Behind the Mic: The NFL-AFC

The first weekend of the 2016 NFL season begins Thursday night, September 8, when the Broncos host the Panthers and it ends on Monday night with the Redskins welcoming the Steelers.  The other teams all play on Sunday.  So that can only mean one thing – it is time for my season outlook.  This week, I will analyze the AFC and do the NFC next week.  Remember everyone is 0-0 at the moment and the aspirations of the fans are running high.  If I dampen your spirit with my thoughts, just remember I don’t know any more than you do and, quite possibly, even less.

AFC EAST 

  1. New EnglandTom Brady will miss four games and Jimmy Garoppolo will take over. It probably will not matter.  Brady comes back stronger and fresher than ever; Garoppolo makes his case to get a big contract and start somewhere else; and, surprise, surprise the Patriots win the division.
  2. Buffalo They had a great draft; will get New England without Brady in one game; and have a good shot at making the playoffs.
  3. Jets Ryan Fitzpatrick has settled his differences and the back-up situation seems muddled at best with three other QB The schedule is murderous at the beginning and they get Brady for both games.
  4. Miami Adam Gase is the new head coach and the Dolphins have had a good preseason. The Dolphins just seem to underachieve.  If Gase can change that mindset, perhaps they can move ahead of the Jets.

AFC NORTH 

  1. Pittsburgh Their offense is virtually unstoppable as long as they stay healthy and avoid any more suspension problems (Le’Veon Bell). They need to improve in the secondary, but if the defense gets even a little better, the Steelers will not only win the division, but could have a shot at another Super Bowl ring.
  2. BaltimoreThey were really banged up last season placing 20 players on the injured reserve list. Since they finish the season with the Patriots, and the Steelers, their final game with the Bengals could be for the playoff spot.
  3. Cincinnati –They are better than the Ravens and they have reached the playoffs for five consecutive years, but something always seems to go wrong here. Their final game with the Ravens could move them up to #2.
  4. Cleveland – It’s Cleveland!

AFC SOUTH 

  1. Jacksonville – This team is solid – QB Blake Bortles is really good. If they can beat out the Texans, they could do well in the playoffs.
  2. Houston – This team could be VERY good. Only playing with a new QB and a new RB could cause some early problems as well as the absence of JJ Watt until his back heals.
  3. Indianapolis Andrew Luck makes them competitive; their defense does not.
  4. Tennessee – A tough schedule and an overall improved division keeps them at the bottom.

AFC WEST 

  1. Kansas City Jamaal Charles is back and he may be just enough to push them over the top. Andy Reid has a winner here.
  2. Denver – Plenty of lost personnel here starting with Peyton Manning, but my gut says they will not miss an offensive beat; defense was hurt more by free agency and the division got tougher.
  3. Oakland – The Raiders have an easier schedule than most, especially at the start. If they get confidence and momentum, they could crack the playoffs.
  4. San Diego – If you can run the ball and stop the run, you can win. The Chargers can’t do either; ergo, they won’t win.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
AFC Playoffs
Championship Game – Steelers vs Patriots
AFC Champions – The Pittsburgh Steelers

My Week One NFL predictions are coming next week.

Behind the Mic: The NFL – AFC Spoiler Alert!

I really do not want to ruin the NFL season for you. The regular season begins on Thursday, September 4, when Green Bay visits Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion. The final regular season games will be played on Sunday, December 28. And I do think you should watch as many games as you possibly can. AND, if you have no favorite team playing on a given Sunday, then by all means, tune in to the NFL Red Zone and you can pretty much follow EVERY game. You can order it at 1-800-RING RCN (I thought I would put a commercial in here – it makes our marketing people happy when I do that).

With that said, I am going to tell you (some say predict) how the regular season will turn out in terms of AFC Division winners. I would go further – you know, playoffs and AFC champion plus the Super Bowl winner, but I do not wish to spoil all your fun. That will come later, anyway. So – SPOILER ALERT! – Do not read this if you want to enjoy the AFC regular season. The following is how the AFC will end up (this year’s projected record is in parentheses):

AFC SOUTH
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-6) – They beat Kansas City in the playoffs last year and lost to New England. They are not really better this year, but will win their division.
2. Houston Texans (7-9) – The Texans were 2-14 last year, so I obviously think they will be closer to the team that won their division in 2012. Quarterback is a problem.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10) – They, too, are better than last year, just not “better” enough (did I used to teach English?)
4. Tennessee Titans (4-12) – They were 7-9 last year; lost some key players; are just a mediocre team.

