Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The AFC Report: Divisional Weekend
By Ben Valentine

Wild card weekend came and went without a great deal of surprise in the AFC. The biggest shocker probably was how badly Jacksonville got dismantled by the Patriots, leading many to proclaim the Pats back. Some have even made them the favorites in the AFC. Wow, I guess that’s what not playing a meaningful game in a month will do to a team like the Colts’ reputation. Suddenly they’re chopped liver. I disagree of course and for my take on this weekend’s action and next’s, here’s my AFC Report for the Divisional Round.

Shaking off the rust: Indianapolis Colts (14-2)

They have a few more questions than one might expect for a team that only lost two games this year, and only one when they were actually trying. However the two big questions are legit; will there be rust after such a long period of non-meaningful games and what will the mindset of Tony Dungy be like? We saw this weekend what getting out coached can do to a team (Tom Coughlin getting out-Foxed) and one has to wonder how Dungy’s head can possibly be completely in the game. That being said, talented players can easily make up for coaching deficiencies and this Colts’ team has plenty of those to go around. The aggressive Pittsburgh defense could cause the them some problems, especially early, but if Jon Kitna with no first team snaps all season can put up 17 on that defense, I’ve got to figure the Colts can do better.

The darlings again: New England Patriots (11-6)

Okay, I didn’t see that rout of Jacksonville coming. I expected the Pats to win; good teams do that at home in the postseason. But a 28-3 dismantling was not what I saw in the cards. (Come to think of it the Jags looked like the Cards) In any case, this cements the Pats as being good; we all should have figured that out over the last month. But are they on the same level as the Colts? I definitely have my doubts. Let’s see how they handle a step up in competition this week against the Broncos. While I don’t love Denver, they are better than the Jags and will be at home in a tough place to play. Good news for the Pats, the Broncos secondary is just waiting to be picked apart.

Ready to bust in 4…3…2…: Denver Broncos (13-3)

I haven’t believed in Denver, specifically Jake Plummer, all season so I’m not going to start now. I said last week if the Steelers won, the Broncos would get ousted this weekend. I’m standing by it. I think this one will actually be a pretty high scoring affair; neither defense inspires me with much confidence. The difference? Tom Brady against that secondary. It’s been awful for years. It’s like the antithesis of Denver’s running game. The Broncos can plug anyone behind that offensive line and have them gain 1,000 yards. Well they can also spend untold numbers of high draft picks and big free agent dollars on defensive backs and their secondary is still terrible. Jake the fake meanwhile is going up against a battered Patriots defensive backfield. His problem? Bill Belichick is still on that opposing sidelines. I’ve got to believe he’ll design a scheme to make Jake turn it over at some point in this one. It isn’t that hard to do anyway…

On the road again… Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5)

Having a healthy Ben Roethlisberger makes all the difference when the Steelers play the second tier of the AFC. Right now I’d take them against just about anyone in that group, including the Patriots. Here’s the problem however. This week, they face the AFC’s top tier, in Indianapolis. Could the Steelers win? Sure, in one game anything is possible. They could blitz the Colts early, catch them off guard and little rusty. That could force the Colts into some early three and outs or maybe a Peyton Manning turnover. If Pittsburgh could get some quick scores to go up 14-0 or 17-0, then they have a good chance. But I just don’t see them doing it. I think they hang in it early, but the Colts blow the doors off them in the third quarter. Unless they get lucky and knock Manning out of the game on the second play from scrimmage...

Yep, I admit it. I’m not particularly revolutionary with these picks. New England going to Indy for the AFC championship. That’s the match up everyone wants to see. Sports can be unpredictable, but I have a feeling this time we’re all going to get what we want. Next week, I’ll break down that game. Unless of course it’s Denver vs. Indy. In that case, it will be a long winded prediction on all the ways the Colts will put up 70 on the Broncos, since they always do when those teams meet in the postseason.


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