Touring the NFL: Finishing Up the AFC In the South & West

If you missed part one of the “Touring the NFL” series where we covered the AFC North and East, you can find it HERE.

Today we get to put the AFC behind us for a while, which is nice because it’s really difficult to get excited about more than three teams in this conference.

 

AFC South

afc-south-collection

Best known for…

  • The Colts’ deal with the devil that allowed them to transition from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck without skipping a beat while the other three teams continue to march out guys with names like Fitzpatrick, Henne and Locker

Most likely to…

  • Mimic the AFC East right down to Indy winning 12+ games and no other team cracking the .500 mark

Quick Hits

  • By my rough math, those other three teams have used more than 30 different starting quarterbacks since Peyton Manning came into the league with little or no success.  And the Colts’ fortunes went like this: Best regular season QB in history for 13 years, one fortuitous neck injury, one year of abysmal football, luck into drafting the best quarterback prospect anyone’s ever seen. Whatever the opposite of an ancient Indian burial ground is, that’s what the Colts obviously built their stadium on.
  • The reason I voted the AFC North most likely to be the most boring division in football and not this joke division from the south is because we have actual intrigue here. Will the Colts vault into the Denver/New England stratosphere? Will a new coach and a ferocious rookie pass rusher immediately get Houston back into the playoff mix? Will Jake Locker sustain a significant injury in week 1, week 2 or week 3? Will the Jaguars even once be shown on the Red Zone Channel during the regular season? And will the Colts mathematically clinch the division title by week 4?
  • Even with this division getting the gifts of facing the AFC North and the NFC East as their out-of-division opponents, I’ve got the following win totals for these non-Colts teams: Tennessee 3, Jacksonville 4, Houston 5. So yeah, I’m predicting even less than the 13 combined wins those three teams had last season.
  • Speaking of easy schedules, here’s why I love Indy this year: The least amount of games any team can play against playoff teams from the previous year is three. The Colts have only four such games, plus the near-guarantee of 6-0 against their division.

Fun with gambling

  • The only division winner bet worthwhile in the South, and you’d have to feel really awesome about their bounce back potential, is Houston +300. The others are: Indy -200, Tennessee +700 and Jacksonville +1400.
  • One bet I love–though not necessarily my favorite for this division—is Andrew Luck to win the MVP (12/1). He’s on a team that lacks other stars and doesn’t have much of a defense. Their record gets inflated by their cakewalk division. And the other AFC contenders (Manning & Brady) are old, have much more challenging schedules, and have won it before. The voters might be ready for a new king of QBs.
  • My favorite bet is a tie: Tennessee under 7 wins (-125) and Houston under 7.5 wins (+120).

AFC  West

AFCWest

Best known for…

  • Being the only AFC division in 2013 that could actually make the claim it was competitive and interesting

Most likely to…

  • Produce the biggest shocker of the year (see below)

Quick Hits

  • Here’s how it works, Denver fans. Your team steamrolls the competition on its way to a record-setting season only to fall just short in the Super Bowl (OK, in your case it was like 35 points short). You’re ready to run it back the next year, even conceding that record-setting regular season pace in exchange for finishing the job in the playoffs. Only your Hall of Fame quarterback suffers a season-ending injury in the first quarter of the first game. You miss the playoffs that year, it takes you a full three seasons to recover from all this chaos and you still wake up in cold sweats every night seven years later thinking about what should have been.
  • Hey, can’t a bitter Patriots fan hope?
  • This division has the unfortunate scheduling quirk of having to play itself and the NFC West. In those eight teams, there are five playoff teams from 2013, a 10-win team that missed the playoffs (Arizona) a consensus awesome defense going into 2014 (St. Louis) and…the Raiders.
  • That Raiders team plays nine games against playoff teams from last year. They’re clearly fucked, as if that wasn’t a given. You know who else faces 2013 playoff teams nine different times?
  • The Broncos. Is it crazy for me to predict only a 10-win season out of them? Denver’s first half schedule reads like this: Indianapolis, Kansas City, @Seattle, Arizona, @Jets, San Francisco, San Diego @New England. Seven out of eight games against 10-win teams from last year.
  • Sorry to belabor the point, but I’m in awe of that schedule. Lower your expectations for any record setting this year.

