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AFC Predictions For The NFL 2011-12 Season – Inside The Wheelhouse

Jets Steelers FootballThis blog officially kicks off my 3-part series here at the Camel Clutch Blog where I preview the upcoming 2011-2012 NFL Season. In the first blog we will look at the AFC, in Part 2 we will look at the NFC and finally, in Part 3, we will look at the NFL Playoffs. Let’s kick-off the blogs series with the AFC.

AFC East:

1. New England Patriots (12-4)

The New England Patriots were the best regular season team in the NFL last year going 14-2 and in the offseason they arguably got better with the additions of Chad Ochocinco (who gives Tom Brady a legit #1 WR now since Randy Moss departed) and Albert Haynesworth (new location, new atmosphere, ton of upside). This is basically the same team from last season but still a touch older and despite the great offseason strides, they could end up as question marks.

The AFC will be very competitive this year and New England won’t be able to duplicate last season’s great regular season but they won’t be that far off as they will repeat at the AFC East Division winners earning a first round bye in the process.

2. New York Jets (10-6)

They were last season’s “sexy pick” to win the AFC and even win it all to become Super Bowl Champions. The defending two-time AFC Championship Game runner-ups look to take the monkey off their back and hope that the third time is a charm this season. The Jets will be good but when compared to the New England Patriots, they just don’t matchup as well and don’t have the same fire they had going into last season going into this season.

This is a playoff caliber team and as we all know once the Jets enter the playoffs they are a different football team. I believe Mark Sanchez will have his best NFL season in the league this year as he continues to grow as a quarterback and the offense allows him to spread the ball out more with what are arguably a better receiver core then last season. Look for a 2009 season from Darrelle Revis as well as he defends his title of “best cornerback in the NFL.”

3. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

This is a franchise that appears to once again be in a state of flux after an offseason of off the field issues & backstage problems in their franchise. It doesn’t help when you are reportedly trying to swag another coach to your franchise when your current coach is still under contract. Not a lot of confidence there don’t ya say?

The fans dislike Chad Henne because for some reason they think Kyle Orton can give them an AFC East Championship, Reggie Bush is the starter after mediocre (at best) & injury ridden years in New Orleans and you never know what Brandon Marshall will say or do next, hopefully it’s catching the ball if you’re a Dolphins fan. Not a lot to look forward to this year in Miami, unless they give the ball to Daniel Thomas for good come Week 10 or 11 when the season appears bleak.

4. Buffalo Bills (3-13)

The bottom feeders of the AFC East will continue to hold onto that crown once again as they are poised for another top draft selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. The question, of course, for most of the season will be whether or not Ryan Fitzpatrick is the guy in Buffalo (I think he is) or if they can make a run at Andrew Luck (won’t be the first time you hear that name) when he enters the ’12 NFL Draft. There certainly is talent in Buffalo, but not for a team who plays the other three AFC East teams six times in a season.

Fitzpatrick is a pretty decent NFL quarterback but the comparisons he will hear all season about whether or not he can be better then Andrew Luck in the NFL could effect his performance, especially towards the end of the season. Stevie Johnson is a decent wide receiver but his numbers will certainly go down now that Lee Evans is in Baltimore. I expect that CJ Spiller will become the first string running back a little before the mid-way point of the season.

AFC North:

1. Baltimore Ravens (13-3)

The Baltimore Ravens, despite being a playoff team last season, have the 2nd easiest schedule in the NFL currently. The combined record of their opponents this season is 113-139 with a winning percentage of .457. That’s great news for Ravens fans and bad news for the rest of the AFC as I fully expect this team to be the best regular season team in the AFC.

It’s another year of Joe Flacco at the helm in Baltimore and Anquan Boldin is finally healthy & acclimated to his new digs in Baltimore now with a season under his belt. When healthy and performing at his normal level, Boldin is a legit #1 WR. It’ll help him out that Lee Evans is lining up on the same line as him as well, which will take away some looks from the defense. Ray Rice, despite Ricky Williams being there, is on his own in the backfield in Baltimore and poised for the monster year many have been waiting to see from the New Rochelle native. I expect big things from the Ravens in ’11-’12.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

The defending 2010-2011 AFC Champions or as I like to call them “the Super Bowl runner-ups” (sorry I’m a Packers fan and had to), are back at it again and have a lot of good things going for them. “Big Ben” is going to be there for the entire season now with no suspension in place or even pending, Mike Wallace is looking to have a “hey look I’m an elite Wide Receiver” season this year and the Steelers defense is well, the Steelers defense. Pittsburgh won’t be dealing with a “Super Bowl hangover” this season.

