A division-by-division rundown of the AFC, with analysis of each team, stats on key players, and record predictions.
New England Patriots
The last time we heard from the New England Patriots they were in the midst of ending their season on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl History. The New York Giants beat the previously undefeated Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII last February. The pats lost in their bid to go 19-0 and tie the 1972 Dolphins. That ’72 Miami team remains the only undefeated team in NFL history. The Patriots are still the Patriots though, and with Tom Brady at the helm, they are still the odds on favorite to win Super Bowl XLIII.
QB: Tom Brady-4806 passing yards, 50 TDs, 8 INT, 117.2 QB rating.
WR: Randy Moss-98 receptions, 1493 receiving yards, 23 TDs.
WR: Wes Welker-112 receptions, 1175 receiving yards, 8 TDs.
Projected Record: 14-2
The Bills are a popular pick to make the playoffs this year. This club hasn’t seen the post season since ’99 and seems to be stuck in the NFL’s version of Groundhog Day. Each year it seems like Buffalo will turn the corner, but each season ends the same way: sans playoffs. They might as well change their name to the Buffalo Let-Downs. I’m going to give in to the hype though and pick the Bills as a playoff team. The defense seems stout, the young offense has a lot of weapons as well as a lot of questions marks, the special teams are stellar, and the schedule is fairly easy. Everything adds up to a playoff birth. Western New York: Don’t wager your snow tires, though.
QB: Trent Edwards-1630 passing yards, 7 TDs, 8 INT, 70.4 QB rating.
RB: Marshawn Lynch-280 rushes, 1115 rushing yards, 7 TDs.
WR: Lee Evans-55 receptions, 849 receiving yards, 5 TDs.
PR: Roscoe Parrish-27 punt returns, 16.3 average, 1 TD.
Projected Record: 10-6
New York Jets
A month ago, this paragraph would have been a heck of a lot different. I would have pointed out the fact that the Jets were 4-12 last year and didn’t really seem to upgrade their team in any way other than bringing in Kris Jenkins from Carolina. But this was all before the Jets traded for Brett Favre. I still don’t think they will make the playoffs, but the addition of Favre makes things a lot stickier in the AFC. Brett Favre is a hall of famer and adding him instantly adds two to three wins.
QB: Brett Favre-4155 passing yards, 28 TD’, 15 INTs, 95.7 QB rating.
RB: Thomas Jones-310 rushes, 1119 rushing yards, 1 TD.
WR: Jerricho Cotchery-82 receptions, 1130 yards receiving yards, 2 TDs.
S: Kerry Rhodes-68 tackles, 5 INTs.
Projected Record: 7-9
Miami named Chad Pennington as its starter. It remains to be seen if he is a step up from Josh McCown and John Beck. The Jets got tired of Pennington underachieving, and now the Dolphins can look forward to the same. I’m not sure it matters who calls the plays for this team, they just don’t have enough talent to compete with the rest of the AFC east. The ‘Fins went 1-15 last season. Look for more of the same in 2008.
QB: Chad Pennington-1765 passing yards, 10 TDs, 9 INTs, 86.1 QB rating.
RB: Ronnie Brown-119 rushes, 602 rushing yards, 4 TDs.
WR: Ted Ginn Jr.-34 receptions, 420 receiving yards, 2 TDs.
Projected Record: 1-15
The Steelers finished last season tied with Cleveland at 10-6, but still won the AFC North, and kept the Browns out of the playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger had the best year of his career. Who knows if he can continue the same kind of numbers this year? With Veteran Hines Ward, up-and-comer Santonio Holmes and tight end Heath Miller running up the sidelines, it seems likely Roethlisberger will have a similar season. If he’s going to keep up the big numbers, he’ll need more protection from his offensive line. Roethlisberger was sacked 47 times in ’07.
QB: Ben Roethlisberger- 3154 passing yards, 32 TDs, 11 INTs, 104.1 QB rating.
RB: Willie Parker- 321 rushes, 1316 rushing yards, 2 TDs.
WR: Santonio Holmes- 52 receptions, 942 receiving yards, 8 TDs.
Projected Record: 12-4
Fans of the Cleveland Browns should be pen pals with Buffalo Bills fans. Both franchises have large blue-collar fan bases, both are located on the “Rust-Belt” and both teams haven’t made life easy lately for their fans. Cleveland finished 10-6, but didn’t make the playoffs last season. There have been seasons when 8-8 teams have received wild card births. Ouch Cleveland. The Browns have a pro-bowl QB (Derek Anderson), a capable running back (Jamal Lewis) and two pro bowl receivers (WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow). They had the 8th ranked offense last season…but, they had the 30th ranked defense. If they are going to make the playoffs, the defense is going to have to step up big in ’08.
