• And Down The Stretch, AFC Style

    As has been well document, the American Football Conference has been dominated for the last 10 years or so by the Patriots, Steelers and Colts, the trio combining for 9 of the conference’s 10 Super Bowl appearances since 2001. And if you go back one year earlier, the Ravens represented the AFC and would go onto win Super Bowl XXXV at Tampa.

    These days, there’s an interesting battle going on in that same conference and something we haven’t seen in quite some time. With 3 weeks to play, the Texans (on their way to the playoffs for the first time), Patriots, Ravens and Steelers are all 10-3. It marks the first time since 2004 that 4 teams in the same conference had won at least 10 games with 3 weeks remaining. That year, New England and Pittsburgh were both 12-1 and the Colts and Chargers 10-3. When the smoke cleared, the 14-2 Patriots defeated the 15-1 Steelers at Heinz Field on their way to defeating the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.

    Back to this season and in particular this week, where the Texans host the entertaining but defensively-challenged 4-9 Panthers. However, the other 3 contenders appear to have big challenges in front of them and all of them on the road. Sunday afternoon at Denver, QB Tom Brady and the Patriots hope to cool off QB Tim Tebow and the red-hot Broncos. Later that evening at San Diego, the Ravens battle the Chargers and Norv Turner’s team is in the midst of its usual strong stretch run. And the proverbial cherry on the sundae comes Monday night when the Steelers (with or without QB Ben Roethlisberger and definitely without OLB James Harrison) face the NFC West champion 49ers at San Francisco.

    Now trying to forecast predictions for all 4 games, much less the next 3 weeks, isn’t easy. But we could not only find out who emerges as the frontrunner in the AFC North race but the conference. Of course, having homefield advantage isn’t the beat all, end all (just ask the Patriots last season) but it certainly doesn’t hurt. If you’re Gary Kubiak’s club and you’re heading to the postseason for the first time and with a rookie quarterback, you need all the help you can get. For the Patriots, Ravens and Steelers, these are seasoned teams with playoff-tested quarterbacks. All 4 teams have definitive strengths and weaknesses, which is what is making this face all the more interesting.

    So how does this all shake out? Are we ready for the top-seeded Texans, or will one of the other powerhouses grab the spot? And when it’s all said it done, will it really matter anyway with the successful of the wild card teams in the playoffs as of late. It’s going to be an interesting ride…

    Comments 15 Comments
    1. Robmoore365's Avatar
      The way I see it playing out is the Ravens and the Patriots take the #1 and #2 seed respectively. Check out this cool app. http://espn.go.com/nfl/playoffs/machine
    1. Dave Lapham's Avatar
      Have not seen the Patriots this season, but have seen the Steelers, Ravens and Texans. They have the same blueprint....solid defense, sound running game that sets up the play action passing game. They all have playmakers in special teams as well. The team that controls field position and takes care of the ball will advance to the Super Bowl. I still say big game experience and success under pressure of the playoffs can tilt things the most. Houston is most deficient in this area, Patriots have the biggest edge here. Should be a wild ride down the stretch.
    1. mikesteelnation1's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Dave Lapham View Post
      Have not seen the Patriots this season, but have seen the Steelers, Ravens and Texans. They have the same blueprint....solid defense, sound running game that sets up the play action passing game. They all have playmakers in special teams as well. The team that controls field position and takes care of the ball will advance to the Super Bowl. I still say big game experience and success under pressure of the playoffs can tilt things the most. Houston is most deficient in this area, Patriots have the biggest edge here. Should be a wild ride down the stretch.
      Dave I have to respectfully disagree the pats have the biggest edge of success under the pressure of the playoffs. Aside from the qb, and some o lineman not many others have very much playoff success under their belt. Pittsburgh has 24 guys with 2 superbowls worth of experience, and nearly every starter played in last years game. It's been almost 4 years since the pats won a playoff game. The ravens would be #2 in experience. 32 of the pats 53 have never won a playoff game, for sure. Lots of names I didn't know that were special teams guys and bottom of roster players I couldn't say one way or the other. Pittsburgh has more guys that have played in 2 superbowls, than the pats have that have won a playoff game...
    1. Russell S Baxter's Avatar
      It will be interesting to see if the Denver defense/pass rush (37 sacks this season) can get some heat on Tom Brady. Looking forward to that match-up as much as the Tim Tebow vs. the Patriots' defense duel of sorts...
    1. brauneyz's Avatar
      Well, Gov. Rick Perry just threw his full support behind the Broncos in last night's debate. The Pats just got Tebowed on national television.

      According to Rick, Tebow's the 2nd best player in Denver, cuz ya gotta love the Aggie Von Miller!

      Oh yeah, Pats need to derail this team in a big way; early, often, and humbly.
    1. Pruitt's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by brauneyz View Post
      Well, Gov. Rick Perry just threw his full support behind the Broncos in last night's debate. The Pats just got Tebowed on national television.

