Sunday, September 1, 2013

NFL Offseason Review: AFC

With the NFC division previews done, I turn my attention to the AFC. Life has got in the way of me doing a division by division break down, so I am going to take a look at the entire AFC, starting with the AFC East.

Tom Brady (Photo from
In the AFC East, the New England Patriots are still the team to beat there. As long as Tom Brady is there, they will be the top dogs. The Pats have taken many clear hits this offseason: losing Rob Gronkowski to his forearm surgery, Brandon Lloyd/ Wes Welker to free agency, and Aaron Hernandez to his alleged murder rap. So, all of their young receivers they have brought in will have to step up. Luckily, their running game will be solid with Stevan Ridley carrying the load for them. Shane Vereen will be a capable backup. The defence for the defending AFC East champs should be much improved this year with the addition of Adrian Wilson to the secondary. It adds to the experience their younger players - like Chandler Jones and Donta Hightower - gained last year. 
EJ Manuel (Photo from
The Buffalo Bills made the big splash in the 2013 draft, trading back to pick 16 to select quarterback EJ Manuel to be the guy to lead them into the future. I think the pick was fantastic. He has a little bit of Cam Newton/Ben Rothlisberger in him and should be a solid quarterback in the long run. Losing guard Andy Levitre to the Titans was a big blow and the young Buffalo line might struggle this year. Running back CJ Spiller is a big time option at running back. This man should have defences losing sleep the night before they play the Bills. Selecting Robert Woods from USC in the draft should help give Manuel options in the pass game. The Bills are moving to a 3-4 under new coach Doug Marrone and the front 7 should be solid with Mario Williams moving back to line backer and Manny Lawson being brought in to rush the passer. Buffalo's secondary is one of the better ones in the league with safety Jarius Byrd back to anchor it. Look for Buffalo to be a legitimate threat to push for a wildcard spot but to fall short. (Editor's note: Jeff Tuel)