Fun with gambling

  • Well, well, well. Did we finally find our value bets for a division winner? If we believe that gauntlet of a schedule is going to slow Denver down, then indeed we have. The Broncos are the expected -300 while San Diego is +500 and Kansas City is +600. I’ll be backing the Chargers, in case anyone cares. Oh, and if you’re absolutely nuts, the Raiders are +1800 to win the West.
  • A word about the Super Bowl…You know how ever year that random team limps into the playoffs and gets hot & lucky while going on the unexpected Championship run (last year was a fluke)? If you’re looking for an AFC team to nominate, why not go with San Diego (40/1) or Kansas City (50/1)? Just a thought.
  • My favorite bet in this division is: Denver under 11.5 wins (-125).

Phew. We made it through the crummy AFC. Good work, everyone! I’m going to take a three-day shower to cleanse myself from that filth, and then I’ll be back early next week with the NFC.

Enjoy preseason week 2.

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The Best NFL Predictions You’ll Ever Read, Part 2: AFC Team Records

In case you missed Part 1 of Ross & Neil try to predict each team’s record, check it out here: The Best NFL Predictions, NFC Team Records.

That’s where you can read about the NFC, but more importantly the terrible wager we made on who can be closer to more teams’ actual records at the end of the season.

Neil and I will be back early next week with our final predictions on playoff teams, superlatives (league MVP, passing title, etc) and unperlatives (not a word, I know, but this is where we predict first coach fired, first QB benched due to ineffectiveness, etc).

Compared to the NFC predictions where Neil and I were only more than one win apart on three teams, in the AFC we had five such teams where we were farther apart than a single win difference. It looks like Neil continued to play it safe in predicting no teams to truly bottom out that hard. I, on the other hand, am very pessimistic about the worst handful of teams in the AFC.

Read on for more.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

2012 Record: 10-6

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 28/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: I thought we learned from the 2005 Red Sox that it is best to bring back as many parts of a championship as you can to repeat. And even if it doesn’t work, your fans will appreciate the effort. They also have suffered some injuries during the preseason that are not minor. That being said they have a good coach and great front office, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they somehow win the division.

Ross: Super Bowl Champs getting no love with the 28/1 Super Bowl odds. I do think they suffer the typical SB hangover, and they’ve certainly lost a lot of their 2012 offense. I think they struggle, but in the weak AFC that means getting nine wins and possibly the division title (more on that soon).

BUFFALO BILLS

2012 Record: 6-10

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 150/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 6-10

Ross: 4-12

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Well, at least they are trying to make history in week 1 (first team to ever start an undrafted rookie at QB in week 1). Could be a tough year in Buffalo. At least they have a new coach that seems to have a plan, and initial reports are that E.J. Manual might be the real deal.

Ross: There’s a quarterback fiasco brewing in Buffalo. You never want to read something like this only 13 days from a team’s regular season opener: “…the Bills signed veteran QB Matt Leinart and traded with Detroit for backup QB Thad Lewis. It should also be noted that as of now the Bills are planning to start undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel in week 1.” What does this all mean? That this will be the team’s ninth straight year finishing below .500 (way below it in this case).

CINCINNATI BENGALS

2012 Record: 10-6

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 25/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Very similar to Tampa Bay. Very good defense. They added more weapons on offense. They are the trendy pick to win their division. It all comes down to whether or not The Ginger Prince is really an NFL-caliber QB.

Ross: This feels like the AFC’s version of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Specifically that the entire season hinges on the development of the QB. If Andy Dalton keeps being average Andy Dalton, then this team will never do better than nine or 10 wins and a quick playoff exit. Based on my prediction it’s clear I don’t think he’ll take the next step.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

2012 Record: 5-11

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 150/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Not to sound like a broken record, but another situation of “what can the QB do.” The Cleve’s defense should actually be very competent. They should have a good running game and will have some weapons at receiver once Josh Gordon comes back from suspension. Unlike Tampa Bay and Cincinnati, I think we already know that Brandon Weeden is not an NFL-caliber QB, and I don’t care that Norv Turner is his offensive coordinator now.

Ross: Stop. I’ll say it for you. I’m out of my god damn mind with this prediction. Every good sports prognosticator has to have one out-of-the-blue, so-crazy-it-just-might-work prediction, and the Browns to go 9-7 and win the AFC North is my version of that. I believe in a huge Trent Richardson year, a better than average Brandon Weeden year and a receiving group that’s a lot better than you think. I also believe they have seven very winnable games: Miami, Buffalo, Kansas City, Jacksonville, the Jets, Minnesota and Detroit. I’m all in on this team.

