Joe's 2012 NFL Preview: The AFC

September 09, 2012

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Joe Anello

Joe's 2012 NFL Preview: The AFC

In 2011 the AFC was a fickly creature. The AFC North entered three teams into the playoff race while the Patriots dominated the East. The West division saw Tebow and the Broncos make it to the postseason with only eight wins. And in the South the Texans finally rose to the hype. What’s going to happen in 2012?

AFC East

Despite some of the postseason “success” the Jets had in the early days of Rex Ryan, the AFC East still belongs to the New England Patriots. But the Jets have fallen off the cliff, the Bills are in limbo, and the Dolphins are clearly rebuilding with a rookie quarterback. Fun times in the AFC East!

New England Patriots

It seems like forever ago that Bill Belichick’s Patriots were the last team standing. In 2011 they got close, losing another heartbreaking Super Bowl to the New York Giants. In 2012 they’ve reloaded. Belichick drafted end Chandler Jones and linebacker Don’t’a Hightower in the first two of six consecutive picks on the defensive side of the ball. Jones will make an immediate impact rushing off the edge, where the Pats need it most. When the offense hits the field, they’ll look the same on the outside at the skill positions, but the offensive line could be a major issue. Nate Solder will now be a full-time left tackle and Sebastian Vollmer keeps struggling on the right side. Despite those issues, Tom Brady still has Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and the Gronk. And now he’s got Brandon Lloyd on the outside as well. If Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen can shine at running back, the Patriots are going to be a handful.
2011 Record: 13-3
2012 Prediction: 14-2

New York Jets

I really don’t want to spend an entire paragraph on these assclowns. They’ve got Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow, neither of whom is a good quarterback. They have one decent receiver in Santonio Holmes, but he’s too much of a tool to play nice for long. Shonn Greene is a good back, but he’s going to be pushed to the limit behind a shaky offensive line with a rookie right tackle. Dustin Keller is a great tight end, but his durability has come into question in the past few years. As for Rex Ryan’s defense, they’re good, but aging fast. Muhammad Wilkerson was a need pick at 3-4 defensive end, but he won’t be enough to generate the type of pass rush the Jets really need. Bart Scott’s an ass. (All I wanted to say about him.) They still have Revis and Cromartie at the corner slots. There’s talent sure, but the Jets are going to need to make consistent plays on defense if they can make up for crappy QB play. I’m expecting a large drop-off in wins, due mostly to an inept offense. (Sorry, but the wildcat won’t help much.)
2011 Record: 8-8
2012 Prediction: 6-10

Miami Dolphins

The 2012 Miami Dolphins could be a clone of the 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars. There will be a rookie quarterback who struggles with no one to throw at while a laudable but exhausted defense tries to keep games in reach. Ryan Tannehill is in for a rude awakening if the best receiver on the roster is Davone Bess out of the slot. Reggie Bush isn’t what he was (and what he was wasn’t all that good) and Jake Long is the only real dependable offensive lineman. That won’t help. Miami’s defense is worse after they trade corner Vontae Davis, meaning they won’t be able to hang around in games either. This team could be terrible you guys. Like, first overall pick bad. Four wins seems like an optimistic prediction.
2011 Record: 6-10
2012 Prediction: 4-12

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo has been a tough team for me to figure out. Are they the team that started out so hot last year at 4-1 or are they the squad that lost eight of their last nine to finish before .500? Adding Mario Williams to the defensive line is going to be a huge boost to that unit, clearly. But when you add Mark Anderson at the other edge with Marcell Dareus at d-tackle, it gets scary up front. They drafted Stephon Gilmore to help out at corner, meaning the Bill defense has rounded out nicely. Ryan Fitzpatrick leads an offense that has potential, but likely not the production. Stevie Johnson is good but not great, Fred Jackson is reliable but not spectacular, and C.J. Spiller is dynamic but not durable. They’re starting a rookie at left tackle in Cordy Glenn, so who knows how that’s going to work out. Buffalo is a conundrum to me. So that’s exactly why I have them at the middle of the road.
2011 Record: 6-10
2012 Prediction: 8-8
 


AFC North

Always a physical division, the AFC North has long been a two-man race between the Steelers and the Ravens. Last season the Bengals seemed to get in on the fun, earning a wildcard spot in the postseason. But who will emerge in 2012? And are the Browns really as bad as everyone thinks?

Pittsburgh Steelers

So that Steeler offensive line… it was supposed to stabilize with the drafting of guard David DeCastro, but his knee injury has put him on IR (with the Return designation), meaning the Steelers face the same problem as last season. Can they protect Big Ben long enough for him to make the big play down the field? Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, and Emmanuel Sanders are a fearsome receiver corps, so the Steelers aren’t lacking for playmakers. Heath Miller has only gotten better as a tight end. But can Pittsburgh keep a healthy running back? Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman have issues that could linger early in the season, leaving Jonathan Dwyer to carry most of the load. I’m still a fan of the Steeler defense, but those linebackers are old, yo. But they’ve got Troy Polamalu sitting behind them and Ike Taylor on the outside, so they can hide those deficiencies better than some. Wins in the low double-digits seems like a safe bet.
2011 Record: 12-4
2012 Prediction: 10-6

