Happy Tuesday-which-feels-like-a-Monday, friends. It’s Football Eve, so I decided to give you some NFL-wide football thoughts the rest of this week, two divisions at a time. Here’s the tentative schedule:
Tuesday: AFC East, AFC North
Wednesday: AFC South, AFC West
Thursday: NFC East, NFC North
Friday: NFC South, NFC West
I don’t want to go all Peter King, and try to predict the result of a Super Bowl that’s five months away, because that’s a stupid and pointless exercise. I am going to try to give you some more general insight, though. Ready…. BEGIN!!
It’s been a while since I’ve gone to Ready…. BEGIN!! It felt good.
The team that should win: New England Patriots
When it comes to talent, in terms of both coaching and players, the Patriots are miles ahead of the other three teams in this division. Even beyond that, they have an outstanding owner in Robert Kraft. Quality ownership leads to quality programs, and it’s the main reason why some teams manage to always win, even in the so-called age of parity. Bob Kraft is terrific, and in his division is an ancient Ralph Wilson, who lives in Detroit and doesn’t participate much with the Bills, and two doofuses in Woody Johnson and Stephen Ross.
The team that could win: Buffalo Bills
The Bills have an excellent scheme on offense and the players to make it work. I’m looking for C.J. Spiller to continue to emerge into a big-time weapon, who can be used to create a lot of matchup problems. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to play better than he did in the second half of the season, if he can stay healthy. He’s a quick decision-maker and an accurate short thrower, and if the Bills stick to their strengths, they’ll be good on offense.
I used to be a big fan of Mario Williams, but his lack of ability to stay healthy has diminished him in my mind. If he can stay on the field, and fellow DE Mark Anderson can do as well as he did in New England last season, the Bills could really have an excellent pass rush.
The team that’s worse than you think: New York Jets
The Jets will probably be pretty tough on defense, like they usually are. They have good talent on that side of the ball, even if I’m not buying the idea that Quinton Coples is the cure for their lousy pass rush.
The Jets have big problems on offense, and the least of them is at the QB position. They say they want to “ground and pound,” whatever that dumbass saying means. Their primary RB Shonn Greene is totally just a guy, though, and behind him are the underwhelming Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell. None of those players scare anybody, or would force a defensive coordinator to stack the box.
Not that it really matters much, because the Jets are terrible outside. Santonio Holmes is a declining player, and Stephen Hill isn’t nearly ready for prime time.
The line isn’t very good either, particularly on the right side. This is a pathetic offensive group - in the bottom five of the NFL - and I wouldn’t be surprised if their Wildcat stuff is their most productive offensive attack. The fact is that Tim Tebow is the most dangerous playmaker the Jets have on offense.
The team that’s just as bad as you think: Miami Dolphins
I think Miami is going in the right direction, with the hiring of Joe Philbin and the drafting of Ryan Tannehill. It’s going to take a little while, though, because their offensive skill position guys may be even worse than the aforementioned Jets.
The Dolphins defense will probably be solid, but I think you can throw on them, if you can block Cameron Wake. Dol-fans should be thinking ahead to 2013, and hoping that Tannehill learns a lot in this tough season.
The team that should win: Baltimore Ravens
I think that Joe Flacco subtly came into his own last season, and that he played well enough to take the Ravens to the Super Bowl. I like that the Ravens are talking about playing more no-huddle this season, because it’s going to make their jobs easier on offense. I’ll like the Ravens better if either Tandon Doss or Deonte Thompson emerges at WR, because I think Anquan Boldin’s usefulness is quickly running out.
On defense, I wonder where the pass rush is coming from while Terrell Suggs is hurt. I don’t view Courtney Upshaw as a pass rusher, and I don’t see a lot of reason to believe in Sergio Kindle. The Ravens had better hope for a good performance from Paul Kruger. I give the Ravens a slight edge in this division, and for a change, it’s because of the offense.
The team that could win: Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals finally did a smart thing in 2011, by hiring a real offensive coordinator in Jay Gruden. For nine years, they’d stuck with Bob Bratkowski - because he worked cheap - and they got what they paid for. Gruden did a nice job in 2011, and I consider him a strength for this coming season.
The Bengals offense has a chance to be good, if a couple of “ifs” work out. Andy Dalton is an “if” guy, because I don’t view him as having top-notch physical ability. He looks like he could overcome that by emphasizing decision-making, anticipation, and accuracy, but we’ll have to see how he progresses. I’m even less sold on the idea of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a primary RB, and I’m going to want to see it before I believe it.
A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham are the best WR and TE in the division, and if a quality second WR can emerge, the Bengals could be tough to stop in the passing game.
The defense has a lot of talent, and a smart coordinator in Mike Zimmer. Their season is going to hinge on the dual challenges of developing young guys (Dre Kirkpatrick, Devon Still, Michael Johnson), and getting something out of aging scrap-heap guys (Terence Newman and Nate Clements, especially). I like the Bengals to make the playoffs, and it’s very plausible to see them winning the division.
The team that’s worse than you think: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have an excellent program in place, and a lot of proud players within that program.
They’re getting to be old and slow, though.
They also appear to be a team that knows it can’t adequately protect its QB, and is planning to run the ball very frequently. They kept only four wideouts (Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, and Emmanuel Sanders), and six backs (Rashard Mendenhall, Baron Batch, Chris Rainey, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and Will Johnson).
I think their offensive line is lousy enough that they may struggle to run the ball too. The Steelers can still take a game off of anybody, but I think that they’re going to struggle on offense more than they’re used to, and that their defense will be more porous too.
James Farrior is a big loss, and I’d be worried about James Harrison’s health. I also don’t like any of the Steelers’ CBs beyond Ike Taylor, and I don’t love him either. I readily admit that if anybody has the structure and proud old veterans in place to make me wrong, it’s the Steelers; but I just view them as an 8-8 type of team for 2012.
The team that’s better than you think: Cleveland Browns
I think the Browns are likely to finish fourth in the AFC North again, but that they are much better than they were in 2011. They have an offensive line, particularly with the addition of second-round RT Mitchell Schwartz, that is a very good run-blocking group.
They drafted Trent Richardson third overall, and if he gets past his knee troubles, this portends to be a team that can run the ball very effectively, and probably have a good deal of success with play action off of that. A lot is going to depend on how well QB Brandon Weeden plays, and that is going to depend a lot on how much young receivers like Greg Little and Josh Gordon are able to help him.
I like what the Browns are doing in building their defense, and it’s a shame that Phil Taylor is going to miss a good part of the season. The bad part of the deal is that with the recent ownership change, it’s pretty likely that the house may be cleaned at season’s end, and the progress that’s been made with personnel and scheme may be thrown away, the baby going with the bathwater. My read on the new owner is that he may be the kind of high-ego guy who would need to put his own stamp on things, and that is likely to be counterproductive in the short-term.
That’s what I have for today. I’ll be back daily-ish, along with lots of other good content from the other guys, so keep checking out IAOFM.