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AFC antepost previews

We might be one week into the NFL season already but markets are still open for all the divisions and who said you had to place your bets blindly anyway? Glaswegian NFL devotee Ian Steven, @deevo82, returns with his annual contribution, starting with the AFC.


AFC West

The Broncos are heavy favourites for this division and rightly so with Peyton Manning back for his second year at Mile High with an impressive six touchdown performance in Week One against the Ravens. It looks a lot of zing has been removed from his spirals after having complicated neck surgery but he can still float the ball to the right spot. Manning also has Wes Welker to throw to this season meaning opponents can’t roll coverage to the side of Demaryius Thomas any more. The Denver D will be much improved when Von Miller returns from his four-game suspension and teamed with ex-Charger Shaun Phillips, they should form a devastating pass rush as teams look to play catch up.

San Diego are under the tutelage of new head coach Mike McCoy after parting with long-time incumbent Norv Turner and look on paper to be runners-up to Denver. Ryan Matthews needs to step up if the Bolts are to have a strong running game to balance the talented arm of Philip Rivers. The major concern is in the secondary where they are patchwork aside from Eric Weddle and look likely to be torn apart by Peyton when the two rivals meet. The Chargers could have enough momentum to make the playoffs with four homes games in the month of December.

Kansas City had first pick in the 2013 Draft selecting left tackle Eric Fisher which effectively mean they were the worst team in football last year. In reality, it was injuries that crippled the Missouri side meaning threat new head coach Andy Reid has a lot of talent at his disposal in Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Branden Albert, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers. Unfortunately they have Alex Smith as their QB which means they will have to be conservative in their play selection as he is not a cannoned-armed gunslinger but Reid knows how to get the most out of his quarterbacks, and the Chiefs could push hard for a wildcard spot. KC have to travel to San Diego in the last week of the season in what could well be a tie-breaker for a wildcard slot.

The Raiders are probably the most dysfunctional team in football but they offered their long-suffering fans a glimmer of hope with a superb week one performance from Terrelle Pryor. Darren McFadden aside, they really are awful and could well get the number one pick for the 2014 draft.

Winners – Denver Broncos - 1.25 with Bet 365. Too low to wager.

To make playoffs – San Diego Chargers – 1 point @ 5.00 with Ladbrokes

AFC North

One of the most competitive divisions in football will be topped by the Cincinnati Bengals as the ageing Steelers and hungover Ravens make way for the young upstarts in the division. The Bengals should not take anyone by surprise after starring in Hard Knocks this pre-season but they are primed to have a fantastic campaign led by the superb receiving skills of AJ Green. Whilst the Georgia receiver earns the plaudits, it is the defense of the Ohio outfit that will grind out the results to take Marvin Lewis’s men into the playoffs. Geno Atkins might be the best defensive tackle in football and outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict may be the bargain of the decade after signing on last year as a free agent, as he slipped out of the draft due to character concerns. The Bengals have a really tough schedule and probably need to beat the Ravens twice to be assured of the AFC North title.

Baltimore have had to go through a massive roster purge to get below the salary cap and as a result they have lost some iconic names that helped win the Super Bowl in February of this year. Gone are Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Dannele Ellerbe and Anquan Boldin. Elvis Dumervill has controversially joined from Denver after the Broncos botched some paperwork and will form a good pass-rushing tandem with Terrell Suggs but the lack of veteran leadership coupled with a dearth of receiving playmakers means the Ravens will struggle to reach the lofty heights of last season. Week 17 game with Bengals could be for the division title whilst the loser settles for a wildcard spot.

Pittsburgh looked terrible as they capitulated to Tennessee on opening weekend and the omens are not good as starting centre Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season to injury in Week One. The Steel Curtain defense will be strong (as long as Troy Polamalu remains healthy) but a lack of options on offense other than Big Ben at quarterback will leave Mike Tomlin’s men struggling to put points on the board.

The Cleveland Browns lost their eighth opening day fixture in a row and look likely to struggle to post a winning record this season. They are a young team under new head coach Rob Chudzinski but Brandon Weeden is clearly not the quarterback of the future for the Browns. Look for them to grab one of the tops QBs in the 2014 Draft as it is laden with talent – unlike the Browns.

