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If Peyton Manning remains healthy, the Indianapolis Colts will continue their dominance of the AFC. The Ravens, Jets, Patriots, Chargers, and Bengals will be the top contenders to knock off the defending champs and there is reason for optimisim in Houston and Miami. Here’s how I see it shaking out. Don’t forget to check out my “eye openers” – bold predictions for each division and my Fantasy tips.
The Jets, Patriots and Dolphins will be battling down to the season’s end to determine the winner of the league’s most competitive division. That could be a factor, come playoff time, for the evenutal winner. New England seems to be in one of those “we’re getting older” cycles that might be ok in a lesser division. The problem is that Miami has gotten better and the Jets are loaded. I like that the Dolphins have two pretty good backs, but I believe the Jets are the cream of this crop. My pick – Jets, Miami, New England, Buffalo.
Eye Openers – Mark Sanchez throws more TD passes than Chad Henne and LT scores more rushing TDs than Ronny Brown. Bills running back C.J. Spiller will finish in the top two for AFC Rookie of the Year.
Fantasy Tips: Stay away from Tom Brady. The Patriots have no running game and Randy Moss has no help. Ricky Williams and LT will be big TD scorers. I don’t have a single division WR in my first two rounds.
Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension will leave Pittsburgh pretty much one-dimensional in the early going. Mendenhall is a good back, but the early grind may tell on him. Joe Flacco and Ray Rice and a stout defense will keep Baltimore in running with Cincinnati, but I believe this is the Bengals year. Cleveland will be much improved, but they still need a QB who can stretch the field. My pick – Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland.
Eye openers – Pittsburgh starts the season 0-4 and barely holds off Cleveland to finish out of the division basement. Mohamed Massaquoi (Browns) becomes a 1,000 yard receiver in his third season. Cincinnati’s Jermaine Gresham will lead AFC TEs in catches.
Fantasy Tips – Carson Palmer will be throwing to TO this year…a lot. While TO is probably only good for a third or fourth receiver – the combination with Gresham and Ochocinco should give Palmer some big stats. Hines Ward will have his usual steady year and, in a year where I like alot of rookie RBs, I say stay away from the Browns Montario Hardesty (at least for this year).
Indianapolis should win the division by two games. If the Colts keep everybody relatively healthy and the defense continues to improve, it could be a runaway. But there will be quite a battle for second – and a playoff berth. Matt Schaub has begun to nudge his way into the “elite” category of QBs and Vince Young has declared himself a new man. The loss of Ben Tate will hamper Houston’s running game, as Steve Slayton has shown some inconsistencies. In fact, Chris Johnson is the only high quality back in a pass happy division. My pick – Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston, Jacksonville.
Eye Openers – Vince Young receives considerable notice for Conference MVP as his TD to INT ratio actually bumps 2:1 – and the Titans make a run deep in the playoffs. Chris Johnson doesn’t lead the AFC in rushing and Austin Collie pushes the 100 catch mark for the Colts. Andre Johnson will lead the NFL WRs in catches, yards, and TDs.
Fantasy – From above, you can tell that I’m not high on Chris Johnson. I am so confident of his fall-off that I would not take him with the first pick. My first pick in all my drafts is Andre Johnson. Joseph Addai, and Maurice Jones-Drew will be solid backs who should be available in rounds 2-4. Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie are solid picks.
The division looks weak. If not for interdivision games and the fact that they face the weakest NFC division (the West) this year, teams would be scrambling for wins. Jason Campbell should bring stability to an Oakland offense, but there’s no defense. I’m not sold on Kyle Orton in Denver – he’s an ok QB, but that team should be able to produce more offense with the talent it has. And the Chiefs might not be able to score on anyone outside the division. That leaves the Chargers, with the division’s best QB and defense, and second best RB they should take the division….barely. My pick – San Diego, Denver, Oakland, Kansas City.
Eye Openers – Charger RB Ryan Matthews will not be the leading rusher among rookie backs. I believe Darren Sproles will be almost even, in carries, with the first round draft pick. Demaryius Thomas will break into the Broncos starting line-up by week 5 and will finish as a top 5 WR among rookies. Knowshon Moreno will finally be healthy for an entire season – and chase his first rushing title. The Chargers will be one and done in the playoffs.
Fantasy Tips – Moreno is a value back who can probably be picked up in round 3 of most drafts. I would pick up D. Thomas as a fourth wide receiver. Phillip Rivers continues to be a hot fantasy QB, but I would pass on Orton and Cassel. Jason Campbell could be a solid back-up for spot starts when the Raiders play the Chiefs.
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