The AFC Conference According to Vegas

David CohenSenior Analyst IAugust 1, 2008


AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers OVER/UNDER 9 (even action)

Cleveland Browns OVER/UNDER 8 (over favored)

Cincinnati Bengals OVER/UNDER 7.5 (under sizable favorite)

Baltimore Ravens OVER/UNDER 6 (over favored)

Vegas sees this as a very tight division with the Steelers and Browns in a coin flip.

I think the Steelers are the best team in this division. They are set at all the skill positions on offense but took a big hit to the offensive line. If the line breaks down and Big Ben gets sacked a lot, it could mean the division.

Defensively the Steelers have their strong points and will finish with the top defense in the division. Since the Ravens won’t contend, the Steel Curtain is the separating factor.

Offensively the Browns have talent as well, but it could easily implode. Derek Anderson already started regressing toward the end of the season and no one will be sleeping on the Browns this year. The offensive line still has some issues. Braylon Edwards is outstanding but can he stay on the field? Does Jamal Lewis have another good year left in him?

Defensively there will have to be some surprise players to emerge if they are to be in the top half of the league. Shaun Rodgers will certainly help defend against the run, but the Browns gave up one of the most underrated corners in football in Leigh Bodden to get him. This leaves them short at corner and even more suspect at safety. They will have some shootouts against the Bengals this year.

The Bengals simply don’t have the defense or the sturdy coaching to get anywhere. They’re a classic middle of the road team, despite the great offensive weapons.

The Ravens are rebuilding and don’t have a lot to work with on offense. The defense will tire in the second half of the year as they fall out of contention. This is especially true if Joe Flacco gets the snaps from day one. It is going to take a good while before he adjusts to the speed of the NFL. Troy Smith wasn’t that great last year either. Shaky quarterback play will continue to waste one of the best defensive units in the NFL.

The reason for the low win totals is the strength of schedule. The Steelers have the toughest schedule, the Ravens the fourth, and the Browns and Bengals are tied for sixth. So in regard to who wins the division, it’s not a huge factor. The team with the most balance is the best equipped to get through the grind.

How I see the division: Steelers 10-6, Browns 7-9, Bengals 6-10, Ravens 5-11.

Vegas at large: Steelers 9-7, Browns 9-7, Ravens 8-8, Bengals 6-10.

*Vegas under the odds to win the AFC Conference have the Ravens as the sixth choice, ahead of the Browns. Public perception is really driving the odds in the division.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts OVER/UNDER 11 (under favored)

Jacksonville Jaguars OVER/UNDER 10 (even action)

Tennessee Titans OVER/UNDER 8 (under favored)

Houston Texans OVER/UNDER 7.5 (even action)

Vegas sees this as another two team race going down to the wire. This time I agree.

The Colts offense is a machine. It doesn’t matter which role players have to step in at different points in the year. They just get it done. They have the most consistent offensive line in football. Manning is basically an offensive coordinator on the field. The running game is solid.

Defensively they can pressure the passer and have two up and coming corners. The safety duo of Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea could be one of the best in the league. The one big weakness for the Colts is at linebacker. They can be exploited in the mid range game, and if a running back can break the defensive line, he should get first down yardage if he evades Bob Sanders.

The Jaguars took some big steps last year and will look to build on them. They have finally found their quarterback in David Garrard, and he is efficient. They have a good offensive line across the board and have an outstanding running game. They have tried to bring in a lot of new receivers, but they still don’t have a proven go to guy on the roster. Until someone emerges, they can’t take the next step.

Defensively it will be interesting to see how new Defensive Coordinator Greg Williams implements his aggressive scheme. He could have a lot of success with some of the players and could help make up for the less talented positions on the defense. The Jags learned against New England that you can’t just sit back all game long. They will need to create pressure on the quarterback. Their season could come down to how long it takes for them to figure that out.

The Titans are that team that just can’t quit. On paper they aren’t that good but they just find a way to win. They truly take on the character of their head coach, Jeff Fisher, who is the most underrated coach in the NFL. Vince Young is in year three, so this is the time for him to show some progress. He could, but once again he has the worst receiving core east of Chicago. His top two receivers aren’t number two receivers on most teams. The one big addition on offense is Alge Crumpler, who will lead this team in receptions by a mile.

The Titans defense will get outmatched at points but they are opportunistic and stingy. If you give them a way out they’ll find it. And they can get pressure on the quarterback. If they can bend and not break they will keep the Titans in a lot of games.

The Texans are today what they always have been. An intriguing team that is just not ready.

The strength of schedule is just as brutal in this division as in the AFC North. The Colts have the second toughest schedule in football, the Jags the third, the Texans are in a tie for sixth, and the Titans in a tie for ninth. This division will come down to play in the fourth quarter and the two meetings between Indianapolis and Jacksonville. If the Jags can finally exercise their demons, they can emerge division champs.