The only problem I see with the Steelers is the question marks and the age of their players. James Harrison is getting older, Hines Ward is a season (maybe less) away from potentially being a WR who gets one-year deals (see Issac Bruce, Derrick Mason & even Jerry Rice at one time) on various teams until he retires and the doubters on Rashard Mendenhall’s ability to repeat what he did last season are out there. One of the things that are going for the Steelers right now is that they currently tied for the 4th easiest schedule in the NFL. Not too bad for the defending AFC Champions.

3. Cleveland Browns (6-10)

I’m pretty sure if you go back and read my other NFL preview blogs from seasons prior here on the CCB or even listen to other NFL Season Preview podcasts on The Wheelhouse (at wheelhouseradio.com), you will hear me say “I really like this team.” I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I feel bad for Cleveland, maybe it’s because I dislike LeBron James, I just don’t know. But to keep tradition alive I will say the following…”I really like this team.”

It’s Colt McCoy’s team now and I’ve always thought he was a steal for the Browns when they drafted him. He has the possibility to be a great small quarterback with the gunslinger arm like Brett Favre and also has the possibility to end up like Rex Grossman, you just don’t know with this kid yet. I still think he’s a great player, think he will make a great leader on the field for the Browns and is excited to see this team continue to build as time goes on. If I had to compare them to another NFL Franchise that is rebuilding slowly I would call them the “poor man’s Detroit Lions.”Cleveland is on the right path…for once.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (1-15)

Talk about building a city up and tearing it back down in one swing of the wrecking ball. The Cincinnati Bengals appear to be returning to form this season as they appear to be on pace for being the worst team in the NFL this season. They have a rookie starting quarterback in Andy Dalton (reppin’ the redheads of the world!) and what appears to be a #1 rookie WR in A.J. Green. Carson Palmer is retired (I guess), Chad Ochocinco is gone and Cedric Benson may be the only hope in Cincy (unless he serves the full 20 day jail sentence).

One of the biggest surprises that I saw from the NFL during the offseason was the Bengals not only re-signing Marvin Lewis as their head coach but also giving him the keys to the entire franchise in regards to player personnel moves. Talk about mind boggling. Marvin Lewis was a hot commodity coach in the early 2000s but not now. He’s taken to the playoffs on multiple occasions, which in itself is a feat for Cincy, but you have nothing to show for it when you were at your highest level. It was time to move on, the Bengals didn’t think so and I full expect them to have the #1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft next year.

AFC South:

1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

Let’s be honest here, Peyton Manning is going to play this season. He may miss Week 1 but he won’t miss Week 2, believe me. He may not be the Peyton of old on the field due to the surgery but he’s going to do just enough to get the Colts in the playoffs again.

This isn’t the same old 15-1, 14-2 or 13-3 Colts of yesteryears but it’s the Colts and they still have Peyton Manning & the weapons to win the AFC South (which may be the worst division in the AFC). They may struggle out of the gate for the start of the season, but I expect them to catch fire and get on their normal pace at the end of the season. Calm down Colts haters, Indy is going to be just fine, Peyton hasn’t retired.

2. Houston Texans (8-8)

I really think that this has to be the “swan song” season for Gary Kubiak in the Houston. I was really high on Houston last season, but not this season. They finished 6-10 last season when they were positioned by many (including this guy right here) as team that could go 10-6 or 9-7 & make the Wild Card. That didn’t happen, they had an even worse season and yet they retaining mediocrity by continuing to have Gary Kubiak as their head coach which to me, was just a move due to the impending lockout.

As I write this Arian Foster is appearing to miss some time at some point this season whether it be to start the year or at the mid-way point. If you think Foster will repeat what he did last season you are out of your minds, even when he returns or becomes healthy this may be a “running back by committee” situation for all you Fantasy Footballers out there. Matt Schaub is Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson is one of the best WR’s in the NFL. I expect a better season this year then last, but not the playoffs for Houston.

3. Tennessee Titans (4-12)

Welcome to the post-Jeff Fisher era in Tennessee. Mike Munchak is in as head coach of the Titans, Vince Young is no longer the starting quarterback, Kerry Collins is out of retirement & showcasing the best grey beard in the NFL since Favre and Chris Johnson finally signed…days before the season is too start. Not a lot to look forward to this season in Tennessee unless you are excited for Jack Locker to start at the end of the season, which you know will happen at some point.

The Titans are a rebuilding franchise and are just hoping that Chris Johnson can be Chris Johnson & not get hurt (see: Darrelle Revis) since he hasn’t practiced, worked out or played at all during his holdout for more money & a new deal. Kenny Britt may surprise some this season and become a top-ten WR in the NFL. Look for a miserable & frustrating season for the Tennessee franchise.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

The Jacksonville Jaguars surprised me, the NFL and their fan base last season by going 8-8 when they were doomed to not be that competitive in the AFC South at all. Well what you thought was going to happen last season, will certainly happen this season. The Jaguars are not good; they already have injury concerns heading into the year with MJD maybe never being MJD-like again.

