Unfortunately the thick smog of deception and abuse of power over the last several months by Roger Goodell and his cronies has faded the importance of what matters here: what happens in between the hash marks on Sundays. In case all of the former players, coaches, NFL employees, and trolls on ESPN forgot; the Patriots are coming off another Superbowl victory. While we Pats fans should be enjoying our mai-tais on Cape Cod, we’re stuck with deafening bickering from radio hosts and “analysts” alike related to the psi level of a football in a game that probably could have been won with a beach ball. Most of these aforementioned wash-ups have spent parts of the last decade and a half getting either surgically dissected by Brady led offenses (hi Troy Vincent), or mindbleeped by Belichick’s defensive game plans (Mark Brunell, Kleenex called, they need a new face for their brand) so their “unbiased” opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. Now that I got my fix, let’s revisit the point.
Assuming full health, has any team in the AFC really “surpassed” the Pats on paper? In the NFC, you have Seattle’s daunting defense, Aaron Rodgers’ high-powered offense, the Cowboys and their offensive line, and the existence of Chip Kelly. Albeit none keep me up at night (how’d those last few drives go last February Mr.Sherman?), these are mostly proven commodities. Admittedly, Chip is off the rails, but is an undisputed offensive mastermind whose teams make dropping 35 points look easy. In the AFC, is there a real proven commodity? I’m looking up and down each division and struggling to find a team that I can honestly say isn’t a huge underdog next January against the Patriots. Haters will point to major losses in the defensive secondary for the Pats, but a significantly improved front 7 should help alleviate those issues. Plus, the schedule doesn’t exactly include the “murderers row” of opposing quarterbacks it did last season.
Let’s start with the AFC East. I expect the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills to all be in the top 8 defenses in the NFL next year, potentially top 5 or 6. They are that good. The Dolphins added Ndamukong Suh to a phenomenal defensive core including Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes, the Bills added Rex Ryan to coach the #4 defense (#3 passing d at just 205.8 allowed yards per game) from a year ago, and we all know who and what the Jets added. Unfortunately for Miami, Brady had multiple games last season in which he averaged less than 2 seconds from snap to throw, so Ndamukong may spend more time looking backwards than “stomping” forwards. As far as the Bills go, say what you want about Rex, but the guy can flat-out coach defense, especially against the Pats. The last time Tom really had his way with a Rex-coached D was the butt fumble game we all remember against the Jets, but the result of that game was far more related to the Jets’ offensive incompetence. Speaking of offensive incompetence, insert EJ Manuel/Matt Cassel at QB for the Bills, and voila! Shady McCoy will quickly grow frustrated with his production in this offense, and will almost certainly miss his ex-coach in Philly. Now for our “rivals”, the big bad Jets. Todd Bowles seems like a good hire as he really impressed last year in Arizona, and the infusion of talent is real (Revis, Cromartie, Brandon Marshall, rookies Leonard Williams and Devin Smith…) but any team with Geno Smith at the helm can’t be taken too seriously. Plus, who knows what will happen with defensive tackle/end Patriots killer Sheldon Richardson now that he decided to resist arrest, while going 143 miles per hour with a gun in the vehicle. Sheldon was already suspended for the first 4 games of this season for a substance issue, so this could be even more extensive, but who knows what punishment the commish will land on when he spins the wheel…
As far as the AFC North, last time I checked the Cleveland Browns were still the Cleveland Browns, and the Cincinnati Bengals are led by coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton, so they can be effectively eliminated from all contention. I respect Pittsburgh and ultimately believe they will be the ones across the Pats in the AFC Championship game, but have a very hard time believing that defense will even have a glimpse of hope against a Brady led Patriots attack. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to find out…We’re on to Baltimore. Thanks to the Ravens and their whining, there will no more confusion as to who the eligible receivers are on a given play as that has now been banned…Rumor has it, this time next year, the rule will be that Belichick has to hand Coach Harbaugh the playbook, opening offensive script, and audible calls. Maybe this will help avoid another 14-point collapse…twice…
Moving west, we have the Oakland Raiders (that’s the last time they’ll be mentioned), the Chiefs, Chargers, and Broncos. The Chiefs and Chargers are solid teams, and will likely be .500 or above, but it’s likely neither will be hosting a playoff game. And if you tell me right now one of these teams would be coming to Foxboro in January, I’d kindly stop talking to you and get on the phone with my bookie. Same goes for Peyton Manning and his noodle arm tossing lollipops. Unfortunately there are only 24 hours in a day, so I won’t expand too much, but if you re-watch Denver’s playoff game against Indy last year, you can draw your on conclusions on that. Give me Brady. Everyday of the week, twice on Sunday, and three times after November.
Speaking of Indy, I strongly recommend everyone attend some kind of church next Sunday and light a candle for the Colts. If that’s not convenient, please just find a second and say a prayer. They are the ones who ignited this deflategate drama and I have a funny feeling it’s going to cost them (if Ryan Grigson, or Chuck Pagano, read: your jobs). Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and rookie Phillip Dorsett are all nice names, but unless they put on 100 pounds each and switch to defensive line, I’m really not sure how they move the needle here. The Pats will run the ball 40 times with whoever happens to be back that day, open up the play action with a heavy dose of Gronk and Chandler, and blow this team out…again. Rinse, repeat. Andrew Luck will probably win Superbowl(s) one day, but if the defense can’t stop a nosebleed, it won’t be anytime soon. To round out the division, we have the Titans (see Raiders), the Jaguars (see Browns), and the Texans, whose defense, equipped with MVP candidate JJ Watt and old friend Big Vince Wilfork among others, could be top 5-6 in the league this year. Disappointingly for Houston, whomever emerges from the Poo Poo Platter of quarterbacks currently on the roster won’t be enough to make this team any more than first round playoff fodder.
In my humble opinion, when the dust settles and the real contenders separate themselves from the pack, it will be Brady, Belichick, and the boys representing the AFC in February once again.
“When you shoot at the King, you best not miss.”