Wednesday, 5 August 2015

NFL AFC Conference 2015/16 Season preview

For any writer to do a full preview on all 32 teams and 8 divisions is a stretch, but I will give it my best shot. They say start with what you know,so I am starting with the AFC, the conference which is home to the reigning Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots.

Much has been made during this offseason about one man and the effect it will have on his team, it is easy to forget there are 31 other teams vying to win this season. And that is from a New England Patriot fan. I am biased, yet I accept this is a weird offseason leading into the preseason. If I was the Patriots I would accept the suspension and get the first four games, which on paper look no worse than a 2-2 record anyway (v Pittsburgh, @ Buffalo, v Jacksonville and @ Cowboys) and then reset the season come October with Brady under centre.

AFC East
My preview begins in the AFC East which thank to some key personnel moves on and off the field for certain teams, the division which has been New England's for nearly a decade is now under threat.  The Miami Dolphins realised that they need not only a capable QB for themselves, but a pass rush to attack the various QBs they face such as Brady. Therefore the signing of Ndamoukah Suh is a masterstroke, a player whose defensive capabilities are limitless but perhaps a change of climate will do him the world of good.

Rex Ryan, left New York, but did not get far heading north to Buffalo, staying in house and bringing a winning mentality to the floundering Bills who have enough offensive weapons to give any defence headaches all year. Expect Shady McCoy to lead the charge and with Sonny Williams the lead wide out in his second year, the pace will be tough to be second to the Patriots.

The New York Jets have a new head coach in former DC of Arizona, but the loss of
Sheldon Richardson for the season is huge for a team whose defence kept them in more games than you would think. Gene Smith is still the QB and that raises enough doubts that they will again be wooden spoon champions in the East.

The reason the battle for second will be tough is that the Patriots will again employ the siege mentality as us against them takes hold. With or without Brady, you anticipate that the presence of Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman will be sufficient for either Brady or Garrapollo to engineer victories. Much has been made of the losses on defence, no Revis, no Browner but time and again the Patriots have a turnover of defensive personnel and they either draft well or pick up free agents. The general acclaim afforded them for picking up Malcolm Brown in the draft indicates the nerves about the Patriots defence should be put on the back-burner.

Prediction: 1. New England 2. Miami 3. Buffalo 4. New York Jets

AFC North
So often this division has been one of feisty competition and resilience, now it looks like a division of teams failing to fulfil their potential. The theory of consistency holds true, but you can be a good regular season team yet you have to back it up in the playoffs. Something that has alluded the Cincinnati Bengals led by Andy Dalton and the still employed Marvin Lewis. For them it is easy, win the division and win a playoff game. Just one. Only one to have credibility.

Big Ben put up some huge numbers last season but as he ages, the stellar QB needs to adapt and utilise Le'Veon Bell this season to win the division, while the loss of Dick Lebeau will be a loss for any team.

The Cleveland Browns have another QB competition but it is between Johnny Football and Josh McGown, not exactly a great competition to begin with. Despite that who will the winner throw to
with Josh Gordon suspended for the season.

That leaves us with the Baltimore Ravens, a team with a perfect balance on both sides who have
quietly gone about their business and have the least questions to answer on the field. Can Flacco be less of a fluke and prove his elite status.

Prediction: 1.  Baltimore 2. Cincinnati 3. Pittsburgh 4. Cleveland

AFC West
Ordinarily this would be an easy decision and say the Denver Broncos with Peyton Manning at the helm would walk this division, get 12 wins minimum and compete with the Patriots for home field advantage. Yet the ageing Manning means the division is up for grabs although 10 wins might be enough for whomever. The biggest problem for Denver is protecting Manning, and Ryan Clady's injury at left tackle (Manning's blind side) will ask serious questions on his power of recuperation. A blessing for the Broncos was the advancement of CJ Anderson who gives Manning a great number to call at the line.

Elsewhere in the division, Kansas City have the most efficient QB but he had no downfield threat to keep them in high scoring games. Still a good defence marshalled by Andy Reid will make the the biggest threat to Denver.

San Diego have a good QB but a lot of questions on their defence and the four game suspension of Antonio Gates for PEDs is a big loss.

Oakland Raiders are not going to the be the laughing stock of the league, but again they have a young QB without much offensive weapons to help him mature and gain wins. Latavius Murray showed flashes of explosive game changing potential last year but is not considered their first choice RB, a mistake if they do not want to be dead last again.

Prediction: 1. Denver 2. Kansas City 3. San Diego 4. Oakland

AFC South
Quite possibly this could be the closest division in the AFC this season thanks to the elevation of one teams defence, and more consistent QB play hopefully coupled with the leader of the packs intention to not protect their star asset. This is the division that will see a real change of scenery.

Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts are many neutral observers tips to again reach the AFC championship game, yet to this observer the team have not done enough to beef up the offensive line to protect Luck. This makes it al the more remarkable when they play twice against the Houston Texans who can boast a defensive line that includes boy JJ Watt, the now fully fit Jadeaveon Clowney and newly acquired Vince Wilfork at defensive tackle - a scary combination. If the Texans can get a full season out of their QB either the young and maturing Ryan Mallett or dependable Brian Hoyer, some yardage out of Arian Foster (note Foster suffer a groin injury on 3-8-15) then the Texans are not only a division winner but a formidable opponent.

The Texans also have a favourable schedule. They open at home to Kansas City followed by a three game series versu three of the awful NFC South (Carolina, Tampa, Atlanta) so a possible 4-0 start perhaps, followed by a tough trip in Week 10 at Cincinnati for Monday Night Football with New England visiting Houston in Week 14. Not a terrible looking schedule, certainly not one to be scared of.

The other two teams have young QBs. Tennessee got Marcus Mariota and so changed their scheme, can the Hawaiian native lead the team to glory. It is down to expectation and Mariota should be given the keys for a season and not have a lot of pressure on his young shoulders.

Whereas, Blake Bortles is expected to progress and get more wins this year for the Jacksonville
Jaguars, Bortles showed flashes of quality coupled with bad rookie decisions, yet the acquisition of
Julius Thomas from Denver gives him a security blanket and red zone target.

Prediction: 1. Houston 2. Indianapolis 3. Jacksonville 4. Tennessee

Click here for my NFC preview.

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