As we approach the start of another football season, the sports doofus has taken it upon himself to breakdown the favorites from each of the conferences. I'm going to list who I think are the top 5 contenders in each Conference, and a dark horse candidate.
When looking at the AFC, there are 3 teams that have sort of dominated the conference the past 5 years. The Colts, Patriots, and Chargers. They are always contenders, they are always in the playoffs (except the Pats the year after spygate), and they continue to be favorites. The reason is quarterback play. Year in and year out, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Philip Rivers keep their teams in contention. (the one playoff year missed by the Pats was the year Brady was injured) When you look at the teams who are in contention, in both conferences, this will be a recurring theme.... do they have a quarterback who can take the team on their shoulders and carry them through in tough times? Can they lead a comeback? Do their teammates trust them without hesitation?
So, here are my top 5 teams, with one dark horse for the AFC.
1. Indianapolis Colts - The defending AFC Champions will pretty much remain in contention as long as they have Manning running the team. The thing with the Colts is, they play a simple cover 2 scheme on defense, which allows their defenders to learn and know their roles quickly. Their offense is almost impossible to stop, as Manning calls nearly every play at the line of scrimmage.
The Key: The key for the Colts this season is to develop a little better running game. They need Joseph Addai and Donald Brown to provide more of a threat on the ground.
2. The Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens rode a tough defense and punishing ground game into the playoffs the past two seasons. They have probably the most underrated coach in the league in John Harbaugh. The one thing the Ravens do well, as they showed in the playoffs against New England last year, is just out-physical you. They will beat you up at the line of scrimmage. This is a tough team, and the addition on Anquan Bolden should help their passing attack. T
The Key: QB Joe Flacco has got to improve. Although he has led them to the playoffs in both of his seasons, they are a bit too one dimensional on offense, and this cost them in the playoffs against the Colts.
3. The San Diego Chargers - a team that has, I think almost erroneously been labeled the most talented team in the league for the past few seasons. The Chargers really struggled to run the ball last year, which led to the departure of future hall of famer LaDanian Tomlinson. Their Defense has been suspect up the middle, and they have not had much of a pass rush the past two seasons, or since Shawne Merriman's knee was injured.
The Key: The Holdouts. Veteran starters Vincent Jackson, Marcus McNeill, and Shawne Merriman have all held out of training camp, upset with their current contract status. The Chargers will still have a good team but I doubt they will be good enough to go the distance unless these guys report.
4. The New England Patriots - a team that is in "flux". Tom Brady is a great QB, and Randy Moss is a great receiver, but there are a number of big question marks in New England. Will Wes Welker bounce back from his knee injury? Will the youngsters on defense get up to speed? Can Bellichick continue his mastery of all things? (He's lost a ton of coordinators and staff over the years)
The Key: The Defense. Many of the key players in the Patriots run to dominance are gone. (Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Teddy Brushchi, Adalieus Thomas) They have been replaced by younger players. Now these are good players, but Belichick's system of defense is very elaborate and difficult to learn. Last season, they did not look as dominant as they had in years past. If this team can improve on the defensive side of the ball, look out. And don't think they are ignoring all the praise people are heaping on the Jets.
5. The New York Jets - the "sexy" pick of the new season. First year coach Rex Ryan led a team of upstarts to the AFC championship game last season, and have added several big name new faces to their team. However, I can't rate them any higher than 5th, because of their Quarterback Mark Sanchez.
The Key: Mark Sanchez has got to elevate his game. He played well in the playoffs, but he had only 10 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in the regular season last year. He is going to have to improve, and make big strides if this team is going to sniff what many of the media are making them out to be.
The Darkhorse: The Cincinatti Bengals. I know it's not a big stretch to pick a defending division winner as a darkhorse candidate, but how many people do you hear listing the Bengals as contenders. The Bengals ran the ball very well last year, and played a very tough, physical defense. They are very young at a number of key defensive positions, and should only be better.
The Key- the passing game. The addition of Terrell Owens is getting all the headlines, but I really liked the drafting of the TE Jermaine Gresham. This is going to add a nice big target over the middle for Carson Palmer.
So, there you go. I'll try and post my "top 5" for the NFC tomorrow.