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

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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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Week 4 NFL Recap: Interceptions Galore

BS p9-sp-ravens-0930-ferron

After a particularly rough start to the NFL season, I came into week 4 on high alert. I had excuses ready to go in case my picks tanked for the fourth straight week. And as Vernon Davis caught a 3rd quarter touchdown to put the 49ers-Rams game out of reach on Thursday night, I harped on one semi-legitimate reason for my awful picks: the timing of making those picks.

Since the NFL insists on a game every Thursday, that means Pick ‘Em leagues and Suicide Pools for all the games lock up on Thursday evening, more than 60 hours before the rest of that week’s games kick off. And of course I could hold off on posting a column with all my picks until Friday or Saturday, but there’s something to be said about wanting people to actually read my columns. A Saturday NFL picks post may not be seen by anyone until Monday, when it’s too late for my readers to capitalize on my football genius.

So we’re stuck with Thursday, and that means we made picks this week without the following information being known or completely cleared up:

  • Vernon Davis didn’t know if he was playing until game time. He played and scored a touchdown.
  • I based my Redskins pick on the fact that Matt Flynn would be the Oakland starting QB. Then on Friday news came out that Terrelle Pryor had been medically cleared and could start on Sunday. Luckily on Saturday it was announced he still wouldn’t be playing.
  • As of Friday morning, there were whispers that Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola were going to play in the Sunday night game. By Saturday morning this situation returned to status quo, no Gronk, no Amendola.
  • Andre Johnson’s status was up in the air until Saturday, when the team announced he’d be playing against Seattle.
  • On Friday/Saturday it was learned that Cincinnati would be missing several key players in the secondary, Buffalo’s top four defensive backs would be out, and Seattle was likely to play without three starters on the offensive line.

All of those are impactful enough to potentially change our minds about a game, and yet the NFL schedule forces us to pick sides before having all the facts.

If it had been another bad week for me, you’d be stuck reading 4,500 more words on this topic. But as it turns out, Sunday was an extremely successful day. You’ll see how successful at the end of this article.

And it wasn’t just me. Out of the 21 people who are in my Pick ‘Em league, it looks like 19 of them will break the .500 mark against the spread across the 15 games this week. As a comparison, in the three previous weeks combined, only 19 out of 65 sets of picks cracked .500.

So I’m guessing almost everyone’s happy today, unless you’re a Giants, Steelers or Bucs fan.

Let’s recap this amazing and unlikely-to-be-repeated week:

