The past couple weeks have resulted in a slight return to normalcy. There are a few teams that are still not where we expected them to be (Minnesota) and may be lost for good (Dallas and San Fran), and some of these rough starts mean that there are probably some other teams benefiting from it.
There are some unexpected teams atop a few divisions, but I decided to take a look at the AFC this week with an NFC evaluation coming next week.
The Jets are on the bye this week, so the Patriots could easily come to tie them atop the division with a match-up against a thus far disappointing San Diego Chargers team this week.
The Patriots are showing more and more signs of the team that was winning rings not too long ago.
The Randy Moss trade had some fans and analysts criticizing, but it seems the re-acquisition of Deon Branch fits right back into the Patriots plans and their old style of offense. Many believed that the Ravens deserved the title of best team in the NFL prior to being topped by New England in OT Sunday.
The Jets are too strong defensively and it is not feasible that the Patriots defense could improve to that level, but they certainly are improving.
Mark Sanchez continues to grow with an improved receiving core and the re-invigoration of LaDanian Tomlinson has the Jets thinking what they’ve been thinking all along.
At 3-2 the Dolphins cannot be counted out, but have too many missing pieces, particularly on defense.
It is clear that two of the AFC’s greatest contenders are in the same division, as the Steelers and Ravens were atop the power rankings last week.
Even with Terrell Owens posting big numbers, Carson Palmer’s arm does not look the same as it once did prior to his elbow surgery. Consequently, the Bengals offense does not look at as dynamic as it did years ago, even with the addition of T.O. The Bengals defense unfortunately does not have the same physical presence as the Steelers and Ravens.
Like the Bills, I am going to exclude the Browns from conversation.
The Steelers have allowed an unbelievable twelve points per game while putting up huge stats on turnovers. The return of Roethlisberger has the Steelers offense flipped right side up, and understandably so. Roethlisberger has proven his intangibility as an elite NFL QB and will continue to do so.
The maturity of Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace is turning the Steelers into a team that doesn’t need to have the best defense in the league, but they do.
The Ravens offense has not been as dominant as the acquisition of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh seemingly indicated, but it certainly has helped. The offensive side of the ball is still finding its chemistry and Ray Rice has the tools of a top five RB. They should be functioning on all cylinders soon.
One of these teams will be hoping their record is enough for a wild card bid at the end of the year. I’ll take the Steelers for the division.
I’m not going to lie and say I think the Colts will somehow miss the playoffs for the second time in the Peyton Manning era.
The Colts are 27th in the league against the rush, and there is not much light at the end of the tunnel with Bob Sanders potentially done for the year. Regardless, Manning can keep the Colts in any game. Reggie Wayne looks as consistent as ever with Pierre Garcon returning to health and Austin Collie is sporting a Bradon Stokley type feel in Manning’s arsenal.
The Titans currently look like the team most likely to challenge the Colts.
Tennessee probably didn’t go into the season expecting to be one point behind the Colts for most points scored in the league, but they are. Defenses are very wary of Chris Johnson, and that pursuit has led to several openings for Vince Young in the passing game. It doesn’t hurt that the Titans D looks back to form, either.
There is little chance the Houston Texans can overcome their defensive woes. A potent offense has not been enough in the past and barring a massive turnaround it won’t be this season. The loss of MLB Demeco Ryans is just another chink in the Texans armor.
I never took Jacksonville seriously, and last week’s 30-3 loss to the Titans only solidified my opinion.
The West may be the conference’s most exciting division down the stretch, while also being the least relevant.
The Chiefs 3-0 start has been followed by two losses, granted they were in close contests against the Colts and the Texans. The Chiefs have undoubtedly been the most rounded team in the division so far.
Analysts continue to expect the Chargers to turn it around, but the absence of Vincent Jackon and loss of LaDanian Tomlinson have taken their toll. Jackson’s return in week twelve could provide a spark if the Chargers are in the race, but inconsistencies on defense coupled with some recent injuries is not a recipe for success.
The Raiders have shown glimpses of hope with their talented yet injury-prone run game and Bruce Gradkowski has proven to be a viable QB option if he too can stay healthy, at least in comparison to Jason Campbell.
The Raiders pass defense ranks 8th in yards allowed, but their rush defense has been Swiss cheese thus far.
The Broncos could easily end up at the bottom of the division. The team’s offense is lacking a sufficient running attack to counter their passing game and have consistency issues on defense.
Most would take the Chargers to rebound and steal the division, but the Chiefs are playing with more passion. Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles are making for a balanced double-threat and a slew of young talent including rookie Dexter McCluster should only improve with experience down the stretch.
About the Author
Written by Zachary Stanley
By the end of the fall I will have obtained a Bachelor's degree from Ithaca College. I have been blogging for quite some time and am greatly enjoying my various responsibilities in this field. I am currently a Feature Celtics Columnist and a Featured Sports Contributor for two different sites. I am also a couple weeks from opening up my new blog site, CelticsNotes.com.