AFC EAST
1. New England Patriots (13-3) – They are in a weak division so their record will improve, primarily because their defense has improved.
2. Miami Dolphins (7-9) – They will not match last year’s record, so they will miss the playoffs again.
3. Buffalo Bills (6-10) – Did very little in the off-season to make a fan believe they will be better than their 6-10 record last year. Recent Hall of Fame inductee, Andre Reed, will be their hero, but he no longer plays.
4. New York Jets (6-10) – No media circus this year (remember the Tebow year and the Sanchez year?). But there is no offense either.

AFC NORTH
1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) – The Bengals finished 11-5 last year and lost in the first round of playoffs. Head Coach Marvin Lewis got a one-year extension on his contract. He has never won a playoff game. The Bengals should make the playoffs. Lewis needs to win a playoff game or he will go. They are capable of saving his job.
2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7) – Their season looks like it needs some kind of boost – WR Steve Smith may be the boost; defense looks solid; Ray Rice should add even more spark upon his return.
3. Cleveland Browns (8-8) – The Browns have a new coach (again), new management (again), and a new QB (again) which has created new excitement for the fans (again). It has been seven years since they last won more than 5 games. This could be the year.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) – Even I can’t believe I am picking the Steelers last in their division and worse than the Browns. They’re getting old and, for now, the glory days are over.

AFC WEST
1. Denver Broncos (13-3) – Seattle embarrassed them in the Super Bowl. Denver only improved in the off-season and they will play better competition this year in the regular season. This could be a special year for Mile High.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) – 9-0 start for Andy Reid’s team certainly opened many eyes. But they finished the year 2-5 and lost to the Colts in the Wild Card round of playoffs. If they can diversify their offense, they could be better.
3. San Diego Chargers (9-7) – They have a great offense (thanks to Philip Rivers), but no defense. If defense wins championships (right, Seattle?). The Chargers’ defense is awful. Ergo – no championship (I learned this way of proving things in Philosophy class).
4. Oakland Raiders (6-10) – They were very busy in the off-season spending lots of money. The Raiders will be better (they almost have to be – 4-12 last year).

The NFC season standings will come your way next week. Remember, these thoughts are for amusement only and do not represent the opinion of management (most of them are Redskin and Eagles fans, anyway).

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The PGA Championship last week produced the highest golf TV ratings in five years. It was the “perfect storm” for CBS – great golf, four big-name players tied or in the lead on the back nine, a rain delay that threw the finish well into prime time (60 Minutes viewers may have tuned in by accident), and darkness falling to add to the suspense. A network’s dream.

2. Speaking of golf, I am glad Tom Watson did not have to decide if he should pick Tiger Woods for the Ryder Cup team. Had he picked him or not picked him and the US lost, he would have been criticized. I respect Tiger Woods for taking that decision away from Watson.

3. I am wrapped up in the Little League World Series when the Taney Dragons are playing. Their comeback win on Sunday was great TV and with Mo’Ne Davis pitching to get to the championship final this week, the drama only increases. Go, Dragons!

4. Congratulations to the Northampton Giants of the Blue Mountain League for winning their first championship since 1994. Manager Ed Wandler has been with the BML since 1977 (37 years), and the team gave him all the credit for the championship run. It was a great season!

5. All of us associated with Lehigh Valley sports were shocked when we heard that former Allen and current Moravian Academy coach John Donmoyer died on Saturday morning at St. Luke’s Hospital. I last saw John at the VIA Hall of Fame ceremony (he was a member) and had a very nice conversation with him. I was unaware, as I think most people were, that he was ill. John coached 1,047 varsity games winning 624 of them, both Lehigh Valley records. Last December, Allen named their basketball floor for Coach Donmoyer. He took his teams to the PIAA state championship finals in 1979 and 1980. I never heard a harsh word said about John by anyone and, amazingly, that included fans. His players always stressed the life lessons that John espoused while winning games and titles year after year. He was a giant in Lehigh Valley sports. May he rest in peace.