September 3, 2014

Your 2014 AFC preview

by Dan Bilicki In: Football

The NFL kicks off on Thursday night, so we’re running out of time to set our fantasy rosters, make our Week 1 picks and get ready for another 17 weeks of excitement. The National Football League is back and better than ever. To start things off and get you even more primed for the biggest show on turf, let’s break down the AFC today and NFC tomorrow before finally making our Week 1 picks.

Predicted records of teams in brackets.

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills (3-13): Poor Buffalo. It has been a tumultuous off-season to say the least, with the Bills long-time owner dying, rumours of relocation coming up, players being arrested and the cheerleaders suing the team. Also, they mortgaged the future for a wide receiver then traded away their best receiver from the past few seasons for nothing. Finally, the team’s defensive co-ordinator left and the now the Bills will change their style under the new guy even though this unit was one of the best in the league last year. It all adds up to another playoff-less season for the Bills.

Miami Dolphins (9-7): If Miami hadn’t choked down the stretch after a colossal scandal that decimated its offensive line, the Dolphins could’ve made the playoffs. Well, it rebuilt the line and the rest of the team looks similar to last year. Why shouldn’t that add up to another strong season and push into the playoffs?

New England Patriots (11-5): The Pats have been getting by with scrapheap players on defence for years, so when you look at the fact that Bill Belichick added Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, you have to be impressed. Tom Brady will lead the offence in the usual efficient and high-scoring ways, so don’t be surprised to see New England in the picture for a first-round bye come December.

New York Jets (6-10): There’s some talent here on defence for Rex Ryan to work with and the Jets actually added some decent playmakers on offence. But the whole thing hinges on Geno Smith and his ability to lead this team. The Jets will be almost impossible to run against, but there are flaws with the DBs. It also remains to be seen if Chris Johnson has anything left and if Eric Decker can thrive away from Peyton Manning.

Winner: New England Patriots.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens (9-7): The Super Bowl defence didn’t go well for the Ravens after seeing a lot of turnover, especially on defence. While the rebuild continues, the key pieces on offence remain mostly the same. The big issue for the Ravens offence last year was the running game and that could continue into 2014. Top back Ray Rice is suspended for the first two games after looking awful all last season. For Baltimore to get back on track, Rice and Bernard Pierce will need to carry the load on the ground a lot better.

Cincinnati Bengals (8-8): Cincy has been on top of this division for the past few seasons, but this could change quite quickly. The coaching staff has seen an overhaul and the defence just keeps getting older. The Bengals reluctantly paid Andy Dalton last season, which still shouldn’t inspire much confidence on the perennial playoff loser. The biggest bright spot on this team could be Giovani Bernard. With the team moving to a more run-focused offence, the sophomore is primed for a big breakout.

Cleveland Browns (5-11): Johnny Manziel will make this team worth watching once he becomes the starter, but there’s not much else to like on the offence with Josh Gordon suspended for the year. Ben Tate is a fine add at running back, but it remains to be seen if he can shoulder the load for a whole season. The defence could be among the league’s best with Joe Haden locking down opposing top receivers and the pass rush getting a boost under new coach Mike Pettine.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8): The Steelers may no longer be the defensive powerhouse of the past, but it sure can throw the ball now. Antonio Brown has emerged as one of the league’s best receivers and Ben Roethlisberger is still extending plays behind his porous offensive line. Pittsburgh will scrap through games as always, but fall short in its hunt to return to the playoffs.

Winner: Baltimore Ravens.

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans (9-7): Thanks to its terrible finish last season, Houston will benefit from an easy schedule while getting to add Jadeveon Clowney to J.J. Watt on the defensive line. With Ryan Fitzpatrick – as average as he is – being a slight upgrade over Matt Schaub, it’s not too hard to see the Texans improving by seven wins and even winning this division.

Indianapolis Colts (8-8): Since Andrew Luck came to Indy, the Colts have always just found ways to win games. This season, the luck will run out. There’s problems with the running game and on defence. While nobody can question the leadership of Luck and coach Chuck Pagano, there are plenty of other question marks all over this roster.

Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): Many will tab the Jags for another season near the top of the draft, but they could actually be building something good. The defence looked decent in pre-season and could put the offence in better position to do well. Chad Henne isn’t the long-term answer, so when Blake Bortles gets his shot, look for Jacksonville to maybe go on a spoilerish run towards the end of the season and look primed to build on it next year.

Tennessee Titans (8-8): While the switch to a 3-4 defence will put pressure on the Titans already-weak pass rush, the offence could get a boost under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. The former Cardinals head coach revitalized the Chargers offence last year and will look to do the same with Jake Locker. This team could really and considering it’s in a weak division, a .500 record may not be all that surprising.

Winner: Houston Texans.

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos (13-3): All the defending AFC champion Broncos did in the off-season was get stronger. Denver smartly added DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib to the defence while losing just receiver Eric Decker – the most replaceable of Peyton Manning’s weapons – and veteran running back Knowshon Moreno on offence. Drug suspensions for Wes Welker and Matt Prater will hurt them early on, but it’s nothing that the Broncos can’t handle. Look for the offence to be explosive yet again while the defence to take a step up.

Kansas City Chiefs (7-9): The Chiefs looked dynamite – especially on defence – during their massive winning streak to start the season. Then they started having to play actual good teams. It all started falling apart and ended with a heartbreaking comeback loss against the Colts. K.C. has seen a fair bit of players leave in the off-season and should feel that loss hard. We should also remember that maybe Andy Reid is still the guy that got run out of Philly and not the genius behind that huge winning streak last season.

Oakland Raiders (4-12): The future is now for the Raiders, going with rookie Derek Carr in Week 1 instead of trotting out the vastly underwhelming Matt Schaub. Even with another group of new, overpaid free agents, this should be a fairly underwhelming team headed towards another high draft pick.

San Diego Chargers (9-7): A trendy darkhorse pick to go far in the playoffs after last year’s big rebound. The offence looked great, but the Chargers pass defence was the absolute pits. If that facet of their game can improve to even just average, this could be a real contender. There are other issues, like the loss of OC Whisenhunt which could slow down the offence, and the Bolts did catch a few breaks last season in terms of injuries.

Winner: Denver Broncos.

Wild cards: Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers.

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