Winners – Bengals - 2.62 with Ladbrokes. Would advise 5 points on Bengals to make playoffs with Ladbrokes @ 1.91.

To make playoffs - Ravens - 2 points @ 2.2 with Ladbrokes

AFC South

The Houston Texans are the class of this division and are many people’s pick for the Super Bowl. I am not sure they are that good but they will get into double figures for victories and should romp the division. They have talent scattered about their roster with Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and JJ Watt included in the conversation for being the best player in their respective positions. Matt Schaub threw for over 4,000 yards again last season and if he can limit turnovers then the Texans could get to the AFC Championship game.

With the 2012 draft class being so prolific for quarterbacks as Russell Wilson, RG3, Ryan Tannenhill and Colin Kaepernick all having stunning debut seasons for their respective franchises, it is easy to forget that Andrew Luck was selected the number one player in the draft. The Colts signal caller has quietly gone about his business and once the dust has settled, I am convinced that the former Stanford player will be regarded as the best player to come out of that draft, and the best player to enter the NFL from college football since Peyton Manning. Luck has quickly turned around the fortunes of the ailing Colts who rallied around head coach Chuck Pagano as he fought leukemia during last season, unexpectedly earning a wildcard slot. Luck just needs one or two pieces to be added by the front office and the Colts will be serious players in the division. Just a year too early for them.

You can tell that the Titans are coached by a former NFL lineman in Mike Munchak when they spend a barrow load of money to bring in guard Andre Levitre from Buffalo and draft Chance Warmack at guard from Alabama as the Titans were terrible in that area last season. Keeping quarterback Jake Locker upright is the challenge as well as opening holes for the less-than-humble Chris Johnson if they want to put points on the board. Their defense will keep them in games and they should win their fair shares of fixtures but they will struggle ultimately to keep pace with the Colts and Texans.

Where do we start with Jacksonville? They have a new head coach in Gus Bradley. They have one good player in Maurice Jones-Drew. Their owner, Shahid Khan, has a comedy moustache. They will finish bottom of their division. And we move on….

Winners – Houston Texans – 5 points @ 1.5 with Stan James

AFC East

This one is quite easy – Brady + Belichick = Division Title. The Bills did run NE close in Week One but the Pats were without tight end Rob Gronkowski who is still recovering from back surgery. Danny Amendola replaces Wes Welker who moved to Denver. The only real chink in the armour of the perennial AFC East winners is their secondary where Belichick has been woeful in drafting for the past few seasons. They may not have enough firepower to get to the big show but they will make the playoffs with ease.

The Miami Dolphins cut a lot of salary cap dead wood and brought in Mike Wallace to provide a deep threat for quarterback Ryan Tannenhill. Top draft pick Dion Jordan should provide a much needed pass rush off the edge once he recovers from shoulder surgery as a foil to former CFL player Cameron Wake. Suoer Bowl winner Danelle Ellerbe will bring some toughness to the middle of the defense in head coach Joe Philben’s second year in Miami. While Miami will be strong this season, it is in future years that their potential lies as the franchise are in excellent financial shape and are in a prime position to profit when the ageing Patriots begin to decline.

The Buffalo Bills so nearly had an opening day upset victory against the Patriots only to lose out in the final seconds as the New York State team were so close to putting one over their hated division rivals. E J Manual is the new man under centre for rookie head coach Doug Marrone. There is a lot of young talent in the team, which usually means inconsistency, meaning the Bills will be a difficult team to place money on this season. There is also a lack of quality on the offensive line so it is just as well Manuel is fleet of foot as he will be under a lot of pressure for most of the season.

The New York Jets look set to have a miserable season. Head Coach Rex Ryan is a lame duck as it looks like he won’t be back next year unless there is a miracle. There is quarterback confusion between injured incumbent Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith who was taken off some draft boards for character concerns. Will Sanchez be the starter when he is fit? Surely, the embarrassing butt fumble from last season doesn’t still haunt him?. There is little in the way of offensive playmakers for the quarterbacks to work with so they will struggle to put points on the board. The only saving grace is the defense which is well coached and has some talent in the secondary but they look set for a midseason collapse.

Winners – New England Patriots – 1.3 - not worth the wager


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