My NFC pick reflections might have come off self-congratulatory but on the AFC side I erred far too much for that to be the case.
Norv Turner bamboozled me yet again. Time will tell more about my AFC West predictions, but I do know that Monday night was yet another indicator that life without a healthy Jared Gaither at left tackle is a near-death knell for the San Diego Chargers and Philip Rivers’ consistency.
Also strange but unsurprising, Turner’s outright refusal to put Ryan Mathews in the game during the final two minutes of a half, instead electing to dump off several passes to the vastly inferior Ronnie Brown. This quip from a friend about summed it up:
As I’ve covered here at Insert Sports Word, my expectations were very low for the Denver defense but they’ve actually been surpassed somewhat. Justin Bannan and others have contributed at defensive tackle while Von Miller has continued his tear from last season. Not good but not terrible on defense, and fairly tough to throw from behind against thanks to the edge rush.
Then of course there’s Manning who, despite that brutal first quarter in Atlanta and a few slow starts, is back to striking his typical fear in the opposition hearts. Ball might not have the same mustard but it gets in on time and so does his blitz recognition. Also absolutely critical is that Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker aren’t just another example of Manning-made productivity — in both skill set and performance they are the best 1-2 receiving combo in the AFC West.
My other AFC division standings don’t need a mulligan yet. Thanks to the utterly inferior level of play the AFC has shown against The Power Conference this season, both the South and East play out as one good team and a bunch of mediocrity. If you took Patriots or Texans to win the division, you didn’t make out great on moneyline but can already start celebrating.
Buffalo landing at second in the AFC East still looks all good and fine after Buffalo won in the desert, but my wild-card pick leaves me with little confidence at this point. That 3-3 mark seems decent but the teams that have got ahead and can run have absolutely brutalized the Bills.
Perhaps if that uber-hyped dream unit of Mark Anderson, Marcel Dareus, Kyle Williams and Mario Williams meshes and plays as a composite of their individual ability at some point….but we’re already almost halfway into the season and it looks pretty underwhelming.
The AFC North remains tough to gauge, with Pittsburgh tallying an 0-3 road record and 2-0 home record. At the time they dropped the Thursday night shocker at Tennessee, the Steelers three road losses had come to teams that were a combined 5-10. And they’re offensive line and running backs continue to drop like flies.
Maurkice Pouncey, Rashard Mendenhall, Troy Polamalu and and their mates must get healthy, pass protect a little better and establish some semblance of a run game to keep up with Baltimore. However, over the past couple years they seem to be developing into a Seahawks- or Cardinals-esque home team, where the difference between level of play home-away has gotten rather extreme relative to the league. That’s why I take Cincinnati at home over Pittsburgh on Monday, but won’t change my Bengals-in-third call.
Andy Dalton struggled mightily down the stretch last year and has remained very inconsistent this season. Couple that with a defense that isn’t living up to 2011 standards and a running game that’s somehow managed to become even less threatening without Cedric Benson, and Cincy feels really 8-8.
The Baltimore Ravens are extremely tough to pin down with the loss of their most important member on the field in Lardarius Webb and most important voice on the field in Ray Lewis. But if Terrell Suggs can near 100 percent soon, suddenly Baltimore has the AFC’s best defensive player back on the field. Until more becomes clear, I’ll continue riding my PIT-BAL-CIN call.
Then there’s the AFC South, which of course is Houston followed by a crap-shoot. The Jaguars played pretty stingy on defense last season but have fallen to 29th in yards this campaign. However, unlike they Ravens, they now return their best player AND most important voice this week in Daryl Smith, one of the best linebackers out there.
Via AP in The Washington Post:
“It changes everything,” fellow linebacker Russell Allen said. “He’s our best player on defense. Anything that you ask a linebacker to do, he’s the best we have at it. He’s our best blitzer. He’s our best cover linebacker. He’s stout against the run. He’s smart. You name it, he brings it. We get better at everything with him on the field.
Andrew Luck and the Colts have seen extreme highs in comeback wins over Minnesota and Green Bay, and horrifying lows in the Colts getting Gabberted by the Jags and Greened by the Jets. He’s a rookie, as you’re surely aware.
And the Titans might be the most confusing of all this lower-AFC South mediocrity, facing utter destruction for weeks on end before toppling Big Ben and the Steelers in primetime.
In the AFC’s most underwhelming year in decades, it’s hard to feel confident about anyone through six weeks besides Houston and the teams quarterbacked by the two stalwarts transcending decade, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.