Oliver Nacey gives fans a overview of the AFC at the season’s midpoint
At the Week 10 mark last season, the Saints and Colts were unbeaten, the Lions had lost every game, and the rest of the league were trying to beat the unbeatens and trying not to lose to the winless. Funny how things have changed.
Both those unbeaten teams have lost multiple games and that unfortunate winless team seems to be playing with a certain, how should I say, skill.
The offseason heralded some serious changes both positive and negative, big player losses and subsequently massive player signings.
Anquan Boldin from the Cardinals to the Ravens, Ladanian Tomlinson from the Chargers to the Jets, Terrell Owens from the Bills to the Bengals, Donovan Mcnabb from the Eagles to the Redskins and perhaps most importantly, however irritatingly dragged out it is, the Randy Moss saga all covered the summer football news.
Now that the new season is well underway the effects of these trades is easy to see in their present and past teams’ records and by going through each division individually we can paint a real picture of how the season has played out.
The Baltimore Ravens (6-3) lead the division over the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) thanks to a final minute victory over the latter in week five. Their previously questioned offense has been great this season with new signing Anquan Boldin and veteran Derrick Mason forming a receiving corps to rival any in the league, but their experienced defence has failed to come up with big plays on a consistent basis.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been big on both sides of the ball this season going 3-1 without their star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who was suspended for the first four weeks. Their defence has pounded opposing teams to the point that linebacker James Harrison has already been fined a combined total of $100,000 for three different hits.
The Cleveland Browns (3-6) have been one of the bigger surprises of the new season beating both the defending champion Saints and the highly-ranked Patriots behind rookie running back Peyton Hillis and rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.
In contrast, the Cincinnati Bengals (2-7) have been one of the more disappointing teams. After winning the division last year they seem unable to beat anybody, losing six in a row since winning two of three to start the season, even with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco lining up next to each other at wide receiver.
The NY Jets (7-2) are on top of the AFC East after consecutive overtime victories in which quarterback Mark Sanchez put together clutch final drives. With new signing Ladanian Tomlinson at running back the Jets are considered serious title contenders.
The New England Patriots (7-2) rebounded from a loss to the hard-hitting Browns in week nine to control the Steelers from start to finish this week and convince their doubters of their Super Bowl capabilities. With Tom Brady at quarterback, Wes Welker at wide receiver and young guns Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski at tight end this team is a threat to anyone.
The Miami Dolphins (5-4) have had a season of ups and downs this year. A positive offseason with the signing of one of the best wide receivers in the league in Brandon Marshall and a 2-0 start gave the Miami fans something to cheer about but since then it has been a different result almost every week for the “fins.” In week 10 against the Titans both Chad Henne and Chad Pennington, the Dolphins top quarterbacks, were injured and only time will tell the effects of this on Miami’s season.
The Buffalo Bills (1-8). Oh boy, here we go. The Bills sit firmly at the bottom of the AFC East after losing the first eight games of the season. The odd thing with this team is that apart from early quarterback problems, like the release of Trent Edwards, and the inability to finish strong they have played very tight games like an overtime loss to the ravens and also won their first of the year against Detroit this week.
The Indianapolis Colts (6-3) hold first position in the AFC South thanks to great play by their star quarterback Peyton Manning. With the loss of tight end Dallas Clark, one of Manning’s favourite targets, rookie Jacob Tamme has stepped into his shoes and played well. With a no-huddle offense and solid defence the Colts aim to, and have a great opportunity to, make it back to the Super Bowl this year.
The Tennessee Titans (5-4) have been bigger on offense than their record shows this year with the second highest points differential in the league scoring 62 more points then their opponents. Their play has been inconsistent, however, and tough losses to Miami and San Diego in the last two weeks have led to questions about their talent and playoff capabilities.
The Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4) have played well this year and have now won two in a row against Dallas and their division rivals Houston. Quarterback David Garrard has driven the team throwing 15 touchdown passes including a final play “hail Mary” against the Texans this week. Games against the Browns and Giants in the coming weeks could very well define their season.
The Houston Texans (4-5) who were touted as being serious playoff contenders have been disappointing this season losing three straight games and giving up almost 30 points and over 400 yards on defence per game. Matt Schaub has been great on offence however and it is difficult to rule this team out at this point even though they are at the bottom of a tough division.
The Oakland Raiders (5-4) sit atop the division that, by record, is the worst in the AFC. Nothing should be taken away from the Raiders however as they have already won more games this year then they did all of last season. Running back Darren McFadden has had a rebirth with six TD including four in a single game against division rival Denver.
The Kansas City Chiefs (5-4) have been perhaps the surprise of the season behind marvellous play from quarterback Matt Cassel and many believe they have a real shot at the playoffs in a division where a winning record has been rare this season.
After going a respectable 12-4 last season the San Diego Chargers (4-5) have already lost more games at this point of the season then they did all of last year. After being almost locked in for winners of the division their doubters seem to be growing in numbers and with the way the Chiefs and Raiders are playing, quarterback Phillip Rivers is going to need to use all of his talent if his team is going to make the playoffs.
The Denver Broncos’ (3-6) play has been disappointing this season after being decimated by Oakland and showing a lack of consistency. It is going to take a big push for the Broncos to have any chance of making the playoffs this season after missing by a single place last season.
So that’s it for the AFC. Next week the even more confusing NFC featuring the dismal Cowboys, surprising Falcons and the wonderfully tedious Favre saga.