DENVER BRONCOS

2012 Record: 13-3

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 6/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 13-3

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Unless this is the year Payton Manning really drops off, I think they will be OK passing the ball. I do not believe their defense is going to be as good as last year (they had the 4th best defense in the NFL) and losing Von Miller for six games is a huge loss. They have some offensive line issues as well. That being said, their schedule is so easy they can still go 13-3 in the regular season. But don’t expect much in the playoffs. Again.

Ross: Coming off a year in which they went 13-3 and got the #1 seed in the AFC Playoffs, the Broncos get…the easiest schedule in the NFL. No seriously, it’s right HERE. Even if you think the Von Miller suspension and Elvis Dumervil fax machine faux pas is enough to make this defense bad, LOOK AT THEIR SCHEDULE. Their absolute worst case (barring Brock Osweiler being thrust into the starting QB role for some catastrophic reason) is 11-5. Kansas City x2, Oakland x2, San Diego x2, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Dallas, Philadelphia. You think they’re going to lose any of those games? Makes me sick.

HOUSTON TEXANS

2012 Record: 12-4

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 18/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 10-6

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: They are going to win double-digit games again because their division is horrible. Maybe they can win their wild card game if they get to play Cincinnati for a third year in a row. Then they will lose to a good team. Sound familiar?

Ross: I think last year was a bit of an aberration and we should expect a record more in line with the Matt Schaub/Gary Kubiak era. I bet the Texans are psyched for a three-week stretch in September/October that goes @Baltimore, home Seattle, @ San Francisco. Seems fair.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

2012 Record: 11-5

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 10-6

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: They had a -30 point differential last year but went 11-5? Really?!? They went 9-1 in games decided by a TD or less. I smell a HUGE regression coming.

Ross: I could have made Andrew Luck a keeper in an auction fantasy league for $16. I know his average auction price is much lower than that, but I worry he’s about to make a significant leap this year. On the flip side, the inexperience of this team makes me think a bad loss, such as blowing a game at San Diego or Tennessee, could definitely be on the horizon. But I’ll stick with my original 10-win prediction.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

2012 Record: 2-14

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 300/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 4-12

Ross: 3-13

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Rather than show Jacksonville’s games on TV, can the networks just show an “under construction” banner for every Jacksonville game and we can check back in on them in two years?

Ross: You watch a preseason game where Chad Henne is slinging the football all over the field to Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, and you see Maurice Jones-Drew running wild. And you think, hey maybe this team will be frisky. But then you realize the Jags already named Blaine Gabbert the starter (and then promptly shut him down because of injuries…what did Henne do to deserve no shot at winning the job?), and Blackmon misses the first four games of the regular season, and that MoJo would have to put up an AP in 2012 type season to have a huge effect on this team’s record. And you realize they’re heading for the second pick in the 2014 draft.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

2012 Record: 2-14

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Yes, this team was very injured last year. Yes, Andy Reid is a huge upgrade from RAC. Yes, Alex Smith is a huge upgrade over Brady Quinn (and this is coming from a huge “Alex Smith is not a good QB” evangelist). But people are really picking them for nine or 10 wins and the playoffs? They only won two games last year. Seven wins would be a huge improvement.

Ross: I get all the reasons people are using to predict a big jump in wins for the Chiefs in 2013. I agree that their QB is going to be significantly better, that Jamaal Charles will be better another year removed from knee surgery, and a healthy and motivated Dwayne Bowe will be a stud. And while I agree that the coaching position got an upgrade, I do still think we need to remember they went from Romeo Crennel to Andy Reid, not Crennel to Bill Walsh. Reid is still the same guy he was in Philly. I’m fine with some improvement, but not playoff-level improvement.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

2012 Record: 7-9

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 40/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Let’s give it a second year to make sure Ryan Tannenhill is competent before we decide if Miami is on a path to competitiveness.

Ross: Make no mistake, this team’s ceiling is 8-8. Why? Because they have a sneaky hard schedule with an opening seven games that could see them at 2-5 or worse (look it up). But more importantly, Ryan Tannehill was 100% healthy last season, played in all 16 games, and threw exactly 12 touchdown passes. And yet I keep hearing his name thrown around as a guy to watch out for this year, in real football and fantasy. When did throwing 12 touchdowns over a full season become an indicator for good things to come?

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

2012 Record: 12-4

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 10/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 11-5

Ross: 12-4

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: The defense has been rebuilding for years and should be at least average this year. I know they completely overhauled the receiving corps and the whole offensive philosophy since they went from “monopolizing the two tight end offense” to “we don’t have any tight ends”, but they still have Brady, they still have Belichick, and they should easily go 6-0 in a weak division.

