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2006 AFC Preview
By Clayton Ruley
 

The power remains in the American Football Conference once again! The defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers return as do their division rival Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots will make another go at their 4th title and the Dolphins added their best quarterback since the legendary Dan Marino in Daunte Culpepper. In the South, it looks like Payton Manning will have to do with only two Pro Bowls at the skill positions and in the West, the Broncos can take advantage of major changes in their division rivals makeup. Lets check out each division and even more in this AFC Preview.

EAST

1. New England Patriots (12-4) - The Patriots lost clutchness in LB Willie McGinest, WR David Givens and K Adam Vinatieri but the still have head coach Bill Belichick, QB Tom Brady and DE-DT Richard Seymour. There are questions at the LB position and always a concern in the secondary but if anyone can mask problems it's the Patriots defense led by Tedy Bruschi. The offense added rookie Laurence Maroney (U of Minnesota) and traded late for WR Doug Gabriel, formerly of Oakland just in case holdout WR Deion Branch doesnt stay in town!

2. Miami Dolphins (10-6) - Suprising team in 2005 will play well again under head coach Nick Saban. The defense, highly touted already, added DT Dan Wilkerson and defensive coordinator Dom Capers and the offense actually went out and traded for former Minnesota Viking Daunte Culpepper to lead the offensive attack featuring TE Randy McMichael, WR Chris Chambers and RB Ronnie Brown.


3. Buffalo Bills (6-10) - New rebuilding project under new coach Dick Jauron and GM Mary Levy. PJ Losman will have the QB job to start the season and with no Eric Moulds the will depend on the run game heavily, so expect a stacked 8 man front from opposing defenses. Thedefense will be solid with the return of LB Takeo Spikes but will get tired trying to keep this team in games. Special teams are always good in Buffalo and so is the home field advantage so expect a surprise or two!

4. New York Jets (4-12) - Soon to be Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin may not play till November or even get cut and there are questions about returning starting QB Chad Pennington's arm strength. Oh, did I forget to mention the lose of DE John Abraham and a new head coach in former Bill Belichick assistant Eric Mangini? Yep, it's gonna be a long season for the J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!

NORTH

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) - Just because you win the division doesn't mean you'll win in the playoffs as Cincinnati knows after they loss Carson Palmer and the game last season versus division rival and eventually Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. With that said Palmer is back looking great and showed the ability to score with anyone. The starting receivers are the best two in football (Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh) and Rudi Johnson is quietly one of the best in the game too! The defense added heavy DT Sam Adams, who played with head coach Marvin Lewis in Baltimore, and Dexter Jackson joins a interception happy secondary. This was no one trick tiger, the Bengals are a playoff team once again.

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7) - The champs return with a majority of their starters still here but the loss of RB Jerome Bettis and DT Kimo von Oelhoffen will be underestimated and the loss of Antwaan Randle El will hurt the creativity of the offense under coordinator Ken
Whisenhunt. This team will play well as usual under head coach Bill Cowher but will miss the umph it had last year and rumors of Cowher's departure wont help! Expect a wildcard appearance at least though unless there is injuries!


Baltimore Ravens (8-8) - The team did excellent in the off-season adding QB Steve McNair and RB Mike Anderson on offense and adding huge DT Haloti Ngata to keep offensive linemen off of LB Ray Lewis. The combination of WR Derrick Mason and McNair (former teammates in Tennessee) and TE Todd Heap will raise the offensive numbers this season but the offensive line might not hold up long enough from week to week to keep this team in the hunt down the stretch.

 

Cleveland Browns (6-10) - The Browns hope that their young receivers WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow will be health but even if they are this team isn't going to win much in this division yet. The defense was bolstered with the edition of Willie McGinest (formerly of
New England) and Ted Washington (Oakland) but their secondary is still suspect! The offensive line problems will be helped out with the addition of C Hank Fraley (Philadelphia Eagles) but they won't give second year QB Charlie Frye enough time to make plays down the
stretch. They will be competitve most games and fall short! Sounds like Cleveland!

SOUTH


Indianapolis Colts (11-5) - The loss of Edgerrin James will be felt but this team showed last season that their defense did have the ability to win close games. Running will be more grind it out with rookie RB Joseph Addai (LSU) and Dominick Rhodes but when you got QB
Payton Manning and the passing options of TE Dallas Clark and WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne they will manage! They are fortunate they play in the second (only to the NFC West) worst division in football because they have breaks in Tennessee and Houston who Manning has just owned!

