The Earliest Rankings of all 8 NFL Divisions -- Part II - AFC

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The Earliest Rankings of all 8 NFL Divisions -- Part II - AFC
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While there seemed to controversy from my NFC choices, in that there was limited changeover from 2009, does this prognosticator see much change in the AFC?   Haves vs Have Nots.... do last season’s winners have a playoff shot, or not have playoff shot.  This second section discusses the race for the Peyton Manning and Colts held AFC Championship.  And a wild Super Bowl prediction.

AFC South

Haves

Colts -- Defending Super AFC Champs led by Peyton Manning...should be enough said.  With Manning and his talented collection of receivers he should be able to continue to rack up huge passing yards.  The GM criticized his offensive line for not being physical enough yet they were not breached by last year’s high draft choice Ugoh and he only picked one OL in this draft.  Perhaps he complains too much, they are a solid if not spectacular offensive line and Manning is smart enough not to get rattled when they do break down.

The defense should still be able to really bring the heat, with undersized but very talented Hughes to spell the veteran pass rushers.  While the D might not be truly elite, are good enough to keep them in games and with that offense it will be enough.   Drafted more DL, LB, and DB help the Colts are contenders again for sure.  Might Have....Super Bowl loser hangover, but that may just motivate Manning more.  I have tried to write them off before, but I will not be able to do that until Manning hangs them up.

Texans -- The have just missed brigade.  They have a tremendous young QB in Schaub and for my money the best WR in the game.  Perhaps a bit short on further weapons but not totally one dimensional either. RB in Tate was a fine pick to force the best out of Slaton.   A defense on the rise, that surely gained a significant amount of credibility with the LB picks of the last two years and continued adding defensive depth.  Falcons drafted to a defense that was already competitive, and might have enough to finally get over the top.  They might have....a shot at catching the Colts napping.  They for sure have... a legitimate shot at a wildcard.  Have not done anything dramatic thus may be doomed to being a very good “almost” contender.

Have Nots –

Titans --  Have not followed up on the promise of 2008.  They do have a great RB in Chris Johnson and a fine offensive line, maybe the best in the NFL with plenty of depth to offset any injuries.  Vince Young looks to finally have matured into a solid QB and with some improvements in the receiving corps could move into the top 10.  The defense has potential.   They seem to play very hard at all times, but other than CB Finnegan seem to lack a dynamic playmaker. 

They are very clearly a tough out, and teams will always know they were in with a competitor after playing them.  They don't have anything that sparks the imagination beyond Johnson.  Very tough to write them off, but I just do not see the overall strength to challenge the Colts.  Myron Rolle their new safety might be the only guy on any NFL defense smarter than Peyton Manning....but I am just sure they have not done enough to beat him.

Jags -- Have not had much success lately.  Do not expect any this year either.  They have a QB whom has shown little and no inclination to upgrade the position.  Unfortunately this is a team so average on offense because Garrard's weapons are limited, and I cannot see much development.  The defense could not stop anyone from running on them, so they did draft four DL with their first four picks which will make them much more difficult to simply run on.  Have Not....a snowball’s chance at the playoffs, but will at least be far more competitive........maybe.  Or maybe they contend for the No. 1 draft pick.

 

AFC North

Haves -

Bengals

The team finally won the division in 2009 and Carson Palmer showed flashes of his former brilliant self.  The offensive line is at least solid if not spectacular.  As individuals will none of these guys will go to may pro-bowls, but they perform as a unit as well as nearly any other unit.  Giving Palmer a game changing type TE like Gresham and another receiving threat in Shipley could move this offense from being very good to outstanding, 85 is no longer the only threat, and they have moved on from the loss of Henry.

The defense is physical, punishing, mean, nasty, any way to say very good.  The LB's could be the best in any 4–3 set in the NFL.  They did draft to try to upgrade in the secondary, where the safety Williams may be a weak link.  All in all there is not much to find fault with on this roster.  They have not proven they can win on a consistent basis and I am not sure they have any ability to run the ball should anything happen to Benson.

Ravens --

Have an elite young QB in Flacco, but may need to coddle a bit to prevent a third season jinx.  A rising star mismatch at RB with Rice, who may pass Peterson to be the second best back in the league behind Johnson and depth behind him with McGahee.  The team took a risk on WR Stallworth and grabbed another huge weapon in Boldin, so the lack of receivers is a thing of the past, even if Heap and Mason are nearing the end, and they did grab replacements for Heap in the draft.  They do have potentially the league’s best depth on the offensive line group. 