Ross: Pretty quiet offseason for them huh? It’s like, jeez, Patriots, stop being so friggen boring. Get in a public contract dispute with the guy who’s been your best receiver for the past six years. Find a high-profile offensive star to reveal a crazy double life full of murder, paranoia and PCP. Turn over your entire receiving corps right as your Hall-of-Fame QB is getting down to his final few years to compete. DO SOMETHING THAT’S NOT SO BORING FOR ONCE. (You wanted objective analysis on this team? Fine, here it is: There will be some growing pains with the young receivers, it’s possible Danny Amendola really is injury prone, which would be bad news for the Pats. Their one offseason acquisition to help out in the secondary, Adrian Wilson, might get cut by the end of the week. They will win 11 or 12 games because the AFC is terrible, but the entire fan base will be pessimistic going into the playoffs.)

NEW YORK JETS

2012 Record: 6-10

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 100/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

Ross: 5-11

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: I actually think the defense is going to be good enough to win them a few games against their relatively easy schedule. I am sad because no matter how disastrously their QB and coaching situation plays out this year, nothing will top my favorite moment of the entire 2012 season.

Ross: For as fun as the 2012 Jets’ season was, they didn’t really bottom out like I hoped. If you remember, because of the weak AFC, they were still technically in the playoff hunt through week 14. This year I want to see a disaster coming out of the gate, which shouldn’t be too hard considering they play a schedule that could legitimately put them at 2-7 just in time for their week 10 bye. When you factor in Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith playing hot potato with the starting QB position throughout the preseason, I have no doubts the bottoming out that I’ve longed for is finally here. Sad to see you go, Rex, Mark, et al.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

2012 Record: 4-12

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 250/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 5-11

Ross: 2-14

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Another team completely rebuilding, which might actually work this time since the old owner isn’t around to derail the construction.

Ross: If the NCAA told Johnny Manziel he could either accept a five-game suspension or be guaranteed to get drafted first overall by the Raiders in 2014, which punishment do you think he’d pick? (Side note: It feels like a slap in the face to Jacksonville that Oakland’s getting better Super Bowl odds. The 2013 Raiders are going to make the 2013 Jaguars look like the 2007 Patriots.)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

2012 Record: 8-8

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 28/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 8-8

Ross: 9-7

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: The defense, especially the pass defense, might be old and not that good. And the injury to Le’Veon Bell basically makes their offense “pass only,” which is tough since their QB never plays a full season. They are still the Steelers though, and the division is wide-open with Baltimore’s injury and personnel issues, and they have not missed the playoffs in consecutive years since 2000.

Ross: Yes, I’m picking all four AFC North teams to finish 9-7, however unlikely that is. More importantly, if you were the Steelers, why would you ever design a play again where Ben Roethlisberger stays in the pocket? Why would you even attempt to form a pocket around him? Couldn’t you come up with an entirely new offensive philosophy where you purposely let the pocket break down so the QB can scramble? Roethlisberger is Mark Sanchez as a pocket passer, but he’s Joe Montana when the pocket breaks down. If I found out right now that the Steelers were designing the first pocketless offense for the 2013 season, I’d pick Pittsburgh to go 14-2.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

2012 Record: 7-9

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 50/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: They finally got rid of Norv Turner, so that’s a plus. Seems like they got a good head coach that knows the division and knows QBs. I think the plan this year is “let’s see if Phil Rivers is our guy, or if we need a new QB.” Unfortunately for Rivers, their receiving corps has already taken a huge injury hit.

Ross: No read on this team, but I can tell you that an awful 2012 is not going to humble Philip Rivers. I watched San Diego’s second preseason game and the guy was in midseason form…yelling at refs, shaking his head at teammates. I don’t think we need to worry about Rivers toning it down in his old age.

TENNESSEE TITANS

2012 Record: 6-10

2013 Super Bowl Odds: 150/1

2013 Prediction

Neil: 7-9

Ross: 6-10

Comment We Strongly Felt You Needed To Read

Neil: Tennessee’s strategy this year: let’s rebuild our offensive line so that Jake Locker can not use that as an excuse, and let’s decide if Jake is our QB of the future. It is not like they were going to the Super Bowl this year anyway.

Ross: Jake Locker almost tricked me in their 3rd preseason game. He actually looked competent. But he texted me after the game to make sure I wasn’t getting any crazy ideas like drafting him in fantasy or predicting the Titans to go .500. Love that man’s honesty.