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Can't Miss Slants

The State of the AFC: Week 3

Three weeks into the 2014 NFL season, and parity is the order of the day.  Over the last few seasons the league had, almost unnoticed, organized itself into a fairly reliable hierarchy, with teams like the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, and New Orleans Saints all consistently making the playoffs.   That trend has been especially prominent in the AFC, where pretenders have come and gone, but the Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and whoever has Peyton Manning have ruled for 13 years.

It seems 2014 may bring the long-promised parity to the AFC, and league-wide.  Only three undefeated teams remain after just three weeks.  Likewise, just three teams can boast being totally defeated.  Let’s take a quick scan around the younger conference and get an update on the divisional races.

AFC East

1. Buffalo Bills: 2-1

2. New England Patriots: 2-1

3. New York Jets: 1-2

4. Miami Dolphins: 1-2

When the season began, it was widely assumed that the Patriots would run away with this division, like always.  If any team was a consensus to knock New England off its perch, it was Miami.  While the Patriots are tied for the division lead by record, they have not looked great even in their victories.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins have stumbled out of the gate, and have suffered back-to-back losses by significant margins to the Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Buffalo is the surprise in the division, leading the way on the strength of its defense.  Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers were able to best Buffalo last week, however, though the Bills were at home.  Meanwhile, the Jets look out of sorts despite a strong defense.  This division appears weak.

AFC North

1. Cincinnati Bengals: 3-0

2. Baltimore Ravens: 2-1

3. Pittsburgh Steelers: 2-1

4. Cleveland Browns: 1-2

Unlike the AFC East, the North is shaping up in a fairly predictable manner.  The Bengals are undefeated, and have looked fairly sound compiling their record.  The Ravens and Steelers are just behind, however, and as usual this division carries at least some punch (as the Steelers romp of the Carolina Panthers shows).  Even the Browns have a surprise win over the New Orleans Saints, though they again find themselves in the cellar.

The outstanding question is, just how good are the Bengals?  The Patriots and Denver Broncos were largely viewed as the strongest teams in the AFC coming into the season, with some nods given to the Chargers.  The Bengals are crashing that party early, and look like one of the better teams in football.  It has been an up-and-down season through three weeks however, and the Bengals have much left to prove.  It will take a bit more before they are anointed Super Bowl contenders.

AFC South

1. Houston Texans: 2-1

2. Indianapolis Colts: 1-2

3. Tennessee Titans: 1-2

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 0-3

It seems we can always count on the AFC South to be a weak division.  Long home to the Peyton Manning led Colts, a host of decent Titans teams, and a few seemingly contending Texans teams, the South has been without significant clout since 2009.  This year appears to be no exception, as the Texans lead the way with 2 wins, but were clobbered by a not-so-talented New York Giants team over the weekend.

It looks like Andrew Luck and the Colts to continue chasing the division title, though currently behind.  Their two losses come against the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos, talented teams with productive offenses.  The Texans started the year well, and have a ridiculously easy schedule.  They may hold on.  In any case, I don’t expect this division to produce a powerhouse by year’s end.

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos: 2-1

2. San Diego Chargers: 2-1

3. Kansas City Chiefs: 1-2

4. Oakland Raiders: 0-3

By virtue of having two seemingly very good teams, the AFC West has been the crown jewel of the conference through two weeks.  The Broncos have wins over the Colts and Chiefs, two playoff teams from a year ago.  They were also able to hang in with Seattle in Seattle, losing to the Seahawks in over time.  Meanwhile, the Chargers have wins over the Bills and Seattle, two tough opponents who are both 2-1 and have looked good in their other games.  The one loss for the Chargers came against the Arizona Cardinals, one of the remaining undefeated squads in the NFL.  In my opinion, the Chargers have looked like one of the best teams in the league.

Kansas City is battling injury, and had a horrendous start to the season.  It will be tough for them to make the playoffs out of this division, but a nice win on Sunday provides a glimmer of hope.  Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders suck.  This will be one of the more entertaining divisional races if form holds.