The LiveBall Sports 2011 NFL Season Mega-Preview: Part III
Despite the fact that week one is more or less in the books, I’m still rolling out the projections. Here are the final two divisions, saved because half of the remaining teams play tonight. Here is part I and part II of the preview.
LiveBall Sports QDS Projections:
Patriots 10.9 wins
Jets 7.8 wins
Dolphins 7.3 wins
Bills 6.9 wins
Like the NFC North and the AFC West alike, the AFC East is a division where there is a “winner”, and then there’s everybody else. As fans, we do not think of the New York Jets as an afterthought, but a lot of systems do. Whether or not a system that involves an inconsistent passing game can lead the Jets to a title remains to be seen, but it’s hard to act like it’s likely they’ll be able to win 9 or more games on a year to year basis. What the Patriots can do with Tom Brady allows them to be much more stable team atop the division year to year. Rex Ryan’s public call to beat the Patriots is a good example of why the Jets aren’t ever likely to go and win the super bowl despite the fact that they’ve been to two straight AFC Championships: they can hang with anybody, but no game is too easy.
The Dolphins and Bills each have interesting longshots at being the second best team in the division. The Bills are a much improved team, as yesterday’s massacre of the Chiefs showed. The Dolphins will play tonight, and they’re better than their record (particularly their home record) showed last year. I don’t know how much they actually improved in the offseason, most of the time they seemed to be shooting themselves in the foot with their personnel moves. Either would be a full on even match for the Jets in their four head to head games.
Are the Patriots a true super bowl contender? Well, they are not as good as the Steelers, but I’d take even odds between the Chargers and Pats as the second best team in the conference, with the Texans a not-so-distant fourth. And so through that lens, the Patriots look really good as a super bowl pick, which I suppose is why they are so popular. People have memories long enough to remember 2006 when the Pats used to have success in the playoffs and 2004, when they last won the super bowl. The Chargers (and really, to be blunt, Steelers) are not getting the benefit of the doubt the way the Patriots are.
Chargers 10.0 wins
Raiders 7.5 wins
Broncos 7.1 wins
Chiefs 6.4 wins
Norv Turner seems to take a lot of flak for the way the Chargers are treated by random fluctuations of luck: this is still a really good team after all — one that many are taking to win the super bowl. But because the Chargers have Turner in tow, its more difficult to view their week one nailbiter with the Vikings at home as something that should have happened in a football season. Instead it feels like the same old Chargers, a notion bolstered by the images of Philip Rivers screaming at his head coach in the first half trailing by ten points.
Of course, if we ignore the images of failure that seem to stick to Turner better than other coaches, we can see that Donovan McNabb, who was on pace to break the Redskins single season passing yardage record before being benched last season, was held to 39 yards passing in this game on 15 attempts. Greg Manusky is going to be just fine as Chargers defensive coordinator. With that said, the special teams, which could not have possibly started off this season worse than they finished last year, managed to allow a kick return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff and have their kicker, Nate Kaeding, knocked out for the rest of the game. So basically, the impossible task of getting worse on special teams…it may have only been one play, but the Chargers were able to do it.
I like the Raiders and Broncos a lot more than the Chiefs this year. Kansas City looked worse than expected yesterday at home against the Bills, and I didn’t expect very much at all from them. Sure, the Bills may have something going, but this particular result had far more to do with the Chiefs being a dreadful team. Even with competition like the Raiders and Broncos, this is a last place team.
We will learn plenty about the Raiders and Broncos tonight. The Broncos will need to transition from a team that threw it around under Josh McDaniels to a team that is balanced under John Fox, and Kyle Orton looked very comfortable in going back to his roots from his Chicago days. It’s a nice start, but it’s just that, a start. And the longer the Broncos keep Tim Tebow on their roster, the hotter Orton’s seat will get when the team doesn’t win. And Orton’s defense still isn’t very good.
Jason Campbell might not have much of a defense either in Oakland, I guess we’ll know more after tonight. The Raiders will need to exploit Broncos rookie RT Orlando Franklin with DE Lamarr Houston, really the only strong match-up they have on defense. The Raiders could have a great defensive year with the talent on their front seven, but it relies almost exclusively on the ability of second year players Houston and LB Rolando McClain. The offense could shine this year, if only they can keep Campbell upright against speed rushers. But with that running game, head coach Hue Jackson should be able to scheme around his offensive weakpoints on the line. There’s a lot of ifs in Oakland to project a great season, but a return to last year’s mark of 8-8 should not be entirely unexpected.