, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am so far behind where I want to be, and right now I’m looking at a list of NFL lines with horror – I was meant to have spreadsheets and formulas but despite getting the first game of the season right, I’m looking at the rest of games without even a picking pin to help me and that seemed to serve Dan’s Dad so well last year.

So before I have a nervous breakdown about the week one lines I still have time to run through the AFC divisions, which I suppose might help me gather my thoughts.

AFC East

The obvious class of the division is the defending Super Bowl Champions who will once again be the team to beat. The New England Patriots may well start slowly again, but I won’t believe they can’t be a contender to repeat when I see it, even if Tom Brady has to stop at some point. The combination of Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon could be combustible off the field, but could be terrifying if Belichick and his staff can channel their talent.

This season the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets will both be hoping to be more competitive in the division as their young quarterbacks go into their second years. I have a bit more faith in the Bills’ coaching staff than Adam Gase but Sam Darnold might well be the better quarterback. I’m curious to see how these teams will develop, but I’m not sure this is the year they compete for the playoffs.

One team who definitely won’t be participating in that race is the Miami Dolphins, who committed to the Fish Tank when they traded away three starters last weekend. They are clearly stacking up picks for the future and trying to replicate the Browns approach to the rebuild. I feel sorry for Josh Rosen who after a tough rookie year has been traded to a team who look like they could be just as bad as the Cardinals were last year.

AFC North

I have to acknowledge my own bias, but the AFC North is one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. That said the class of the division are sadly not the Bengals but the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens who even during their down years are still competitive. The Steelers look like they could be rejuvenated without dealing with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and Devin Bush looks like the piece the Steelers defence has been missing since the Ryan Shazier injury. The Ravens have looked good in pre-season and the defence seems to keep their identity regardless of additions and leavers. The offence will need to develop as you can only sustain so much running with your quarterback, but the comeback late in their wildcard loss did show signs that Lamar Jackson could throw enough for the offence to thrive.

The big offseason narrative of the off-season has been around the Browns, who have been amassing futher talent including Odell Beckham as John Dorsey sets the team up for what many believe will be a serious run for playoff success. My one concern though, is that Freddie Kitchens had not even run an offence until last season and now he’s in charge of the whole team. I’m not saying that they can’t succeed, and they may well challenge for the playoffs but I don’t think it is as a sure thing as a lot of people seem to.

I can’t argue that the Bengals should be taken as seriously being in the mix for the division, particularly given the ongoing injury problems along the offensive line, but I am looking forward to finally seeing what Zac Taylor’s plan is for the team. Although, on the road in Seattle has to be one of the toughest places to make a debut. I’m hopeful the offence can be effective as Andy Dalton has looked good in his limited pre-season snaps and Ryan Finley might be the future at quarterback although pre-season success for a rookie quarterback is no guarantee of success. However, I’m worried about the middle of the defence again and we’ll just have to see how things shake out.

AFC South

This is a division that was already looking very competitive and has been thrown up in the air by the shock retirement of Andrew Luck. The Indianapolis Colts have really improved under GM Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich and will still be competitive with Jacoby Brissett running the offence but the expectations for the season obviously feels different now.

The Houston Texans are a hard team to read, but the lack of full-time GM led Bill O’Brien to make some distinctly short term moves over the weekend and I’m not sure they were really in the position to make them even with the division opening up for them. The Texans have plenty of top tier talent but somehow have never quite convinced despite O’Brien having them in contention for the playoffs most seasons.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will be looking to bounce back from a dreadful season last year and part of this has been moving on from quarterback Blake Bortles as they look for Nick Foles to provide consistent play under coordinator John DeFilippo who was part of the Eagles Super Bowl winning staff that turned Foles into that game’s MVP. The defence was top ten last year by Football Outsiders DVOA despite knowing that the offence was going to let them down and will look to be dominant again. Meanwhile running back Leonard Fournette is healthy and will be wanting to demonstrate he’s worthy of the kind of contract handed to Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott in recent years.

The Tennessee Titans were really competitive under Mike Vrabel despite quarterback Marcus Marriota dealing with a nerve issue in his throwing arm. This is Mariota’s fifth year in the league and for different reasons than Jameis Winston (who thanks to draft position he’ll always be compared to) he has never quite broken out. Still, on the evidence of his first season as head coach it might end up being Vrabel who becomes the most convincing player/coach connected to Belichick to lead a team. If they can keep Marriota healthy and the defence plays well, the team has the potential to be competitive. Definitely a team to watch in the early weeks.

AFC West

The obvious team to start with is the Kansas City Chiefs who have rebuilt their defence in the off-season but all the focus will rightly be on Patrick Mahomes who had an otherworldly first season at starter last season. They have just added three more years to Tyreek Hill’s contract despite the horror of his domestic situation and we really should not ignore his worrying history. However, the talent is apparently too valuable to ignore and so he gets to play despite many feeling he would get a huge suspension when the recording of him threatening his partner and discussing their child who has been removed from their care. The Chiefs’ were obviously worried about this as they drafted Mecole Hardman who looked good when I saw him in pre-season. I’m not sure how improved the defence really will be, but the combination of Andy Reid and Mahomes should see the Chiefs in contention for years to come.

The other team that looked to be obviously competitive in this division are the LA Chargers, but it feels like they might have been derailed before the season has even started. I have marvelled for years about Philip Rivers’ ability to run the offence without any protection from his offensive line and the team looked legitimately good for long stretches of last season but they have already got injuries to some key players across the roster including left tackle Russell Okung. They will probably still be a tough team to face but without a real home field advantage and multiple injuries this could be a tough year.

The Denver Broncos are hoping that new head coach Vic Fangio will give them the spark to rebound from the disappointments of the Vance Joseph era but this is a very different team to the one that went to two Super Bowls with Peyton Manning. That said, they still have a terrifying pass rusher in Von Miller and Fangio is an excellent defensive coach, but John Elway has not been successful at finding a francise quarterback outside of the free-agent signing of Manning and the Broncos go into this season hoping that Joe Flacco can turn round his decline of recent years. It might be a big ask but I have a lot more faith in the experienced Fangio to at least have the team more competitive than in recent years.

And so to the final team of the AFC, who were all over the news even before they were the subject of this year’s Hard Knocks. They seemed to be tearing the team down and starting again last season, but it is hard to see how their big free-agent acquisition Antonio Brown could have caused more disruption. After the cryogenic treatment issue that made a mess of his feet and kept him out of the start of training camp and the saga of what helmet he would play in that dominated the news – he got into an altercation with GM Mike Mayock after posting his fine letters on Instagram and was finally cut from the team after the Raiders voided most of the money from his contract. Brown has been picked up the Patriots in a move that surprises nobody and Dan finds deeply suspicious.

What does all this mean to the team? I’m not sure as he’s hardly been with them and I’m not convinced at all by Gruden in this second stint as Head Coach. The defence looked pretty good in pre-season but Derek Carr has just lost his best potential receiver and with so much turmoil on the roster in the last two season I don’t know what to expect and I don’t have a lot of faith. I always want teams to do well as selfishly it provides for better content and makes the league more fun to cover but it feels like in their final year in Oakland the Raiders have the potential to implode spectacularly or rally round together. As ever only time will tell.