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.

Kaepernick was a second-rounder in 2011 and Wilson was a third-rounder in 2012. Luck has a long list of NFL records for a quarterback after one and two seasons. But he never has been to a conference title game and is nine days from turning 25. For gosh sakes, get crackin’, Andrew.

The Colts have concerns on the offensive line and in the middle of their defense. But that’s no excuse for Luck not to win the AFC South.

After all, his predecessor, Manning, won a Super Bowl while covering up blemishes on teams that were more flawed than this.

Ryan on powder keg?

There are a few AFC coaches on the proverbial hot seat. Joe Philbin in Miami, Dennis Allen in Oakland, whoever was coaching the Browns as this edition of the Star Tribune went to press.

But you have to admire Jets coach Rex Ryan’s courage. Adding Michael Vick to a tense situation and pretending Geno Smith still is your starter isn’t beyond taking your spot on the hot seat.

It’s striking a match and smoking a cigar while sitting atop an open crate of TNT. Especially when your defense isn’t good enough to extinguish the flame.

Milestone ahead

Manning is second in NFL history with 491 career touchdown passes. He needs 18 more to break Brett Favre’s mark of 508. A year ago, Manning became the first player in NFL history to throw 16 touchdown passes in the first month of a season.

MARK CRAIG





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San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner 8 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: E. Volquez 0
Minnesota 7:25 PM
Green Bay
Buffalo 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Chicago 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Cleveland 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
St. Louis 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Atlanta 10/5/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Tampa Bay 10/5/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Houston 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Dallas
Baltimore 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Pittsburgh 10/5/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Arizona 10/5/14 3:05 PM
Denver
Kansas City 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
NY Jets 10/5/14 3:25 PM
San Diego
Cincinnati 10/5/14 7:30 PM
New England
Seattle 10/6/14 7:30 PM
Washington
Washington 1 FINAL
Buffalo 6
Carolina 3 FINAL
Columbus 6
Pittsburgh 2 FINAL
Detroit 0
Montreal 3 FINAL
Chicago 1
Arizona 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Fla Atlantic 6:00 PM
FIU
UCF 6:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 9:30 PM
(2) Oregon
Louisville 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Syracuse
San Diego St 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Fresno State
Utah State 10/3/14 9:15 PM
(18) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(12) Miss State
Ball State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Army
Iowa State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(21) Oklahoma State
Marshall 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Old Dominion
Southern Miss 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Middle Tennessee
(20) Ohio State 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Maryland
Purdue 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Florida 10/4/14 11:00 AM
Tennessee
SMU 10/4/14 11:00 AM
(22) East Carolina
Virginia Tech 10/4/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Eastern Mich 10/4/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Texas 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Indiana
Massachusetts 10/4/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Tulsa 10/4/14 2:00 PM
Colorado State
New Mexico 10/4/14 2:30 PM
TX-San Antonio
(3) Alabama 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(11) Ole Miss
(14) Stanford 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(9) Notre Dame
(17) Wisconsin 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Navy 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
(7) Baylor 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Texas
(4) Oklahoma 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(25) TCU
Wake Forest 10/4/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
NC State 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Buffalo 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Bowling Green
Ohio U 10/4/14 2:30 PM
Central Mich
Oregon State 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Colorado
Vanderbilt 10/4/14 3:00 PM
(13) Georgia
Kansas 10/4/14 3:00 PM
West Virginia
Kent State 10/4/14 4:00 PM
Northern Ill
South Alabama 10/4/14 5:00 PM
Appalachian St
Texas-El Paso 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
(15) LSU 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(5) Auburn
UAB 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Ky
Texas Tech 10/4/14 6:00 PM
(23) Kansas State
Michigan 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rutgers
Hawaii 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Rice
Toledo 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Western Mich
ULM 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Georgia State 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Louisiana
Idaho 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Texas State
Memphis 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Arizona State 10/4/14 6:30 PM
(16) USC
So Carolina 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Kentucky
Pittsburgh 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Virginia
Miami-Florida 10/4/14 6:30 PM
Georgia Tech
(19) Nebraska 10/4/14 7:00 PM
(10) Michigan State
UNLV 10/4/14 7:00 PM
San Jose St
Ga Southern 10/4/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Utah 10/4/14 9:30 PM
(8) UCLA
Boise State 10/4/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
Winnipeg 10/3/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Calgary 10/3/14 9:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Edmonton 10/4/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/4/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Hamilton 10/10/14 6:00 PM
Toronto
Ottawa 10/11/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
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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 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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