I just don’t see it happening until next year.

How I see the division: Colts 11-5, Jaguars 10-6, Titans 8-8, Texans 5-11.

Vegas at large: Colts 10-6, Jaguars 10-6, Texans 8-8, Titans 7-9.

AFC East

New England Patriots OVER/UNDER 12.5 (under favored)

New York Jets OVER/UNDER 7 (over heavy favorites)

Buffalo Bills OVER/UNDER 8 (under favored)

Miami Dolphins OVER/UNDER 5.5 (under favored)

Vegas sees this as a clear cut win for the Patriots and I agree, but the Patriots aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Offensively, everyone knows how potent the Pats offense is. If everyone stays healthy they will probably put up the biggest numbers in the league again. But if the injury bug bites Randy Moss, their offense declines dramatically. Wes Welker loses his effectiveness over the middle because teams will be able to focus on him. Chad Jackson and Jabar Gaffney don’t scare anyone.

On defense, the front seven are solid and getting Adalius Thomas to play with just isn’t fair. But again, the unit is an injury away from having a huge hole. Between Vrabel, Bruschi, Warren, and Seymour, someone is getting hurt. If multiple players go down, the defense will struggle. Which leads me to the secondary.

Rodney Harrison is old. The FS position is inexperienced no matter who wins the job. Fernando Bryant and Jason Webster are not good options at corner, and they are likely the second and nickel corners. Defenses will basically avoid Ellis Hobbs and pick apart the rest of the secondary. If the Pats don’t get pressure on the quarterback on a pass play, it’ll be a completion most of the time. They are lucky no one in the division has a reliable passing game.

The Buffalo Bills could be this year’s Cleveland Browns. A lot of pieces have to come into place, but if they can, the Bills could contend for a wildcard. Trent Edwards showed progress J.P. Losman never did in his first season, and now will get the reigns from day one. He’s a smart player with enough tools to succeed. A young quarterback needs a good running back, and the Bills have a promising one in Marshawn Lynch. He can catch passes out of the backfield very well, which helps a young QB in distress. Lee Evans could rebound as a top tier receiver if he can play consistently. The left side of the offensive line should become the stronghold of the team by mid-season. If they get another weapon to emerge and Edwards plays well, they could sneak up on a lot of teams.

On defense, they will be solid stopping the run. They have a lot of beef in the middle of the line and a linebacker core that can attack the gaps. Also, both of their safeties are heavy hitters. Right now, they will need the linebackers to help pressure the passer, which is a problem because they are very susceptible at corner right now. Leodis McKelvin will need to learn quickly and become a starter. Again, there is a lot of potential, but whether they can exercise it is a mystery.

The Jets are the hot comeback pick after making a boatload of acquisitions. None were bigger than getting Alan Faneca to lead a young offensive line. With Ferguson and Mangold, the Jets have potentially great protection from the blind side. They will also be running primarily through this side, as the right side of the line is weak.

The Jets have a lot of talented running backs to take advantage, in Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, and Jesse Chatham. Tony Richardson is one of the best fullbacks in the league and will help open up running lanes.

Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery are both great receivers, but the Jets should’ve moved Coles when he was unhappy about his contract. They both provide the same thing to the offense, and Cotchery is poised to soon surpass Coles. The Jets still don’t have a burner, but hope first round pick Dustin Keller can turn into that. Chris Baker and Bubba Franks will provide the traditional TE play, while Keller will serve more as a deep threat receiver.

Defensively, the Jets will be a better run stopping team with Kris Jenkins clogging the middle. But they will be just as poor against the pass. Darrell Revis will continue to develop into a shut down corner but Justin Miller and the rest of the Jets can’t cover much. The OLB position is also a liability. There is a hole at FS as well, and John Lynch just became available, so I’m hoping that gets filled up.

The Jets will be much better than last year, but they have one glaring problem, and it is at quarterback. Hanging Chad can’t throw more than 20 yards consistently, so opposing defenses just stack the box. Kellen Clemens hasn’t been given the reigns for a full season, and the time is now to do so. He certainly had his struggles last year but when the fourth quarter came around, the light bulb usually went off. You can’t teach that. If he can get a consistent running game and some protection, he will be a good quarterback. But if he doesn’t beat out Chad this preseason, the Jets have no quarterback and will be on hold until that changes.

The Dolphins are in year one of the Bill Parcells era, which means they’ll be a four win team. Looking at the roster, they will struggle all over the place. When you are asking Quincy Carter to come in for a workout, you’re in for a long year.

Strength of schedule also plays a role in this division. It’s inverted. The Dolphins have the hardest cupcake schedule. They are tied for 21st. The Jets are 25th. The Bills are tied for 27th. The Patriots were graced by Goodell with the easiest schedule in the league. Guess the NFL didn’t want its cash cow to fall off the tracks.

