Mike’s AFC Preview (and Matt’s Snark)
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner! – New England Patriots
Sure, the Patriots won’t have Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez or Brandon Lloyd at all this year, and Rob Gronkowski could miss a sizeable chunk of the season, but I’ve learned to not doubt the dreadful duo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. They seem to keep finding hidden gems that nobody else seems to want (Zach Sudfeld, Kenbrell Thompkins) and turn them into valuable contributors. Most people forget that Welker was a guy the Chargers cut after one game and had averaged just 33 receptions a season his first three years in the league before the Patriots nabbed him. So as much as it pains me to say it, as long as Brady suits up and Belichick cheats is on the sideline, the Pats will remain the class of the AFC East.
Palmer – Many prognosticators are saying that the Dolphins are going to pull off the upset. I hate to agree with you, but I will. The hate has gone too far on the best team of the decade. They will struggle this year, but they will win the division. It pains me to write that sentence.
We’ll Get There Eventually – Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins seem to be on the right track. They have their first legitimate franchise quarterback since Dan Marino retired, a coach who isn’t Tony Sparano and an owner who desperately wants to win and will spend to do it (including overpaying for Mike Wallace). The pieces are coming into place, but they’re still likely a year or two away. However, if Tannehill can make the jump and Dion Jordan becomes the second coming of Jason Taylor, look for the Dolphins to possibly vie for a wild card spot.
Palmer – The Dolphins are going to have a very good year. They will be in the playoff race all year long, and possibly get the Wild Card. However, this is not their year. A few close losses will keep them from making the next big step. If things go well, I could easily see them doing great things next year. (By great things, I mean beat the Patriots.)
At Least We Don’t Have Sanchez – Buffalo Bills
The Bills may not have Sanchez (a blessing) but they’re also looking t starting Jeff Tuel in Week 1 if EJ Manuel isn’t healthy (not a blessing). However, we’ll assume that Manuel is able to play most of the season, which will certainly be better than the train wreck that New Jersey B will be taking part in. Plus having solid playmakers like C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson and USC rookie Robert Woods, the offense should be respectable.
The key to the Bills season, aside from solid play from Manuel, will be the defense finally living up to its payroll. If Mario Williams can combine with Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams to provide a constant pass rush to help out a less-than-stellar back seven. However, getting to just 8-8 will be difficult.
Palmer – I like your comparison of the Bills to the Jets. The Bills are basically the Jets but with some talent on offense. They are like a pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top. The Jets are basically just the frozen piecrust that you buy from grocery story. They are empty and incomplete. The Bills have all the fillings, but some of the ingredients are missing. This year I do not see how the talent the Bills have sprinkled across their lineup will be good enough to make it to 8-8.
Crap, We Do Have Sanchez – New York Jets
Things will not be pretty for New Jersey B this year. Rex Ryan turned up the temperature on his chair by about 50 degrees after inexplicably bringing Sanchez in late in a preseason game, just to see him promptly get injured. Now, he may be forced to play Geno Smith well before he is ready. Given the absolute dearth of playmakers on that offense, it may not have mattered much anyway. At this point, they may want to consider just tanking for Jadaveon Clowney.
Palmer – The biggest story out of this year will be when Rex Ryan will be fired. Will it be during the season or after the season? I would say after the season, but that is just because I like Rex and I hope for the best for him. Hopefully the new general manager and coach can manage a better draft.
Ain’t Nobody Got Time for a Super Bowl Hangover – Baltimore Ravens
Much ado has been written about the offseason changes the Ravens have gone through, from the loss of Anquan Boldin (and absolute disregard to find his replacement) to the loss of key veteran leaders Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to the Dennis Pitta injury. Yet, the Ravens still find themselves with the best roster in the AFC North. They still have Ray Rice and Joe Flacco on offense (Torrey Smith has to refine his route-running before I sing his praises as a number-one receiver) and have a capable defense, including the addition of Elvis Dumervil. I’m not expecting a Super Bowl out of this team, but it should still be talented enough to win an open AFC North.
