2012 AFC PREVIEW (written August 26th)

Posted: 1st September 2012 by Jeff Plattner in NFL

AFC West

  1. Kansas City Chiefs:  The AFC West is a cluster every year and 2012 figures to be no different. Best-case scenario – With Jamaal Charles returning to form and the addition of Peyton Hillis to the backfield, the Chiefs ground and pound attack once again becomes the top rushing attack in the NFL. Worst-case – Charles isn’t himself, Hillis can’t regain his 2010 magic and Cassel is forced to throw the ball 30 times a game. Prediction: 9-7
  2. Denver Broncos: Best-case – Peyton Manning is his old self, slinging the ball all around the field, provoking career years from WRs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Worst-case The neck still is a major concern as Manning gets rocked Week 1 on a late hit by Pittsburgh’s James Harrison. Peyton never recovers and Denver gets introduced to Brock Osweiler much too early. Predicted Record: 8-8
  3. San Diego Chargers: Best-case – After an atrocious 2011, Philip Rivers cuts down on the INTs and leads a much more consistent attack. Ryan Mathews stays healthy and becomes a top 5 NFL RB. Worst-case – Mathews, who already broke his collarbone this preseason, never gains full health, Antonio Gates is banged up all year, the special teams is awful again, and Rivers repeats his 2011 performance, in which he threw 20 INTs. Prediction: 8-8
  4. Oakland Raiders: Best-case – Darren McFadden stays healthy for an entire season…period. Worst-case – McFadden is in and out of the lineup and with Michael Bush gone, the backups can’t shoulder the load. After showing flashes the second half of 2011, Carson Palmer struggles mightily without the help of the running game. The defense, which was horrendous in 2011, makes no improvements. Prediction: 7-9

AFC South

  1. Houston Texans: Best-case – Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub stay on the field, Arian Foster is a monster yet again, and the Texans defense is even better, despite the loss of Mario Williams to Buffalo. Worst-case – Schaub and Johnson are injured again, the defense takes a step backwards, and teams are able to keep Foster from having monster games, by stacking the box and shutting down the Texans running attack. Prediction: 11-5
  2. Tennessee Titans: Best-case – Chris Johnson reminds us of the back he used to be. With Johnson rolling, the passing game opens up and Jake Locker looks like a veteran utilizing his many weapons. Worst-case – Johnson gives us a repeat performance of his terrible 2011 campaign, Kenny Britt can’t stay healthy or out of trouble and he never even gets on the field, and Locker proves he is just a second year player by stinking it up. Prediction: 9-7
  3. Indianapolis Colts: Best-case – Andrew Luck is a stud right out of the gate. Austin Collie can overcome his concussion issues and stay on the field, and Reggie Wayne, once again interested, has a magnificent season. Worst-case – Luck shows why it’s hard for rookie quarterbacks to be successful in the NFL, no matter how talented they are. The defense can’t keep Luck and the Colts in many games. Prediction: 4-12
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Best-case – MJD ends his hold out. Joining the Jags in Week 1, he runs all the way to his second straight NFL rushing title. Blaine Gabbert makes huge strides, surprising almost everyone and Justin Blackmon has a fine first year. Worst-case – Jones-Drew’s holdout lingers into the regular season and he is ineffective upon his return. Gabbert is even worse than we thought he was. Prediction: 3-13

AFC East

  1. New England Patriots: Best-case – New England takes advantage of the NFL’s easiest schedule and runs the table while Tom Brady and the Patriots become the first team ever with four 1,000 yard receivers; Welker, Lloyd, Gronkowski, and Hernandez. Worst-case – At this point, it seems only a major injury to Tom Brady can keep New England from at least a 12-4 season. Prediction: 15-1
  2. Buffalo Bills: Best-case – The offense stays healthy this year and coupled with Mario Williams, rookie CB Stephon Gilmore and the rest of the Bills revamped defense, Buffalo challenges for it’s first playoff appearance since 1999. Worst-case – Stevie Johnson winds up being a flash in the pan, the defense is disappointing, and the Bills can’t stay in the shootouts they competed in last season. Prediction: 11-5
  3. 3.    New York Jets: Best-case – Tim Tebow takes over the starting job from Mark Sanchez and Sanchez can finally leave New York and get a fresh start somewhere else. Coach Rex Ryan does not guarantee a Super Bowl win, because they have no shot. Worst-case – Tim Tebow takes over the starting job from Mark Sanchez, but is useless because the Jets have absolutely zero offensive weapons. Prediction: 5-11
  4. Miami Dolphins: Best-case – Reggie Bush repeats his 1,000 yard performance, Davone Bess has the fans forgetting Brandon Marshall, and Ryan Tannehill manages to get by in his first year. Worst-case – Tannehill is yanked after two weeks, Reggie Bush goes back to being Reggie Bush, and the once solid defense regresses. Prediction: 3-13

AFC North

  1. Baltimore Ravens: Best-case – Baltimore uses Ray Rice more consistently and he leads the league in rushing, meanwhile, Torrey Smith becomes the 2012 version of Victor Cruz/Jordy Nelson, and the Ravens finally make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2000. Worst-case – Ray Rice goes down with an injury and the lack of an adequate backup is too much for the Ravens to overcome. Prediction: 13-3
  2. Cincinnati Bengals: Best-case – Andy Dalton takes a giant step in his development, A.J. Green quickly becomes one of the top WRs in the game, and the defense is even better than a year ago. Worst-case – Dalton and Green both have nightmarish sophomore slumps, the running game never gets going, and the fans see shades of the Bungals. Prediction: 10-6
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers: Best-case – Mike Wallace joins the team and the duo of he and Antonio Brown are unstoppable and somebody, anybody steps up and becomes a successful feature back in Mendenhall’s absence. Worst-case – Wallace is not the same, the running game is awful, the offensive line gets more and more banged up, and to top it off Roethlisberger goes down. Prediction: 8-8
  4. Cleveland Browns: Best-case – Trent Richardson is as advertised and becomes the best rookie RB since Adrian Peterson, leading the Browns in practically every offensive category. 28-year-old rookie QB Brandon Weeden is competent and Greg Little has a breakout season. Worst-case – Richardson injures his knee early on and the Browns have yet another miserable season. Make it eighteen years and counting since the Browns have won a playoff game. Prediction: 3-13

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Tom Brady – New England Patriots

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Von Miller – Denver Broncos

Offensive Rookie of the Year: QB Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts

Defensive Rookie of the Year: DE Chandler Jones – New England Patriots

Breakout Candidates: WR Torrey Smith – Baltimore Ravens

Breakout Candidates: WR Denarius Moore – Oakland Raiders