It looks like people responded pretty well to the NFC Playoff Preview on Monday. So I decided "Hey, why not do one for the AFC?" So I did. And here it is! Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your stance),I have revised my formula so that I'm not limited to just mentioning TV shows. Prepare yourself, sports fans, for my Superfluous Pop Culture References (patent pending)! Movies! Actors! Singers! Cultural phenomena of all sorts! So get ready for part two of APC's premature playoff preview!
Man, the AFC is so much tougher. Outside of the obvious top-4 (Titans, Steelers, Pats, and Bills(?!)), there are nine teams that have a viable shot at making the playoffs. That, my friends, is parity. Or general suckitude, if you've got a case of the pessimism. On to the premature picks that will probably change a dozen times by the end of November!
Just like before, I took the AFC and ranked them by their likelihood of making the playoffs based on record, remaining schedule, and overall performance. Starting at the top...
1. Tennessee Titans (7-0)
The Good: Do I even have to say it? This team dominates on defense. 1st in points allowed with 12.4 per game. Fourth in total yards allowed. They get sacks, they get turnovers, and have only allowed 10 touchdowns all year. But what's even more remarkable is the efficiency of their offense. No, they're not flashy, but they're fourth in the league in rushing yards and actually in the top-10 in scoring. Kerry Collins protects the football (only 3 turnovers), and the offensive line protects Kerry Collins (1 sack on the year). And, of course, LenDale White looks like the LenDale White from USC (ten touchdowns), with Chris Johnson ably filling the dynamite college version of Reggie Bush (5.1 ypc).
The Bad: Their leading reciever is TE Bo Scaife with 28 catches and 318 yards. Chris Johnson is second with 18 catches for 92 yards. Needless to say, the WR corps on this team is abysmal. If a team actually does stop the run, I don't know if Tennessee can scrap together a passing game. Also, remember Vince Young? He's still around, riding the pine, playing the good soldier, but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that he's not happy backing up Collins. So far, so good, but this is an ongoing story.
Superfluous Pop Culture Reference (SPCR): Zombies!
Watch out! A horde of scary flesh-eating mutant zombies! Everybody run! That's certainly the Tennessee philosophy: everybody run. You know exactly what's going to happen when you play them. They are going to roll up on you, run you over, and eat your brains. And you can't stop it. They're the frickin' undead.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
The Good: Like the Titans, the Steelers get it done on defense. You cannot pass on them, you cannot run on them, and you certainly cannot score on them. They're the closest thing to the immovable object right now, and I don't see any unstoppable forces coming anytime soon. Roethlisberger has stayed healthy despite taking more hits than a junkie, and he's leading an effective but statistically average offense.
The Bad: Willie Parker is hurting, and their number one pick got Boba Fett'd by Baltimore (on IR with a shoulder injury). Yes, Mewelde Moore has picked up the slack, but he's still Mewelde Moore. The Steelers absolutely need to fix their pass protection if they want to succeed in the postseason; having given up 24 sacks thus far. Santonio Holmes needs to keep his nose out of trouble, and Hines Ward needs to avoid bankrupcy via excessive fines.
SPCR: Fifty Cent!
You tell me that he's not already playing LB for the Steelers. He looks a bit like James Farrior. Fiddy knows how to take shots and bounce right back, which is exactly what Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers do. 50's a perfect match for Pittsburgh; I hear he's quite handy with the steel. If only he could pass block for them.
3. New England Patriots (5-2)
The Good: The offense avoided complete breakdown after Brady got hurt through some surprisingly competent work from Matt Cassel. He's probably one of the worst starters in the league, but he's still got some of the best recievers in Moss (who hasn't given up yet) and Welker (who still is the best slot reciever in the game). They're statistically average across the board, but Bill Belicheck has done a good job making sure the team keeps winning.
The Bad: No Tom Brady. An upcoming schedule that includes Indianapolis, Buffalo (twice), New York Jets, Pittsburgh, and Arizona. No Tom Brady. Their defense is getting older. No Tom Brady. Rodney Harrison is out for the year, and quite possibly his career. Did I mention that Tom Brady's not there?