  • I heard on Friday that the NFL is making plans to expand the playoffs from 12 to 14 teams. That would mean one extra team per conference. For the NFL, the interest is in bringing in more money. For the teams, the interest is in creating an extra spot for those instances when a 10 or 11-win team doesn’t make the playoffs. I went ahead and reviewed the past 10 years of standings and found that of the 20 additional teams that would have made the playoffs if this new format had been in place back then, 14 of them would have been 9-7 or worse. Only six of them would have fallen into that 10-win or better category. For me, 9-7 is essentially the same as 8-8. We don’t need more mediocre teams in the playoffs. I think it’s perfect how it is. No need to mess with a perfect system.
  • By the way, the teams that would have benefited the most over the past 10 years if the 14-team format had been in place? Chicago, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Each would have made the playoffs two additional times.
  • I had never been more confident in an 0-3 team as I was in Pittsburgh beating the Vikings on Sunday. It was the perfect setup for them: another 0-3 team, not really a road game for Pitt since it was in London, playing against a terrible defense, facing a backup QB in Matt Cassel who was making his first start of the season, getting your RB1 in the lineup for the first time all year…And of course the Steelers were down 10-0 faster than I could write the word “FUCK”.
  • I’m done backing the Steelers, which I’ve done three out of the four weeks. They’re just a hapless bunch right now. And some of it is that same old problem they haven’t been able to fix in several years, the offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger took five sacks, three of which came on a single drive in the 2nd quarter. The defense is giving up huge plays consistently. And they don’t seem to have a real red zone target on offense. Bad, bad, bad.
  • Speaking of Matt Cassel and QBs who don’t play often, what happened to the days where rookie QBs or non-starter QBs who are thrust into the lineup are expected to struggle? I thought quarterback was the toughest position to play in sports. And I also thought that defenses love facing a new QB because they know they can make life miserable for that guy. But all of the sudden on Sunday we had some pretty decent days for guys who just recently cracked the starting lineup. Cassel went 16-for-25, 248 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 123.4 Passer Rating while getting the win against Dick LeBeau’s famous defense. Brian Hoyer went 25-for-38, 269 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs and a 103.9 passer rating in his win over Cincinnati and their legit defense. Matt Flynn went 21-for-32, 227 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT and an 83.7 Passer Rating in Oakland’s loss to Washington. And even the rookie making his first start, Mike Glennon, completed more than 50% of his passes, something that Josh Freeman hadn’t achieved in three starts this year.
  • Sure, none of those guys put up Peyton numbers, but they were all competent. Either QBs are coming into the NFL more prepared, the rule changes that have been designed to help offenses are making rookies/bad QBs look decent, or this is just random luck that so many guys can step in and not look overmatched. Combine it with the rookie QBs who took the league by storm last year, and I’m no longer automatically doing backflips when a new quarterback is on the schedule against my team.
  • Those four QBs I just mentioned didn’t even cumulatively throw as many interceptions as Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Flacco did yesterday. He had five. Remember from my opening that Buffalo played against the Ravens without its top four secondary players. How the hell does one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league complete only 25 of 50 passes and throw five picks against an entire team of backups? This game was one of my few misses this week, but I feel like it was totally justified to say “Oh Flacco against the Bills’ scout team defense, I’m going with Baltimore.” With the Ravens going to Miami in week 5 and then hosting Green Bay in week 6, they better fix their offense quickly or else they could be looking at a 2-4 record.
  • And a 2-4 record after 6 weeks in the AFC North could have the Ravens looking up at…THE CLEVELAND BROWNS! That’s right, in a week that saw me dominate my picks, win my Pick ‘Em league, move on in the Suicide Pool, win October rent money and finally have a good fantasy showing, I got the added bonus of my longshot AFC playoff sleeper moving back to 2-2 (and a tie for the division lead) after they dominated the Bengals. I guess I forgot to mention in my preseason predictions that I was totally expecting the Browns to trade Trent Richardson and go with Hoyer over Brandon Weeden. I knew that’s what it would take to get this team moving in the right direction.
  • The Browns are no longer the team you hope the Red Zone Channel avoids or the team whose opponent you automatically pick for your Suicide Pool. As a matter of fact, the Browns’ back-to-back wins have eliminated 20% of the Suicide Pool I’m in. And next they host Buffalo on Thursday, and then Detroit 10 days later. It’s not inconceivable to think Cleveland will be 4-2 after their next two games.
  • Chicago fans should feel rightfully nervous about the Bears. In 2012 they came out of the gate strong, losing only once in their first four games (a divisional road game against Green Bay). They ultimately started the year 7-1 before losing five games in a stretch that saw them play six consecutive games against eventual playoff teams. This year they’ve only lost once in their first four games, also to a divisional opponent on the road. And like last year at this time, they have a couple easy games coming up before they face likely playoff teams in five of their final nine games. But rest assured, Chicago fans, the second half schedule in 2013 is nothing like the gauntlet that the Bears faced in 2012. If they stay healthy, I don’t think you have to worry about repeating last year’s 10-win, no-playoff disappointment.
  • And if Chicago’s WR2 Alshon Jeffrey is available in any of your fantasy leagues, I’d pick him up. He’s owned in 83% of ESPN leagues so he must be out there for some of you. He caught 5 balls on 11 targets for 107 yards and a TD on Sunday, and he also had 1 rushing attempt for 27 yards.
  • My prediction for the hot waiver wire pickup this week who won’t help going forward as much as you think he will: Danny Woodhead. Nice game yesterday with 86 total yards and 2 TDs. But the highlights you saw were pretty much everything he contributed.
