|01-18-2007, 11:10 PM||#1|
Join Date: Mar 2004
AFC teams to return to playoffs
We've experienced enough quick turnarounds in the NFL to know that some teams who are on the outside of this year's playoffs will have an inside view next year. There is no better example than the Saints, who first ricocheted from a nightmarish 2005 season (3-13) into their third divisional title in franchise history, and now their first appearance in the NFC championship game.
While it is certainly possible that a team will make a recovery of the same magnitude next year in the talent heavy AFC, there will once again be potent lineups throughout the conference that are denied entry into the post-season simply because it is a demanding task with just six available slots. However, several franchises could ascend by making a few improvements.
Here are the four AFC teams that missed the playoffs, who I believe have the best opportunities to be involved next year.
Titans Now that Vince Young has executed the definitive magic trick by transforming an adrift 0-5 unit into an exciting 8-8 group that just missed the post-season, it is easy to expect even more victories and spectacular moments when he has the opportunity to perform in 16 games. In 13 starts, Young ran for 552 yards (6.7 per carry average) and seven touchdowns in addition to passing for 2,199 yards 12 touchdowns.
His primary offensive help came from Travis Henry, whose excellent comeback season (1,211 yards and seven touchdowns) was responsible for Tennessee ranking fifth overall in rushing. More backup assistance will be needed from LenDale White, who rewarded the team for drafting him 15 places higher than Maurice Jones-Drew with only 244 yards and no touchdowns. Young could use better receiving weapons for the 20th-ranked passing attack as Drew Bennett and Bobby Wade led the team with only 46 and 33 receptions respectively.
More playmakers are also needed to assist Chris Hope, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Keith Bullock on defense, which ranked dead last in the league. However, Pacman Jones has become a major factor as a return man.
This is a team on the rise, and with a few improvements, the Titans can challenge the Colts in the AFC South. In the meantime, Young’s late-season heroics, and the Titans’ overall transformation will allow them to experience an optimistic off-season that is devoid of the sour taste endured by most teams who missed the playoffs.
Broncos Speaking of anticipation to witness what a quarterback can accomplish in 16 starts, Jay Cutler's presence over an entire season should increase the formidability of a talented Denver team. In fact, it is surprising that the Broncos missed the post-season given the various strengths they already possessed. Just the threat of a vertical game, to the tune of a 65-70 yard bomb being launched by Cutler at any time, should supplement their running game and a defense that is stocked with impact players.
Of course, simply having Cutler under center won't cure all of the shortcomings. Not for a group that regressed from 7-2 to 9-7 over the final weeks of the season. The current stable of running backs requires "further review." The general consensus that Mike Shanahan can plug any back into his system and instantly receive a 1200-yard rusher did not come to pass. The Bells failed to make a resounding difference, as Tatum led the team in yardage by barely surpassing 1,000 yards (1,025), and Mike ran for eight touchdowns, but only 677 yards. Not quite the rushing explosion that many previous Bronco teams have achieved.
Improving their lowly 26th ranked passing attack would help open more running lanes, and the presence of Cutler should accomplish that. So would supplying him with an additional option to supplement Javon Walker (1,084 yards, eight touchdowns), as 12-year veteran Rod Smith's yardage and touchdowns decreased dramatically from 2005 (1,105 yards to 512, and six touchdowns to three).
Defensively, the Broncos possess enough difference-makers to make a playoff run. However, the unit degenerated after a strong September, in which they did not allow a touchdown for the first 11 quarters. They finished 14th overall, and gave up second-half leads in four home losses. Former defensive coordinator Larry Coyer has been replaced by former Packers and Dolphins coordinator Jim Bates, who was coveted by several other teams. One of his projects should be to increase Denver’s stinginess against the pass, after the Broncos finished only 21st overall despite the presence of Pro-Bowlers Champ Bailey and John Lynch. More coaching changes could also be coming soon as part of the franchises’ renovation process.
Bengals Here is another team with vast talent that nevertheless had the opportunity to immediately schedule tee times rather than post-season practices. What went wrong? Well, allowing opponents to generate over 355 yards per game is a great place to start. Only two teams permitted more. And The Bengals’ inability to defend the pass, 238.6 yards per game, which was tied for the league's worst, is another. They simply must become less hospitable in order for this team to progress.