SPCR: The Harry Potter movies, post-Richard Harris!
I hate to compare an athlete's injury to an actor's death, but the Tom Brady parallel is there to be made. Honestly, the movies weren't the same after Michael Gambon took over the role. It was like going from a name-brand cereal to the cheap knockoff that's made of the same ingredients but tastes like wet cardboard. The surrounding cast was the same, the story was the same, but it was missing that extra something that just made the movies special. Yes, I am a huge dork.
4. Buffalo Bills (5-2)
The Good: Not many people saw this team coming. We knew that Lee Evans was a deep threat, that Trent Edwards could work within the offense and limit mistakes, and that Marshawn Lynch liked to go into "beast mode" from time to time. But wins against Jacksonville and San Diego coupled with a 4-0 start opened people's eyes. Statistically, they're in the top half of offensive categories and flirting with the top-10 in defense, and they have an upcoming stretch that includes games against Cleveland, Kansas City, San Francisco, and Miami.
The Bad: They've gotten blown out by Arizona and only managed a 1-point win over Oakland, not to mention a fairly surprising loss to Miami last week. They still have two games against the Jets, one against Miami, and two against New England. Couple that with a team that is wildly inconsistent and doesn't have many dominant players, and things in Buffalo could turn south very quickly. Even though the team is turning north towards Toronto in the near future.
SPCR: R. Kelly!
How is this guy's career not over yet? All the arrests, the sex tape, the whole golden shower thing, saying stuff like this:
"I'm the Ali of today. I'm the Marvin Gaye of today. I'm the Bob Marley of today. I'm the Martin Luther King, or all the other greats that have come before us. And a lot of people are starting to realize that now."
Yes, he gave us the inspirational "I Believe I Can Fly" and the strangely entertaining "Trapped In The Closet" hip h-opera. But he's done enough in the past to merit banishment from the public eye. But he simply won't go away. And neither will the Bills.
5. Baltimore Ravens (4-3)
The Good: The defense has rediscovered itself and is in the top-3 of all major categories. They force a lot of 3-and-outs, and the linebackers are impersonating their 2000-era selves. Although his rating might suck, Joe Flacco has taken control of this team and manages to not screw up to badly.
The Bad: The run game was supposed to carry this offense, but so far the only thing Willis Mcgahee is carrying is the stigma of losing carries to Le'Ron Mclain and Ray Rice. Todd Heap hasn't shown up yet. The team has a -4 turnover ratio, a death knell for a squad that prides itself on ball security and clock control. Either the defense has to step up (more) or the offense has to wake up.
SPCR: Silent Bob!
Ok, there's not necessarily a Silent Bob tie-in, but there is one between the current Ravens, the 2000 Ravens, and two of Kevin Smith's masterpieces. Everyone remembers 'Clerks', just like everyone remembers the 2000 Ravens. Both were ridiculous, awesome, and ridiculously awesome. And most of the people who've seen 'Clerks' have seen 'Clerks 2'. Don't get me wrong, 'Clerks 2' was great. But it was no 'Clerks'. Just like the 2008 Ravens are not the 2000 Ravens. Similar elements, but they're just not as good.
6. New York Jets (4-3)
The Good: Not many people were surprised that the Jets have been mildly successful this year. Brett Favre tends to bring the expectation of winning, but most people knew that the rest of the roster was terribly average. Favre has certainly taken advantage of it so far, tossing 15 TD's (including that 6 TD game he had against the Cardinals). Thomas Jones refreshed his memory on the endzone, having scored 4 TD's along with a 532 yard total. Leon Washington is a nice little x-factor for the team, and the recievers (Coles, Cotchery, and Stuckey) haven't dropped off too far.
The Bad: They are 15th in all major yardage categories on offense. Not necessarily bad, but not great either. Their offense is middle of the pack as well, despite their top-10 scoring ranking. They've managed only slim victories over Miami, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. That comeback game against the Chiefs was widely blown out of proportion; when you're playing the Chiefs, the only time you should ever have to come back is if you're in their division and you've already played your home game. They still have to play New England and Miami again, the Bills twice, Tennessee, and Denver. Unless they can get past the Pats and Bills, getting into the playoffs is a tall order.
