Part II of my look at the upcoming NFL season, the AFC portion as I call it, is here. If you read my look at the NFC, you read that I believe the Green Bay Packers are going to win the NFC title, in what could be an epic game against the New Orleans Saints. Who will face them? Read on.
As I have stated in previous blogs, I haven’t been drinking the green kool-aid, nor do I think the paper champion New York Jets will win this division. The shellacking the New England Patriots took in the wildcard game against the Ravens last year, may have been the first step to their 2010 AFC Eastern division title. You can bet as soon as time expired on the Ravens’ 33-14 win, Bill, Tom, and the rest of the P-Men went to work on making sure that embarrassment didn’t repeat himself this year. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady, and if they can get their running game going again, an 11-5 record will capture the division. I do think the Jets are the second best team in this division, but where the Jets are going to suffer, is that 9-7 isn’t going to be good enough to get into the AFC postseason this year. I think the Mark Sanchez comparisons to Joe Namath is a good one. After all, Namath was an average quarterback who had one decent game when it counted most. Sanchez can be easily rattled, and baited into poor decisions, and too me, isn’t going to be much better then Kyle Boller. I do believe in their defense, and just like the Ravens for the better part of this decade, the Jet defense will keep them in most games, and probably win a couple for them. The Miami Dolphins field an average team, and an 8-8 record will prove it. Chad Henne is a decent quarterback, but I don’t think either he or their receiving coprs will be good enough to win the games they need to down the stretch. They do have solid running backs, but the defense that they have been known for the past few years has taken a step back, and that is where they will struggle. In the days of Jim Kelly, and the Buffalo Bills K-Gun offense, you wouldn’t have found a bigger Bills fan then yours truly. However, these are not those Bills, and Trent Edwards is no Jim Kelly. Even with a shored up running game, I really like CJ Spiller, the loss of Aaron Schobel and the fact that they don’t have a top 20 quarterback is going to kill any chance this team had of getting to .500. A 5-11 record out of the Bills would be an over achievement for this team that just lacks talent in a tough division.
If I were to write this post with my heart, instead of my head, I would write how the Baltimore Ravens will go 16-0, run rough-shod over the rest of the league, and hoist the Lombardi trophy in early February. But I don’t. Now, I do believe that the Ravens will win this division, but it’s going to be a lot more difficult then most fans think. An 11-5 record is doable, but the Ravens are going to have to beat the Cincinnati Bengals off all year. The signing of T.J. Houshmanzadeh gives the Ravens one of the best receiving tandems in the league, and should only help Joe Flacco take that next step. Ray Rice is set up to benefit from the upgrades at wideout as well, because teams can’t put 8 or 9 guys in the box anymore against this offense. The defense should be good again, and I think this secondary is going to surprise people with how well they will do this year. As I said before, the Bengals are going to be a tough out this year, and if the Ravens suffer an injury or two, the Bengals could win this division again. I hate Carson Palmer, but that’s only because he plays in Cincy. He’s a very good quarterback, and one of the best on field leaders in the league. Having put up with Ocho-stinko all these years, set up Palmer the best way to deal with the queen of all divas, Terrell Owens. The guy I like, or hate, the most in this offense, is TE Jermaine Gresham. This kid can play, and even though he is a rookie, he’s an Antonio Gates in waiting. Oh, and, by the way, Marvin Lewis has a defense. I completely disagree with SI’s Peter King, who picked the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl. The Steelers stink. They may go 0-4 in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence, as they handed the keys, temporarily, to Dennis Dixon. He was terrible in the preseason, and I don’t think for one second that he has the backing of any of the players. And even when Ben comes back into the fold, especially if they get off to an 0-4, 1-3 start, he’s going to have to face the animosity from a team that always pictures itself in the playoff/Super Bowl hunt. The defense is a step slower, and who knows if Troy Polomalu is going to come back and be the Polomalu of old. I see a 7-9 season from this over rated bunch of babies. The Cleveland Browns…..Hmmm. I think the Browns are going to be better this season, but only by a game. At 6-10, the Browns will prove that they are still the Browns, but also show that they may finally be headed in the right direction. Jake Delhomme is in the November of his career, but he brings leadership to a team that has sorely lacked it over the past few season. Josh Cribbs will once again be this team’s best player, which does not bode well because he’s a special teamer. A game changer yes, but not a game winner.
