Midseason Roundup- The AFC

10 weeks into the season and the league is starting to take shape. It’s been  a crazy ride so far, and if the previous weekend is anything to go by, this isn’t going to change anytime soon. Pre-season a lot of the focus was on NFC teams (Packers, Cowboys, Saints), whilst the favoured AFC teams (Jets and Ravens) were seen if solid if unspectacular.

The early weeks of season however were dominated by the AFC as teams such as the Titans, Steelers and Colts picking up impressive wins against some of the strongest teams in the NFC seemed to prove pre-season predictions false. With teams picking up impressive wins all over the place, picking playoff teams, let along superbowl contenders, from the AFC seemed impossible, but over the recent weeks the NFC have bounced back, giving the playoff picture a bit more shape, and maybe evening up the competition between divsions.

The Top Teams and Playoff Picture

The two teams with the best record in the AFC sit utop the AFC East. The Jets and Patriots both hold 7-2 records and look impressive. In the last couple of weeks the Jets have sneaked two wins in overtime whilst on Sunday Night the Pats posted possibly the best team performance of the season to seal what could be a defining win over the Steelers. The Pats team has a youthful look to it after losing Randy Moss, but Tom Brady is doing a fine job of leading this time whilst Bill Belichek has done what he does best in creating a team better than the sum of its parts.

In the AFC South, as one would expect the Colts are on top, once again led by perennial MVP contender and future hall-of-famer Peyton Manning. Numerous injuries across their offense however means that they haven’t been perfect and have suffered 3 losses to teams they would normally expect to beat. Behind them the Titans have the talent to push them close, but despite adding explosivity to their offense in Randy Moss, failed to shine at the weekend, suffering what could be a crucial defeat to the Dolphins. There are plenty of matchups between these divisional teams and the Jaguars and Texans will fancy their chances of a playoff push.

In the North, the Steelers and Ravens look set to battle all the way to end for the divisional title after disappointing defeats in week 10, both sitting on 6-3 at this point. The Steelers started impressively, despite losing quarterback Ben Rothlisberger for the first 4 weeks but were disappointing on both sides of the ball in their weekend loss to the Patriots. The Ravens seem to have changed identity from last season. The traditionally strong defense have struggled, whilst a solid if unspectacular offense have blossomed with a raft of options for Flacco to aim at, and the option to hand it off to Ray Rice.

Surprises/ Disappointments

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the year have been the Cincennati Bengals, last years AFC North winners seem to have lost any kind of defense, and despite adding Terrell Owens to their roster are yet to explode on offense, with running back Cedric Benson a particular disappointment.

The madness of the AFC West perhaps deserves a blog, if not website of its own. Pre-season Superbowl contenders San Diego Chargers, despite Phillip Rivers being on course to break all kinds of records, have suffered their traditional slow start, hampered by an abysmal special teams unit, and sit on a disappointing 4-5 record. Ahead of him, are the two surprise packages, the Kansas City Chiefs, who with an offense led by Matt Cassell have improved steadily and have a real shot at the playoffs. As, shockingly, do the Oakland Raiders! The traditional joke team of the league have upped their game and have found an ability to hold onto the ball, play solidly, and punish mistakes. Despite being a laughing-stock before this season, if Tom Cable guides this team to the playoffs, he is a hero!

Standout Players

More so than the NFC, the AFC has been dominated by the offensive side of the ball, in particular, the Quarterbacks.

Peyton Manning-Despite suffering injuries to key offensive targets such as Joseph Addai, Dallas Clarke, Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne Peyton has once again found a way for his team to win games. Their offense may not have been as spectacular as in recent years, but Peyton has done what he does best and lead an offense that continues to cause problems for defensive co-ordinators and win games despite a defense that has once again struggled.

Phillip Rivers– Lets face, for the most part the Chargers have been poor this season. They’ve managed to lose games that they looked to have won, and their special teams unit have barely functioned. Despite this, the team lead the league in yards, and quarterback Phillip Rivers is on course to beat Dan Marino’s 26-year old record for regular season passing yards. Similarly to to Manning, this has been in the face of injuries or absences to key targets Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson.

Arian Foster- A surprise this one. At the start of the season, Arian Foster wasn’t even expected to start for the Houston Texans, but after week 10, and despite starting one game on the bench, Foster is having a breakout season. He leads the league in rushing yards (920), rushing touchdowns (10) and also has over 300 recieving yards and a touchdown, a dream for fantasy owners! This is even more impressive if you consider that the Texans are traditionally a pass-first team, with one of the best targets in the league in the shape of Andre Johnson.

Championship Prediction

It’s really open but I’ve got to go with the quarterbacks that are leading winning teams, despite coming up against some good defenses, we are going to see Brady and Manning facing off once again, with the Patriots beating the Colts. If this is going to happen, it makes this sunday’s game between the two even more mouth-watering!

Jamie Cutteridge

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