SPCR: The Departed!
Was it a good movie? Absolutely. Was it a great movie? Not really, despite all the hype. Did Old Man Nicholson make it the hit film it was (supposed to be)? Everyone says yes, but in reality, it was all about the young guns (DiCaprio and Damon, with some Marky Mark on the side). But then again, this movie had Scorsese. The Jets have Mangini. Big difference. If this were an Antoine Fuqua film, then it'd be different.
7. San Diego Chargers (3-5)
The Good: They finally seem to be shaping up. L.T.2 is healthy again, as is Antonio Gates. They, along with Philip Rivers and Vincent Jackson (who's enjoying a resurgence as other teams must focus on Chris Chambers), lead the 3rd ranked scoring offense. They've only got three "hard" games left on their schedule: Denver, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta.
The Bad: Norv Turner is awful. Since Shawne Merriman's injury, the defense has taken a turn for the worse, ranking in the bottom third of most major categories, including dead-last in passing yards allowed. I blame Turner for this because he has Antonio Cromartie, Shaun Phillips, and the rest of that San Diego defense that was supposed to be, you know, good. The loss to Buffalo is going to hurt their wild card chances.
SPCR: The Little Giants!
The 2008 Chargers are every team from a kids' sports movie that starts out as the bumbling-underachievers-turned-underdog-turned-champion. It doesn't even matter what movie: Little Giants, Mighty Ducks, that horrible Martin Lawrence basketball movie; they did not have it together at the beginning, but you know they were going to be there at the end.
8. Denver Broncos (4-3)
The Good: The ball gets moved in Denver with ease, indicated by their 2nd place ranking in total yards. Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Eddie Royal have established themselves as capable offensive players. They still have to play Cleveland, Oakland, and Kansas City.
The Bad: The ball gets moved in Denver with ease, indicated by their bottom-10 ranking in all major defensive categories. Champ Bailey is hurt with a groin injury. This is the team that gave the Chiefs their lone win on the season. I do not trust them.
SPCR: The Pee-Wee Cowboys!
If the Chargers are the Little Giants, the Broncos are the Pee-Wee Cowboys. They're the bully team that beats up on the poor saps at the beginning of the movie, but they end up getting theirs. Plus between Jay Cutler and Ed O'Neill, I don't know who's the bigger douche.
9. Indianapolis Colts (3-4)
The Good: The Colts can pass the ball, and the Colts can defend against the pass. Both rankings are second in the league. Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark have been solid, and Anthony Gonzalez is really starting to develop as a WR. Dwight Freeney seems to have reawakened, and the offensive line has finally start to come together.
The Bad: Why are the Colts so low if they have Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison, and Dallas Clark? Because they can't run the ball, Joseph Addai is hurt, and their defense is a shell of itself since Bob Sanders went down. Reggie Wayne, despite his success, has been virtually shut out in the last two games against Green Bay and Tennessee. The team could have recovered from this had Jeff Saturday not been out for the beginning of the season, but he was, so they didn't. The Colts' window is closing fast.
SPCR: Eddie and Charlie Murphy!
The Brothers Darkness represent what's happened to the Colts over the last decade or so. Remember way back when, when Eddie Murphy was the man? Because he was. But then he fell off, and I think there was something to do with a tranny in a car. Now Charlie Murphy has taken his place, but it's just not the same. The Colts used to be a juggernaut, and it's not like they're bad, but they're stuck reminiscing about Rick James and Prince in the 80's.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4)
The Good: David Garrard is playing an efficient role at QB. MJD and Fred Taylor are still running the ball (although it's significantly more of Jones-Drew nowadays). Matt Jones finally turned into a real NFL reciever (complete with drug charges!).
The Bad: Injuries have killed the offensive and defensive lines of this club. They're somewhere in the middle ten of all major statistical categories, but being decent at everything while being good at nothing is no way to make the NFL playoffs. Maybe with improved health, this team can improve, but it looks like this season is destined for mediocrity.
