We Gon’ Make It? Part One

Posted: August 25, 2012 by centennialsports in Pigskin

By Dane Belbeck

“I’m So Happy You Cut That Stupid Hair You Had Last Year Tom!!!!!”

Every August we get bombarded with football predictions by every single sports media outlet or blog telling you where each NFL team is going to finish and why. While Herman Edwards says that everyone is ‘playing to win the games’ it’s pretty clear that the New England Patriots are going to win more games then the Miami Dolphins this season. So I will spare you the write-up on why the Patriots are a good football team that will win the AFC East….They have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. As long as that statement holds true the Patriots will always be my AFC East favourite. There’s also not much debate as to whether the Houston Texans will win the AFC South. Andrew Luck’s endless ceiling aside, when Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker are the other quarterbacks in the division I like your team’s chances. So here are some predictions as to why the other teams in the AFC have a chance to make the playoffs…and why they most likely will not.

AFC EAST

Pretty clear the Patriots are virtual locks to win this division and grab a playoff spot so let’s skip to the rest of the East.

New York Jets (2011 record 8-8, missed playoffs)

If they were giving byes to the playoffs for the most over-covered and over-analyzed team in the off-season the New York Jets would easily grab one. The circus that follows Timothy Richard Tebow arrived in New York March 21st, the day the Jets traded a fourth and sixth-round draft pick for the polarizing quarterback from Denver, and has only intensified since. To some this was the greatest trade in the history of trades (most of these people being devout evangelists or die-hard Florida Gator fans such as myself), a productive trade (put some pressure on Mark Sanchez to take his starting quarterback job seriously, have Wildcat guru Tony Sparano use Tebow effectively in the formation), or a train-wreck waiting to happen (anyone who has seen Sanchez play the last two years and realize the Jets will be trotting out a quarterback who can barely through a spiral as their starter by week six). The Jets seem to be operating under the classic “Can’t beat him…trade for him” ideal.

Make the Playoffs If: Rookie Quinton Coples fits right into the front seven and is able to get quarterback pressure without elaborate blitz schemes, The offense gets back to their roots and runs over teams with a power running attack featuring Wildcat and goal-line packages with Tebow and Shonn Greene, Sanchez doesn’t try to do too much and rookie Stephen Hill emerges as a legitimate #2 receiver.

Miss the Playoffs If: The offense looks anything like they have in the preseason, the Jets fail to generate a pass-rush and fall behind early in games forcing Sanchez or Tebow into a pass-heavy offense to a below average group of receivers outside of Santonio Holmes.

Likely: Sparano implements the wildcat and it achieves success like never before with the dual threat of Tebow, Sanchez has a productive year in which he is not asked to do much and Rex Ryan gets the defense back on track, the Jets grab a wildcat spot finishing second in the AFC East.

Buffalo Bills (2011 record 6-10, missed playoffs)

The Bills made the biggest off-season move not named Peyton Manning as they added Defensive End Mario Williams from the Houston Texans for a six-year contract that could be worth up to $100 million. The club then signed Mark Anderson to man the other end of the front four. With Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus in the interior, the Bills easily have arguably the top front four in the game. A healthy Fred Jackson returns to form a loaded backfield with C.J. Spiller to give the Bills a very formidable rushing attack. After signing a six-year extension with the Bills last season, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s numbers dropped off significantly as he was hindered by an ongoing rib injury.

Make the Playoffs If: The front four is as good as advertised getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks allowing the Bills to drop six and seven men into coverage, first-round draft pick Stephon Gilmore lives up to the hype and immediately helps a secondary that ranked 19th against the pass last year, Fitzpatrick’s struggles were due to the rib injury and he returns to early season form from 2012, and the two-headed monster of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson terrorizes defenses.

Miss the Playoffs If: Fitzpatrick’s struggles last season were not due to the rib injury and he continues to struggle, the front four isn’t as productive at rushing the passer as advertised putting more pressure on the questionable back-end, Stevie Johnson fails to emerge as a legitimate number one receiver.

Likely: Fitzpatrick’s form falls somewhere between the great start to the 2011 season and the horrible end to the 2011 season. Fred Jackson returns and sees a slight dip in production with C.J. Spiller getting more touches, Williams impresses, Anderson does not and the Bills challenge the Jets for second in the division and a wildcard spot but fall a game short.

Miami Dolphins (2011 record 6-10, missed playoffs)

Let’s be honest, there’s no chance the Dolphins make the playoffs, but any excuse to show pictures of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s wife Lauren must be taken advantage of.

Really Great Upside on this Draft Pick..

AFC NORTH

Only once in the last six years has the AFC North not been won by the Pittsburgh Steelers or Baltimore Ravens and in that time span the division has also sent 5 wildcard teams to the playoffs. Safe to say this is one of the best divisions in football. Last season the Cincinnati Bengals joined the Steelers and Ravens in the playoffs as the sixth seed. This year is sure to be another battle between the Steelers and Ravens for the division crown with the loser almost guaranteed a wildcard spot (although we know how that turned out last year), so let’s look at the chances the Bengals make the playoffs for a second year running.

Cincinnati Bengals (2011 record 9-7, 2nd AFC Wildcard team)

The Bengals resurgence came a year early as the sensational rookie tandem of quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green arrived on the scene and instantly added excitement to the offense. Carson Palmer was dealt to Oakland, and a young defense led by linebacker Ray Maualuga, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap finished the season 9th in points allowed per game. Leading rusher is Cedric Benson is gone to Green Bay, but the Bengals brought in Benjarvus Green-Ellis from the Patriots to replace him.

Make Playoffs If: Dalton continues to impress at the quarterback position, limit the turnovers, and continue his progress in being the best red-headed quarterback since Jeff Garcia, Green avoids the sophomore slump and continues his rise up the receiver ranks of the NFL, they are able to beat someone in the division not named the Cleveland Browns (0-4 versus Ravens and Steelers last season), and Green-Ellis makes everyone forget about Cedric Benson.

Miss Playoffs If: Do not improve on last year’s 2-4 divisional record, non-divisional games include the AFC West and NFC East compared to the abysmal NFC West and AFC South last year, Green and Dalton regress in their sophomore years, the rushing attack misses Benson and fails to take pressure off Dalton and new cornerback Terrence Newman plays like….well…Terrance Newman.

Likely: Three teams from the North will not be getting into the playoffs again this season with their out of division opponents posing much more of a threat then last years. The Bengals young talent matures and shows flashes of brilliance again for a half empty Paul Brown Stadium but cannot oust the Ravens or Steelers from the top two spots and misses the playoffs.

Cleveland Browns (2011 record 4-12, missed playoffs)

The Browns really tested the “I just love football so much I will watch any game possible” theory with their struggles on offense last year. To rectify the problem they drafted running back Trent Richardson from Alabama and quarterback Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State. It’s hard not to think Trent Richardson is going to be a star, but it’s always dicey when you have a rookie quarterback actually OLDER then Aaron Rodgers already…Playoffs are not happening but if Richardson treats the opposition anything like he treats his running back’s coach, the Browns will be fun to watch

Look for part two featuring the AFC South and AFC West divisions coming up…

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