The Ravens seem to have no obvious holes on offense.  On defense they were a team who dominated for years and carried a weak offense to respectability.  Age and free agency is removing them from the elite ranks, and two high risk/reward picks were added to the front seven in drafting Cody and Kindle.  Much may revolve on the effectiveness of Ed Reed and the staying power of Ray.  They have .... a shot at becoming a dominant team in the AFC, the problem is they are in a dogfight for the division. 

Have Nots

Steelers --

The team has not found any way to control their wayward QB.  Not sure if his attitude, or Dennis Dixon will get them out of the early hole Roethlisberger's suspension will put them in.  They have not adequately addressed a very not quite average offensive line, but the Pouncey pick was a good start.   They have not replaced the other team miscreant at WR, and Ward is getting pretty long in the tooth to continue to carry the passing game.  This offense looks average, not scary.   On defense they have two outstanding OLB which means opposing QB find it hard to have time to throw.  The rest of the D is not the feared group they one were, and seem hardly a shell of the group that won two Super Bowls this decade.   They have not reloaded as the Steelers have done in the past.  This is a mid-average group, that without a great job from the QB spot have not much of a shot at the playoffs.

Browns --

Have not had a trip to the playoffs since...?  How much improvement can there be from as bad as they were?  A lot.  Expect Holmgren to get this franchise turned around the rest of the way.  Finishing a bleak season with wins was great for them at the end of 2009.  Trading and scrounging for competitive if not outstanding FA has been successful, even getting a stable QB in Jake Delhomme to take the beating and teach the NFL to value draft pick McCoy.  They have part of an excellent young line in Thomas and Mack. Two outstanding picks in the secondary in Haden and Ward may slow down the points turnstile. They have not any chance at the division this year. They might surprise plenty of people and win six, but the future looks better than this time last year.

NFC East

Haves

Patriots

Have won Super Bowls this decade, but were not the best team from the division in the playoffs in 2009.   They have an elite QB in Brady who manages an explosive offense.  They have given him a great set of weapons to throw to potentially the best in the game, but an injury to Welker and the term old describes Moss, Crumpler, and Holt.  There are serious needs to get younger, and with TE picks Gronkowski and Hernandez they may be moving that direction.  They have a tremendous stable of average RBs.  A committee of not so good means Brady has to throw. They have not been a dominant offensive line, but they are not so bad as to be fatal when one looks at the passing stats of Brady over the last several years. 

Their defense has nothing that is so scary good that it draws all the focus, they are just fine in every phase of the game.  They added plenty of draft picks, and should have very few glaring weaknesses.  They have not really done anything that has to have them removed from the list of perennial contender they have become.   The biggest thing is that they have not added enough weapons to stay ahead of the Jets.

Jets

Have speed, youth, and plenty of playoff experience from their run of 2009.  Rex Ryan and company have a scary box of defensive talent.  Nobody will ever want to throw against a completely stacked secondary, and will not be able to run against a rugged front seven. Most teams see the offense addressed first in this article, but the defense is the heart and soul of this Jets team.  Some might try to make a slim case for some other team, but entering the season this is the best defense in football. 

A huge and dominant offensive line is in place, and will keep this team competitive for years.  They do not have a great deal of experience at QB, but Sanchez looked solid in his first season and has led the Jets to more playoff wins in one season than many NFL QBs have done in their career.  They could not quite win it all.  They added another huge lineman in Ducasse, a breakaway threat to compliment the run game with McKnight and the receivers are a very talented lot. The new group might be the scariest team in football if the pieces fall in place.  They have not yet pushed all this talent into game situation, or taken the wraps off Sanchez.  They have not won the AFC championship ......yet.

Have Nots

Dolphins --

Dolphins have not been to the AFC championship in years.  It is hard to say they have had a QB capable of winning since Marino.  Not sure but Chad Henne might be that offensive leader, but the tools are on the shelf for a solid try.  Getting Brandon Marshall to line up opposite second year man Greg Camarillo clearly gives him the best targets any Miami QB has had for more than a decade.  With a much better set of RB than most teams enjoy and a superior offensive line this team can score with average play. 

The D has been from savage to spotty over the last few years, much to do with leadership and identity.  With seven of the eight picks this year devoted to the defense they will no doubt play with an enthusiasm missing recently.  They have not much of a shot at the playoffs, not because they will not play hard, but because they have to get past both the Jets and Patriots.  This team cannot get over the top in 2010, but this team might be the best team that misses the playoffs.

