By Rant (With blurbs from The Pundit)
Tennessee Titans (11-1)
This team, like the New York Giants, isn’t flashy, yet they get the job done and are solid from top to bottom. They are a force to be reckoned with, and what’s more is that the Titans have been in this position before with head coach Jeff Fisher; they know how to win big. (Editor’s note: I’m not entirely sure when Rant means here. Last year they were a wildcard team that lost in the first round of the playoffs. The last time the Titans made a run was in 2002, when they won their division and eventually lost to the Raiders in the AFC Championship game. Not sure that many players from this team were on that one, however). Their running game is absurd, though defenses have really started to key on Chris Johnson’s speed; simultaneously, the rookie may be hitting the wall a bit in his first NFL season. He had a huge day against Detroilet, but my grandmother could run all over that defense if she had a good line to block for her. (Editor’s note: She probably has one hell of a stiff arm. Actually, I’d imagine all of her joints are pretty stiff by now).
The Titans are leading the AFC South by 3 games, ahead of the previously untouchable leaders, the Indianapolis Colts. Kerry Collins may be experiencing a career renaissance, turning 36 in December, though he’s not quite the ageless “wonder” that Kurt Warner is. Still, he has been playing well…but will it be enough for Tennessee’s offense if the run game gets completely shut down? I’m not sure there.
Regardless, this team will continue to physically pound and out-hit their opponents. Their defense is relentless and will help bring this team to victory in the playoffs.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Cleveland (W); at Houston (W); vs. Pittsburgh (L); at Indianapolis (L)
I see the Titans winning games against Cleveland and Houston easily, but then dropping a loss at home to Pittsburgh because they’ve gotten complacent about their record. Jeff Fisher will rest his starters the last game of the season in a loss at Indy because his team holds the best record in the AFC and is therefore guaranteed home field advantage in the playoffs.
Final Record: 13-3
AFC Playoff Spot: No. 1 Seed; AFC South Division Champion
The Pundit’s Take: I agree here – they should have the top seed all wrapped up by the time the Steelers roll into town.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3)
Ben Roethlisberger is playing at the top of his game right now, despite an offensive line that seems to willingly give up sacks and free quarterback hits. (Editor’s note: 33 sacks, to be precise, and the 36 overall the Steelers have allowed is 6th worst in the NFL). Last year, Roethlisberger got sacked second most in the league but still managed a 31 to 11 TD:INT ratio, an incredible stat that tells me this guy knows how to sling the football. Though Roethlisberger isn’t performing as well this year, he is still the leader of their offense and his tough play through injury embodies what the team stands for (Editor’s note: 13 TD’s, 12 INT’s – not exactly awe-inspiring).
Tomlin seems to have opened up the passing attack to Big Ben in a Pittsburgh fashion, meaning that they’ll still pass but at heart remain a smashmouth, aggressive running team first. The running back committee, however, has been blown many an injury, namely to Willie Parker and top draft pick Rashard Mendenhall.
Pittsburgh’s D will continue to destroy players as they gain momentum heading into the playoffs. This will be big for the Steelers, because teams will continue to come after Big Ben and it’s going to make things difficult for their offense.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Dallas (L); at Baltimore (W); at Tennessee (W); vs. Cleveland
I see the Steelers losing big against Big D this weekend. This will serve as a wake-up call for Pittsburgh, inspiring them to win out the rest of the season. I think they’ll stun a tough Tennessee team on the road, coming out swinging and playing the same aggressive, hard hitting football that the Titans play, and they won’t be ready for it.
Final Record: 12-4
AFC Playoff Spot: No. 2 Seed; AFC North Division Champion
The Pundit’s Take: I think Dallas will simply outscore them, doing just enough on defense to get the win, and then comes an interesting match-up against Baltimore. Sorry, Steelers fans – Baltimore’s defense is structured to give Roethlisberger hell all game long. I see Baltimore crawling past Pitt in a knock-out, drag-down battle. I’m thinking 9-7, Baltimore. The Steelers salvage their season by beating an uninterested Titans team and Cleveland, because, well, it’s Cleveland, finishing 11-5 and winning the division. They’ll finish tied with B-More, but after a couple of tiebreakers, their 10 conference wins to the Ravens’ 9 will give them the division.
