Thursday, August 03, 2006

AFC Preview: Year of the Colts? [EdMcGon]

Two years ago, the Steelers dominated the AFC, only to lose in the playoffs.

Last year, the Colts dominated the AFC during the season, only to come up short in the playoffs to the Super Bowl Champion Steelers.

Can the Colts repeat the Steelers success this year?

AFC East:
1. Dolphins**
2. Patriots*
3. Bills
4. Jets

The Dolphins finished strong last year, winning their last six games. The addition of Daunte Culpepper can only make them better. Good enough to win the division?

Perhaps, but never count the Patriots out. They do more with less better than anyone.

Did I mention the Bills and Jets also play in this division? I use the word "play" loosely. They "show up for games" is probably a better description.

AFC North:
1. Bengals**
2. Ravens
3. Steelers
4. Browns

Sorry Steeler fans, but the Bengals win this one again. While Marvin Lewis is doing his best to channel Al Davis by doing more scouting at police stations than colleges, even the team's legal problems cannot bring these Bengals down. They are the class of the AFC North, even if they have too many players with no class.

Even though I have the Ravens in second place, don't be fooled: They are a .500 team. They will be better with Steve McNair and Derrick Mason together again, but this team is OLD! They will not be in the playoffs unless they get lucky.

The Steelers drop to third place because the retirement of Jerome Bettis legitimately hurts them. Duce Staley is no "Bus". Losing Antwaan Randle El does not help either. They will also be around a .500 team.

I mostly like what the Browns have done, but their season depends on how successful quarterback Charlie Frye is. If Frye is going to be the franchise QB they need, he will have to show a lot more this year. Expect the Browns to start slowly and pick up steam as the season moves along, finishing with 6-7 wins.

AFC South:
1. Colts**
2. Jaguars
3. Texans
4. Titans

Can the Colts be just as successful without Edgerrin James? No, but they will be successful enough. Between Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai, they should be able to put together enough of a running game to keep defenses honest. Expect them to get 10-12 wins.

The Jaguars are a solid team, but not exceptional. They have talent, but can their talent stay healthy? RB "Fragile" Fred Taylor is getting old. QB Byron Leftwich tries to play through his pain, but his problem centers on his immobility, which leads to him getting hurt much too often. Don't expect another 12 win season like last year, but they MIGHT still make the playoffs IF they stay healthy.

The enigma in this division is the Texans. Are they really as bad as they played last year? My gut feeling is that new coach Gary Kubiak will get them playing up to their potential. Just how much potential remains to be seen.

The Titans made all the right moves in the draft this year, picking up QB Vince Young and RB LenDale White. However, this is still a rebuilding year for the Titans.

AFC West:
1. Broncos**
2. Chargers*
3. Chiefs
4. Raiders

This division is the cream of the AFC's crop. Any of the top three teams could win the division, but at least two of them should make the playoffs.

The Broncos are certainly no worse than last year. Losing RB Mike Anderson will not hurt, as they have Tatum Bell and Ron Dayne as one of the deepest running tandems in the NFL. QB Jake Plummer might feel a little pressure from rookie Jay Cutler, but don't expect to see Cutler this year.

The man to watch on the Chargers will be QB Phil Rivers. Don't be surprised if he rocks the NFL in his first season as starter. The Chargers knew what they were doing when they got rid of Drew Brees.

I put the Chiefs in third place because I am not sold on head coach Herm Edwards. Add in the Chiefs' swiss cheese defense, and there will be some rebuilding going on in Kansas City. On the plus side, RB Larry Johnson will keep this team competitive. They should get 7-9 wins.

Last is my favorite team, the Raiders. I love the Raiders. I liked the hiring of Art Shell. I didn't like the addition of QB Aaron Brooks. While he might do a little better with the Raiders than he did with the Saints, don't be fooled. He is a loser. On the bright side, they might get the first pick in the draft next year.

The Colts have the horses to get there, but the double whammy jinxes of Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning will keep them out of the Super Bowl.

If QB Carson Palmer returns to last year's form, the Bengals rule the AFC.

**- projected division winner
*-projected wild card team