To quote one of the best sports rants of all time, “Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?”
Yes, Coach Mora, I want to talk about playoffs. More specifically, I want to talk about which AFC teams I envision will make the playoffs in 2014.
Wild Card Teams:
6. Cincinnati Bengals, AFC North
Have you heard? The AFC North is going to be stiff. With that being said, Cincinnati has too much talent on both sides of the ball to be kept out of the post season. I think Andy Dalton will take a big step forward in his fourth year under center. Surrounding Dalton is the AFC’s best receiver A.J. Green, as well as a talented tight end dyad and a dynamic second year running back.
Defensively, the Bengals get Geno Atkins back from an injury. Atkins’ return is crucial to the defense taking the step forward. A main reason I think Cincy will only claim the six seed is because they’re operating with two new coordinators as they lost Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer in the off season.
5. San Diego Chargers, AFC West
Last year a new offense revitalized Philip Rivers, and the signal caller helped lead San Diego to claiming the last spot in the AFC playoffs in week 17. This year I think things will be a lot different for Rivers and company. After another year in the system, the Bolts should be a whole lot better than they were in 2013. Keenan Allen was a pleasant surprise for San Diego, and he should only improve after his incredible rookie season. They have an improved defense that boasts what should be a good pass rush, and they also acquired cornerback Brandon Flowers to help solidify the secondary. Something that works against San Diego is their tough conference, as they have to play Denver and Kansas City twice. Those games will prove to be tough, but it’s nothing Philip Rivers’ squad can’t overcome.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers, AFC North
As I already predicted in my piece about Pittsburgh, the Steelers will win the AFC North. Playing in a tough division, I don’t think they’ll be able to do any better than the fourth seed, though. New England, Indianapolis and Denver are just too good to not be the top three seeds. Similar to Brady and the Pats, Roethlisberger knows what it takes to win in January. A quicker offense and a faster defense will be the catalysts for Pittsburgh’s playoff berth. If the Steelers play like they did during the second half of 2014, which I think they will, a playoff spot and an AFC North title is almost guaranteed.
3. New England Patriots, AFC East
A rather obvious choice, but hey, Tom Brady is still the quarterback and Bill Belichick is still the head coach. As long as the Patriots have those two elements they’ll make the playoffs. Add in a returning Rob Gronkowski and a bolstered secondary, and you’re looking at the front runners to win the AFC East. Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner will give the Pats the luxury of implementing more blitz packages, and New England has a host of underrated, yet talented linebackers on defense. In regards to the offense, I don’t care what people said about Brady last year, I don’t think he’s slowing down. As long as Brady is on this team the Patriots will be successful. More chemistry with his receivers will surely help the offense. Brady and Belichick have been to the playoffs numerous, numerous times before, so this isn’t their first rodeo.
2. Indianapolis Colts, AFC South
A lack of defense will prevent Andrew Luck and the Colts from gaining the AFC’s number one seed. Luck and and the offense are too good to be a Wild Card team, though. The addition of Hakeem Nicks, as well as the returns of Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen only make the offense more deadly. Last year Luck showed he’s capable of leading an offense to victories, even if the team is down in the fourth quarter. The Colts will likely live and die Luck’s arm, as the they’re somewhat devoid of a run game. The Colts will be beneficiaries of playing in a weak AFC South, and I think they’ll claim the second seed in the AFC.
1. Denver Broncos, AFC West
A rather obvious choice, but I don’t think there’s anybody that can seriously argue the Broncos shouldn’t be the one seed. As I’ve said in previous articles, the offense has improved from its record setting 2013. Left tackle Ryan Clady returns, and Emmanuel Sanders is an upgrade over Eric Decker. However, the improvements on offense pale in comparison to the defensive improvements. T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware all were added in the off season, and the unit gets Von Miller back from an injury. The injury to Danny Trevathan will hurt, but it won’t be enough to hurt Denver too much. The offensive firepower, the defensive improvement and number 18 will all help lead Denver to claiming the AFC’s top seed for a consecutive year.