Pre-season's almost over, so let's take a look at how things might shake out in 2013 in the NFL.
As was the case last year, the division is New England's to lose. This is despite the fact that the Patriots' biggest offensive weakness headed into training camp was at tight end. Aaron Hernandez is now in jail facing murder charges. Rob Gronkowski's perpetually hurt, and may never be 100% again. They signed Tim Tebow, but the way the press looked at it on Friday, after New England got spanked by Detroit, that Tebow might get cut, since he at present is the #3 QB behind Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett. However, Tebow has shown a willingness to try new things. The Jets, after all, used him as a punt protector last year, but didn't give him much chance to really shine at QB.
Speaking of the Jets, the dumbest move in the offseason was hiring John Idzik as GM. Idzik came from Seattle, but the personnel moves he's made have to be called into question. He let Shonn Greene walk (Tennessee). He just cut Joe McKnight and Braylon Edwards today, the latter might be a mistake given the questionable health of Santonio Holmes. Mike Goodson, who came over from Carolina in the offseason, promptly ran into legal issues, but just returned to camp today. 1st round pick Geno Smith, out of West Virginia, has an ankle problem. Mark Sanchez, entering his 5th year, hurt his shoulder on Saturday in a win over the Giants. That leaves 3rd year QB Greg McElroy, who looked great in a brief go-round last year, as a probable starter opening day if Smith and/or Sanchez can't go. What is Rex Ryan thinking? What is Idzik thinking? Will they be here in 2014? In the words of Homey D. Clown, I don't think so.
Buffalo thought things would be better after luring coach Doug Marrone away from Syracuse. They drafted EJ Manuel (Florida State) as their QB of the future, and let Ryan Fitzpatrick go. Now, Manuel's hurt, and so is Kevin Kolb, who came over from Arizona, suffering his 3rd concussion in 4 years. They announced today that Jeff Tuel (WHO? Exactly!), an undrafted free agent, will start opening day. That's the good news. The bad news is that it's against the Patriots. Thanks for coming, kid. Miami let Reggie Bush go, and that was a major error. He's in Detroit, and ran wild on New England the other night, which tells you something about the continuing defensive defects on the Patriots.
This division is too easy:
1. New England. 2. Miami. 3. Jets. 4. Buffalo.
Baltimore said goodbye to Ray Lewis with a Super Bowl win. However, they also lost Ed Reed (Houston) and Bernard Pollard (Indianapolis) in the offseason. They did shore up the defensive line by luring Chris Canty away from the Giants. As a result, the Ravens were toasted by Carolina on Thursday. Not a good feeling headed into a week 1 match against Denver. Pittsburgh welcomed back Plaxico Burress, but he gets hurt, and is on IR for the season. They let last year's rookie running back, Chris Rainey, go after the season due to legal issues, but the running back by committee got smaller when they let Rashard Mendenhall go as a free agent. Mike Tomlin has a lot of questions to answer as the season begins.
Cleveland cut bait on Colt McCoy (San Francisco), opting on keeping Brandon Weeden as their starter. They also picked up Dion Lewis, a 2010 draft pick by Philadelphia who comes from my neck of the woods, but like Burress, Lewis is gone for the season after suffering an injury a week and a half ago. Lewis was meant to be a backup to 2nd year runner Trent Richardson. Cincinnati needs to prove they can keep it together and build a consistent playoff team. Sure, they made the post-season 2 years running, but a 3rd, coupled with another division title, would be better for the team's fanbase. All the pieces remain in place.
Projected order of finish:
1. Baltimore. 2. Pittsburgh. 3. Cincinnati. 4. Cleveland.
Houston has been the class of the division the last two years, but now, the Indianapolis Colts are officially back. They got Ahmad Bradshaw from the Giants via free agency. Andrew Luck still has Reggie Wayne & TY Hilton to throw to. Defensively, they improved by picking up Bernard Pollard from Baltimore. Scary to think about. Houston also plumbed the Ravens' D by bagging Ed Reed. The offense looks like nothing's changed. Tennessee got Shonn Greene from the Jets to back up Chris Johnson, but let Matt Hasselbeck walk. Who's Jake Locker's backup now? Jacksonville has a lot of work to do, building around Blaine Gabbert & Maurice Jones-Drew. That's really all that needs be said.
Projected order of finish:
1. Indianapolis. 2. Houston. 3. Tennessee. 4. Jacksonville.
The big story in the division is Andy Reid taking over in Kansas City after what seemed like a lifetime in Philadelphia. That doesn't guarantee that anything changes from last year, for Reid or the Chiefs. The road to the title still goes through Denver and Peyton Manning. Too bad he couldn't buy a Papa John's franchise in my area, as the pizza chain pulled up stakes and abandoned the upstate corridor, just like Quizno's did last year. San Diego finally has someone new at head coach in Mike McCoy. Yeah, whatever. Oakland still plays revolving door with quarterbacks, although Terrelle Pryor, a supplemental pick a couple of years ago out of Ohio State, may just beat Matt Flynn (acquired from Buffalo) for the starting job, and make things exciting again for Raider Nation. However, I doubt that.
Projected order of finish:
1. Denver. 2. Oakland. 3. San Diego. 3. (tie). Kansas City.
Wild Cards: Houston, Pittsburgh.
Tomorrow: the NFC.