Week 9 of the 2011 NFL season has come and gone, but most of the league has played 8 games, so I thought that I would do a little midseason AFC recap post for you this morning. There is a lot of parity in the AFC, with the top 3 teams in 3 of the 4 divisions being either tied or separated by a half-game.
I am going to begin with the AFC South, the one division that has a true leader. The Houston Texans are in the lead with a 6-3 record, and their only likely competition will be from the 4-4 Tennessee Titans. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a 2-6 record, and the Indianapolis Colts are sitting at 0-9. As I've mentioned here before, I took the Texans to make the playoffs for the first time ever this year, picking them to win this division before the season began. At that time, Peyton Manning had yet to practice with the Colts, and after Week 9 he still hasn't. Houston has not been as dominant as I expected due to injuries to Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, and a season-ending injury to Mario Williams, but they beat the Titans handily in their first meeting, and if they can avoid further injuries, they look to be in the clear. Speaking of the Titans, isn't it amazing what a holdout will do after a lockout. Chris Johnson still hasn't looked anything like he did his first few years in the league. The two-win Jaguars have played commendably on defense, but have generated next to nothing on offense, having scored a league-low 98 points through 8 games this year.
The 3 teams leading the AFC East with 5-3 records are the New England Patriots, the New York Jets, and the Buffalo Bills (yes, the BUFFALO BILLS). The Miami Dolphins are 1-7, and will at best play the role of spoiler in this division. The Patriots and Bills are very similar teams, having explosive offenses and porous defenses. The difference between these two teams is experience. The Jets have a solid defense, but have sputtered on offense. I really have no feel for who will win this division, because the Patriots have been stumbling of late, barely beating the Cowboys before suffering consecutive losses to the Steelers and the Giants. I would normally lean toward the team wearing the Super Bowl rings, but this is going to be a great race to watch.
The AFC North is led by the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals at 6-2, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a half-game back at 6-3. The Ravens have swept the season series with the Steelers, after scoring a game-winning touchdown with eight seconds left on Sunday night, but they have also suffered losses to the four-win Titans and the Jaguars. The Bengals have the longest current winning streak in the AFC at five games, but they still have to play twice against both the Ravens and the Steelers, and they also get the Texans down the road. Welcome to the NFL Andy Dalton... :) The Steelers third loss was to the Texans, but Pittsburgh looked solid in beating the Patriots, and has performed admirably after being depleted at the O-Line position in the first few weeks. The Cleveland Browns have a 3-5 record, and will likely be no more than a spoiler in this race. The San Francisco 49ers will get to play a role in this race, and to find out how good they really are at 7-1, as they face the Ravens on Thanksgiving, and the Steelers in a Monday night game on December 19th. On paper I would pick the Ravens, followed by the Steelers (due to the tiebreaker that the Ravens own), and then the Bengals, but injuries and the Bengals 4 games involving these 3 teams will be huge.
The AFC West also has 3 leaders, and they are all sitting at 4-4, with the 4th place team just 1 game behind. The Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders are tied for first, while the Denver Broncos are nipping at their heels. Before the season started, I predicted that the Chiefs would not return to the playoffs this year, and I am sticking with that pick. Two of Kansas City's best players went down for the season very early, as the team lost RB Jamaal Charles and S Eric Berry. Despite losing their first 3 games, the Chiefs roared back by winning their next 4. San Diego would be in first right now if Philip Rivers could have handled a snap before what would have been a Chargers game-winning field-goal attempt two weeks back, but let me tell you why I think the Chiefs are doomed. The Chiefs Week 11-15 schedule is as follows: @ New England, vs. Pittsburgh, @ Chicago, @ NY Jets, vs. Green Bay. Should Kansas City make the playoffs after that stretch, more power to them... The Raiders actually have the most appealing schedule of these three teams, but I think that it is imperative that Darren McFadden and Carson Palmer stay healthy. Say what you want about Tim Tebow (and I used to loathe hearing about him myself), but the Broncos have won 3 of 8 games this year, 2 of the last 3 when Tebow was the starter...
My next post for you will be an NFC midseason recap on Thursday, which will precede the Raiders/Chargers game on Thursday night. That's right fantasy football players, you will have to account for the Thursday night games which will be taking place for the next eight weeks. Enjoy the World Series of Poker tonight as a new champion is crowned at the Main Event, and I will see you in two days.