Palmer – The Ravens drank the Jungle Juice last year. They went to the Fraternity party and beer bonged many beverages. They will have a hangover this year. They have lost a lot and they have not replaced everything they needed to. However, they will take some Advil, drink some water, and be ready to go partway through the season. They will be in the playoffs this year, but it will be a struggle for them every week.
What about Us? – Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are coming off their first ever series of back-to-back playoff appearances (in non-strike shortened season), thanks to Andy Dalton and A.J. Green leading a competent-but-not-stellar offense and Geno Atkins manhandling offensive linemen. They’re a stable, capable team, but they’re not especially scary. Last season, they had only two wins over playoff teams, but also lost to teams like Cleveland (once) and Miami, as well as falling 7-6 to the Cowboys. Unless Andy Dalton becomes anything more than league-average, they’ll continue to sit in this good-but-not-great bubble with no real shot at playoff success.
Palmer – This is a team that I think the love has gone a little too far on. The Bengals have been pretty good, but they are still the Bengals. They have some talent, and their defense is on the rise, but it doesn’t seem like it is going to all fit together right now. They have a few bright spots but it will not be enough to shine in a difficult AFC North.
But We’ve Got More Lombardi Trophies Than Anybody! – Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are a team that has as much tradition as any, but even well-run organizations go through a downturn. However, for the Steelers a downturn is missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons. They still have a quality, if not injury-plagued, quarterback, one of the best centers in football and an all-time great as a defensive coordinator, but they still aren’t the Steelers we’re used to seeing. Maybe the running game will pick up and Antonio Brown will prove he’s a number one, but right now, there are too many questions to call the Steelers a playoff team.
Palmer – I disagree with you on this one and I see the Steelers as a playoff team this year. They have been one of the most solid teams for the past 40 years. They are never down long and they pull themselves back up with a chip on their shoulder. They are flying under the radar this year, and if their three-headed running back tandem can be more Cerberus than ‘Puppy Bowl’ this team could surprise a lot of teams.
God Still Hates Cleveland – Cleveland Browns
The Browns will continue to struggle this year, thanks to a lack of receiving depth, questions surrounding Trent Richardson’s ability to stay healthy and that whole Brandon Weeden thing, but things are looking up. Cleveland has assembled a solid group on defense that will hopefully keep their offense in the game. If their front seven, including rookie Barkevious Mingo, can rush the passer, their prospects will look even better. Nonetheless, this is Cleveland, so a winning record is not to be expected.
Palmer – Yeah, you hit on everything with the Browns. They will struggle again this year and have a top 10 pick in the draft. But did you also know that Ridley has small feet? Which will be lower, the draft spot for the Browns or Ridley’s shoe size? I would take the Browns.
I Suppose We’ll Take It – Houston Texans
Looking around the NFL landscape, it’s hard not to pick the AFC South as the weakest division in football. The Texans have to almost win this division by default. They have a talented roster including Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and man-child elite J.J. Watt, but their quarterback is shaky with a below average arm. There’s not much competition in the AFC South, so the Texans should prevail, but I’m not making any wagers on their Super Bowl chances.
Palmer – I agree that they will be the winners of the South, but I think they will be back to the Texans that we know and love. For the past few years they have been an 8-8 team and they often underachieve. They will probably underachieve again but this time the Colts will be nipping at their heels.
Give Us Another Year – Indianapolis Colts
The Colts came on to surprise everybody last year, thanks to incredible luck and the easiest schedule in the league. As Bill Barnwell points out, the Colts are primed for regression. Still, even regressing towards the mean of their talent would still put them in second place in this division. So at least there’s that.
The only way I can really see them making the playoffs again is by stealing a game from Houston, beating all the AFC West teams not named Denver and taking care of business against the Bengals and Dolphins. To do this, Andrew Luck will have to put points on the board, because the defense isn’t likely to stop anybody.
Palmer – The defense will be biggest problem for the Colts. Andrew Luck is good, and that offense will be able to put up points, but how many points will they give up? Will their offense be able to cover up the holes in their defense? I think that they will. The defense will stop from them from making a championship run, but they will still have a good year and make a playoff run.
