Picking The Best In The AFC

Bobby Curran
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Friday - September 16, 2005
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With the NFL season one week old, it’s time to size up the divisions. Everyone is optimistic about their teams’ fortunes, and some even have good reason. Here’s how it will look. This week the AFC, next week the NFC.


New England again, but this time it won’t be so easy. Tom Brady is the difference-maker, Corey Dillon cements the running game, and Daniel Graham and Ben Watson are an awesome 1-2 punch at TE. Defense is solid; look for big year from Richard Seymour.

The N.Y. Jets will push New England. QB Chad Pennington must stay healthy; Curtis Martin is still one of the league’s best, and kicker Mike Nugent gives them another weapon. On defense, look for MLB Jonathan Vilma to become a star, and Ty Law will help in the back end. Wild card, for sure.

Buffalo is putting its hopes on QB J.P. Losman, and he hasn’t even convinced his teammates he’s the guy. The O Line is average, but Willis McGahee will make a splash. Defense is athletic, but will be on the field too often and too long.

Miami’s new coach Nick Saban will do well, just not this year. QB Gus Frerotte is a stopgap, receivers are average and Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams won’t be enough. The D is strong up front with Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas, but the back end is suspect. Five wins would be good.

AFC North:

The Baltimore Ravens should return to the top with a more experienced Kyle Boller. Derrick Mason and Clarence Moore are dangerous, and rookie Mark Clayton will make the passing game speedier. TE Todd Heap is back from injury and Jamal Lewis will return to form. The D is still one of the best in football; everybody talks about Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but DE Terrell Suggs, OLB Tommy Polley and CB Chris McAlister are also first rate.

Pittsburgh will find it tougher sledding this year. QB Ben Roethlisberger will be better, but RB Jerome Bettis is way past his prime. Duce Staley is short of superstar, and they lost big receiver Plaxico Burress. The D is still formidable. The line is sturdy, all the linebackers make plays, especially James Farrior, and S Troy Polamalu is the hitter that Steeler fans love. Still a playoff team.

Cincinnati always seems to be missing something. QB Carson Palmer should improve on his 1-1 TD/INT ration, Chad Johnson is a big-time receiver, and Rudi Johnson is underrated. Add a quality TE and this unit could be very productive. The defense is a sieve; there are not enough play-makers. More guys like DE Justin Smith and maybe this group can do something.

Cleveland is lousy. QB Trent Dilfer is adequate, WR Antonio Bryant has intensity issues, and Braylon Edwards is a rookie. TE Kelvin Winslow is out again, and the running game is sub-par. Moving to the 3-4 on defensive will take time; linebackers are young and line is unheralded.

AFC South:

Indianapolis has the most explosive offense in the league. QB Peyton Manning has no regular season equals. WR’s Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley are excellent, RB Edgerin James is a threat, and the line allows it all to happen. The defense consists of two words: Dwight Freeney. If he gets help, they can be great.

Jacksonville has one of the league’s least-productive offenses, but that could change with the maturity of QB Byron Leftwich. WR’s Jimmy Smith and Reggie Williams will be joined by Matt Jones and Chad Owens. RB Fred Taylor needs a big year. Jags are fine on D. The line is magnificent. DE Reggie Heyward is a rushmeister; S Donovan Darius and MLB Mike Peterson are play-makers.

Tennessee hopes Norm Chow will rejuvenate the offense. QB Steve McNair must stay healthy, RB Chris Brown needs a good year, and WR Drew Bennett has to prove he’s a No 1 type receiver. The D is unspectacular, although LB Keith Bulluck is a tackling machine. They need more big-play guys.

Houston is now in its adolescence after being an expansion baby. It’s time for QB David Carr to prove he warranted all the hype. Yes, the line is lousy, but all those sacks! WR Andre Johnson is the real deal, and RB Dominick Davis might be a star with better blocking. On D, they’re better in the front than in the back end, but will struggle against good passing attacks.

AFC West:

San Diego is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NFL. Almost nobody believes that they’ll repeat last year’s success. But I do.

QB Drew Brees is a more confident QB, RB LaDanian Tomlinson is the best in the world, and TE Antonio Gates is the best pass-catcher at his position. WR Eric Parker needs to break out. On D, DT Jamal Williams, LB Donnie Edwards and OLB Steve Foley are all guys who make plays.

Denver is a hard team to figure, because QB Jake Plummer is a mystery. He’s like the girl with the curl - when he’s good he’s very very good, but when he’s bad, man, he’s horrible. RBs Mike Andersen and Tatum Bell are good, WR’s Red Smith and former UH star Ashley Lelie are above average. On D, LB’s Al Wilson, DJ Williams and Ian Gold are all quality guys, CB Champ Bailey is a great cover corner, and you’ve got former UH kicker Jason Elam and punter Todd Sauerbrun.

Kansas City has old stars. QB Trent Green and RB Priest Holmes may have their best years behind them. The receivers are OK, but the arrival of Freddie (I’d like to thank my hands) Mitchell is no help. Defense will be average, but LB Derrick Johnson is going to be a superstar.

Oakland. Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan should help, but Kerry Collins is missing something. WR Jerry Porter is big time. On defense, Warren Sapp is on the downward slope and there aren’t enough playmakers for the Raiders to contend.

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