      According to Rick, Tebow's the 2nd best player in Denver, cuz ya gotta love the Aggie Von Miller!

      Oh yeah, Pats need to derail this team in a big way; early, often, and humbly.
      Well, Michelle Bachman is a fan of the Miami Bucks.
    1. msclemons's Avatar
      This weekend could decide the AFC North. The Ravens travel cross-country to face a suddenly wakened San Diego Chargers while the Steelers travel cross-country to face a suddenly faltering San Francisco 49ers.

      If both teams win the status quo continues another week but if one team loses it could decide the division.
    1. Russell S Baxter's Avatar
      Curious to see if the Ravens can match the Chargers' scoring. And QB Philip Rivers must continue to avoid mistakes (the Bills' only touchdown last week was a fumble recovery in the end zone courtesy of a Rivers' fumble)...
    1. SpartaChris's Avatar
      One aspect of the Broncos game I feel like many are ignoring is just who they've played exactly. Normally this is an argument I hate making since teams cannot help but play the teams in front of them, but looking at the Tebow era, they've played the Dolphins, Lions, Oakland, Kansas City, the Jets, Chargers, Vikings and Bears. Save for the Lions, where they got blown out 45-10, there wasn't exactly a bunch of offensive fire power in that line up. If I were a gambling man, my money would be on the Patriots thoroughly destroying the Broncos this weekend.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by msclemons View Post
      This weekend could decide the AFC North. The Ravens travel cross-country to face a suddenly wakened San Diego Chargers while the Steelers travel cross-country to face a suddenly faltering San Francisco 49ers.

      If both teams win the status quo continues another week but if one team loses it could decide the division.
      Agreed. It's possible Baltimore loses one more, possibly this weekend, and possibly to Cincinnati, but it's tough to see them falling below 12-4. That means that Pittsburgh must win out to have a real shot at the division. One loss, and they can start preparing for their trip to Denver.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by SpartaChris View Post
      One aspect of the Broncos game I feel like many are ignoring is just who they've played exactly. Normally this is an argument I hate making since teams cannot help but play the teams in front of them, but looking at the Tebow era, they've played the Dolphins, Lions, Oakland, Kansas City, the Jets, Chargers, Vikings and Bears. Save for the Lions, where they got blown out 45-10, there wasn't exactly a bunch of offensive fire power in that line up. If I were a gambling man, my money would be on the Patriots thoroughly destroying the Broncos this weekend.
      And this is what I like about Denver. When they were forced to put up points, they were able to. When they've needed big plays late, they've come through time and time again. It was only Minnesota, but they have a 30+ point effort in their resume. Against the Jets and Bears, two top defenses, they were able to make plays when needed. NE should score, but I also think that the Denver defense may provide a decent matchup against them. And it's not like NE is stopping anyone. I don't see them winning a game in the 30s, but if they can keep NE in the 20s, which I think they can do, then they'll have their chance to win this game in the end. That Detroit game was an eternity ago in NFL terms, and their defense is playing much better now that they have Bailey and Dumervil healthy, and Miller playing like a beast.
    1. BuckeyeRidley's Avatar
      I know it took a bit of failure from the others in the AFCS, but love the story of the Texans. I take nothing away from them. They had to go through two QBs and use a young buck who has given them confidence in their playoff clinch & season finale stretch. They are playing a chippy and youthful Panthers tomorrow at home. It should not be taken lightly but are poised to win it. This team has made big strides in 2011. Good for them & Nice first time achievement for the franchise since HOU returned to the NFL in 2002.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by BuckeyeRidley View Post
      I know it took a bit of failure from the others in the AFCS, but love the story of the Texans. I take nothing away from them. They had to go through two QBs and use a young buck who has given them confidence in their playoff clinch & season finale stretch. They are playing a chippy and youthful Panthers tomorrow at home. It should not be taken lightly but are poised to win it. This team has made big strides in 2011. Good for them & Nice first time achievement for the franchise since HOU returned to the NFL in 2002.
      Excellent point, Buckeye. Houston is playing the way teams are SUPPOSED to play when they lose their #1 (and even #2) quarterback (not to mention their top defensive player). They've proven that good management really can build a good TEAM that can have success no matter the circumstances that present themselves.
    1. BuckeyeRidley's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      Excellent point, Buckeye. Houston is playing the way teams are SUPPOSED to play when they lose their #1 (and even #2) quarterback (not to mention their top defensive player). They've proven that good management really can build a good TEAM that can have success no matter the circumstances that present themselves.
      Yup; They lost Andre Johnson TWICE this season & have had to make Arian Foster a bigger role in their offense. Love the way they are doin' work despite key player losses.
    1. hobbes27's Avatar
      I don't expect the Texans to get far in the playoffs. However, considering all the setbacks this team has had and to perserve to a 10-3 record at this point is a big building block for 2012.