Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The AFC Report: Wild Card Edition
By Ben Valentine

The AFC postseason race wrapped up without much drama this weekend as the Steelers made easy work of the Lions. The Chiefs finished up strong, but it mattered not as they became the rare 10-6 team not to make the playoffs. The Patriots came within a two point conversion of becoming the three seed over the Bengals, however they might have drawn a better match up this week against the Jaguars. Most people were disappointed, wanting to see the Patriots and Colts meet in the AFC Championship game. Remember, the NFL reseeds after the first round. If the Steelers win, the Patriots head to Denver next week and potentially Indy in the Championship. So don’t worry, that match up can, and I suspect will, take place. But enough about the future, let’s talk about the present in this AFC Report, Wild Card Edition.

Real good and everyone knows it: Indianapolis Colts (14-2)

They didn’t cover the seven point spread, but I’m sure it must have felt good for Jim Sorgi and company to pull out a victory over the Cardinals Sunday. I’m not sure what that says about the Cardinals not being able to beat the Colts’ second team, but one wonders if some NFL GMs will inquire about Sorgi’s availability. I don’t think he’s very good, but many teams can be swayed by a few decent performances. Such is the state of the QB position in the NFL. Speaking of QBs, the best in the league will have been off for nearly a month by the time the Colts play again. (Unless you want to count a couple of early drives in the last two games) One has to wonder if rust will be a factor whoever they play in two weeks. If I were the facing Indy, I’d blitz Manning like crazy and see if he’s seeing the game as well with the long lay off.

Real good, but they have to go to Indy: New England Patriots (10-6)

Make no mistake, this team is coming on. They have a good match up this weekend, with that suddenly stout defense either facing a backup in David Garrard, or a starter who hasn’t played in weeks in Byron Leftwich. But while I do think they are probably the second best team overall in the AFC, they aren’t as talented as the previous Super Bowl teams. Those teams I felt would have had a tough time in Indy. This team I don’t give much of a chance. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Pats need to establish the run in this one, or Jacksonville’s strong front four will be putting hits on Tom Brady all day.

Real good, but will have to go to Indy, Denver, etc…: Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

They might be the hottest team in the AFC right now, but here’s the problem: unless something real strange happens, they won’t see a home game this postseason. In the NFL, that’s a real issue, which is why I can’t see them managing to go to the Super Bowl. However, as I said with the Patriots, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. They have the Bengals this week and look to come back after falling to them in Pittsburgh Week 13. This time, Ben Roethlisberger looks healthy and I think that makes all the difference.

They seem real good, but haven’t we seen this before?: Denver Broncos (13-3)

Denver’s coasted through regular seasons in the post Elway/ Terrell Davis era before. They usually end up laying an egg in the postseason. At least this year they don’t have to get run over by the Colts until at least the conference championship. And they get a bye and a home playoff game, so they have everything working in their favor to get there. My prediction: If Cinci wins, the Broncos will go to the AFC Championship game. If they don’t, and they get the Pats in the second round, count them out.

Real good offense, not so good defense: Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

I’m just not high on this team. Good offenses without at least a solid defense tend to struggle in the postseason, with the exception of the Rams and they were a dome team. The Bengals also have not looked great this year against the better teams in the league. Of course, their best performance was their win against Pittsburgh in the steel city, so one would figure they’re in good shape this week, right? I don’t buy it. That was a different Steelers team. This defense will give the Bengals offense problems and don’t expect Big Ben to hand the Bengals points with turnovers this time. This team is good, but as many people have said, they’re probably a year or two away from being a Super Bowl contender.

Real good at confusing me: Jacksonville Jaguars (12-4)

Okay so after I say they’re great at playing to the level of their competition, they go out and kill the Titans. I have this really nagging suspicion that the Jags will end up being the upset special this year. People were high on them to start the year, but the injury to Byron Leftwich and their mediocre play against the bottom of the NFL backed some people off. But they are a tough, physical team that has a very good defense. That’s a formula to win in the playoffs. I think they’ll fall this weekend, but New England will have their hands full.

Non Playoff Fun: TEXANS WIN BUSH SWEEPSTAKES (2-14)

Of course they tried hard to lose it, but Kris Brown deserves props once again for missing a key field goal late, from 31 yards. If they draft Reggie Bush and end up cutting Brown, I’ll feel bad for the guy. Seriously, should the Texans ever go on to win the Super Bowl with Reggie Bush as their tail back, Brown should be the game’s MVP. Without him, they’d quite possibly be 4-12, and just your typical bad NFL team.

Of course, I’m still a believer the Texans would be wiser in not taking Bush. April is a long time from now though, so we shall see what transpires.

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