  • If it seemed like you were seeing a QB lowlight reel during the entire six hours you were watching the Red Zone Channel yesterday, it’s because you kind of were. It wasn’t just Joe Flacco’s 26 interceptions in Buffalo. There were 31 interceptions thrown during the 12 morning and afternoon games on Sunday, a rate of about 2.6 interceptions per game. That’s almost an entire interception per game higher than week 2 and week 3’s rates. So it wasn’t just your eyes playing a terrible trick on you.
  • Sticking with our offensive ineptitude theme for a minute, here’s an incomplete list of teams I saw on Sunday who inspire no confidence when it comes to putting a consistently solid offensive performance together: Kansas City, the Giants, Seattle, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, the Jets, Philadelphia and Oakland. That’s 13 teams out of the 26 that played yesterday.
  • We may not have had a season-ending injury to a top-10 fantasy pick yet, but I think we can go ahead and say C.J. Spiller is the biggest disappointment so far this year. The guy is murdering teams who picked him top 5 overall and figured they had a 2,000 yards from scrimmage guy on their roster. Through four weeks (which is about one-third of the fantasy regular season), Spiller has 19 TOTAL fantasy points. By comparison, his teammate and presumed backup Fred Jackson, who all the experts said to stay away from when drafting, has 43 total fantasy points. Ray Rice and his 14 total fantasy points is probably right up there with Spiller in the team-killing category.
  • I realize not everyone can plop down on a couch at the start of Sunday’s football games and not move for the next 10 hours like I can. So if you have to choose just a small window of free time on your Sunday to catch a little football, you’ll always want to go with 12:45-1:30 Pacific Time (3:45-4:30 Eastern). This is the 45-minute period where all hell breaks loose each week.
  • During that time period on Sunday, we saw Mike Glennon throw a terrible pick deep in his own zone to turn a 10-3 Tampa lead into a 10-10 tie that ultimately saw Arizona win 13-10. We saw Roethlisberger nearly rally his team from 17 down only to get stripsacked with 10 seconds left on the 10-yard line while having a shot to tie the game. We saw Matt Schaub throw a pick that was more inexcusable than Glennon’s which Richard Sherman was able to return for a touchdown to tie the game for Seattle. The Seahawks would win by three in overtime. We even saw Flacco make a late game push by nearly overcoming a nine-point 4th quarter deficit before finally succumbing to his fifth interception of the day (and I almost forgot to mention that the Ravens would have gotten one more chance after that if Terrell Suggs hadn’t ripped off the helmet of EJ Manuel with 45 seconds left, turning a 4th down where Buffalo would have had to punt into a first down where they could kneel and take the clock down to 0:00)
  • After watching interception after interception on Sunday, I started wondering if there are any other professions where that volume of mistakes would be acceptable. What if a hospital full of doctors each just happened to have a bad day all at the same time. It would probably raise some eyebrows if like 75 patients at one hospital all died on the same day, right? But nonstop interceptions are apparently expected and accepted in the NFL.
  • The team I feel the worst for today? Not Pittsburgh, not Tampa Bay, not one of those terrible teams. I feel the worst for Tennessee. They’re 3-1 after beating up on the Jets yesterday, but rumor has it Jake Locker is out for 4-8 weeks. One year ago I never could have imagined the Titans’ good fortunes being tied to Locker, but he had been playing some solid football, and even worse, his backup is Ryan Fitzpatrick. It wasn’t evident yesterday because the Titans were already up by 18 when Fitzy took over for Locker, but this is a big drop off at QB. The book is out on Fitzy: He will most likely lead Tennessee to a stunning win over Kansas City next week. He’ll have something like 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but no one will care about the INTs because, hey, they just beat the 4-0 Chiefs. But then the following two weeks (@Seattle and vs San Francisco) he’ll have something like 0 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and 2 fumbles lost (and they’ll be ridiculous fumbles too, like he’ll go to throw and the ball will just slip out of his hand). And Tennessee fans will be calling for Rusty Smith (their 3rd QB/practice squad QB).
  • If Locker is out for as long as they say, I fear the Titans’ surprising run to relevance is doomed.
  • I’m extra upset about Locker’s injury because just last week I wrote that Tennessee might turn into that team where you bet on them every week and win almost every time. I could have seen Vegas refusing to give them respect all year even as they fight their way to a 10-win season. But it’s all for not now.
  • The type of game the Patriots won last night would have been a loss for them in 2012. The ending felt a lot like their loss in Seattle last year. The difference this year is the defense and the balance in general. I’m 90% confident in Tom Brady and the offense to be able to run a clock-killing drive when needed, and I’m 70% confident in the defense to come up big with a key defensive stop when needed. That was the type of win we haven’t seen out of them in a very long time. And as many people pointed out on Twitter yesterday, this is starting to feel like the 2001-2005 team all over again. They’re just plugging away without drawing a lot of attention while the greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history lays siege to all the passing records over in Denver. And it wouldn’t be a Patriots season without a season-ending injury to one of the seven most important players on the team (Vince Wilfork this time). I know it’s going to be tough for New England fans to give the Pats their full attention while the Red Sox are chasing a World Series, but this team might just emerge from October with a 7-1 record.
  • After racing out to an 11-3 record against the NFC through three weeks, the AFC went 4-3 yesterday in interconference games. There’s one more to be played as the Dolphins take on the Saints tonight, but no significant change from my thoughts last week that the AFC is right on par with the NFC this year.
  • This week’s Vitriol Award obviously goes to the Pittsburgh Steelers! Congrats, Pittsburgh, on being the only two-time winner of this prestigious award. It must feel great to be the team I scream at and throw things because of during two of the first four weeks of the season. And it’s a total team effort…offensive turnovers, penalties, a terrible O-line, the defense giving up long plays to Matt Cassel…I think this is rock bottom for them.