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore is abuzz with the talk of this new “no-huddle” offense that Joe Flacco is helming. While I agree that their offense needed some adjustments (as it does mostly every year), I’m not positive this is the way to go. The Raven offensive line isn’t as solid as it should be, and Bryant McKinnie won’t play in the opener. Ray Rice should have another productive season, but they’re going to need more than that. Anquan Boldin hasn’t proven to be enough either. Torrey Smith and one of their young tight ends (either Ed Dickson or Dennis Pitta) need to step up this year and bring this offense to the next level. Until there’s an intimidating presence on the outside, the Ravens are going to see a lot of busy fronts. Courtney Upshaw fell to them in the second round, hopefully giving them a value on the outside that can get to the passer. I really like their 3-4 defensive front, but this defense isn’t as complete as it once was. I don’t see 12-4 again, but it wouldn’t shock me.
2011 Record: 12-4
2012 Prediction: 10-6

Cleveland Browns

PFFFFT. Yeah, we’re talking the Browns now folks. Get ready. They drafted a running back third overall in Trent Richardson who already had arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason. Then in the second round they picked a 28-year old quarterback that’s going to start week one. I like their left tackle and center, but the offensive line isn’t without its flaws. Their receivers are decent, but not spectacular. Jabaal Sheard turned out to be an adept 4-e end, racking up 8.5 sacks in his rookie campaign. They’re going to need a lot more of that if corner Joe Haden ends up having to serve a four-game suspension at some point during the year. (How is that not settled yet?) I would say they’re not a terrible team, but my prediction clearly says otherwise. I don’t believe the offense is capable of putting up more than 13 points a game. That dog don’t hunt. (Yes, it’s a saying.)
2011 Record: 4-12
2012 Prediction: 3-13

Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Dalton will be in his second year as a starter, but I don’t know if I see significant growth in 2012. A.J. Green on the other hand, should have a huge year. They let Cedric Benson go in free agency and brought in BenJarvus Green-Ellis from the Patriots. While I’m fine with Green-Ellis, he’s not a very talented back. He’s solid at best. Drafting Kevin Zeitler will solidify the right guard spot, but the line isn’t spectacular. I like the Cincy defense, but not overly so. Their secondary is anchored by corners Nate Clements, Leon Hall and now the rookie Dre Kirkpatrick, letting safeties Reggie Nelson and Taylor Mays roam and create havoc. In my opinion, this team overachieved in 2011, so taking a small step back in terms of their record is to be expected.
2011 Record: 9-7
2012 Prediction: 8-8
 


AFC South

This division is going through some significant changes. It’s growing up, learning about girls, and realizing it has to shower daily. And besides Jacksonville, each team is starting a QB that didn’t finish the season for them last year. There’s a learning curve in the AFC South in 2012.

Indianapolis Colts

The 2012 Indianapolis Colts are going to look very different than the Colts we’ve frown used to over the years. Number one overall pick Andrew Luck has brought with him hopes for immediate success in Post-Peyton Manning era. The Colts re-signed Reggie Wayne and drafted Luck’s college tight end Coby Fleener to help Luck along. Indy’s offense will be obviously improved from the train wreck of last season (thanks in large part to Luck), but the defense will still have holes. Chuck Pagano’s installing a 3-4 scheme with still some 4-3 parts, so it will be a work in progress. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney must adjust to playing outside linebacker. One of the bigger trades of the offseason came recently as the Colts brought in corner Vontae Davis from the Dolphins. Davis represents a significant upgrade as well as a key component in Pagano’s system. Indianapolis will win more games than last season, that’s for certain. They’re turning into a “sexy” pick, but I’m not there yet. Luck might be the best rookie ever, but that’s still a lot to ask of the remnants of the team that went 2-14.
2011 Record: 2-14
2012 Prediction: 6-10

Jacksonville Jaguars

It happens every year. Some “underpaid” running back holds out and misses most of training camp. Then he either gets his deal and reports or comes back with his tail tucked into his butthole. But each of those running backs struggles to find their groove early in the season and ends having a crappy year. That’s something the Jaguars can ill afford form Maurice Jones-Drew, as they’ll be depending on him to aid second year QB Blaine Gabbert. Jacksonville drafted WR Justin Blackmon in the first round of the draft to help Gabbert along, which means the QB actually has a weapon on the outside. They chose Andre Branch in the second round to help out their pass rush, but the real weapon came in the third when they chose punter Bryan Anger… I’m sorry; I still can’t believe they did that. DO you know who drafts punters in the third round? Idiots, that’s who. They won’t suck as badly as they should for that mistake.
2011 Record: 5-11
2012 Prediction: 6-10


Can someone help this guy out? This hair can't leave the league. (I also couldn't find a douchey picture of Blaine. Good sign.)