QB: Derek Anderson- 3787 passing yards, 29 TDs, 19 INTs, 82.5 QB rating.
WR: Braylon Edwards- 80 receptions, 1289 receiving yards, 16 TDs.
TE: Kellen Winslow- 82 receptions, 1106 receiving yards, 5 TDs.
CB: Leigh Bodden- 88 tackles, 6 INTs.
Projected Record: 11-5
Who is going to be the Ravens starting quarterback? The start of the NFL season is days away and nobody knows who will be behind center. Is it Kyle Boller, Troy Smith, or Joe Flacco? It’s hard to write a preview of a team if I don’t know who the main man is going to be. Joe Flacco took the most snaps during the preseason, but it is assumed that Boller will be the starter. Either way, the Ravens aren’t a playoff contender. Baltimore will undoubtedly have a top ten defense, but there are too many question marks on the offensive side of the ball.
RB: Willis McGahee- 294 rushes, 1207 rushing yards, 7 TDs.
WR: Derrick Mason- 103 receptions, 1087 receiving yards, 5 TDs.
LB: Ray Lewis- 121 tackles, 2 INTs.
Projected Record: 6-10
I feel bad for Bengals fans more so than any other fan. They have to deal with more off-field shenanigans than any other fan. The most recent is the changing of flamboyant wide receiver Chad Johnson’s name to Chad Javon Ocho Cinco. This move seems to have been made just to annoy Coach Marvin Lewis, who called Johnson “Ocho Psycho” last season. There are too many distractions and question marks for this team to be considered anywhere near a playoff squad, plus their defense is so awful that there offense could score 35 points and still lose.
QB: Carson Palmer- 4131 passing yards, 26 TDs, 20 INTs, 86.7 QB rating.
WR: Chad Javon Ocho Cinco- 93 receptions, 1440 receiving yards, 8 TDs.
WR: T.J. Houshmandzadeh- 112 receptions, 1143 receiving yards, 12 TDs.
Projected Record: 5-11
The Colts are one of the easiest teams to make projections about. They are all around sick. They finished with the 3rd best offense as well as the 5th best defense a year ago. Peyton Manning was his usual self, throwing 31 touchdowns. Reggie Wayne tore it up without a healthy Marvin Harrison for most of the year. As long as Manning’s knee holds up, the Colts are a lock for the playoffs. I’m not sure Jim Sorgi could lead them to the Promised Land.
QB: Peyton Manning- 4040 passing yards, 31 TDs, 14 INTs, 98.0 QB rating.
WR: Reggie Wayne- 104 receptions, 1510 receiving yards, 10 TDs.
S: Bob Sanders- 97 tackles, 2 INTs.
Projected Record: 14-2
The Jags ditched immobile Byron Leftwich before last year in favor of David Garrard and backup Quinn Gray. The two quarterbacks combined for 28 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. The two-headed monster of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew gives Jacksonville one of the most talented backfields in the NFL. They have a bevy of solid receivers, but no true star. That works to their advantage though, because everybody gets one on one protection. In ’07 Jacksonville had 11 defenders with at least one interception.
QB: David Garrard- 2509 passing yards, 18 TDs, 3 INTs, 102.2 QB rating.
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew- 167 rushes, 768 rushing yards, 9 TDs.
S: Reggie Nelson- 62 tackles, 5 INTs..
Projected Record: 12-4
So far, Vince Young hasn’t panned out to be as much of an offensive star as most predicted, but his team still manages to win. Last year he threw only 9 touchdowns while hoisting 17 interceptions, but the Titans still made the playoffs. Lendale White is an extremely talented up-and-coming back and the Titans have a similar receiving corps to the Jaguars. In ’07, the Titans defense was the 5th best. If this team can find a better rhythm on offense, they will be a juggernaut. Even if they don’t, they can always remember when the Baltimore Ravens won the super bowl with a ridiculously good defense and a horrendous offense.
QB: Vince Young- 2546 passing yards, 9 TDs, 17 INTs, 71.1 QB rating.
RB: LenDale White- 303 rushes, 1110 rushing yards, 7 TDs.
LB: David Thornton- 122 tackles, 2 INTs.
Projected Record: 10-6
David Carr was supposed to be the face of the Houston Texans. If he was the face, then the face had a fat lip and a big black eye because Carr was sacked 249 times in 76 starts before he was replaced last year by Matt Schaub. Schaub played through some injuries and was limited to 11 games because the offensive line is still porous. At least the Texans realized that they have a capable back up in Sage Rosenfels. The quarterbacks aren’t the problem; Houston had almost no running game last year. They ranked 22nd with less than 100 yards per game. The Texans defense was also one of the worst in the league. They made it to .500 last year, but it’s probably not going to happen again in a stacked AFC South.