Bills --

The Bills have not been out of the basement so long they think they are rebuilding.   Shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic seems more to be a more apt description.  How they won six last year is a mystery to me.  Trent Edwards performance at QB made me pine for Fitzpatrick, who now makes me think Green Bay castoff Brian Brohm might be the best answer.   Granted the Bills have had terrible offensive line play, and they did nothing to fix it.  

They did little to remedy the fact the Lee Evans is the only starting quality NFL receiver on the team. With a RB who fell out of favour, they reached dramatically for a great RB in Spiller when the team had so many other needs.  This offense will ....sort of, kinda, maybe terrible is the word I was looking for.  The defensive has some talent and are hard to run on. The secondary will get some interceptions as teams fire away with no thought of fear from giving away a short field.  They have not any shot at respectability.  They have a shot at winning more games in Canada than in the USA this year.  They also have a shot at a top two pick next year in the draft.

NFC West

Chargers --

Have won the division the last several years, but have failed to reach the ultimate in a trip to the Super Bowl.  They have one of the elite QB's in Rivers.  They have great receivers, albeit perhaps only two deep now, and Gates cannot be the best TE in the league forever.  The running game sees a tremendous draft pick set to replace a legend.  Third down specialist Sproles provides nice balance.  They have not had many free agent defections, and have worked hard to fill the holes.  Thre very solid picks on defense of their first four picks should limit any age and FA losses.  They have the potential to hang on to the division but history has proven they miss the brass ring when it should be in their grasp.  They have not proven they can win the big one, and they will be close but no cigar....again.  Gotta be driving Rivers nuts!

Raiders --

Tom Cable takes the team forward as a returning coach for the first time in years and a lack of Al Davis stretching in the draft, and the gift of a QB and the Raiders are on the brink of winning the division.  Your eyes are not playing tricks, the Raiders are the most improved team in football.  With the two very fine offensive line additions it will be very difficult to even slow down McFadden and or Bush and the run game.  What steals they had with third and fourth round OT's Campbell and Veldheer.  Jason Campbell comes over and has proven he can manage with not much support, so he may explode under the tutelage of Hue Jackson.  Heyward Bay, Higgins, Schillens, and Murphy can all fly, and occasionally catch the ball, Olsen is a very fine TE so there are certainly enough targets.  Their kicking game is the best in football.   

This offense could be as explosive as any in football.  Couple that offense with a quick defense anchored by the most underrated CB in football in Asomougha which gained two more bigtime playmakers via the draft and this team will take the step forward this year.  They might have some consistency issues, but the Raiders are a young team that is scary and on the rise mode.  Rolando McClain may be the the best first round pick in a decade.  The Raiders have taken many giant steps forward in one year.  They have not utilized the talent they have drafted.  After dumping the biggest bust QB in history, the Raiders are back.

Have nots

Chiefs --

This team have not addressed the need for an elite QB, and sorry Matt Cassel, you could not even start in college and your year in New England was a fluke.  They have not completely healed, and McCluster is a bust waiting to happen.  With holes in the offensive line they addressed a RB need.  Solid pick for a porous secondary with Berry was fine but the bust at CB in Arenas erased the good.  Bowe at WR mean is the only real weapon. Charles and McCluster may add excitement but maybe not much better results this year.  This team might make a run in 2015, but they have not ANY chance at the playoffs in 2010.  They have not fixed much, in spite of drafting exciting players.

Broncos --

On the NFC side I added a category, “lower than the have nots”?   See the Lions.  The 05 version.  Millen has been recreated in Denver.  At least I think this team had talent before he took them in the wrong direction.  Ryan Clady represents the one good move in the last three years.  They have not any chance at being remotely competitive. 

They might get the first overall pick again next year.  As bad as it is, they will not go 0–16 this year, but with Tebow the future, with Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn to learn from, the recycled Buckhalter and Arrington at RB and no one anyone ever heard of at WR after being a perennial powerhouse under Shanahan.  0–16 might be possible in 2011.  They have not any chance of being competitive until, like the Raiders ditching JaMarcus, they ditch the morons in management.  My choice for the No. 1 pick in 2011.

 

My early line AFC choices:

Colts, Jets, Bengals, and Chargers are the four division winners.  Ravens and Raiders secure wildcards.

Jets over Colts for AFC trip to the Super Bowl.

To tie this to the NFC side, I will let my mind control my heart for one brief flash. 

Jets over Packers for the Super Bowl.

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