Training camp has started across the NFL. Injuries are mounting up already, and we wonder if there is a favorite in what appears to be a very weak AFC.
Make no mistake, the NFC is stacked with talent. The 49ers and Seahawks (both teams the Colts have to face) are poised to make a Super Bowl run. The NFC East has four teams that could make the playoffs. The Saints and Falcons are still very solid teams, with two of the better QBs in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are a tough out with the Bears, Lions, and Vikings all viable teams to make the playoffs as well.
But what about the AFC? Are the perennial favorites still likely to make a run?
Sure, New England still has Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. But the team has lost a lot of players. Brady’s favorite target, Wes Welker, has moved on to Denver. TE Rob Gonkowski is recovering from a broken arm (and multiple surgeries) and surgery on his back. Let’s not forget that TE Aaron Hernandez is gone from the team. The Pats are lucky they are in the AFC East, a division they have dominated for years now. Also, they added Tim Tebow, so that has to be a win, right?
The Dolphins appear to be the only team that could possible be able to unseat the Pats. Ryan Tannehill was decent his rookie season, but as the franchise rebuilds, so will he. The Dolphins signed former Pittsburgh wideout Mike Wallace, who will be able to burn the Pats secondary with ease. The Dolphins have spent a lot of money in the offseason, and they are the biggest threat to New England
The Bills are still trying to rebuild from…something. Buffalo is perpetually trying to get over the hump, but just end up with a sub-.500 record instead. Buffalo won’t be in contention to make the playoffs this season.
The Jets are a mess. They still believe that Mark Sanchez is a starting quarterback in the NFL. Until they realize he’s a failure, they won’t win. It also might help to fire head coach Rex Ryan. This team seems destined for the bottom of the NFL this season. The sooner Geno Smith starts at QB, the sooner they can move forward as a franchise. Trading Darrelle Revis was a horrible move, but admittedly one they had to make. This is a team that will struggle to stop its opponents AND won’t be able to score points.
Has a Super Bowl winning team ever undergone so much change is such a short time? Ray Lewis retired, Ed Reed is in Houston, Anquan Boldin is with the 49ers now. The team lost nine starters and now TE Dennis Pitta is out for the season with a hip injury. But the good news is that Joe Flacco is locked down for the future with a $120 million contract. The Ravens are working to revamp the defense and find someone besides Jacoby Jones to catch passes. I don’t see how a team that lost so many players can be considered a contender.
If Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t get hurt last season, the Steelers likely make the playoffs. This team is dangerous, if the offensive line gets better and Troy Polamalu stays on the field consistently (he reminds me of Bob Sanders so much its not even funny). Wallace is gone, but so is his attitude and limited abilities as a wide receiver (you mean there’s more than a go route?). Health is key for this team, but cost cutting saw a number of starters leave. They should at least compete for a playoff spot, if not the division.
The Bengals have somehow made the postseason in three of the past four years. The team appears to get better, slightly, each year. But simply put, they are not a championship contender. They have to fight through the Steelers and Ravens to win this division, and I don’t see them winning that many games.
Oh, Cleveland, will you ever see a championship again? The Browns are changing up the scheme on defense and that is never an easy transition. They added a few good players, and have had a solid defense the past few seasons. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner (the same one who could never win anything with a stacked Chargers team) will be calling the plays for Brandon Weeden. This team should be better, but will they be? Don’t expect them to sniff around the postseason.
Denver has to be the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The team is stacked, but a few issues are nagging. Center Dan Koppen is out for the season with a torn ACL. Peyton Manning is at his best with a competent center. They also have to deal with a possible suspension for Von Miller, which would be for just four games and might be lifted in the near future. They lost Elvis Dumervil to weird circumstances and thus have issues at pass rush. This team should dominate its conference and probably the rest of the AFC.
The Chargers finally cut ties with Norv Turner. The team is trying to rebuild while still believing that they are a contender. Philip Rivers will be well protected, but doesn’t have many options to throw the ball to. The defense is shaky at best and they have a lot of holes to fill.
Oakland was pretty bad last season, and don’t look all that much better in 2013. They added some more talented players but there is no consensus on who will QB this team. They acquired Matt Flynn, but he is a project and the Raiders don’t have a talented receiver pool. They might better down the road, but its going to be a rough season.
The Chiefs traded for Alex Smith, who appears to have figured out how to play the position. They also hired longtime Eagles coach Andy Reid. The team is trending upward, but its a long road to improve from 2-14.
We’ll take an in-depth look at the AFC South later this week. For now, the Texans are contenders with a very solid defense and productive offense. Matt Schaub needs to prove he can lead the team to victory. As for the Colts, they should at least make the playoffs. The protection of Andrew Luck and improvement of the defense will determine just how far this team can go.
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