Lee's Locks for 2014 NFL Season - AFC
Lee has his sights set on the AFC, picking the division winners and losers.
So, you thought that I was daffy the first time around with the NFC predictions; well I'll just show you, because you don't know what daffy is, my friends.
My mindset is: If you're going to be wrong, why be only half wrong when you can be totally wrong instead? It's another version of 'go all the way', you see.
Okay, enough with the funny stuff; let's get down to brass tacks. Besides, you may want to judge me on my wit and that's where we shouldn't go. Call me what you want, but let's be fair: If I wanted to be insulted, I'd call my mother and kill two birds with one stone.
Having gone through the NFC from the East, North, South, and West, selecting my predicted order of finish, then it was time to turn my attention to the AFC conference and give it the very same lack of respect.
If you've even seen my version of the NFC, then you were likely either: A) Beside yourself with anticipation for the AFC version; B) Opting instead for a root canal procedure.
Kindly select one.
With no further whatever, let's get on with it.
Note: In this installment, I'll cover the AFC.
East – Buffalo, Miami, New England, New York Jets
North – Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh
South – Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee
West – Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego
1) New England Patriots
What's Up? It's hard to believe that QB Tom Brady has led this team since 2001 and the passion is still there. When he has talent around him, he is difficult to hold back – unless you can consistently rattle him. If I were playing against them, I would spend every long yardage down in his grill, picking my poison, but that's why I'm writing this and not doing it.
In 2013, he didn't have very talented receivers and only a part-time TE Ron Gronkowski. Those receivers are more experienced now, and they added WR Brandon LeFell (Carolina), while acquiring nominal TE Tim Wright in a trade (Tampa Bay) for pro-bowl LG Logan Mankins. They also sent QB Ryan Mallett to Houston for a conditional 7th round pick next year, leaving rookie Jimmy Garropolo as the only backup to Brady
I won't weigh the pros and cons associated with the trades except to say, there's usually a method for the madness. When you win the division as often as they do, it's hard to argue. In Bill they trust.
Noteworthy – The 2014 draft brought an influx of potential talent with DL Dominique Easley (Round 1, Florida) and QB Jimmy Garropolo (Round 2, Eastern Illinois), three offensive linemen (they'll need them with Mankins packing) and a project in DE Zach Moore (Round 6, Concordia), a 6'5" end prospect (combine 4.84 – 40).
Typical Patriot picks with Bill Belichick running the show and former GM Mike Lombardi along for the ride. Can the second year receivers come through and can Gronk stay healthy? That alone will determine how far they go this season. The biggest moves were bringing in free agent corners Darrelle Revis (Jets/Tampa Bay) and Brandon Browner (Seattle), although Browner has a four game suspension to start the year.
Basically – A possibly overlooked item is the retirement of longtime successful offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, bringing in veteran coach Dave DeGuglielmo; that could be worth watching. Otherwise, that staff is basically home grown.
A little known stat is DE's Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were No. 1 and No. 3 in the league respectively in tackles for defensive linemen in 2013. It stands to reason that Revis and Browner will only make this defense better. BB will be beside himself in joy, designing schemes to baffle opponents. Like a mad scientist, but without the beakers, test tubes, and lightning flashes in the background.
2) N. Y. Jets
What's Up? Aside from the quarterback position, the secondary was a primary cause for concern, and now that CB Dimitri Patterson was oddly A.W.O.L. from the third preseason game (and suspended until September 1st as a result), it raises even more questions – like will he be around? The staff is not truly enamored with either DB Kyle Fuller (2010 Round 1, Boise State) or Dee Milliner (2013 Round 1), Alabama) and let Antonio Cromartie walk (Arizona).
There's usually no shortage of controversy, so Jets' fans shouldn't be too alarmed by this. Except for the back end, this is an otherwise good defensive unit and they did select hard-hitting FS Calvin Prior (Louisville) in the 1st round this year.