They are tied for the 3rd hardest schedule in the NFL going into this season and they will probably be doing such, at some point, with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Who knows if MJD will be healthy enough or even effective this year and name one Wide Receiver on the Jaguars…I’m waiting. Still waiting… Look for a tough season in Jacksonville.

AFC West:

1. San Diego Chargers (11-5)

If you are a Chargers fan then normalcy shall return this season in the AFC West. Phillip Rivers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Vincent Jackson is playing a full season and it appears there will be a decent “running back by committee” scheme going on in San Diego. The defense is always one of the best in the league and you have one of the best pass catching tight ends in the game with Antonio Gates.

San Diego started clicking in the 2nd half of the season but it was just too late for them as they didn’t mesh well since everyone wasn’t healthy or playing on the field for most of the year. They enter this year with a full team, ready to play and avenging their loss to the Chiefs in the AFC West. San Diego looks to return to the upper echelon of the AFC this season.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)

To me, the Kansas City Chiefs were a big surprise team last season. While many predicted what the Chiefs would do last season (and were right), I just did not see it happening from this Chiefs franchise. I was wrong and they were right but then again they entered a season where the usual suspect at the top of the AFC West (San Diego Chargers) were not a full strength. Their rivals are at full strength now and will look to keep Kansas City from repeating in the AFC West.

The Chiefs to me are a borderline playoff team out of the AFC. I believe they may have the NFL MVP on their roster in Jamaal Charles and are putting Dwayne Bowe on the field in a contract year (he will want to get paid next season which could equal a big year for him). They have the offense but they also don’t have Charlie Weis calling the offensive plays anymore which I believe will hurt Matt Cassel and some of the offensive play calling. They will be good, they will be close to the playoffs, but I just don’t see it happening this season.

3. Oakland Raiders (6-10)

The Oakland Raiders went 8-8 last season, I repeat, the Oakland Raiders went 8-8 last season. If only I could see your face if you read this blog a year ago and were able to look in the future. You’d think you were on “Candid Camera” (remember that show) or maybe on Punk’d (for all you 21st century kids out there). It was something that NO ONE saw coming, not even the Oakland Raiders.

But even despite the good season and something that most franchise would build off of, Al Davis thought it would be a good idea not to build off of a successful year, because that doesn’t make sense to him. The worst thing to happen to the Raiders organization in the last ten years not named JaMarcus Russell is Al Davis still having a say (and a huge one I might add) in the day-to-day operations of the Oakland Raiders. Firing Tom Cable was dumb, but sadly not unexpected. The Raiders look to return to their days of below .500 this season.

4. Denver Broncos (4-12)

And the winner of “the worst quarterback controversy in the preseason that you could least likely care about” goes too…the Denver Broncos! I could careless who starts in Denver whether it be Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn or Tim Tebow. It doesn’t matter, you want to know why? Because John Elway is going to whatever he has to do (now that he’s in-charge of the Broncos operations) to get Stanford Quarterback Andrew Luck in Denver. Even if that means telling John Fox to not start Kyle Orton after the Broncos win 3 games he will do it.

The Broncos are going to be horrible and might have been too kind to give them even 4 wins. But the fact is, they have talent. They can throw the ball if Orton starts, they can run the ball with Moreno & McGahee and they have a talented WR in Brandon Lloyd. They have the offense to be competitive; combine that with a John Fox coached defense (remember how good the Panthers D were?) and you have the makings of a good team. While they have potential, it just won’t happen, Elway wants Luck and the 2011-2012 season will be a throwaway for the Broncos.

AFC Playoffs:

First round bye: Baltimore Ravens & New England Patriots

Division winners: San Diego Chargers & Indianapolis Colts

Wild card teams: New York Jets & Pittsburgh Steelers

Join Bower, “The Sweet Nasty” Chris Cause & myself every Sunday for more NFL & Fantasy Football talk over at www.wheelhouseradio.com!

Jeff Peck is the producer for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday at www.wheelhouseradio.com.

Jeff also co-hosts “The Still Real to us show” with Eric Gargiulo which can be available at www.wheelhouseradio.com and can be downloaded in the “Real Guy Radio” section of the site.

You can follow “The Champ Jeff Peck” on Twitter at www.twitter.com/therealjeffpeck you can also follow Wheelhouse Radio on twitter at www.twitter.com/thewheelhouse and you can e-mail them @ [email protected]

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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