I had to squeeze in the AFC recap and predictions before the games started today!
AFC East: A tale of two halves.
1 – NE Patriots 13-3
2 – NY Jets 8-8
3 – Mia Dolphins 6-10
4 – Buf Bills 6-10
The New England Patriots did what they always seem to do: win. After starting 5-3, the Pats won their last 8 games solidifying the number 1 seed for the postseason. Tom Brady had another MVP type season and would have broken Dan Marino’s passing yards record if not for Drew Brees. The offense at times seems unstoppable with Wes Welker leading the league in catches, and the TE duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez tearing up the middle of the field. Surprise – Rob Gronkowski’s out of nowhere record-breaking season – 17 TD catches – most ever by a TE.
Rex Ryan’s New York Jets were sitting pretty at 8-5 with control of their own playoff destiny. Then crash landed throughout the final three weeks of the season to miss the postseason. Mark Sanchez didn’t take the step forward most expected. The running game fell way off compared to the previous two seasons. Time for Rex to put up or shut up. Surprise – Jets defense ranked 25th in total yards allowed.
After the Miami Dolphins started 0-7, finishing with a 6-10 record doesn’t seem so bad. Reggie Bush started running tough and recorded his first 1,000 yard rushing season. Without Bill Parcells in the mix anymore, they didn’t need his hand-picked coach running the show any longer, firing Tony Sparano mid-season. Surprise – QB Matt Moore stepping in and stepping up when Chad Henne was lost for the season.
The opposite is true for the Buffalo Bills compared to Miami. After starting 5-2, a 6-10 record is completely horrible. Early bright spots QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Fred Jackson, and WR Stevie Johnson faded by the end of the season. Fitzpatrick started turning the ball over, Jackson got injured, and Johnson couldn’t resist costing his team games with TD celebration penalties. Surprise – Ryan Fitzpatrick’s play after signing the contract extension.
AFC North: Ball So Hard U.
1 – Bal Ravens 12-4
2 – Pit Steelers 12-4
3 – Cin Bengals 9-7
4 – Cle Browns 4-12
The Baltimore Ravens won the north and swept the division. Joe Flacco has been great at times, and played small other times. The constant offensively (when allowed to be) is Ray Rice, he makes this team go. The defense is getting old, but they still set the tone. LB Terrell Suggs came up multiple times in MVP talks throughout the year. Surprise – Only a 4-4 record in road games.
The Pittsburgh Steelers just know how to win football games. I believe the Steelers are the most complete team in the AFC, and they are the number 5 seed. Ben Roethlisberger had another good year. The defense was stout, at times playing without James Harrison, and Troy Polamalu. Surprise – WR Antonio Brown’s emergence as a big play threat.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a rookie QB, and a rookie WR leading them into the playoffs. Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have had remarkable rookie seasons. RB Cedric Benson tallied his third straight 1,000 yard season with at least 6 TD’s. Unloading Carson Palmer mid season for a boat load of draft picks didn’t hurt either. A wind of change is blowing in Cincy. Surprise – QB Andy Dalton rookie season: 3,400 yards, 20 TD, and only 13 INT.
The lowly Cleveland Browns finished last… again. Running back Peyton Hillis may or may not have been Madden cursed this season, who knows? When it comes to playing bad, anything goes in Cleveland. Colt McCoy getting sent back into a game like lambs to the slaughter says everything you need to know about the Browns season. Play-maker Josh Cribbs had another decent year returning kicks. Surprise – LB D’Qwell Jackson finished 2nd in tackles with 158.
AFC South: Texans are headed to the playoffs!
1 – Hou Texans 10-6
2 – Ten Titans 9-7
3 – Jax Jaguars 5-11
4 – Ind Colts 2-14
I wonder if the Houston Texans were channeling a little Lionel Richie when once, twice, three times a QB went down? First Matt Shaub, then Matt Leinhart, then T.J. Yates: all injured during the Texans run to their first playoff appearance in franchise history. The injuries didn’t stop there though. All-pro wide out Andre Johnson and DE Mario Williams both missed a chunk of games. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are the most formidable running duo in the NFL. Along with a Wade Phillips bolstered defense made the post season trip possible. Surprises – Offense: 2nd overall in rushing . Defense: 2nd overall in total yards allowed.
