1.Patriots- The Patriots were sneaky good last season. While all the attention was on the Jets and Colts in the AFC, the Patriots quietly finished 6th in offensive ppg, and allowed only 17 ppg, good for 5th in the league. Going into the playoffs they were winners of 3 of their last 4. Tom Brady, in his first year after major knee surgery, still managed to throw 28 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions. Players coming off of that kind of surgery generally take a big step forward in their second year- and that’s bad news for the rest of the league.
The Patriots will have Wes Welker back in time for the start of the regular season, and with the emergence of Julian Edelman last season in Welker’s absence, will have a solid group of wide outs for Brady to throw to. The main question on this will be age- Brady, Welker, and Moss all have more then likely seen their best days. But the Patriots have won 10 games or more 8 of the last 9 years, and are one of the most consistent teams in the league. No body is talking about them this year, but they will be when they win the division over the Jets.
2. Jets- The Jets are walking a thin line this season. It goes without saying they have talked the talked. A team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the last game of the season was saved by a run through the playoffs that surprised many. That run has expectations through the ceiling for this team. It’s how they made that run that has people excited - a defense that is tops in the league, and a running game that took the pressure off Mark Sanchez. Those things should stay the same this year, and the additions of Antonio Cromartie and Ladanian Tomlinson will only improve those. Say what you want about Tomlinson, but he is the best “backup” running back in the league, and is another weapon on this offense.
But will the Jets catch all the breaks again this season? Can they win with Sanchez throwing 20 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns? Is Shonn Greene ready to be the number one back on a team that relays on the run? The Jets like to talk, but numbers don’t lie- the Jets ranked 2nd to last in passing yards per game. This team has the talent and swagger to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. But it will not be the cake walk that the experts, and the Jets, seem to think it will be, and it may take the regular season to figure it out.
3. Dolphins- When the Dolphins acquired Brandon Marshall this off-season, it was a signal that they were ready to move on from being a one trick pony with the Wild Car offense. With Marshall, they have one of the best wide receivers in the league, and one that will excel in catching the ball over the middle. They can also go to Marshall a lot- Marshall has caught over 100 balls a season since he became a starter. With Marshall being a reliable option for Chad Henne, and a solid running game with Ronnie Brown & Ricky Williams behind him, Henne will not be forced to make a lot of plays. That’s a good thing if you’re a Dolphins fan- Henne was 7-6 as a starter, throwing more interceptions then touchdowns.
4. Bills- The Trent Edwards era continues this season in Buffalo, much to the disappointment of their fans. It might not matter who is behind center for the Bills though, as their offensive line allowed their Qb to be sacked 44 times last season. The line also struggled to get holes for their running backs, and the team finished 21rst in the league in rushing yards. The Bills have had a winning record only once since the year 2000, and that should not change this season.
1. Ravens- The Baltimore Ravens are a lot like the Jets without all the talk. The Ravens defense continued to be one of the best in the NFL over the last decade, finishing 3rd in points allowed per game. But it is the offense that has people excited. With the additions of Anquan Boldin and Tj Housmanzadeh, the Ravens have the best set of wide outs they have ever had to team with the Defense.
The Ravens also have something the Jets do not- a reliable quarterback. Joe Flacco threw only 12 interceptions last season, while throwing for over 20 touchdowns. With Ray Rice at running back, the Ravens have everything you need to win in this league- tough D, solid RB, reliable QB, and weapons at the skill positions.
2. Bengals- The most impressive statistic last season might have been 6-0. That was the Bengals record against their division rivals last season. While they won’t be expected to duplicate that, the Bengals teams last season was not a fluke. The team was carried by its defense, which allowed only 18 points per game. With 17 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries last season, the defense also managed to have a take away in 14 of the 17 games. They had more then one take away in 9 of those games. That’s how you win games in the NFL.
3. Steelers- The Steelers were a streaky team last season- they had 2 winning streaks of 3 or more, and a losing streak of 5 games. The Steelers also had an uncharacteristically bad season running the ball, finishing in the bottom half of the league in yards per game. The defense missed Saftey Troy Polamalu last season, giving up over 20 points per game.
