The NFL season is underway and we are late with our version of what we believe will happen in the AFC this season. Many new faces in new places that have teams excited. Most notably was the debut of Peyton Manning in last night’s opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. So the Broncos are going to streak to the Super Bowl…right?? Not so fast. A lot of excitement left the arena in Cleveland as the rookie starting tandem of QB Branden Weeden and RB Trent Richardson completely underwhelmed in a 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Had they provided just an ounce of offense they would have prevailed.
With fellow rookie QBs Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannenhill starting in Indianapolis and Miami respectively, they also took their lumps in week 1. Yet these teams knew they were going to have a long season and hope to see some growth as the season progresses.
Not so with many of the conference’s heavyweight teams in Baltimore, New England, Pittsburgh, and Houston. Can Joe Flacco perform better in a contract year for him?? Can the Ravens defense stay blood thirsty without Terrell Suggs?? How will the Steelers fare as their defense replaces some familiar faces?? Will the Patriots improve defensively this year with so much youth on that side of the ball?? Are the Texans the new team to beat coming out of the AFC South?? We’ll try to answer a few of these
2012 AFC Playoff Predictions
1. New England Patriots 13-3 ## AFC East Champs Homefield Advantage
2. Houston Texans 12-4 AFC South Champs
3. Kansas City Chiefs 11-5 AFC West Champs
4. Pittsburgh Steelers 10-6 AFC North Champs
5. Baltimore Ravens 10-6 Wild Card
6. Denver Broncos 9-7 Wild Card
AFC CHAMPION: New England Patriots
Now based upon last night many will have the Broncos headed for the Super Bowl. Take a look at their schedule as a whole and you’ll see more than a few bumps in the road. Are the Broncos a more complete team than the Atlanta Falcons who murdered the Chiefs in Kansas City40-24?? That is where Denver is headed next week. The Georgia Dome will be loud as Falcons fans anticipate a Super Bowl season for their team. How about the defending AFC South champion Texans or going to defending AFC Champion New England Patriots?? Oh you didn’t know those were three of the next four Bronco opponents?? Sure they beat the #1 defense in the Steelers but that is without former Defensive Player of the Year in James Harrison and starting FS Ryan Clark. That’s like winning Miss America without Miss California, Miss Florida, Miss Texas, Miss Ohio, and Miss Georgia not being available. Peyton did perform well in his debut however it was just one game and it has to be kept in perspective. The Broncos still have a lot of questions at receiver and their defense as a whole. They conclude with 3 of their final 5 against Tampa, the desperate to make the playoffs Ravens, and the Browns. You saw what that Browns defense did to Michael Vick and on any given Sunday…
There is something the Texans are missing and we won’t find out til later this season. This isn’t the same team that was on the field for them a few seasons ago. They are solid on defense but may have given up too much in letting LB DeMeco Ryans, DE/LB Mario Williams, and CB Duante Robinson out of town. They’ll be solid from a tactical standpoint but will they have playmakers on defense to turn a close game like they couldn’t against the Ravens in last year’s playoff?? Someone has to emerge..
In the AFC North these teams will beat each other up as the best defenses ravage the rest of the conference. The Steelers will emerge because of Ben Roethlisberger winning games with those fast receivers. They will transform into more of an offensive team as their defense ages and eventually will show wear. LB Larry Foote becoming the leader in the middle is well deserved and he played tremendous against Denver early on. They still have the best offensive / defensive personnel in the division and again will narrowly beat out the Ravens in the AFC North.
Out west Kansas City will emerge and play as they did in 2010 when they were one of the strongest teams in the league. They lost to the Falcons in week 1 but they are much better than they were in 2011. They are set at every skill position and RB Jamaal Charles looked good coming back from knee surgery. Matt Cassel is looking to have a rebound year and the Chiefs are solid on the offensive and defensive lines. A lot like Tampa in the NFC, this team took a step back although they have a good roster and should bounce back nicely in 2012.
As for the Chargers, they are the AFC West version of the Houston Texans. A lot of good football players but lack the playmakers to change games. Add to that WR Vincent Jackson is now down in Tampa and someone new has to emerge. Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback but he can’t go it alone. The Chargers will frustrate their fans as they lose close ball games all year. Until a few playmakers emerge they will watch the playoffs alongside the Oakland Raiders.
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