Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Common Sportsman: AFC Preview

Here is part 2 of The Common Man's NFL preview. One note to keep in mind, The Common Man made absolutely no effort to ensure that the records came out evenly. That's some math major's job, and The Common Man weren't no math major. He liked him the English language. So there.

AFC East
New England Patriots (12-4) - The Pats missed it by this much, last year (he says in his best Don Adams voice), going 18-0 before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl. Expect them to appear mortal this year, perhaps losing as many as five games. They definitely are the best team in the league at plug-and-play, creatively filling in gaps that their refusal to spring for top free agent talent often creates. They don't seem to miss a beat. This year, Asante Samuel is gone, as is Junior Seau. And their linebackers are a year older and slower. It may be that the dropoff finally hits them. Also, look for Randy Moss, who last year was playing with something to prove, to create drama at some point. It'll be a nagging injury, leading to a dropoff in throws to his side. He'll get bored, and complain about his touches. And it will be a distraction.
Buffalo Bills (10-6) - Every year, The Common Man gets suckered into the Bills. This year, they've got the promising Trent Edwards behind center for the bulk of the season, Marshawn Lynch ready to run over defenses, and Lee Evans going deep. And their defense is vastly improved with the addition of Marcus Stroud and the return of Paul Posluszny (who should be covered in an inch-thick layer of bubble wrap as soon as he leaves the field). Couple that with a creampuff schedule, and the Bills are back, baby.*
*Note: The Common Man has just guaranteed that the Bills will suffer catastrophic injuries and finish 5-11, especially because they have zero depth.
New York Jets (10-6) - Brett Favre. What could he possibly have left in the tank, after seeming to leave it all on the field last December? He is one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and The Common Man is glad he's out of the NFC North, but the decision to bring him in will either be inspired or an utter disaster for the Jets, and The Common Man thinks it's more likely to be the latter, particularly with their poor running game unable to take the heat off of Favre. An improved defense will stem the bleeding, and keep the Jets in contention for the playoffs. But they don't have the ability to get past the first round.
Miami Dolphins (4-12) - Wow. Just wow. If Bill Parcells manages to turn this team around in 3 years, it'll be the personnel revamp of the century. If Chad Pennington's shoulder holds up. And IF Joey Porter plays like he gives a damn. And IF Ted Ginn Jr. magically becomes a decent receiver/Hester-esque kick returner. And IF Ricky Williams avoids the Reefer Madness, the Fins win 6 games. Max. Good luck with that.

AFC North
Cleveland Browns (10-6) - Oh, how The Common Man wants them to rank higher than this. With the emergence of Derek Anderson, a terrific offensive line, and dynamic big play threats like Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr., the offense should have little trouble putting up points. And the solid defense should hold its own. Hell, even Jamal Lewis looks like Jamal Lewis again, now that he's more than a year removed from prison food. But the Browns start out at home against Dallas and Pittsburgh, then go to Baltimore and Cincinnati, before going home to face the Giants. It's conceivable they could be 1-4 at the end of that stretch, and largely out of the playoff hunt. The rest of their schedule is no less brutal, going up against Indianapolis at home and Philly and Jacksonville on the road.
Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) - The Steelers are brimming with talent at QB, RB, WR, and TE this year. Santonio Holmes has been a terrific addition so far, effectively replacing Anquan Randle-El and Plexico Burress with his athleticism and his flexibility. Look for a big year from Big Ben if his line gives him any time to throw and enjoy watching the best defense in the AFC (and the return of Troy Polamalu, the most fun-to-watch defensive player in the league). Only a tough schedule will keep them from running away with the division. Look for Week 17's throwdown in Pittsburgh with Cleveland to decide the division.
Cincinnati Bengals (6-10) - Cincinnati is the embodiment of promise unfulfilled. With Rudi and Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Carson Palmer at the skill positions, this team should be able to dominate its competition. But a loose hold over the locker room has let this franchise get out of control. They've lost several players to off-field troubles, and do not have enough talent in the trenches to control the point of attack. This team could freefall quickly if they start slow.
Baltimore Ravens (5-11) - Willis Magahee and a daunting defense are impressive, but will not overcome an absolute cypher in the quarterback position and no big play weapons on the offense. Troy Smith is their de facto QB for the year. Really? Troy Smith? The black Doug Flutie? Good luck with that.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts (12-4) - Who else, really? Provided essential cogs Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison are even close to 100% physically, who contends with this team? Year after year, Manning dominates his division like no other quarterback in the league, putting up gaudy numbers and being a consummate leader on the field. There is simply nothing to say about this team that hasn't been said a thousand times before. As usual, they'll make the playoffs in spite of a grueling schedule, and will go as far as their defense will let them.
Houston Texans (9-7) - This is The Common Man's big surprise in the AFC, as the Texans will see a great deal of improvement this year. Andre Johnson and Mario Williams will continue to develop, and the offensive line play, and thus the running attack will improve greatly. With reduced pressure on Matt Schaub, the former Michael Vick caddy/leash-holder will have the ability to stand back in the pocket and make good throws to Johnson and Andre Davis. Their defense remains a weakness, but the Texans will do enough to turn the bottom of this division into a slugfest, perhaps with none of the teams making the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) - The two-headed rushing attack of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, and imposing line play on both sides of the ball will continue to help the Jaguars this year. If David Garrard can find any reliable targets to throw to, they will finish in the playoffs.
Tennessee Titans (8-8) - Virtually the same team as Jacksonville, the Titans play big up front and have two impressive backs (LenDale White and Chris Johnson). But QB Vince Young needs someone (anyone?) to step up at WR to keep the safeties from creeping up. Young's ability to move will help somewhat, as defenses will be forced to spy him. But if no one has the ability to get open, it won't matter.

