The first two weeks of NFL action are in the book, which means it’s early in the season—always a great time to predict AFC East and North division champions and Super Bowl contenders.
The story line of the AFC East has been filled with talented and youthful quarterbacks in the beginning of the season. Ryan Tannehill, the second-year starting Miami Dolphins quarterback, has led the Phins to a 2-0 start.
Tannehill has shown that he has learned from the mistakes of his rookie season, but the Dolphins’ lack of depth at the wide receiver and running back positions will hurt their chances of winning the division.
The Buffalo Bills under the leadership of Doug Marrone, the new head coach hired from Syracuse University, earned their first win in the second week of the season. EJ Manuel, the rookie quarterback and first-round draft pick, completed 45 of 66 pass attempts for 446 yards and three touchdowns in the opening weeks. Manuel showed great promise when he marched his offense down the field against the Carolina Panthers, and capped off the drive with a 2-yard pass to Stevie Johnson, the Bills’ top wide receiver. The Bills’ rushing attack is currently ranked fourth in the NFL, but a depleted secondary will cause problems for the team moving forward.
The New York Jets have accepted Mark Sanchez as a backup quarterback and had the California kid make way for Geno Smith, the rookie quarterback and second- round draft pick, to bring the team to the playoffs again. Smith got his first win in the NFL in week one over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 18-17.
Similar to the Bills, the Jets are looking to have their young quarterback grow this season, but they need a better protection scheme because he has already been sacked nine times. Smith came back down to earth and showed his youth when he threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter while his team suffered a loss against New England Sunday.
The New England Patriots have defeated back-to-back AFC East teams, the Bills and Jets. Tom Brady has taken it upon himself to lead the team back to the playoffs in the wake of losing the majority of its offensive weapons to injury and prison. Many people doubted the Patriots will have a successful season, but Brady has been there before and will take his team to the postseason again.
The AFC North, which has perennially put two teams into the playoffs utilizing a wild card position, will only have one team going to the postseason this year. One of the teams not attending the playoffs will be the Cleveland Browns. The Browns draft quarterbacks who can be competitive, but never seem to take the next step to be great. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden plays with a great deal of inconsistency and suffered a thumb injury in Sunday’s contest. The injury will allow veteran quarterback Jason Campbell the opportunity to start.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have a down year for the 2013 season. The Steelers’ rushing game ranks next to last in the NFL while averaging 37.5 yards rushing per game. Running back Isaac Redman, who suffered a head injury, and Le’Veon Bell, the rookie second-round draft pick, suffered a foot injury, leaving the running game depleted.
Steelers’ fans don’t want to hear this, but it will be a very long season. I predict they will go 6-10 on the season, which is the ultimate slap in the face to the fan base because that means the team underperformed and would not even get a high draft pick for next season.
The Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens will battle for the division crown, and I believe the final game of the season between these two teams will decide the division.
The Bengals are a young team that is getting better week by week. The combination of sophomore quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green will be the reason this team makes the playoffs.
The Ravens, often scrutinized for all of their departures from the Super Bowl championship team, had a slow start, but will turn it around as the season progresses. The Bengals will beat the Ravens in week 17 of the season and will be crowned AFC North champions.