2013 NFL Preview: AFC

September 4, 2013

Well, the NFL season kicks off on Thursday night. Once again I have less than two days to write up my previews for each conference, and once again I’ll use too much of my precious free time to finish them so that two people can read them (thank you, by the way, Coleman and Keegan).

The two of you, and anyone else who has read my NFL-related work on the blog, know that my professional football analysis is not nearly as in-depth as the work that I publish about college football. I don’t do weekly predictions, power rankings or even fantasy updates about the NFL throughout the season. I just predict the records of the teams and the playoff tree. Then I watch.

I don’t have a favorite NFL team. My roommate says I should just pick one. But I’ve been on this Earth long enough to know that isn’t how it works. So I’m not pulling for anyone on Sundays.

Some may argue that this makes me a better person to look to for preseason predictions. Less biased, they say. But in reality, I think it just makes me less informed. Oh well. I know Coleman and Keegan will still read this anyway.

I’m done rambling, now. Here is my 2013 preview of the American Football Conference.

AFC East

1. New England Patriots (11-5)

2. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)

4. New York Jets (4-12)

Why They’ll Win

Is there really anybody else in this conference capable of winning other than the Pats? I know ESPN the Magazine has a too-difficult-to-understand formula involving a bunch of adjusted averages that predicts that Miami will come out of nowhere to win this division, but I’ll go with my gut on this one. Tom Brady doesn’t need well-known receivers to torch opposing defenses; he creates well-known receivers. I’m seriously wondering whether or not anyone will even mention the name Welker in Foxboro before Thanksgiving Weekend (when Denver comes to visit).

As far as the defense is concerned…well, New England has gotten along pretty well without it before. They should be fine again, at least until the playoffs. I’d be very surprised if Brady was sitting at home before the divisional round of the playoffs in 2014.

Keep An Eye On


I wouldn’t necessarily keep an eye on the Bills as a team that has playoff potential. They don’t. With a rookie quarterback leading an offense that was just average in 2012, Buffalo might actually have a difficult time matching the success of last season (which is a stretch to call “success”, at 6-10). However, that rookie QB (former Seminole E.J. Manuel, for those of you wondering) might just turn out to be pretty good. And if he is, running back C.J. Spiller won’t be the main focus of every defense that plays the Bills, allowing him to break out this year. And Stevie Johnson, who frankly could be an elite wide receiver if he had an elite quarterback, could benefit from this changing of the guard as well.

Basically, the Bills could impress some people with a pretty potent offense in 2013 if Manuel follows the lead of other young quarterbacks over the past few seasons. The defense probably still won’t be quite good enough to be a contender, even with the addition of Mario Williams, but head coach Doug Marrone may not have to answer so many questions about leaving Syracuse if things pan out on the offensive end.

AFC North

1. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7)

4. Cleveland Browns (6-10)

Why They’ll Win

In my opinion, this is the best conference in the entire league (sorry, NFC North). The Bengals will have a tough time living up to my 11-5 prediction thanks to the talent in the North from top to bottom, but Cincinnati has steadily been improving as a regular season squad ever since Andy Dalton took over. Now, the fans are expecting more than just another trip back to the playoffs. The hope is that the difficult conference slate will give the Bengals an advantage over some other teams if they can stay healthy.

I’m not sure why nobody is giving any credit to either Baltimore or Pittsburgh. We’re talking about one of the best offenses (Baltimore) and defenses (Pittsburgh) in the NFL. I’m not ready to leave the Ravens out of the playoff picture quite yet, and I’m also not ready to give up on Ben Roethlisberger as a quality quarterback. Both teams will give Cincinnati a run for its money in 2013.

Keep An Eye On


Are the Steelers ever really completely counted out? I hear that all the time, but I’m not sure I truly believe it. That’s kind of how Pittsburgh is being viewed heading into this season. Ben Roethlisberger is getting old. The defense has been old. But Pittsburgh did a nice job in the draft by picking up Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who could be the staple of yet another decade of great Steelers defenses. They’ve gotten younger in the secondary as well, which was important.

