Friday, September 9, 2011

9 comments Jeremy Conlin's 2011 AFC Preview

Today for something a little different Jeremy Conlin has been nice enough to write an AFC and NFC Preview and it is posted below. I'll put my own predictions up later this weekend. Jeremy comments here sometimes and if you want to follow him on Twitter his Twitter handle is "JConlin3789." His AFC Preview is today and we will try to get the NFC Preview up tomorrow. Hope you enjoy.

In his preview for Sports Illustrated, Peter King picked Atlanta to beat San Diego in the Super Bowl. This is my reaction. Now, no disrespect to Peter King, but I can’t go into football season with the country thinking that this is a realistic possibility. On one hand, both of these teams will fair decently well in the continuity battle, with neither team making major offseason acquisitions (unless you count Atlanta signing Ray Edwards and drafting Julio Jones, which I don’t), but the problem is, these teams weren’t good enough to win the Super Bowl last year, so what exactly is leading people to believe that they’re going to wake up this season and it’ll be different?

Atlanta got their asses kicked in the playoffs by Green Bay because their defense was comically overrated by the fact that they were a ball-control offense that led the league in Time of Possession. When they matched up with Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers picked apart their overmatched secondary and sent Atlanta packing. Well, guess what? Atlanta brought back their entire overmatched secondary. If they run into a team like Green Bay or New Orleans that has three or four reliable wide receivers that can win one-on-one matchups, it’s going to be déjà-vu all over again.

As for San Diego, their biggest weakness of last season gets cut in half. Their abysmal special teams will be partially remedied by the fact that moving the kickoff to the 35-yard line allows any 10th grader with a tee to become an NFL Kickoff Specialist. Last season, San Diego ranked 26th in the league with just 6 touchbacks. In comparison, Baltimore led the league with 40, which is the field-position equivalent of a defensive player producing 20 sacks. So yeah, it’s kind of a big deal that San Diego’s kick coverage gets fixed by a rule change.

But on the other hand, their head coach is Norv Turner. I was flipping through the NFL rulebook earlier this week and it made it pretty clear that teams coached by Norv Turner can’t make the Super Bowl.

Here’s how the divisions will play out:


1. New England (12-4)

Just when I thought the Patriots would have a stellar defense, they cut Pro Bowl Safety Brandon Merriweather and replaced him with a castoff from Denver’s 30th-ranked defense of last year, Josh Barrett. So much for that idea.

The defensive line should be much better, with the additions of Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth. While Haynesworth might not be anything more than just a big fat guy at this point, if he can give the Patriots 30 snaps every week, he’s still going to demand a double team. When you add that next to Wilfork, who also demands a double team, at least on every run play, all of a sudden you have everyone else that happens to be rushing the passer isolated in a 1-on-1 matchup. Granted, those people will be guys like Rob Ninkovich, Gary Guyton, and Andre Carter, but still.

Offensively, they’re basically the same team they were last year. They have plenty of guys that run precise routes, catch the ball, and can occasionally make one guy miss, but they don’t have anyone that can stretch the defense and make a play downfield. We saw it last year against the Jets – New York flooded the field with defensive backs, threw Revis on Deion Branch, and banked on New England’s receivers not being able to win the 1-on-1 matchups at the top of the routes. And they couldn’t. Ballgame.

That game was the perfect storm of a good gameplan as well as having the personnel to pull it off, so it’s not like every team will be able to do this against New England, but the blueprint is certainly out there.

2. New York Jets (10-6)

The uncapped year allowed the Jets to spend an ungodly amount of money. With the cap returning, there was no way New York would be able to retain all of their players, and now their forced to enter the season with offensive and defensive lines that are in the process of being rebuilt.

However, the key pieces to the team are still in place. The defense still has cornerback Revis and linebacker David Harris, arguably the two best players at their positions in the entire league. Bart Scott, Calvin Pace, Antonio Cromartie, and Jim Leonhard are back and healthy. They took a flyer on Plaxico Burress. They brought in Derrick Mason. There will be a ton of talent, but with both lines rebuilding and less depth, New York will take a step back.

3. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

4. Buffalo Bills (5-11)

Does anyone really care? Miami is banking on Chad Henne to be successful and Buffalo is still run by Chan Gailey. I think we can just move on.


