The months between the Super Bowl and season opener can be horrible for die hard football fans. Any bit of football news is all we have to satiate ourselves until the drought subsides. Sure this off-season saw some interesting roster changes, whiny wide receivers, off-field mishaps and the return of Michael Vick. But patience definitely is definitely a virtue when your off-season is almost half a year.
Thankfully, the wait is finally over. The TSS sports collective has come together and provided our predictions for the regular season. We’re starting off with the AFC in the spirit of tonight’s matchup between the 2008 Superbowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2008 AFC South Division Champion Tennessee Titans. We’ll hit you up with the rest of the conference along with the NFC soon enough. But for now, sit back, read and get mad at our picks.
Just realize that we’re all armchair quarterbacks here.
AFC North: MZ
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
It’d be easy to pick Pittsburgh just based on them being the reigning Super Bowl champions. Their defense is stout, their offense is good & they are the best at withstanding injuries. If Willie Parker & Rashard Mendenhall can combine to give them a formidable rushing attack, it’ll take keep the defenses honest on Big Ben and Santonio Holmes.
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)
Baltimore’s defense has been an ageless wonder and will go through an adjustment period with coordinator Rex Ryan moving on the helm the Jets. Despite their advancement in age, the unit has been around long enough and should be good for at least one more season. Joe Flacco proved his self to be a formidable signal caller and now needs some weapons at receiver for him to continue his development. Until then, they’ll continue to rely on the running back trio of McGahee, Rice & McClain.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-8)
Carson Palmer is returning after missing a year due to an elbow injury and as he goes, so goes the Bengals offense. If he can get the offense near the caliber it was in 2005, it will take pressure off a young, but talented and improving defense. If they can do this and/or either of the teams above them falter, they could compete for the division.
4. Cleveland Browns (3-13)
Cleveland is hoping that Eric Mangini will bring a little bit more that Belechick magic than Romeo Crennel did. Things don’t look promising as Derek Anderson & Brady Quinn go through yet another quarterback battle and the locker room is divided between the two. Joshua Cribbs & Phil Dawson are probably the teams most consistent player and their both special teams players. Not a good sign.
AFC South: S. Cadet
1. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
Big brother Peyton and company will be back atop the division standings behind Jim Caldwell. Sure he’s unproven but he knows the system like the back of his hand and he’s a long time disciple of Tony Dungy. Joseph Addai will be the big man in the back field since Domenic Rhodes is out of the equation.
2. Tennessee Titans (10-6)
The Titans ridiculous O-line, stacked RB tandem of LenDale White and Chris Johnson along with competent play from Kerry Collins worked wonders for them last year. In the meantime Vince Young
cried watched from the sidelines and will continue to do so as Kerry starts this year. The talent pool will have more struggles with the Steeler’s transplant and starting WR hopeful Nate Washington: out with a hamstring for at least the season opener. It’s evident that the Titans have their work cut out for them with younger set of wide receivers (excluding Justin Gage) and a tougher schedule than last year’s campaign. With that said they’re more than capable of grabbing a wildcard spot albeit with some suspect defense in tow.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
Once wildcard surprises, this organization’s 15 minutes of fame were dashed almost as soon as last season started. Much of the blame was placed on David Garrard’s inconsistent play, in stark contrast to his brilliance in 2007. Still he can’t get be totally responsible considering key offensive linemen were injured. DG is prime for a comeback but without much offensive talent outside of Maurice Jones-Drew it’ll be tough for the Jags to get a shot at the wildcard.
4. Houston Texans (7-9)
Matt Schaub and company made some big strides last year. Usually relegated as the division laughingstocks, the Texans were a game away from a wildcard bid. Steve Slaton is capable of a breakout year and Mario Williams will build as one of the best Defensive Ends in the league. The main thing holding them back is a harder schedule, poor pass protection and Jacksonville’s re-emergence from a tough season.
AFC East: Patrick M.
1. New England Patriots (12-4)
Brady’s back and last week’s sore shoulder masked the fact that he threw two bombs to Moss for TD in his last preseason game. Plus last year’s sneakily dominant running game provides an alternative offensive outlet if Brady loses his mojo. An aging defense, especially at linebacker, and a tough schedule are the only roadblocks keeping the Pats from dropping another 14-2 or better season on the league. (I am picking them to win the Super Bowl of course.)
2. New York Jets (8-8)
There’s a lot to like about the team from the shores of New Jersey’s parking lots. Leon Washington, Dustin Keller and Jerricho Cotchery are building blocks of a big-play offense. New coach Rex Ryan is a defensive guru and has players to work with. But the big hole under center hasn’t been filled. Matt Sanchez may be the future, but he aint the present.
3. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Welcome to a first place schedule. By the end of last year’s season, Miami was clearly inferior to the AFC’s elite, getting slaughtered by New England on their own field before barely navigating through a cupcake schedule to hold on to their playoff spot. Yes I’m bitter. The reckoning comes this year.
4. Buffalo Bills (7-9)
TO couldn’t get along with Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, or Tony Romo and now he’s going to behave with Trent Edwards throwing him the ball? This is going to be an epic train wreck. Get ya popcorn ready.
AFC West: Jason Hortillas
1. San Diego Chargers (10-6)
When it comes to the AFC West, you can bank on the San Diego Chargers to take the top slot. Even with an aging Ladainian Tomlinson, the Bolts have other weapons like emerging talents Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson. It doesn’t hurt that Shawne Merriman is back healthy to bring back fear into their “D.” SD is solid nevertheless but I won’t be impressed until they get deep into the playoffs.
2. Denver Broncos (8-8)
The only team that San Diego has to look over their shoulder is the Denver Broncos but the soap opera in Colorado isn’t over. Getting rid of their top ten QB in Jay Cutler seemed like addition by subtraction. But it also seems like adding Kyle Orton inversely is subtraction by addition? It makes sense, trust me. Unfortunately WR Brandon Marshall has his own plea for getting out of the Mile High City. In addition, new coach Josh McDaniels replaces franchise legend Mike Shanahan. Luckily bright spots like Eddie Royal should keep the fans in the seats.
3. Oakland Raiders (6-10)
We all know The Oakland Raiders have been a perennial mess with unproven young talent. Bringing in veteran help in solid journeyman QB Jeff Garcia is an improvement at the position. Hopefully his lead and mentorship of JaMarcus Russell will improve a squad of novices – coach included. I won’t be surprised if this team makes some upsets this year. I also won’t be surprised if they don’t make the playoffs either.
4. Kansas City Chiefs (5-11)
The Kansas City Chiefs have upgraded their quarterback this year with former New England backup Matt Cassel. Unfortunately the kid is already hurt and this experiment is initially a flop for now. Siimply put, No Tony Gonzales and a Larry Johnson past his prime makes success scarce for KC.