Jacksonville Jaquars (9-6) - The surprising loss of WR Jimmy Smith will force QB Byron Leftwich to find a new favorite receiver. The receivers are all tall and leading candidates for Leftwich's candidates include WR Matt Jones, the former Arkansas QB, WR Ernest Wilford and rookie TE Marcedes Lewis. The running game has Fred Taylor and he's always capable of great things when healthy (a big if) but the loss of FB/RB Greg Jones will hurt. This team is lead by it's defense and big DTs Marcus Stroud and "Big" John Henderson

Tennessee Titans (4-12) - This team traded away it's franchise QB Steve McNair and brought in new franchise QB Vince Young but he won't play right away. That starting QB job will go to recent signee veteran Kerry Collins. The offense added WR David Givens and C Kevin Mawae,
both veterans and leaders. The defense will keep them in games led by LB Keith Bulluck, LE Kyle Vanden Bosch and recent signee and former Steeler FS Chris Hope but they wont be able to score with more potent
offenses. This team will compete every game but will lose close because they just don't have stars on the field yet.

 

Houston Texans (3-13) - This team made a questionable decision when they didn't pick Reggie Bush in the 2006 NFL Draft and now leading RB Dominick Davis is lost too! New head coach Gary Kubiak has some problems at many positions but the offense which was finally getting QB David Carr some support with the addition of WR Eric Moulds and C Mike Flanagan in free agency but now the run game has holes. The defense isn't great either and DE Mario Williams will help greatly but he's not Bush on offense for this porous team! A season of improved but inconsistent play followed by high draft pick should be expected from this team.

WEST


Denver Broncos (10-6) - This team disappointed many in the playoffs last season but they still look to be the best in the west! The offense gets a boost from a healthy import in receiver Javon Walker and rookie ball carrier Mike Bell (Arizona). Jake Plummer had his best season as a pro last season and will benefit from head coach Mike Shanahan's aggresive and beautiful playcalling. The defense was stout till they met Pittsburgh in the playoffs in the so expect hunger from this unit led by LB Al Wilson, CB Champ Bailey (now healthy) and FS John Lynch. The home field advantage and special teams are always good for the Broncos ans expect their experience to lead them to the division title.

San Diego Chargers (9-7) - This team will be good but the loss of QB Drew Brees coupled with the first starting experience of QB Philip Rivers NFL career will cause some small bumps. The offense features the best running back in the league in LaDainian Tomlinson, the best fullback in the league in Lorenzo Neal and the best TE in Antonio Gates but the receivers are just ok and the offensive line has some holes despite C Nick Hardwick. The defense is led by second year stud LB Shawne Merriman and DT Jamal Williams and should be better because they had younger players who got more experienced last year but they have no definite playmakers in the secondary and can be had on the deep throws! This team needs to get ahead quick and let the dawgs loose on defense or else!

Kansas City Chiefs (7-9) - This team lost it's two starting offensive tackles in John Welbourn and Pro Football Hall of Famer to be Willie Roaf so Larry Johnson will have to hit the holes really quick if he's trying to ge that 2000 yards many predict him to get! The offense will be ok with QB Trent Green and TE Tony Gonzalez but will have to play more controlled to win and that will be just fine under new head coach Herman Edwards gameplan. The defense added Ty Law (NY Jets) at cornerback and he will help this turnover happy but overall poor defense. Special teams will help as they have Dante Hall on kick and punt return but this season will be a slight rebuilding year in K.C.. The team won't have the tackles, RB Priest Holmes and will need to see who can play for Edwards, a different coach than his mentor and former
K.C. coach Dick Vermeil.


Oakland Raiders (6-10) - This team will play with passion now that Art Shell has returned from the abyss but they just don't have enough to be kings in this division. The defense is old and has questions at every level and the offense while explosive is a also inconsistent! Randy Moss and Jerry Porter rival Cincinnati for the best in the AFC but they need a consistent running game led by LaMont Jordan and a pass catching tight end to get the coverage off them. New QB Aaron Brooks has a lot of skills but couldn't prove to be the man in New Orleans. Brooks has a talent around him but can he make good decisions? That question and the offensive line could answer the Raiders season question.

NFL Awards
MVP: Donovan McNabb (Eagles)
Offensive Player of the Year: LaDainian Tomlinson (Chargers)
Defensive Player of the Year: Ed Reed (Ravens)
Coach of the Year: Nick Saban (Dolphins)
Rookie of the Year: Laurence Maroney (Patriots)

Wildcard Round:

Broncos over Dolphins
Bengals over Steelers

Divisional Round:
Patriots over Bengals
Broncos over Colts

Championship Round:

Broncos over Patriots

Superbowl:

Broncos over Seahawks

Go to NFC Preview

Send any comments/questions to clayton@geoclan.com.

 

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