New York Jets (8-4)
I remember hearing an analyst this July say that the New York Jets would flip their 2007 5-11 record to 11-5 this year with the arrival of Favre. I thought that was an overestimation of the Favre-trade effectiveness. Looks like I could be wrong. (Editor’s note: Though I hate to admit it, ditto.) But I mean, there’s a first for everything, right? (Editor’s note: And whatever shred of humility Rant had salvaged by admitting he was wrong just dissipated beyond recovery). Favre is playing really well, and the team has seemed to rally around him. The Jets beat a previously undefeated Titans team two weeks ago, then got humbled at home by dropping a loss to the Broncos; and Favre did not look good in that game. (Editor’s note: Neither did their 30th ranked pass-defense; would you like those 357 passing yards and 2 touchdowns gift-wrapped for the holiday season, Mr. Cutler?)
The Jets were getting really hot before last week, and I see them rediscovering their spark and blazing through teams on their way to winning the division. (Editor’s note: That’s one small step for man, and one giant step for Mangini’s job security?) New York will get by on the arm of Brett Favre and a defense that does enough to win games. (Editor’s note: They are 8th against the run). Their D-line has stepped it up, and I think that will continue.
Remaining Schedule: at San Francisco (W); vs. Buffalo (W); at Seattle (W); vs. Miami (L)
The loss to the Broncos will fuel this team to win big the next three games. But I see Miami declaring war against New York in the season finale; Favre won’t be on his game and have a multiple pick outing, throwing the game away to the Dolphins. But it doesn’t matter because New York will lock up the division and head into the playoffs, though I think Favre’s uncanny ability to make dumb throws will plague this team in the postseason.
Final Record: 11-5
AFC Playoff Spot: No. 3 Seed; AFC East Division Champion
The Pundit’s Take: I disagree only slightly with Rant’s final prognosis – I see this team winning out. Having Buffalo and Miami at home will be an advantage, especially against Miami, who is 1-7 since 2000 against the Jets in New York.
Denver Broncos (7-5)
The Broncos are led by another young quarterback lighting up the league this year, Jay Cutler (at least when he isn’t stinking it up against the likes of the lowly Raiders). He and his team of wannabes, the Denver Broncos, keep sending me mixed signals. (Editor’s note: And women continue to send him no signals whatsoever). Cutler started off the first 4 games of the year leading MVP talk with Drew Brees nipping at his heels. But he cooled off, and so did his team, which lacks a solid defensive unit.
The defensive play is unfortunate, because they have some stars in players like Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil (who I, by the way, always said would be great coming out of college), etc. The Broncos, like the Seattle Seahawks of pre-2008, are basically granted a free playoff spot due to their poor division, barring a total collapse.
This team needs to learn how to shore up the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, as the run game and run defense are both lacking. This will be a problem, because they will not be a legitimate title contender without establishing a run game. (Editor’s note: Though Peyton Hillis did just go for 129 yards with a TD against a pretty good Jets running D). But the Bronco’s will be in the playoffs anyway, and I’m glad for them. Besides, I have a soft spot in my football-shaped heart for the Broncos. I’d like to see them and Cutler get back to some glory days. (Editor’s note: And Jay Cutler totally has callouses on his fingers for you, Rant. No, wait – that’s the Diabetes. My fault).
Remaining Schedule: vs. Kansas City (W); at Carolina (L); vs. Buffalo (L); at San Diego
The Broncos will assert themselves against the Chiefs this weekend, but lose at Carolina and Buffalo; a reminder that this team has problems against the run. Denver will then win at San Diego in the final game of the season in a very tight game.
Final Record: 9-7
AFC Playoff Spot: No. 4 Seed; AFC West Division Champion
The Pundit’s Take: Agree with the record, though I think the losses come to Carolina and San Diego, not Buffalo. San Diego owes them for the blown-call game, and Denver will likely be resting their starters this week, anyhow).
Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
This team is not looking like their best right now, a lot of it due to the lacking play of Peyton Manning. Everybody is saying Peyton is having another good year and statistically I would agree. (Editor’s note: Really, I wouldn’t even say he’s having that great of a year – 19 TD’s, but 12 picks in 12 games? Not the Peyton Manning I know and love. Last year’s 14 picks were the most he threw in six seasons!) But the fire that usually carries Peyton Manning doesn’t seem to be there this season, if you ask me. The guy is getting older and his team is struggling around him. No doubt the Colts have been winning the games they need to, but they’re game is not on point, and they’re not going to catch division rival Tennessee.