Noteworthy – On offense, they signed free agent QB (Philadelphia) Michael Vick after parting ways with Mark Sanchez (who went over to Philadelphia) as well as RB Chris Johnson (Tennessee) who states that he has a 'lot left in the tank'. The starting QB in his second year is Geno Smith (2013 Round 1, West Virginia), who graced them with a putrid 12 TDs, 21 INTs and 8 fumbles. If Smith stumbles, then head coach Rex Ryan will have no choice, but to insert Vick since his job is likely hanging in the balance.
Nervous? Not Rex – it's all good. They brought in new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg formerly with Philadelphia (sense a connection, here?) and WR Eric Decker (Denver) in an effort to jump-start the offense.
Basically – If they can support Geno Smith with a complimentary dose of RBs Johnson and incumbent Chris Ivory, while adding in new TE Jace Amaro (2014 2nd Round, Texas Tech), then we should finally see if the quarterback situation is a good one and the team can run up some 'Ws' or we'll instead likely see Mr. Vick take over to try and save the season.
This team and Miami are historically always close (both were 8-8 in 2013) and I expect more of the same where either one could finish No. 2 or No. 3. In this case, I'm choosing New York.
3) Miami Dolphins
What's Up? It's another year and another new offensive system with Bill Lazor in as the new coordinator (former Philadelphia QB coach) to help pick up the pace and balance the attack. Hopefully, that can happen, but unless you count free agent T Brandon Albert (Kansas City) as a major upgrade, then the news isn't so great. C Mike Pouncey will not start the season and could end up on the PUP (out six weeks), but they did draft OT Ja'Wuan James (2014 Round #1, Tennesee) and brought in RB Knowshon Moreno (Denver) in free agency.
They still need better offensive line play because this is a make-or-break season for QB Ryan Tannehill in his third year. Personally, I don't think Moreno is the answer at that position and is an enigma.
Noteworthy – They brought in Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino as a special consultant, but they may have missed the part where that was tried previously and it didn't help. When you're a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail, and this is a perfect example. They also need to find out if the big $$$ signing of wideout Mike Wallace was a good idea or a reach, because although he had 73 receptions for 930 yards in 2013, he scored zero touchdowns, so he's lucky his contract isn't tied to points because fast food workers would take home more money than he would. He would never even make it on my roster.
Basically – This is another club that will live and die with the play of its offensive line. It would be nice if they finally had a 1,000-yard rusher, but it's probably not going to be Moreno, and if the Fish did get that production, it's likely to be from incumbent RB Lamar Miller.
The only thing you could consistently get excited about is the defense, really, although 2013 free agent LB's Dannell Ellerbee (Baltimore) and Phillip Wheeler (Oakland) didn't generate much with their play. Unless the offense takes off, then 8-8 will be a struggle to reach.
4) Buffalo Bills
What's Up? This team could possibly finish ahead of either the Jets or the Dolphins, but I just don't see them putting together a consistently good stretch. They go out to Chicago for week one and if they board a plane at 1-0, then anything is possible because they then open at home against Miami the following week before they face San Diego also in Orchard Park and the Chargers never seem to start the season off strong.
If they can manage a 3-0 or even a 2-1 start, then maybe they can put something good together; otherwise, they may wind up in another funk. Getting the locals excited would only help with trying to keep the franchise in western New York, where it should be.
Noteworthy – Losing the playmaking second year MLB Kiko Alonso prior to the season is bad luck and S Jairus Byrd in free agency (New Orleans) is just bad cap management. This doesn't help the defensive side of the ball hold up their end, with the offense trying to get some rhythm going.
Second-year quarterback E. J. Manuel seems to have more going for him than the other QBs drafted in 2013, but he needs to stay on the field, and he'll need WR receiver Sammy Watkins (2014 No. 4 overall, Clemson) to be his go-to playmaker. Evidently, Manuel wasn't even selected a team captain.
They also have RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson who can do a lot to take the pressure off Manuel and keep the chains moving. Jackson is the workhorse, while Spiller is an exciting option to run or catch the ball out of the backfield.