1. Pittsburgh (14-2)

If you’re making predictions, you need to go out on a limb every once in a while. You can’t just pick every team to finish between 5-11 and 11-5. That’s no fun. There has been at least two teams that have won 13+ games in seven of the last 8 seasons, and in the other one, we still had one team finish 13-3. Here they are:

2010: Patriots (14-2) and Bears (13-3)

2009: Colts (14-2), Chargers (13-3), and Saints (13-3)

2008 (One Team): Titans (13-3)

2007: Patriots (16-0), Colts (13-3), Cowboys (13-3), and Packers (13-3)

2006: Chargers (14-2) and Bears (13-3)

2005: Colts (14-2), Broncos (13-3), and Seahawks (13-3)

2004: Steelers (15-1), Patriots (14-2), and Eagles (13-3)

2003: Patriots (14-2) and Chiefs (13-3)

So the Steelers are the first of three teams I’m picking to reach 13 wins. They have an easy schedule, playing the NFC West and AFC South (including what could be a gimme against the Colts in Week 3 if Manning is still out), plus they somewhat luck out with their division-winner opponents, with one coming against Kansas City, who is likely to regress (the other is New England at home). Everyone relevant from last year is back, they have a full season of Roethlisberger, their offensive line should be better, anchored by Maurkice Pouncey, who might be the best center in the league. Hines Ward has lost about 12 steps over the last two years, but if either of their two up-and-coming receivers (Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders) start producing opposite Mike Wallace, their passing attack could be deadly. Plus, their defense is kinda good too.

2. Baltimore (10-6)

Baltimore takes a step back this year. If I told you Baltimore’s pass rush was abysmal, would you believe me? You should, because it’s true. Baltimore was 28th in the league in sacks last season, with just 27. If they continue to struggle to put pressure on the quarterback, their defense could take a major step back now that they’re starting Jimmy Smith, a rookie, at one cornerback spot, and the other, Domonique Foxworth, is coming off a torn ACL. A bad pass rush and overmatched corners is a recipe for disaster. Just ask the 2010 Houston Texans. Ed Reed should be able to cover up some of those problems, but this is the same Ed Reed that has missed 10 games in the last two seasons.

If the Ravens want to make noise in the playoffs, they’ll need to have a dynamite offense, and I just don’t think they will. Ray Rice will be good, but they have the same problem that New England does with their receivers. They don’t have anyone that can win one-on-one matchups on the outside. Anquan Boldin still has something left in the tank, but he’s best when he’s moving around underneath and creating mismatches against linebackers and safeties. He was never a great deep threat, and now that he’s lost a step, he’s really just an intermediate receiver. Lee Evans should help in this respect, but he’s a receiver that can really only run four routes effectively (9, 18-yard Square, Deep Post, Drag). They have enough talent to get them into the playoffs, but that’s about it.

3. Cleveland (9-7)

My vote for the most underrated team in the league goes to Cleveland. Last year, they played an impossibly hard schedule (playing the AFC East and NFC South for a total of 9 games against playoff teams), had terrible luck in close games (3-7 in games decided by a touchdown or less), and started a rookie quarterback. All of those things should improve this season. They are strong on the offensive line (even after the injury to Eric Steinbach) and have a good, but not great defense. All they need is a productive passing game, and Colt McCoy should make a leap in year 2, and 2nd-Round pick Greg Little has been receiving a good amount of buzz.

If you take the four games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore out of their schedule, this is how the other 12 games look: vs. Cincinnati, @ Indianapolis, vs. Miami, vs. Tennessee, @ Oakland, vs. Seattle, @ San Francisco, @ Houston, vs. St. Louis, vs. Jacksonville, @ Cincinnati, @ Arizona. And if Baltimore regresses even more than I’m expecting them to, 10 wins and a playoff berth isn’t out of the question.

4. Cincinnati (3-13)

Their below-average running game and defense will be barely good enough to spare them from an 0-16 season. If I were a Bengals fan I would cross my fingers hoping to see Andrew Luck throw to A.J. Green next season.


(Note: this entire section is contingent upon Peyton Manning missing the entire season, which he is now heavily rumored to do. If it turns out he’s only missing 4-6 games, I’ll still pencil Indy in for 9 wins – bumping Tennessee and Houston down and giving Indy the division title)

1. Tennessee (9-7)

Chris Johnson is worth about four wins by himself, the upgrade from Kerry Collins’ corpse and Rusty Smith to Matt Hasselbeck should be worth a few more, and the defense is good enough to not let games get too far away from them. If Peyton Manning is really (gulp) out for the season, this is the only team complete enough to win the division.