Whether or not the Steelers truly surprise people and make the playoffs will probably come down to the running game. Is rookie Le’Veon Bell the real deal? Will Isaac Redman be able to help Bell form a better one-two punch than Jonathan Dwyer and he did in 2012? Although it would be nice to have Roethlisberger healthy the entire season, the Steelers can’t put all their eggs in that basket. For Pittsburgh to compete, the running game will have to anchor the offense.

AFC South

1. Houston Texans (10-6)

2. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)

3. Tennessee Titans (4-12)

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14)

Why They’ll Win

The time at the top of the AFC South was not long for the Houston Texans. I think they’ll win this division on the basis of a tiebreaker this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Colts swap spots with Houston in 2014. But for now, the defense will keep the Texans in the playoff hunt, especially with one of the weaker bottom halves of a conference in the league. If DeAndre Hopkins ends up turning into a solid No. 2 behind Andre Johnson, the Texans could be a very dangerous passing squad. In order to separate themselves from Indianapolis, they’ll have to be, because Arian Foster might be on the downswing.

Give J.J. Watt & Co. some credit; they’re the main reason this team is still the kings of the AFC South. But Andrew Luck and the Colts are coming, whether it be this year or next, so something needs to be done on the offensive end to keep Houston relevant.

Keep An Eye On


The gap between the offensive and defensive performance of the Colts may continue to grow wider in 2013. With the addition of running back Ahmad Bradshaw from New York and the expectation of wideouts T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery to improve, the Colts could be an offensive machine much like when Peyton Manning ran the offense. But the defense…well, the defense is going to need some work if the Colts are to beat out Houston for the division crown.

Assuming Andrew Luck doesn’t experience the all too common sophomore slump of quarterbacks, I will continue to hear from my friends that the Colts are the luckiest team in American to have Luck follow up Manning (of course, most of my friends are Browns fans, so even Jacksonville has had a considerable amount of good luck when you compare). This team is the only team that has a shot to dethrone the Texans, so naturally they’re going to be the team to keep an eye on in the AFC South.

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos (14-2)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)

3. San Diego Chargers (7-9)

4. Oakland Raiders (5-11)

Why They’ll Win

It’s going to be hard for anyone to beat the Broncos this season. Peyton Manning has a plethora of targets to throw to, and his backfield just got better with the addition of rookie Monte Ball. But then you take a look at the defense, which lost Elvis Dumervil in March to Baltimore thanks to a sad situation involving contract negotiation and will also miss linebacker Von Miller for the first six games of the season because of a substance-abuse policy suspension. Looking at the schedule, Denver could very realistically go 3-3 during that six game stretch.

Still, the Broncos should be all right. This is a team that probably should have made the Super Bowl last season, and now they’re hungrier as a result. It would be the surprise of the season to see Denver go the way of Philadelphia a couple of years back (as far as anyone knows, no one has proclaimed this team a “Dream Team”).

Keep An Eye On

Kansas City

The pieces are in place for the Chiefs to be a very strong team. Good coach? Check. Good quarterback? Check. Good run game? Check, if Jamaal Charles can stay healthy. Good offensive line? I think so, so check. Defense? Getting better, so for argument’s sake, check. The question will be, can a team that went 2-14 in 2012 turn it around completely in one season, or is this still a work in progress?

Based on my prediction, my answer is pretty clear. But it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs respond to a schedule that is very favorable. On paper this team is good enough to get to the playoffs, but unfortunately for Kansas City the game isn’t played on paper.


Wild Card

Kansas City (Wild Card) vs. Houston

Winner: Houston

Indianapolis (Wild Card) vs. Cincinnati

Winner: Cincinnati


Houston vs. Denver

Winner: Denver

Cincinnati vs. New England

Winner: New England

Conference Championship

New England vs. Denver

Winner: Denver

– K. Becks

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