This team is quite the enigma. They look good against good teams, but they look bad against bad teams. They could easily go 11-5 or 5-11. Since I can't make a good reference here, I'll give you fine people a taste of a wonderfully hilarious site you should all visit everyday, Footbawful:
The Jacksonville Jaguars. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I'll level with you: I've struggled to write about the Jags all season. They've been middling, but not awful (I believe I once noted that I can't in recent years recall a team that seemed so determined to finish the season 8-8), and despite the fact that the preseason held ominous hints that the Jaguars could very well be the new Bengals (arrests, shootings, and the like), Jacksonville kept conveniently winning a game every time I was ready to banish them to the depths of my contempt. Sure, they've got no running game (even with Maurice Jones-Drew... what a waste) and they can't rush the pass worth anything (only 9 sacks on the season? J.T. O'Sullivan would like to know when he gets to play the Jaguars), but they'd still managed to beat the Colts, the Texans, and the Broncos.
After this weekend's 23-17 loss to the staphyloriffic Browns, though? Jacksonville, I hereby dub thee Suck. Welcome to being the object of cheap one-liners and YouTube hilarity in the Powerless Rankings. Welcome to being picked against every week. Welcome to Suckville. The Chiefs will take your bags.
Seriously. Footbawful is like Deadspin, except just for football. It's awesome.
11. Houston Texans (3-4)
The Good: They can move the ball and they can score. Matt Schaub is, when healthy, a quality quarterback. Steve Slaton is running the ball nicely, and Andre Johnson (772 yards) has taken the NFL lead in recieving yards away from Greg Jennings. Mario Williams is proving himself worthy of the #1 pick label with a 7-sack campaign so far. After that 0-4 start, they've put together a 3-game win streak have a good chance making it a 4 against Minnesota this week.
The Bad: They cannot stop anyone. Their defense has improved, but it only went from terrible to bad. The offensive line is merely average, but is prone to complete implosion in the coming weeks. Especially with a schedule including Baltimore and Tennesee on it.
SPCR: Conan O'Brien!
You know you love Conan. You're excited for him to take over in 2009. But we have to wait til then. It might be longer for Houston to "take over", especially with Tennessee's current dominance and the Colts and Jaguars still being the Colts and Jaguars. But sooner or later, the Texans will get their chance. Just like Conan.
12. Cleveland Browns (3-4)
The Good: After an abysmal start to the season, the Browns are returning to familiar territory: mediocrity. Derek Andersen seems to have remembered how to play quarterback and Jamal Lewis is still somewhat effective. They actually have the 7th best scoring defense in the league.
The Bad: Their upcoming schedule is brutal. Baltimore, Denver, Buffalo, Houston, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh (with a Cincinatti game in there somewhere) remain. This team could steal a game, maybe two, but it would take a monumental effort for them to even reach .500, especially with Kellen Winslow's run-ins with the team, Braylon Edwards' grade-II case of the dropsies, and the staph outbreak that has been very hush-hush so far.
SPCR: Rutgers football!
This may not be a pop culture reference, but it's a perfect description of the Browns (and a good way to give my school a shout-out). Historically, Rutgers football has been awful. Beyond awful, even, it's been barely watchable. Then Brian Leonard, Ray Rice, and Greg Schiano came along and they had a breakout year two years ago. They enjoyed some great success, and the bandwagon was jam packed. Then Leonard got drafted, Rice got drafted, and the program was more interested in expanding the stadium than gathering talented recruits. Now the team sucks and everyone who jumped on the bandwagon cannot wait to get back off. It's sad to see how fast success gets to people's heads. Just like the Browns.
13. Miami Dolphins (3-4)
The Good: Joey Porter recovered from last year's slump-tastic season and already has 10.5 sacks. He's certainly earning his contract. So too is Chad Pennington, perhaps the most noodly-armed quarterback ever to have success in the NFL. He leads the surprisingly top-5 passing offense in the NFL. The Wildcat offense worked for a little while.
The Bad: Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are below average running backs, despite Brown's gaudy touchdown total. Take away that one game against New England, which was still without direction from the Brady injury, has an aging defense, and didn't expect a high-school offense, and the results are not nearly as impressive.
SPCR: Pushing Daisies!