This division caused me to waffle a little bit. Initially, I picked the Houston Texans to win this division, but I was never sold. On paper, Houston looks ready to take that next step, but they suffer from two big Achille’s heels. First, they can’t beat the Colts. Houston is 1-15 against Indianapolis, and the Colts seem to have the same grip on the Texans, that they do against the Ravens. Secondly, they have never been able to finish games. Houston is a great first half team, but they lack that killer instinct to put teams away. These two things being considered, once again Peyton Manning bests Matt Schaub. Indianapolis will continue their run of seasons with 10+ victories, but they aren’t going to be as dominant as in years past. A 12-4 record suits this team, but there isn’t going to be any talk of a perfect season this time around. The defense may be more of a liability this year as the defensive line is a year older, and S Bob Sanders’ health remains a question mark. But as long as they can keep Manning healthy, the Colts are going to be good. Houston will earn the first playoff berth in franchise history as the Schaub to Johnson combo leads them to a 10-6 record. The offense is always going to be there for this team, and the defense will learn how to finish games in the 4th quarter. Learning to win in December and January is tough, but the Texans finally figure it out. The Tennessee Titans got off to a terrible 0-6 start last year under Kerry Collins. Enter Vince Young, and an 8-2 record the rest of the way. The Titans are a difficult team to forecast because they should be better then what they are. All-World RB Chris Johnson leads a very talented backfield, but I’m not completely sold on Young. Don’t get me wrong, he should be starting over Collins. But I don’t think Young is the dropback QB he needs to be. This team’s running game is built for Johnson, yet Young still wants to tuck the ball and run it when the whim hits. If he can learn how to become a true passer, the Titans will be dangerous. But he’s not there yet. Jacksonville shouldn’t have a team, and they may play like it this year. Maurice Jones-Drew not withstanding, the Jaguars don’t have any players that you have to really gameplan for. I’ve always likes Jack Del Rio, as a player, and Ravens’ coach, but he hasn’t been given anything to work with this year. A 5-11 record is about all the Jags will manage this season.
This division may have been the easiest to predict. The San Diego Chargers are still the best team in the division, and acquiring Patrick Crayton from Dallas will soften some of the sting from the Vincent Jackson saga. Philip Rivers has gone from whiny prima donna, to a legitimate Pro Bowl QB and field general. His postseason flops aside, Rivers leads what should again be a top 10 offense, and even though the defense isn’t what it has been, the Chargers will still cruise to an 11-5 record in this weak division. While I don’t think the Denver Broncos are as bad as some people think, I don’t think they are good enough to make the playoffs in the AFC. After running out to a 6-0 start a year ago, the Broncos were brought back to reality by the Ravens, and went on to finish the season a disappointing 8-8. Tim Tebow may be the QB of the future in Denver, but the problem they have, is that there is no QB of the present. Kyle Orton is average at best, and not a true leader. The loss of Elvis Dumervil is going to be a huge blow to this team, and they are staring down the barrel of another 8-8 season. I look for Kansas City to make a few small strides this year, as Matt Cassel shows he isn’t as bad as he looked at times last year. In his second season in KC, Todd Haley starts to see the fruits of his labor come to fruition as they post an improved 6-10 record. That leaves the Oakland Raiders to close the basement door in the West. I thought Jason Campbell was an upgrade, but he was banged up in the preseason, and the offensive line isn’t good enough to guarantee Campbell will play all 16 games. Look for no better then 4-12 for Al Davis’ bunch.
2010 AFC PLAYOFFS
WildCard Round: New England over Houston, San Diego over Cincinnati
Divisional: Baltimore over San Diego, Indianapolis over New England
Conference Championship: Baltimore over Indianapolis
AFC CHAMPION: Baltimore Ravens
The Super Bowl matchup of the Green Bay Packers and the Baltimore Ravens will be a test of one thing. Is Aaron Rodgers better then the Ravens’ defense? Unfortunately, for we Raven fans, the answer is yes. I think Rodgers is the best QB in the game right now, and he will prove it as the Packers win their fourth Super Bowl title, 31-24 over the Ravens.
Looking forward to Monday night, and finally getting this thing going. As always….GO RAVENS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!