|Matt Moore Sacked by G-Men Defenders|
Finding success in the NFL as an AFC team has proven to be difficult in recent years, with the NFC having won three of the last four Super Bowls. In addition to trying to simply beat an NFC team to win the Super Bowl, AFC teams seeking greatness also have to prove themselves against an AFC conference that is still as tough as ever. 2012 will see a mix of new faces join the fray and attempt to compete in the conference.
For these three teams, though, that will be no easy task. The year-to-year turnover on an NFL roster can be daunting, as can the progression or regression of individual players. These teams have their work cut out for them in 2012.
From 2000 to 2009, the Indianapolis Colts set the mark for the most wins in a decade by an NFL team. With 115 victories in the regular season during this period and the leadership future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, the Colts were one of the pillars of the NFL. Things change, though, and no team looks as likely to struggle throughout 2012 as the Colts.
The Colts now find themselves embarking on a season that is scattered with question marks. Andrew Luck is the successor to Peyton Manning, and he'll be surrounded by a cast of new Colts that looks very dissimilar to the Colts that used to dominate the AFC South. Mainstays such as Dallas Clark and Gary Brackett are gone. With so much turnover on the roster and such a young squad, the 2012 Colts are going to struggle to find any real consistency.
Struggle has seemed to follow the Dolphins for the last several years. Just last year, the team started out with seven losses and was out of the playoff picture before it was ever sketched. A 6-3 finish did console fans of the franchise and provide some hope that was long overdue, but Dolphins fans shouldn't hold their breath for that success to roll over into 2012.
This season, the Dolphins continue to be mired in much of the same uncertainty that has plagued the franchise for years. With no real franchise quarterback, the Dolphins have been expected to lean on Matt Moore, David Garrard or rookie Ryan Tannehill as the starting quarterback. With Garrard hurt in the first preseason game and expected to miss several weeks of action, Matt Moore might be the go-to guy once again. Under new head coach Joe Philbin and down a weapon with the trade of Brandon Marshall, the Dolphins are a team that just lacks the firepower to be competitive in the AFC.
Cincinnati was the surprise team of 2011. The Bengals were expected to struggle more than usual with the holdout antics of Carson Palmer, but they overcame that adversity through the strong rookie tandem of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver AJ Green. They ended 2011 on a strong 9-7 record and there's no obvious reason that they will struggle.
Still, the fact remains that they're almost certain to struggle. Quarterbacks usually experience a sophomore slump, and a relatively unheralded talent like Dalton is a prime candidate to see a decrease in his production. Marvin Lewis has also proven himself to be an inconsistent coach. With more teams treating the Bengals as a serious threat in 2012, it's going to be tough for the team to finish over .500 once again.
By the very nature of the teams in it, it's almost impossible for a team in the AFC to not struggle. Mainstays like the Patriots, Steelers and Ravens cause problems for any opponent, and new threats like the Broncos make the road to the top of the AFC that much more challenging. The Colts, Dolphins and Bengals all have their work cut out for them, though. Whether it's a mix of new players, a history of bad luck or the difficulty over catching lightning in a bottle twice, each team will have major hurdles to overcome before finding success.
Read more on the NFC teams that will struggle.