NFL 2012 season preview: AFC
Carolina Panthers defensive end Thomas Keiser (98) chases Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. AP Photo/The Detroit News, Daniel Mears
The month of August has arrived and the NFL preseason is about to kick off. Here is a preview of where the teams of the AFC will end up come December.
AFC North: (Play series against AFC West & NFC East)
Baltimore Ravens – Predicted Finish – 11-5
A dropped pass cost the Ravens a Super Bowl appearance last season and Baltimore will be back in the mix again this year despite the loss of star linebacker Terrell Suggs. The defence still has the likes of Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed and the irreplaceable Ray Lewis while the offence will rely on Ray Rice to carry them through. I don’t expect them to make a deep playoff run though. The loss of Suggs will catch up to them.
Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6
Apparently Big Ben Roethlisberger is looking better than ever but even though the Steelers drafted David DeCastro to play right guard, the offensive line is still pretty much the same. They have had a difficult time keeping Ben on his feet the last couple of years and I can’t see that changing too much. The offence will play a different kind of game under new OC Todd Haley but after the goings on in the off season, who knows if Haley, Ben and the rest of the offence is on the same page.
Cincinnati Bengals 7-9
The Bengals may have been the shock team of last year, but they won’t be taking anyone by surprise this year. I see a sophomore slump for Andy Dalton and his favourite wide receiver AJ Green. Not due to them resting on their laurels, but the NFL is a quick learner. The secondary is also a concern. Veterans Nate Clements and Terence Newman won’t make many QB’s quake in fear.
Cleveland Browns 4-12
Not many teams go after a 100 year old rookie QB, but the Browns have done just that. Well not quite. Brandon Weeden is only 28 years old but some players have retired from this league before hitting that age. Maturity seems to be the buzz word with Weeden, which is a great attribute, but it takes a lot more than maturity to be the franchise QB that new coach Pat Shurmur is looking for. Rookie running back Trent Richardson will also be under the pump. Another tough year ahead in a very tough division.
AFC South: (Play series against AFC East & NFC North)
Houston Texans 13-3
The Texans finally got that playoff shaped monkey off their back last year, and dang it, they want another taste this year. Their defence isn’t as good as it was last year on paper but when you have an offence as awesome as these guys and play in a division as weak as the AFC South, the playoffs should be seen as a given. Once they get there, if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are healthy, who knows what could happen.
Tennessee Titans 8-8
The Titans seem to be a team that have moderate strengths but their weaknesses are terrible. The pass rush was almost nonexistent last season and it doesn’t look to be much better this season. That will be exacerbated by the fact their best cornerback, Cortland Finnegan, now plays for St Louis. If the coverage isn’t there, it reduces the window of time that the pass rush has to put pressure on the QB. That’s just one problem that they have. The fact that they play the Texans twice is another.
Indianapolis Colts 5-11
2012 will be a season nobody thought they would see. A Peyton Manning-less Colts taking the field when another team is being led out by Peyton Manning. In his place, the Colts drafted his second coming. Andrew Luck. Manning wasn’t the only Colt to leave though as Dallas Clark, Jeff Saturday, Pierre Garcon and Joseph Addai have also left. The winds of change have blown through Lucas Oil Stadium in 2012, it’s not going to be easy.
Jacksonville Jaguars 2-14
The Jag’s offence was held together (I use the term loosely) by running back Maurice Jones-Drew. One small problem with that for 2012 – he’s holding out for a better contract and hasn’t reported for training camp. And the Jag’s have said that they aren’t interested in renegotiating. So…more pressure on a bad QB plus not much quality in the receivers minus your league leading running back equals what? Empty seats in Jacksonville.
AFC East: (Play series against AFC South & NFC West)
New England Patriots 13-3
Nothing motivates a team more than losing the Super Bowl. And in the Patriots case a second successive Super Bowl to the Giants. But when you have Tom Brady and the receiving corps that the Patriots have, a Super Bowl becomes more than a goal; it becomes an expectation. The subpar defence of last year has been strengthened through the draft and with the brilliant mind of Belichick running the show anything is possible. Unless they run into the Giants in the big game again…
Buffalo Bills 9-7
Injuries killed the Bills last year after a 5-2 start. Now the signing of Mario Williams doesn’t solve that problem as he has a history of injury himself, but a healthy Mario is an awesome football player. The defence has been improved automatically with his inclusion but as the start of the 2011 season shows, the Bills have the pieces in place offensively already. If the injury curse leaves the Bills alone, they could be a real dark horse in the playoffs. Stop walking under ladders Bills fans and give your team a chance!
Miami Dolphins 8-8
The Dolphins finished the last 9 games of 2011 with a 6-3 record after starting the season with 7 straight losses. That’s a huge turnaround. If the Dolphins were keeping things fairly stable from last year I’d have them winning more games. However they have a new coach, using a 4-3 defence instead of the 3-4 that they have played for the last few seasons and have a rookie QB starting. I may be wrong, but that seems to be a lot of things that need to click to be successful.
New York Jets 6-10
“Tebow! Tebow! Tebow!” That’s what Mark Sanchez will be hearing and that’s what Rex Ryan will be obeying after the Jets start with a 1-4 record after the first 5 games. After the fights and locker room unrest of last season, it won’t take long for those old lovin’ feelings to come back. And with the circus that follows Tim Tebow around, it will only end in disaster for the Jets and Sanchez especially. And possibly the end of Rex in NY.
AFC West: (Play series against AFC North & NFC South)
Kansas City Chiefs 10-6
The Chiefs season was over after the first 5 weeks last year as the injury bug hit key players either before the season began or not far into it. The bad start cost Head Coach Todd Haley his job and Romeo Crennell was given the gig. Even if the Chiefs escape injury, the question that needs to be asked is “Is Matt Cassell the right man as QB?” With no competition for his starting job this preseason, the pressure is off and should help him put his best foot forward. The talented defence will look itself, how many points they will be defending is the question.
San Diego Chargers 8-8
It’s make or break for Norv Turner this year. Everyone is healthy (as long as Ryan Matthews stops crashing his car) and really there are no excuses. Except they no longer have a number one receiver. However Antonio Gates is due for a massive year. The Chargers brought in quite a few new players that they are hoping will make an impact straight away. Time will tell and in such a wide open division such as the AFC West, anything is possible.
Oakland Raiders 7-9
New! You can put that word next to every component that makes up this club. Ever since Al Davis passed away, the Raiders have been revamped from head to toe. And it had to happen. The Raiders have been a punch line for too long considering the success they have had over the decades. For the first time since the great John Madden, a defensive minded Head Coach is in charge. This means the Raiders will be coming out on Sunday’s with a different kind of focus and style. I’m looking forward to seeing what transpires.
Denver Broncos 4-12
No, this isn’t a misprint. I don’t believe that the great Manning’s neck is right. And it’ll take the first blind side hit from a Julius Peppers in the first preseason game or a helmet to helmet shellacking from James Harrison of the Steelers in the first game of the season to put Manning into retirement. Harsh words I know, but he hasn’t played for a long time and the offensive line he has inherited in Denver aren’t great. There was a reason Tebow ran all over the place, defensive linemen appeared as if out of nowhere! This could end up in tears.
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