Thursday, December 29, 2005

THE AFC POST-SEASON PICTURE!

PART II: THE AFC’S POST-SEASON PARTY!

In actuality, the AFC's picture is just as murky as the NFC's; I.E clear as mud. Several spots remain up for grabs and several games hold critical implications this weekend. In other words, the American Football Conference is pretty tight!

AFC… WHO'S IN?

1. Indianapolis Colts: Up until Week 14, things were lookin’ rather rosy for the Colts. The D formidable, the O nearly peerless, and the coaching staff always well prepared; the entire enchilada was assembled by head chef Tony Dungy. Dungy’s resume is an impressive one with recent stints in Minnesota, and later as captain of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ ship. Dungy was unceremoniously shown the door first by the Vikings and then made to walk the plank by the Bucs’. Those firings allowed Tony D’ to fall into a pot of Indy’ gold! With a Canton-bound QB in Peyton Manning, an equally prolific Wide Receiver in Marvin Harrison, and a stud, bull of a back in Edgerrin James, Dungy had his offensive “triplets.”
Using the trips’ as a nucleus, Dungy assembled a phenomenal cast of pass catchers, assembled a swift O-line, and forged a strong defensive unit via the draft and scouting other teams’ ranks. However, Indy’s dropped 2 straight, the D has shown hairline fractures, and the tragedy (Jamie Dungy's apparent suicide) will either pull the team closer together… or sap its collective energy. The final regular season game will speak volumes, believe it or not. Now, boasting a 13-2 record, the Colts are the AFC Champs’ and enjoy both a 1st round Bye and “Home Field” advantage. For an O built on speed and for a team that thrives at Home, wearing the AFC crown could mean the difference between representing in the SuperBowl and a ‘1 and done” playoff appearance. The Colts play the Cards’ this weekend… look for cameo appearances from both Manning and Edge’, and a whole lotta’ QB Jim Sorgi, WR Troy Walters, and RB Dominic Rhodes.

2. Denver Broncos: The AFC West champs’ also clinched a first-round berth… and the time off will do wonders for the teams’ collective health. Playing a meaningless game against a San Diego squad that STILL can’t believe they missed the playoffs, look for RB Tatum Bell to see the bulk of the back action. RB Mike Anderson (1014/13) suffered a sprained ankle and is still on crutches, and RB Tatum Bell is looking to crash through the 1,000 yard mark. With 869 rushing yards already in the bank, Bell is looking to ring a grand’ on the ol’ “rush-ometer.” The Bolts’ boast a top-ranked ground defense, and the only back to hang a C-note on the unit was Chief RB Larry Johnson. Natch’, “LJ” rushed for…yup’, 131 yards. Should Tatum “Chips” Bell eclipse a hunnert’, the Broncs’ will boast a pair of 1,000 yard backs- simply ridiculous.

3. Cincinnati Bengals: How was the AFC West won? QB Carson Palmer matured before our very eyes, improving with every game, RB Rudi Johnson ran his stripes off, WR Chad Johnson’s body cashed the numerous checks his gold-toothed mouth wrote, and complementary receiver T.J Houshmanzadeh punished the Secondaries that elected to overlook him. This week, the Bengs’ dance with a desperate band of KC Chiefs.
A win would improve Cin City’s playoff seeding… but a loss, combined with LOTS of help, would guide the Chiefs to the Post-Season promised land. QB Carson Palmer’s groin is buggin’ him, and RB Rudi Johnson lacks a backup as Chris Perry remains sidelined with an ankle injury (slight chance he returns). Although coach Marvin Lewis claims otherwise, I would look for the Beng’ starters to play a minimal amount of time; just enough to maintain their edge. Although the game DOES hold meaning for Palmer and pals… it’s far more important to the Chiefs who MUST win if they have ANY shot at Post-Season play.

4. New England Patriots: Peaking at the right time, the 10-5 Pats’ know their Post-C bidniss’. Coached by the biggest brain in the biz’, Bill Belichik, look for the Patriot starters to get just enough playing time to remain razor-sharp.
Early in the season, when the defense was riddled by injury and the running game stalled due to Corey Dillon’s ankle injury, the team’s hopes of a title defense was as thin as MLB pariah Rafael Palmeiro’s “someone slipped something into my Vitamin B12 injection… Miguel Tejada,” excuse. Now, though, Brady and the bunch have ripped off 5 straight Ws and they’ve 7 of their last 8 contests. Tom Brady put the entire team on his back and carried them when they faltered. Now, with DE Richard Seymour and LB Tedy Bruschi healthy (better check Bruschi’s status… he suffered a potentially serious calf injury last game), the D has improved substantially, particularly against the run.
Look for the Patriots, who play the ‘Phins Sunday, to try and maintain their momentum… without putting their starters at risk.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars: The 11-5 cats’ are locked and loaded for the playoffs… yet they are faced with an interesting conundrum; does coach Jack Del Rio play a now-healthy Byron Leftwich in a meaningless game against Pittsburgh and in so doing afford him with some tune-up time… or does he allow backup slinger David Garrard to maintain the teams’ forward progress? The smart money says Lefty’ sees some action.

THE AFC’S WEEK 17 RAMIFICATIONS:

As Game Show host Alex Trebec always says before “Double Jeopardy,” folks…“here’s where the scores can really change!”

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: At 10-5, Pitt’ is in control of their own destiny. Currently the #2 Wild Card, “Big Ben” and the boys can snag a seat on the Post-Season Merry-Go-Round by beating the Detroit Lions this weekend (a tie would serve the same purpose).

A. With a Kansas City loss or tie.
B. With a San Diego win.

**MOST REMOTE

2. Kansas City Chiefs: The 9-6 Chiefs must be considered one of Football’s biggest disappointments this season. Talk about needing “Lady Luck" to look your way, the only way Dicky “Tears” Vermeil’s troops make it to the second season is with a win, coupled with a Steeler loss or tie AND a San D’ loss or tie. Seeing as how the Steelers oppose a hapless, toothless, Lion franchise… the Chiefs will, most likely, be left to ponder what could have been.

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