Tag:AFC North and South Preview
Posted on: September 8, 2009 6:21 pm

AFC North and East Preview Plus Playoff Preview

I like to think of this division as the black and blue division of the NFL.  Well, two of the four teams represent that, and those are the only two teams that I can see doing anything this year. 

AFC North-
4.  Cleveland Browns:
    Has Eric Mangini gone off of the deep end or is he showing his true colors of being a Bill Belichick disciple?  I am not sure, but what I do know is that the Browns season is going to be an interesting one.  Some Browns fans are already chirping about how Mangini is running the team.  There is some talent on offense, but the defense, well they are another story altogether.

    Who to Watch For- ? No, that is a joke, sort of.  The man to watch this year is the quarterback; unfortunately we just do not know which person it will be.  Brady Quinn will probably start game one against the Minnesota Vikings, but that doesn’t mean he will get all the snaps for the season.  In fact, unless Quinn gets off to a hot start, Anderson will probably get some playing time and sooner than most Quinn fans would want. 

Final Outlook and Analysis-
    The Browns are such a weird team to me.  They have players on offense, but the quarterback position seems to be one of the biggest questions, if not the biggest question on the offense.  I am excited to see what the running back situation ends up looking like, as I like both Jerome Harrison and James Davis behind Jamal Lewis.  The defense needs to find a way to get to the quarterback, as I don’t see where the pass rush is going to come from.  One thing you can count on from an Eric Mangini coached team is, there will be no shortage
of drama throughout the year.

3.  Cincinnati Bengals:
    The Bengals have already had a rough start to the season.  Between the injuries to Carson Palmer, the holdout of first round pick Andre Smith, and then the subsequent injury to Smith, the season has not gotten off to the best start.  On the bright side, all reports out of Bengals camp is Chad Ochocinco is going to have a stellar comeback year and the defense has steadily improved.  Can they get back into contention and make a push for the playoffs?  Can they save Marvin Lewis’ job?

    Who to Watch For- Carson Palmer was emerging as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, until injury and ineffectiveness set in.  Now he needs to get back to that level for the Bengals to have any chance of getting back to the playoffs again.  With a motivated Ochocinco and a running game that showed some life last year, the offense has the weapons to get the job done, but they will only go as far as Palmer takes them.

Final Outlook and Analysis-

    Bengals fans still have to pulling their hair out of what could have been.  The Bengals seemed primed to make a move and stay at or near the top of the AFC North, until that fateful day against the Steelers.  Now, they seem to be regressing instead of progressing.  Marvin Lewis has the defense playing better, but can he get enough out of them to keep his job?  I like the roster, I just don’t know with the schedule and in the division they play in if they can get into the playoffs. 

2.  Baltimore Ravens:

    Few expected Joe Flacco to be the steadying force on offense that the Ravens had lacked since the Trent Dilfer era.  With Flacco at the helm and Le’Ron McClain running the ball well, the Ravens made it deep into the playoffs.  The defense, well they are always good, and while they may be slowing down a little bit; there are maybe only two or three other defenses as good as theirs.  The question really is, can Flacco stay consistent, or will he suffer a sophomore slump?

    Who to Watch For- Willis McGahee and Ray Rice have to step up this year.  With McClain going back to fullback and not being identified as a primary ball carrier that means that McGahee and Rice will get the bulk of the carries.  They both have the ability to form a nice 1-2 punch in the running game, and with the ball control style offense the coach Harbaugh wants to run, these two have to be able to get chunks of yards at a time on first down and set up the offense for Joe Flacco.  If they can do that, they will have another successful season, because their defense will keep them in most games.  If the running game struggles, well it could be a long season.

Final Outlook and Analysis-

    The defense is so good, that they will be in games all year long.  That means the offense needs to produce just enough to keep Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and company on the sidelines to get some rest, and put up around 17 points a game.  Ball control is the name of the game for Baltimore, and if they win the battle for ball control, well most weeks that will mean they win the game.  Baltimore is headed in the right direction and with a couple more moves on the offensive side of the ball; they could be contender in the AFC for years to come.

1. Pittsburgh Steelers:

 More than anything, I think the Steelers want to prove that they can be a competitive team again after they win the Super Bowl, because I have to believe 2006 was one of the worst seasons in Bill Cowher’s career, just from the standpoint of missing the playoffs.  Now, it is Mike Tomlin’s turn to prepare his troops for the upcoming season as the reigning champs.  I see no reason, if for pride reasons only, that the Steelers don’t come out and win the AFC North and make another run in the playoffs.  Is a Super Bowl in their future?  Well we are not there yet, but I will let you know soon enough.

    Who to Watch For- Ben Roethlisberger has had another interesting offseason, to say the least.  From an outsiders view, Big Ben seems to be one of those guys that gets on the field and puts his personal life out of sight and out of mind for 4 hours a week.  Can he improve on his pedestrian regular season numbers from last year?  Does it matter?  Ben seems to rise to the occasion, and already has a career worth of post season wins to prove that all of those mediocre regular season numbers mean nothing.  But, can he make the jump and get the respect of the casual fan, and not just hardcore football fans and Steelers fan?  Again, does it really matter?

Final Outlook and Analysis-

    The Madden Curse is the only thing I see stopping the Steelers from repeating as AFC North Champs and making another nice playoff run.  They have a nice balance on offense, and still have the best defense in the NFL.  This season is about nothing more than pride for the Steelers, as they do not want another let down after a Super Bowl win.  With Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and the rest of the Steelers defense back and healthy they are in for another nice season, at least.

