Don’t bank on the Pats this time

With the AFC marching into action this weekend it’s only right to point out who are the contenders and pretenders.

In the AFC East the New England Patriots are still the team to beat. Brady’s health is questionable but if he can suit up then the offense should be rolling like old times.

As vaunted as their offense is, the defense will decide how many wins the Pats can post. I don’t see another undefeated season but 13 wins or more should be a given.

Unlike last year the fight for second place, and a possible playoff berth, should be interesting.

The Buffalo Bills are the safe choice but for now I’ll jump on the New York Jets bandwagon.

My reason is not Favre or belief in my part in their defense but their easy schedule. No team can be taken for granted in the NFL but the Jets should be able to grab 8 wins easy. I look for them to get 9 or even 10 wins and make the playoffs.

That will leave the Bills on the outside looking in again. They have a solid team on both sides of the ball but it’s unlikely they can beat the Pats or Jets twice during the season.

Marshawn Lynch and company should grab 7 wins but it will take big wins over true NFL powers like the Chargers to overtake the Jets.

The end result of this all will be the Miami Dolphins in the cellar again. Pennington will be good but he will need to stay healthy.

The loss of Jason Taylor will hurt but an unproven secondary will be the reason why the Dolphins struggle. Expect teams to score at will and a repeat 3-13 effort for Miami.

In the AFC North, I don’t see much of a change in the standings. The second-most competitive division in the conference will be sure to complicate the playoff picture once again.

Pittsburgh is a very well-coached team that has the attitude on and around the field to win. Their persona and active defense will be their edge.

Their biggest stumbling blocks are an inconsistent Ben Roethlisberger and a tough schedule. I think the Steelers can go 11-5 but it will be a brutal run.

The Cleveland Browns had the determination last year to go 10-6. The emergence of Anderson and Edwards was huge and will pay dividends this year too.

Like many squads in the division a brutal schedule will blight their efforts. I see them being more 8-8 than 9-7 but it all depends if they can win games against the AFC South.

The Bengals should slip once again into third. The offense is there as Palmer has many weapons to use.

But everyone saw their defense become transparent and allow tons of touchdowns. Look for team health and even chemistry to play factor in their step back to a 6-10 mark.

The Ravens were one of the biggest disappointments in football last year. The problem was at quarterback and the off-season has been a headache at the position.

With Boller out for the year and McNair and Ogden retired the offense will be in agony. Their fans will be too as they watch the Ravens crumble to an AFC-worst 2-14 season.

The AFC South has been one of the most contested divisions in the NFL the past three seasons. This year should be no different as every team has the talent to be make the postseason.

It’s a tough call but I like the Jaguars to top the Colts to win the division. It won’t be by much though because both squads should get over 11 wins.

I’m sold on Gerrard as the main quarterback and the defense standing tall against the NFL’s best. I believe they have what it takes for a 12-4 mark.

The Indianapolis Colts will be second but barely. Manning is an elite quarterback and the offense is just phenomenal.

The only cause for concern is their defense. If Saunders and company can keep powerful teams like the Pats in check then the Colts can garner more wins. But I see them with an 11-5 mark.

The Tennessee Titans are a great team, albeit built on one standout player in Vince Young. But they will have to accept third place once again.

The defense is a question mark for me, especially at the safety spots. But the offense should be enough to get to 9-7.

That leaves the Houston Texans, to me the most unlucky team in the NFL, in last place. Every year they keep getting better and tougher and now are one of the league’s best defensive squad.

But as always their division and harsh schedule will leave the Texans in broken spirits. I see another 8-8 record in spite of an inspiring season from quarterback Matt Schaub.

Lastly the AFC West will be host to a dominant Chargers team that’s head and shoulders above their division rivals.

LT, Gates and Chambers are sparkplugs on offense and even though Rivers in my mind has much still to prove the squad should have no problem scoring on any defense.

I think their defense is often underrated. Merriman may be boisterous and forceful but the defensive unit is full tough, smart cookies like Jammer and Castillo. I look for San Diego to post at least a 12-4 mark if not up to 13-3.

The Denver Broncos just come in second. If it weren’t for the abundance of unproven talent on other squads they would be lower in my book.

Granted Cutler is great in the pocket and on paper their defense is pretty good but time will tell if the injury bug will leave Denver in peace. I’m not sure it will so I say a 6-10 mark for the Broncos is about right.

It’s a crap-shoot the rest of the way but Oakland should be third. The running game actually looks legitimate and the defense might just be for real.

Inexperience will hurt them at many key positions though, especially quarterback. If the Raiders are better than 3-13 I would be shocked.

The Chiefs do not impress me in any facet of their game, especially on offense. It’s great they have such talented rookies but development is best done unrushed.

Their shaky defense will be worn out by mid-season with hardly any ball movement on offense. They could get three wins but I’m counting on just two.

The playoffs are a ways off but bet on New England, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and San Diego to be there. Indianapolis and New York should join the party as well.

New England is a solid squad but I see their egos hurting them in the postseason. Indianapolis will push them but I see San Diego doing what they should have done last year and coming out the AFC’s best team.

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