The good – Prototypical Bill Cowher-esque football: Fundamentally sound and physical defense, dominant running game, control the line of scrimmage and efficient (but not proficient) passing game. That will win a lot of football games, especially when you are better than your opponent.
The bad – The Titans got their first taste of what it feels like to play “come-from-behind” ball on Sunday and they are not built to score quickly or in bunches. If they are fall behind in the playoffs against a quality team, they don’t have the ability to win the shoot out style game.
The skinny – The Titans have a pretty easy schedule the next 3 weeks. They should wrap up their division and home field by week 16. Watch carefully, should they start to rest their key players because they have such a commanding lead, they could find themselves losing the edge they’ve had all year.
Prediction – The Titans cruise to the 1st seed with a comfortable lead in the standings combined with 3 cream puff games in a row. Their one dimensional offensive attack will catch up with them and they will advance no farther than the AFC Championship Game.
The good – The Steelers are sporting out one of the best defenses in recent memory--#1 in the league in total D, pass D, running D and scoring D—and #2 in sacks (37), and have not one, but two (Harrison and Polamalu) Defensive Player of the Year Candidates. They are sporting an 8-3 record, in spite of injuries to a Pro Bowl QB and Pro Bowl RB, and the leagues hardest schedule—showing just how much talent and depth the team has.
The bad – You can attest it to injuries, but the offense is showing very little resemblance to the explosive unit of 2007. The offensive line is among the weakest units the team has ever seen, and the O is just not scoring points.
The skinny – The remainder of the Steelers schedule isn't just hard, its brutal. Save for the final game against the Browns, the Steelers could be facing a winning team playing for its playoff life.
Prediction – The schedule is too much to overcome to earn the 2nd seed. The Steelers will win at worst 2 of the final 5 (including beating Baltimore) and win the division. The Steelers have the talent to beat anyone--if they get the offense on track, they are the AFC's representative in the Super Bowl
New York Jets
The good – The Jets are finding their rhythm at the right time. Their aggressive off-season of acquiring proven veterans is paying off. Brett Favre is playing fantastic (20 TDs 13 INTs) and Thomas Jones is about to top 1000 yards. The Jets have a strong pass rush (35 sacks)
The bad – The Jets overall defense is middle of the pack at best and their pass defense is horrible. In beating the Patriots, Cassel still carved them up for over 400 yards. Tennessee, their other big win, was against a team with a very low quality passing game.
The skinny – The Jets are the new media darlings, but they have earned it—with a 5 game winning streak and back to back wins over New England and Tennessee. Their schedule down the stretch resembles the Florida Gators playing The Citidal down the stretch--only its every single game.
Prediction – The Jets win their division and take home the 2nd seed over the Steelers-but not because they are better. Brett Favre in the playoffs always seems to have a meltdown, why should this year be any different?
The good – Mike Shanahan is a proven winner at coach and Jay Cutler has games in which he looks like a perennial Pro-Bowler, and for the most part the Broncos are capable of beating the inferior teams.
The bad – Where to start? The Broncos started the year 3-0 and the offense looked like a machine, but it has since come to earth. The Defense is so horrible they don't deserve any further write up.
The skinny – The Broncos hold a 2 game lead over the Chargers with 5 left, but with both falling apart, one of them has to win the division.
Prediction – The Broncos back into the playoffs as Division champ and the 4th seed and the fans will “enjoy” the early exit game.
The good – The Colts slowly are putting it together after a very slow start. Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and company are always a threat. There is too much experience with too many quality character players to discount.
The bad – In spite of the wins, this is not the same Colts team we have seen in recent years. It took a meltdown and tipped passes to beat Pittsburgh, they won by nary a FG over both the Pats and Chargers. Winning is winning, but this is a team built to win by outscoring opponents, not by grinding out games.
The skinny – For only the 2nd time since the Division was formed, the Colts are not going to win the AFC South. The Titans have too large a lead.
Prediction – They get a luxury of the Titans able to return the favor of last year, as the Titans can sit the final game out and the Colts will get an easy win—enabling them to secure the #5 seed. The Colts can easily take that seeding to the Super Bowl, however--I give them an equal chance as Pittsburgh--the team they will likely play in the opening round.
New England Patriots
The good – How this team kept it together after losing Tom Brady is a credit to their organization. They didn’t panic, stuck with their system QB and let him develop. They are playing like a group of veterans and showing team pride.
The bad – The defense, while playing well, is getting older and slower. Just like in 07, as the year wears on, the age shows through (giving up 34/28 the last two weeks) and this time around the offense isn’t generating 30+ points a game every week to cover them. Rodney Harrison is not only lost for the year but may be done for good.
The skinny – In spite of giving the Pats credit, they haven’t been winning the “big” games this year—chewing on a very soft schedule. The game against Pittsburgh is huge, after the Steelers, the Pats have only one legit game (Arizona) left.
Prediction – The Pats soft schedule is harder than the Jets soft schedule. Both teams face division leaders this week (Pitt/Denver). How this week outcomes will have drastic effect on the division champ race. I see NE making the playoffs, but as the #6 seed—and they will certainly fry Denver in the post season--but they will be stopped in round 2.
The good – The defense is playing at the top of its game and carrying the team to wins as usual. The team is playing with passion under first year coach John Harbaugh and rookie QB Joe Flacco is playing with a lot of poise.
The bad – In spite of playing with poise, Flacco is still a rookie QB. He hasn’t been able to throw for over 200 yards in 4 of the last 5 games—and though Ravens have done well as a team in those games, those were considerably easy opponents. He has to provide more of a threat, or else the Ravens are too one-dimensional.
The skinny – The Ravens rebounded from a horrible 07 campaign to a competitive 08 one, but when faced with a strong opponent (Pitt, Indy, Tenn, NYG) they have come up short.
Prediction – With games against Washington, Dallas and Pittsburgh, the Ravens end up 9-7 and watching the playoffs on TV.
Very good assessment if ya ask me.