In the AFC, the rich got richer
The two best teams in the AFC last season were the Broncos and Patriots, and heading into 2014, both teams have re-affirmed that truth.
Let’s start with the AFC champs. The Broncos upgraded their defense immediately with the signings DBs T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. Ward is coming off his first Pro Bowl season in 2013 in which he was the single best strong safety against the run. Talib will be an upgrade for Denver over Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for as long as he stays healthy, even though at $26 million guaranteed, the former Patriot came with a hefty price tag.
A day after signing Ward and Talib, the Broncos grabbed the recently-cut DeMarcus Ware on a three-year deal. For an aging pass rusher who wanted to win now, Denver made perfect sense for Ware, who is primed for a bounce back season at Mile High. With the addition of three Pro Bowlers on D this offseason, it’s clear the Broncos learned something from their Super Bowl drubbing.
On offense, Denver didn’t have quite as much room to improve, but Emmanuel Sanders will be a capable replacement for the departed Eric Decker. Now, on to the Patriots.
After Talib left town, all signs were pointing to the Patriots signing Darrelle Revis. A day after being let go by Tampa, Revis was in Foxborough and will remain the league’s highest paid corner in 2014. The team continued to upgrade their secondary by signing former Seahawks CB Brandon Browner, who was suspended for the 2013 season and will miss the first four games in 2014. Browner is a veteran with 6-4 height that Bill Belichick will love. Pats fans will like the Revis/Browner tandem a lot more than the undrafted rookies the team has started in recent years.
On offense, the Patriots signed two wideouts, one old and one new. After much speculation, the team re-signed Julian Edelman to a four-year deal after he was Tom Brady’s top weapon in 2013. As for the new, Brandon LaFell comes over from Carolina on a three-year deal. He’ll be an upgrade on the outside over young guys Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Tompkins. With Danny Amendola in the wideout mix as well, the Patriots can really zone in on the tight end position in the draft.
With yesterday’s news of Vince Wilfork staying as well, the Patriots will keep their best player on the front four, as well as one of the best DTs in all of football for the last decade.
Obviously, anything can happen in the NFL, so don’t call for an AFC Championship rematch just yet, but it’s clear that things will be just as tough, if not tougher this year for the Colts, Steelers and all the other AFC playoff hopefuls.
And oh yeah, there’s still Tom Brady and Peyton Manning too.