That’s all I got for the week 4 recap. Looking forward to Dolphins-Saints tonight, and if my 9-4-1 record against the spread so far this week is any indication, Miami covers the 7-points. Last chance to benefit from my bounceback week.

Week 5 picks coming on Thursday. Stay tuned.

Round 1 of NFL Predictions: AFC’s “Closest to the Pin” Contest

As mentioned in a post last week, Nkilla and I have made a wager on who can be the better predictor of each NFL team’s exact record for the 2012 season.

The Setup: We both privately picked the number of total wins we thought each football team would get this year and sent them to each other for comparison. Before disclosing the predictions, I had to put a “+” or “-” next to half the teams, and Nkilla had to do the same. This was to ensure that if we both picked the same number, there would be a tiebreaker. For example, if we both picked 10 wins for Pittsburgh and it was my team to pick the tiebreaker, I’d put a “+” next to them if I wanted to up their win total to 11 in the case of a tie, or I’d put a “-” next to them if I wanted to down their win total to 9 in the case of a tie with Nkilla. Confusing, I know. Luckily we only picked the same number of wins for three teams out of 32 (all of our ties were for teams in the AFC North randomly).

The Wager: If Nkilla wins, I agree to a full day and night of babysitting for him and his wife at a future date to be determined. If I win, Nkilla is paying for my buy-in to a $60 poker tournament in Vegas next March (Fine Print: If I win $1,000 or more in that tournament, Nkilla will receive 40% of my profit. Seems fair considering the most he gets out of me is babysitting, but I could possibly win thousands of dollars off him).

We’re starting with the AFC. I’ll name the team, and then share both of our guesses and a comment we each made that elaborates on our prediction.

Here we go…AFC in alphabetical order:

Baltimore

Rmurdera: 10- wins (becomes 9-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Watch this defense get torched in back-to-back weeks early in the season by Philadelphia and New England. Terrell Suggs will probably say the Patriots are cowards for playing the Ravens while he’s not healthy.”

