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Ripe for the Picking: The AFC After Week One

The Bills went into Chicago this past Sunday and proved many people, particularly those outside of Buffalo, wrong when they defeated the Bears 23-20 in overtime and secured a very nice road victory to begin the 2014 season. We learned a few things about the Bills during that game:

  • EJ Manuel proved that he can make some nice plays in big situations.
  • The running game are indeed going to be the foundation of the offense.
  • Stopping the run on the other side of the ball looked like the most improved part of the team.
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The AFC looks pretty wide open after Week 1.

Those things looked pretty clear in the first week.

I had an opportunity to watch much of the action, both live and on tape, of the the rest of the AFC’s first week. Although I came away rather unimpressed with the conference as a whole, I did attain some solid thoughts about each team through the first regular season game. The following, in a few sentences apiece, is a bit of what I learned about each one of the Bills’ AFC rivals in week one.

AFC EAST

The Bills will face a Miami Dolphins team that defeated the New England Patriots rather convincingly, paced by a suddenly strong running game that went for 38-191 (5.0 ypc) on Sunday. This is a product of a new offensive system under the direction of OC Bill Lazor. The run game looked much improved, but Ryan Tannehill (18/32, 178, 2/1) and the passing game still left something to be desired. The defense looked stout, though they are now battling a slew of injuries.  Miami as a whole is still a bit of an enigma to me.

The New York Jets thoroughly dominated the Raiders on Sunday, though I think that was more of a reflection of how poor a team Oakland is than how good the Jets are. Even so, the Jets were very impressive running the football, totalling 212 yards on 34 carries (6.2 ypc) as a team. The defense only gave up 158 total yards on the day. Their defensive line looked dominant at times, and joins the Bills’ group as one of the best in football. It will not be easy to run on them this season. This is shaping up to be a very typical New York Jets team.

Leading 20-10 at half in a place they have historically struggled in, the New England Patriots were probably feeling pretty darn good about themselves. Then everything changed in the final 30 minutes. Miami ran the ball down New England’s throats and Tom Brady was a very not-Tom Brady-like 29/56 for only 249 yards at the end of the day. I expect the offense to bounce back rather quickly, especially if they commit to the run more, but that run defense is a serious question mark. They were mauled on Sunday. I’m very interested to see how Brady bounces back, as well.

AFC SOUTH

The Houston Texans were one of the strangest studies of this past week. They beat the Redskins in Houston 17-6, which seems sorta convincing, but it really wasn’t. Washington actually out-gained the Texans 372-321; a number that was even inflated a bit in Houston’s direction by a 76 yard touchdown reception by DeAndre Hopkins. Almost every relevant statistic in this game was near even. Color me unimpressed by the Texans opening victory.

We were just talking about a team that didn’t impress me much in a win; so let’s switch gears to a team that impressed me a pretty good deal despite losing. The Indianapolis Colts went into Denver and nearly stole one from the Broncos.  The offense was (finally) run through the passing game and Andrew Luck (35/53, 370, 2/2) on a consistent basis and the run defense only allowed the Broncos to gain 102 yards on 32 carries. The Colts looked like a playoff football team in week one.

I have long been preaching that the Jacksonville Jaguars are one of the more underrated teams in the league, and through a quarter and change I was feeling like quite the genius. Despite blowing the early 17-0 league, Jacksonville showed us that they are going to be able to play with just about anyone this season. They sacked Nick Foles five times in the first half and forced three Philadelphia turnovers. Though the Eagles ended up pulling away late in the second half, the Jags are not going to be a team that goes quietly this season.

The Tennessee Titans went into Kansas City and defeated a Chiefs team coming off a playoff berth in rather embarrassing fashion. Outgaining them 405-245 in total yards, the Titans dominated the game in just about every facet. Much-maligned quarterback Jake Locker (22/33, 266, 2/0) played a very solid game. I’m going to need a bit more than that to jump on the Locker bandwagon. Though it was a very nice way to open the season for Tennessee, I believe that the Chiefs are one of the bottom-5 teams in the league. Don’t get too excited.