Basically – Second year head coach Doug Marrone lost his defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine (Cleveland) and brought in former Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz and former Patriot's coach Pepper Johnson to run the defensive line. They also signed free agent LB Brandon Spikes (New England) and CB Corey Graham (Baltmore) to help with the run and pass defense, respectively.
If Schwartz gets anywhere near to the success he had previously with Baltimore and Tennessee, then he will be a welcome addition to this club and help keep them in ballgames.
1) Baltimore Ravens
What's Up? The Super Bowl win the prior season was followed with a letdown season in which the Birds finished at 8-8. This is typical of championship winners where the Super Bowl winner does not typically win one playoff game the year after and the loser doesn't even make the playoffs. Winning it all has its price the following season: Less time to self-analyze, work on your roster, make improvements, work free agency, study for the the draft, and all of those things that are important to the next season. Well, this year they'll have lots of time having missed the postseason completely.
Noteworthy – In the 2014 draft, they selected ILB C.J. Mosely (Alabama) to slide into the middle of their defense, much like they did with former LB Ray Lewis. Mosely isn't Lewis, but if he is remotely close to him, with that sideline-to-sideline pursuit, then they can solve one of their issues from last year. The rest of their draft was typical Ozzie Newsome where they don't go after names; they go after specific and sometimes little known players and plug them in where they want them.
In free agency, they also brought in WR Steve Smith (Carolina) and CB Derek Cox (San Diego) to fill needs. Veteran RB Ray Rice will miss the first two games due to league suspension for a domestic violence issue. I'd rather not get into the details, but suffice it to say, if this were my team, his name wouldn't appear on the roster. Yet, this is also the club that looked the other way with Ray Lewis when two murders occurred in a car in which he was a passenger, but he knew nothing about it and later was guilty only of obstruction of justice, so I'm not that surprised by this latest incident.
The message is: 'If you are a part of our success and ongoing plans, then we forgive you, brother'.
Basically – Where coach Jim Harbaugh is easily rankled, brother John is not so much and is a consistent head coach – good clock management, sound situational football and motivating players. He puts his team in a position to win and they rarely ever get blown out and embarrassed.
2) Cincinnati Bengals
What's Up? Head coach Marvin Lewis had a lot to do this offseason, losing both coordinators to other teams: OC Jay Gruden (Washington) and DC Mike Zimmer (Minnesota) to be head coaches themselves. He will mainly go in the building for replacements to keep the program intact, but it still won't be easy. The two main questions surrounding this are: 1) QB Andy Dalton did well in the regular season while Gruden was there, although he struggled in the postseason. Will his game go north or south without Gruden? 2) Zimmer always got the most from his defensive players – will that continue or will they decline? If it were not for these two points, I would have picked them to take the division, but as it is, I just can't.
Noteworthy – Looking for another playmaker for the secondary, they selected CB Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State) in the first round in the May draft and then RB Jeremy Hill (LSU) in the second round. This is a good thing since they released RB Benjarvis Green-Ellis in the cut down to 53.
This team did not make any real splashes in free agency, relying on their core group and draft additions to compete for roster spots. They could pick up another player with the cut down before the start of the regular season, if they see someone they like out there.
Basically – New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther are established coaches in the system the Bengals run, so you would expect the basic philosophy to remain status quo, although Jackson has been there since 2012, he has a different view of how to get the job done – with ball control and a balanced attack – not so much through the air. I would expect them to be a grind it out sort of personality and maybe this is what Dalton really needs. We'll find out.
3) Pittsburgh Steelers
What's Up? The Steeler's biggest offseason acquisition may be offensive line coach Mike Munchak (former Tennessee head coach). Munchak has been recognized as maybe the premier line coach for years. Expect improved line play, and this should positively affect the passing and the run games. I
n the draft, they selected LB Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) in the first round, DE Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame) in the second, RB Dri Archer (Kent State) in the third. Archer is a smaller player, but in the mold of someone like Dexter McCluster. All three should contribute immediately.