Nkilla: 10 wins “I’m thinking average year for them in a tough division. They probably win the division, but I think a relatively quiet year.”

Buffalo

Rmurdera: 12 “Feeling like the Bills can go 8-2 outside the division. Whether they can pull off a win against the Patriots this year or not, I think they’re in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.”

Nkilla: 9 “I feel like they made a lot of noise before the draft with free agents, and then everyone forgot about them. I don’t think they challenge the Patriots for the division title, but barring a meltdown from Fitzy I think the playoffs are in play.”

Cincinnati

Rmurdera: 9- (becomes 8-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Does the AFC North get 3 teams into the playoffs for the 2nd straight year? Is 9 wins good enough once again for the Bengals? Looking at a very weak AFC landscape, it seems like only Cincy, Buffalo and San Diego have a shot at the 2nd wildcard spot (assuming of course that Baltimore or Pittsburgh get the 1st wildcard).”

Nkilla: 9 “Year 2 of the Ginger Prince at the helm. Year 2 of the Ginger Prince to AJ Green. I can’t imagine why they don’y keep progressing. Well, other than the fact that they are the Bengals.”

Cleveland

Rmurdera: 4 “I’m predicting a 4-11-1 record for the Browns this year. Week 15 against the Redskins screams “tie” to me.”

Nkilla: 5 “Assuming that Richardson comes back fine, and assuming that Weeden plays better than the average rookie because of his age, they could be frisky. Unfortunately ‘frisky’ in The Cleve probably means ‘an entertaining 5-6 wins.'”

Denver

Rmurdera: 10 “I believe Peyton will be healthy all year and the offense will immediately jump from 25th in points per game to something like 14th. And the young defense will continue to improve. Weak AFC West = 10 wins and playoffs for Manning & friends.”

Nkilla: 8 “Not sold on Manning’s health, and I think the defense regresses some from last year. I would have gone even less wins if the division was decent.”

Houston

Rmurdera: 13 “If their running game and defense is as good as last year, it almost doesn’t matter if Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson stay healthy. They get to play in an extremely weak AFC South once again.”

Nkilla: 9 “They lost some key pieces on defense, plus they have a first-place schedule for the first time ever. That being said, their running game still makes them a dominant team in a division where the other three QBs are Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and a rookie.”

Indianapolis

Rmurdera: 4 “100% increase in wins from last year gets the Andrew Luck era started off on the right foot. Indy fans try their hardest not to get upset when they see Manning and the Broncos in the playoffs.”

Nkilla: 6 “It has been ten years since we knew before the season started that the Patriots/Colts game would not be meaningful and not be a primetime game. It feels strange.”

Jacksonville

Rmurdera: 2 “Someone has to tie Arizona as the worst team in football. Maurice Jones-Drew or not, this is a terrible team that will only win a 2nd game because the Jets will be in full meltdown mode by the time they visit Jacksonville in December.”

Nkilla: 5 “Vegas should post this prop bet, right? – ‘over/under for combined wins by NFL teams from Florida in the 2012 season: 16.5′”

Kansas City

Rmurdera: 7 “Jamaal ‘fast black’ Charles is back, and I believe he’ll be a top 5 running back, but Matt Cassel is still Matt Cassel. The Chiefs take a backseat to Denver and possibly even San Diego in the AFC West.”

Nkilla: 8 “I cannot figure out why KC is the trendy pick to win their division. The Romeo ‘RAC’ Crennel error (pun intended) in Cleveland was only two seasons ago. How does everyone forget so quickly? I actually think on paper the team is solid and could be a 9-10 win team with an average performance out of Cassel, but Crennel should have followed McDaniels’ lead and gone back to being a Patriots assistant.”

Miami

Rmurdera: 4 “Feels like I’m being generous with 4 wins. The Dolphins basically gave up on the season the moment they announced the rookie, Ryan Tannehill, was their starting QB.”

