Now that we have looked at the NFC side of the NFL for this season, lets look at its counterpart, the American Football Conference. Will the Patriots use the Deflate-gate incident as fuel to win back-to-back Super Bowl’s? Or will “The Chosen One” Andrew Luck take his team even higher and win his first championship? Lets look at my predictions.
First, let me say that I don’t like the AFC this season. When I look at the AFC in a whole, beyond the six teams that made the playoffs last year, there is no parity in the conference. But lets look at each conference starting with the East.
Now while I could spend an entire article talking about the deflate-gate, I refuse to, its the biggest waste of time and no one outside of Boston cares about it. The New England Patriots come into this season with a mission of keeping its grip on the Eastern crown, but this will be the hardest year to do so. Buffalo has gotten a lot better, and has finally got a legit quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. The Jets, while they are a work in progress, have a defense that will be no joke and could play spoiler. Finally, Miami made the biggest noise by signing Ndamukong Suh to put the pressure on not just the division, but on Tom Brady.
AFC East Winner: New England. Now if you think the reason I’m saying New England is because of the quarterback, then you would be wrong. Im saying New England will win this division because of Rob Gronkowski. After his performance in the season opener, he signified to me that he is the Calvin Johnson of tight ends. And if I look at the rest of the division no one else has that. I can’t trust Miami to win the division, maybe get a wild card berth, but despite the pickup of Suh, the team isn’t solid past the defensive line, and I can’t trust Tannehill at quarterback. Buffalo has good points and could challenge Miami for a playoff berth, but Tyrod Taylor is only a stoppage not a solution to their quarterback problem. The Jets… are the Jets, they won’t do anything special, sorry.
This division has really good teams and unfortunately they can’t all make it to the playoffs. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh are all really good squads and they could make the AFC picture more crowded than it seemed. For Cincy, they need to move past the wild card stage in the playoffs and make a serious move in the postseason. Baltimore, on the other hand, is a extremely dark horse in this division and the conference, and they have everything you want in a team: great offense and a terrifying defense. Pittsburgh, after last night, showed that they are a young team and need to bring it together if they don’t want to be the cellar of the division. And Cleveland has a good team and a new look and now has a Johnny Manziel, who while not starting, has shown that he could be something special for the Browns.
AFC North Winner: Cincinnati. As much as I love Baltimore, I can’t get over the fact that they let go of Haloti Ngata, who was a MAJOR piece of the defensive front seven. Cincinnati has run this division for a couple of years and is coming out this year with the goal to prove that they can win a playoff game and possibly more. Their defense looks better than it did last year, and the offense should be good as well. Pittsburgh is going to be horrible this season. Sure they might put up 40 points, but after watching that defense play in the opener v. New England (Seriously, you don’t cover Gronk whatsoever) they might give up 45-50. Cleveland is the most curious team in the division. While I like the team, I can’t give a legit shot at a playoff berth because of the quarterback situation. Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine needs to let it go and make Johnny Manziel the starting quarterback. With him on the field, you go from being a team that is in the top 10 of the draft every year, to being a team that has a plus .500 record and contending for a playoff shot every year.
While the Colts are the belle of this divisional ball, they need to make a championship move this year, or this might be the last time that the AFC South allows them to have a automatic ticket to the postseason. Houston is coming into the season with JJ Watt having new running mate Vince Wilfork on the team alongside a healthy Jadeveon Clowney. Tennessee will be better, with the pickup of Marcus Mariota, Dorial Green-Beckham and David Cobb in the draft. Finally, Jacksonville looks scary good with TJ Yeldon as their feature running back and the return of Marqise Lee and the pickup of free agent tight end Julius Thomas.
AFC South Winner: Indianapolis Colts(maybe). A lot of people are going to wonder why I put maybe after Colts. While I like the Colts to win this division, two teams in this division could come out of nowhere and win it over the Colts. The first team is Houston. Now while they don’t have a franchise quarterback in Houston, the defense for the Texans is terrifying, and if Andrew Luck had problems with JJ Watt, imagine the level of pressure he is going to have to deal with now that he has to deal with Watt, Clowney and Wilfork. Now the second team that could steal the divisional title from Indianapolis is Jacksonville. Three years ago, I said that the Jaguars would be a playoff team if they picked up the following: a franchise quarterback and franchise playmaker, some good defensive pieces and a coach that modeled his offense after the quarterback’s playing style. Fast forward to now, and Jacksonville has all of that. With Marqise Lee, Tj Yeldon and Blake Bortles running a spread offense, this team could stretch that Colts defense thin and put up points. The defense is also good, and while they loss rookie defensive end Dante Fowler, they still have a good core with rookie Michael Bennett as apart of that system. The South should be interesting, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this division pulls out two teams for the postseason.
I absolutely hate this division. Not because of the teams or anything like that, but because its so hard to pick a winner in this division. If you had asked me this two years ago, I would have openly said that its Denver and no one else. Now its no so easy as Denver looks weaker than it did going into last season. Kansas City looks to be better, as they picked up Jeremy Maclin so they can finally score a receiving touchdown. Oakland looks scary, as they gave second year quarterback Derek Carr a franchise receiver in Amari Cooper. San Diego looks to make the move to win the division, as they know that this might be the last time they do it representing the city of San Diego.
AFC West Winner: Kansas City. I literally spent hours trying to make the case for each team, and every time I look at it, Kansas City isn’t the one team that pisses me off from a weakness standpoint. Oakland’s biggest weakness is that while they have a great starting 22 on offense and defense, they have no depth past that. San Diego has a good team but the defense worries me, especially after watching the Seattle pregame where they couldn’t get any continuous pressure on Russell Wilson. Denver has the biggest weakness of all four teams. Sure they have a great defense and their offensive weapons are potent, but for God’s sake, who can that offensive line guard. You know its bad when you watch the preseason game between the Broncos and San Francisco, a team that has been gutted on both sides of the ball, is able to get past the 1st team O-line easily and play pop-a-shot on hitting Peyton Manning.
Kansas City’s biggest weakness? They couldn’t score a passing touchdown. I think Kansas City has solved that issue with the pickup of Maclin, and I think as bad as the weaknesses of the other teams are, I can’t say anyone else will get a playoff berth. Denver might challenge for one, but I seriously wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t get it.
Prediction: New England, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Baltimore.
I believe that depending on who plays who in the seeding, New England might not get to the championship game. If they play a team with a good pass rush and a okay rushing game, they could run over the Patriots as it was shown in their first game that New England can be run on. Indianapolis has the same problem, but they more than likely will have a bye, waiting for someone to come to them. Cincinnati will be dangerous if they are able to make their first game, which will probably be the wild card game, into a statement game and shut a team down. Jacksonville, Baltimore and Kansas City could play dark horse, if they get the right match up.
Prediction: New England v. Indianapolis, Baltimore v. Indianapolis, New England v. Baltimore
Conference Champ: Baltimore
As much as I want to say New England will gain vengeance on the NFL by getting back to the SuperBowl and winning it on one of the most important SuperBowls of all time, I see weaknesses in the Patriots game that could keep them out of it. Indianapolis on the other hand, is relying on the veteran skills of Frank Gore and Andre Johnson to get Andrew Luck to a Super Bowl. While that could work, I don’t see that beating a Baltimore Raven team that, like the Detroit Lions in the NFC, no one is talking about as their dark horse team in the conference. Like I said before, they are set everywhere and if not for a controversial set-up vs New England, could have played Seattle in the SuperBowl.