Beej: The Best Of the AFC

By Jayson Patel

Hello, and welcome to another edition of the Beej Knows Best. This marks Week nine, signifying that we have crossed the halfway mark and are headed towards the homestretch of this 2014 campaign. Both the playoff picture and the draft order are starting to take form. For this week’s preview, I will pick out the playoff order in the AFC as well as run through a quick preview of this week’s games. Stay tuned next week for my breakdown of the NFC.

1) Denver Broncos (AFC West) 14-2

The Broncos are currently the best team in the NFL, no matter how you slice it. Peyton Manning is leading one of his best offenses, and the additions of DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib to Von Miller and the rest of the defense has proved formidable. Other than this week’s matchup against New England, the rest of the schedule shouldn’t be too difficult for the Broncos to traverse. Expect the Broncos to be riding high heading into the playoffs.

2) New England Patriots (AFC East) 12-4

Do you hear that? That’s the noise of thousands of fair weather fans trying to jump back on the bandwagon. After a slow start to the season that included a 41-14 shellacking at the hands of the Chiefs, many counted New England out. However, Tom Brady is Tom Brady, Bill Belichick is Darth Vader, and Rob Gronkowski is the frattiest man on the planet. I’m not sure where I was going with that, but the fact remains that New England is a well-oiled machine, and they are on a mission. New England has a fairly tough slate, but at their current pace, I definitely believe they can win the tough ones. One thing to note: New England’s run defense has been putrid this year. However, the only “feature” back they have left is Eddie Lacy.

3) Indianapolis Colts (AFC South) 11-5

I will be the first to admit that, prior to last week’s game, I was quite bullish on their prospects. However, against good offenses, the Colts defense has struggled both in the air and on the ground. I worry about their proficiency in games against New England, Dallas and even the New York Giants over the remainder of the regular season. Presuming they can win at least one of these games and run the slate against an underwhelming crop of opponents, I see the Colts narrowly missing a bye. However, Andrew Luck has been as good as advertised this year. He has led the most prolific passing attack and is in the top 7 in Total QBR. Any game is in reach for Indianapolis provided that they have Andrew Luck at the helm. If Indianapolis can shore up their defense, they could be in for a trip into February.

4) Baltimore Ravens (AFC North) 10-6

This was the toughest division to predict. As of now, all four teams are essentially in contention for the division lead. Each one has shown both significant ups and downs, making this stretch run very interesting. However, I went with the Ravens for a few reasons. First, they have the best point differential out of any team in the division. After closer examination, I found that this is because they have won big and lost close. Additionally, the Ravens already have the upper hand in the conference, having beating the Steelers and Browns, despite their two losses to the Bengals. The Steelers and Browns play the Bengals two more times each, and those tough interdivision matchups could cause them to squander the advantage that they have gained against the Ravens. Finally, I like how balanced they are. Defensively, rookie C.J. Mosley has emerged as a stalwart. Offensively, the combination of Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro has given Joe Flacco the opportunity to utilize the play action. If the Ravens can gain some momentum into their Week 11 bye, I would not be surprised if they steal away this division.

5, 6) Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns (WILD CARD AFC North) 10-6, 10-6

There will most likely be a five-team race to win the final two wild card spots, between the Steelers, Bengals, Browns, Chargers and Bills. First, looking at the Charger’s upcoming schedule, they face difficult matchups against St. Louis, Baltimore, New England, Denver, San Francisco, and Kansas City. I see them finishing up at 9-7, despite a fantastic season by Phillip Rivers. For the Bills, I just don’t see Kyle Orton being able to pick up wins against Green Bay, Denver, New England or even Cleveland; wins that would propel them to being 10-6. They too could presumably finish up at 9-7. Which leaves us with the three AFC North teams. I will admit that I am a little biased. Considering that my Jets have already gotten me into creating scouting reports for college players, I needed a sorry team to keep the dream alive for the next few weekends. Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer has been much better than expected, but my only reservation with the team is the amount of inter-division games they have left. If, and this is a big if, Cleveland can take both of their games against Cincinnati, then I think they can take the sixth spot. We don’t know how AJ Green will do after missing a few games with injury. Cleveland has the opportunity to beat up on bad teams, such as Tampa Bay, Houston and Atlanta. I think Cleveland sneaks in, edging out the Bengals, and the Steelers ride the momentum of last week’s nearly historic win to the fifth seed.

For those of you who place bets based on my predictions, worry not. Following are my picks for Week nine:

GAMES (winning team in bold):

San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins (-1.5)

Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals (-11)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns (-6.5)

Washington Redskins at Minnesota Vikings (?)*

Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans (+2)

New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5)

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys (?)*

St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (-10)

Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (+3)

Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks (-15)

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (+1)

Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants (-3)

(?)* Betting halted due to unknown statuses of Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III. Picks were
made assuming both play.

— By Jayson Patel, Contributing Writer