AFC Conference Preview

Welcome to Part 1 of this year’s NFL Preview.  Today we will look at the AFC Conference, and will break down everything.  I’m gonna run through a bunch of topics in this column, including rankings, hot takes, and one liners.

 Once both previews go up, you can guess my predictions.  Then you’ll see if you’re correct on Thursday.

Division Rankings:

  1. AFC North
  2. AFC West
  3. AFC East
  4. AFC South

The AFC North is always entertaining, whether it’s due to terrible teams who are never good, shaky quarterbacks, or teams that are always in playoff contention.

I see three playoff contenders in the AFC North, and it’s likely that all three of them could slip in.  However, the AFC, like last year, is much more cluttered than the NFC.  Tom Brady’s suspension getting overturned (Thank God) cleared some things up, but still, in 3/4 of the AFC divisions, there’s at least two playoff contenders.

The West is more clear than the East, but there’s one precedent that could flip the whole spectrum of it (more on that later).

The AFC South has sucked for so long.   The Colts will dominate again, but the Titans finally have some way of direction now.

Who’s gonna get fired first?:

This is no fun for me, but guessing what coach will get fired first in this conference is something I must do.  OK, it’s kinda fun.

SportsBooks’ odds have Mike Pettine as the most likely AFC coach to get fired first at +650.  That’s respectable, but could the Browns really do that when they don’t have actual NFL players? More on that later too…  Here’s my candidates to get fired first:

  • Joe Philbin
  • Gus Bradley
  • Marvin Lewis

I hate putting Gus Bradley in there, because he’s very likeable and is a defensive mastermind.  However, if Blake Bortles doesn’t show much improvement, even after Julius Thomas comes back from his injury, I could see Bradley heading out of town.

This is a huge year for Joe Philbin as head coach.  He has to meet expectations now.  The Dolphins know, especially after paying Ryan Tannehill, that he’s (Tannehill) not the problem anymore.  If there is one, it’s Philbin.

This shouldn’t be a problem early in the year though.  The Dolphins schedule is insanely easy the first seven weeks of the season (there is a bye in there; Week 5.)  Something catastrophic would have to happen for Philbin to be fired before the halfway mark; that’s excluding an injury.

I swear Marvin Lewis’ job security comes up every year.  It’s because that’s how this team has always been.  They like being good, but not good enough.  They’ve never been good enough.  The Bengals are basically the Dodgers of football.  They’re very good in the regular season and have lots of talent, then the postseason hits and it allcomes apart.

It seems that, if the Bengals make the playoffs, then everyone is safe.  That’s how it’s been forever.  And it’s likely that’ll continue.

QB Rankings:

  1. Tom Brady
  2. Andrew Luck
  3. Peyton Manning
  4. Philip Rivers
  5. Ben Rothlisberger
  6. Joe Flacco
  7. Andy Dalton
  8. Ryan Tannehill
  9. Alex Smith
  10. Derek Carr
  11. Ryan Fitzpatrick
  12. Marcus Mariota
  13. Brian Hoyer
  14. Blake Bortles
  15. Tyrod Taylor
  16. Josh McCown

One liners:

Could Cleveland suck any less?

Yeah!  Probably!  They’re the Browns, right?  First, swapping out Brian Hoyer for Josh McCown couldn’t be a more idiotic move.  Great role model for Johnny Manziel!

There’s nothing exciting about this offense.  They’ll struggle to put up points.  With a fill-in QB who’ll probably be hurt or benched by Week 6, an interesting but not-totally-sure-yet backfield, and no wide receivers, this team might be gaining yards like the Cardinals did in last year’s postseason.

Cleveland’s defense is more exciting.  The secondary is incredible strong, and is totally underrated due to the bad things revolving around this team.  Danny Shelton, the rookie nose tackle, is huge, and is destined to make contributions.  The weakest part is the defensive line, so Shelton should be quite a boost.

It’s unfortunate that an offensive this bad is going to kill this team.  There’s no way they win 8 games this year.  They downgraded almost every where on offense.  Maybe Johnny Football can provide some fun moments this season.