In free agency, they signed RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Luke Ingram (Jacksonville), extended C Maurkice Pouncey, and re-signed DE Brett Kiesel among some less publicized moves – typical Kevin Colbert approach – keep your best, bring in some players that fill roles.
Noteworthy – The day of the preseason game in Philadelphia, RBs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were arrested for marijuana possession when their car was stopped by police. You can make a case as to whether they lack basic discretion, but this really underscores something that should be apparent to everyone and that is, of the 1,696 active players in the NFL, we couldn't possibly believe these are the only two, could we? The actual number would likely blow our minds.
Here the irony: They will likely get a longer suspension for smoking weed than Ray Rice got for knocking his fiancé unconscious. That's the real problem, folks.
Basically – Inexplicably, they started 2013 at 0-6, but managed to finish at 8-8 on the year. Which team is this? We won't know until maybe the evening of Sept. 28 when they finish up their fourth week. At that point, they will have played Cleveland at Heinz Field, at Baltimore (without Rice), at Carolina, and then Tampa Bay a home. If this team is 3-1 or even 2-2, you can expect a run for the division title, but if not, then you are looking at a long season. I'll bet the top three will be bunched up together come the final weekend.
4) Cleveland Browns
What's Up? Last season, WR Josh Gordon led the league in total yards for his position, this year he will lead them in most games watched on television. Gordon has been suspended for the entire season for substance abuse. The only good news is his salary won't count against the cap, but the suspension does not include the DUI he was also charged with.
With the extra money, the team can spend it on more aging free agents – just like LB Karlos Dansby (Arizona) and S Donte Whitner (San Fran). It's quite possible that Gordon may never get his act together and the enormous potential will be completely wasted. That's the real crime, people.
Noteworthy – Re-signing C Kevin Mack was essential, and they did select DB Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) at No. 8 and QB Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) at No. 22 and only had four other picks in the remaining rounds. They will hope that Gilbert wasn't a reach and can help fill the void left by departed safety T.J. Ward (Denver) and will also hope that Manziel can learn some common sense as he studies the playbook while watching incumbent QB Brian Hoyer lead the team. It wouldn't surprise me if both first round picks turn out to be duds – it could easily go either way.
Basically – This is yet another new regime with GM Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine (former Buffalo defensive coordinator) running the show. What this means is anyone's guess. At a glance, this would appear to be a sound duo to get things on the right track, but this franchise has almost become a carousel of new coaches and executives every year.
The city deserves a winner, and maybe they are on to something good, but can you realistically expect to leapfrog the other three teams this year and without Gordon? I can't.
1) Indianapolis Colts
What's Up? From Chuck Pagano to the equipment manager, this looks like a class organization. The problem is the owner, Jim Irsay. His life is essentially out of control, and in the best interest of the Colts organization, he should be removed from being directly involved with the team, if not suspended for his indiscretions. The problem is, how does the NFL commissioner punish one of his bosses? The owners need to act because Irsay's behavior shames the league.
Noteworthy – This team has established themselves as a front-runner in the conference. The question is, can they go all the way and get to the Super Bowl. They have the pieces, but can they put it together? This team didn't have a first-round pick in the draft (remember RB Trent Richardson?), so they didn't get a big talent infusion, at least in theory.
OLB Robert Mathis led the NFL in sacks with 19.5 in 2013, but will start this season serving a four game suspension.
In free agency, they did sign WR Hakeem Nicks (NY Giants) and LB D'Quell Jackson (Cleveland), which will add depth, but not necessarily putting them at the next level. Do you feel excited? I don't.
Basically – This team has arrived, but can they really take the next step? Losing Mathis for four games is exactly what they didn't need to start the season, but if they can manage without him, maybe they can be the division champs.
They open at Denver, then Philadelphia at home, at Jacksonville, and then back home with Tennessee. If they are 2-2 or better when Mathis returns in time for Baltimore, then they could be poised for another division title.