This division is basically gift wrapped for New England because no one else is ready to step up yet. But depending on whom the Jets pick at QB and the progression of the Bills, the Pats time might be coming sooner rather than later.

How I see the division: Patriots 12-4, Bills 9-7, Jets 7-9, Dolphins 4-12.

Vegas at large: Patriots 12-4, Jets 9-7, Bills 7-9, Dolphins 5-11.

AFC South

San Diego Chargers OVER/UNDER 10.5 (over sizable favorite)

Denver Broncos OVER/UNDER 7.5 (over heavy favorite)

Kansas City Chiefs OVER/UNDER 6 (over favorite)

Oakland Raiders OVER/UNDER 6.5 (under heavy favorite)

Vegas clearly sees this as the Chargers and everyone else. And I completely agree. If the Chargers maximize their potential, it will be them and the rest of the league.

Offensively, the Chargers are solid. LT, Darren Sproles, and Jacob Hester are a great tandem. Sproles will be dangerous as a pass threat while Hester can get those tough yards when Tomlinson needs a breather. The offensive line is young and should continue to improve.

Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers are a nasty receiving duo. One of them will always have a mismatch in their favor. If anyone else emerges as a receiving threat, the Chargers will be set. And Philip Rivers made huge strides at QB near the end of the season. His grittiness and leadership in the playoffs will go a long way toward this year. He is also in the mythical third year as a starter. And if he can’t start the season, Billy Volek is more than capable of running Norv Turner’s offense. It’s still baffling no one has given him another shot at a starting job.

Defensively the Chargers are sick. The defensive line as a unit is among the most talented in the league. The linebackers will take your head off. The safeties are cerebral. And the corners can make big plays. Cromartie came out of nowhere last season and rookie Antoine Cason will be among the league’s best nickel corners as a rookie. The Chargers defense, like its offense, is well balanced.

The Broncos are hoping to rebound back into the playoffs. Quarterback Jay Cutler is also in his third year but is more of a mystery since the Diabetes diagnosis. Selvin Young is good enough to get 1200 yards in the blocking scheme. However, the offensive line isn’t as good as it has been, and that might slow things down, primarily in pass protection. Brandon Marshall is the only true receiving threat, and his head isn’t always in the game.

Defensively the Broncos are a mixed bunch. They have big name corners in Champ Bailey and Dre Bly, but they both struggled in coverage for their standards a year ago. Domonique Foxworth might sneak into the starting lineup if that continues. The linebackers as a whole can hit but struggle in the passing game. The safeties are a trouble spot after the departure of John Lynch. The front four can blitz but will struggle against big offensive lines pushing the line of scrimmage in the running game.

The Raiders have a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball but need more than a year for it to develop. Defensively they were surprisingly good last year. Now they have added Gibril Wilson and DeAngelo Hall and have one of the best secondary units in the conference. The linebackers are average but the secondary should make enough plays to compensate.

If somehow the offensive line learns how to block and Russell turns into a worthy QB and someone steps up at receiver other than Darren McFadden, they could be the real sleeper. The franchise could also use some stability from the front office.

The Chiefs just haven’t built their team properly. The team has some scattered talent, but most of it is on defense. The offense could be abysmal with an adjusting offensive line, the breaking down Larry Johnson, and Brodie Croyle as their quarterback. They will be buried in mediocrity for some time. But at least we know they’ll play to win the game!

The strength of schedule in this division is laughable. The Chiefs are 26th, Broncos 29th, Raiders 30th, and the Chargers 31st. This could create surprising records overall out of this division.

How I see the division: Chargers 13-3, Broncos 8-8, Raiders 6-10, Chiefs 4-12.

Vegas at large: Chargers 12-4, Broncos 9-7, Chiefs 7-9, Raiders 5-11.

Playoff Picture

Vegas at large by AFC Conference odds: New England (#1), San Diego (#2), Indianapolis (#3), Pittsburgh (#4), Jacksonville (#5), Baltimore (#6)

Vegas at large by Divisional Odds: New England (#1), San Diego (#2), Indianapolis (#3), Pittsburgh (#4), Jacksonville (#5), Cleveland (#6)

In my opinion: San Diego (#1), New England (#2), Indianapolis (#3), Pittsburgh (#4), Jacksonville (#5), Buffalo (#6)

*Buffalo and Denver tied at 9-7. Bills play @ Denver in Week 16. Bills get the Patriots to end the season. Since the Patriots play the Chargers during the year and I think they will lose, they will probably be resting starters. Eyeballing the two schedules the Bills have the easier one, and there has to be a team in the playoffs that no one saw coming (like the Browns last year), so I’ll take the Bills.

Vegas AFC Champion: Patriots over Chargers

In my opinion: Chargers over Colts (as long as Norv doesn’t screw things up)


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