NFL Midseason Report, Part 2: The AFC – Contenders, Pretenders and Raising Your Bortles

It’s time for part 2! It’s approximately the halfway point of the NFL season and there is no shortage of topics to talk about. We have seen teams shock the world and rise through the ranks to become the best in their conference, and other teams and players that have been incredible disappointments.We’ll take a look at some of the biggest stories in the NFL so far this season, as well as who are some contenders, who are some pretenders, and who will be in the race for Marcus Mariota come draft time. Today, we take a look at the American Football Conference.

Denver is still the team to beat in the AFC, there is no question about that. The teams that are most negatively affected by this are the teams in their own division, namely San Diego and Kansas City (we’ll get to the pathetic Oakland Raiders later). San Diego is one of the best teams in the NFL this year and KC has also played well above expectations. There’s a good shot one of these teams may not make the playoffs now though, considering the Broncos will likely run away with the AFC West, and there are only two potential wild card spots up for grabs. There isn’t much to discuss when it comes to Denver; they still have an amazing offense with a much improved defense, being led by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The teams trailing them? San Diego needs a little more consistency. Phillip Rivers is playing very well this season, Antonio Gates is having a late-career resurgence and Branden Oliver has come on strong in his rookie year. They have no trouble beating team beneath them, but they are 0-3 against tougher teams (the Cardinals, Chiefs and Broncos). Their last four games are against New England, Denver, San Francisco and KC, with the latter two being on the road. If the Chargers can’t start playing better against better teams, they will not see true success this year. For KC, the questions all revolve around the defensive secondary. On defense, we will need to find out if their secondary unit can hold up throughout the season against some of the best offenses in the league. On offense, and I feel like this could be the true downfall of the team, they do not have a player who can stretch the field. Jamaal Charles is explosive but he isn’t a down field threat. With these things in mind, I think KC is going to wind up just missing out on the playoffs this season.

Every team in the AFC North is above .500 (and of course Cleveland is still in last place). No team in this division is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they are all highly competitive. Baltimore will fight until the end and can move the ball down the field in a hurry (thanks to a lot of defensive pass interference calls they’re the beneficiaries of). Pittsburgh can look like slop one week and then dominate a good team like Indianapolis the next. Cincinnati should be playing much better than they are and Cleveland is winning games with Brian Hoyer as their quarterback. This is one of the most exciting divisions in the game right now because any of these teams could win the division. Cincinnati should win it, they have the best team, but we have seen them really struggle a couple of times this year. I’m still picking the Bengals, but keep this in mind: everyone in the AFC North is a playoff contender.

Over 2,700 yards, 22 touchdowns and a 5-3 record. It’s been a good 2014 so far for Andrew Luck, and his Colts are leading the AFC South. They’ll win this division pretty easily, considering Jacksonville is bad, Tennessee is bad and Houston is mediocre. Indianapolis is in a similar situation to that of the San Diego Chargers. They beat the teams they should beat but haven’t broken through against better teams. They killed the Bengals and got torched by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, they lost their opening two games against Denver and Philadelphia and they’ve won the rest of their games. They’ll be contending because they will own the division yet again, but you have to worry about how well they will match up with the best of the best in the playoffs. Andrew Luck can do a lot, but he can’t make up for the shortcomings of his entire team if they fall behind.

What a surprise, the Patriots are playing well. Listening to ESPN, you’d think they were a terrible team with a journeyman quarterback who are on an emotional ride to the top. No, they are a good team who is going to win a poor division again. This year, however, the AFC East isn’t as bad as it’s been in recent years, because don’t look now, but the Kyle Orton-led Buffalo Bills have a winning record and they’re not just winning by fluke victories; they’re playing well. The Miami Dolphins are also above .500 (and the Jets are an abomination, but like the team itself, that’s unimportant). There is going to be a log jam for the sixth seed in this year’s AFC playoff picture, and both Buffalo and Miami will be right in the thick of things. The Patriots will win the division again (and Brady will be praised like some sort of deity despite the fact that they’ll have yet another disappointing exit from the postseason), but one of the other teams from the AFC East will make the playoffs. Maybe the Bills will finally the playoff drought, and maybe the Dolphins will rectify last season and not choke embarrassingly at the end of the season. Either way, one of these teams will be in the postseason.

In the AFC, rookie quarterbacks have made quite an impact. Maybe not in terms of record, but in terms of impressions for sure. I think Blake Bortles will be a very good player in this league. I’ve come around on him so far this season, and while he’s certainly playing like a rookie now, I think he can become a Pro Bowl-level player. The signs are there, and with a couple more seasons of work he’ll be very good (and of course, Raise Your Bortles). Derek Carr in Oakland I’m not quite as high on, but it would be foolish of the Raiders to not commit fully to him for the next few years. He can be a franchise quarterback, maybe not “elite,” whatever that really means, but he can lead a team to wins (assuming he has a real team around him). Also, while he hasn’t started a game and he’s only thrown 10 passes, I am still 100% convinced that Jimmy Garoppolo will be a fantastic NFL quarterback. He’s the heir to Brady’s thrown, and he’ll perform admirably when Brady leaves, to say the least.

There are plenty of contenders in the AFC for the number one draft pick in this coming draft, or at least a great shot at a top 5 pick. Oakland, Jacksonville, the Jets and the Titans are all very poor teams. Oakland is winless so far, but they don’t need to go with a QB, and neither does Jacksonville. Tennessee, New York and Tampa Bay from the NFC will likely be the top contenders for Marcus Mariota (and then Jameis Winston after him) this year, and God knows each of these teams need a quarterback. Turthfully, it may come down to the Jets/Titans game in Week 15, because the loser will likely be the first team to pick and will go with the Oregon Duck, Mariota. Unfortunately, they both need way more help than just a new quarterback.

It’s been an exciting first half of the season, and likely will be an even more exciting second half. Get ready for one Hell of a wild ride.

 

I’ve got up to the minute sports takes on Twitter, and I also have another blog, Per audacia ad astra.

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