AFC East-

I don’t have many days left before the kick off of the Titans-Steelers matchup, so I am going to continue our trek through the AFC and give you my thoughts on the Patriots division, I mean AFC East, as well as my playoff predictions, AFC MVP, AFC Defensive Player of the Year, AFC Rookie of the Year and AFC Coach of the Year.

4. Buffalo Bills:

    A tough season in a tough division is not what Dick Jauron needed.  The Bills coach has seemingly been on the hot seat, for what seems like forever.   They made the bold move of adding Terrell Owens to a offense that is pretty good in the first place. The main concern, as we will see in a little bit has to be the offensive line and the defense seems to always have injury issues that hamper what should be a top 12 unit in the league.

    Who to Watch For- The offensive line has to come together for the Bills to have any chance this season.  They are starting rookies at both guard positions, and traded away their Pro Bowl left tackle, even though he has struggled in the preseason for the Eagles.  They will be without their best running back for their first four games of the season, and their back up Fred Jackson is banged up.  The offensive line must find some cohesiveness and fast, or this could be a long and painful season for the Bills backfield.

Final Outlook and Analysis- 

    I had some slight hope for the Bills when they brought in another weapon for Trent Edwards in the off season, but the struggles of the offensive line in the preseason now outweighs any good feelings I had for this team.  I really like what they have on the defensive side of the ball, I just don’t know if they will get enough rest in order to stay healthy and productive through the season.  I am marking it down right now, Dick Jauron is the first coach fired in the 2009 NFL season.

3. New York Jets   

    Call me crazy, but I love the Jets this season for some unfathomable reason.  I really had to talk myself into putting them at three in the AFC East, since I can confidently say I see them getting to 10-6 and making a run at the playoffs this year.  All of that said, I went with my head instead of my gut, since I have no rooting interest for the Jets and put them as the third place team in the East.  The only reason why is because I want to see Rex Ryan coach a game or two before I put them in the playoffs.

    Who to Watch For- I hope Mark Sanchez has Eli Manning’s phone number and can give Eli a call and ask about the pressure’s of playing in a rabid city like New York.  Sanchez is the key piece to the Jets playoff hopes, as we saw last year with this team, they were a quarterback away from getting into the playoffs.  Now, they think believe they have a quarterback who can not only get them into the playoffs, but can be the face of the franchise for years to come.  Pretty heavy stuff for a kid who started one year in college football, and has had injury concerns throughout his playing career.  But, for some reason, I believe in him and think he will be a good one for years to come.

Final Outlook and Analysis-

    As I said earlier, I went with my head and put this team third in the division, but I would not be shocked to see them finish in second and push for a Wild Card berth.  Of course I am having this faith without their quarterback or head coach having done anything yet in the NFL.  I guess it is the fact that between their offensive line, running backs, including Shonne Greene, and potentially dominant defense I just like the makeup of their team.  We will see, but I would not be shocked if they went 10-6 or 6-10, that is the kind of year Jets fans have to look forward too. 

2.  Miami Dolphins:

    Last years out of nowhere team is getting a lot of love this season and I even am buying in a little bit.  I love the way that Bill Parcells has constructed this team, and Chad Pennington has proven to be a winner in his career.  Add in one of the better 1-2 punches in the league at running back and I could see this team again making a run to the playoffs. 

    Who to Watch For- The wide receivers for the Miami Dolphins flat out scare me.  You have a return specialist trying to find out how to be a receiver in the NFL in Ted Ginn Jr. and an undrafted free agent who is somehow not only on a roster, but will be starting for a playoff contender.  I love the offensive line and running back situation in Miami, but those guys at wide receiver scare me, but hey it worked out ok last year.

Final Outlook and Analysis-

    This is a team that overachieves, but does so because their coach and General Manager know how to play to their strengths and hide their weaknesses.  The defense is solid and the offense has the ability to move the ball up and down the field effectively.  Do they have enough at wide receiver to open up the running lanes for Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams?  Does Chad Pennington have another solid year left in him?  I think so, and I expect this team to battle for a playoff spot till the end of the year.

1.    New England Patriots

Not much needs to be said.  Quite simply they are one of, if not the best teams in the league.  They have their franchise quarterback healthy and ready to go.  They have added a little more to the running game as well as another good receiver in Joey Galloway.  The season seems to be a formality if everyone stays healthy and I see no reason other than another major injury, that they will not win this division and make the playoffs.

    Who to Watch For-  While everyone wants to see if Tom Brady is back and healthy, I really could care less.  I want to see if this defense can stop anyone from scoring.  If they can’t here is a friendly tip, always bet the over in the Patriots games this year.  The trading of Richard Seymour makes these concerns even more magnified to me, but I don’t see it being a problem in the regular season.
Final Outlook and Analysis-

    This team is stacked on offense, and while I don’t see record setting numbers like they had two years ago, I see no reason that this team does not roll through the regular season and into the playoffs with one of the top seeds in the AFC.

AFC Playoff Predictions:

Division Winners

1.    New England Patriots
2.    San Diego Chargers
3.    Pittsburgh Steelers
4.    Indianapolis Colts

Wild Cards

Tennessee Titans
Baltimore Ravens

Playoffs Week 1 Games:

Pittsburgh over Tennessee

Indy over Baltimore

2nd Round

New England over Indianapolis

Pittsburgh over San Diego

AFC Championship Game

New England over Pittsburgh

AFC MVP - Tom Brady

AFC Defensive Player of the Year - Mario Williams

AFC Rookie of the Year - Mark Sanchez

AFC Coach of the Year - John Harbaugh

Category: NFL
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com