August 23, 2012
One year ago, I went three-for-four picking NFL division champs and my Super Bowl team was a last-second missed field goal away from sending the AFC Championship game to overtime. What will happen this season? Only time and reading the rest of this article will tell.
Is it just me or does it feel like there is a changing of the guard happening here? It has been a two-horse race with New England on top with the Jets right behind in the wild card race for the last few seasons. That changes in 2012 because the Buffalo Bills have come to crash the party. Buffalo went on a major spending spree during the offseason and built what could be the best defensive line in the league. If they get a solid season from Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Bills will be in the playoff conversation in December. The Jets will be the most talked about team in the league. But not for the right reasons. Tebowmania has come to New York and already chased one quarterback out of town. This is still Tom Brady’s division but now it will be the Bills trying to keep pace.
Division winner: New England
Three AFC North teams went to the playoffs in 2011 with just the Browns staying home. That won’t happen again. Cleveland had a franchise-altering offseason though, drafting stud running back Trent Richardson and bringing in rookie Brandon Weeden to be the quarterback of the future. There is too much drama already going on in Pittsburgh. Some important players are still banged up. Mike Wallace is still holding out and the team can’t go more than a day or two without a fight at camp. Suddenly, the Bengals look like the team of the future in the North with new quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green leading the way. But this year it will go through Baltimore. The Ravens have several veterans looking for one more shot at a ring after falling just short of the Super Bowl last year.
Division winner: Baltimore
Things can change a lot in a year. The Colts have relinquished their stranglehold on the South and put their future in the hands of Andrew Luck. That leaves the South as Houston’s division to lose. The Texans finally made the jump to division champs last year and may have gone to the Super Bowl if Matt Schaub could have played in the playoffs. If he and Andre Johnson can stay on the field all year, there will be at least one playoff game in Texas in January. The Jaguars and Titans have given the keys to sophomore quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. This could be a real interesting division for years to come with three young quarterbacks going at it. Not much drama in 2012 though.
Division winner: Houston
It’s not very often that a division champion wins a playoff game and then trades its starting quarterback. It’s also not very often that one of the best quarterbacks to ever play becomes available. Peyton Manning replaces Tim Tebow in Denver and will be the story of the West in 2012. It will be the most competitive division in 2012 just like it was in 2011 when everyone but the Chiefs went 8-8 and Kansas City was 7-9. It could come down to Peyton Manning, Darren McFadden, Jamal Charles and Antonio Gates. Who stays healthy? Who has a down year? Who regains their form and has a monster season? We won’t have a winner until week 17 when Oakland goes to San Diego and Kansas City visits Denver.
Division winner: Denver
Wild Card winners: Kansas City, Cincinnati
AFC champion: Houston