The Texans should tank

This was meant to be a column by itself… I’ve been saying this all Summer to certain people.  I even had a friend try to help me come up with ways the Texans could tank without it being too noticeable.  Before we get into that, let’s lay out why Houston should throw away this season.

The Texans’ defense is pretty good, and with additions made to the front seven this Summer, they’re great for fantasy.  I’m jealous of the guy in my fantasy league who has them.  There’s a big hole though;  The secondary has a lot of guys who are washed up, raw, or unheard-of names.  It’s gonna be awhile before this secondary becomes good.  Bottom line:  The defense may be good enough to salvage the season.

Arian Foster coming back sooner than expected (could be back for Week 4) is huge, because Alfred Blue is just not good at football.  I was talking to someone about fantasy football and they brought Blue up…. He was drafted in this person’s league.. Like, actually drafted.  Then I explained that Alfred Blue runs into the people trying to tackle him, not away from them.  Yeah, Blue starting for three games isn’t the best way to open the season.

There’s nothing any better at quarterback.  Brian Hoyer is the starter, Ryan Mallet isn’t good enough (and after throwing a tissy-fit about losing the job, he showed up late to practice the next day), and Tom Savage is very, very big question mark.  So Houston should be in the market for a quarterback in next year’s draft, right?  RIGHT?

Next year’s QB class has some very nice names in it, but there’s one that would be perfect fit for Houston, giving who their head coach is.  It’s Christian Hackenburg, who had an amazing freshman season at Penn State when Bill O’Brien was head coach.  You see what I did there?

Now, some would say that Houston wouldn’t need to tank to get Hackenburg.  He’s the 4th ranked QB in the 2016 Draft class, per CBS Sports’ rankings.  However, I’m expecting at least two quarterbacks to go in the top ten of next year’s Draft.  I feel like Hackenburg is gonna be one of them, and I think the Texans are gonna take him.

The Patriots are good, but so are the Colts

Whatever happened to Tom Brady was gonna shift my picks in this conference.  Had he been suspended, the AFC would probably been the Colts’ to lose.  Now that Brady is free (and even though I’m not a Patriots’ fan, I was on his side), New England is the team to beat.  Like always.

After demolishing the Colts in the AFC Title Game (the game that sparked the DeflateGate firestorm), and winning the Super Bowl, New England was sitting pretty.  The Colts though, were making moves.  Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and Trent Cole all joined Indianapolis in the offseason.  They also drafted Philip Dorsett.  And let’s not forget, they have Andrew (The Giant!) Luck.

The Colts made moves this offseason to finally beat the Patriots in the AFC Conference Title Game.  And they’ll probably pay off over the course of the year.  Up until that title game.

I think it’s pretty clear the Colts are more talented than New England this season.  It’s like the Timberwolves this NBA season:  They’re super talented, but aren’t good enough yet to compete (the conference doesn’t help Minneosta).  Remember though: The Pats have Tom Brady, and he’s playing all 16 games.  It doesn’t matter what kind of team you have around him:  He’s Tom Brady.  He’s going to win at least 12 games a year.  And he’s going to kill everyone.  Especially this year.

So after putting some hope into Colts’ fans, I pretty much just ripped it away.  Indy’s division helps so much, and it could overrate them.  The Colts will make the playoffs, and’ll play deep in the playoffs.  But for now, the Patriots stand in the way.  And as long as Tom Brady’s there, they will be in the way.

Raiders, Titans on the road to competency

What?  Is this real life?  The Raiders and Titans are gonna be good, or at least watchable?!  What is happening?!

I was on the Jameis Winston side of things when the Draft came around.  I felt like both QBs would be good, but Winston would develop more quickly and would be more successful.  It was only the preseason, but if my thinking was judged off of it, I wouldn’t have looked so great.

Marcus Mariota was phenomenal during the preseason.  It wasn’t only how well he did, but how fun he is to watch.  Yes, the rookie appeal is there, but Mariota was the type of player that made me only focus on him.  I draw away from the play while watching sports;  Mariota didn’t make that happen to me.  He’s really entertaining, and if you’re the Titans, that’s what you want.