Mike Wallace (Photo from
The Miami Dolphins went out in the offseason and made huge free agent signings. While one of their big signings for the year - tight end Dustin Keller - has gone down for the season with a brutal knee injury, this team will be better and compete with Buffalo to challenge the Pats for the division crowd. Second year quarterback Ryan Tannehill should take a big jump this year in terms of production. I am a huge fan of his and the addition of Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh can only help him in the vertical passing game. Losing Jake Long to St. Louis will hurt the offensive line. Second year player Jonathan Martin will need to step up with Long gone. Reggie Bush is also gone, so Lamar Miller will be the bell-cow runner for the Dolphins. He is explosive, but I expect some inconsistencies from him this year. Surprise 3rd overall pick Dion Jordan will help make the pass rush off the Dolphins explosive. Expect him to help eat up blockers, allowing Cameron Wake to have massive numbers this year - close to 20 sack type numbers. The line backing core will be solid with Dannell Ellerbe coming over from the Ravens this offseason. The secondary is kind of sketchy, losing a lot of their starters from last year but will be ok with Brent Grimes as their main man. Expect a good season from the Dolphins, but I think next year will be the year they push for a playoff spot.
From left to right: Geno Smith and Mark Sanchez (Photo from
What a mess taking place in New York, as the men in green are going to be very bad this year. Geno Smith or Mark Sanchez will struggle this season with no weapons in the passing game or the ground game to help them. Second year wide out Stephen Hill is the biggest weapon for this team, and he has been very inconsistent at the very best, and the running back situation is dire since all of their running backs going for the starting job should be back-ups. The defence - after losing Revis in the offseason - drafted his replacement in Dee Milliner. He may be a good replacement in time, but the drop off from Revis to Milliner will be quite noticeable. The defence should be the bread winners of the team and the only unit that will keep this team in games. Expect Jadeveon Clowney in the gang green next year, they could be the first overall pick. (Editor's note: Please don't let the Jets get Clowney)
Andy Dalton (Photo from
In the AFC North I expect the Cincinnati Bengals to reign supreme over the division, largely coming back in tact from last years squad, but with some noticeable improvements on offence. With the drafting of tight end Tyler Eifert and the selection of running back Giovani Bernard on offence, it gives the Bengals plenty of options for the Red Rocket Andy Dalton to have at his disposal to go along with all world wide out AJ Green. The front 4 of the defensive line is probably the best in football, lead by stud Geno Atkins. Expect them to wreak havoc week in and week out. The line backing core is sound and lead by thumpers Vontaze Burfict and import from Pittsburgh James Harrison. The secondary is a solid unit as well. Keep an eye out for Leon Hall - vastly underrated and deserves more recognition than he currently gets.
Trent Richardson (Photo from
I think the surprise of the division will be the Cleveland Browns. Don't get me wrong. I don't see the playoffs this season for the Brownies, but they will get close to .500 ball this year. The offensive line for the Browns is one of the better ones in the league. They have a stud running back in Trent Richardson, who as long as he is healthy, should put up numbers close to what Doug Martin and Alfred Morris did last year. Brandon Weeden had a solid rookie season and should be much improved this year. Keep an eye out for Jordan Cameron this year at tight end; he is going to bust out. The defence all-around for the Browns is a solid unit lead by D'qwell Jackson, Joe Haden, and TJ Ward. With the addition of Paul Kruger from division-rival Baltimore,, look for the Browns to no longer be considered push-overs in this rough AFC North. 
Troy Polamalu (Photo from
The Pittsburgh Steelers are only going to go as far as their defence can carry them. On offence, they will be solid but unspectacular. They really need rookie Le'veon Bell to show up and really give them something out of the backfield for the black and yellow. Big Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have Mike Wallace or Heath Miller to throw to this season, so Matt Spaeth and the wide receivers will really have to step up. Look for recent draftee Markus Wheaton to be a big part off this offence from the slot position. Jarvis Jones will be a huge boost to this defence, giving them a lot out of the linebacking spot. Expect him to take incumbents Jason Worilds' spot away by Week 4. The secondary will absolutely need a healthy Troy Polamalu to step up and be the game changer that he can be. Ike Taylor is one of the better cornerbacks in this league.
Joe Flacco at Super Bowl XLVII (Photo from
From first to ... well, not first. I don't expect a repeat run at the Super Bowl for the Baltimore Ravens. Not because I think they lost to much in the offseason, but because there is so much more competition out there this year. It will be fierce. Losing tight end Dennis Pitta right from the start of the season is going to hurt Joe Flacco as he only has a bunch of unproven weapons at which to throw. Receiver Torrie Smith will really have to step up. Ray Rice will have to be used better this season than what he was at the beginning of last season when he was almost an after thought. Losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed is going to hurt no matter what, but replacements Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff will be a good start to replacing those legends.
Peyton Manning (Photo from
In the AFC West, this division is the Denver Broncos to lose. With Peyton Manning at the head of the team, expect a deep playoff run - possibly even a Super Bowl birth in the card for the Broncos. The offence for the Broncos is a Top-3 offence in this league, with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and Eric Decker as all of the weapons on the outside for Peyton for which to throw. The offensive line is solid and the recent drafting of Monte Ball at running back gives even more weapons to an offence that is not lacking at all. The defence is going to sorely miss Elvis Dumervil, and losing Von Miller to suspension for the first 6 games of the season will absolutely hurt, but the offence should be good enough to cover up for 6 weeks until he gets back. As long as the secondary doesn't give up a 60 yard pass play in the playoffs again to lose at the last minute, the Broncos should be the team to beat here.
Jamaal Charles (Photo from
From worst team overall to potential wild card contender, the Kansas City Chiefs boast a ton of Pro-Bowlers and a new starting quarterback, which should help lead the Chiefs back to the playoffs. New quarterback Alex Smith was quite possibly the best quarterback in the league last year up until he was hurt. Playing behind this offensive line in Kansas City with recent first overall pick Eric Fisher at right tackle, he might never be touched. That is good news for Jamaal Charles. He might be a legitimate threat to break 2000 yards if he is given the ball enough. Dwayne Bowe could have used another solid wide out option on the other side of him, but picking up tight ends Anthony Fasano and drafting Travis Kelce should help ease the pressure on him. On defence, the team is loaded with Pro-Bowlers. If tackle Dontari Poe can take the next step in evolving, this defence will be scary once again.
Mike McCoy (Photo from
New coach Mike McCoy is in town in San Diego, but can he turn Phillip Rivers back into the quarterback he was 3 years ago? The offence for the Chargers has so many questions. Can Antonio Gates come back healthy? Will the offensive line stop letting Rivers get hit constantly? Can Ryan Mathews finally break out and become the running back the Chargers expected him to be.? My answers are: yes, Gates will be healthy and effective this year; no, the line will not protect Rivers; and Mathews will be out of a job next season after not showing anything again this year. Poor Rivers; he deserves better. The wide outs for him are just average at best as well. The defence shouldn't be too bad this year with the additions of Dwight Freeney at line backer and Manti Te'o. Eric Weddle is one of the best safeties in the league that very few credit with such, and Corey Liuget is a solid all around linemen for the Super Chargers. Expect another higher end draft pick for the Chargers.
Darren McFadden (Photo from
The Oakland Raiders are rebuilding plain and simple. The offence has very few weapons outside of Denarius Moore and the always injured Darren McFadden. The quarterback position is a mess with neither Matt Flynn or Terrelle Pryor impressing anyone. I expect Pryor will start most of the year just so the Raiders can see what they have in him. Expect Teddy Bridgewater to Oakland in the draft. The defence does have some talent especially in the back end with Charles Woodson making his return to the black and silver. First round pick DJ Hayden will be a stud.