The good news is that coach Marvin Lewis has the capacity to repair this leaky unit. He developed a much-deserved reputation as a defensive mastermind during his stint as coordinator of the Ravens from 1996-2001, which included the record-setting 2000 group that dominated Super Bowl XXXV. He must increase his involvement with his current collection of defenders.
However, there is plenty that is right about the Bengals as well. Particularly, their sixth-ranked passing attack, which once again torched opponents, averaging 239.6 yards per game. The trio of Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh will again be the most important weapons toward a post-season return.
Rudy Johnson is also vital to their success, and the Bengals must enhance a rushing attack that only averaged 101.8 yards each game (26th). A healthy return of left tackle Levi Jones, who appeared in just six contests, would help stabilize the line and allow for more productivity.
But the largest factor toward propelling the Bengals back into the playoffs remains their defense. If sufficient improvement takes place, they will return.
Jaguars Okay. Just so we’re all straight on this, Jacksonville finished third in rushing averaging 158.8 yards per game. Excellent, right? And the Jaguars defense was outstanding, ranking as the league’s second best. Doesn’t a strong running game, and a smothering defense set a team up to win a championship? Then how did the Jaguars finish 8-8?
It wasn’t due to any shortcomings from magnificent rookie Jones-Drew, who generated 16 touchdowns and 2,250 all-purpose yards. That was the third highest total in NFL history by a first-year player.
The Jags woeful 2-6-road record was a culprit. They performed as a vastly different team than the unit that was so imposing at home. Being swept by the Texans was another unsettling development.
Coach Jack Del Rio released five of his assistant coaches, and brought in former Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter as his offensive coordinator, the third different coordinator of his five-year tenure. Securing the return of Fred Taylor appears to be a priority, despite the manifestation of Jones-Drew. However, the quarterback and wide receiver positions are far less settled.
Byron Leftwich, who was selected seventh overall in the 2003 draft, appears to be Jacksonville’s most talented signal-caller. But his relationship with Del Rio is so fragile that he may not remain on the roster. David Garrard started 10 games and completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That resulted in an 80.5 rating which was only 16th in the league.
Former first-round picks Matt Jones and Reggie Williams have been adequate, but not exceptional receivers, and an upgrade is in order for the Jaguars’ offense to achieve the necessary balance.
If both positions are effectively addressed, Jacksonville should easily contend for an always difficult AFC post-season berth.
|01-19-2007, 11:14 AM||#3|
Bronco fan since '66
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Morrison, IL
Just as you have less success passing when you don't have a running game, it can be very hard to run when you have no pass threat.
Teams learned early this year that Plummer was not going to beat them through the air, so they concentrated on our best weapon - the run. Our unusual lack of running success this year was much more due to this than due to Shanahan losing his touch with the running game. Plus, our offensive line had a particularly bad year (maybe here bad coaching is a serious culprit).
Though our offensive line did not improve in the last 4 games, our running attack began to find itself, at least with Mike Bell (Tatum had fumblitis), largely because teams had to take into account Cutler's ability to pass and scramble.
I just don't think you can project this years problems into next year with much confidence. For any team really.
With parity, picking next years crop of playoff teams is pure guesswork. Predicting who will rise and who will fall is fool's work. But then it's usually a fool who writes articles like these.
|01-19-2007, 12:06 PM||#4|
How about some Tapenade!
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: The Coaches Cradle...Eastern Illinois University
Go ask the Bolts what playing a third place schedule can do for you
|01-19-2007, 12:19 PM||#5|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Jul 2002
The number 1 requirement is the running game:
1. Defend the run and be able to run the ball well ourselves.
You do that and you automatically improve Jay Cutler's chances of being an effective QB.
We can't afford another season of small DEs and three DTs in Warren/Myers/Veal.
|01-19-2007, 02:49 PM||#6|
Draft Defense Early&Often
Join Date: Oct 2004
Denver really got hammered this year they played against the top rushing attacks in the league this year.
Next years schedule should be a little easier.