2) Tennessee Titans
What's Up? It's officially the Ken Whisenhunt era in Memphis. He replaces the departed (that's a better word than 'fired', isn't it?) Mike Munchak who went off to the Steel City to run the offensive line. Whisenhunt has head coaching experience with Arizona, where he won a franchise record 49 games in six seasons and nearly had a Super Bowl victory in their grasp until Pittsburgh made that last minute dramatic drive to seal the deal. He also brings along former coach, Mike Mularkey (tight ends) and Ray Horton (defensive coordinator). It's a good staff and they have talent on this team.
Noteworthy – In the 2014 draft, they selected OL Taylor Lewan (Michigan) at No. 11 and RB Bishop Sankey (Washington) in the second round. Not a Chris Johnson replacement, with a different style, but his can hit the hole with conviction.
In free agency, they bring in LB Wesley Woodyard (Denver), RB Dexter McCluster (Kansas City), LB Shaun Phillips (Denver/San Diego), and T Michael Oher (Baltimore) as headliners, with Whisenhunt doing some flipping of the roster to mold it to his liking. The proof is in the pudding, but there's plenty to like.
Basically – RB Chris Johnson is certainly an elite back that can make things happen – when he isn't self-absorbed. Whisenhunt likely decided the cons (money/attitude) outweighed the pros in this case. Returning QB Jake Locker needs to prove that he isn't fragile and more importantly, not an enigma. It's make or break time for Jake.
They also drafted QB Zach Mettenberger (LSU) in round No. 6 where he slid coming off an injury (ACL). Mettenberger led the NFL with 659 passing yards in the 2014 preseason, but also pleaded guilty to two sexual battery charges while at Georgia (later transferred), so what that means is anyone's guess, but it's situation that bears watching from week to week.
3) Houston Texans
What's Up? A franchise in turmoil in 2013 after playoff appearances in 2011 and 2012 and the expectations were immense. The quarterback position was the downfall of the 2103 team, and they freely gave up the dreaded 'pick-6' like it was Christmas all year long.
The promising 2-0 start was followed by a 0-14 finish that left the franchise in complete disarray and the fan base in disbelief. Out with the old, as in head coach Gary Kubiak and in with the new (former Penn State coach), being Bill O'Brien. The no-nonsense O'Brien was the offensive coordinator at New England before two successful seasons in Happy Valley, which was none too happy when Bill's plane landed.
Noteworthy – An NFL-worst finish can have its silver lining and the Texans hope that overall No. 1 2014 draft choice DE Jadeveon Clowney (North Carolina) is their new hero.
Does this remind you of Mario Williams? Just asking.
They plan to bookend him with pro-bowl end, J.J. Watt to terrorize opposing quarterbacks into gulping down bottles of Tums.
Other noted picks are OG Xavier Su'a-Filo (UCLA) in round No. 2, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa) in round No. 3, NT Louis Nix (Notre Dame) also in round No. 3, and QB Tom Savage (Pittsburgh) in the fourth round. The first four are likely starters or key backups.
Basically – After the debacle of 2013, there's nowhere to go but up for this club. I'm not sure you can realistically expect a complete turn-around, but I think that you will see some progress, but much of it will be dependent on the quarterback position, which is in flux. Former Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is currently the starter, but that could change, depending upon those results. Fitzpatrick has a penchant for spreading the ball around – to the other jerseys.
4) Jacksonville Jaguars
What's Up? Head coach Gus Bradley's program seems to be going in the right direction, even though the 0-8 start to 2013 was as bad as bad gets, they did manage a 4-4 finish, which seems indicative of improvement. GM David Caldwell and Bradley seem to have an arrangement that should pay dividends to the woeful program. The plan seems to be building via the draft, yet adding experienced veterans through free agency to help those rookies acclimate to the NFL and still be competitive.
