How quickly have things turned in the AFC? Going into the year, the general consensus was that Indy, SD, and NE were going to dominate the year. Pittsburgh was expected to take the AFC North, Jacksonville and Cleveland were going to get the wild cards. Clockwork.
Then the injuries hit. And teams over- (or under-) performed. And everything changed.
Now, we're looking at a conference that all of the sudden is faced with a lot of uncertainty. There is no clear-cut favorite. There is no team without a major handicap. Everyone is capable, yet vulnerable. And in a way, it definitely makes for a more fun year.
I fully expected this AFC season to be a drag for me, with the rebuilding Ravens staring up at the big four. But instead they've got just as good of a chance as any. It sucks that it took injuries for things to get this way, but that's the unfortunate nature of the game.
The flip side is that it makes things more competitive and more interesting. I couldn't be more excited for the rest of this season, just to see who actually emerges out of the AFC.
Oh, and Dallas is winning the NFC. Everyone still okay with that? Cool.
One more thing. I'll be in a picks competition this year with fellow writers Matt Hunter and Frank Compatos. We decided to start last week. Right now we're all tied at 11-5. Should make for some intersting competition. I'll keep you posted, be sure to also check out Matt and Frank's profiles for their analysis on the NFL this year.
On to the picks. Home teams in CAPS.
BENGALS over Browns
Both teams are still licking the wounds the Ravens inflicted upon them (sorry, had to throw that in there). At least Cincinnati showed some life against the defending champs. There's just no saving the Browns, they look horrendous. I think we get a little Brady Quinn action in this game.
TITANS over Vikings
How sad is it that two of the most stacked teams in the NFL are being manned at the QB position by Kerry Collins and Gus Frerotte. The edge goes to the Titans here. They're in the best D discussion along with the Steelers and the Ravens. They should be dominant, especially with Adrian Peterson banged up.
Broncos over CHIEFS
If I were a gambling man, this would be the proverbial "Can't make this line high enough for me!" game. But here's the thing. You don't need a dominant defense to win the Super Bowl. You don't even need a great one. But you do need to get a stop when it matters. And Denver can't do that.
So while they load up on the bad teams and everyone picks them to be a Super Bowl team, just remember that their defense can't get that clutch stop (or many others). It will cost them at some point.
SAINTS over 49ers
I'm not giving up on the Saints yet. They lost two tough games to two good teams. However, their defense isn't as improved as I thought it would be.
JETS over Cardinals
This is assuming that Brett Favre is playing. I don't know what to make of Arizona. I mean, I think they take the West because it's pretty weak. But are they...good? I don't know.
I'm picking NY only because they're playing at home. If Clemens has to start, that pick goes to the Cards.
Packers over BUCCANEERS
The Bucs are pretty good but I'm not getting sucked into Brian Griese at all. I mean I know Jon Gruden has forgotten more football than I'll ever know, but why not Jeff Garcia? Why do people keep counting him out? I like Green Bay in this one, though they're in serious trouble without Al Harris.
PANTHERS over Falcons
Bill Simmons said it best in his podcast this week. The Falcons are the proverbial "good bad team." They beat all the bad teams and lose to the good ones. Great stepping stone for next year, but don't be fooled by them this year.
By the way, Matt Ryan might be winning the battle, but I think Joe Flacco wins the war. Just sayin'.
JAGUARS over Texans
Wow Matt Schaub is horrible. You'd think the Texans would settle for anyone after David Carr and they basically got Carr Lite. That's not a good thing. As for the Jags, I know their interior line is beat up and it's hurting them more than people (like me) thought it would, but I still think if they can get those guys healthy later in the year, they can make a run. There's too much talent on that team and no one else is stepping up in the South besides Tennessee.
Chargers over RAIDERS
If you get the chance, check out this fascinating interview Deadspin.com does with Tim Kawakami, writer for the San Jose Mercury who covers the Raiders. A closer, deeper look at their dysfunctional franchise manned by an insane Al Davis (it's a shame to see what's become of him)
Anyway, I'm sticking with the Chargers as my Super Bowl pick. They should be 3-0 and they're only going to get better.
Bills over RAMS
Another reason why I'm on the Bills bandwagon...really easy schedule. And Trent Edwards, is he for real? We won't find out in this game against an abysmal Rams team but we'll see as they play tougher opponents. Stay tuned.
COWBOYS over Redskins
The Redskins' offense looks like it's getting in gear, but Dallas is just in a different stratosphere right now. If the Cowboys' D can do what it did against Green Bay, Washington could be in for a very long game.
BEARS over Eagles
I really do like this Eagles team. But they're banged up. And they're going on the road against a Chicago team that could very well be 3-0 right now and desperately needs this win. Factoring in the injuries and the Chicago crowd...I just have to take the Bears here. Hopefully Philly heals fast.
STEELERS over Ravens
Only because I don't trust Joe Flacco on the road yet against that D. This should be an awesome game if you like defense. If not, stay the heck away from the TV. I'll be writing more about this and the Ravens-Steelers rivalry later in the week.