Houston Texans 

Everyone’s dark horse to win the AFC/Super Bowl AGAIN. They finally made the leap from pretender to contender last year, even as rookie T.J. Yates was forced to start down the stretch. This season Matt Schaub is back under center with Arian Foster, Owen Daniels, and Andre Johnson to support him. The problem is: one of those players is hurt EVERY game. Last season the Texan defense was taken over by Wade Phillips, who turned it from a hilarious joke to a serious threat. This year they won’t be as potent due to the loss of Mario Williams, but J.J Watt came on strong as the season progressed, giving the Texan faithful hope for life after Williams. The South should be theirs once again.
2011 Record: 10-6
2012 Prediction: 11-5

Tennessee Titans

Even though he’s not a rookie QB, Jake Locker is pretty green. He’s got a ton of raw talent but hasn’t gotten a chance to hone it in enough meaningful regular season action. Kenny Britt will be suspended for the first game of the year, but after that I’d expect the young receiver to have another strong year. Ya know, if he stays healthy and not stupid. More than anything, the Titans offense desperately needs Chris Johnson to return to pre-fat contract form. If he doesn’t, that offense is going nowhere. On the flip side, Tennessee signed pass rush Kamerion Wimbley from the Raiders, giving them another threat to get to the quarterback. Unfortunately, they lost corner Cortland Finnegan in free agency, so their back end isn’t as battle-tested. The Titans won’t be an AFC cellar-dweller, but they won’t exactly be challenging for the division title either.
2011 Record: 9-7
2012 Prediction: 5-11
 


AFC West

I’m not sure this division is total garbage anymore. At least not totally. The Broncos popped into the driver’s seat by default last year, as three teams finished 8-8 and the other ended the season at 7-9. That was under Tim Tebow. Tebow’s not driving that car anymore. How has the landscape in the NFC West changed?

Kansas City Chiefs

Is anyone impressed with Matt Cassel yet? Because I have NO IDEA how to read this guy. Sometimes I think he’s a smart thrower who avoids turnovers and other times I just don’t think the coaches trust him to air it out. This year he won’t have any excuses with Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hills in the backfield and Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin on the outside. Romeo Crennel’s defense really came on down the stretch despite several injuries. Getting Dontari Poe to plug up the middle of that 3-4 was significant. If they can produce any sort of pass rush it will let a steady secondary make plays on the ball. I put them at 7-9 with the understanding that they’ll be a better team this year, but with the AFC North and NFC South in their schedule, there are some losses to be found.
2011 Record: 7-9
2012 Prediction: 7-9
 

San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers had an off year. It was odd, but at least we had a legitimate reason for the Chargers’ woes. Rivers can’t struggle for a second straight year or Norv Turner will be out of a job. On the offensive line, left tackle Omar Gaither won’t be available week one with back spasms. Hopefully it’s not a recurring injury, as Rivers needs protection in order to strike down the field. However, with Vincent Jackson no longer on the roster, who’s going to stretch the defense? I don’t trust Malcolm Floyd as a number one. And RB Ryan Matthews is the very definition of injury prone, so a consistent running game is likely out of the question as well. Sure they still have Antonio Gates, but he won’t be enough.  And looking at the Charger defense… it just looks old and/or mediocre. Quentin Jammer is past his prime at corner. Takeo Spikes is a castaway from several defenses. Melvin Ingram is some fresh blood, but let’s see what we get out of him before he’s the new Shawne Merriman. San Diego’s window will continue to close.\
2011 Record: 8-8
2012 Prediction: 7-9



Oakland Raiders

When the Raiders pulled off a blockbuster trade for sorta-retired QB Carson Palmer, they put the NFL on notice. And that notice read “If you want to dump your garbage, we’ll take it.” I’m convinced Palmer has nothing left, something that will be proven right or wrong this season. Oakland is chock-full of receivers that stretch the field, but they have a quarterback that can’t throw deep anymore. Darren McFadden is a tremendous talent, but like so many running backs he has a hard time staying on the field. They didn’t pick until the 3rd round of the draft, so they didn’t get any younger. They signed Ron Bartell to fill the gap left at corner by Stanford Routt, but the defense depends on pressure from the front four. Richard Seymour is another year older and has certainly lost a step. And Tommy Kelly is still way overpaid. Oh Oakland. Mediocre at best.
2011 Record: 8-8
2012 Prediction: 4-12
 

Denver Broncos

It’s fitting that I wrap up my NFL previews with the team that is most on the minds of football fans. After missing an entire year for Indianapolis, Peyton Manning is back in the league. He’s at the helm of the Denver Broncos, who traded away Tim Tebow to gain an undistracted shot at greatness with Manning. Peyton automatically makes Eric Decker, Brandon Stokley, Demaryius Thomas, and Joel Dreessen threats for huge years. The talented Ryan Clady is indispensable at the left tackle spot, but now he has the pressure of protecting a veteran QB. I still think the Broncos can’t rely on Willis McGahee as their top back, but with Manning under center this offense is going to put up points either way. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil will certainly be meeting frequently at the opposing quarterback, but I think Denver’s defense played above its head a bit last season. They might drop back down to Earth, but that offense gives them at least two extra wins from 2011.
2011 Record: 8-8
2012 Prediction: 11-5


Oh man. I think I’m done now. Oh wait. No I’m not. Check back soon for The Opening Drive of Week one!

 

 

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