Mark Craig's look at the AFC

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2014 - 6:48 AM

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has had plenty of success in his two NFL seasons, but the Super Bowl has eluded him.

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In the AFC, the Broncos hope balance between offense and defense yields a title

Broncos ante up on ‘D’

Denver’s record-setting offense discovered via global humiliation that defense not only wins championships but also prevents one from being beaten silly on Super Bowl Sunday. So, with the current window of opportunity presumably closing quickly, Broncos boss John Elway has shoved all of ownership’s chips to the middle of the table for what could be one final swing for 38-year-old Peyton Manning.

Browns strong safety T.J. Ward, Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib and Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware all came aboard for a mere $60 million in guarantees.

Will it be enough? Who knows, but in a league that handcuffs its defenders with every new rule and annual points of emphasis, it’s kinda nice that Denver had to ante up to improve its defense, which ranked an eye-opening 21 spots lower than Seattle’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense.

Quick-turn newbie? O’Brien

Of the seven new head coaches, Houston’s Bill O’Brien is in the best position to be the happy guy running the team that makes everybody go, “Man, I shoulda seen that coming.”

O’Brien inherits a 2-14 team that was 12-4 the year before. Key players have returned from injuries, including linebacker Brian Cushing, and the defense features the best defender in the league, end J.J. Watt, and another playmaking pass rusher, No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, on the other side.

A year ago, Andy Reid turned a 2-14 Chiefs team into an 11-5 Chiefs team. Similar turnarounds are almost routine in today’s NFL, so it’s not unrealistic for the Texans to expect a playoff push in the softer AFC South.

Overrated? Dalton

The Bengals had never been to three consecutive postseasons until quarterback Andy Dalton came along three years ago. But heaven help this poor young man if he gets there again and lays a fourth straight stinker.

With a new six-year contract, he has 115 million reasons why a 30-18 regular-season record doesn’t offset a 0-3 postseason mark that includes one touchdown pass, six interceptions and last year’s 17-point home loss against San Diego as the No. 3 seed.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis sounds all in on the Dalton deal. But it’s hard to blame Bengals fans for being leery.

Dalton has a 56.2 postseason passer rating for a franchise whose 23-year drought without a playoff win is the longest in the NFL.

Yeah, even longer than Detroit (22 years).

Is Luck (over)due?

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck would be way ahead of schedule if Russell Wilson hadn’t just won a Super Bowl or Colin Kaepernick hadn’t just been to his second NFC title game after being to his first Super Bowl the year before.

Nah, in today’s NFL, it’s not enough to inherit the league’s worst team, take it to the playoffs as a rookie and then win a playoff the game the next season. Especially for Luck, who, as the first overall draft pick in 2012, is the best of the bumper crop of quarterbacks to enter the league in 2011 and 2012.

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Atlanta 7 FINAL
Pittsburgh 5
Miami 5 FINAL
St. Louis 3
Baltimore - LP: K. Gausman 4 FINAL
Detroit - WP: J. Nathan 6
Minnesota 4 FINAL
Boston 5
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Tampa Bay 6
Philadelphia 1 FINAL
Toronto 4
Cincinnati 13 FINAL
Cleveland 2
Los Angeles 9 FINAL
Chicago WSox 6
Kansas City 3 FINAL
Seattle 0
Seattle 1 FINAL
Milwaukee 15
San Diego 3 FINAL
Arizona 3
NY Mets 8 FINAL
Washington 3
LA Angels 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 4
Colorado 3 FINAL
Texas 6
Oakland 6 FINAL
San Francisco 4
Indiana 107 FINAL
Milwaukee 111
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL
Carolina 5
New Jersey 2 FINAL(OT)
Washington 3
Los Angeles 3 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Arizona 4 FINAL(OT)
Buffalo 3
Anaheim 3 FINAL(OT)
Boston 2
Nashville 3 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
San Jose 6 FINAL
Detroit 4
NY Rangers 5 FINAL
Ottawa 1
Florida 4 FINAL
Toronto 1
Montreal 2 FINAL
Winnipeg 5
Colorado 4 FINAL
Vancouver 1
Wichita State 70 FINAL
Notre Dame 81
North Carolina 72 FINAL
Wisconsin 79
Evansville 89 FINAL
Louisiana 82
West Virginia 39 FINAL
Kentucky 78
Xavier 60 FINAL
Arizona 68
St Johns 55 FINAL
Villanova 63
NC State 79 FINAL
Temple 80
Missouri 55 FINAL
Michigan 65
Oral Roberts 64 FINAL
Louisiana 65
Duquesne 39 FINAL
West Virginia 60
Ole Miss 70 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 82
Northern Colorado 60 FINAL
UCLA 74
St Marys-CA 77 FINAL
Sacramento St 69
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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