Nkilla: 5 “With the first pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Miami Dolphins select…”

New England

Rmurdera: 15 “I’m having trouble even finding their one loss…at Baltimore is the obvious one to look at, but in a nationally-televised game against a weaker-than-usual Baltimore defense, I think the Pats’ offense can outscore Joe Flacco and the Ravens. But I refuse to predict a 16-0 season for New England, even if it seems like a good possibility once again.”

Nkilla: 13 “Even if they pump the breaks in December, I think 13 wins is in play. Also, there is an 87% chance my son’s first word is ‘Gronk.'”

NY Jets

Rmurdera: 7 “Might be worst offense in the NFL this year. I have them starting the season 0-5. If they start 0-6, that means a week 6 loss to the Colts at home. Looking forward to Tim Tebow’s first start in Week 7 at New England.”

Nkilla: 9 “Emotional hedge. If they somehow pullout 9 or 10 wins, I probably win this one. If someone told me I could either have A) The Patriots go 19-0 and the Jets go 6-10 or B) The Patriots go 8-8 and the Jets go 1-15 and fire Rex Ryan, I would obviously pick A, but I would also at least think about it for five minutes before I decided.”

Oakland

Rmurdera: 5 “More fun than predicting how few wins the Raiders will get this year is trying to guess at which point in the season they’ll be calling JaMarcus Russell’s agent to see if he can come in and compete with Carson Palmer for the starting QB job.”

Nkilla: 7 “I like that McFadden’s goal is to play 16 games this year. Nice to see he has no aspirations of making the playoffs. Or is that 13 regular season games plus a Super Bowl run?”

Pittsburgh

Rmurdera: 10+ (becomes 11-win prediction due to tiebreaker) “Predicting all 4 AFC North teams to go 3-3 within their division makes life easy and may just be the way things go this year.”

Nkilla: 10 “I actually think 10 wins might be a little high, but they have a good coach and they always seem to get about 10 wins, right? I don’t think it is more than 10. Could be less. Their running backs all seem banged up and Roethlisberger has been hit a lot for a not-so-old-yet QB.”

San Diego

Rmurdera: 8 “Going to be a tough year offensively for this team. By the way, is Norv Turner still the Chargers’ head coach? Didn’t he get fired by the fans about 13 times in the past five seasons?”

Nkilla: 6 “Sure seems like they are in for an injury plagued season, doesn’t it? Can I lock them up for a bounce back year and 10 wins in 2013 though? Do I get any advantage by doing that right now?”

Tennessee

Rmurdera: 6 “This team is starting the season 0-7, especially with Jake Locker at QB. They play four games against playoff teams from 2011 and three tough road games in that opening stretch.

Nkilla: 7 “Even if Chris Johnson returns to 2012 form and Kenny Britt played every game, I feel like 8-8 would be the ceiling for this team.”

Final Thoughts on our AFC Picks:

1). The largest gap we had for a single team was 4 wins, for Houston. It sounds like Nkilla expects them to be a little worse on defense this year than last year (I disagree). Regardless of the defense, it seems like we both expect them to win their division even if their top offensive players were to miss some time…that pretty much sums up the AFC South this year.

2). Nkilla and I are really locked in on the AFC North. We picked the same number of wins for three teams—Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pitt—and we would have had the same for Cleveland if I hadn’t come up with my wacky “Cleveland ties Washington” idea. Are we both geniuses with this division?

2). Since I’ve gotten to see all of Nkilla’s picks—NFC included—I can tell you he has the worst record in football being a 5-11 team and the best record being 13-3. I wonder if he realizes that in each season over the past 10 years, there has been at least one team with 4 or less wins. And in eight of those 10 seasons, there has been at least one team with more than 13 wins. Seems like Nkilla is “playing it safe” by not picking anyone to be too good or too bad. Time will tell if that strategy pays off or not.

We’ll be back with the NFC predictions next week.