Last week, I brought to you the predictions of who I thought would make it to the playoffs this upcoming NFL season for the NFC. In another edition of a two-part NFL Preview, this time around I will tell you who and why I believe will be the six teams to represent the AFC in the 2013-2014 playoffs.
You can agree to disagree with me all you want, but I can see some major changes with the AFC playoff picture from what it looked like last year. For instance, with the 2012 AFC Champions and Superbowl winners Baltimore Ravens, as I have them and fellow division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, sitting and watching the games from their televisions at home come January. Other than the Denver Broncos in the AFC West, I believe each division has a tight race for who will take home the division title this upcoming year.
2013-2014 AFC North Champions- Cincinnati Bengals
Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals finished tied with the Ravens with a 10-6 record during the regular season. The only thing that halted the Bengals from stealing the AFC North division title from the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champions was their record within the division. The Bengals finished 3-3 in the AFC North, whereas the Ravens finished 4-2.
Now the 2013 Ravens are without players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard; all key pieces to the 2012 Baltimore Superbowl winning team.
Now if you add that with the emergence of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, which could be the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the NFL, and with a defense that finished in the top ten in every statistical category; you have a formula of a team who is ready to take the necessary steps forward to winning their division.
Dalton and Green have brought nothing but success and excitement to the Bengals’ organization since putting on the Cincinnati uniform two years ago. 2012 was the first non-strike season in Bengals history in which they made it to the NFL playoffs for a second consecutive year.
Green finished the 2012 regular season with 97 receptions, 1,350 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns from the 3,669 passing yards, 329 completions, and 27 touchdown passes Dalton threw to his teammates. Percentage wise, Green was responsible for 29.5% of Dalton’s completions, 37% of his yards, and 41% of his touchdown passes. Talk about being a vital part to his team. Green was putting up colossal numbers even when defenses came in with a game plan to shutting him down, but Dalton somehow always found Green, even in double coverage.
With BenJarvus Green-Ellis bringing in a solid running game to compliment the Benagls’ passing capabilities, I believe Cincinnati can overcome the powerhouses of the division, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and take the division title for the first time since 2009.
2013-2014 AFC West Champions-Denver Broncos
The Broncos just may be the best all-around team not only in the AFC, but in the whole NFL going into this 13-14 season. If it wasn’t for Ravens QB Joe Flacco connecting with wide receiver Jacoby Jones for a 70-yard touchdown to send their divisional playoff game into overtime, which then the Ravens later won, we would probably be talking about how the Broncos, not the Ravens, were the 2012 Super Bowl champions.
But crazier things have happened to a team, and the only thing Denver can do from that moment on is to learn from their mistake and get better as a team; and that, my friends, they did.
During the offseason, the Broncos were able to lure away Pro Bowl wide receiver Wes Welker from the New England Patriots and sign him to a 2-year, $12 million contract. Talk about playing for the best QB’s of all-time. Welker came from New England where he got to play with future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady, to now playing on a Broncos team where he’ll get to catch passes from future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning. And adding a guy like Welker to a team that already rosters players like Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, who both are coming off record breaking seasons, makes this receiving trio in Denver the best the NFL has to offer.
With a defense that was ranked in the top 5 in every statistical category last season, I expect the Broncos to not only win their division, but to represent the AFC in the 13-14 Super Bowl.
2013-2014 AFC South Champions-Houston Texans
Back-to-back AFC South division titles have put this Texans franchise on the map as one of the best teams in the conference. In 2012, people had faith in the Texans to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but that hope was shut down after the Texans took a beat-down to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.
What the Texans do still have going for them in this upcoming 13-14 season is a top ten defense, former defensive player of the year in J.J. Watt, and most importantly, a healthy Brian Cushing at linebacker.
During the second quarter of the October 8, 2012 Monday night Texans win over the New York Jets, Cushing left the game with what appeared to be a knee injury, which was later confirmed to be a torn ACL. He was placed on injured reserve, ending his 2012 season. Players across the Texans locker room will tell you that Cushing’s presence was a valuable asset to the team’s success on and off the field. You never really know what could of had happened if the Texans had Cushing in that 41-28 rout the Patriots put on them in the playoffs.
As for the Texans offense, they are one of the few NFL teams who still rely heavily on their running game. Among all running backs in the league, Arian Foster finished the 2012 season 1st in rushing attempts (351), 1st in rushing touchdowns (15), and 6th in rushing yards (1,424).
Teammate Andre Jonson came off one of his best statistical seasons in terms of receptions and receiving yards, finishing 2012 with 112 receptions, which ranked 4th in the league, and 1,598 receiving yards, which ranked second only to Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
But after seeing the development of former rookie QB Andrew Luck, the Texans realize they have some real competition for the division title this upcoming season with the Indianapolis Colts. Even though I have picked the Texans to win the division, I would not be surprised if Luck and company can take the next step forward and taking the AFC South from the Texans.
That is all for today, tune in tomorrow and hear why I picked the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, and the Kansas City Chiefs; that’s right, the Chiefs, as my final three teams to represent the AFC in the playoffs this upcoming 13-14 season.