AFC West
San Diego Chargers (11-5) - Shawne Merriman: proof that steroids don't make you smarter. Going against doctor's advice, Merriman is determined to play the 2008 season with two torn ligaments in his knee. Enjoy Merriman's hobbled presence for two games, Charger fans, before he inevitably aggravates the injury and blows a massive hole in your 3-4 scheme. Blessed with the two players who inspire the most mismatches in the NFL (Antonio Gates and LaDanian Tomlinson), this shouldn't hurt San Diego much in the regular season, particularly in a weak division. But look for Merriman's absence to really show in the playoffs, as the Chargers get steamrolled out in the first round.
Oakland Raiders (9-7) - The Silver and Black is back, baby. Or at least is not going to be an embarrassment this year. JaMarcus Russell and Darren McFadden will benefit from an improved front line, and Javon Walker will provide a sure deep target for Russell's golden arm. Look for a big improvement in the defense, as new corner DeAngelo Hall will team with Nnamdi Asomugha to allow the Raider safeties to play up more often to defend the run. The team is still soft in its front seven, but will score enough points to outgun at least a few of its opponents this year.
Denver Broncos (7-9) - Another disappointing year in Denver for Mike Shanahan. If Jay Cutler is going to develop, this has got to be the year. Though the buzz out of Denver is that he's good to go, The Common Man is skeptical, particularly because he doesn't have much to throw to. The Broncos will have their usually strong running game, but Champ Bailey does not a defense make, and the Broncos will be manhandled by teams with a strong running game or multiple offensive weapons (Oakland, San Diego, New Orleans, Jacksonville, New England, Cleveland, the Jets, Carolina, and Buffalo).
Kansas City Chiefs (3-13) - Brodie Croyle is not the answer at QB, and the Chiefs defense is going to miss Jared Allen's disruptive ability this year. Larry Johnson, Tony Gonzalez, and Dwayne Bowe are excellent players who will continue to impress (and make Croyle look better than he is), but who knows when and if they'll be rested to keep them fresh for 2009?. This is a lost season in Kansas City, but look for them to start to rebound next year and be solid again by 2010.

Round 1
(There's a big bunch of teams fighting for slots 4-6, so this is a guess as to how the tie-breakers work out)
Pittsburgh over San Diego
Cleveland over Buffalo

Round 2
Cleveland over New England
Indianapolis over Pittsburgh

AFC Championship
Indianapolis over Cleveland

Minnesota over Indianapolis as Purple Jesus scores 2 long TDs and Jared Allen dislocates Peyton's non-throwing shoulder. The Common Man fears no jinx. Bring it on.

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