QB: Matt Schaub- 2241 passing yards, 9 TDs, 9 INTs, 87.2 QB rating.
WR: Andre Johnson- 60 receptions, 851 receiving yards, 8 TDs.
RB: Ahman Green- 70 rushes, 260 rushing yards, 2 TDs.
Projected Record: 7-9
San Diego Chargers
San Diego is a strange team. They always come into the season with the highest of expectations, yet every year they seem to slowly jog out of the gate. It’s as if they are trying to convince the other teams in their division that they aren’t all as good as everyone says they are. They love to start the year hovering around .500 for the first few weeks and then go on a long tear before the playoffs. Philip Rivers has turned into a pro-bowl caliber quarterback and LadDainian Tomlinson is the greatest player in NFL history (so says I). Plus it’s always sunny in San Diego.
QB: Philip Rivers- 3152 passing yards, 21 TDs, 15 INTs, 82.4 QB rating.
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson- 315 rushes, 1474 rushing yards, 15 TDs.
TE: Antonio Gates- 75 receptions, 984 receiving yards, 9 TDs.
Projected Record: 12-4
The Broncos were a big let-down in 2007. A very talented team, they finished below .500 at 7-9. Quarterback Jay Cutler has blossomed into a top tier NFL player and Brandon Marshall is a pro-bowl caliber receiver. Hopefully he can stay out of legal trouble, if not they’ll just have to trade him to the Bengals. Selvin Young is a second year player, ready to be the full-time running back. Why wouldn’t he want to be? The Broncos offensive line is so good that they could line up Gary Coleman back there and he’d rush for a thousand yards.
QB: Jay Cutler- 3497 passing yards, 20 TDs, 14 INTs, 88.1 QB rating.
RB: Selvin Young- 140 rushes, 729 rushing yards, 1 TD.
WR: Brandon Marshall- 102 receptions, 1325 receiving yards, 7 TDs.
Projected Record: 9-7
Kansas City Chiefs
What can be said about the Kansas City Chiefs? The Chiefs running game last season was dead last in the NFL at 78 yards per game. Their overall offense was 31st in the league. There are only 32 teams. A healthy Larry Johnson will be a key for the Chiefs since he was limited to only eight games in 2007. Brodie Croyle is their starting quarterback. Who the heck is Brodie Croyle? They should hand the ball off to Johnson 60 times per game and hope that he doesn’t get hurt again.
QB: Brodie Croyle- 1227 passing yards, 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 69.9 QB rating.
RB: Larry Johnson- 158 rushes, 559 rushing yards, 3 TDs.
TE: Tony Gonzalez- 99 receptions, 1172 receiving yards, 5 TDs.
Projected Record: 6-10
There is renewed hope in Oakland these days. JaMarcus Russell is a very good, young quarterback with some strong talent around him. Javon Walker and Ronald Curry are top flight receivers when healthy, Justin Fargas is a solid runningback, but the big name on this team is rookie Darren McFadden. McFadden is scary good. I don’t know what capacity the Raiders will be using him in, but he can play pretty much every position on the field. Throw him in there at quarterback, receiver or running back. Heck, I bet he can even punt. Oakland is looking up, but there is still a long way to go. There are lots of new pieces in the Raider puzzle and no idea yet if they will all fit.
QB: JaMarcus Russell- 373 passing yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs.
RB: Justin Fargas- 222 rushes, 1009 rushing yards, 4 TDs.
RB: Darren McFadden- Rookie.
Projected Record: 4-12
Chris Osburn is a 26 year old freelance writer. He’s currently a beer columnist for The Father Life and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. On top of that, he writes about professional lacrosse for insidelacrosse.com. He’s also written for Genesee Valley Parenting Magazine and ESPN.com. “Osburn on Tap” appears monthly in THE FATHER LIFE. For questions, comments, or if you have a story idea for Chris, visit his website http://www.chrisosburnwrites.com.
30 year old freelance writer and The Father Life‘s resident beer columnist and sports editor. He also writes about fine beverages for drinkingmadeeasy.com and Chilled Magazine. On top of that, he writes about college and professional lacrosse for insidelacrosse.com. He’s also written for Genesee Valley Parenting Magazine, the Democrat and Chronicle Newspaper and ESPN.com. “Osburn on Tap” appears monthly in THE FATHER LIFE. For questions, comments, or if you have a story idea for Chris, throw him an email email@example.com. Also, follow him on twitter http://www.twitter.com/chrisosburn