Blech. Once you get past the cutesy gimmicks, there is nothing to like here. Aww, he brings back his childhood girlfriend from beyond the grave! But they can't ever touch! Oh, what will they do? Just like the Wildcat offense; it works for a week or two, but then it just gets downright irritating. And yes, that woman on the far left does have a ruby eyepatch. For no good reason. I hate this show.
14. Oakland Raiders (2-5)
The Good: At least Lane Kiffin doesn't have to work there anymore. And Zach Miller is developing into a nice tight end. (Did that come out right?)
The Bad: Blech. JaMarcus Russell is awful. I don't know how else to put it. Sure, he can fling it 1,200 yards, but he can't run an NFL offense, especially one with the washed-up Javon Walker, the overrated Ronald Curry, the oft-injured Darren McFadden, and the black hole of a running back that is Justin Fargas. Oh, yeah, and the defense sucks too.
SPCR: Dr. Nick!
Hi, everybody! Oakland's decision making has been suspect for quite some time now, and it's amazing that the powers that be are still the powers that be. Al Davis probably fancies himself not only as a football genius, but fluent in seven languages, an accomplished pianist, and a world class surgeon as well. I can see it now...
The hip bone's connected to the, something, the something's connected to the, red thing, the red thing's connected to my, wristwatch...uh-oh...
15. Kansas City Chiefs (1-6)
The Good: Tyler Thigpen is (somehow) cameoing as a starting NFL quarterback. Dwayne Bowe is having a nice 2008 campaign, and Larry Johnson has been good when he played.
The Bad: If they lose Larry Johnson to his douche-tastic ways, this offense is done. The defense can't stop the French from invading, and the QB carousel that Herm Edwards insists we ride with him is ridiculous and unsafe. The three-way battle between Thigpen, Brodie Croyle, and Damon Huard is the worst three-way ever.
SPCR: The fat kid in your middle school gym class!
You remember that kid. There's a good chance that if you're reading sports blogs, you were that kid. It's OK if you were, I was the skinny asthmatic kid who doubled over during jumping jacks. Anyway, this kid got dominated all the time. It wasn't even funny, except it totally was. But there was always that lingering memory from seventh grade when your gym teacher was out sick and the sub had you do Greco-Roman wrestling, and you drew Fatty McFatkins. Yeah, that day was the Chiefs-Broncos game in week 4. Embarassing for you, probably the highlight of that kids' athletic career.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (0-8)
The Good: They say that if you look hard enough, you can find good in everything. Some call it foolish optimism, I prefer outrageously asinine. T.J. Houshmendzadeh is quietly putting together an OK year at WR with 512 yards and 3 TD's. The pass defense is in the top-10. How can you be winless with a halfway-decent WR and an 8th ranked pass defense?! Wait for it...
The Bad: This is how. They've truly earned the "Bungles" nickname. This team is amazingly inept. Last in points scored, yards gained, 28th in rush defense, and all while giving up 27.1 points per game. On top of that, Carson Palmer may be done for the season, their first-round pick LB Keith Rivers got absolutely lit up by Hines Ward and is out for the season with a broken jaw (ouch), Chad Ocho Cinco is playing like Chad Cero (that "hurricanes" speech he did in the preseason makes less sense now than it did back then), Cedric freaking Benson is stealing carries from Chris Perry, and Marvin Lewis is still somehow avoiding the hot seat. Yeah, the Bengals have a lot of problems.
SPCR: Amy Winehouse!
God, this team is a mess. Doubly sad because of the offensive talent they have. Which kind of negates the Amy Winehouse reference. There's no talent there. But both are wasting away in a sea of drugs, booze, and arrest records. At least they've got an inside track to the right to screw up first in the draft. At least Ohio still has LeBron for a few years.
If the playoffs started today, here's how they'd look. Any questions? Consult the tiebreaking procedures:
Division - Team (seed - ranking by record)
AFC East - New England Patriots (3 - 3)
AFC West - Denver Broncos (4 - 5)
AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers (2 - 2)
AFC South - Tennessee Titans (1 - 1)
Wild Card - Buffalo Bills (5 - 4)
Wild Card - Baltimore Ravens (6 - 6)