[Ed: The analysis of the teams was done before the week 1 games. I tried not to take into account the results when completing the write-up.]
AFC Playoff teams:
New England – New England lost a lot of good players in the off-season – like they do seemingly every year. But with Brady aging and the OL being hit hard, this seems like their window may be closing. Brady looked extremely poor at the beginning of last year; it is quite possible that the deflating of footballs led to his dramatic turnaround mid-season. They have another SB to go along with their previous 3. How hungry are they now? More particularly, how much does Brady have left in the tank? We saw Peyton go over a cliff mid-season last year; is this the year that Brady hits that precipice? Of course, how many times have we said that about the Brady-Belicheck era?
Prediction: Way down
Baltimore – Baltimore made it into the playoffs and was 2 touchdowns up on NE with 2 street free-agents in their defensive backfield. Now Jimmy Smith and Ladarious Webb are back plus they’ve added Kyle Arrington and S Kendrick Lewis. Safety Will Hill has now had an entire offseason to absorb the defense – and he looked pretty good even before that. This is essentially the same team that beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs and took NE to the mat, but with their hole at CB repaired. NFL better look out. One big difference is OC Gary Kubiak moving on to Denver. Marc Trestman is a good OC and they’re keeping the same offense that Kubiak installed, but this may or may not be a major downgrade.
Prediction: Even better than last year.
Bengals – Last year was the first without DC Mike Zimmer. The second year may see the defense continue to erode. But they have some very good play-makers. Of course it all comes down to how QB Andy Daulton plays in the playoffs.
Prediction: Serviceable 😉 – May win the AFC North again this year.
Colts – Everybody loved them picking up fast WR Dorsett in the first round of the draft, but that’s just flash. They did nothing to address a horrible O-Line and a suspect defense. However, Andrew Luck keeps them alive for the Play-offs. HC Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson are early candidates for the Hot Seat.
Steelers – A markedly worse defense, losing starting Center, and an aging Ben Rothlisberger make this team the biggest loser this year. No matter how good this offense is (and Antonio Brown may be the best WR in football), it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to stop anyone on D.
Broncos – Almost as bad a situation as the Steelers, but the defense keeps them alive. They now have Wade Phillips back as DC (the DC analog to Norv Turner’s OC – i.e. Great coordinators who make terrible head coaches). And with their defensive personnel they’ll be monsters. However, on Offense they have 39-year old Peyton Manning having to learn a new offense for the first time in his career. An offense that is gear towards the mobility of the QB of which there is little left. And they start 4 unproven players (now down to 3) on the OL. Bad combo.
Baltimore and the Bengals are the only ones guaranteed to make it back to the play-offs (Yes, you read that right). Who might replace the others? Miami and Buffalo will both be markedly improved. New York Jets might be as well as Todd Bowles tightens that ship.
Now that Philip Rivers has signed a contract extension, San Diego will again compete for a playoff spot and might actually make it this year. With Maclin back in Andy Reid’s offense, the Chiefs will again make a strong push for the playoffs.
Houston has a Bill Belichek disciple (I’ll believe it when I see it) and no QB. Tennessee has a winner in Marcus Mariotto, but they are not going anywhere. Jacksonville may be alright now that Bortles has a year under his belt.
Cleveland will be up and down. Pettine showed a strong hand last year, but Kyle Shanahan has bolted to the Falcons and they will be suffering a Johnny Football hangover for the foreseeable future.
Oakland should be better. But how much?