Marvin Harrison’s play is on the decline and it is hurting Peyton Manning’s game. (Editor’s note: Looks like the Colt .88 Special is finally unloaded). Harrison is still productive, but he is not the consistent threat Manning once relied on consistently. And the defense, though fast and led by some studs, only seemed to click like a real unit in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. They need somebody to come along and light a fire under their asses, because they’re not going to scare many teams in the playoffs with their current play.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Cincinnati (W), vs. Detroit (W), at Jacksonville (W), vs. Tennessee
The Colts will win out, but it won’t look pretty, except for a huge win against Detroit. But then again, everybody has a huge game against Detroit. Indy will win against Tennessee in their last regular season game and head into the playoffs feeling good about themselves. But I don’t think this team has what it takes to do much, they just look stale.
Final Record: 12-4
AFC Playoff Spot: No. 5 Seed; Wild Card Seed No. 1
The Pundit’s Take: I think they win out, and they would not be a team I would want to face. In the NFL, a win is a win, and sometimes, believing you will win is as important as talent. I mean, would you want to see an Indy team that had reeled off 9 straight wins heading into the playoffs? I sure as hell wouldn’t.
Baltimore Ravens (8-4)
Another interesting team, the 2008 Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco is proving has proven his worth thus far this year, though not at the same level as fellow rookie QB Matt Ryan. This team surprised me this year with success the same way they did last year with failure. The fall from grace last year after a 13-3 season in 2006 was unbelievable, much as this season’s turnaround has been equally surprising.
Coming into the season, I thought second-year quarterback Troy Smith was given the green light by rookie coach John Harbaugh to lead his offense, but then Smith got pneumonia and lost 30 pounds. Flacco stepped in, and I don’t think there is any doubt that he is their franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future.
The Ravens have a trio of good runners in Willis McGahee, rookie workhorse Ray Rice, and the hard hitting Le’Ron McClain. The O-line is still pushing people around despite the loss of Jonathon Ogden to retirement this past offseason. The defense is showing signs of aging at several positions, though they are still 3rd in the NFL in points allowed and 2nd in yards allowed per game. Third year DT Haloti Ngata from Oregon is a solid anchor in the middle of their defense.
John Harbaugh is yet another rookie head coach turning his team around and making headlines. In fact, Jonathon Ogden almost held off retirement because he said that Harbaugh was that inspiring from day one in the organization. This is a team on the rise.
Remaining Schedule: vs. Washington (W); vs. Pittsburgh (L); at Dallas (L); vs. Jacksonville
The Ravens will flatten the Redskins this weekend, then drop a loss to a better Pittsburgh team. After this, the team will go into desperation mode, but won’t be able to get it done in Big D because Flacco won’t be able to handle the pressure, being that he’s still a rookie. Baltimore will finally get it done against a struggling Jacksonville team and head into the playoffs, beating out New England and Miami for the final Wild Card spot. The Ravens hold the tie breaker over Miami with their head-to-head victory, and against New England because they have a better in conference record: Baltimore 8 wins in conference, New England 6 wins in conference.
Final Record: 10-6
AFC Playoff Spot: No. 6 Seed; Wild Card Seed No. 2
The Pundit’s Take: I don’t agree. I think this team beats the Steelers, hounding and pounding Big Ben all day long. That victory will prove huge for the Ravens, as their 11-5 record will get them into the playoffs, though the Steelers will still win the division. The reason I see them winning this one? Couple of reasons: they protect Flacco a bit better than the Steelers protect Big Ben, to the tune of 13 less sacks allowed this year. The Steelers are playing their running back situation by ear, while Baltimore shuffles three solid backs in and out of the game, to the tune of the NFL’s third-ranked rushing offense. Though the defenses cancel each other out, I think the Ravens offense, at this juncture of the season, is a bit more equipped to handle the Steelers D than the Steelers offense is equipped to handle B-More’s D. Should be one of the better games of this season.
New England Patriots (7-5)
Matt Cassel is finally getting the idea that he can just chuck that ball in the general vicinity of Randy Moss and win games. He has been playing well the past couple weeks, but like all the experts say (cough, cough…ahem), he is a product of wonderboy Josh McDaniel’s videogame-like passing attack. Seriously, with the Pats pass-blocking O-line, all they need to do is have Wes Welker run square-ins against linebackers while Randy Moss runs go’s and post routes. Viola! Insert Random Quarterback Here and Automatically Gain 300 Yards Passing!
