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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Baltimore - LP: W. Chen 1 FINAL
Boston - WP: J. Masterson 7
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Arrieta 5 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: A. Caminero 2
NY Yankees - LP: C. Sabathia 1 FINAL
Detroit - WP: A. Simon 2
Cincinnati - WP: A. DeSclafani 6 FINAL
Milwaukee - LP: W. Peralta 1
Cleveland - LP: C. Allen 3 FINAL
Chicago WSox - WP: D. Robertson 4
Minnesota - LP: K. Gibson 1 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: E. Volquez 7
San Diego 14 Bottom 9th Inning
Colorado 2
Oakland 5 Bottom 4th Inning
LA Angels 3
Houston 3 Bottom 5th Inning
Seattle 4
Milwaukee 82 FINAL
Chicago 91
New Orleans 52 3rd Qtr
Golden State 55
NY Rangers 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
St. Louis 0 FINAL
Minnesota 3
Anaheim 3 3rd Prd 4:10
Winnipeg 4
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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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