NFL 2014 – The Shape of the AFC



NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – Team still refuses to funnel cash into receiving corps, thus Pats continue paper tiger act in postseason. Offense has averaged 16.3 ppg over its last five playoff defeats. Brady deserves better. TE Gronkowski down to his last season-ending injury before club moves on. Darrelle Revis –on paper – the best New England cornerback in a decade. Denver, Indy and Green Bay the only true heavies on the agenda. 11-5

NEW YORK JETS – Offense a calamity last year, 25th in yards, 29th in points. Upgrades include Chris Johnson, Eric Decker, old man Mike Vick. Coaches say MV’s presence is to “enhance Geno Smith’s chances of being a better pro quarterback.” i.e., take over when the offense flatlines. I remember the story about one of the old timers…Baugh or Tittle or somebody…being tossed into a game with team way behind. “What do you want me to do?” he snaps to the coach. “Score a touchdown then kick a 19-point conversion?” 6-10

MIAMI DOLPHINS – OL in endless turmoil. If beatings continue, young QB Tannehill (58 sacks) will go route of Marc Bulger, David Carr, Tim Couch – broken down early. Other than blowout loss at New Orleans, defense held up terrifically last year. ‘Fins soooo deep at DE, CB. Jags only pastry on a very severe schedule. 6-10

BUFFALO BILLS – Top rushing club that hammers you with Jackson, Spiller. That’d be a winning ticket if this was 1975. Second=year QB Manuel a dumpoff artist, a pop-gunner. Team will be QB-hunting again soon, as top rookie wideout Watkins goes untapped. Hopes resting on free agent MLB Brandon Spikes to tighten run defense which ranked near bottom of the league.  4-12


PITTSBURGH STEELERS – Roethlisberger sets team record for pass attempts (584), showing how far club has strayed far from its power roots. Sudden buildup at RB, OL, however, signals a return to the basics. Linebacking corps appears to be getting back in shape. Big worries at defensive line, where cast of unknowns dwell. Same at WR. Steelers don’t fire coaches, but Mike Tomlin needs a playoff showing to prove he’s still got it. Schedule does lean in his favor. 11-5

BALTIMORE RAVENS – They suddenly have the feel of a team from limbo – champs in ’12, followed up by an 8-8 melon last season. This year could go either way, as overall roster continues to get younger. Draft packed with defenders for second year in a row. Offense a big worry. Signing of ancient Steve Smith only helps if he can rediscover the deep post. Ravens toying with fire by not having serious backup QB in place. Joe Flacco has never missed a start; the odds say that’s coming soon. 10-6

CINCINNATI BENGALS – Three straight playoffs a charming story; now stagnant Cincy due for a step back. QB Dalton’s flop in January loss to San Diego makes you wonder, despite his youth (26) how much upside is left. Defense still rugged, with admirable depth. Rookie Darqueze Dennard could become best corner man since Ken Riley/Lemar Parrish era. Trouble starts with an opening slate of @Ravens, Falcons, Titans, @Pats. 1-3 a possibility, and we all know Marvin Lewis hates coaching from behind. 8-8

CLEVELAND BROWNS – Johnny Manziel a preseason lemon. He’s still the club’s most glitzy QB prospect in 30 years. Like the winemakers say, judge him after some time in the oak. Star WR Gordon lost suspension appeal, so a mammoth hole there. While closing camp, Coach Mike Pettine’s summarized his offense this way: “It doesn’t have to be exciting. It can be real boring, as long as we are gaining yards and scoring points.” And my daddy used to say, “The worst piece of ass I ever had was wonderful.” Kinda the same thing, right Coach?4-12


INDY COLTS – I’ve picked them under .500 both years of the Luck era and looked foolish. Ok, Andy, you win. But O-line already slashed by injuries, including top draft G Jack Mewhort. Colts insist heavy-legged Trent Richardson (2.9yds/carry) on the rebound after costing team precious high draft. We’ll see. Defense okay, tends to toughen near the goal line. Colts remind you off early Elway teams in Denver, when Johnny was the one-man show, Mr. Atlas holding up the celestial spheres. Eventually they got to the Super Bowl. 11-5

HOUSTON TEXANS – Vegas says over/under on wins is 7 ½. Say what? For a team that dived 14-straight last year? Well, they must love the new coach – Bill O’Brien. They must love the Clowney-Watt tag-team on defense, and think that QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over departed Matt Schaub. I agree with all of that. Stud WR Johnson held out over summer, demanding a trade, but at 33 his leverage is gone. Miles showing on halfback Arian Foster, with no depth behind him. Strange team to figure. When all else fails lean on the schedule, which ain’t all that mean. 10-6

TENNESSEE TITANS – Ken Whisenhunt gets another chance at head coach, after once taking Cards all the way to the Super Bowl. He had Kurt Warner back then. He now has Locker, Whitehurst & Mettenberger, a firm specializing in the acquisition of future quarterbacks. Offensive line the best thing going here. 5-11

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS – They’ll start Chad Henne now, Blake Bortles later, as the franchise struggles to trudge out of the depths. Meanwhile tell your grandkids how, once upon a time, the Jags actually reached two AFC title games in four years. If they ask too many questions, send them to bed. 3-13


SAN DIEGO CHARGERS – Late surge to the playoffs last season was no fluke. Coach Mike McCoy coaching a live team out there. He understands QB Phil Rivers and he got more out of run game than anyone expected. Personally, I’m cheering for more Ladarius Green and less Antonio Gates at TE. Defense still far from complete, but held its own against Luck, Dalton, Romo and both Mannings last season. Need instant jolt from top rookies – LB Attaochu & CB Verrett. A good vibe going in SD; reminds me of when Mike McCarthy first took over at Green Bay. 11-5

DENVER BRONCOS – Peyton Manning, Year 17. A career of majesty laced in fizzle. How will it all end? In a warm sunset, the way Ray Lewis went out, or like Dorian Gray, the ugly flaws on the aged canvas suddenly coming to life? Receiving corps roughed up and exposed in last year’s Super Bowl. Sudden Wes Welker suspension hurts, as first four games all toughies. Defense allowed nearly 25 per game last year; imports Ware, Talib and Ward brought in to fix that. Give GM Elway mucho credit. He’s rounding up all the help he can get for another Peyton title run. Bill Polian, Manning’s GM in Indy, wasn’t so giving. 10-6

OAKLAND RAIDERS – Defense allowed most points in AFC last season (453). In response, Raiders signed every free agent that moved…Woodley, Tuck, Rogers, etc. Plus a linebacker in first round – Khalil Mack. Raiders going with rookie Derek Carr over regressing Matt Schaub at QB. Receivers don’t scare you, but the hammer at tailback, Maurice Jones-Drew, does. Oakland suddenly gathering good people on both sides of the ball. If Dennis Allen can coach ‘em, a turnaround may not be far away. 7-9

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – Chiefs top resurrection team of ’13. Andy Reid elevated QB Smith while defense jumped from 25th to 5th in points allowed. Schedule MUCH heavier this year, with road games at Denver, Miami, Arizona, SF & Pittsburgh. Seahawks and Pats come to K.C. 2013 was a nice story, but I don’t believe this club carries enough firepower to handle such a gauntlet. 4-12

AFC Championship Game: San Diego over New England

Super Bowl: New Orleans over San Diego

Columnist Tom Danyluk joins NFL Spin Zone after nine years with Pro Football Weekly. He is an award-winning freelance writer and author of “The Super ‘70s,” which is available for purchase at Questions or gripes? Please contact Tom at