Noteworthy – In free agency, they added DE Ziggy Hood (Pittsburgh), DT Red Bryant (Seattle), and DE Chris Clemons (Washington, Oakland, Philadelphia and Seattle), so they are clearly trying to improve a defensive line that suffered in 2013. They have veteran QB Chad Henne returning and RB Tony Gerhart as well for stability. They drafted QB Blake Bortles (Central Florida) with the 3rd overall pick, WR Marqise Lee (USC) in the second round, and WR Allen Robinson (Penn State) also in round No. 2, so they addressing the offense as well. With such a high pick, you could see Bortles being inserted into the starting lineup if Henne falters at all.
Basically – Coming off a 4-12 season, it's pretty hard to go wrong after adding some talent on both sides of the ball. Can they build on the positive finish from last season? It would not surprise me if they overtook Houston just based upon the quarterback situation, but they still have to put it all together and the preseason wasn't all that impressive. I understand that the preseason is about evaluating your talent and you only present vanilla schemes, but that's what everyone else is doing as well.
1) Denver Broncos
What's Up? The offense was manhandled (read: 'humiliated') in the Super Bowl by an aggressive Seattle team, so when they studied the film, they decided the offense is just fine, thank you, and they went to work on their defense. I'm not sure this is the best approach, but this is where they went in signing veteran DE Demarcus Ware (Dallas), S T. J. Ward (Cleveland), and CB Aquib Talib (New England). Ward was solid in Cleveland, but Ware is in season No. 11, coming off an injury, while Talib was excellent in coverage during the season, but typically sees time on the bench due to injury and usually during the games with the highest stakes (AFC Championships, folks).
Noteworthy – Talented slot receiver, Wes Welker has sustained his third (recorded) concussion in the past 10 months when he was levelled by Houston safety D.J. Swearinger in a preseason game (of all places!). What this means, no one knows, but rest assured it isn't good. Since WR Eric Decker left for New Jersey, Wes will be counted on even more than in 2013.
In the 2014 draft, they chose CB Bradley Roby (Ohio State) and WR Cody Latimer (Indiana) in round No. 2. Roby may come along fine, but he usually didn't fare all that well against the better Big 10 receivers, so let's not get too excited just yet.
Basically – When you look at the roster, you see some different names, but I don't know if you can equate that to another Super Bowl appearance, let alone a win in the big game. QB Peyton Manning will give the fans their money's worth, you can count on that, but I look at this team and I just can't find a ring anywhere. I'm tempted to take another look to see the folly of my ways, but I just don't have the motivation based upon what I'm already seeing. Coach John Fox is a good coach; I just don't think he's a championship caliber coach.
2) Kansas City Chiefs
What's Up? The surprise of the AFC West last season, new head coach Andy Reid came in and turned it all around and the sky was the limit. That is until their playoff meltdown versus Indianapolis. Last year's 11-5 season record was a monumental turn-around from the despicable 2-14 record in 2012. The question is, will they sustain it? The Chiefs haven't had real playoff success since Len Dawson was under center and gas was 30 cents a gallon.
Noteworthy – QB Alex Smith (trade - San Francisco) solidified the position for the Chiefs where it had been a perennial problem that just wouldn't get solved. That's not the case today because he should be further along in Reid's system in year No. 2.
In this year's draft, they picked DE Dee Ford (Auburn, round No. 1) to help with the pressure and team up with talented DE/OLB Tamba Hali and NT Dontari Poe, a former first round pick in 2012. In not much of a surprise, WR Dwayne Bowe is suspended one week by the NFL, and if you pay any attention to his career, you would realize that this is pretty much what we should expect.
If this talented athlete could keep his attention on football, he could be the best receiver in the conference, if not the entire league. Unfortunately, that isn't the case.
Basically – Reid has resurrected the program from the depths and you now expect them to be in the thick of it year in and year out. The real question is, can they win a championship? I think that a lot of things would have to fall their way for that to happen – more so for this club. I believe they can be crowd-pleasers and Arrowhead will rock, but I doubt they will hoist a Lombardi in the near future.
