Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Three AFC Teams That May Have Turned the Corner
New York Jets
After making it to the AFC Championship in the two years prior, an 8-8 finish for the Jets was something of a surprise. It may have also served as a wake-up call to quarterback Mark Sanchez and the rest of the team; a harsh reminder that all the talent in the world can't make up for dysfunctional relationships within the locker room.
The most visible change for the team, and one that few people will stop talking about until well after the season is over, is the acquisition of Tim Tebow. Although the organization has stated that he wasn't brought in to play quarterback, Mark Sanchez has to realize the immense pressure that's building. For a quarterback who seems to have failed to play to his potential during his short career, the threat - no matter how real it is - of losing his job should jump start his game and, by extension, the rest of the Jets. They're not going to win the AFC East this year, but they have enough talent to sneak in as a Wild Card and put together a run.
Fate seems to be conspiring in the Titans favor for this season, at least as far as the AFC South is concerned. The Indianapolis Colts have torn up their roster and will be in all-out rebuilding mode during the season, so the old guard is gone. The Houston Texans, despite having Matt Schaub back from injury, are already dealing with an injury to wide receiver Andre Johnson.
Coupled with this is the fact that the Titans weren't a weak team last year by any measure: They finished 9-7 despite losing their top wide receiver, Kenny Britt, to a season-ending ACL and MCL injury. Although he's currently on the PUP list, he should return at some point and give the Titans offense a boost. More importantly, Chris Johnson will be back with a full training camp under his belt. Fans will remember that the All-Pro running back held out until just ten days before last year's regular season began, and the on-field results were on par for expectations from a player with such little preparation. 2012 should see the return of CJ2K, and the potential of a deep run from the Titans.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers make this list almost by default. They finished 8-8 last year, the same record as the Oakland Raiders. The difference between the Chargers and the Raiders is that while both teams lost talent, the Chargers seem better equipped to deal with the losses. The Raiders lost a key player in Michael Bush and several other pieces, but seem content to rely on Darren McFadden. McFadden was one of the best backs in the league last year, but he comes with a high risk of injury. At least in San Diego, the team has Philip Rivers leading the way. In a clutch situation, he's one of the best passers in the game and will give the Chargers a chance to win as long as they can keep the games close.
Honestly, though, there are a number of teams with the same potential to surprise as the Chargers. If McFadden stays healthy, that team might be Oakland. Miami might capitalize on the foundation it started last year and end up claiming a Wild Card berth, and Indianapolis might find itself competitive already if Andrew Luck's training camp performances can translate at all to the regular season. Overall, though, the AFC looks a little more concrete than the NFC. Then again, this is the NFL - parity reigns supreme, and the only way to know who will be a contender is to wait until the games are already over.
NFC fans can check out my surprise picks for 2012.
Posted by Don Phan at 11:31 AM