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NFL 2013, A First Look (Part 4)

   by Larry Ness - 08/21/2013

NFL 2013 (A First Look-Part 4)

In part-4 of my article I’ll go division by division laying out a brief preview of the AFC. Coming this weekend, I’ll list my favorite team over/under win totals for the 2013 season (part-5).

AFC East: The current four-team AFC East was formed in 2002 but Bill Belichick arrived in New England in 2000, when the division also included the Colts. The Pats have captured the AFC East title in 10 of Belichick’s 13 seasons, missing only in 2000 (won by Miami), 2002 (NY Jets) and 2008 (Miami). The Pats easily won LY’s title with a 12-4 record (6-0 in the division), as the Dolphins finished at 7-9, plus the Jets and Bills both ended the season at 6-10. The Dolphins, Jets and Bills all went 2-4 in division play.

AFC East in 2013: The Pats averaged 34.8 PPG (most in the league) last year but a problem has been that the team has also allowed more passing yards than any team in the AFC the last two years, combined. That includes an AFC-record 4,703 yards in 2011. That said, the Pats are in no danger of being threatened for divisions honors in 2013. Miami was busy in the FA market but eight or nine wins figure to be the most the team can achieve. Sanchez now gets to look over his shoulder and see Geno Smith in the wings and quite frankly, matching last year’ six wins may be asking too much of the Jets. The Bills enter the season with the longest playoff-drought of any team (13 years) and while E.J. Manuel may be better than I thought, the Bills won’t reach eight wins in 2013.

AFC North: Since the Pats won back-to-back Super Bowls following the 2003 and 2004 seasons, this division has produced THREE of the last eight Super bowl winners (Pittsburgh in 2005 and ‘08 plus the Ravens in 2012). Maybe consistency on the sidelines is a big reason, as the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis enters his 11th year, the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin begins his seventh year and the Ravens’ John Harbaught opens his 6th year on the coaching sidelines, respectively. No other AFC division has a two head coaches with at least five years on the job. Of course, there is Cleveland, which will feature its third head coach in the last five years, as well as a new owner and GM.

AFC North in 2013: The Ravens own the NFL’s longest-active playoff run at five straight postseasons, corresponding with the arrival of head coach John Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco. Flacco had a “postseason for the ages” in 2012 and while this team has seen a ton of changes, GM Ozzie Newsome has proven he knows how to not only rebuild but reload, as well. With back-to-back playoff appearances in 2011 and 2012 (for the first time in franchise history), the Bengals have silenced their critics and most see them as a 10-win team (at least) in 2013. Salary cap issues have cost the Steelers some key players but let’s not forget that Pittsburgh has been to three Super Bowls over the last eight years (the above-mentioned two wins plus a loss in 2010). The defense led the NFL in yards allowed last year but the once-proud running game ranked 26th (96.1 YPG / 3.7 YPC). That has to change. As for the Browns, c’mon. Make it 11 straight non-playoff years for Cleveland in 2013.

AFC South: This division had been dominated by the Colts and Peyton but with him missing all of the 2011 season (one in which the Colts went 2-14), the Texans stepped up and won the franchise’s first-ever division title in 2011. With Peyton off to Denver for the 2012 season, the Texans opened 11-1, while averaging 29.2 PPG. However, the team really struggled down the stretch, losing three of its last four, while averaging just 16.2 PPG. The Colts had to deal with head coach Pagano’s illness but Bruce Arians took over and led by the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft pick, Andrew Luck, the Colts would go 9-3 under Arians and finish 11-5, qualifying as the AFC’s No. 5 seed in the postseason. The Titans struggled to a 6-10 season and the Jags’ 2-14 mark matched the Chiefs for the NFL’s worst record.

AFC South in 2013: The Texans remain the class of this division, as they were one of just two NFL teams to finish in the top 10 in both total offense (7th) and defense (7th), last year. QB Schaub could be set for a career-year, as WR Hopkins (rookie from Clemson) joins Andre Johnson plus on defense, future HOF safety Ed Reed joins an already outstanding unit. No way the Colts replicate last year’s ‘magical’ season (went 9-1 in games decided by seven points or less!) and as for the Titans and Jags, they both have third-year QBs (Locker for Tennessee and Gabbert for Jacksonville), who are seemingly leading their respective teams in the wrong direction.

AFC West: Peyton answered every question last year, completing 68.6% for 4,659 yards with 37 TD and 11 INTs, while leading the Broncos to a 13-3 record and the AFC’s No. 1 seed. However, like so often in his career, his team once again disappointed in the postseason, losing its first game (at home) to the Ravens in a double-OT thriller. Denver had little competition last year in the division, as the Chargers would go just 7-9, the Raiders 4-12 and the Chiefs 2-14.

AFC West in 2013: Little figures to change out West in 2013, as the Broncos will be the prohibitive favorite. Denver was the NFL’s No. 4 team in total offense (2nd-highest scoring team) and allowed the league’s second-fewest yards (4th-fewest points). That’s a pretty good ‘daily double,’ especially when one considers the team's competition. Does anyone really believe Rivers will ever again be considered an elite QB off his last two seasons, when he’s become a “turnover machine?” San Diego has a new GM and a new head coach but this season has mediocrity written all over it for “the Bolts!” The Chiefs were 10-6 just three years ago (won the division in 2010) and even though Andy Reid is a huge upgrade as the team's new head coach, I’m not sure Alex Smith is much of a upgrade at QB (therein lies the problem). Then we have the Raiders, who are headed for an 11th straight season of missing the playoffs with an overrated RB (McFadden), another in a long line of starting QBs who can’t play (Matt Flynn) plus a bad defense.

AFC playoff teams for 2013: The Broncos and Pats are almost certain division-winners, as well as almost ‘locks’ to be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the AFC, again in 2013. It’s very likely that we could see all four of 2012’s division winners in the AFC repeat in 2013, as Houston is the clear favorite in the South and Baltimore no worse than even-money to edge Cincinnati in the North. The Bengals have made a believer out of me and that means I’m predicting that FIVE of last year’s six AFC playoff teams will be back in 2013 (that’s going against history). I noted above that I don’t believe the Colts will come close to matching last year’s 11 wins (7-9 seems more like it), so I’ll give a weak vote to the Steelers for the AFC’s final playoff team, who have a lot of question marks coming into the season but also a strong pedigree to rely on.

Good luck...Larry

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