The main problem facing the Steelers tho, is the skill positions. With Ben Roethlisberger out for the first 4 games, the Steelers will start the season with Dennis Dixon, Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, and Rashard Mendenhall as their main offensive threats. Even when Big Ben returns, that pedestrian group isn’t scaring any defense this season.
4. Browns- Poor Cleveland. When Jake Delhomme is your savior at quarterback, your officially in trouble. There was not much to like from the Browns last season. 3rd worst offense in the league, and a defense that gave up almost 24 points per game. Even there future looks bleek- Colt McCoy has been less then impressive in his limited preseason action.
1. Colts- For the Colts, the regular season has come to mean very little. They showed us how much it ment to them when they pulled their started against the Jets, deciding to not go for a perfect 16-0 record. They have won at least 12 games the last seven seasons. There offense has been in the top 10 in 6 of seasons. Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning.
The Colts will be there during the regular season. The real season begins for them in the playoffs, where they will be there once again, the top overall seed. As usual.
2. Titans- The Titans are on top of everyone’s list of sleeper teams, so much so that they barely qualify as a sleeper anymore. The Titans got to the top of that list by going 8-2 in there last 10 game. But look at that number closer and it starts to fall apart. During that streak, the Titans beat 7 teams that did not make the playoffs. The only playoff team they did beat during that streak was the Cardinals, and they only won after a miracle play at the end.
Chris Jonson is the best running back in the league- hands down. Will he get 2500 yards? No. Not when he is the only offensive weapon on the whole team. Vince Young is improving, and showed signs last season, but 10 touchdowns and 7 interceptions is not going to scare any teams from stacking the box. And the defense? Finished 28th in the league in points per game last season.
3. Texans- Is this the year the Texans can finally get over the hump? Last season, 6 of the 7 games they lost was by 8 points or less. It seems every year is going to be the year for them, but they have not made they playoffs since they arrived in Houston. They have the weapons, with Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton combining to make one of the best trios in the league. For this team, it isn’t about talent- that is there. They lack the ability to win games, plain and simple, especially the big ones. 7 of their 9 wins were against non-playoff teams. And that won’t change this year.
4. Jaguars- David Garrad, once thought to be the answer at quarterback, regressed last season. After throwing only 3 interceptions 3 years ago, while going 9-3 as a starter, he has thrown double digit interceptions the last two seasons- and his touchdown’s thrown has decreased as well. Maurice Jones-Drew will try to make his fantasy football owners happy, but that will be the only reason anyone will watch the Jags this season.
1. Chargers- The Chargers picked wrong when they decided to make Darren Sproles there feature back last season. With only 343 yards rushing, and a little under 500 yards receiving, the Chargers decided to draft Ryan Matthews with their number one selection in this years draft. With Vincent Jackson in limbo, the team all of the sudden has a lack of weapons for Phillip Rivers to get the ball to. Antonio Gates continues to be a top tight end in the league, but how long will it be until he takes a step back?
They’ll win the division, but no one will be impressed with them doing it.
2. Raiders- The Raiders will surprise a lot of people this season. This team was better then its record indicated last season. They played the teams in their division close, being within 8 points of each game, and beating the Denver Broncos late in the season. The Raiders have a nice set of Rb’s- Michael Bush, Darren McFadden, Justin Fargas- and an emerging tight end in Zach Miller.
But the big reason the Raiders will be better this year? Jason Campbell. To say the Raiders got nothing out of the quarterback position last season would be an understatement. Campbell is better then people think, and he’ll show people this year. Watch out for the Raiders.
3. Broncos- The Broncos were the opposite of the Titans last season- started off great, but lost it down the stretch, losing 8 of their final 10 games. The loss of Elvis Dumervil is huge for this team- his 17 sacks last season will be hard to replace.
4. Chiefs- If you need any reason as to why the Chiefs will finish last, you havnt been watching the NFL the last few seasons. The Chiefs have not won more then 4 games in the last 3 seasons, or finished better then 25th in overall offense or defense. Matt Cassell also appears to be more a product of the Patriots system then a player- 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season. Bright spot on Chiefs? Rookie RB Dexter McCluster.
Wildcard: Ravens over Titans; Jets over Chargers
Round 2: Ravens over Patriots; Jets over Colts
Conference Championship: Ravens over Jets
AFC Champion: Ravens