AFC NORTH 

I believe the AFC North is going to be a very tight division in 2014 and the Baltimore Ravens dropped a tight one at home to the Bengals on Sunday. The two turnovers that the Ravens committed (Cincy had zero) are one of the main culprits for the loss.  However, most interesting to me, was the fact that new Baltimore OC Gary Kubiak allowed Joe Flacco to attempt 62 passes on Sunday.  This is not the recipe for success, as I don’t believe the team has enough good skill players to utilize this type of volume. This is not the M.O. of the Ravens nor Gary Kubiak, historically. After week one, I’m wondering what their offensive identity is.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ravens rebounded nicely and dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football.

The Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Ravens because they were efficient on offense and allowed Baltimore very few big plays on offense aside from an 80-yard touchdown from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith late in the 4th quarter. Cincinnati will rely much more on the run under Hue Jackson, which could stand to improve a bit from the 3.0 ypc they averaged on Sunday. Even so, they moved the ball pretty well and limited what Baltimore was able to do (despite the pass volume) on the other side. It was a solid start for the Bengals.

I’m grouping the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers together not because they played against one another on Sunday, but because they played such a similar game. The offenses were good and the defenses were every bit as bad.  That led to 892 total yards between the two teams. Mike Pettine and Dick LeBeau are probably just a bit unhappy with those performances. It’s safe to say that both of these squads need to work on their defensive units heading into week two.

EDITOR’S NOTE: LeBeau is going to be VERY unhappy after his defense’s performance versus the Ravens.

AFC WEST

The Denver Broncos once again looked like the best team in the AFC on Sunday, yet it wasn’t by nearly as wide a margin as it looked like at many times last season. They did not run the ball effectively (3.2 ypc) against Indianapolis and their defense, despite a slew of talented additions. Denver also allowed the Colts to total 408 yards of offense. Granted, much of this was when the Colts were in comeback mode, but Andrew Luck was able to get what he wanted most of the night. I also think Denver’s run D was only allowed to look a bit better than it was because Trent Richardson is borderline incompetent. Denver’s O is still elite and their D still needs work.

For a few months now, I have been telling anyone that will listen that the Kansas City Chiefs would be a 5-7 win team at best. After that performance at home against the Titans on Sunday, I feel like I actually may have been being generous. This is a bad football team, folks. They have virtually zero weapons on offense outside of Jamaal Charles, their offensive line was abused all day (allowed 4 sacks and 10+ more hurries/hits) and their defense has been decimated by injury and off-season departures. The Chiefs will be picking somewhere in the top-5 of the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Chiefs’ division rival Oakland Raiders may be joining them in or near the top-5 of next year’s draft if Sunday becomes a trend. The 19-14 final score in New York was nowhere near a good indication of how the Jets dominated this football game. Oakland was outgained by almost 250 yards, sparked by their team rushing total of 15 carries for 25 yards (1.7 yards per carry). This will not help your rookie quarterback. Once again, the Raiders look as if they are firmly in the bottom-quarter of the league in talent.

Finally, the San Diego Chargers had a tough opening week task of going into Arizona for a prime time game against the Cardinals. San Diego has long been one of my favorite teams entering the 2014 season, and much of this was predicated on the fact that I thought their pass defense would improve markedly from last year. However, they surrendered 304 yards and two touchdowns on 27/34 passing to Carson Palmer, which has me worried a bit. I think Palmer is an average quarterback at this stage of his career, and the Chargers will see better signal callers (like that Peyton guy, twice) throughout the remainder of the season. They also lost Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick for the season with a neck injury. There are some legitimate concerns in San Diego already.

There you have some of my thoughts about the AFC teams that the Bills will be battling amongst for a playoff spot throughout 2014. As you can see, the AFC seems to be pretty ripe for the picking as of today. Anyone can contend.

What are your thoughts on the other AFC teams and the Bills’ chances in comparison? Are you growing more confident after what you saw in week one? Let us know, and as always. go Bills!

 


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