Instead of making preseason NFL predictions this year, I decided to wait until some actual games were played to rank the teams. That way, actual performance on the field would theoretically be more important than hype. Two things seems pretty clear so far, the AFC is a much, much deeper conference, and both western divisions could conceivably send under .500 teams to the playoffs. So, here goes, my first NFL power rankings of the year, AFC version.
16. Cleveland Browns- Jake Delhomme looks suspiciously like the turnover machine that lost his job in Carolina last year in their road loss to somewhat-less-putrid Tampa Bay. Holmgren or no, these guys still suck.
15. Buffalo Bills- The passing game is awful, the rushing game is worse and they lost at home. But at least they were competitive against a pretty good Miami team. That gets them a nod over Cleveland.
14. Denver Broncos- This team, outside of a few players, is just plain bad. This season will likely be closer to the 2-8 finish to last year than the 6-0 start. Getting pretty handily beaten by a mediocre Jacksonville team is a bad start.
13. Oakland Raiders- This team is precisely why I wanted to avoid preseason hype. Lots of people were talking playoffs for the Raiders. Seriously? They played a genuinely good team in Tennessee and showed why they’re still not ready for prime time by getting beaten worse than anyone other than San Francisco. Bad week for the Bay area.
12. Kansas City Chiefs- Sure they beat the only supposedly good team in either western division in San Diego, but Matt Cassell was the worst QB in the league. Their running game alone could be enough to win this division, but that is not saying much.
11. Jacksonville Jaguars- Yes, they beat Denver pretty easily at home, and David Garrard looked the part of a real quarterback. But playing in a division with Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee is going to make for a long season.
10. San Diego Chargers- Even though they lost, the Chargers are still better than Kansas City. However, Ryan Matthews looked like the early-season favorite for bust of the year, and without Vincent Jackson, the passing attack looked pedestrian, even with one of the top QB’s in the league in Phillip Rivers.
9. Cincinnati Bengals- Losing to New England in Foxboro is nothing to be ashamed of. But the big question for Cincinnati is if they are the team that got blown out in the first half or played well in the second half.
8. New York Jets- The defense lived up to its billing, holding Baltimore to only 10 points. Unfortunately, the offense only scored 9. Losing a close game at home to a Superbowl contender makes the Jets a good team but not a great one.
7. Indianapolis Colts- Wow, is their run defense bad. Peyton Manning went wild through the air, but it wasn’t enough to win in Houston. It could be an uncharacteristic long season in Indy, having Chris Johnson, Vince Young and Maurice Jones-Drew running the ball in their division.
6. Miami Dolphins- Sure, the Fins weren’t spectacular or flashy, by they dominated the Bills on defense and time of possession on the road. They may only get stronger as the year goes on.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers- Every win they can get before Big Ben comes off suspension is gravy for this team. If the defense holds up as it did against Atlanta, by season’s end, they will be a real player in the Superbowl hunt.
4. Tennessee Titans- Vince Young looks like he may finally have figured things out, Chris Johnson is the best back in the league and they just stomped the Oakland Raiders’ bandwagon out of existence. If the Colts can’t stop the run, Tennessee will eat them for lunch.
3. Baltimore Ravens- The defense is already in mid-season form after holding the much-hyped Jets to single digits. The offense wasn’t exactly brilliant, but it’s bound to get better against defenses that aren’t one of the top two or three in the league. They have a strong-armed quarterback, quality receivers all over the field, a deep and talented backfield and a first rate defense. They might be this season’s Saints.
2. New England Patriots- They looked absolutely dominant in the first half against Cincinnati, then took their foot off the gas a bit. If they stay healthy and focused, a run at a playoff bye is a definite possibility.
1. Houston Texans- Matt Schaub had a very average game, but the emergence of a monster running game led the way in a victory over the defending AFC champs. The defense did allow over 400 yards passing and three touchdowns, which is concerning. But the Colts also happen to have the best passing offense in the league, so it’s understandable. The offense will get better, and the defense should, too. Finally, this will be the year the Texans made a play for the top of the AFC.