Wednesday, December 06, 2006

And now for the AFC…

AFC West

Preseason picks 1. Broncos, 2. Chargers, 3. Chiefs, 4. Raiders

1. San Diego – Rivers has come as advertised in the pre-season. I have been impressed and surprised by both his poise and consistency…now if there were just a way to avoid “Marty-ball” come January.
2. Chiefs – With the problems at the beginning of the season on the offensive line, I didn’t think this team was a playoff contender (and they still might miss out). I was wrong.
2. Denver – Like the Redskins, but better. I expected this team to compete for a wild-card spot, but now I don’t think it’s going to happen. Maybe if Mike Shanahan went to Jay Cutler earlier, but not now.
4. Oakland – Better on defense than I expected, but a special sort of horrible on offense…so bad that front offices of other teams have doubts about taking on skill players like Randy Moss – often referred to as “unsalvageable.”

AFC South

Preseason picks 1. Colts, 2. Jaguars, 3. Titans, 4. Texans

1. Indianapolis – Beginning to show signs of wear with a narrow escape against the Bills, and losses to the Cowboys and the Titans all within a four game span.
2. Jacksonville – Too erratic to call a playoff contender. Could do it if they get on a roll, also could crash and burn in the last four games.
3. Tennessee – Could legitimately claw their way into the second spot in the division, though not into the playoffs.
4. Houston – This perennially underachieving team is only one game behind the surging Titans in the standings and three behind Jacksonville with only four left to play. It’s unlikely that this is the season they climb out of the South’s basement.

AFC North

Preseason picks 1. Bengals, 2. Steelers, 3. Ravens, 4. Browns

1. Baltimore – I honestly thought this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Ravens. Obviously, I was wrong.
2. Cincy – Possibly getting hot at the right time after sliding mid-season. Will likely have to compete with the Jets and Chiefs for two playoff spots (Denver and the Jags as well, IF those two can find that elusive winning formula on offense for the stretch run).
3. Pittsburgh – Statement is September: “IF Pittsburgh has to ride the arm of Roethlesburger all season, they might not even make the playoffs.” Guess who’s had to put the ball in the air more than any time in his professional career?
4. Ceveland – If they can get the middle of their offensive line back and healthy next year, could move to the middle of the pack. Only a game behind the Steelers with one to play against them, the Browns could move up in the division, causing the Steeltowners to go into that dreaded first-to-worst one season turn around.

AFC East

Preseason picks 1. Patriots, 2. Dolphins, 3. Bills, 4. Jets

1. New England – Still making too many mistakes right now to be considered a serious Super Bowl contender, but has time to straighten that out. Like the Ravens, are in position to fight for one of the first round byes but has to rely on other teams to make it happen.
2. New York – A solid year ahead of where I thought they would be this time of year. Could make some noise in the playoffs.
3. Buffalo – Locked in a battle to stay out of the basement. Still not sold on Losman, possibly the fourth best signal caller in the division.
3. Miami – Not going anywhere this year, but could spoil the Pats bid for a first-round bye.

Dropping the ball…literally

During the last three weeks the Patriots have turned the ball over more times than during any three game stretch under Bill Belichick. It has been ugly, sloppy, careless football. On top of the turnovers, there have been a number of times they have put the ball on the ground when they were lucky enough to recover themselves.

Not to take anything away from the defenses that the Patriots have been playing, but almost all of the Benjamin Watson related turnovers could have been avoided with better ball protection. That accounts for at least three turnovers (giving Chicago the benefit of the doubt on their first interception and leaving that as a turnover). Corey Dillon’s fumble against the Lions – avoidable. Going back to the Jets and Doug Gabriel – avoidable. Patrick Pass fumble? Avoidable. Just a small sampling here of the last four games, but that’s at least a turnover per game less.

If the Patriots don’t solve the turnover issue, they will likely be one and done in the playoffs, because in the AFC playoffs they won’t face a team with Rex Grossman at the helm.

Dropping the ball II

The NFL has seen fit to suspend Saints defensive tackle Hollis Thomas for testing positive for steroids. Both the Saints and an independent doctor have come to Thomas’s defense in regards to the issue stating that the positive test was due to a change in his asthma medication necessitated by the climate change from Philly to the Bayou, but Thomas is still to serve a suspension.

I am normally a vocal proponent of the league’s steroid testing policy (see my blog entry regarding Shawn Merriman), but this is a case where I think, if the man really has a history of asthma, then I think this either needs to be revisited now, or, if agreements prevent it, then when the league and the players have a chance to discuss the collective bargaining agreement.

The league is likely thinking that this is opening the door to a whole new excuse that will allow legions of players to cheat the system. I think as long as proof of a history exists, they have a way around that.

Dropping the ball III

I’m going to ask around, but it seems to me that with the advent of officiating teams that stay together for the course of the season that officiating has gotten worse. I feel like the number of questionable calls I have seen this year has been mind bogglingly high. For every blatantly bad call I’ve seen go against the Pats, I could probably point out one that has gone against an opponent, or a team in another game.

These haven’t been the five yard, oh well variety either. Some of them have had potentially game changing implications.

I will, however, use two calls against the Pats as an example. Against Chicago the Patriots were called for two long pass interference calls. Both calls came on plays where the defensive backs both had position on the receiver and were playing the ball. In fact, on at least one of the plays, the receiver appeared to be trying to turn the defensive back (the wonder of TiVo…I did indeed replay these plays several times to make sure I could see what the refs did). As I said, I’ve seen others go against other teams, those are just two of the more glaring examples I could think of.

I would love to get some feedback on that last observation.

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