bet D-coordinators are just salivating on how they can capitalize on Brady's Super-Bowl beat down.
The defense is still scary, but with glory, there has to be a downfall. With the loss of Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson, do not think for a second that teams are not going to try to force the pass against them. But they might want to think twice before doing so, because Ellis Hobbs and Fernando Bryant make up a suitable CB position, Brandon Meriweather is a converted safety, so he can jar the ball loose once and a great while, and Rodney Harrison is still the trash-talking punk we all fell in love with 15 years ago.
Bruschi will be healthy, along with transformer Adalius Thomas. Vince Wilfork leads a big D-line, and Warren on the end position. And with a healthy Richard Seymour, you will see the Pats force teams to make mistakes.
I still do not see a kryptonite for New England. Sorry Jets fans, they did not need to videotape your calls, they would have creamed you anyway.
Patriots' Final Record: 14-2
This may be one of the best Charger teams in quite awhile. Aside from two, early playoff exits the past few years, this team seems to get better with every passing year. I think this is the year that Chargers fans can validate their high hopes.
The Chargers just need a go-to receiver not named Gates, and Vincent Jackson is the best receiver you've never heard of. Although first-round choice Craig Davis is lined up opposite of Jackson, you can expect his fair share of balls. The threat of a speedy Davis, the lengthy Jackson, and the All-Pro Antonio Gates gives nothing but smiles to Phillip Rivers, whom I think is poised for a breakout year behind one of the, if not the best, offensive lines in football.
Of course I cannot mention the San Diego Super Chargers without mentioning LaDainian Tomlinson. Tomlinson is the best thing since sliced bread...or Jim Brown, you go ahead and choose. You can bet Tomlinson will get at least 300 touches, and he will make the best of every one of them. Throw in his ridiculous ability to catch out of the backfield, which remind me of a certain No. 28 who played in St. Louis.
All of this, combined with the offensive genius that is Norv Turner, and this offense is just magnificent. But defense wins championships, and let me tell you...San Diego holds up its part of the bargain.
Shawne Merriman leads the Chargers' defense, and Cromartie will still be the stud that he is. I remember draft day, when San Diego took Cromartie, and I just remember Kiper ripping the organization for taking an unproven cornerback out of Florida State. Kiper went on to say that he was a terrific athlete, but he is not NFL material since he had only really a year of playing football for the Seminoles. Kiper was wrong. Cromartie can make plays on the ball, and he is not too shabby at returning the ball either.
Eric Weddle will be one of the better safeties this year. He has the intangibles to be great: good wrap-up tackler, good hands, and he is aware of everything that goes on in the field of play. And Jamal Williams will anchor that 3-4 defense.
Do I think San Diego will win it all? I sure hope so, but I guarantee teams like New England and Indy will have their say in that.
Chargers' Final Record: 13-3
I am barely coming back down from my David-Garrard high. I loved Leftwich, but he was a sitting duck in that young team's plans. The (little bit) more nimble Garrard seems to be a perfect fit in Koetter's high-flying offense. The two-back monster that is Jones-Drew and Taylor leads the best set in the league. Do not be surprised if they both surpass 800 yards individually this season.
I am concerned about the offensive line though. They will be subject to injury since most of them started the entire season in 2007. But just from the looks of the depth chart, they have replacements that can hold their own.
Wilford, Jones, Northcutt, Lewis, and Williams do not sound too scary, right? Pfft. They might not be the best receiving corps in the league, but just because you do not have an Owens or Holt doesn't mean you can't play the game.
All of these WRs will contribute to the maturation of Garrard. David will take leaps and bounds this year, and they might not be good, like possibly trying to force the ball more downfield if the running game does not pick up. All of this is natural in the process of developing a QB, just look at Brett Favre. He did it his whole career, but I think that was just because it was fun, well, it sure as hell looked fun.
Mike Smith has gone to some team in Atlanta. I don't know them, but do not worry; even you (the reader) can make this defense untouchable. Gregg Williams is a great defensive coach in my eyes. He's not so good as a head coach, but that's neither here nor there.
Williams will use the same group of guys that led the Jags to an 11-5 record and the No. 2-ranked defense against the run. And it may have gotten better with the addition of first-round choice Derrick Harvey, who will make an impact for years to come. The cornerback position is a bit thin, but Nelson and Knight make up a fantastic safety tandem.
I do think Jacksonville is just missing that "if" to push themselves far, and maybe even claim the division, but until Indy loses that Manning guy, mark it up.
Jaguars' Final Record - 11-5
Hurrah, Hurrah. Cleveland was this close to making the postseason last year. Well, let me tell you, "this close" does not cut it in this league; in fact, "this close" will pretty much get your ass fired.
Bengals fans, you may want to turn away from this portion of my article. CLEVELAND ROCKS!
In my 19 years of life, I never thought that I would say that. But I did. Derek Anderson was a backup's backup when 2007 started, and now he is a Pro-Bowl quarterback who must cut back in the INT column and focus on that pesky TD one.
Jamal Lewis took a breath of new life in Cleveland, and will continue to shock those teams who did not touch him when he was a free agent. And at 28, he still has two years before the magical age of 30 gets him.
Braylon Edwards silenced all of his critics and had an All-Pro year, worthy of recognition from the whole league. Edwards is a tireless worker who should be a model, not only to athletes, but to all human beings. Braylon made a scholarship worth $500,000 to the University of Michigan, his alma mater, for the player who wears his famed No. 1 on the football squad (this year I think it is some freshman).
But that is beside the point. Cleveland lost at the worst possible times last year. Of course, losing period is bad, but you know what I mean. The defense is led by veteran Willie McGinest. He brings a championship-caliber player to the defense that is in its second year of playing together.
But that is the only downfall of the Browns. Their offense can hang with the best, but you need a D if you expect to go deep in the playoffs. If you were to give them Oakland's defense, then hello deep-playoff run. Until then, I cannot stretch the Browns too far.
Browns' Final Record: 10-6
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading my article as much as I enjoyed typing it.