Haha, Jacksonville! – Tennessee Titans
The Titans are not in great shape this year. They’re in a make-or-break year with Jake Locker, as well as free agent-to-be Kenny Britt. In an attempt to boost production from Chris Johnson, they restructured their offensive line, taking guard Chance Warmack in the First Round and attracting Andy Levitre away from Buffalo. In their battle to create in offensive, they failed to address a defense that is devoid of talent. Like their Colts counterparts, the Titans will need to score a lot of points to come away with a W on Sundays. But on the bright side, they’re not the Jaguars.
Palmer – The Titans have holes on defense, holes on offense and a hole at QB. Jake Locker just does not seem to be the franchise QB that they were hoping for. Unless Chris Johnson can play defense, special teams and throw the ball to himself, he is going to have some problems.
We’re Number One (Overall Pick) – Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville is about to embark on this third, and likely final, season of the Blaine Gabbert adventure. After beating out Chad Henne for the starting position (much like a child outsmarts a toddler for his candy), Gabbert begins the season on the quarterback hot seat. He’ll be doing so without the use of Justin Blackmon for four games, but he will have the underrated Cecil Shorts, dynamic rookie Ace Sanders and “Offensive Weapon” Denard Robinson to help ignite the offensive. However, if Jacksonville can’t create a pass rush on defense, it probably won’t matter.
Palmer – Here is another one that I completely agree with you on. They will be in the top 2 or 3 picks in the draft and will struggle all year. Their rebuilding phase is going to continue for another year.
Who Else Would Win? – Denver Broncos
As the AFC West battles the AFC South for NFL Doormat-acy, the Denver Broncos still on top looking as a serious Super Bowl contender. Peyton Manning comes back even stronger than last year, with new receiver Wes Welker at his disposal. They also added rookie Montee Ball to carry the rock and still have Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker ready to produce 80/1200/10 seasons. Even with losing Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore and Von Miller for the first six games, the Broncos should have no problem producing an offense that will score with the best of them. All is good in Bronco-Land, unless of course you took their defense in fantasy football.
Palmer – I am sure that when John Elway sat down with Peyton Manning and tried to convince him to come to Denver he said, “I will help you out… I will get you what you need.” Well, he is sure doing that. This team is looking good and could be the best in the league.
I’ll Take a .500 Season! – Kansas City Chiefs
A year after the Chiefs “won” the first overall pick, they’re in a prime position to come back in a hurry. The additions of Andy Reid and John Dorsey to the front office should help produce results from a very talented roster. Newcomer Alex Smith will provide an upgrade over the departed Matt Cassel simply by not being Matt Cassel. This could help wake up Dwayne Bowe as well as free up some running room for the supremely talented Jamaal Charles. Also expect a fairly talented defense to step up as they’ll now have more than three minutes to catch a breather while the offense is on the field.
Palmer – You are saying that this season will be about a .500 season for them and I would agree. Many people are saying that this team could compete for a championship but I think that is going too far. They will be much improved for all the reasons that you say, but they will still struggle.
At Least Our Weather is Awesome! – San Diego Chargers
The Chargers went from a team Peter King predicted to be in the Super Bowl in 2012 to a weak retread that will be battling Oakland to stay out of the AFC West cellar. Once regarded as having the most talented roster in football, the Chargers find themselves hurting for talent, especially on the offensive line and the secondary. Philip Rivers is still capable of producing elite numbers, but must be given adequate time. The addition of D.J. Fluker up front will help, but King Dunlap is more likely to be a revolving door than an anchoring left tackle.
Even if Rivers is able to put numbers on the board, getting into a shootout is a big disadvantage to the Chargers. While San Diego fields one of the best safeties in the league in Eric Weddle, the remaining members of the secondary leave more to be desired. However, that means the San Diego games may be some of the most entertaining this year.
Palmer – Talk about a fall from grace. This team was the top of the AFC West and a perennial playoff team. Just a few years later they are going to struggle in a weak division. Philip Rivers has not turned out to be the elite QB they thought and they are going to need a lot of work in the off season.
We’re Starting Terrelle Pryor! Wait, What? – Oakland Raiders
Reasons Oakland fans love Terrelle Pryor:
- He has lots of tattoos
- He didn’t pay for his tattoos
- He’s not Jamarcus Russell
- He has lots of tattoos
Palmer – How are those Cowboys doing? A-Hole