3) San Diego Chargers
What's Up? Talk about surprising clubs and the Chargers were right in the conversation. They were the only team to beat Denver last season at Invesco Mile High Stadium. They also swept the Chiefs in both games they played. Phillip Rivers had essentially a career year in which he had 32 TDs with 11 INTs for 4,478 yards and a 105.5 passer rating.
In the playoffs, Rivers threw for 3 TDs, with 0 INTs and 345 yards with a 116.9 rating. The guy did his job and then some.
RB Ryan Mathews rushed for 1,255 yards and six TDs, while newly acquired RB Danny Woodhead ran for 429 yards with two TDs and caught another 76 passes for 605 yards and six TDs.
TE Antonio Gates was 77 for 872 and four scores. These were the leaders, but they were not alone. All are returning for 2014.
Noteworthy – In the 2014 draft, they selected CB Jason Verrett (TCU) in round No. 1, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech) in the second, OG Chris Watt (Notre Dame) in the third, then in round No. 5, they got NT Ryan Carrethers (Arkansas State) to bolster the D-line. They moved up to take Attaochu, as he was the last pure outside linebacker left on their board. They filled their needs with young, athletic talent. Verrett is on the small side, but has ability and tenacity.
Basically – In Mike McCoy's first year as head coach, he took them from a 7-9 record to a modest 9-7, and they made some noise in the playoffs, where it counts. He has former NFL quarterback Frank Reich as his offensive coordinator and John Pagano (brother of Chuck at Indy) as his defensive coordinator.
This club has 'up' written all over them, and if Ryan Mathews can put together another solid year, he can make it easy on Rivers to put some points up.
This is another one where the three teams at the top could finish in just about any order, but it's hard to argue that Denver would be the favorite in the division.
4) Oakland Raiders
What's Up? In 2013, the Raiders finished fourth in the division with a 4-12 record. We've all seen this before, but when you score 322 total points and allow 453, you can usually see a correlation in the win-loss column.
It was generally suspected that we wouldn't see head coach Dennis Allen at the helm again this season, yet he is still calling the plays today. Allen is a decent coach, and it's understood that it's not easy to get wins when you are not dealt a winning hand. GM Reggie McKenzie is trying to turn things around, but with little cap space and lack of draft picks due to previous questionable decisions, it makes it tough to accomplish.
Noteworthy – They obtained quarterback Matt Schaub (Houston) during the offseason, obviously not having watched any film on him because he basically lost his poise, his playmaking ability, and finally, his job. It's Schaub who is supposed to groom 2014 second round pick, QB Derek Carr (Fresno State and brother of former NFL QB, David). After seeing some preseason play, I'll wager that they turn to Carr almost immediately.
In the draft, they selected excellent OLB Khalil Mack (Buffalo) with the fifth overall pick. Mack is a rare talent that many see destined for greatness in the NFL. Hopefully, that will be true – for him and for the Raiders.
In free agency, they signed RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville), a three-time pro-bowler who led the NFL in rushing yards in 2011. They also signed LB LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh) and DE Justin Tuck (Giants) to help solidify their defense.
Basically – The club is looking for a new stadium and is currently being courted by San Antonio to move the club there. Since the Forty-Niners have a new state-of-the-art facility, the Raiders want one as well, but with the price tags for such things, it doesn't look so great. It's unfortunate that the two teams didn't get together on a single facility like the Giants and Jets did with Met Life Stadium in New Jersey.
If the Raiders could put together a better season, the odds would improve, but this is one tough division to get that done. With the overall talent of the other three teams, it's difficult to see them leap-frogging any of them. It could be another dark year in the 'Black Hole'.
Okay, so we covered all 16 teams and tried to bring with it some pertinent info, an opinion, and maybe something a bit different in the process. It's a long read, but with all of the activity associated with each team, it was the only way to glean what the club is about and what the expectation may be.
Hope you enjoyed the NFC and now the AFC prognostications and remember, you may not likely agree, but I can't be technically wrong until January.
Enjoy the season and hopefully the team that you root for will be relevant come the New Year. See you then.