This is the first of a three part, NFL season prediction series in which all three writers here at Bleacher Bum Sports, predict how we think the season will play out. First we start with the AFC:
Jeff Ohlson – New England – This is easy for me. The Jets have fallen off slightly and the Patriots have done nothing but add pieces to what already was a 14-2 team. Shaun Ellis moving to the Pats from the Jets is big to me, I don’t see how Rex Ryan can expect a rookie to replace Ellis. Couple that with the additions of Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth playing up the middle next to Vince Wilfork and I think the Patriots are in prime position to win this division. How much noise they make in the playoffs, is suspect.
Scott Jackson –New England – You’ve got to love what New England’s done this off-season. Bringing in Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth within hours of each other for peanuts. Haynesworth will improve their pass rush and that will help improve a young defense that played poorly on third down last year. And taking Shaun Ellis from the Jets will be big. Meanwhile New York has tread water since the lockout was lifted. Their only significant signings have been Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason, but they lost Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Brad Smith, which to me is a net negative.
Steve Palmatier-New England – I think this may be the two strongest teams in a division in football, but I’m still going to say the New England Patriots over the New York Jets. The Patriots, who went 14-2 last season, did not lose anyone but only added with what I think could be the most under rated moves of the offseason with Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. Belicheck has had a track record being able to put players with antics into shape whether it be Corey Dillon coming from the Bengals or Randy Moss coming from the Raiders. Plus, with Tom Brady at the helm, I refuse to pick against him.
Jeff Ohlson – Pittsburgh – I want to pick the Ravens. I always do. Ray Lewis always keeps that defense tough and I think Joe Flacco is legitimate. But Pittsburgh is just too good to justify such a pick. The Steelers defensive is about as dominate as a defense gets, they can rush the Quarterback with a minimal blitz and they have a potency to produce the ‘big play’. Even with Ben Roethlisbergers struggles in big games, I think the defense can get the Steelers through to potentially the AFC championship and maybe back to the Super Bowl.
Scott Jackson – Pittsburgh – The defending AFC Champs haven’t added much this season. But neither has Baltimore, who lost Todd Heap and Derrick Mason from a passing attack that wasn’t too potent to begin with.
Steve Palmatier- Pittsburgh – This is a race I think will go down to the very end between the Steelers and Ravens. In what has certainly become the most bruising rivalry in the NFL, these two teams have been relatively even every year. The reason that I give the edge to the Steelers is mainly because of the quarterbacks. Even though I think Flacco will take a new leap this year based on his playoff experience last year, I still would rather have Roethlisberger lead my offense with his proven track record.
Jeff Ohlson – Texans – If for no other reason than just to be different, I think that the Texans will steal the south division this year. Now, I’m not buying that Manning has seen his last days, but I am buying that the Colts are rebuilding. That defense just doesn’t do it for me anymore, Mathis and Freeney are still solid DE’s but they are not the monsters they once were. That being said, Manning alone gives this team a chance, but I just don’t see the Texans faltering at the end of games again this year. It’s finally the year that everyone who picks the Texans every year, is right.
Scott Jackson – Indianapolis – I’m not buying all the Peyton Manning is finished talk. He’s proven in the past he can rebound from off-season surgery. He’ll also be getting top weapons Austin Collie and Dallas Clark back after both players finished 2010 on IR. Plus, the rest of the division seems to come up short in big moments.
Steve Palmatier- Indianapolis – I think that once again, the Indianapolis Colts will own this division. The only team I see giving them a test will be the up and coming Houston Texans. Problem is, we have been saying that about this team every year for the past few years. I think as long as Peyton Manning is healthy and leading this team, he will find a way to get them to win the division.
Jeff Ohlson – San Diego – Too much talent to miss the playoffs every year. Phillip Rivers is running out out excuses and he needs to lead this team. Rivers will have all his receivers to start the season and there will be no reason for a slow start.
Scott Jackson – San Diego – Philip Rivers will have his best receiver for the whole year. Vincent Jackson held out last year, missing the first ten games in the process. He finished 2010 with only 248 yards after a 2009 campaign that ended with over 1,100 yards.
Steve Palmatier – Kansas City – One of my slightly bigger surprises here is that I am going to go with the Chiefs over the San Diego Chargers, in who seem to be the popular pick to win this division. Even though granted Vincent Jackson missed a lot of the season, I still never am confident that the Chargers can go anywhere even though they have one of the top offenses and defenses combined in the NFL every year. I think the Chiefs will win mainly because they are still a young and up and coming team led by Matt Cassell who I think will mature greatly from his playoff loss to Baltimore last season. Balance Cassell with one of the better running games in the NFL, I think the Chiefs can hold off the Chargers in the division.
WILD CARD 1 :
Jeff Ohlson – Baltimore – Baltimore’s offense will struggle this year as Joe Flacco has lost some weapons this offseason but that defense can hold them up to the tune of a wild card spot. I don’t know if I’m sold on Flacco being good just yet, but I think he is a quality starter.
Scott Jackson – Baltimore – Almost a given that the runner-up in the AFC North will claim a Wild Card spot. Haven’t improved much but they haven’t lost much either. But my other Wild Card is a bit of surprise.
Steve Palmatier – Baltimore – Even though I hate picking the same teams to make the playoffs as last year because it almost never happens, this year I am going to do it.
Wild Card 2:
Jeff Ohlson – Indianapolis – I want to pick the Jets more than anything, but for the sake of difference, I’m taking the Colts to grab the second wild card spot. I think this year, the Jets inconsistency will finally be their end and the Colts will benefit. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Jets could be good enough to get back to the AFC Championship, I just don’t like there chances in this scenario.
Scott Jackson – Kansas City – I have the Chiefs making it over the New York Jets. Mostly because I feel New York has done nothing but lose talent (Shaun Ellis, Braylon Edwards, etc.) whereas KC has stayed the same. New York has a tougher schedule too. At one point they travel to Oakland, Baltimore, and New England in consecutive weeks. The two teams play each other on December 11, in a game that could determine who makes goes to the postseason and who doesn’t.
Steve Palmatier – New York – I think both Baltimore and the Jets make it as the wild cards mainly because both have such oustanding defenses. I think the Jets resigning Chromartie will help them even with their losses over the offseason. As for the Ravens, I think Flacco can lead them to the playoffs once again as he improves every year.