2. Houston (9-7)

They signed Jonathan Joseph to shore up their secondary (good move), hired Wade Phillips to run their defense (questionable move), and implemented a 3-4 defense that will feature Mario Williams as an outside linebacker and gives DeMeco Ryans less freedom to roam around (speculating, but life-alteringly disastrous move). You can’t take one of the worst defenses in recent memory and implement a new scheme that puts your only two above-average players out of position. It just won’t work. When you add that onto an offense that might be without Arian Foster (one of the few running backs in the league that actually matters) for an extended period, I just can’t see Houston being much better than last season.

3. Jacksonville (5-11)

As we usher in the Blaine Gabbert Era, we usher out the need for me to spend more than one sentence discussing their 2011 season.

4. Indianapolis (4-12)

Manning possibly out for the season? That’s all I need to hear.


1. San Diego (13-3)

Special Teams woes (and as a direct result – field position) probably cost San Diego two or three wins last season. The fact that they didn’t have a single wide receiver play more than 11 games last season probably cost them two or three more. So with the rule change on kickoffs in effect and the return of Vincent Jackson, I’m bumping San Diego from 9 wins up to 13. It’s hard to put into words how amazing of an accomplishment it was for Phil Rivers to accumulate 4700 passing yards without having a single receiver top 800 receiving yards, so I won’t even try. Let’s just say it’s a big deal. I’d feel a lot better about their offense if they had a good slot receiver to balance out Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, but they managed last year, so I expect they’ll be fine this year.

2. Kansas City (8-8)

Matt Cassell’s rib injury + a schedule that is no longer comically easy + a regression to the mean health-wise + kickoff rule change = four reasons why Kansas City won’t repeat as AFC West champions. They started the season in Week 1 by beating San Diego in monsoon-like conditions, picking up one score on a punt return, one score on a 56-yard run by Jamaal Charles, and one score off a short field after a San Diego fumble. Just a fluky win all around, but it ended up winning them the division. Flip that game and San Diego finishes 10-6, Kansas City 9-7. This year, they should regress for all the reasons mentioned above, as well as the fact that Matt Cassell, even if healthy, isn’t likely to sustain his low interception rate of 1.5%, which was less than half it was in 2009 (3.2%).

3. Oakland (7-9)

As much as I want to give them a bigger bump for being an up-and-coming team with a decent amount of talent, I just can’t get past the fact that they fired Tom Cable (the one decent coach they’ve had in the last 10 years, and the only one that the players really responded to), lost their best defensive player, as well as two valuable offensive players (tight end Zach Miller and Guard Robert Gallery), and, the icing on the cake, drafted Stefen Wisniewski in the 2nd Round, whose biggest talent is apparently being the son of a former Raider (many draft experts expected him to be a 4th-5th Round pick). Just too much goofy stuff goes on with this team for me to pick them to have a winning record.

4. Denver (5-11)

On one hand, they’ve shelved the Tim Tebow experiment (for now), they’ve added rookie Von Miller to their porous defense from last season, they get Elvin Dumervil back, and their out from under the control of Josh McDaniel (who went 5-17 in his last 22 games as head coach).

On the other hand, they still don’t have enough talent. Brandon Lloyd had a career year last year at age 29 – don’t count on that repeating. Their receivers other than Lloyd aren’t anything special either. They whiffed in the 2008 and 2009 drafts – the only starter they got out of their efforts is running back Knowshon Moreno, who isn’t even a full-time back (Denver brought in the artist formerly known as Willis McGahee to shore up their backfield). The Orton/Lloyd/Eddie Royal trio should keep them in games just by chucking the ball, but they won’t be good enough anywhere else to sustain anything.

Coming tomorrow: The NFC


Jeremy Conlin said...

You can tell I don't edit myself well.

"and now their forced" in the Jets section should obviously be "they are," and the Falcons went 13-3 last year, not the Bears (from the Steelers section).

rich said...

I'm going to nitpick (because that's what I do dammit):

If Miami wins six games this year, they'll be the fraudiest (I don't know if that's even a word) six win team in the history of the NFL.

