2011 NFL Preview: AFC

WHOO-HOO!!!

The NFL regular season is one week away!  I am rejoicing, while my wife is sulking.  At any rate, tonight I will be previewing the AFC.  Look for my NFC preview later this weekend.

Let us begin, …shall we?

AFC East

  1. Patriots (12-4)
  2. Jets (10-6)*
  3. Dolphins (7-9)
  4. Bills (5-11)

ANAL-ysis:  The Patriots are again the class of the division, but they are desperate.  In fact, they were so desperate, coach Bill Bellicheat traded for Chad OchoCinco and Albert Haynesworth.  The Pats are still green at linebacker and in the secondary, though it won’t cost them another division title.  As long as Tom Brady is still their QB, the Patriots have nothing to fear (but fear itself).

The Jets still have their swag, and they still should contend for a playoff spot.  QB Mark Sanchez has playoff experience and should get better this season.  However, New York’s defense is a good pass rusher away from being elite.  Coach Rex “I love feet” Ryan is by far the best thing that has happened to the Jets franchise – more so than Joe Namath.

The Dolphins and the Bills have two things in common: 1) they both need quarterbacks and 2) they both suck.

AFC North

  1. Steelers (12-4): GO STEELERS!!!
  2. Ravens (11-5)*
  3. Browns (8-8)
  4. Bengals (2-14)

ANAL-ysis:  My Steelers not only return most of their starters (all but two) from last year’s Super Bowl run, but they have some young blood who are rising stars.  The “Young Money” receiving crew of Mike Wallace, Emanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown are young studs.  LBs LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are among the best young LBs in the league.  Add them to veterans Hines Ward, Jericho Cotchery, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison and we have one hell of a squad.  Oh, and there is this Ben Roethlisberger fellow leading the way…

The Ravens are a team whose past successes have gone unnoticed, mainly because they have failed to win the division the last three seasons.  It’s too bad because Baltimore is one of the best teams in the AFC.  Unfortunately, they lost more than they gained in the offseason.  Sure they landed Lee Evans, but they lost reliable veterans Derrick Mason and Todd Heap.  QB Joe Flacco may be poised to take the next step, but he is still another year away.  The Ravens are Pittsburgh’s little brother, and will stay that way.

The Browns will be better than people think this season (I just threw up in my mouth while typing that).  QB Colt McCoy is going to do good things in this league, and he may be on his way this season.  RB Peyton Hillis is a stud, but he will not be flying under the radar this season.  The Browns have by far the best offensive line in the division, and that should help McCoy and Hillis produce.  While they are a few years away, Browns fans should finally have something to cheer about.  Credit football czar Mike Holmgren for that.

Meanwhile, the Bengals are in for a long year.  QB Andy Dalton may have a bright future, but the offense will be lucky to score more than 17 points per game.  In short, the Bengals just flat out suck.  Too bad Mike Brown is not selling the team too soon…

AFC South

  1. Texans (10-6)
  2. Colts (9-7)
  3. Jaguars (7-9)
  4. Titans (6-10)

ANAL-ysis:  This is the year the Texans FINALLY break through and win this division.  They have the QB (Matt Schaub), a stud RB and WR (Arian Foster and Andre Johnson, respectfully) and a defense on the rise.  The defense is being coached by Wade Phillips, whose track record as a defensive coordinator is a rather stellar one.  Houston is too talented not to win this division while the Colts are getting old and injured.

Speaking of Indy, Peyton Manning’s neck surgery may have been more serious than we are led to believe.  Why the hell would the Colts sign geriatric Kerry Collins as an insurance?  Keep in mind that Manning had TWO neck surgeries this offseason.  We are going to witness a changing of the guard in the AFC South.  It’s too bad because I like coach Jim Caldwell personally (I met him at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this past March in Boston).

It’s fitting that the Jaguars and the Titans drafted franchise QBs in the first round in the past draft.  Both will be bringing up the rear in the division.  It’s not all bad I suppose, at least Chris Johnson finally got paid…

AFC West

  1. Chargers (11-5)
  2. Raiders (9-7)
  3. Chiefs (7-9)
  4. Broncos (4-12)

ANAL-ysis:  I think this is the Chargers’ year.  San Diego has Vincent Jackson for a full season (barring injury), and QB Phillip Rivers is primed to have a big year.  Keep in mind the Chargers had statistically the best offense and defense last season.  The sorry-ass special teams play and turnovers did them in.  I expect both areas to be fixed this season.  Something tells me the Chargers will serve the rest of the AFC notice this season.

The Raiders should win more than eight games for the first time since, well, let’s just say it’s been a long-ass time.  They have the squad to win some games, but the culture there is so toxic.  As much as I respect owner Al Davis, he is the cause – not the solution – to Oakland’s problems.  Maybe fortunes will change when the Raiders move back to Los Angeles…

Kansas City will have a harsh trip back to reality this season.  They get a first place schedule, which will translate to less than 10 wins this season.  Sure the Chiefs have nice pieces (Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe), but they just do not have the talent to compete.  QB Matt Cassel is decent, but is not enough to get the Chiefs over the top.  Chiefs fans are in for a rude awakening this season.

Denver stinks so bad, the only thing that would keep them in the news is the Tim Tebow drama.  Either start him or trade his ass.  Either way, the Broncos will still suck…

*-denotes Wild Card team

AFC Champion: Chargers

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