Arian Foster (Photo from
The Houston Texans will be the team to beat in the AFC South. The team is very deep at almost every spot with an above average league starter. The addition of DeAndre Hopkins on the other side of the field from All-Pro Andre Johnson should help open up the offence even more for quarterback Matt Schaub. Ben Tate back and healthy this year should help Arian Foster keep fresher and healthier into the playoffs. Brian Cushing's return to the line-up at line backer for the Texans will bring a big boost with his play-making abilities. Oh yeah, and they signed a future Hall of Famer to captain their secondary in Ed Reed. If he can get healthy and to his regular level of play, this defence will be fearsome.
Andrew Luck (Photo from
Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts will be in a dog fight all year for one of the two Wild Card spots. The Colts will need one of Vick Ballard or Ahmad Bradshaw to step up in the back field and be the guy for the Colts AND be a thousand yard rusher for the team. The receivers for the Colts are solid with Reggie Wayne and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Keep an eye out for TY Hilton and the tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. They should be better in Year 2 with Andrew Luck. The defence of the Colts is still a bit shaky being in the 3-4 set up they have. The Colts will need to rely on Robert Mathis to create pressure on the quarterback as he is really the Colts main pass rusher.
Chris Johnson (Photo from
The Tennessee Titans are still building up for a run at a playoff spot next year. They are a couple of big weapons away from being a legit playoff threat. The big thing for the Titans is the growth of Jake Locker. He is going to need to step up and stop turning the ball over and even just be a game manager because of the running game they have. Chris Johnson is always a threat to top 2000 yards, especially with the offensive line being upgraded at the guard position with the addition of Andy Levitre from Buffalo and Chance Warmack in the draft. Kenny Britt will have to stay healthy this year for Jake Locker to make any strides in his career. The loss of Jared Cook Jr to St. Louis will hurt. The Titans have a really solid underrated defence. Middle line backer Colin McCarthy is a tackling machine, and the corners are solid and underrated.
Blaine Gabbert (Photo from
The Jacksonville Jaguars are still going to continue to be one of the not-so-great teams in the league. They do have some solid parts of the puzzle, but they are at least 2 drafts away from any thing close to a playoff team. Maurice Jones-Drew is this offence and there is no understating that. Blaine Gabbert will have to step up this year, or he will be out of a job at the end of it. Losing Justin Blackmon to suspension to start the year is really going to hurt, but Cecil Short is a potential break-out star if he had a solid quarterback throwing to him. On the plus side, the Jaguars' offensive tackle duo is one of the best in the league with Luke Joeckel and Eugene Monroe. The Jags' defence has potential but their secondary is terrible; seecond round pick John Cyprien is the lone bright spot back there. Jason Babin can be a solid player still and keep an eye out for Tyson Alualu. (Editor's note: At least they have some spiffy new uniforms. Oh, wait...)
So that is it with my brief look at the AFC. Stay tuned for the Sports By Schmucks NFL Season Preview Podcast with our predictions for MVP, Rookies of the Year, Conference Winners, and the Super Bowl champion.
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