The Raiders have sucked for so long that I finally started feeling bad for all my Raiders friends.  But then these past two drafts happened and now I’m jealous.  The amount of young talent they have on offense is outstanding.  They’ve got guys at every skill position.  Derek Carr should take steps up this year.  Amari Cooper will be huge for Carr and the team itself, and I won’t lie:  Latavis Murray is very intriguing.

Oakland finally has some hope.  It’s still gonna take some time, but at least they’ll be watchable this year.  You’re almost there guys.

The Bills and Jets are a quarterback away

This is a sad, sad conversation to have.  It sucks that the AFC East could be the best division in football if these two teams had a quarterback we trusted and knew about.  That’s just not the case.

Due to Geno Smith’s broken jaw, in which was the stupidest story to happen in the NFL since DeflateGate (Oh wait!  That was only seven months ago!  This league is ridiculous.  Why do I care about this crap?), the Jets are gonna be starting Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB.  That’s fun.  I wrote extensively about what the Jets could do with a little Fitzmagic, or some Bryce Petty playing time.  But what could the Jets be with say, a Mark Sanchez?

To try and not bring back bad memories, we’ll use another QB.  How about this Jets team led by Jay Cutler?  Cutler’s clearly declined in the past two years, but he’s still okay.  In my NFC Preview coming tomorrow, he’s surprisingly high on the QB ranking list.  Why?  Because he’s good enough.  He’s a game-manager.  Ryan Fitzpatrick is not.  Fitzpatrick does things that makes his team lose.   Game managers do enough to win the game.  And with what the Jets have besides their QB situation, this would be a good enough team to win 10 games with a suitable QB. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this season.

The Bills are in a different situation.  They have plenty of options at QB, just none that are good enough.  A three man race in Training Camp led to Tyrod Taylor getting the starting job, and Matt Cassel, who was traded to the Buffalo from Minnesota in the Spring, getting cut.

I’ll be completely honest.  I’m pumped to see Tyrod Taylor play.  He was very fun to watch in the preseason.  He’s mobile and makes smart throws; that’s why he won the job.  The Bills saw what I saw:  The chance for a late round pick to make an impact.

However, I just can’t hop on yet.  We have to see what Taylor truly is.  And since we haven’t seem much of him, we can’t have high expectations.  It’s fun to speculate on what Taylor may be able to do in the NFL, but again, he hasn’t played meaningful games.  That step has to come first.

Besides the QB question, the Bills have an amazingly talented team.  They’ve got three young receivers, the 2nd best running back in the league, and a defensive line where the 2nd stringers would start for the 49ers.  Like, this team could be really good.  But I… ugh.. just can’t do it!  It kills me to say it; it really does.  I want to like this team so much due to the overload of talent.  But you have to have a quarterback to win football games.  That part of the Bills is the only one in question.

Broncos doubts

You saw above where I ranked Peyton Manning in the AFC quarterbacks.  He’s high, as he should be.  But I’m worried this could be the end for him.  We saw it at the end of last year.  16 games is tough for him to hold up for.  The arm strength just wasn’t there, and it’s why the Broncos exited the playoffs early.  I thought Manning was gonna retire after last season, and I guess the Broncos did too.

That should give you a good idea on how I feel about Denver this year.  My confidence isn’t too high.  I have this feeling that we’ll be in Week 9, and Denver will be struggling.  Their schedule is tough in those first 9 games (BAL, @KC, DET, MIN, @OAK, @CLE, GB, @IND), but they do have a bye in Week 7.  That should give Manning some much needed rest.

However, even with my doubts on the Broncos, I have to go into this season with the mindset of “Oh yeah, it’s Peyton Manning”.  It’s hard for me to believe he’ll be the Peyton Manning we’ve seen in the past, but I’m gonna treat it for now as a ‘See it and believe it” type thing.

NFC Preview coming tomorrow……