Last time I blogged I went over my winners for the AFC east and south. Now I am going to wrap up the AFC with my winners in the north and west. These divisions were more difficult to breakdown, but after much deliberation I believe I made the correct picks. Here they are.
4th Place: I have to admit this pick was not difficult and it is the Cleveland Browns. They will be led by two rookies on offense; QB Brandon Weeden and RB Trent Richardson. It has been reported all throughout the offseason that Richardson will be the work horse of the offense, but plans are already hitting a setback with a knee injury hampering the young running back. A hurt Richardson will put too much pressure on Weeden to carry the offense. The Browns have a good defense, they were one of the top pass defensive teams last season, but a lack of scoring from the offense will keep the Browns in last in their division.
3rd Place: In a bit of a shocker, I have the Pittsburg Steelers in the bottom two in their division. I think age and injuries are going to make the difference for the Steelers. SS Troy Polamalu and LB James Harrison are both former NFL Defensive Players of the Year, but both are passing their primes in their great careers. As for QB Ben Roethlisberger he is battling a tear in his rotator cuff, an injury that can linger throughout the season. RB Rashard Mendenhall is dealing with injuries as well and WR Mike Wallace is still a holdout. Safe to say there are many questions surrounding the Steel City.
2nd Place: I am taking a chance here, but I have the young Cincinnati Bengals finishing as the runner ups. The Bengals have young playmakers to build on. They were blessed by the draft picks of WR A.J. Green and QB Andy Dalton. They each had amazing rookie season as they led the Bengals offense to an unexpected playoff berth. The defense also had playmakers of their own with players such as; LB Thomas Howard, LB Ray Maualuga, and FS Reggie Nelson. The Bengals have the nucleus, but will they take the next step in the 2012 season? I think yes.
1st Place: it’s hard not to choose the Baltimore Ravens. The only curve ball with the Ravens is that this might be the year that the offense will surpass their defense. Like the Steelers the Ravens have aging stars in LB Ray Lewis and FS Ed Reed, and in the offseason 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs suffered an injury that will have him miss a significant amount of time. The offense on the other hand has QB Joe Flacco who is poised for a breakout year, the second leading rusher of the 2011 season in RB Ray Rice, and many pass catching weapons. I particularly like the tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson; they will be big parts of the Ravens offense in 2012. The defense will be solid enough and the Ravens will win another division title.
4th Place: Sorry Raider nation, but your Oakland Raiders are my last place team in the west. I see the Raiders being an inconsistent team in 2012, led by an inconsistent QB in Carson Palmer. Palmer threw 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 2011. It felt as if Palmer threw the ball up for grabs too many times during the course of the 2011 season, which is obviously not a smart way to play quarterback. The Raiders do have talented skill position players such as; wide receivers Darruis Heyward-Bay and Denaruis Moore. But the one player that can make a difference to the season will be RB Darren McFadden, but the big “IF” is can he stay healthy. My guess is probably not, meaning more passing plays which equals more interceptions for Palmer. Turnovers will put too much pressure on a defense that finshed 29th in 2011. This could be a long season for the Black Hole.
3rd Place: I have a team that is notorious for being underachievers, which are the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are always one of the harder teams to evaluate before the start of a season. To be honest they would be higher for me if it was not for the injury to RB Ryan Matthews. Matthews was expected to take the leap of becoming one of the best at his position and being a huge piece to the Chargers offense. With his status being in a bit of jeopardy, the offense will rest on the shoulders of QB Phillip Rivers. The departure of WR Vincent Jackson will hurt the productivity of the offense unless wide receivers Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Brown step up. Remember they still have TE Antonio Gates, who is looking healthy and ready for a big year. The defense should be descent, they finshed ranked 16th in 2011 and are led by one of the premier safeties in the game; Eric Weddle. Again, they got the talent, but you just never know with San Diego.
2nd Place: it all revolves on the health of QB Peyton Manning. The Denver Broncos could simply be in fourth with one huge hit that reinjures the neck of Manning. Then again Peyton might be 100% and ready to lead the Broncos to a Super Bowl run. It is really hard to tell. Peyton has weapons around him with players such as; wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and has a bunch of running backs to work with. The defense has great pass rushers, but overall I am a bit skeptical, they finished 20th overall in 2012. Still it is hard to ignore the fact that the Broncos have Peyton Manning on their team and all Peyton does is win football games.
1st Place: That’s right I have the Kansas City Chiefs as my winners. The Chiefs won the division in 2010 and last year they were hit by injuries to key players. Even with the injuries, the Chiefs remained highly competitive and with players like RB Jamaal Charles, SS Eric Berry, and TE Tony Moeaki healthy once again, Kansas City could have a big year. The defense finished ranked 11th last season and can simply finish as one of the best in 2012. LB Derrick Johnson is a great playmaker along with fellow linebacker Tamba Hali. The offense has weapons with WR Steve Breaston, last season’s first round pick WR Jon Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, and a healthy Jamaal Charles. The two concerns surrounding the Chiefs are the holdout of pro bowl wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and if QB Matt Cassel can reach the ability of playing at a pro bowl level. I believe the Chiefs will surprise people in 2012.
That is it for the AFC, next time I will breakdown the NFC east and south. Remember leave comments, let me know if you agree or disagree.