Tuesday, September 06, 2005

AFC preview

The NFL's exercise in parity usually blows these prediction columns to smithereens by mid-October. But since NFL handicapping is a rite of passage this time of year, I feel compelled to throw my two cents' worth in the pot.
Use these picks as the basis for any actual cash wager, and it's your own damn fault.
(Teams listed with projected records, and in projected order of finish.)

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh (12-4)
QB Ben Roethlisberger might have a sophomore slump this year. But a slumping Big Ben might still be better than Joey Harrington firing on all cylinders. Hines Ward is inked to a new deal and must produce like a No. 1 receiver. While the intermittent loss of running back Duce Staley hurts, most teams would maim for a backup like Jerome Bettis, even as he ages. A legitimate Super Bowl contender.

2. Baltimore (11-5)
QB Kyle Boller and the receiveing corps are about the only two real weaknesses on this team. With the addition of Derrick Mason, the receiver corps might not actually be that weak anymore. As always, this team is built to ride their defense, and with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, two of the best defensive playmakers in the league, the Ravens' defense should be up to the task. Not on par with Pittsburgh, but this team can't be counted out of Super Bowl contention.

3. Cincinnati (9-7)
The Bengals have a No. 1 receiver in Chad Johnson and a feature rusher in Rudi Johnson. They still lack depth in some areas, but if Carson Palmer turns into the golden boy the Bengals thought they were getting in the draft two years ago, the Bengals might finally be able to crack out of their mediocre shell and become a playoff team.

4. Cleveland (5-11)
The strides the Browns intend to make this season might not be measured in wins and losses. Considering what a disaster this team was at the end of last season, coach Romeo Crennel's ability to get his players to buy into his plan (and keep them once he does) is critical even before the weekly standings are considered. The development of youngsters like Charlie Frye and Braylon Edwards is key, too.

AFC East

1. New England (13-3)
We know the cast of characters. Tom Brady. Corey Dillon. Deion Branch. Troy Brown. This team just continues to crank Super Bowls off the conveyor belt. The potential long-term loss of linebacker Tedy Bruschi hurts, but if any coach can overcome it, it's Bill Belichick. Why would you bet against this team winning another Super Bowl?

2. N.Y. Jets (10-6)
Maybe Chad Pennington will show up. Maybe Curtis Martin won't show his age for another year. Maybe kicker Mike Nugent will rock like Ted come playoff time. Maybe this team is a threat to go deep into January, maybe not. It's all in the lap of coach Herman Edwards.

3. Buffalo (8-8)
Does anyone else think having J.P. Losman as your quarterback might do a lot to negate having Eric Moulds in the slot and Willis McGahee in the backfield? Some talent of the roster, but this team is medocrity city.

4. Miami (4-12)
David Boston and Ricky Williams can't put down the pipe. The QB situation on this team is a towering inferno (A.J. Feeley?) Sure, Ronnie Brown might be a good sleeper possibility in your fantasy league, but I am not convinced he's going to be able to carry the offense the way the Dolphins became accustomed with Williams. As a Clevelander who was burned by Butch Davis, I am also leery of egotistical college coaching gurus like Nick Saban.

AFC South

1. Indanapolis (13-3)
This team is the closest we've come to Don Coryell's San Diego Chargers since Dan Fouts was still lacing up his cleats. A high-octane offense with a defense that prevents the Colts from reaching the Super Bowl every year. Peyton Manning is in danger of becoming this generation's Dan Marino. This team is pretty to look at, but I have a hard time thinking they'll intimidate Pittsburgh or New England in January.

2. Jacksonville (7-9)
The Jaguars are a curious concoction of young players and remnants of the Tom Coughlin regime. QB Byron Leftwich oozes potential still, but he has to overcome the hurdles of playing with injury-plagued older players like Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith. At the end of the day, this team will probably sustain too many injuries to get into the playoffs.

3. Houston (7-9)
It's doubtful QB David Carr will morph into an elite field general, but he's off to a far better start than the next most recent "quaterback of the future" for an expansion franchise, Tim Couch. Domanick Davis gives the Texans a legitamite feature back, and you can do far worse than to build you receiver corps around Andre Johnson.

4. Tennessee (5-11)
Music City Miracle, we hardly knew ye. The Titans are in full-scale rebuilding mode six years after reaching the Super Bowl. Chris Brown is the feature back, and backup QB Billy Volek might get more snaps than former Pro Bowler Steve McNair, who is simply getting too old.

AFC West

1. San Diego (11-5)
QB Drew Brees isn't super, but he has two mouth-watering weapons at his disposal in running back LaDanian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates. Receiver Keenan McCardell offer a solid, if aging, second option for Brees' passes. Might this be the team that finally lifts coach Marty Schottenheimer to the Super Bowl? Not likely, but they'll be playing well into January.

2. Oakland (10-6)
Running back LaMont Jordan is the make-or-break guy for this offense. We know Kerry Collins can throw the ball reasonably well, and we know Jerry Porter and Randy Moss can catch. It appears the Raiders have enough star power, and have been infused with enough youth, to be a playoff contneder once again.

3. Kansas City (8-8)
The Chiefs are kind of like the poor stepchild of the Colts, with a star-laden offense and not much of a defense. Trent Green and Eddie Kennison provide an A-list hookup for the passing game. Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez are still big names, but are getting a little too old and banged-up for my taste.

4. Denver (6-10)
I believe Denver can take virtually any Joe Blow running back and turn him into a 1,000-yard rusher, which is why I believe Maurice Clarett's NFL career is toast already. I believe Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell will continue that tradition this year. I do not, however, believe in much of anything else the Broncos have to offer. Jake Plummer is spotty at best as a starting QB. And the notion of having a starting defensive line that includes two or three ex-Browns is very bad idea. No, it wasn't just coaching in Cleveland. Courtney Brown is still cursed with faulty joints and Gerard Warren is still as dumb as a sledgehammer.

Coming up: the NFC preview


Zach said...

Personally, I can't believe the Browns schedule. Starting with Cincinnati is tough enough. But then, BAM ... on the road to GB and Indianapolis.
Suddenly, the Browns are 0-3, have their bye week, and then who knows.
I think the Browns will win no less than five games but no more than seven. They might have been better if the road schedule wasn't so brutal.

Abrasivist said...

I think some sledgehammers would take offense to your Gerard Warren comment.