Imagine if Chris Johnson would have hit the ground running for the Tennessee Titans in a year where Peyton Manning wasn’t going to claim the division crown for the Colts? WR Kenny Britt landing on IR didn’t help either. QB Matt Hasselbeck was steady for the Titans this season, and Jake Locker played well in his limited action. The Titans missed a huge opportunity this year. Especially with all the injuries the Texans faced. Surprise – The Titans ended the season ranked 31st in rushing.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are lucky they have Maurice Jones-Drew. If they didn’t, they would have absolutely zero talent on this roster. Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert was a disaster, head coach Jack Del Rio was canned, and not much more could have went wrong for the Jags. Surprise – MJD STILL lead the league in rushing despite this mess of a team.
The Indianapolis Colts find themselves with the number one overall pick in the 2012 draft thanks to a complete dud of a season. No Peyton Manning = no chance. It is only a matter of time now until we find out the answer to the question everyone is asking. Will the Colts replace Peyton and draft Andrew Luck?
AFC West: TEBOWMANIA
1 – Den Broncos 8-8
2 – SD Chargers 8-8
3 – Oak Raiders 8-8
4 – KC Chiefs 7-9
You live by the Tebow, you die by the Tebow. The Denver Broncos were red hot with Tim Tebow under center until they weren’t. Losing the last three games of the season almost cost the Broncos the division. Lucky for them, the rest of the division was horrible too. The Broncos defense has been awesome at times, and they will need to be if the Broncos plan on advancing in the playoffs. Surprise – Second overall pick LB Von Miller has been a standout- 11.5 sacks and 64 tackles.
The San Diego Chargers are Randy Moss embodied in team form. They play when they want to play, and apparently they only ever want to play after they have basically been eliminated from playoff contention every year. Philip Rivers got off to a tough start, but he was able to right the ship. Gates is old. The defense is crap. Surprise – I had one of these in the NFC recap – but how did Norv Turner not get fired? He is a horrible head coach.
The Oakland Raiders faced all kinds of adversity this season. Al Davis passing away, starting QB Jason Campbell going down for the season, star RB Darren McFadden lost for the year. With the trade for Carson Palmer, and the play of Michael Bush, they still had a team worthy of an AFC west title. Losing the last game of the season cost the Raiders that title. Surprise – Darrius Heyward-Bey stepped up this year finishing just short of his first 1,000 yard rec season.
The Kansas City Chiefs started 0-3, followed by a 4 game winning streak, then all hell broke loose. With injuries to QB Matt Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles, and TE Tony Moeaki mid-season, it became a struggle real quick for KC. Tyler Palko hasn’t very good stepping in for Cassel, but Kyle Orton did come fresh off the waiver wire to beat the then undefeated GB Packers. Orton almost was able to get KC back in the playoff mix in the wild, wild AFC West. Surprise – RB Jackie Battle ran for 600 yards filling in for Jamaal Charles.
Playoff Predictions – Wildcard Weekend
- Cincinnati @ Houston – Turnovers will be the key and play a big role in who wins this game. With rookie QB Andy Dalton at the helm for Cincy facing a Houston defense that is ranked 2nd in yards allowed, it should be hard for anybody not to pick the Texans to win this game. Why this pick is hard: the Texans have their own rookie QB starting this game in T.J. Yates. My gut still says Houston.
- Pittsburgh @ Denver – Big Ben is handicapped by his ankle, and Tim Tebow is handicapped by his arm. Pittsburgh will take care of business here.
- Pittsburgh @ New England – I never like to bet against Tom Brady, but when he doesn’t have any defense at his back, I feel I have to consider it. Pending Big Ben’s health, the Steelers should be able to score, and they have play-makers on both sides of the ball. Even without Mendenhall I can see Pittsburgh controlling the tempo of this game. Steelers win.
- Houston @ Baltimore – Baltimore has a way of making QB’s look bad, and when your quarterback is a rookie third string quarterback, that’s when things can go from bad to worse. Baltimore wins big.
- Pittsburgh @ Baltimore – Baltimore beat Pittsburgh twice this season already, but the third time will be the charm for the Steelers. I believe Joe Flacco will be looking through the ear hole of his helmet multiple times in this game. Setting the stage for the Green Bay/Pittsburgh rematch of last year’s Super Bowl.