This team is struggling right now though, regardless of Matt Cassel. The Pats just resigned LB Roosevelt Colvin, a guy they cut this past offseason; to me, this is a sign of desperation from Bill Belicheck. The guy must be pulling his fucking hair out right now the way his defense is playing. The secondary is a make-shift joke, and teams will continue to exploit that weakness the rest of the season. (Editor’s note: They’re 16th against the pass – not spectacular, though I don’t know if that makes the secondary a joke). Rookie LB Jarrod Mayo is playing well right now, and the D-line still has it, but the defense as a whole is not meshing well right now. This and a so-so run game are the Achilles heel(s) of this team.
Remaining Schedule: at Seattle (W); at Oakland (W); vs. Arizona (W); at Buffalo (L)
New England fields a very favorable remaining schedule, but it’s that last game at Buffalo that will finally put a knife in their playoff hopes. Division rival Buffalo will come out swinging like it’s the Super Bowl and Matt Cassel simply won’t be able to deliver in the clutch like Tom Brady. The season is on the line, and I say the Pats fold like a lawn chair. This will piss me off because I love watching the Patriots, but there’s always next year when Randy Moss and company greet returning MVP Brady with open arms and reassert their dominance. AMEN! (Editor’s note: YOU CALL YOURSELF AN EAGLES FAN? I CALL YOU A BANDWAGON SELL-OUT! I ONLY ALLOWED THAT UTTERLY DESPICABLE SENTENCE TO DIMINISH THIS POST SO THAT I COULD PUBLICLY CHASTISE YOU! Seriously, though – shame on you, Rant. You’re better than that).
Final Record: 10-6
AFC Playoff Spot: OUT
The Pundit’s Take: Way to let him have it, Editor. I think the Patriots will win out, and tragically for them, still miss the playoffs at 11-5 due to Baltimore holding the tiebreaker over them. Which is a brutal way to go out. Still, 11-5 after losing the game’s best player for the season is one hell of a job by Bill Belichick, his staff, and the Patriots team.
Miami Dolphins (7-5)
This team is turning things around with a great rookie head coach led by the ever-steady hand of Bill Parcells. Chad Pennington and a revitalized rushing attack have helped to make the Dolphins look good on offense, but they just lost leading WR Greg Camarillo to a season-ending knee injury. The Ricky Williams / Ronnie Brown tandem has been a hit so far, and the two started the NFL wildcat fad this season.
However, the defense is not playing as well as it needs to, and this will hurt the Dolphins in the end. Joey Porter is playing lights-out football right now, but the guy needs to shut his mouth, because his defense isn’t playing as well as he is. Regardless, this has been a very positive rebuilding year for head coach Tony Sparano.
Remaining Schedule: at Buffalo (W), vs. San Francisco (L), at Kansas City (W), at NY Jets
Miami will play a tough game in Toronto this weekend against Buffalo and come out on top. But the team won’t stay focused enough and will end up losing to a 49ers team for whatever reason, causing Bill Parcells to freak out and go ape-shit on the team. (Editor’s note: No, he won’t; he’s pretty removed from the day-to-day happenings of the team). After a win against the pathetic Chiefs, Chad Pennington will be out for revenge against his former team after being excommunicated when Favre arrived in New York this year. Pennington and the Dolphins will have a huge game and come just short of the last Wildcard spot after winning only one game the year before. Great turn around season for this franchise.
Final Record: 10-6
AFC Playoff Spot: OUT
The Pundit’s Take: Disgree with the final result – I think they lose to Toronto, er, Buffalo, beat the Niners and Chiefs, then lose to the Jets, finishing 9-7. Hey, if I’m a Dolphins fan, I’m completely satisfied with their 8-game turnaround this year. Nice work, Tony Soprano. (Editor’s note: Wait, that’s not right…)
Rant’s AFC Playoff Seeds
The Pundit’s AFC Playoff Seeds
Rant’s AFC Playoff Predictions
Wildcard Round: Jets over Ravens, Colts over Broncos
Divisional Round: Titans over Colts, Steelers over Ravens
AFC Championship: Titans over Steelers
The Pundit’s Playoff Predictions
Wildcard Round: Steelers over Ravens (the difference between these two teams ends up being homefield adavantage and a few field goals this year), Colts over Broncos
Divisional Round: Titans over Colts, Steelers over Jets
AFC Championship: Titans over Steelers
Rant’s Super Bowl Prediction
Giants over Titans
The Pundit’s Super Bowl Prediction
Titans over Cowboys (you know damn well I could never pick them to win the thing)