That offense is absolutely devoid of talent save for Jake Long and Brandon Marshall. With an offensive line with two new starters (Colombo and Pouncey) and a chronic underachiever (Incognito), both Long and Marshall lose value.

Last year, the Dolphins were 21st in offensive yards and 30th in points, but get this: they were 9th in offensive plays. So they get a lot of plays (thanks to their defense), but couldn't move the ball.

They couldn't run effectively (21st in the league) and they were just mediocre passing it (16th). Brown/Williams may not have been the best backfield, they at least were effective enough to warrant some game planning. I suspect most defensive coordinators aren't losing sleep at night worrying about Reggie Bush or Daniel Thomas.

Basically, at this point, the Dolphins seem more like a 4 win team than anything else.

Jeremy Conlin said...

I agree with a lot of that, but I still think that Chad Henne's regression last season was a bit out of the ordinary (I expect him to bounce back), and I still think they have enough talent on defense to be able to pull out a few wins - especially against teams like Buffalo/Denver/Washington. I also have a higher opinion of Daniel Thomas that it appears you do. He's a pretty good running back. I also think that Pouncey will be a really good pro.

Bengoodfella said...

Jeremy, I don't edit myself well either.

Rich, I am posting my predictions in a couple of days and I kind of like the Dolphins b/c of their defense. I agree with your analysis of their offense, but think Bush brings a different dimension to the offense.

I did not know that stat. They couldn't move the ball well at all last year. I have faith this year Chad Henne will be more efficient and really that's what it all rides on, his performance.

I think the Dolphins will avoid 4 wins just based on their defense, but I can't argue they haven't been great offensively.

rich said...


I think both Thomas and Pouncey will be very good, I was hoping the Giants would get him (although I'm very happy that Prince fell).

The issue is that with the shortened off-season, they lost time to work with the offense, which is about as important to offensive lineman as it is to QBs. Especially if they're a center and typically have to worry about a hundred things on top of what a RG might.

The other problem with rookies is that they're not used to a 16 game schedule and so I suspect that without the conditioning of the training camp as well as the fact that even with a training camp, the season is grueling, I'm not sure they hold up the whole season.

But alas, my main issue with the Dolphins offense is that I think Reggie Bush can be effective, but only in very, very, very limited situations and most of those involve the passing game. He's practically useless as a runner and so I think Miami runs a serious risk of pushing Thomas too hard, too fast (see above).

I'm also not as optimistic as you are about Henne, because to be perfectly honest I think Henne sucks. His pre-season stats are good, but then again, Eli Manning threw 1 interception in last year's pre-season and then ended up chucking 25 during the regular season.

Even then, defenses really don't have to worry about the ground game if Bush is in and I doubt Thomas gets more than 15 touches a game, so I think it'll be hard for Henne to perform well, especially later in the season.

The other issue is their schedule. I think they lose twice to NE, split with Buffalo and lost both to the Jets. They might steal a game from the Jets because Mark Sanchez is quickly taking the reins of the coveted "worst starter in football" trophy, although Alex Smith still holds the title for now.

So basically, I have Miami winning against Denver, Washington, Buffalo (at home), Oakland and maybe the Jets (in the battle of first to 3).

I honestly think they start the season 0-5 and that may get into their heads a little.

Last year the defense allowed the sixth least yards, but allowed the 14th most points. Meaning: shitty offense = bad field position = lots of points.

So while I agree with Ben in the sense that they're defense can win some games for them. I think the only way they win any games is with their defense.

Now they get lucky by not having to play the AFC North (two great teams) again, but rather get the AFC West (one good to great, one good), but they also go from the NFC North (two great teams) to the NFC East (one great team, two good).

And to wrap tie this altogether, Miami has gotten worse. So the schedule is a little more favorable to them, but they've also gotten worse (significantly IMO) this year as well.

Martin F. said...

Matt Jones was drafted ahead of Aaron Rodgers. That is mind boggling.

Bengoodfella said...

In retrospect, and only in retrospect, Matt Jones was drafted. That's mind boggling.

Martin F. said...

Drafted to be a WR converted from QB in college. Just, crazy!

Bengoodfella said...

Martin F, I don't think that is a bad idea, but I also think Jones had other issues (cocaine, if I remember correctly) outside of just learning to play WR in the NFL.